‘Freedom’ is getting a real workout in the Australian media nowadays. It’s a peculiarly American view  of freedom, though – the Platonic, chiseled-into-granite view of the word. Hands instinctively go on hearts at its very mention.

Take the taste test and it is revealed as the Rupert/IPA flavour of freedom. In other words, it’s supposed stark and uncompromising nobility is in stark contrast to its ideological contingency.  How else do you explain the shifting views of Murdoch’s loyal footservants?

In a heated discussion on Twitter with ABC Lateline host Emma Alberici last May, during the then Labor government’s ill-fated attempt to introduce stronger self-regulation for media, The Australian’s Chris Kenny argued for the absolutist, American view of press freedom and slandered the scrupulously independent Alberici as a Labor apologist.

A journalist publicly advocating a government’s attempt to regulate media standards – things I thought I would never see,” Kenny hashtagged. Any attempt to improve accountability in the print media, including self-regulation, was “anathema to freedom”, he added.

Fast forward six months and Kenny is now in bed with the state, arguing for the national interest above the public interest in respect of the ABC and Guardian scoop about Australian spying on Indonesia’s president and his wife. The claims emerged from leaked intelligence released by US whistleblower Edward Snowden.

This was irresponsible journalism motivated by little more than “diplomatic voyeurism”, Kenny said of a story which has appeared on front pages around the world. There was no national or public interest in the revelations and the organisations should have been more circumspect in publications, he added.  That the Snowden intelligence would have been published anyway is rather lost.
Kenny’s view was universally adopted by the News Corp choir, as is customary, with the always apoleptic Andrew Bolt slamming “self-serving, malevolent shysters and hypocrites who betray Australia, peddle a traitor’s leaks and demand we surrender to Indonesia, just to destroy a prime minister they hate”.
Freedom eh? Flexible concept isn’t it? Of course, the truth is News Ltd was doing what it always does when it is scooped by a rival, petulantly playing out its dreary, wagon-circling culture wars and banging on about “the left” to cover up the fact that it missed the story.

It’s a curious brand of tribal tub-thumping by an organisation whose affinity with the concept of press freedom seems to wax  and wane depending on who is in power – if it’s a centre-left government, the state is the enemy; if it’s their natural allies of the right,  it’s ‘daddy knows best’.

“It’s all rather odd,” lawyer, journalist and media critic Richard Ackland noted of the shift. 

“In the past 20 years or so, journalism has been turned on its head. Many of my contemporaries in the game had thought it was their duty to publish the secrets of state, to enlighten the public as to what’s really going on. But now we find serried ranks of salaried writers believing it is their duty to cosy-up to and protect the government, particularly their preferred government, from any embarrassment.”

All the pious rhetoric about press freedom – much of it self-interested twaddle from the News Corp stable – is thus revealed as little more than a veneer of self-glorification constructed to protect its own commercial and ideological imperatives.

Who would have thought?


Anonymous · November 24, 2013 at 11:30 am


The ability to do one thing in private and say another, even completely opposite, thing in public was one of the foundations of US policymaking.

It is an article well worth reading in full. It not only shows once again why Edward Snowden has done the entire world a valuable public service, it explains why the US and UK governments are so furious about it. It is not just about the leaks or that the leaks are harming the government’s ‘war on terrorism’. It is that by conclusively exposing the massive lies that undergird US policy at home and abroad in a way that cannot be denied, it has curbed the US’s ability to secretly subvert democracy and the rights of people while pretending to uphold them. “

Part of the background to the Murdochian disapproval of Australia being exposed as assisting in spying on 'friends'.


VoterBentleigh · November 24, 2013 at 8:42 pm

You have summed it up exactly, Mr D.

Thanks fred for the link and I agree with your comment and the quote.

Rolly Christian · November 26, 2013 at 5:34 am

Sorry Fred defector Snowden hasn't done anyone any favors (apart from helping human rights unfriendly states like China who like western secret data including our new Canberra spy building blueprints. The US will continue to do one thing and say another and keep on tapping Germany, Russian and Chinese phones no matter what current President Obama says. You would have to be naive like Kate Torney ABC news editor to believe exposure of phone tapping will force our spys not to do that again.
This ABC media beat-up only has negative outcomes and is a big F for responsible national journalism. Had PM Abbott say we have a great relationship with SBY and would never spy on him personally the story starts to become relevant because our elected leaders are potentially lying to us (going by the previous Rudd government's track record).

The constructive story is to find issues that ARE double standards in how the state is performing its service to people to serve and protect the people. ABC putting this secret in its headline only has negative fall-out.
For example exposing the Australian government “covering” for Santos oil and gas destroying an entire Indonesia village because it failed in its duty of care is a story that builds trust and our relationship with our neighbors. There is a big difference between constructive responsible press and destructive media beat-ups with spy data 4 years old.
This story went nowhere. Like punching SBY in the face no good could come from this. Pre-leaking the story with 48hrs notice to SBY and the PM would have been the least the ABC could do to help release the info and not set off offense. The ABC really wanted offense and fall-out lets be honest. This rates much higher in the trashy MSM stakes for relevancy.

Anonymous · November 26, 2013 at 12:43 pm

Here Rolly, this is for you, and maybe others.


Its about Special Branch in SA but explores general principles relating to freedom and spying.
Like this:
“A healthy democracy requires that the expression of contending viewpoints be encouraged. But under a system of state surveillance the costs of dissenting may be such that some citizens will exclude themselves from public life. The uncertainty over whether or not one is under surveillance may erode the sense of self and sense of autonomy which are requisites of active citizenship. In a society where surveillance is undertaken on any significant scale, a climate of suspicion is created. Trust, a central element of the social fabric, is weakened.”


Rolly Christian · November 26, 2013 at 11:19 pm

Thanks for that Fred. Let's hope the returning ex-Australian Lebanese Syrian jihadists rebels heading back to south western Sydney and others who resort to violent dissent feel they are under constant surveillance and do exclude themselves from continuing a war with violent actions here.

The sad thing is the local social fabric here has already been weakened to the point where gun violence is now at normalising high levels.

I appreciate the dynamic – no one wants the state to conduct blanket surveillance that is out of proportion to credible threats. We unfortunately do have threats that do need spying and phone taps to assess. The specifics of tapping SBY's wife phone seem unreasonable from here in comfort. A police state exists with internal spying out of hand. National external spying is “safer” with the local sovereignty controlling the power of arrest.

ABC's sensational treatment certain to set-off offense in the vain hope of Australians “talking” about the creation of a police state at home using Prism data tracking was effectively swamped by the overall message of Indonesians getting angry over old spy news with no benefit – they won’t buy our cattle again etc. Its a confused, conflicted and contradictory message from Snowden without a sensitive responsible and diplomatic approach in highlighting the issues at hand. A gun-ho media scoop winner takes it all approach is not in the national interest from the ABC. Sadly we need spying to continue.

If PM Abbott (under media beat-up pressure) agrees to NOT conduct domestic spying in Indonesia will the SBY government continue turning a blind eye to internal violence against its minorities and avoid international reporting and pressure? ABC didn’t think this though much at all – biting the hand that could have helped the oppressed.

Australia Business News Online · November 26, 2013 at 11:56 pm

Media manipulation has got to be the worst type of conspiracy by the government. They try to condition the people's mind by sending out fake news to cover up for the messy real ones.

VoterBentleigh · November 27, 2013 at 10:13 pm

Response to Rolly Christian's comments.
What the Snowden documents are showing is that what has been going on is not just routine surveillance of those who pose a threat to people's safety; it has been widespread surveillance of individuals who have no connection to terrorism or criminal activity. In some cases the surveillance seems to relate to spying for competitive and purely political advantage, rather than security.

Of all the mainstream media outlets the ABC is the least likely to sensationalise events and to say that it sensationalised the tapping allegations is patently untrue. How is this headline from the ABC online “sensational treatment”: “Australia spied on Indonesian president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, leaked Edward Snowden documents reveal” ? Compare it with this headline from the “Mail Online” headline: “NSA terror over 'doomsday' cache of secrets stashed in online cloud by Edward Snowden” . Compare the ABC coverage of news events with that of much of the MSM, who regularly use exaggerated headlines, salacious innuendo and dubious exposes to undermine political agendas which do not suit their business interests or personal political preferences. This attack on the ABC is just payback from Conservatives who were unhappy with those who were critical of the Murdoch media's unrelenting hostilities against the federal ALP. It is also part of the culture war and aims to undermine the ABC's integrity.

Now that the LNP has gained power there is a concerted effort to shut down critical examination of its performance and to close down any issue which may be an embarrassment to it. This is being done both from within and the apparatus of government and from without via media propaganda. Free speech is only for those who express uncritical free speech.

Finally, what is this nonsense that the intelligence services defend the rights of the oppressed? It was the Balibo Five journalists who exposed the plight of the East Timorese. The Australia Government did nothing for the East Timorese until they were forced to do so by the media coverage and public outrage at what was happening, but you can bet the Australian Intelligence Service knew well before any of the media did. In some countries, the Intelligence services have been shown to work against democracy and the oppressed. As for turning a blind eye, it the current Prime Minister of Australia who is turning a blind eye to the human rights abuses in West Papua New Guinea, Sri Lanka and even those of an Australian detained by the Russians.

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