06 March 2012

Unlicensed

What the hell has happened to my blog?

I remember back in the day I used to write about important political issues, significant events of the day and cutting edge social commentary. At the very least, they were tales with a strong moral message for the family. These days it seems my blog is more self-obsessed than ever, which probably goes a fair way to explaining why I find myself with nothing to write about so often.

Well forgive my sudden change of tack, but I feel compelled this week to jump back on the “look how important I am” bandwagon for just a moment, because while the degree to which I take anything seriously is debatable, this stuff matters.

Last week a government report named the Finkelstein Review was released, providing recommendations for reforms to the Australian media system. In broad terms, it didn’t really say anything revolutionary: media standards are something we should be concerned about, but really it's not that bad. It turns out the idiocy at News of the World was specifically an English problem. Better luck next witch hunt.

But one sneaky recommendation the review makes is the overhauling of the decentralised self-regulatory bodies used by existing media companies, and the establishment of a government controlled licensing and regulatory board.

No two ways about it; this is flat out wrong.

The idea behind the proposal is that in the digital age it is far too easy for any hack with a smart phone to call himself a journalist and upload whatever content he likes to the internet, regardless of accuracy, propriety or ethics. The council would require all reporters with the Australian media industry and, interestingly, all producers of blogs with more than 41 hits per average day, to be registered as licensed journalists.

This isn’t a new idea; the idea of a journalism license to prove intellectual capacity and responsibility in the press has been around for decades. And as attractive as it sounds (I'll be the first to publicly lambaste the Australian media for shoddy quality. I'm also fairly quick to use the word 'lambaste' in general. I really like it), the reason we don’t do it has been around for just as long: You don’t get to tell me what I can and can’t write in a liberal democracy.

Yes, we need standards and ethics in the media, that’s why the Australian Press Council and The Australian Communications and Media Authority already exist. The problem with these organisations is that they are part of the media system itself, a fact which always lends itself to criticism about accountability. But that’s the whole point of a free press. No-one gets to tell the press what it can and can’t write, least of all the government. And you can't silence someone because she doesn't meet your criteria for qualification. Ever. You can criticise her, ignore her, counter her or lambaste her. But you can't silence her.

Sure, we want media content to be appropriate. But do we want the government telling us what that means? Sure, we demand that the news always be true. But do we want the government telling us what is and isn’t true? Now imagine that the party you don’t support is in power and ask yourself the same questions. This stuff really does matter.

Fortunately (well…) for the free world, Cum Tacent Clament doesn’t rate anything near 41 hits a day, so you can rest assured that the steady flow of biased, inappropriate nonsense will continue long after the dark shroud of government censorship has descended on the cyberverse. When that day comes, I and my eight followers shall lead the glorious revolution, overthrow the establishment and usher in a new era of freedom, irresponsibility and ice cream for all.

Make of that what you will.



Garry with 2 Rs
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