Freedom of Speech – but who for?

Freedom of Speech – but who for?

I’m not a journalist. I’m not an academic who studies communication. I’m not someone who ever has, nor do I think I ever will, work in the media. Like they say, I’ve got the face of a radio star! I preface this blog post with that introduction because I acknowledge that I am about to wade into an arena in which I am both an outside and ignorant. But, when has that ever stopped me? I mean, seriously?

I am, of course, talking about the changes to the communication laws that are currently being proposed by the Labor Government, and the uproar that these laws have caused amongst certain parties in the media, not least the Murdoch owned parts. Listening to these people, you would suspect that the Federal Government has gone a little Bradbury-esque, and is now insisting that people hand over the books, papers and television sets to be burned immediately.

Essentially, they are arguing that these proposed new laws – which as far as I can see are simply trying to take regulation out of the hands of the press themselves and subject it to the government – are an imposition on their right to free speech, and, by extension, an attack on all of us, and Western Democracy as a whole. The Goths are not far from the gates, for sure.

High flown rhetoric aside, I guess the first point that appears to me is disbelief – why on earth would anyone think that allowing the press to regulate themselves would ever work? One hardly needed to be a prophet to predict the murky business of the Levinson Enquiry. Ultimately, the ‘free’ press is no freer than anything else- it is subject to the whims of its corporate masters as much as anything else is. Should those corporate masters be responsible and ethical individuals, then the press agencies will probably act in a way that is responsible and ethical. But when those masters begin to have a vested interest in influencing public opinion for their own personal gain, then the press will begin to reflect that interest. I think this has happened, to some extent in Australia.