Citizen Journalism

Posts Tagged ‘Freedom of speech’

The Skull Beneath the Skin

In Brandis Remember This Freedom, Democracy, Freedom of Speech, Ideology, JWH & NGOs, Margo Kingston on May 10, 2013 at 9:48 AM
Created by Peter Nicholson NicholsonCartoons.com.au (http://nicholsoncartoons.com.au/east-timor-and-oil.html)

Created by Peter Nicholson NicholsonCartoons.com.au

By Margo Kingston
10 May 2013

In his Cry, Freedom speech this week, Shadow Attorney General George Brandis said this:

‘But at least the debates about freedom of speech and freedom of the press, which we have seen in the past couple of years, have been a sharp reminder to the Liberal Party of its historic mission. For in the freedom wars, there has been only one party which has stood steadfastly on the side of freedom.’

@NoFibs has disproved this claim – indefensible given the Howard Government’s record – in several pieces which detail just some of the relentless assaults on free speech and political freedom by the Howard Government. At all times Brandis was a member of Howard’s team, and a minister in the late years. See our ‘You must remember this, George’ archive.

A new chapter in the 2007 update of my book told the saddest, baddest, meanest story of the Howard Government’s intolerance for free speech which disagreed with it. It’s hard to believe unless you are cognisant of the anti-free speech values of neo-liberalism (see the IPA philosophical rationale in Howard’s blueprint for Abbott to stifle dissent )

In short, the Howard government signed a contract with a small East Timorese NGO to monitor human rights in local prisons. Before the contract, the group joined other local NGOs to sign a statement urging Australia to recognise international dispute settling bodies in the East Timor Sea oil dispute. When Downer was informed, he broke the contract and ordered his department to lie to the group about the reasons.

When the official told to lie, Peter Ellis, protested that this would breach the ethcial duties of public servants, his career was over.

Cry, Freedom.


The Skull Beneath the Skin

On 10 December 2004, the fifty-sixth anniversary of the world’s adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights after the horrors of  the  Second World War, Downer announced grants to ten NGOs in the Asia-Pacific. ‘Australia has a proud tradition of protecting and promoting human rights,’ he said. The Timorese NGO Forum Tau Matan would get a grant to ‘monitor and educate community groups and legal officials about prison conditions’.

Accordingly, on 25 January 2005, the senior AusAID diplomat in East Timor, Peter Ellis, made a written offer on Australia’s behalf of $65,830, which became a legally binding contract when Forum Tau Matan signed off on 22 February.

While organising local media coverage to hand over the cheque, Ellis saw the NGO statements on the internet. Acting on the orders he’d received when posted to Dili to note the Howard government’s ‘political sensitivities’ about funding NGOs, he scrupulously referred the statements to AusAID’s head office in Canberra. Downer was advised.

Downer hated NGO criticisms of Australia on the Timor Sea negotiations. In a BBC interview back in May 2004, he had complained of ‘hysterical and emotional and irrational claims’ and ‘a whole lot of emotional claptrap which is being pumped up through sort of left wing NGOs’. He meant Oxfam, which in the same month, on the second anniversary of independence, had released a report noting that ‘the Australian Government is reaping more than $1 million a day from oil fields in a disputed area of the Timor Sea that is twice as close to East Timor as it is to Australia . . . In total, Australia has received nearly ten times as much revenue from Timor Sea oil and gas than it has provided in aid to East Timor since 1999. Read the rest of this entry »

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The Forgotten People

In Brandis Remember This Freedom, Democracy, Freedom of Speech, Freedom of the Press, Margo Kingston on May 9, 2013 at 3:05 PM
Chinese President Hu Jintao addressed parliament during his 2003 visit, which marked a shift in China's attitude to Australia. Picture: AP Source: AP

Chinese President Hu Jintao addressed parliament during his 2003 visit, which marked a shift in China’s attitude to Australia. Picture: AP Source: AP

By Margo Kingston
May 9, 2013

The day after Howard, Abbott and Brandis, among other Liberals, pulverised our freedoms for George Bush, they did it again for Chinese President Hu. This chapter of my book is Part 5 in our series of memory joggers for shadow Attorney General George Brandis, in the hope that he revises his recent speech this week proclaiming his Party a champion of free speech. Senator Brandis has rather oddly chosen not to publish the speech online so it can be freely read by voters, so for now check out the transcript of the @alberichi interview after he delivered it.

In our time, we must decide our own belief.
Either freedom is the privilege of an elite few, or it is the
right and capacity of all humanity
George Bush, address to the Australian Parliament, 23 October 2003

There are fascist tendencies in all countries – a sort of latent
tyranny . . . Suppression of attack, which is based upon suppression
of really free thought, is the instinctive weapon of the vested
interest . . . great groups which feel their power are at once subject
to tremendous temptations to use that power so as to limit the
freedom of others
Robert Menzies, ‘Freedom of Speech and Expression’, from


24 October 2003

Speaker Andrew and Senate President Calvert wait at the side entrance of Parliament House to greet President Hu. A white car pulls up but instead of Hu, Chinese Foreign Minis- ter Li Zhaoxing alights to express ‘some concerns’. Andrew, Calvert and the Foreign Minister adjourn to Andrew’s office, where Li says Hu is worried about ‘two Green Sena- tors in the chamber and three guests – “dissidents” he called them – in the gallery, who were likely to interrupt the President’s speech’. Li names Chin Jin.

Andrew assures Li that the Greens’ senators will not get in, and that Chin Jin will not be in the public gallery. ‘The Speaker repeatedly gave them assurances, as best he could, that that was not going to happen. They seemed satisfied with  that.’

(Revealed by Calvert to Senate Estimates on 3 November 2003.)

When the Australian Tibetans arrive at Parliament House Chinese agents point them out to Australian security, who call Andrew. The security officers take them to the enclosed, soundproofed gallery. They cannot follow Hu’s speech because Andrew does not provide translation devices.

Chin Jin is in the office of his host, Greens MP Michael Organ, when Organ is told the fate of the two Tibetan guests. Two officials from the Department of Foreign Affairs escort Chin Jin to the security check area, then into the soundproofed area. Two Chinese officials closely watch the three guests while talking on mobile phones.

Three Parliament House security officers block senators Brown and Nettle from entering the House of Representatives. Senator Brian Harradine boycotts Hu’s speech. John Howard makes no mention of human rights or democracy in his welcome to Hu, but stresses the trade relationship.

Several Liberals refuse to applaud Hu’s speech, including NSW Senator Bill Heffernan, who also pointedly fails to use his translation device during the speech.

After Hu’s speech, NSW Liberal Senator Marise Payne muses over coffee, ‘I have to say something about Tibet.’

At the joint Hu–Howard press conference, Howard states, ‘I can say very confidently that it is a strong relationship built on mutual respect for each other’s traditions.’

That evening Speaker Neil Andrew refuses to tell the Australian people what he’s done, declining to comment when the media calls. The next day the Sydney Morning Herald and the Australian break the story of the Chinese Foreign Minister’s intervention.

Read the full chapter below. Read the rest of this entry »

Can the cross bench deliver citizens accountability from newspapers?

In Margo Kingston, Media Reform on March 27, 2013 at 6:57 PM
Daily Telegraph Front Page 19 March 2013

Daily Telegraph Front Page 19 March 2013

By Margo Kingston,
March 27,  2013

What a predicament. All seven cross benchers and the Government are dissatisfied with the standards of newspapers and want citizens to be protected against their abuse of their power. Julian Disney, who heads the Press Council which administers self-regulation, believes there are ‘substantial problems with media standards in Australia’.

Yet nothing will be done.

Let’s quickly address the blame game. The area is highly dangerous for any government, which is why newspapers have escaped any regulation for so long (see the Finkelstein report on the tortured history of journalists‘ fight to get even limited self regulation).

The government has dithered due to splits in cabinet, leaks to Murdoch papers (presumably from Rudd supporters) and fears of retribution by newspapers clearly barracking for the opposition.

So Gillard and Conroy rammed through Cabinet a set of reforms they believed were weak enough to pass muster with the proprietors and sought to blackmail the cross bench into saying yes or getting nothing.

The plan blew up in their faces. Murdoch media led an overblown and vicious campaign against the reforms. The cross bench was unhappy with the detail and the minimalist nature of the blueprint and refused to meet the deadline. Gillard and Conroy said it’s over, let’s move on.

So the government does lose-lose, angering proprietors with no result. The Opposition makes it clear it will not countenance any strengthening of self-regulation, keeping it onside with the Murdoch media. The chance is lost.

The real losers are the people and good journos who need to be empowered by some accountability for bad journos. As Julian Disney said so eloquently at the Senate inquiry, ‘Absolute freedoms attack freedom’.

Newspapers get protection for journalist’s sources and exemption from the Privacy Act with no obligations in return. And evidence to the Senate inquiry showed that News Limited and Seven owner Kerry Stokes believe there is no public interest in what newspapers separate from self-interest.

Disney articulated the public interest – freedom of expression – and gave evidence that the media standards problem was so significant that newspapers actually impeded the free expression of citizens.

This occurred through distortion, suppression of key facts and opinions, factual errors and invasion of privacy. (The worst example of factual error during the media reform debate was when two senior news limited journalists doctored a quote to falsely accuse Senator Conroy of doctoring a quote.) Read the rest of this entry »

Absolute freedoms destroy freedom: Disney

In Journalism, Margo Kingston, Media Reform, MSM on March 20, 2013 at 5:09 PM
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Julian Disney – Australian Press Council

Extract of evidence from Professor Julian Disney on freedom of expression and Australian newspapers  to the Senate hearing on media reform, March 19

There are substantial problems with media standards in Australia. A number of them we have in common with other countries…

We also gather (information) from journalists as well.

Journalists tend to speak more freely, of course, one to one than they do in broader discussions about what they see as problems within the media. The problems include distortion and suppression of key facts and opinions; confusion of fact and opinion; errors of fact, especially online due to excessive haste in posting material and inadequate corrections of those errors; invasion of privacy, particularly through the use of photographs taken from a distance. Some problems, of course, in any profession or industry, are inevitable. I do not think it should be a surprise that there are some. The level is higher than it should be and I think it is a significant problem that needs to be addressed.

On the other hand, we need to bear in mind that it is true that the media, and journalists in particular, many of them, if they are to be effective and if they are to serve the broader public interest in access to information and free expression of opinion, do need to be from time to time somewhat aggressive, somewhat unruly. One should not seek perfection in this area. Indeed, if one did seek perfection, it would be at a very high price.

Having said that, there is a substantial problem that needs to be addressed.

I might say that it has an adverse impact, amongst other things, on freedom of expression. If people are to have freedom of expression, they need access to reliable information. If they are fed false information, then the views that they form and they might want to express will not be the views that they would form and express if they were well informed. Access to unreliable, distorted information is an attack on freedom of expression.
Similarly, if they are unable to get their voice heard reasonably, because particular outlets have perhaps a general tendency to be more willing to publish views from one part of a perspective on a particular issue rather than another, that infringes on the freedom of expression of those people who do not come from the part that is going to be more generously covered.

If they are given an occasional example to express their views but that is overwhelmed by a very extensive coverage of the other view, then again their freedom of expression suffers.

Freedom of expression needs to be for all people, not just for those who are wealthy or for those who have special access to the most widely read media. Of course, it is a huge infringement on freedom of expression if people are intimidated by vitriol or by other forms of excessive abuse. That, again, even if it comes from active proponents of freedom of speech, it is in fact an attack on freedom of expression.

So media standards, good media standards, are an essential element, for a number of reasons. One of them is, in fact, genuine, wide-ranging freedom of expression. The Press Council has a very important role in this, a very demanding role. We can never do it to my satisfaction, and there are many issues which one should not look to the Press Council to solve anyway. There are other aspects of society in a democracy which must address them. We must always have realistic expectations of a press council. Read the rest of this entry »

Howard’s blueprint for Abbott to stifle dissent

In Brandis Remember This Freedom, Freedom of Speech, IPA, JWH & NGOs, Margo Kingston on March 12, 2013 at 2:19 PM
Artist Martin Davies.  More works and info on Martin at: www.daviesart.com

Artist Martin Davies.

By Margo Kingston
March 12, 2013

This chapter from Still Not Happy, John! (Pengiun, 2007) is required reading for activists and people in non-government organisations which advocate for change. John Howard’s government systematically sought to stifle democratic dissent with the help of the Institute of Public Affairs (IPA).

Believe it or not, the Howard government funded the secretly funded IPA to produce a report saying groups who did not reveal their funding should not get government funding. Pressed to justify this hypocrisy, the IPA promised to disclose its donors but it never did.

As the likelihood of a government led by Howard’s political son grows, I feel citizens need to ask detailed questions of the Coalition on their intentions this time round. None of the dissent stifling measures discussed here were ever revealed prior to election.

I commissioned journalist Paddy Manning (@gpaddymanning) to write this chapter and he did a fine job.



‘Still Not Happy, John!’ is published by Penguin. You can download it as an ebook here:

Still Not Happy, John!

Fight for freedom like IPA: Brandis to Human Rights Commission

In Brandis Remember This Freedom, Freedom of Speech on February 22, 2013 at 2:39 PM

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By Greg Barns
February 22. 2013

Expect to see political interference in the work of the Human Rights Commission – the national guardian of our human rights – under an Abbott Government.

Likely Attorney-General Senator George Brandis this week hinted at what might be in store in an interview with The Australian. He said the HRC was not doing its job  ‘unless it spends as much time promoting freedom and libertarian rights generally as it does promoting equality or egalitarian rights’ (Brandis eyes speech, press rights – Oz paywall).

Naturally he cuddled up to mainstream media organisations, declaring that  at ‘a time when, in Australia in the past 18 months, we have been having a very vigorous public discussion of freedom of speech and freedom of the press, the HRC has done virtually nothing to promote the rights recognised in article 19 of the ICCPR, that is, freedom of speech and expression, while it spends an enormous amount of time advocating other rights, in particular in the anti-discrimination area,” Brandis was quoted as saying in The Australian on February 20.

These remarks, and the idea that the HRC should be lectured by the Shadow Attorney-General or any other politician, are troubling.

Senator Brandis appears to be suggesting that the HRC, the only protector of human rights in a country which stands isolated among hundreds of democracies in not having a national human rights law, should be looking after those more than capable of looking after themselves at the expense of the marginalised such as asylum seekers and Indigenous Australians.

Brandis’ comments, in short hand,  are that the ‘human rights’ of media players are more important than those of children suffering psychological and physical harm in immigration detention centres.

To give weight to that observation consider that when the HRC Chair Gillian Triggs appeared before a Senate Estimates Committee last week Brandis used it as a platform for long winded criticisms of the HRC doing too much on discrimination and not enough on ‘freedom.’  A ‘freedom commissioner’ would be a good idea Senator Brandis thought.

And he upbraided Professor Triggs for not doing more to promote freedom of speech.  “I do not see the commission being a dedicated and committed advocate of freedom principles. You have think tanks, like in the Institute of Public Affairs, which has something called a freedom project. I do not see a freedom project in the Human Rights Commission,” Brandis said.

It would appear that the HRC, with Senator Brandis as Attorney-General, would shift scarce resources away from exposing the outrage of children in detention centres into producing PR material on freedom of speech. Read the rest of this entry »