Disquieting times

We’ve had a new government for about 4 months now. There are doubtless some who are all ra-ra about the performance of Abbott and his cronies since, but I reckon that most who voted for him back in September will be disappointed, and many of them feeling conned (we warned ya…). For the rest of us the only real surprise is that he’s actually been so poor. We had low expectations, but it takes talent to fail even them.

There’s been a lot to comment on, but I’ve held my tongue because this is not a political blog. And besides, it riles me up too much. It’s no small thing to see so much you believe in trashed. When once I was proud I am often embarrassed, and occasionally ashamed. In many aspects I fear for the future.

There have been a couple of things in recent times that have gone beyond that. Incompetence is one thing. Ignorance and discrimination are ugly things, but we’ve become used to them. The bedrock of our society are democratic values. It’s true that many of them have been eroded over the years, but we still proudly proclaim ourselves a democratic nation that values freedom above all else. These should be non-negotiables, but lately things have been said or done that cause disquiet.

Yesterday Tony Abbott made an extraordinary attack on the ABC. The ABC is the government broadcaster, independent and impartial. It hasn’t the commercial agenda of its commercial counterparts, and instead is committed to a charter of reporting the news as it is, without bias. That’s been the subject of much discussion over the years, particularly on the Liberal side of the fence, but until now no-one has really threatened that independence.

Yesterday Abbott accused the ABC of not supporting the home side – the clear inference being that the ABC should be delivering news in support of and in favour of Australian interests – which I take to mean Australian government interests. In other words, the ABC should be partisan. He was highly critical of the ABC’s role in news stories in the last few months that reflect badly on the nation, and particularly the national government. It was clear in his view that the ABC should not have reported what was clearly newsworthy because  it ran counter to the ‘national interest’.

This the Prime Minister of this land making these comments.

A free and independent press is a cornerstone of democracy. Our commercial media interests are free, but heavily centralised, and in large part politicised. Independence these days is at the editorial whim, and given the power of media barons now the press is less about breaking news than it is about wielding that power like a sledge-hammer. The result is that in large part the news passed onto us is skewed to advance the interests of the media baron. Sympathetic governments are co-opted and promoted, and those who seek to stand against them slandered, misrepresented, and ultimately destroyed. It’s a perversion of democracy. Stories never see the light of day, and true and independent press that investigates and analyses impartially is a rare thing. Certainly the newspapers here are a shadow of what they were even 5 years ago, and TV is largely a disgrace. Who loses out of that? You and me.

The ABC should be the one media outlet we can trust. There are no commercial interests it must pander to or promote; in theory it’s independent from the government, with a board governing their conduct. This is not a government organ like Pravda. It’s not a state-run news service promoting state approved news. The ABC is there to report without fear or favour. In the current environment that’s more important than ever. We need a counter-weight to the commercial news services with their agendas.

What Abbott asks for is undemocratic, and very much against the true national interest. The news should be about the truth, and the ugly truth if it must be: that’s a central obligation of democratic society. As citizens we need the information required to make up our own minds about things, good or bad, favourable or not. The truth is the truth. Democracy is the right to make up our own minds, and any infringement of that must be rigorously fought.

That’s what’s so shocking about Abbott and his statements. As our duly elected leader he should be upholding the values of democracy. I’m amazed there has been so little outrage over his comments, but I guess that’s the tenor of the times – and the paid press paying their dues.

I think he’s a fuckwit, but I never thought he would stoop so low – and so I’m forced to believe there is another agenda here. He’s a buffoon, but I don’t think he would go off script like this. I think this means that he is preparing us for big, unpalatable news about the ABC. Will it be privatised? Broken up? Parts of it dissolved?

Be warned. Stay tuned.

This follows on about a month when Abbott, and Pyne, appointed his own school commissioners to replace the independently appointed school commissioners because he was unhappy with what he claimed was a left-bias in school teaching. The commissioners he appointed are conservative and right-wing, and of course, no longer independent. He’s replaced the independent school commissioners because of an alleged left bias with his own appointees with an unquestioned right bias.

This is another instance of an independent process being circumvented and politicised. It’s worrying because you now wonder what kids will be taught. An independent and presumably measured approach towards school curriculum and philosophy is at risk of being hijacked by political interests. Hitler did that. So too has every totalitarian country since. Education is a foundation of our society. We’re not North Korea ramming doctrine down the throats of our children. We want to form individuals capable of thinking for themselves and asking questions of the world. That must come from an independent education system. As soon as the government begins to manipulate it we are in big trouble.

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