Gillard and Brown are both trying to shoot the messenger

The push by Bob Brown and Julia Gillard for a parliamentary inquiry into the media is so cynical, manipulative and transparently biased that if we really were as evil as they believe we’d congratulate them both for joining the dark side.

We're useless! Let's blame News Ltd!We're useless! Let's blame News Ltd!

Both leaders are seeking to establish a connection in the public’s mind between the obscene and illegal practices exposed in the UK and perfectly conventional and legitimate journalism and commentary in Australia with which they just happen to disagree.

It is extraordinary both how blatantly they have hijacked the issue and how seamlessly the more naïve and ideological sections of the community have followed them to this at best offensive and at worst dangerous illogicality.

The UK phone tapping scandal is about a British newspaper or newspapers engaging in illegal activity against ordinary citizens, most disgracefully, in some cases, the victims of crime.

This is now being used as justification by the Prime Minister and Senator Brown for a parliamentary inquiry into the local media. But why?

Do they have any evidence of phone tapping here? No.

Do they have any evidence of illegal activity here? No.

Do they even accuse reporters of behaving in a dishonest fashion or employing dishonest practices to obtain information here? No.

Yet still Brown wants an inquiry into media practices and ethics here.

That, it appears, is Australian journalists’ reward for not engaging in dirty and unscrupulous practices and generally being fairly decent types: A McCarthy-esque fishing expedition based on not a shred of evidence. Not even an allegation.

This absurd logic is the equivalent of police officers walking up to random people in the street and forcing them to prove they are not criminals.

And how will it work? Will rumpled press gallery scribes be dragged from their beds to testify which politicians they were drinking with the night before? Who said what? What was on or off the record? Will they have to give up sources? Expose whistleblowers? Will they, as Senator Joe encouraged so enthusiastically in the 50s, have to name names?

And of course media ownership will be scrutinised. And why is that again? Were the dodgy practices engaged at News of the World caused by concentration of media ownership? Er, no.

In fact the running theory as to why such dirty tricks were employed is that competition in the UK newspaper market is so fierce and so cutthroat that papers would resort to anything to get the edge on their rivals – even those in the same stable.

So no, it’s not that there’s any indication of dodgy behaviour or that media ownership has caused dodgy behaviour, so what is it? Why are we having this inquiry again?

Well gosh, no one can really say. But there might be a teeny-weeny clue in the fact that Brown describes the Murdoch press as “hate media” and that Gillard this week told the press gallery: “Don’t write crap.”

Now it’s one thing for a politician to point to a news report or editorial or opinion piece and say “that is crap” and tell the world why, but it’s a tad chilling when a Prime Minister instructs reporters not to “write crap” in the middle of a debate about a new regulatory framework to govern the media. Who’s going to enforce that edict? The Ministry of Truth?


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