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Censorship, celebrating journalists and a farewell

Friday 25 October 2019

It has been one of those weeks when all the planets aligned. As many of you would be aware the major media companies on Monday launched their Your Right to Know campaign in all forms of the media. That campaign followed government-sanctioned police raids on both News Corp and ABC journalists. That and the passing of even more draconian laws by the Morrison Government which further limit media organisations investigative powers and criminalises journalism in some circumstances.

 

This public debate has been coming for ages but in truth dates back thousands of years. Indulge me for a moment as I recall a polemic called Areopagitica, written by English philosopher and poet John Milton in 1644. It was a treatise on censorship, licensing and regulation which the English government of the day was trying to enforce on its citizens. Unbelievably, King Charles 1 was trying to enact legislation that required all journalists to be licensed by his government. Indeed, Milton imagined he was transported back in time to the fourth century AD to one of the Athenian Hills, Areopagitica, and was appearing before the local council. Yep, that’s right: all submissions to the Council of Athens had to be oral but in his allegory he rocked the boat and put out a pamphlet setting out the case for liberty in written and spoken word. It is probably the most famous treatise in history in relation to freedom of speech and from the tyranny of kings, feudal rulers or even the church. If you are ever in need of enlightenment have a read. Milton nailed it.

I guess the iron law of oligarchy remains. On day one after an election or even a revolution someone has to be in charge and that someone will develop and fashion a system to suit their own needs and perpetuate their government/administration. It has been going on since time immemorial.

That’s why we need fearless journalists to uncover and expose difficult truths, right the wrongs and expose the stuff governments, corporations and very occasionally councils do not want you to ever see. Yes, that applies to councils as well, but in truth councils themselves are just as much a victim of tyranny from above as their citizens. We are at the bottom of the inter-government pile and aren’t we reminded of that from time to time. For what it’s worth I am planning on living to 90 just so I can see the release of some Cabinet documents from the past few decades so I can say told you so or prove that we were being told rubbish. Just not sure who will be listening though.

Yes, journalists can be the bane of our lives in local government at times. They can be pushy, prickly, cynical, even downright rude. However, the alternative -- no one to tell our story, no independent filter on the excesses of our institutions or big business – would be much worse. There would also be Fake News and an entirely unconstrained peanut gallery and rabble that now exists and resides on social media. Journalists live in a space between those two firmaments and provide a modicum of rationality and objectivity in public discourse which would otherwise not exist. Whether we like it or not journalists (not always their publishers) have standards and codes of ethics to which they largely adhere. If you are having a yike with the local scribe be careful what you wish for because the alternative is normally way worse.

Which brings me to farewelling today of one of our own, Craig Johnstone the LGAQ’s first ever Media Executive. Craig is re-joining News Corp, this time as Queensland Editor of The Australian newspaper. Craig has spent nine years working for the LGAQ and our member councils. I will come straight to the point and avoid hyperbole: Craig is a legend, no bones about it. He is whip smart, a tactical media master and a brilliant writer, by far and away the best urban affairs writer in the nation. To me he has also been a wise friend and told me what I needed to know even when I didn’t want to hear it -- priceless advice. We wish him well although I’m not looking forward to the first time he rings me as Queensland Editor. Thank you and all the best Craig in the next chapter of your career.

Journalists matter and Craig Johnstone more than most.

 

Local Government Association of Queensland
LG House, 25 Evelyn Street, Newstead Qld 4006

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