Of fundamental importance to the achievement of humanitarian progress in any society is a willingness to show respect for the arguments and opinions of others on the issues that divide us and to give those who hold different opinions the opportunity of discussing them, freely and frankly, without attracting personal vituperation. This is a defining mark of a civilised and liberal society, whereas by contrast, all forms of totalitarianism share in common the rigid control of information systems. Indeed, perhaps the most effective tool of modern fascism is its total control of all news and communication to citizens, and this was manifested most crudely in Nazi Germany. Gleichschaltung was the word for it in the Nazi lexicon – meaning coordination, or synchronisation, of all acts, deeds, thoughts and opinions with Nazi ideology.
In his powerful and disturbing work, 1984, George Orwell referred to “Newspeak”, a new system of language devised to meet the ideological needs of the elites running the fictional state portrayed in the novel. The purpose of “Newspeak”, according to an appendix to the novel, was not only to provide a medium of expression for the worldview of the rulers and their subjects, but also to make all other modes of thought impossible. Ultimately, it was intended that a thought diverging from the official ideology would be unthinkable, to the extent that thought is dependent on words.
What gives rise to these somewhat morbid reflections is the dangerous uniformity of media coverage concerning the Government’s handling of the refugee crisis. Truth, it is said, is the first casualty of war and Australia’s cultural wars of the last thirty years bear eloquent testimony to the Goebbelsian tendency inherent in our mainstream media.
Take the case of Professor Geoffrey Blainey, who was subject to Nazi-style vilification and denunciation by his academic colleagues, fellow historians and the media in, coincidentally, 1984. His crime was to say what most Australians at the time thought – that Asian immigration was proceeding at a pace greater than that with which the community generally was able to cope. As a consequence of these quite moderate remarks, which were aimed at articulating a point of view shared by many but rigidly excluded from the public debate, Professor Blainey was awarded the status of National Pariah.
He wore this mantle until the emergence of the political naif, Pauline Hanson who, perhaps because of her lack of sophistication or scholarship, was made a figure of fun by the media, attracting both mockery and vituperation. Like Blainey, her offence was to challenge the conventional New Class wisdom on matters relating to immigration and the bipartisan political policy of multiculturalism. Like Blainey, she violated the principle of gleichschaltung. Like Blainey, she paid the penalty – persecution in the form of exclusion, alienation, humiliation, hounding and even unjust jailing.
Now, in the events surrounding the issue of illegal immigrants and their treatment by the Government, there has emerged another sacred cow of the bourgeois left New Class, generating a resort to distortions, exaggerations and plain misrepresentations on the part of the usual suspects in our principal media outlets.
We are told, for example, that the Government’s policy on the handling of boat people lacks compassion, violates the UN Convention on refugees to which it is a signatory, is responsible for delays in processing applications for refugee status and leads to detention of refugees fleeing tyranny in facilities akin to concentration camps. As a result of this official callousness, the narrative continues, desperate Afghan refugees are driven to self-mutilation and suicide, including sewing the lips of their children together, and Australia’s international reputation is being destroyed. This slant on events is repeated ad nauseum and stories purporting to be news are limited to those that reinforce this interpretation of events.
As usual, what we are not told is more revealing than the endless rehashing of the New Class party line.
For example, we are not told that most of the boat people are not refugees from Afghanistan at all, but Pakistanis, Iranians and Iraqis looking for a better life in this country. We are not told that they are generally well-heeled individuals who pay big dollars to people smugglers in order to get a berth on a border-violating boat from Indonesia. We are not told that, once aboard, they destroy the documentation that has enabled them to travel from their homes in the Middle East, leading to the reasonable conclusion that their documentation would not support their claim for refugee status. Incidentally, the fact that they arrive without documentation is the main reason for the delays in processing of applications, since it makes validation of claims more time consuming and difficult.
Little comment or opinion is given to the important consideration of what sort of citizens these people would make, having arrived here in violation of Australia’s laws, and who, once here, endeavour to achieve their goal by threats of suicide and by mutilating their children, as well as by the willful destruction of the facilities provided for their care by the Australian taxpayer.
The New Class claim that Australia’s reputation is being destroyed is clearly untrue, as those who assert it must know. This appeal to a supposed global moral majority is, incidentally, made by those who disdain the clear opinions of a substantial majority in Australia itself. Poll results that indicate overwhelming support on the part of Australia’s citizens for the Government’s handling of the situation are given little exposure as is the fact that detainees seem to have legal representation on tap before they even arrive. That legal representation too, of course, is courtesy of the Australian taxpayer. A new jurisdiction is opening up for Australia’s vast army of hungry lawyers.
But even more disquieting than the narrowness of journalistic and editorial opinion and comment, is the manner in which alternative views are not only suppressed, but those who own them are vilified and denounced. When former National Party Senator John Stone wrote a thoughtful piece in The Australian last month on the importance of cultural compatibility in immigration policy, he was subject not only to the predictable chorus of boos, but unnecessary personal vilification. Philip Ruddock, who most will privately concede is a compassionate, caring and responsible man, is demonised as a ruthless and brutal Fuehrer figure, unmoved by the plight of the helpless and unfortunate. John Howard has, of course, not been forgiven for winning the Federal election on November 10th, and is subject to relentless media bullying at every turn. With the retirement of Pauline Hanson, it seems that the New Class is casting about for another scapegoat.
The tragedy of all this media concentration on manipulation of public opinion is that it leads to a hardening of attitudes. In effect, it is self-defeating. Australians are hardening their hearts, not only in spite of, but because of, the completely one-eyed treatment of the refugee issue by the mainstream media. Similarly, the support that Pauline Hanson was able to garner at the 1998 Federal election – over one million votes – was as much attributable to the injustice of the media treatment afforded her, as it was to any perception that she had the answers for Australia. It seems that after all, Australians do believe in a fair go.
Much has been written on current issues affecting Australia’s media – new privacy regulations for example, and the possibility of allowing increased foreign ownership and removing legislative restrictions on cross media ownership. But little is written of the responsibility attaching to the privilege of operating major media outlets. Yet today, there can be no media issue of greater importance to Australians than the narrow intellectual environment in which our principal media functions and the lack of objectivity, fairness and balance in reporting and comment.
News and information media is too important to be left in the hands of corporate moguls whose vital interests are quite different to those of ordinary Australians. The Citizen Kane approach to media ownership is outdated and un-Australian. To that extent, rather than removing the current inadequate restrictions on the concentration of media ownership, Government should be looking at ways in which that concentration can be dispersed. Given, however, that media barons have, in the past, demonstrated their power to make and unmake Governments, it would be wise not to rely too much on such an unlikely eventuality.
In the meantime, of course, Australians can be mighty thankful for the alternative media, of which the Adelaide Review is such an outstanding example. We need to cherish it and support it while we can, or else we will find ourselves living in an intellectual concentration camp.