ABC Cuts – Is it Criminalising Journalism or Freedom of Speech?

I am seeing a pattern here.  It appears there is a trend that reveals intolerance to freedom of speech.  My guess is it is business interests that regard freedom of speech as damaging their brand image and regard any opposition as an enemy rather than a right in a democratic society.  The government of the day has a business acumen and it is clear that this type of ideology shuts down democratic discourse behind the scenes whilst appearing democratic.  It is a concerning trend.  I am certain it is global given the power array around the world.

However, as I’ve said in poetry and throughout my own experience, it won’t work, indeed it can’t work as human’s are remarkably resilient and it is part of who we are to speak up.  Any historian can tell you that throughout history empires have risen and fallen.  It is part of the human story.  It always accompanies some form of empire or concentration of power.  There are no enemies just unquestioned thoughts that believe we are ‘right’ the other wrong and who have forgotten the famous adage:

“I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”  (the true sentiment of the democratic in a free society)

Voltaire (it was not Voltaire although commonly quoted, it in truth was a woman, Evelyn Beatrice).

I understand Emma Alberici received a letter from the Communication Minister Mitch Fifield once a week.  My first concern was political interference.  The head of the ABC is Michelle Guthrie  

Is it democratic to shut down opposition?  Or do we learn to resolve conflict, embrace differences and grow as a society, leading by example. You decide what is in the public interest (not commercial, political or special interests, but for all Australians).  What is fair?

In my view we have a liberal party that is representing business interests and elitism and then we have a Labor party who is representing business interests and unions.  I want to know who represents the rest of us?  The ABC has always reported stories of national interest. In my view I have found them brave and controversial. The commercial stations play it safe given corporate ownership.  I find their journalism very light and biased on many occasions.  They just whip up drama or infotainment.  I watched a 60 minutes report on China and it was so clearly biased.  I do want to know what the Chinese are buying and why.  I would like a Chinese government official to respond.  I believe in visibility and balance.  

The commercial shut down of voices is not dissimilar to work.  At work you will not be political as it may affect your career.  When you are independent you are free to say what you think, that is the true democracy in my view, I believe it is essential to a healthy society.  I am always observing who is independent who is controlled?  The latter will not serve the public they only serve self interest but they will sound convincing given paid public relations spin.  We need free thinking, unaligned persons reporting events and stories not only what is current but what is progressive and innovative.  They have to be highly ethical and professional in their approach so the public get the full story (both sides) and not some manipulated version to serve interests who are unseen in the background donating their money to change the world into their image (a bit like playing god).  I do not believe the public want that.  We must keep private money out of public goods so democracy and shared interest is not lost. 

I personally am only interested in the what serves the highest public good and what are the publics interests.  I would respond to that.  Cultures of bullying are anti-democratic. I would like to see respect, fair debate and freedom of speech.  That would be my vote.

Budget cuts are an attempt to bully the ABC into silence

ABC journalists must hold power to account, but they can’t rely on being adequately defended if they upset the government

‘The attack on the ABC through its budget is a clumsy and brutal onslaught against the one media organisation over which it has direct influence’
The attack on the ABC through its budget is a clumsy and brutal onslaught against the one media organisation over which it has direct influence’ Photograph: Tracey Nearmy/AAP

The bullying of the ABC with the latest round of budget cuts is a stark example of how the federal government wants to kill questioning journalism. Vicious attacks on the ABC certainly came from both major political parties in the past, but whereas Labor, by its political orientation at least pays lip service to dissent, there are no such restraints on the Liberal National Coalition. And as the government has shifted to the right, the attacks on the ABC have been more overt, with the home affairs minister, Peter Dutton, pointedly referring to the ABC (and the Guardian) as “dead” to him. Dutton was angry at the role of journalists in holding him to account.

There is a belief in the government that if they keep attacking the organisation, and cutting its funding, it will eventually blunt its journalism. Unfortunately these kind of sustained attacks do have an impact. Though the ABC supported its political reporter who described Tony Abbot as “destructive”, the buckling by the ABC to criticism of Emma Alberici’s reasoned argument that big business is not paying its fair share of tax, or the handling of the Asio cabinet files saga, where huge number of classified Cabinet documents were returned to the government without producing a story, suggests a lack of strong journalistic leadership.

Inside the ABC there has always been a struggle between what is known as the “pre-emptive buckle” where a “pragmatic” approach is taken to government criticism (and their views accommodated) in the belief that the organisation will live to fight another day, and those who believe in confronting the government, arguing that a bully will never stop until the organisation has become just a propaganda mouthpiece for whoever is in power in Canberra.

What’s not helping the ABC at the moment is that many journalists have little faith that if they upset the government they will be adequately defended. Yet in spite of that, many of them continue to put first class journalism to air, even as jobs are cut, with more sackings to come.

The attack on the ABC through its budget is a clumsy and brutal onslaught against the one media organisation over which it has direct influence. Yet the ABC is not alone.

The federal government has presided over a raft of legislation designed to directly curb the work of all journalists. The latest: proposed laws which could jail journalists for 20 years for even being in possession of information which the government deemed might harm national security. These are laws aimed specifically at journalists, and the whistleblowers that provide such a desperately needed flow of information to counter the deceptive statements, and sometimes deliberate lies, from members of the government.


It’s necessary to look back no further than the Iraq war to understand the consequences of these new laws. Australian intelligence analyst Andrew Wilkie, who walked out of the Office of National Assessments and told the truth about Iraq’s lack of weapons of mass destruction on national television, could have ended up sharing a cell with the person he gave the story to, Channel Nine’s then political editor Laurie Oakes. They could have both been in breach of handling classified information. Yet like most reports about national security, their disclosure posed no danger to public safety. It simply caused embarrassment to the Howard government.

15 years later, there’s an eerie similarity in Australia to Trump’s America, where the president described journalists as the “enemy of the American people”. What is different here is that unlike many other western nations, journalists in Australia have scant legal protection for the jobs that they do. They are vulnerable, and none so more than those who work at the ABC.

Under repeated attack, ABC journalists must hold the federal government to account and at the same time rely on the protection of a weak and jumpy executive. If this budget has taught the ABC anything it is that the bully can never be appeased.

• Andrew Fowler is a former ABC Four Corners reporter. His latest book, Shooting the Messenger: Criminalising Journalism, has just been published by Routledge UK

Mohandas Gandhi

“Each one has to find his peace from within. And peace to be real must be unaffected by outside circumstances.”