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A Mirror For Self-Evaluation

By Elizabeth Major on October 24, 2014 in Other

Photo: Wendy Deng

Photo: Wendy Deng

Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression. Horrified by the execution and imprisonment of journalists overseas, most Aussies probably don’t even realise that our own status on the World Audit free press survey is slowly plummeting. From subtle to overt control, do you ever wonder where your news really comes from?

We are fed sensationalist tabloid newspapers, filtered by only two conglomerate news companies, and given shreds of truth, cleverly disguised through entertainment. In a defeatist attitude, we admit that the media can’t be trusted, and instead turn to Facebook for our ‘newsfeed’.

Why should the public even care about free press? Now that we have the Internet, is there any reason to even buy a newspaper, except to do the crossword? Well, freedom of expression is a clearly defined article in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (now the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights). Look it up if you haven’t read it. Freedom of press is not just about reliable news; it is a core indicator of the freedom of the people.

With the recent death of journalist James Foley, the world is becoming more aware of the dangers faced by reporters in countries that have no free press; places where the truth is such a danger to the totalitarian government that any person seeking it faces serious risk to their safety. Reporters Without Borders (Reporters Sans Frontiers, or RSF) offers a real time world report (the Press Freedom Barometer) into the imprisonment of journalists, threats against them and their families, and the past and current death toll of journalists and other media. The confirmed death toll sits at 71 for the current year and 134 for 2013.

In less extreme cases, however, a supposedly free press nation may commit ‘economic strangulation’ through the withdrawal of funds or advertising. Sound familiar? In light of the Australian budget’s recent cut to ABC funding, and the conservative government’s continuous investigations into the ABC, it seems as though this subtle method of control is contributing to the decline of the freedom of Australian press.

In Australia we have something called the Pluralistic Press Charter, which states that: “The people of Australia have a right to freedom of information and access to differing opinions.” Unfortunately, new reforms to legislation are being pushed through parliament so that freedom of expression “may be limited on grounds including national security… making it an offence to disclose information relating to a ‘special intelligence operation’.” With this legislative amendment, any journalist in Australia disclosing information about covert operations will now be subject to jail time.

Sound scary? It should – it sounds a bit like Syria. Democracy and freedom are synonymous with free expression, and persecution of the press will always be an indication that the citizens are also being oppressed. The danger for unethical governments is that, as people demand real information, they will also demand independence from totalitarianism. On the other hand, a shallow or complacent society will accept the encroachment of power from their government if they do not question the content they are given. It is said that the media is a direct reflection of our society, a mirror for self-evaluation. If we don’t like what we see in that mirror, it is up us to demand a change.