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Finkelstein, AGW and the Coalition

By Anthony Cox - posted Tuesday, 24 July 2012

According to Janet Albrechtsen, PM Gillard has instructed her ministers to warm up the electorate about the need for greater media control. The alleged need for greater media control is justified by the Finkelstein report on the media.

The Finkelstein report in turn was based on the urging of then Senator Bob Brown and as a response to the Phone Hacking scandal in the UK.

The irony is that Brown’s reasons for wanting to have greater control of the media based on the Murdoch “hate media” and the U.K. phone hacking by Murdoch’s media had no reality to what was happening in Australia with the only hacking being allegedly done by the Fairfax Press.


In other words there was no cogent reason for either the Finkelstein report or Brown’s petulance and ultimately Gillard’s pressing on with media control. This has not stopped Gillard who has already set up a new Media Advisory Panel consisting of five people who all conform to Finkelstein’s elite definition of who is suitable to read news unfettered, a luxury Finkelstein is unwilling to risk by sharing with the rest of the population.

The real reason for this government wanting greater control over the media is the lack of slavish support by the media, particularly the Murdoch Press, for the government’s support of man-made global warming, or Anthropogenic global warning (AGW).

Finkelstein actually uses the example of the Telegraph’s reporting of aspects of AGW as his primary illustration of the irresponsibility of the media in ‘stirring’ up the masses. The crucial point is that everyone has a right to express their individual view about AGW, or any issue. The standards which determine which individual views prevail are arrived at by legal, scientific and electoral processes.

For those three arbiters of standards or "truth", as Finkelstein says, to be valid there must be transparency, participation and enfranchisement. The media plays a fundamental role in at least one of those processes but none of these process qualities have been adequately present in the AGW debate.

It is not by accident, therefore, that Finkelstein uses AGW as a prominent example of defects in the current regulation of the media; what he is proposing will make the process of involvement in the democratic process more problematic, especially in regard to the issue of AGW. Gillard seems intent on making sure Finkelstein’s blueprint is foisted on the Australian public. This would be without any electoral authority creating a perfect symmetry with her disclaimer on the ‘carbon tax’.

So what is the Coalition’s position on all this?


In a recent speech Shadow Attorney-General, George Brandis gave a spirited defence of free speech in the context of the Bolt case.

There is no doubt the Bolt case is a flawed Judgement based on a deeply flawed piece of legislation, the Racial Discrimination Act (RDA). It is regrettable that Bolt and his employer did not appeal the judgement.

There was some blog scuttlebutt around at the time of the Bolt judgement which suggested the litigants would have succeeded in defamation against Bolt but did not proceed with that option because they did not want to be tainted with the money motivation.

In fact the defamation option provides an appropriate context for how the media is being threatened by Finkelstein. Defamation has an objective criteria whereby a litigant has to establish that their reputation is damaged in the context of the community and as determined by what an average person in the community would think.

The Bolt case was determined on the opposite of this objective, community criteria. In Bolt it was sufficient that the litigants have their claim based on reference to their own personal standards; at paragraph 15 of the Judgement, Bromberg, J. Says:

"Whether conduct is reasonably likely to offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate a group of people calls for an objective assessment of the likely reaction of those people. I have concluded that the assessment is to be made by reference to an ordinary and reasonable member of the group of people concerned and the values and circumstances of those people. General community standards are relevant but only to an extent."

At paragraph 23 Bromberg, J. Goes onto say: "The reasons for that conclusion have to do with the manner in which the articles were written, including that they contained errors of fact, distortions of the truth and inflammatory and provocative language."

The Judgement discussion of the errors of facts is at paragraphs 380-383. Supporters of the Bromberg, J. judgement stress that these errors of fact are egregious. But according to Professor James Allan they are problematic and Chris Kenny notes this:

"Much has been made of the findings about errors of fact. Errors are always unfortunate and sometimes egregious but in this case they are hardly the central point. Some of what Bromberg cites as factual error is more a matter of emphasis. It is a canard to suggest the case was about disputed facts: it was about apparent offence caused by Bolt's controversial and strongly worded opinion."

Is the Coalition viewpoint about Finkelstein the same as George Brandis’s fine rhetoric on Bolt?

In a recent interview Malcolm Turnbull advised that Finkelstein: “deserves careful study and community discussion”

John Roskam took Turnbull to task for this “meandering and mealy-mouthed statement”.

Turnbull deserved nothing less. Finkelstein is 474 pages of fatuous rodomontade whose scant pretensions to scholarship can be distilled to one word: censorship.

As noted, Finkelstein hangs its censorious hat on the media’s misrepresentation of AGW. Turnbull is an avowed believer in AGW, as are other prominent members of the coalition such as Hunt. Even Abbott has currently been muted in his opposition to the ‘science’ of AGW.

While it is true the Coalition’s policy is to repeal the destructive ‘carbon tax’ the policy statement of the coalition about AGW is still emphatically supportive of AGW.

This is despite overwhelming evidence that AGW science is deeply flawed, supported only by failed computer models and disproved crucial predictions.

In addition just recently Abbott rejected any suggestion that the Renewable Energy Target [RET] should be abandoned.

The RET has already been a gigantic impost on the Australian economy, diverting massive amounts of capital towards renewable energy projects which are at best ideological pipe-dreams. As well the coalition is promoting its Direct Action Plan. Direct Action may be cheaper than the ‘carbon tax’ but it is similar to the ALP/Green’s Carbon Credits (Carbon Farming Initiative) Bill 2011. The Carbon Farming Initiative legislation encourages farmers to stop using their land for agricultural purposes and instead use it as a carbon sink. Several large working properties have already been purchased with a view to cease their agriculture and food production and gain government revenue from carbon credits. Direct Action will also cause large areas of land to be removed from potential agricultural use.

It has been suggested that the coalition is merely paying lip service to AGW and the RET because it does not want to present a target for the ferocious supporters of AGW in the media such as the ABC and Fairfax.

If this is the case then it is understandable that the Coalition should support Finkelstein; the fact that the coalition may want to muzzle the media, in respect of AGW, for the opposite reason that the current Green led government wants to suppress dissent is beside the point. At the end of the day it will still be the case that politicians are not subject the fullest scrutiny which a free and open society requires.

It is about time the Coalition stared down the oppressive tendencies of this current government and in respect of AGW consider the damage to Australia which is being caused by allowing this failed theory to continue to deleteriously influence public policy.

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About the Author

Anthony Cox is a lawyer and secretary of The Climate Sceptics.

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All articles by Anthony Cox

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