The extent and true nature of opposition to a taxpayer funded state funeral for corrupt former Premier Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen will never be known because it is a story the local media refused to tell.
ABC Local Radio and The Courier-Mail, the only realistic outlets for such a debate, denied freedom of speech and refused to allow public discussion of the issue.
The Courier-Mail received three submissions for its opinion page in 2004 (that I am aware of) and refused to publish all of them. One was by police whistleblower, Nigel Powell, the second by then Greens Senate candidate Drew Hutton, and the other came from me.
Each of us had standing on the issue having been there and witnessed Joh's reign, and each was referred to an editorial the paper ran on July 9 last year as reason for our submissions not being published. (Powell’s article was subsequently published by On Line Opinion on August 8 last year.)
Among other statements that ought offend anyone who cares about journalism, free speech, and “the indispensable opposition” in an open society, that editorial said: “As premier of Queensland for 19 years, Sir Joh's entitlement to a state funeral, when the time comes, should not be questioned.” (Emphasis added.)
And certainly would not be questioned while the paper had anything to do with it, but more on that offensive twaddle in a moment. Hutton and Powell then approached ABC Local Radio, only to be told, in part, that “an editorial decision has been taken not to discuss this issue”.
It would be interesting to hear a justification for that outrage against the ABC’s charter and reason for being.
But of course, the sufficiently provocative can always get a run from lazy hacks. And so it is that unsuccessful second-hand book shop owner and self-proclaimed "West End ratbag", Brian Laver, became the voice of opposition to a state funeral with crazy talk of picketing it.
Having helped create this media straw man, and given him a good run on its own pages let it be said, The Courier-Mail then tears him down, observing, without irony, “The attention Mr Laver's antics have received since the death of Sir Joh … demonstrate how media outlets can let their guard down and be used by a sole voice with a placard or a small ‘rent a crowd’.” You don’t say.
Of course to add severe injury to the insult of only covering Laver’s antics, the Courier and the ABC have in the process discredited the reasoned and reasonable case to be made against a state funeral because Laver has come to represent it.
Meanwhile literally hundreds of thousands of Queenslanders who opposed Joh when he rode rough shod over the state oppose a state funeral for him, or would if they were given a chance to hear the arguments against it, don’t you worry about that.
They deserve to hear those arguments, and to be given the chance to consider them. They are more compelling than anything heard so far in favour of granting one, and there are many articulate writers, journalists, musicians, academics, workers and plain old common-as-muck folk who can and would love to have talked Premier Peter Beattie out of honouring the old “hillbilly dictator” with a state funeral at public expense.
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