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Issue #1587      March 27, 2013

Culture & Life

Freedom of the rich man’s press

I don’t imagine many of the Guardian’s readers would also be regular readers of The Daily Telegraph. And that’s as it should be: capitalism already tries to force-feed the people with pernicious drivel by every means possible, so the least one can do to protect oneself is to avoid the crudities perpetrated by Murdoch’s leading tabloid.

But sometimes, in so doing we miss out on curious or even outrageous spectacles, such as that provided by the issue of the Tele for Tuesday March 19. The first five pages plus two centre pages and a third of another page were devoted to an extraordinary attack on the Gillard government’s proposed “media reforms”.

Reading more like an election leaflet than a newspaper, much of the massive, multi-paged “flyer” was so partisan it verged on the hilarious. By no stretch of the imagination could it have been called “objective”.

Even the name of the paper, in a banner across the top of the front page, had been changed by the addition of a slogan, so it read: “The Daily Telegraph – we’re for a free press”.

Under that was a picture of Thomas Jefferson and a quote from him on freedom of the press. Jefferson was identified for readers of the Tele as the USA’s third president “and author of the US Declaration of Independence”. Yes, Jefferson did co-write the Declaration of Independence, but contrary to what he wrote there, he did not believe that “all men are created equal” (women of course were not even considered).

Jefferson was a slave owner, and true to his class the men he considered equal were white men of adequate means. Africans and Native Americans were not really included, no matter what high-sounding phrases were used in referring to the “the noble red man”. Later, when the USA decided it wanted all the land the Native Americans occupied, the latter became “redskins” and the attempt at their extermination and dispossession began in earnest.

Inside the Tele, there was a series of quotes spread across the top of two pages about the importance of freedom of the press, including one from arch-conservative Winston Churchill, bosom buddy of media magnate Lord Beaverbrook (whose media empire helped Churchill launch the Cold War in 1945).

There were also two quotes intended to show that restricting the press is what dictators do: one was from Hitler (fair enough), the other was from Lenin! The quote from Lenin referred to the decision of the then new Soviet government to curb the activities of the wealthy press barons. Why should the rich be allowed to trash the government of the poor just because the press magnates had plenty of money. Such an unequal struggle was not in the interests of the people.

Lenin said a revolutionary government “would not allow opposition by lethal weapons. Ideas are far more fatal things than guns. Why should any man be allowed to buy a printing press and disseminate pernicious opinion calculated to embarrass the government?” [That’s as quoted by The Telegraph. I haven’t been able to check it, but if any reader does and finds it significantly different please let us know ASAP.]

Further in, on page 13, the Tele devoted a third of a page to an anti-Communist emigré from Vietnam, who is “so glad he lives in a democracy like Australia” where his children are not obliged to read “the ruling party’s line of propaganda”. What else does he think the guff in the Tele is but ruling class propaganda? It’s just filtered through a camouflaging pretence of being the product of “independent journalism”.

Still further in, the Tele devotes its Opinion page (Page 29 on this occasion) to an editorial by Kim Williams, CEO of News Limited, lambasting the proposed media “reforms” as “a bid to silence critics of power and privilege”. When did the Murdoch media empire become associated with “critics of power and privilege”? Yeah, that’s what I thought: never!

Oh, they might gloat when a nob trips and falls on his face, but they could never be accused of opposing or criticising the system. In fact, they will protect the system with their last lying breath.

One thing puzzles me, though: a large featured heading on the Opinion page, in its own box for added emphasis, calls the government’s media proposals “a direct attack on free speech and job creation”. Job creation? What job creation?

The main editorial cartoon in the issue of the Tele under consideration continues the free speech theme, showing a “Pantheon of Free Speech Heroes”, identified as Abraham Lincoln, Mahatma Gandhi, Thomas Jefferson, Winston Churchill and Alexander Solzhenitsyn. Mahatma Gandhi campaigned for the national liberation of the Indian sub-continent from British rule, Jefferson and Churchill we have already dealt with, and Lincoln was the subject of two historical reviews and one myopic attack – all in the pages of The Guardian – so I will restrict my comments to questioning the inclusion in such a “pantheon” of the extreme reactionary Solzhenitsyn, whom even President Nixon deemed to be “to the right of Barry Goldwater”.

Solzhenitsyn did not want free speech, he wanted the destruction – by nuclear war if necessary – of the Soviet Union. While he was a “dissident” in the USSR he was the darling of the chattering classes in the West, but when he was finally unloosed upon them by a Soviet government fed up by ignorant people calling for his “freedom”, he very quickly revealed his true war-mongering nature and his supporters fell away in droves.

Alexander Solzhenitsyn did not want free speech, he wanted the destruction – by nuclear war if necessary – of the Soviet Union. Here he is greeted by Senators Case, Jackson, Helms, and one unidentified colleague during a visit to the US in July 1975.

To call him a champion of free speech is to emphasise the point Lenin was making: free speech for whom? Does free speech mean providing a new Hitler or Goebels with the means to spread lies about and arouse hatred against migrants, Jews, Gypsies, Aborigines, Lebanese, anybody? And to protect them while they do it?

I think not.

Or does it mean recognising people’s right write or say what they wish as long as it does not infringe the rights of others?   

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