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The US must act on Greste

Crikey readers talk Australia’s history of press freedom (or not), Peter Greste and religion in schools.

Australia’s own press freedom record not so stellar

John Richardson writes: Re. “In isolated Egypt, foreigners get a taste of local justice” (yesterday). So, according to Crikey media reporter Myriam Robin, the Peter Greste trial “was never really about Greste’s journalism - it was a political move designed to silence Al Jazeera, an organisation that is seen as pro-Muslim Brotherhood by large parts of the Egyptian population”.

While I can’t take issue with Robin’s thesis (any more than she can prove it), we shouldn’t forget that, notwithstanding all the platitudes offered by our politicians on the importance of “freedom of the press”, Australia has a fine tradition of its own in punishing journalists who offend institutionalised sensitivities.

Tony Barrass was imprisoned and fined in 1989 and Joe Budd was jailed in 1992 for refusing to reveal sources. In 1993 David Hellaby, Chris Nicholls and Deborah Cornwall were jailed, fined or ordered to undertake community service, while John Synott was threatened with prosecution for contempt of the Parliament. In 1994, Madonna King and Paul Whittaker were threatened with contempt charges, while in 2007 Gerard McManus and Michael Harvey were convicted and fined.

And while most Australians would doubtless be very sympathetic, if not angry, at the plight of Peter Greste and his family, it is important that the confected political outrage on the part of our Foreign Minister Julie Bishop is seen for what it really is.

And, of course, in keeping with the finest traditions of Australian democracy, not a word from our self-righteous politicians about the same Egyptian court’s decision to execute 180 of its own citizens in celebration of its new-found democratic tradition.

Ingrid Strewe writes: Al Jazeera does not “support the Muslim Brotherhood” just like that. Al Jazeera is owned by by a leading Qatari family. It is Qatar that supports the Muslim Brotherhood. But you probably all know that.

Let’s call in a favour

Peter Matters writes: Re. “Crikey says: US actions speak louder than Greste sympathy” (yesterday). Whatever pressure the Australian government might exert on the Egyptian military dictatorship to release Peter Greste after the barefaced farce of judicial process, it will be ignored.

However, not only does the US owe Australia a favor or two, the Egyptian parody of trial procedure must make the Americans themselves feel very uneasy. We should give a strong hint to our US friends to withhold a billion or two of their annual subsidy to the Egyptian military until the three journalists are released.

Why the government loves private schools

Keith Binns writes: Re. “Of church and state (schools)” (yesterday). G’day Alison. I was quoting Jim Hagan from Wollongong Uni many years ago. He may have been wrong. Irrespective: schools (and hospitals and universities and a large slab of modern science) were a church invention in the Middle Ages. But my main point still stands: discourage anyone from the public system and you are contributing to its downgrading. Governments of all stripes want you to send your kids to private schools because it costs them less money per head.

Helen Mackenzie writes: Alison Alexander is wrong in asserting that “in Australia churches did not start the school system. Governments did”. The NSW Education Department’s website on the early history of government schools in NSW notes that “From early in the colony’s history the governors granted State assistance, especially to the Church of England, to establish and maintain schools”. It goes on to discuss the difficulties of trying to establish a common school system and then notes:

During the 1840s there was a weakening in the power of the Anglican Church to resist the introduction of a government system of schools. A report of a select committee in 1844 pointed out that, because half of the colony’s children of school age were not under instruction, the denominational system of schools had failed … In January 1848 Governor Fitzroy appointed the Board of National Education to undertake the task of creating the necessary government schools and establishing a public education system; simultaneously, Fitzroy appointed the Denominational School Board to handle government subsidies to church schools.”

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