It’s been all frenzy and fear in the Australian media over the past week. But one of the more measured injections into the terror debate was last week’s Melbourne University speech by former Family Court Chief Justice, Alastair Nicholson, on the government’s terror legislation and the media’s complicit role in spinning the terror line (available here).
In his speech Nicholson hinted at a press who have selectively reported on issues of national security, and how a little media company called Fairfax, along with Howard’s backbench, have taken over the official duties of the Labor opposition. Crikey was intrigued.
“Quite obviously The Australian and the Murdoch stable have a pro government line,” Nicholson told Crikey this morning. He said that the secret terrorism and intelligence information the News rags have been privy to is just one of the benefits of having such a cosy relationship with the federal government.
And it shows. Last week the Australian and other News papers had the inside info that arrests were impending and details of the terrorist threat, while the same day The Sydney Morning Herald was reporting the PM’s official line that there were no arrests pending. It’s obvious who’s on the drip these days and who isn’t.
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When the news broke last Wednesday that the Prime Minister had been handed information about a “potential terrorist threat,” the media lost it, Nicholson said in his speech, and for the most part they were hammering on about “real” and “immediate” terrorist threats to Australia.
But this morning, after two days of arrests and scaremongering from ASIO, the AFP and government, Nicholson was more lenient upon the press. “My only problem with the media, on this occasion, is that they have immediately been implying guilt,” he said.
Images of planes crashing into the World Trade Centre and Jihadist terrorist training camps that are played alongside footage of the suspects being rushed in and out of court may go some way to implying their guilt, and probably constitute a contempt charge for the media. But it’s fair to say, Nicholson said, that the government won’t charge any media with contempt any time soon.
According to Nicholson it has fallen to the Fairfax papers to fill in the large critical space left by Labor and the Murdoch press. “Fairfax have constantly taken a critical role on the government,” Nicholson said, who was also fearful of where the government’s proposed media changes would leave press freedom. Because a Packer controlled Fairfax would leave the Australian press with no teeth – unless, of course, it wanted to bite into Labor.