This is one of those too good to be true stories. A Crikey subscriber’s octogenarian mother recently found an article from the Melbourne Herald from
1985 in a pile of old clippings.
It’s a piece by Jim Killen, the former federal Liberal minister known for his nice line in High Tory rhetoric – and it’s on media regulation. It’s very quotable:
“Give me but the liberty of the press, and I will give the Minister a venal House of Peers, I will give him a corrupt and servile House of Commons, I will give him the full swing of the patronage of office, I will give him the whole host of ministerial office, I will give him all the power that place can confer upon him to purchase submission and overawe resistance.
And yet armed with the liberty of the press, I will go forth to meet him undismayed, I will attack the mighty fabric he has reared with that mightier engine, I will shake down from its height corruption, and lay it beneath the ruins of the abuses it was meant to shelter.”
Those noble sentiments were uttered in the House of Commons by Richard Brinsely Sheridan in 1810.
Sheridan is buried in Westminster Abbey in Poet’s Corner, and that in itself suggests that his fame rest chiefly on his plays.
But there was another side to Sheridan which was a substantial claim to fame.
Sheridan was to sit in parliament for 32 years. He never sat in a Cabinet, but was probably one of the finest orators England has produced and running through most of his speeches with their beautiful lilt of language was a splendid sense of defiance…
We can put a man on the moon, cruise in space, sweep technological accomplishments into the minds and lives of people that are accepted with a nonchalance that can be bleak and bewildering.
And yet we have the difficulty in rousing interest, anxiety and attention for the safety of those institutions that have contributed so much to man’s contentment, his integrity and his safety…
And one of them, Killen said, was media. “The right of newspapers to publish is a right that has been annealed by centuries of conflict. It has been a stern and constant one. It has no end in view.”
Indeed. Media voices are under threat again.
As that piece of Tory wisdom goes, the more things change, the more they stay the same.