Should we be shocked at the news Government bodies including the CSIRO, the Australian Institute of Marine Science, the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation and the Questacon science museum in Canberra have been told to clear their media releases through Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s office?
The Secretary of the Industry Department, Mark Paterson, has issued a directive ordering the agencies to have significant media releases checked by their Minister or the Prime Minister’s office.
Patterson has told the ABC the policy is about consistency, not controlling the message. “The essence of the message was that the Government wanted to ensure a degree of consistency in message on key messages and therefore wanted to clear key messages through the Prime Minister’s office,” he said.
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That is feeble and fatuous spin. Enforcing consistency is control. That said, though, his move just seems to be a continuation of existing policy.
More then 10 years ago as a ministerial press secretary, I enforced a policy that required government agencies to run media comments past me. I followed similar practice in a state government role. It is standard around Australia.
It is regrettable. The media is right to highlight the story. It runs contrary to any spirit of free inquiry and the right to know. Informed debate is essential to democracy.
But perhaps some partisans in our recent debate should not have played political Pollyannas.
We have known for months that Kevin Rudd is no different. We know his history in Queensland. We know how his media minders dealt with journalists who offered different versions of the past to his. We know just how tight an opposition he ran.
Virtually all politicians seek to control information in the hope that it will let them control the political agenda.
If a number of our commentators are not prepared to admit that Rudd is just another one of these then they are either naifs – or putting partisanship ahead of public interest.