The Australian and Twitter:

Anne Dunn, President of the Journalism Education Association of Australia, writes: Re. “The ‘torture’ of writing about climate change at The Oz: one journo’s story” (Friday, item 1). The Journalism Education Association of Australia represents journalism educators and researchers. One of our objectives is to promote freedom of expression and communication.

We are concerned that a journalist and journalism academic, using Twitter to report events and speakers from our recent conference in Sydney has been threatened with legal action for so reporting.

We strongly support the right of any journalist or academic to report and comment. We are concerned when journalists threaten others with law suits. The implications of the situation are serious for the many people who use Twitter to provide “as live” reporting of public comments and for fair report in general.

We stand in support of informed debate, including criticism of the media and we support our colleagues’ right to report fairly on all issues in the public interest.

Brian Mitchell writes: The Editor-in-Chief of the national broadsheet sues for defamation a journalism academic who tweeted something she’d heard at a symposium? Pathetic.

It doesn’t matter if the law is on Mitchell’s side — this is tantamount to bullying and shows Mitchell has little regard for robust community debate, unless it is on his terms.

Cambodia:

An anonymous Crikey reader in Phnom Penh writes: Re. “Reflecting on Cambodia’s national day of mourning” (Friday, item 14). In other news, on Planet Earth, not in “Poetry Land” where Emma Leslie comes from, a cover-up is under way.

The day after the crush, the Phnom Penh Post quoted a doctor from Calmette, the hospital that received most of the dead and dying, who said that many of the people he had seen had died from electrocution. The ABC News website reported similarly. Piecing together various reports, it seems that the police sprayed the crowd with a water cannon to ‘get it moving’ which caused live wires on the bridge to fall off onto the already crushed mass. Now every hospital and government spokesperson makes a pre-scripted point of saying that no one was electrocuted.

The commission of inquiry that has been set up to investigate the causes of the tragedy, which says it will report back this week, is made up of the very officials whose responsibility it was to prevent the deaths from occuring, including the chairman of the company that owns Koh Pich (Diamond) Island and built the bridge. After initially blaming each other, the government and the company are now in firm agreement that the stampede was entirely the fault of the poor souls that found themselves in it, and I would be very surprised if the commission’s findings stated otherwise.

The government and company are already offering the families of victims $1250 each in what they are calling ‘not compensation’. This is a huge amount of money in Cambodia. It is more than a year’s income for many public servants. And it would not be unreasonable to wager that it is the fastest offer of ‘not compensation’ in Cambodian history. The money is buying silence.

The government’s negligence allowed this tragedy to occur; Crikey readers should not be misled by Ms Leslie’s flowery attempt to put some kind of fatalistic, “redemption through suffering” spin on it.

“Perhaps Cambodia suffers so much so that compassion can be.” It takes my breath away. Cambodians are just as entitled to a competent government as everyone else. This was not unforeseeable. The government ought to be held to account. Any suggestion, whether of local or international origin, that seeks to lift this responsibility from the government’s shoulders, as Ms Leslie’s argument does, is wrong and ought to be rejected.

Victorian election:

Laura Daniel writes: Re. Friday’s Editorial. I continue to be astonished and horrified that voters in this country fail in such vast numbers to avail themselves of the value of the preferential voting system. The whole point of the system is to allow voters to list their personal order of preference amongst the candidates on the ballot. Why are voters so apathetic that they allow the parties to assign preferences for them?

Sure it’s a bit of bother to fill out the whole ballot below the line, but the alternative is to abdicate one’s personal power as a voter and hand it over to a political machine of one stripe or another. The recent decision of the Liberals in Victoria to give the Greens last preference, in order to manipulate election results, is a case in point. They were, of course, playing by the rules. It’s the voters, not the parties, who are responsible for naming their own preferences. No one can stop them doing so; they just have to exert themselves to fill out the ballot below the line.

People’s failure to do so results in large measure from the legal necessity of marking a preference order for each and every candidate, including fringe ones about whom most voters may know nothing. If any are overlooked, the ballot is deemed invalid. That rule needs changing to make it easier for voters to name preferences only amongst the few candidates they choose to list. A listing of only two preferences for any office in any election should make a ballot valid as a statement of voter preference.

That may be a legislative change hard to pass because both major parties have a vested interest in keeping the ballot as it is, gaining enormous power by taking advantage of people’s laziness and willingness to allow someone else to name their preferences, thus giving much of their voting power away

But the power of the entire vote, including preferences, is truly in the hands of the people, not the party, if individual voters just exercise it. It’s appalling that they don’t, and it’s a source of continual astonishment to me that no political commentator ever mentions this. I lived overseas for a long while and have only been home for a couple of years. Since then I’ve been a keen observer of politics and related commentary in this country, and I have never heard a single pundit make any reference whatsoever to this issue.

Please do your bit to stir a few commentators in to action, do their duty by incorporating this truth into their discussions so that voters come to understand that preferences don’t have to be in the hands of any party!

Niall Clugston writes: Your editorial on Friday, questioning whether the Victorian election “matters”, puts in a nutshell the common nonsense that pervades our political discussion: “Essentially, state governments are in the business of managing … service delivery.”  That’s right: they only run the schools, hospitals, railways, roads, police, jails…!

The federal government, on the other hand, operates on the higher plane of “ideology” — as the Australian representative of the Hegelian World Spirit, no doubt.

And what does the vaunted “battle of ideas” in Canberra consist of?  Opportunistic Coalition opposition to Treasury policies they would have followed if in government? The trading of hot air over the CPRS?  Dog-whistling about refugees?

You could argue there is a genuine debate about the NBN, but that project seems suspiciously like a mundane matter of “public resources” and hardly worthy of the attention of our esoteric intelligentsia.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
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