Moss Cass, the Whitlam government minister who pioneered the creation of a community radio system in Australia, has been the latest senior Labor figure to hit out at the Gillard government’s handling of the Julian Assange case, and spoken of the need for WikiLeaks saying that “the way most governments are functioning, it seems to me no one really believes in democracy”.

Cass slammed the Gillard government’s determination to find a way to assist the US in prosecuting Assange, asking: “Has any law been broken anywhere? If none has, then why treat him like a criminal before any specific charges have been laid.”

And he saw WikiLeaks as a continuation of the community radio in its early days, “in the sense that this information will alert the community to how it is being hoodwinked. How can a society be democratic if people are only given restricted information on which to base their voting intentions?”

It was Cass’s determined fight during his time as media minister in 1975 to establish community licences that made possible Australia’s community broadcasting system, universally seen as one of the world’s finest.

But the attempt to create a media space controlled by neither corporate interests nor the state met with fierce opposition, from within and without the Labor Party and government.

“The Broadcasting Act did not allow non-commercial community licences to be issued, I proposed to the PMG — Senator Bishop was the minister at the time — to issue the licences for experimental broadcasting, but he declined.”

To circumvent resistance within Labor to less controllable forms of media, Cass adapted a proposal from education minister Kim Beazley snr for “universities of the air” based at existing universities.

“The stations proposed by the [universities] committee were mainly based on tertiary education institutions … I immediately contacted Kim and told him. He thought it was a great idea, so I suggested he get approval from Gough, as I thought Gough would not agree if I made the suggestion. Kim got approval and I sent off letters of approval to 12 groups”.

These 12 stations would form the basis of a system that would breed classic stations such as RRR, ZZZ, and 3CR and second generation stations such as SYN and others.

Cass is sceptical of any claims by governments to transparency such as would make outfits such as WikiLeaks obsolete.

“Which governments really trust their citizens and keep them fully informed, without secrets here, there and everywhere?”

Ultimately, it wasn’t only elements within Labor that were resistant to community media. The bureaucracy also attempted to delay its creation, with a report that “stalled the idea of community broadcasting”, which had been prepared for the previous media minister. “I thought the report was meaningless … there was no obstruction from colleagues” when a way was found to get around obstructive legal technicalities.

And the previous minister less than keen to push community media through to the next stage?

“Doug McClelland”.

Father of the current Attorney-General, eager to put a stop to the current version.

Funny old world. Time for Chicken Mary.

Peter Fray

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