Media bias threatens democracy

By Barry Tucker                    18 February, 2013

If anyone knows what it feels like to be the victim of news media bias it would be Peter Slipper, the former Speaker of the Australian House of Representatives.

Former Speaker Peter Slipper, Independent Member for Fisher.

Former Speaker Peter Slipper, Independent Member for Fisher.

Mr Slipper held the Queensland federal seat of Fisher for Conservative parties through several elections. He was elected Deputy Speaker during the “hung” parliament following the 2010 election, while still a member of the Liberal National Party Coalition, but was disendorsed to make way for former Howard era Minister Mal Brough to re-enter parliament.

The atmosphere in parliament became putrid after Mr Slipper (now an Independent) was promoted to the position of Speaker in November 2011 — a move that improved the Labor government’s slim numerical advantage. Mr Slipper subsequently became embroiled in allegations by a staffer of sexual harassment and claims of misusing Cabcharge dockets.

Mr Slipper’s elevation to Speaker enraged Opposition Leader Tony Abbott, who used the allegations against Mr Slipper in a motion to have him sacked — which would have introduced a dangerous precedent and at the same time stomped on the crucial democratic right and legal principle of “presumption of innocence”.

As you can see from my stories in The Sniper blog (http://t.co/tRGjXhse), Mr Abbott does not care much for such principles as truth, the rule of law or the Separation of Powers (the separation of government, justice and church). These safeguards can be a barrier to what he does care about —  gaining political power.

The Cabcharge allegations, followed by the sexual harassment allegations, were thrown out due to what Federal Court Justice Steven Rares said was “an abuse of the process of the court” and because the action had been brought “for the predominant purpose of causing significant public, reputational and political damage to Mr Slipper”. In other comments, Justice Rares seemed to be saying there had been a conspiracy to bring down a democratically elected government. The complainant has lodged an appeal.

The news media (which gave prominence to the allegations leading up to the case and during the hearing) to a large degree dropped the matter like a hot potato at the suggestion of “conspiracy”. Mr Murdoch’s Daily Telegraph (whose political reporter broke the story of the allegations) had the court hearings as front page news, but reported the failure of the case on page 17.

The “conspiracy” (if that’s what it was) could have been revealed before the court case began. Steve Lewis (the News Limited journalist who had the inside running on the story) somehow missed the biggest political scoop in decades. A cynic might say the ongoing salacious nature of the story up to and during the hearing suited News Limited’s political agenda better than a story about a conspiracy to bring down a government it detests.

But why has the story — from any angle — largely been ignored by the remainder of the mainstream news media (MNM)? The fact is (apart from the Fifth Estate emerging on Social Media) there is almost nothing left of a professional, objective and fair news media in Australia (and some other countries, it has to be admitted).

After Justice Rares ruled the Cabcharge allegations irrelevant, Federal Police discovered they could not proceed with charges related to them. They then looked further into Mr Slipper’s Cabcharge history and turned up older dockets. Mr Slipper is now facing charges related to these older dockets. It seems that Federal Police may be discriminating against Mr Slipper by pursuing those matters while apparently not pursuing other politicians over similar matters. “Misuse” of parliamentary entitlements is not an uncommon occurrence.

Mr Slipper addressed the parliament on the lack of diversity of ownership of news media (which leads directly to bias) in the adjournment debate on 13 February, 2013. Some of Mr Slipper’s remarks:

“I rise in the House tonight to mourn the loss of media diversity in Australia. More and more, we seem to have a concentration of ownership of media outlets — and that presents a real danger for Australia’s democracy.

“When we have such a concentration of media ownership in Australia, that presents a very real threat to the democracy of which everyone in this House is so particularly proud.”

It is hypocritical of Mr Slipper to complain at this point because “everyone in this House” has allowed the news media monopoly, bias and corruption (especially of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, ABC) to develop to its present level.

Here is a link to the http://www.OpenAustralia.org report of Mr Slipper’s remarks, taken from Hansard:  http://bit.ly/XVAJq5

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