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Tony Abbott and Vladimir Putin share the same authoritarian views on media freedom and we need to be very scared

Tony Abbott and Vladimir Putin share the same authoritarian views on media freedom and we need to be very scared

According to Russian president Vladimir Putin, all state run media should be run by patriots. No real surprise here, because Putin is widely known as an authoritarian leader intolerant of dissent (and homosexuals).

Unfortunately things are no different in Australia. Like the Putin administration, the Abbott government is firmly behind the idea of spreading propaganda in the most efficient way possible, and that is of course through our very own state owned media, the ABC.

Earlier this week, in a very friendly interview with Ray Hadley on the not at all radical or biased radio station 2GB, Tony Abbott claimed that the Australian national broadcaster, the ABC, was biased against The Australian government. Abbott claimed:

Look, I can understand your frustration, Ray because at times there seems to be a double standard in large swaths of our national life and I can understand the frustration that you feel. I want the ABC to be a straight, news gathering and news reporting organisation and a lot of people feel at the moment that the ABC instinctively takes everyone’s side but Australia’s.

He also went on to claim:

Well, I was very worried and concerned a few months back when the ABC seemed to delight in broadcasting allegations by a traitor. This gentlemen Snowden, or this individual Snowden, who has betrayed his country and in the process has badly, badly damaged other countries that are friends of the United States and of course the ABC didn’t just report what he said they took the lead in advertising what he said…

And then:

“That was a deep concern and I said so at the time. Look, you know if there’s credible evidence the ABC, like all other news organisations, is entitled to report it, but you shouldn’t leap to be critical of your own country and you certainly ought to be prepared to give the Australian Navy and its hardworking personnel the benefit of the doubt.”

There shouldn’t be any surprise that Abbott, after sailing into government with the help of the News Ltd network of newspapers and ‘news’ outlets like Sky News feels that things would go a little better if the pesky ABC wasn’t around to investigate and report matters of interest to Australians, like the spying on the Indonesian president and his wife, or the systematic gathering of private information from punters across the globe by the USA, Canada, UK, NZ, and Australia.

What’s of primary concern here is the notion that debate is a bad thing for Australia, that there are some topics like the defence force, foreign policy, and refugees that are best not discussed. The preferred outcome of Abbott is that his loyal citizens praise his government for stopping the boats, repairing the budget, and getting rid of those pesky unions.

As Prime Minister, Abbott is the most authoritarian leader for the past 60 years. Despite his protestations that the media’s job is to hold the government to account and his former career as a journalist, Abbott’s propaganda strategy is informed by the excellent work Putin has done in the past few years to suppress dissent, debate, and divergent views.

In December 2013, Putin dissolved the main state media agency RIA Novosti and created a news agency called Rossiya Segodnya to better promote Russia’s interests. The move came after Russian state-owned oil and energy giant, Gazprom had purchased one of the few remaining independent TV networks Profmedia. The decree announcing the move, which Putin signed, claimed “The main focus of … Rossiya Segodnya (Russia Today) is to highlight abroad the state policy and public life of the Russian Federation.”

In the rather bland announcement There are clear echoes of Abbott’s desire to have a public broadcaster that isn’t “critical of Australia” and is “prepared to give the Australian Navy and its hardworking personnel the benefit of the doubt.”. Obviously Abbott would agree that the ABC should be highlighting Australian policy and public life.

Regardless of political persuasion, it should concern all Australians that the current government wants the ABC to be a vehicle for government truth and the Australian way, rather than an independent broadcaster and publisher navigating complex social, political, and economic truths, who holds business, the Government and its citizens to account and in doing so creates a fairer and better society.

The similarities get even scarier when you consider Minister of Communications recent announcement of a “study of the efficiency of the operations of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation and the Special Broadcasting Service”. At the time of the announcement that RIA Novosti was being dissolved, Sergei Ivanov, Presidential Administration Head, claimed that the primary goal was improving efficiency, saying one of the goals was to “is to improve the efficiency of operations of the state-run media”. He also said:

“Russia is holding an independent policy and unwaveringly protects its national interests. It is not easy to explain that to the world, but it can and must be done. We have achieved certain successes in this field and, on the other hand, have had some problems. I am confident we can overcome them. We must tell the truth, make it accessible to the most people possible and use modern language and the best available technologies in doing so”.

Using efficiency as a means of justifying budget cuts to the ABC, and as a consequence reducing the resources available for investigating, analysing, and reporting views which may be contrary to Government policy is a strategy right out of How To Be An Authoritarian Leader For Dummies. Sadly for us, the combination of a weakened ABC and a placid media dominated by News Ltd and Fairfax means our democracy will be much weakened.


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