In Australia, there has been a lot of talk regarding media reform bills. For the most part, I have to conclude further still that the Australian government hasn’t a clue and this is little more than an election stunt.
Only a person with a mind like a tomb would seriously argue that free media is not fundamental to democracy. Fewer still would argue that we do have a problem when popular media increasingly speaks for a minority.
Thus is it easy to conclude that we have a problem in Australia. The reach of any of the major newspapers, for instance, is far greater than the media that attempts to correct such partisan propaganda. Watching the Deniers is a very successful blog, but does Mike come close to matching the range of Andrew Bolt? I doubt it. Likewise I have no doubt that Monckton’s lunch with the AFR was read by many more people than my critique of the article.
However, the way forward cannot be as proposed by these bills and we risk damaging the tatters of our failing democratic process even further.
The Inertia of Ideas
Dawkins “meme” seems revolutionary for the same reason the notion that free will is an illusion, as debated by Harris, sits so uneasy to most. In essence, it comes back to my previous point about the power of ideas.
We hold no ownership of ideas. An individual may provide new insight or invent something that changes how a society functions, but in truth, they only did so because of the background conditions that led to a certain resolution. This is why our ancestors scratched out rudimentary agriculture around ten thousand years ago and not the tablet computer.
Ideas develop, sometimes fuse and eventually evolve, using us as hosts all along. Ideas belong to no-one. For this reason, the transmitter is of little importance while the receiver is everything.
The only the difference (and I mean only) between Chris Monckton and, say, the walking sign, screaming hysterically that the end is near is the audience. The message is manic, obsessive and irrational in both cases, but the audience provide validity to the former over the latter.
What is the public interest?
These proposed media bills suggest that the public interest can be defined, but this is simply untrue. All information that could possibly exist is of public interest. Democratic culture is defined by the the freedom to be audience to certain ideas and not to others.
Infinite ideas exist and the potential for these to be defined by the community to develop their cultural expression, either through acceptance or rejection must remain an inherent right of choice to the society in question.
Regardless of where this governing body of public interest sits, by selecting what information is available for the public, they are in fact deciding for us what is in our interest. This concern is not challenged by the fact that we indeed have a problem of misinformation within many popular media in Australia.
To be sure, there are some horrible ideas that exist, but it is us who have decided it to be abhorrent which gives credit to our cultural ethics. This should be praised.
We are made infantile if this process is stripped from us.
The power of an idea is in the receiver; in the audience. For this reason, regulating the transmitter is a wasted act. Our politicians may stand around patting themselves on the back over their discussions regarding these bills, but don’t be fooled; it all sounds great in an election year (noting too the fast turn over expected for these bills).
Yes, ensuring that popular media cannot be monopolised is a good idea but apart from that, this media reform is not in the public interest. How on earth could they regulate information in any way that wouldn’t be classified censorship? Such an act is doomed to fail, as nice and virtuous as all the hype now sounds.
The more difficult but more appropriate course of action would be education. The human mind is inherently lousy or lazy with information. One will, without thinking twice, tend to accept information when it is provided by someone the individual deems an authority on the matter or if the information confirms ideas already held.
A seasoned journalist can thus get away with a lot when the audience has come to accept them as an authority on the subject. A clever propagandist can take an already held idea, or a bundle of similar ideas and fuse them into something a primed audience will accept, as Chris Monckton often demonstrates.
Therefore the only course is to teach critical analysis of ideas so that the general public are sceptical, even of the potential for internal biases within them. An idea, a projected reality; such things are not personal, as much as it is seemly evident the opposite. We are not defined by the ideas we play host to if we a taught not to be. We must be taught to let go of such and learn to be inquisitive. It is empowering to do so.
If the Australian government cared truly for the accuracy of information, they would empower the minds of the people to have the ability to critically assess the quality of ideas rather than treat us like infants whom need to be directed through approved information.