The Press have much for which they should be called to account


It is my belief that our modern Australian society has unleashed a terrible and harmful genie when we allow the press to operate in the almost unfettered manner it does.  The delivering of justice has moved from our courts and legal systems to the press rooms of newspapers, television and radio offices and the online comment forums of all of those beasts.  More than any other group or organization, it is our press that impacts most of all on the way our governments run.  Few politicians can withstand the onslaught of a backlash from the press.


Of course, that is not how these agencies see themselves.  They are righteous and essential to keep us safe from despots.  I avoid the word journalists because that presumes things like a code of conduct, impartiality, the hard work of pursuing the truth, respect and some kind of moral and ethical background.  Little of that is found in the plethora of commentators that seem to have hold of the limelight.  We mock the way the people of the USA dabble in celebrity politics - look at the nonsense about Ophra for president - and yet give those on television and the radio almost unfettered right to assume the most outrageous of starting points.


The great line of the ABC when complaints are made is that the interviewers take the role of the "Devil's Advocate".  I have become so tired of them imitating pit bull terriers and going onto an attack mode in order to trip up the person being interviewed or starting with a negative and forcing the person to defend themselves.  What happened to the pursuit of truth, the exploration of ideas, the importance of opening up an argument in order that the listeners may make a more informed opinion?  Why is it we have the station's owner's views (ABC or other private owners) rammed down our throats or worse, the feelings and opinions of the commentator?  Who is not tired of John Faine's weeping, his rudeness, his inability to hear out an argument and his desire to shape an argument by the way he invites people to ring in?


My frustrations have come to a head with the recent press' preoccupation with the allegedĀ­ sexual misconduct of some men, particularly men in the entertainment industry.  It is abundantly clear now that Craig McLachlan will never work in his profession again.  The ABC and Fairfax expose has made sure of that.  And here is my point.  It is one thing to assert that Craig has had accusations made against him and that those allegations have been referred to the police for investigation.  It is another thing again to air those complaints, invite more women to come forward and add further allegations and then to set up panel discussions and interviews with celebrities and "experts" to discuss the evils of such abuse.  Is he guilty?  He has not been found guilty of anything yet and in Australia at least, it used to be true that people were innocent until proven guilty.  The onus now seems to have turned so that the accused need to prove themselves innocent.  If they do not, or cannot, they are then presumed to be guilty and open season can be declared on them.  From where is this all coming?  Well it began with the crusading ABC and is now the daily diet of just about the whole of the Australian press.

But this is not a one-off incident.  It has become the way the press operates.  It is also what the people have come to expect as being the norm.  If there is some kind of dissatisfaction with people in leadership positions, or people with power, position, those in the limelight or with those in positions for which the complainants pine, then they have learned the way forward is to curry public support.  We are all victims. The Press have come to love the idea of conflict, of tearing down the "tall poppies" in their midst.  They love to come in behind the "underdog", the person making a complaint and always want to be first into battle.  Craig's women are always "victims" - courageous women but still victims - and Craig is always a bully, a sexual abuser and someone who is very different from the way people have lived, worked and acted with him in the past.  He has been playing us for fools and so deserves to be pulled down.


This is not just something found in the entertainment business.  It is in all industries and groups.  I experienced it in the Church when a small group of complainants set about forcing me to retire from my position as Bishop.  They engaged a couple of hot-shot lawyers, used contacts in the local newspaper and set out to build up a large number of people with concerns about the way they thought the Diocese moving.  Their point was, as expressed by their lawyer, that they were trying to build such a tsunami of opposition that it would give the impression that I was a person unfit for office, a bully.  They tried everything, including lawsuits to force a resolution and to have people turn against me on the basis of their accusations.  The local newspaper were encouraged to run lurid front page headlines and they went so far as to run stories on the same page they were reporting court cases against paedophiles.  It seemed that every week there was a new accusation, a new element and even on the day my mother died they managed to have a major headline published.  Even though they knew I was at her bedside as she was taking her final breaths.  This is the way things happen now and it has become acceptable.  Then, to make sure the real truth is never explored, and these tactics are never revealed, all involved are forced to sign statements pledging them to silence.   The under attack moves away and is left alone to deal with months or even years of public abuse.


The point I make is that we have given the Press too much power in our society.  They have replaced the Church, the Courts and the Parliament in shaping the way our world operates and the principles and precedents that govern a healthy society.  Unless we begin to challenge this unfettered abuse of power and position and stand up to their bullying tactics, we will rue the day we have allowed another group of unrepresentative bullies dominate how we should be living, what we should be doing and control who should and should not have a voice in the world. This is yet another example of why we need the Church to renew itself, to bring the Gospel and Kingdom values alive in our local environments and to offer people light, healing, the opportunity of being reconciled in love and mercy and to promote a holistic understanding of what it means to be a fully alive human person, male or female.

+Michael Hough

Linton, Victoria, Australia.