Last week’s raids by the Australian Federal Police on the ABC in response to that media organisations illegal airing of highly classified material has exposed the national broadcasters sheer hubris and utter hypocrisy.
The ‘Afghan Files’, a series of seven related articles, by ABC journalists Dan Oakes and Sam Clark based primarily on the information contained within the leaked Australian Defence Force communiqués and reports ranges from scuttlebutt around interoperability relationships between the SASR and the newly formed 2nd Commando Regiment to serious allegations of war crimes under the Geneva Convention.
While many in the ABC, The Guardian Australia and The Sydney Morning Herald and the Age, who have worked themselves into a lather over the AFP raids on its Sydney headquarters in Ultimo, have claimed a mythical journalistic privilege and self-determined ‘right’ to break long standing laws around the protections afforded to confidential material, they simultaneously hold firm on the claimed moral imperative not to part with their own confidential material regarding the source of the leaks. If one can’t see the inherent hypocrisy in this position it’s because one has forsaken the capacity to acknowledge what rank hypocrisy looks like.
Without exception, the ‘Afghan Files’ document the fact that all the alleged incidents forming the genesis of each of the ‘stories’ were internally documented, reported upon and promulgated up the chain of command or onto a relevant office bearer within the ADF. A number of alleged incidents clearly raised the possibility of further internal investigation and that’s exactly what was set in train. Some of the most serious incidents remain the subject of on-going investigations and may yet end in any number of legal forums.
It cannot be overlooked that ADF personnel are not only liable to disciplinary action and prosecution under the Defence Force Disciplinary Act but may find themselves tried under Australian criminal law and international criminal law under certain circumstances. This adds a heavy burden to all personnel in their enactment of the ‘rules of engagement’ and to those fellow personnel who report on perceived breaches of those rules. If these cases were an unbridled attempt by the ADF at a cultural of cover-up, then may I suggest the reports would never have been recorded, or seen the light of day outside of Afghanistan.
The ABC on the other hand, is quick to prosecute a case of cover-up against the ADF, based on what appears to be the simple presumption that if information remains classified confidential then it must be a cover-up. Again we run into the same immutable hypocrisy in this posture by the ABC. The ABC only became privy to the files because they were illegally leaked to it by a ‘whistleblower’ who must be kept ‘confidential’ at all costs according to the ABC. So here we have the inescapable conclusion that the ABC, and much of the media more generally, believes that it is the ultimate moral arbiter of what is ‘righteous’ confidentiality and what is ‘heinous’ confidentiality. Of course this is yet another example of the toxic incursion of post-modernist moral relativism into public discourse, and I’m yet to meet a superhuman journalist.
The above self-determined moral superiority of the ABC, as has been on stark display in the aftermath of the AFP raids, claims openly that laws around confidentiality that range from commercial in confidence to personal medical records to secrets of the state are open slather if in the ‘public interest’. However, anything can be dressed up by media organisations to be in the ‘public interest’ – including what this week’s hottest Kardashian eats for dinner as part of a weight loss diet. Put quite simply, the ‘public interest’ test is a fallacious one and would better termed the ‘media interest’ test.
Most consumers of the MSM are passive consumers; passive consumers in the sense that they don’t demand certain content from their providers, but would have an expectation that matters affecting them or their community directly are covered.
Even if the case could be made that ABC consumers are somehow different and are consistently demanding state secrets and other confidential material, at approximately 10 per cent of MSM audiences across its many platforms, that would hardly be an unequivocal pass on the ‘public interest’ test.
Indeed the last place, something as sensitive as the material referred to in the ‘Afghan Files’, needs to be prosecuted is in the court of public opinion. Most civilians, and most journalists, for that matter have no experience pertaining to special forces personnel deeply imbedded in a murky conflict zone with insurgent forces often masquerading as civilians, where every sunrise may be your last.
Yet the propensity for this debate to be skewed as some kind of impingement on the freedom of the press has barely been countered by anyone in the public sphere in the days following. Freedom of the press is in fact the principle of free association for the press to allow any side of the body politic, national or community debate, national or individual story, claimed fact or opinion to be openly and freely aired within the constraints of the law without persecution. This does not extend to some perceived right to unfettered access to confidential material such as an individual’s medical records because they were involved in a crime or a state secret because part of the nation’s security apparatus was involved in a conflict.
The claim emanating out of many from the ABC that it operates purely in the public interest and in the protection of whistleblowers also requires further examination. With the latter, it has been my personal experience that many whistleblowers are not exclusively or even predominantly motivated by some higher altruism but rather an internal grievance with the organisation which they seek to destabilise. These alternate agendas need to be carefully vetted by any media organisation if it truly purports integrity.
Strikingly discordant is the claim of the ABC working purely in the public interest. Only the most partisan ABCophile could not acknowledge that the national broadcaster has become a deeply agenda driven media organisation over the last decade, actively advocating to the level of activism most issues that align with so called ‘progresssive’ – or left wing – politics. A recent federal election demonstrated, on balance, this not to be in the public interest.
Therefore, in the wash up of the Afghan files and the subsequent AFP raid, its not hard to draw on a narrative that goes a little something like this: there is an entrenched view within the ABC that the war in Afghanistan was an unjust war, therefore all who participated are tainted, the leaked ADF documents help paint a picture of unbridled ADF brutality without context, so therefore lets rush to print so we can prosecute in the court of public opinion on the basis of the ill-defined ‘Public Interest’ test.
All this leaves one final outstanding question. If we as a nation have the ABC to keep all workings of government and society at large in check, who has an eye on Auntie? The ABC seems not to think the nation’s Federal Police qualify even in the face of illegal activity.
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