Flat White

Don’t patronise us with ‘your right to know’. Everyone’s right to free speech comes first

25 October 2019

4:50 PM

25 October 2019

4:50 PM

If you have been following the ‘right to know’ discussion here and elsewhere, you will probably have purchased a newspaper with the front page inked out, just so you don’t know what you have paid for. What you need to know, however, and you will only find it on The Spectator, is that the right to know was essentially invented by Australia’s mainstream media (AMSM) they were visited by the Australian Federal Police to recover some classified material.

As I made clear earlier this week, the right to know argument is very shallow. That purported right can be summarised in one word: sophistry. The AMSN declared a right to know in the public and wants to sell you something that they know and you don’t know. The problem is that all the media is selective about what it wants to sell me to know.

The same is true in the United States and the problem came to light when the sexual assault allegations against Harvey Weinstein – the accidental father of the #MeToo movement – were being investigated. The original investigation of Weinstein was carried out by two American journalists, Ronan Farrow and Rich McHugh, who both worked for the US network giant, NBC.

In his book, Catch and Kill, Ronan Farrow has documented the investigation of Weinstein and how two NBC executives, Andy Lack, Chairman of NBC News and MSNBC, and Noah Oppenheim, President of News, under instructions from Weinstein himself, protected Weinstein by killing the investigation and refusing to publish the story.


In 2017, when he realised what the NBC executives were up to, Farrow took the story to The New Yorker where it was published, winning him the Pulitzer Prize. Further parts of that investigation have also been published here.

In a lengthy piece written for Vanity Fair just a couple of weeks ago, the other journo, Rich McHugh, who resigned from NBC a year ago, related details of the NBC conspiracy and the lies told by the executives when the refusal to publish, itself, became a story. NBC’s decision not to publish was a conspiracy between Harvey Weinstein and the NBC executives to silence Weinstein’s accusers.

But the purpose of this essay is not to re-run that story, interesting though it is. Its purpose is to show that your purported ‘right to know’ will depend ultimately on whether the  AMSM’s duty to teach you, the reciprocal of your right to know, has come into conflict with a personal self-interest or even a source of higher profits. You won’t know and your limited right to criticise under Australian law, still exposes you to the financial risk of a defamation suit.

There is no substitute for a constitutional right to speak freely and it is about time the government acted. Were Australians to approve a constitutional right to free speech, the AMSM would share in that right and not need to rely on sophistry. What then, are they afraid of? That is difficult to know.

Perhaps they are just afraid of free speech in citizen-hands – precisely where it should be.

David Long is a retired solicitor and economist.

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