Ray Finkelstein set the tone for his Inquiry into media and media regulation in the final sentence of his media release. The former judge did not “think it fair to speak to individual members of the media lest it be thought I am showing preference to some other others”.
The cult of PC is such a stain on our culture, clouding logic, convincing otherwise smart people that the shared objectives of society can somehow be realised by policies that presume the worst.
As we already know, but don’t like to admit, the trust and mutual respect desired by us all – in the media and elsewhere – cannot be consciously promoted. And it cannot be consciously promoted for the simple reason that any attempt to do so only confirms the agitators lack the very attributes they are demanding of others.
While its do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do recommendations are deeply flawed, the Inquiry at least takes the argument back to basics.
The report cites John Stuart Mill’s radical beliefs on free speech.
Mill believed the search for truth to be a process whereby individuals sift through alternative views before applying personal judgement to arrive at what is right. A healthy society doesn’t attempt to suppress opinions which may turn out to be correct, but rather trusts the market place of ideas to weed out falsehood.
“For Mill, we can never really be sure that the opinion we are trying to prevent is false or an erroneous one, so preventing a person from expressing her views could potentially deprive us of some truth,” said Dr Sarah Sorial to the Inquiry.
“As humans, we are unable to employ a specific method that would guarantee error-free judgment. The methods of inquiry, analysis and evaluation that constitute rational human thought do not guarantee or generate certainty.”
Illuminating stuff, except Finkelstein and Sorial, like so many media cynics, do not properly work through the implications of such uncertainty, and in doing so ultimately contradict themselves.
If human reason is limited, unable to articulate the truth up front and in literal, black-and-white terms, what, then, is the sense of establishing “a single, properly-funded regulator with the power to enforce news standards across all news media outlets”?
The proposed News Media Council would be an arbiter of the truth, yet it has already been established this is an impossibility, the very reason why we must rely on the cut-and-thrust of the market.
The issue of market failure is a furphy. Even if it exists, the costs of remedial action are ultimately insufferable, since intervention gives consumers the impression a well-intentioned third party can guarantee the correct result, which of course is a lie.
Finkelstein attempts to secure the high moral and intellectual ground: “What is lacking in Australia is a robust discussion on what institutional mechanisms are necessary to ensure the press adheres to its responsibilities”.
Debate is ineffective because those advancing this question already have their answer formulated, while those wanting to pose the right question are summarily dismissed as vested interests.
There are no institutional mechanisms. There can be no assurances. And, in the end, there is no dilemma between free speech and regulation.
The only trade-off is our willingness to go on denying reality.