Finkelstein Review

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.

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2 Responses to Finkelstein Review

  1. Does the fact that the use of human intellect does not guarantee that the truth will be found mean that there is no point in having a single, properly-funded regulator?

    That is like saying that the fact that you can’t guarantee that you can save every patient’s life means there is no point in building a hospital!

    We shouldn’t look to the regulator for absolute perfection – the important question to ask is whether it can make an improvement?

    I’m sure that when Mill said you couldn’t guarantee finding the truth he didn’t mean that it was impossible to discern complete bullshit from truth. He didn’t say just give up – don’t even try – it’s impossible to know anything or to determine that one thing has a higher probability of truth than another.

    While the regulator may not always be able to definitively determine the truth there will definitely be times when it can definitively determine that something is false, or misleading, or leaving out important facts.

    The current system is not perfect and therefore we should seek to improve it, not to give up and say it can’t get any better than this.

    I’ve written a couple of blog posts related to this subject on my blog and I’d appreciate hearing your opinion of the arguments I put forward there.


    • Mark Christensen says:

      Lau – thanks for your comment.

      Yes, there is value in expanding the human intellect even though it cannot guarantee the truth in the end. However, I don’t believe the mind is made to cope with this irony, and quickly forgets it cannot “go all the way”.

      Do you believe a regulator can force you to make moral choices? Yes, one can discern bullshit from truth, but if you believe this why can’t individuals do the same? A third party only gives the mistaken impression that it can spare us to need to apply our own bullshit barometer to things. Either you believe there is a “single, properly-funded” regulator who can do the job or not; the middle ground exists in rhetoric only.