London, September 26, 2003
Censorship That Doesn't Speak Its Name
by John Pilger;
journalism to a branch of corporate and government public
relations is the hidden agenda of the media deregulators,
in Britain and America.
The Australian novelist Richard Flanagan was
recently asked by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation
to read a favourite piece of fiction on national radio
and explain his reasons for the choice.
"I was unsure what fiction to read to you
this morning," he said. "If we take the work of our
most successful spinner of fictions in recent times,
[Prime Minister] John Howard
(right), I could have read from the varied
and splendid tall tales he and his fellow storytellers
listed Howard's most famous fictions: that desperate
refugees trying to reach Australia had wilfully thrown
their children overboard, and that faraway Australia was
endangered by Iraq's "weapons of hysterical distraction",
as he put it.
He followed this with Molly Bloom's soliloquy
from Joyce's Ulysses, "because in our time of lies and
hate it seems appropriate to be reminded of the beauty of
saying yes to the chaos of truth..."
This was duly recorded; but when the programme was
broadcast, the entire preface about Howard was missing.
Flanagan accused the ABC of rank censorship. No, was the
response; they just didn't want "anything political".
This was followed, he wrote, by "a moment of high comedy:
would I, the producer asked, be interested in coming on a
programme to discuss disillusionment in contemporary
In a society that once prided itself on its laconic
sense of irony, there was not a hint of it, just a
managerial silence. "All around me," Flanagan later
wrote, "I see avenues for expression closing, an odd
collusion of an ever-more cowed media and the way in
which the powerful seek to dictate what is and what isn't
read and heard."
HE may well be speaking for the rest of us. The
censorship in Australia that he describes is especially
virulent because Australia is a small media pond
inhabited by large sharks: a microcosm of what the
British might expect if the current assault on free
journalism is not challenged. The leader of this assault
is, of course, Rupert Murdoch, (far right, with
friend) whose dominance in the land of his birth is
now symptomatic of his worldwide grip.
Of 12 daily newspapers in the capital cities, Murdoch
controls seven. Of the ten Sunday newspapers, Murdoch has
seven. In Adelaide, he has a complete monopoly. He owns
everything, including all the printing presses. It is
almost impossible to escape his augmented team of
Like all his newspapers, they follow the path paved
with his "interests" and his extremism. They echo
Murdoch's description of Bush and Blair as
"heroes" of the Iraq invasion, and his dismissal of the
blood they spilt. For good measure, his tabloid the
Herald Sun invented an al-Qaeda terrorist training
camp near Melbourne; and all his papers promote John
Howard's parrot-like obsequiousness to Bush, just as they
laud Howard's racist campaign against a few thousand
asylum-seekers who are locked away in outback
Murdochism, disguised or not, is standard throughout the
media he does not control. The Melbourne Age, once
a great liberal newspaper whose journalists produced a
pioneering charter of editorial independence, is often
just another purveyor of what Orwell called
"smelly little orthodoxies", wrapped in lifestyle
supplements. Flickering beacons are the visionary Special
Broadcasting Service (SBS), which was set up to serve
Australia's multi-ethnic society, and the eternally
A GOOD article, and it would
be indelicate of me even to mention an
involving the financially strapped New
Statesman last year.
Having actively cajoled
our publishing company to place costly
advertising of our books in its pages, The
New Statesman first accepted, then rejected,
the whole-page four-colour advert
War which we supplied, and made plain that
under no circumstances would they carry
advertising for my famous
Essay task for Mr
Pilger: Comment on this apparent paradox,
without using the word hypocrisy more
The ABC is different from the BBC, its model, in one
crucial respect. It has no licence fee and must rely on
government handouts. In Australia, political intimidation
of the national broadcaster makes Downing Street's
campaign against the BBC seem almost genteel. Howard's
minister for communications, a far-right dullard called
Richard Alston, recently demanded that the ABC
reply to 68 counts of "anti-Americanism". What the
government wants is no less than an oath of loyalty to
the foreign power to which it has surrendered
Charges of "left-wing bias", familiar in Britain and
just as ridiculous, drone out of both the Murdoch and
non-Murdoch press. A Sydney Morning Herald
commentator, a local echo of the far right's "monitoring"
of the media in America, has attacked the ABC for years.
With no guarantee of financial independence, the ABC has
bent to the pressure; the censorship experienced by
Richard Flanagan is not unusual. More seriously, current
affairs investigations that might be construed as "left
wing" are not commissioned. As one well-known journalist
told me: "We have a state of fear. If you're a dissenter,
THE despair felt by many Australians about this, and the
cosmetic democracy in Canberra that it reflects,
expresses itself in huge turnouts at public meetings.
More than 34,000 attended the recent Melbourne Writers'
Festival, where, said the director, "anything political"
and "any session that allowed people to express a view"
was a sell-out.
The global model for censorship by omission in free
societies is America, which constitutionally has the
freest press in the world. In Washington, Charles
Lewis, the former CBS 60 Minutes producer who runs
the Centre for Public Integrity, told me:
"Under Bush, the silence among journalists is
worse than in the 1950s. Murdoch is the most
influential media mogul in America; he sets the
standard, and there is no public discussion about it.
Why do 70 per cent of the American public believe
Saddam Hussein was behind the attacks of 9/11? Because
the media's constant echoing of the government
guarantees it. Without the complicity of journalists,
Bush would never have attacked Iraq."
journalism and reducing it to the "spokesman's
spokesman", a branch of corporate and government public
relations, is the hidden agenda of the new media
In the US, the Federal Communications Commission
(run by Colin Powell's son)
is finally to deregulate television so that Murdoch's Fox
Channel and four other conglomerates control 90 per cent
of the terrestrial and cable audience. That is the
spectre in Britain, with a Blairite placeman now
overseeing public service broadcasting in the new
commercial deregulator, Oftel, which has a remit to
follow the American "market" path. The next step is to
end the licence fee and diminish the BBC to a version of
its Australian prodigy. That is Blair's agenda.
The genesis for this - and for the current
Blair/Murdoch campaign against the BBC's independence -
can be traced back to 1995, when Murdoch flew the Blairs
first class to Hayman Island, off the Queensland coast.
In the tropical sunshine and standing at the blue News
Corp lectern, the future British prime minister waxed
lyrical about his "new moral purpose in politics" and
pledged himself to hand over the media to the
"enterprise" of those like his host, who applauded him
The next day, satire died again when Murdoch's
Sun commented: "Mr Blair has vision, he has
purpose and he speaks our language on morality and family