There has been a lot of what looks like sensationalism/paranoia surrounding the Finkelstein report on the media in Australia, so I have decided to read it myself. I will write on this when I have seen more, but I did want to highlight something early on.
Firstly, Bob Brown’s call for a media inquiry (my bold):
…but the leader of the Greens, Senator Brown, called for a general inquiry into the newspaper industry. He suggested that the inquiry should canvass whether:
· publishers should be licensed
· a ‘fit and proper person’ test should be applied
· there should be limits on foreign ownership of the press
· the newspaper industry is too concentrated
· there is a need for independent regulation of the press
A few pages later, Finkelstein summarises how the idea of a free press came to the British Common Law (and therefore Australian Law) (my bold):
The newly-invented printing press came to England in 1476. It brought about a sweeping change in communication possibilities. There was now a means, which could be employed by many, of carrying speech far and wide. It did not take long for the state to exercise strict control ‘over the printing, publication and importation of books’ in the interests of the state’s ‘peace and security. As early as 1484, monopolies were granted to publishers to print particular books. Then, in 1534, it became an offence to purchase a book published abroad. This was followed by proclamations against seditious and heretical books
2.9 In 1586 the Star Chamber issued a decree prohibiting all printing other than by licensed stationers. …
2.10 …The 1662 Printing Act was the last attempt to regulate printing by statute. The Act established a licensing system. The licensor was required to certify that his work was not ‘contrary to the Christian faith … or against the state or government’.
2.11 By the early 1690s advances in technology had significantly reduced the cost of printing and it was no longer practicable for the state to keep printing under control.
2.12 …The 1662 Act was allowed to lapse in 1694.
As a small point, Australia still bans the importation of foreign books to a large extent (or at least, this was reintroduced somewhere down the line).
More importantly, Bob Brown is trying to bring back the idea of licensing press outlets in order to quell criticism of the Government – an idea that our legal tradition got rid of more than 300 years ago. This is supposed to be progressive? I can’t think of many things more regressive.