Transparency, rather than crackdowns on the nation's media like this week's raid on the ABC and News Ltd, would better serve the national interest Bill Hoffman argues.
Transparency, rather than crackdowns on the nation's media like this week's raid on the ABC and News Ltd, would better serve the national interest Bill Hoffman argues.

The media is not the problem

Opinion - by Bill Hoffman

THE Australian Federal Police can claim all it likes that the timing of raids on a News Ltd journalist's home and the ABC's Sydney headquarters had nothing to with the federal election.

But it's a claim that won't pass the pub test.

Both matters are historic, dating back one and two years.

If the raids had occurred the week before the election or in fact any other time this year they would have become the election issue they rightly should have been.

Centre Alliance Senator Rex Patrick has proposed an amendment to enshrine free speech in the constitution.

Whether the wording of that is ultimately the right way to go remains to be seen. What is certain though is that any deliberation by Parliament and the Senate on freedom of the Press should be a conscious vote driven by community representations to individual Members and Senators rather than the dictate of political parties.

The failure of politicians in a democracy to speak unambiguously about intent and to provide transparency in their deliberations is at the heart of distrust in the political process at all levels of government.

It is present in federal issues of border security, was the reason the ABC and News Ltd journalists had to rely on sources for information an honest government would have declared and lingers over everything from the allocation of contracts to run offshore detention centres to the payments for water made to a Cayman Island company to which a Federal Minister had close ties.

Matters of national security were rightly respected by the Press through two world wars.

We are not in a state of continuous war, regardless of rhetoric around low-level terrorism acts and nor should they be used to justify state censorship.

Two weeks after the national vote the true parlous state of the economy is only now being acknowledged with the Treasurer still trying to slate problems home to a Labor Party that hasn't been in power for six years now and won't be for at least another three.

Journalists spend their every day trying to discern truth from spin while taxpayer-funded media advisors provide responses rather than answers to direct questions.

The limitation of political damage rather than a commitment to being open and honest with the people they represent has become increasingly the norm over the past two decades at least.

Yet it is the media, controlled by the principles of balance in its reporting, that's accused of fake news.

When mayors begin using that language as a form of defence, it should be a matter for all our concern.

Government at state, federal and local levels has become increasingly closed and corporate in culture and action, treating community consultation with contempt and embracing process as justification for outcomes never fully explained.

Rather than offering transparency, they have become increasingly opaque.

Is there little wonder that public servants become whistleblowers reaching out to the media with hidden truths that need to be spoken in the public interest. Those that do so aren't criminals or traitors to be demonised, but patriots who should be celebrated.

In a democracy government should act in the service of the people. What they do is in all our names and needs explanation beyond the three-yearly dance with the outer edges of truth that now represent our election campaigns.

At a state level every new data set that's released comes with a government statement placing it in the best possible light while the opposition either responds or gets in first with a twist that presents exactly the opposite.

This happens daily, spewing into the in-boxes of journalists around the nation.

Where the truth lies is another matter.

The State Government, through its SEQ Regional Plan, dictates growth patterns and numbers to local authorities unsustained by infrastructure delivery and funding time lines.

Locally Sunshine Coast Council goes behind closed doors to discuss any and every thing, shields transparency with claims of commercial in-confidence and internally berates councillors who speak outside "the team".

Politicians bemoaning the drift of voters to minor parties should consider just why they reach out to some who appear barely intelligible. Is it perhaps because their own behaviour has cost them all trust?

The public has a right to know about plans by security forces to spy on them. They have a right to know if Australian soldiers have been charged with unlawful killing.

Hiding those things from the public view pose far greater threats to the security of our democracy, than the truth ever will.