You have a Right To Know and you should join our fight to make it hap­pen

The Sunday Telegraph (Sydney) - - OPINION - PIERS AKERMAN

Most in­tel­li­gent Aus­tralians would be aware of the Right To Know cam­paign be­ing run by the na­tion’s ma­jor me­dia or­gan­i­sa­tions. Many may well think this is a self­ind­ul­gent op­er­a­tion and ig­nore it or mock it. They would not be alone.

Some of those now claim­ing to be cham­pi­ons of a free press — the ABC’s Bar­rie Cas­sidy, news.com.au’s Mal­colm Farr and Karen Middleton of The Sat­ur­day Pa­per — laughed them­selves silly when I alone on the ABC’s In­sid­ers panel of March 17, 2013, spoke out against the Gil­lard La­bor gov­ern­ment’s pro­posal to in­stall a gov­ern­ment-ap­pointed me­dia reg­u­la­tor.

Why? Be­cause Ms Gil­lard claimed the press (and she had The Aus­tralian in mind) had “ques­tions to an­swer”.

To this date she has never told us what those ques­tions may have been and she is now feted by the left as yet an­other vic­tim of a misog­y­nis­tic na­tion and given in­ter­na­tional plat­forms from which to spout her false claims about the coun­try.

Free­dom of the press has been a cause for which I have fought ever since I was first ap­pointed as edi­tor of The Ad­ver­tiser in Ade­laide in 1988.

After a no­to­ri­ous case in which a per­son whose name was sup­pressed had com­mit­ted an of­fence which was not per­mit­ted to be dis­closed in a town that could not be iden­ti­fied, I ran a cam­paign us­ing the same tools as the cur­rent cru­sade.

De­tails in sto­ries were blacked out and editorials were writ­ten.

Why was it im­por­tant that the de­tails be known? Be­cause the case in­volved a doc­tor whose ac­tions had killed a pa­tient.

Free­dom of press re­quires a bal­anc­ing act which some ac­tivists choose to ig­nore. Ju­lian As­sange, for ex­am­ple, is not a jour­nal­ist and de­serves no pro­tec­tions or sup­port for leak­ing con­fi­den­tial de­tails which led to the names of un­der­cover op­er­a­tives fight­ing for lib­eral demo­cratic prin­ci­ples be­ing ex­posed and ex­e­cuted.

His is an ex­treme ex­am­ple of what should not win the sym­pa­thy of those ar­gu­ing for a free press.

To­day, we have blan­ket sup­pres­sions on the true state of aged care homes but for­tu­nately we have a royal com­mis­sion which is just start­ing to lift the veil cov­er­ing some of the most re­volt­ing prac­tices — per­haps still con­tin­u­ing — in aged care fa­cil­i­ties.

This is why we need greater press free­dom. We have sup­pres­sion or­ders, still, pre­vent­ing us know­ing the names of doc­tors and nurses in­volved in ter­ri­ble crimes against their charges.

We have the fed­eral gov­ern­ment claim­ing that im­por­tant de­tails of all con­tracts must be kept se­cret for rea­sons of com­mer­cial con­fi­den­tial­ity.

The con­tract with the sub­ma­rine builder, the for­mer French com­pany DCNS, which has a ma­jor his­tor­i­cal prob­lem with cor­rup­tion charges, and has now re­branded it­self as Naval Group, should be held up the light if for no other rea­son than the De­fence De­part­ment has shown it­self to be to­tally in­ca­pable of ne­go­ti­at­ing a mean­ing­ful con­tract which guar­an­tees de­liv­ery on time and on bud­get.

Spend­ing $50 bil­lion on a sub­ma­rine de­sign yet to be de­cided, which may or not be diesel or nu­clear and is sup­posed to be based on a nu­clear model that is meant to be fit for ser­vice in the 2030s is be­yond even Yes Min­is­ter.

And there are plenty of other ex­am­ples. The me­dia or­gan­i­sa­tions are cor­rect in ar­gu­ing for greater trans­parency but they must them­selves be be­yond re­proach.

Me­dia or­gan­i­sa­tions which also take it upon them­selves to adopt virtue sig­nalling causes should also con­sider whether they are not thereby pro­mot­ing par­tic­u­lar agen­das — it’s OK in editorials and in col­umns but should be frowned upon at board level for the very ob­vi­ous rea­sons of pre­sent­ing a neu­tral face.

Gov­ern­ments at ev­ery level claim con­fi­den­tial­ity for spu­ri­ous rea­sons and it is no se­cret that they do most fre­quently to pre­vent em­bar­rass­ment.

They thump the Top Se­cret stamp on ev­ery doc­u­ment that might re­veal how stupid, how waste­ful, how de­ceit­ful they are.

Un­for­tu­nately, too many so-called whistle­blow­ers dis­close in­for­ma­tion and want to claim im­mu­nity for their crimes of re­veal­ing ma­te­rial which may dam­age the na­tional in­ter­est when they are re­ally try­ing to ex­act re­venge on de­part­ments or in­di­vid­u­als whom they feel they can’t work with.

Yes, there are some gen­uine whistle­blow­ers but not that many. Bal­ance is needed.

Bet­ter ne­go­ti­at­ing skills might bring it about but his­tory shows that this is un­likely.

News­pa­pers blacked out front pages this week in protest.

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