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A fight for press freedom – McCourt’s ReVerb

Tuesday, 24 January 2017
By Andy McCourt

(l-r) Trump inauguration, 2017; Obama inauguration, 2009.

Forcing myself to listen to President Trump’s inauguration address, I remained nonplussed until I heard: “We must speak our minds openly, debate our disagreements honestly …”

Huh? Just a few days before, we had all heard Trump refuse a reporter from a major network the right to even ask a question. We heard him call journalists: “dishonest” “disgusting” “liars” and “scum”. During his campaign, he said: “Believe me, if I become president, oh, do they have problems…” before threatening to close bothersome media down using libel laws. It seems the truth behind the Trump mask is vastly different to the words he used in his inaugural address.

'Without a cynical media, tyrants flourish': Andy McCourt, Editor Print21 magazine

There was more blahblah and bluster against the media from Trump, but you probably heard it all anyway. As someone once said: “everyone wants a free press until they are featured in it.” It is a hallmark of tyrants and megalomaniacs to first attack freedom of expression and discredit it by accusing it of bias, distortion and now ‘fake news.’ Benjamin Franklin knew this when he said: “Whoever would overthrow the liberty of a nation must begin by subduing the freeness of speech.”

Undoubtedly, perversions of truth can occur in the media; journalists and editors make no claim to angelic perfection but it should be born in mind what ‘media’ means, and its role in a democracy.

It derives from the Latin ‘medium, meaning: “an intervening agency, means, or instrument.” It also implies “being in the middle of…” Media in all of its forms, electronic and print, is the middle-man in information dissemination. It is and should be on the cynical side, questioning everything and assuming nothing until researched and verified. This is not to advocate pan-society cynicism; it’s a job someone has to do in a healthy democracy and the ancient Greeks who invented both (fittingly cynic means ‘dog-like’), counted great philosophers such as Aristotle, Euclid, Plato, Socrates and Diogenes amongst its founders.

We need cynics and sceptics

Without a cynical media, tyrants flourish, mendacious men get away with murder and people become enslaved. Perhaps Mr. Trump would do well to consider the beliefs of previous American Presidents, beginning with the first:

“If freedom of speech is taken away, then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.” George Washington

In particular, Trump might consider the words of Theodore Roosevelt: “To announce that there must be no criticism of the President, or that we are to stand by the President, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public.”

More recently: “Once a government is committed to the principle of silencing the voice of opposition, it has only one way to go, and that is down the path of increasingly repressive measures, until it becomes a source of terror to all its citizens and creates a country where everyone lives in fear.”Harry Truman


Lurking in the shadows behind America’s new Caesar is the worrisome wraith of Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin. It should be emphasized that, although he promulgates his physical prowess and therefore comes across a bit of a jock, Putin was not only a lieutenant-colonel KGB officer, but a brilliant one. After his KGB posting in former East Germany (unquestionably a country that fulfilled Truman’s quote), he wrote a thesis for a PhD in economic sciences, focusing on raw materials and minerals – or did he?

In 2013, Time magazine published findings from the Brookings Institute that asserted Putin’s 218-page thesis was plagiarized from an American economics textbook, including diagrams. Even in Russia, where ‘degrees for sale’ is a corrupt industry, it is nervously acknowledged that this might be the case but, as Brookings’ Clifford Gaddy says: “Everybody knows about it, but nobody wants to bring it up.” Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev brought it up and was quickly shut down – using the state-controlled media.

Since assuming power in 2000, Putin has increasingly tightened his grip on the media. At least 21 unsolved killings of journalists and editors have occurred. The Committee to Protect Journalists ranks Russia in the top three countries where it is deadly to work as a journalist – only behind Algeria and Iraq. Many more journalists and even bloggers and Facebook posters have ended up in prison or been forced to resign after intimidation.

As for freedom of the press, Russia ranks 148th out of 179 countries according to the 2016 survey by Reporters Without Borders. Australia, by the way, lies shamefully at 25th, well behind New Zealand at 5th. The worst? North Korea.

A 2015 Huffington Post report notes that: “After Putin came into power in 2000, he established control over the three main TV stations. In 2001 and 2002, he took control of the two biggest TV channels, ORT (now First Channel) and NTV. The state broadcaster, RTR (now Rossiya 1), was already under his control. During his subsequent year in power, Putin moved more and more outlets under his influence until he controlled most of the major mainstream media. He appoints editors and general directors, either officially or unofficially.”

 And this is the man who America’s new President appears to hero-worship and sees as a good example. Yes, it’s a good example of total control of the media and abuse of power. As President, Putin has done a good job for Russia and no one could accuse him of not being a great patriot but that old KGB deviousness and cunning still underscores everything he says and does – it’s all about control.

What about Australian media?

How might all this affect Australian media? If Trump carries through on his promises to throttle the freedom out of the US media, learning from his idol Putin, it sets an example other world leaders might see as validated.

We have not been immune from attacks on freedom of speech. Queensland under Joh Bjelke Petersen was notorious for its stifling of the media and persecution of journalists who were doing their jobs.

More recently, we saw Gina Rinehart’s foray into media ownership, buying a large stake in Fairfax and demanding a seat on the board and the right to hire and fire editors. She did not like the way Fairfax journalists covered the mining industry and her private family stoushes. Failing to achieve either, she sold her stake again to focus on what she is really good at – mining. But not before trying to intimidate five Fairfax reporters including Walkley-award winning Adele Ferguson by subpoenaing them to reveal their sources. In living memory, journalists have been jailed for refusing to reveal sources – something that is enshrined in journalistic rights in all democracies.

The 1975 kidnap and murder of newspaper publisher and activist Juanita Nielsen remains largely unsolved.

If Trump is allowed to get away with a Putin-style clampdown on free media, the results will resound around the world and don’t think we will be immune in Australia. Unlikely, yes, but not immune.

Constitutional rights

There are a few inconvenient things standing in Trump’s way, such as the First Amendment to the American Constitution, Congress must pass any new anti-media legislation plus a vibrant, free, unreasonable and cynical media that exists coast-to-coast in America. I don’t think Trump gives a darn about any of these things, such is his self-centred lack of knowledge about the world in general. He’s used you giving the orders on reality TV, so that makes him a fine candidate for President? “You’re fired?”

As for his meaningless mantra ‘Make America great again,’ what is not great about a country where, today, 30% of the world’s biggest 2000 companies are American (Forbes)? Where there are more billionaires than the next four countries combined? Where the IMF still ranks the USA #1 in world GDP (nominal) by a long way although China is predicted to overtake the USA in 2020 (but it does have 1.35 billion population!)? Also by far the world’s strongest military machine, spending more on defense than the next nine countries combined and possessing the world’s largest nuclear arsenal? The world’s two largest stock exchanges – four times the size of its nearest four rivals? The list goes on.

Maybe what Trump means is: ‘Make me great again’ and anything, anyone, who criticises him is an enemy of that greatness – especially the media. Forbes reports that his wealth dropped by $800 million last year. He’s now ranked just the 336th richest person in the world. We should not overlook his six corporate bankruptcies.  He claims a net worth of around $10 billion, Forbes say $4.5 billion. Maybe he’ll finally release his tax returns.

There is so much to report about America’s new President and his relationship with Russia (and I don’t criticize any sincere attempts at reconciling differences using diplomatic entente cordiale). The only way this can be done is with a free media, free of threats and retributions.

But, he’s threatened and promised retributions – the first American President ever to do so, apparently learned from Putin. Even if it’s all mouth and braggadocio, it’s very unpresidential.

Will our leaders look on and imitate? Or worse, be cajoled into clamp-downs by the Trump administration and America’s considerable sway over Australia?

If ever this happens, welcome to 1984.

 Footnote: Trump’s PR machine’s latest accusation is that the media has not accurately reported the crowd size at his inauguration. Aerial photographs taken at the same time at Obama’s 2009 inauguration and Trump’s clearly show a greatly diminished crowd size – probably two-thirds smaller. And yet he and his minders aver that ‘the crowd was bigger and the media are liars… worst people on the planet…” blahblah. The fact that crowd size in itself is a major issue in assuaging this President’s ego is a worry, but to openly deny evidential fact, claim falsehoods as truth and those reporting the truth as liars is even more worrying. Check it out for yourself here.











8 Responses to “A fight for press freedom – McCourt’s ReVerb”

  1. January 25, 2017 at 4:05 pm,


    Andy, Andy, Andy
    so according to you, Donald is another Putin and will shut down the media. What a lot of garbage is coming out of your mouth. This will never, ever happen, so stop trying to panic people with your leftist ideology.
    As for the statistics you trotted out to show that the american economy is doing great how about these stats:
    1. Government debt is just under 20 trillion dollars and has increased by 9.3 trillon dollars since obama came into office
    2. 110 million americans are on welfare
    3. 44.5 million americans are on food stamps
    healthcare costs of obamacare are through the roof
    4. Home ownership is the lowest in 48 years.
    5. Annual household incomes have dropped from $57,000 in 2007 to $ 53,500 in 2016
    How about you get your facts right before you start your leftist dribble

  2. January 25, 2017 at 7:12 pm,


    I think this article was about press freedom? And it seems to sadly be coming true already:

    and mate, those figures you quote…it was people like Trump who caused the hardship by creating the GFC because of flaunting the laws to enrich themselves. He’s used prepackaged bankruptcy and Ch 11 SIX times!

  3. January 26, 2017 at 12:23 am,


    Spoken like a true socialist
    in case you didn’t know Trump didnt own the banks who lent money to poor Americans at extremely low rates and then a few years later the fine print kicked in which double the interest rate being charged that made it impossible for them to make the payments. However in the USA when you can’t make the payments you just toss the house keys on the bank managers desk and walk out of your house.
    That immediately put over a million houses on the market and caused the crash in house prices and the gfc..
    Get your facts straight before you start trashing trump.
    Pity the Liberal party hasn’t got its version of Donald Trump


  4. January 26, 2017 at 12:35 pm,


    Even though I’m not a rusted-on socialist, I would rather be one than a fascist. In truth, Australia’s centrist politics are an example to the world – we strive for tolerance and humanity; can always improve particularly with our indigenous people but I believe the efforts are genuine from both sides of politics.
    What is happening in America is nothing short of a coup d’etat. And they all start with attacks on the media…which is the main point so why not stick with it and stop ignoring the facts as presented??
    You seem to prefer the ‘alternative facts.’ Read falsehoods.

  5. January 26, 2017 at 9:18 pm,


    Kali spera Diogenes

    “Nothing short of a coup d’état ”
    Are you delusional ?
    Quite obviously you read the crap
    being written and spoken by
    the majority of the leftist American
    media that kept pushing Clinton’s barrow
    and now cannot get over it.
    He won 306 electoral votes and
    you believe he usurped power ?
    Sounds like I am having a debate
    with another one of Australia’s leftist elite
    Pity our Liberal leader is also one.

  6. January 27, 2017 at 7:47 am,


    Andrew you’re an idiot.

  7. January 27, 2017 at 10:36 am,


    Andrew, In view of Banksy’s accurate character assessment, I’m bailing out of this conversation but not before I note that your beloved Trump this morning praised and advocated the use of torture, particularly waterboarding. Even his own party colleague John McCain, a past victim of torture, has said ‘no way.’ UK PM May will be in US today and will deliver the same message. Trump always was, and is a very unpleasant and dangerous person. And coups d’etat can happen by stealth mate. I’ll leave you with this commentary if you care to read it. Mind you, it could be ‘leftist drivel’ (not dribble sic).
    Antio sas Andrew!

  8. January 28, 2017 at 1:00 am,


    I don’t have any problem with waterboarding if it results in getting information out of those sick animals
    in ISIS. You want the US to play by the rules while ISIS gets into trucks and mow down 100 people.
    More leftist ideology.
    You actually subscribe to Notion of change ?
    Get a life mate


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