The Australian Federal Police raiding the offices of journalists should not serve as a warning, but as an accurate representation of what we’ve enabled.
To borrow from George Orwell, if you want a vision of our future, imagine a boot kicking a journalist’s door in – forever.
As the Australian Federal Police turned up on the ABC’s doorstep, Ten’s political editor Peter van Onselen wondered aloud on Twitter:
What the hell is going on in this country…. https://t.co/wfb3FytSMM
— Peter van Onselen (@vanOnselenP) June 5, 2019
Let’s not mince words, we’re living in Peter Dutton’s authoritarian wet dream because the media didn’t do a decent enough job in reporting their shenanigans over the past six years. Clearly, we had our eye on our hip pocket and put the fox in charge of investigating the chicken coop. It was our apathy that emboldened their boldness. Whether the files were classified is beyond the point. We should know if our soldiers in a foreign war are illegally killing people, or whether our government intends to spy on us. It’s the media’s job to report to the people, not to the will of the government.
This, make no mistake, is something new in the Australian experience. There are many things we don’t understand, courtesy of our national entitlement. The idea of a free press is certainly one. We assume that journalists are either right or wrong, but they’re free to be that. Being told what to say is far beyond the plane of our thinking.
Typically, this is an American trend that is coming to our shores a decade too late. In 2017, Masha Gessen eloquently spoke about the post-9-11 landscape in America, not in the lives lost, but rather what was done in the name of protection after the fact. Gessen writes, “American public life is profoundly transformed. The press becomes uncritical of the government. There is no outright censorship; correspondents are part of the effort now, as they were during the Second World War. American casualties pile up, the foreign carnage is enormous and unmeasured, but there is scant domestic resistance. Only at the margins of politics and the media do some people question the usefulness and legality of the war effort.”
Admittedly, their war was to ‘battle terrorism’, but the same mode of thinking can be transported over to ours. We’re seeing a war waged on criticism. The secrets of the government are theirs and theirs alone. Clearly, aggressive moves against Canberra will be swatted down with extreme prejudice. Witness K, Richard Boyle and countless others attest to this fact. The media wavers. The two great scandals of 2019, Paladin, and particularly Watergate, was birthed and maintained on Twitter long before the media touched it.
Many still view the raids through the prism of misunderstanding. The coverage is often so opaque, we’re not entirely sure what has been taken and why. I’m still unsure on the salient points of the Michaelia Cash raid because it wasn’t expressly explained to us. There was just an extreme amount of noise for a short moment of time.
This narrative is already taking course in relation to the ABC raid.
.@CUhlmann, “Why has this happened after the election, on stories written at times two years before.. Is this the kind of country we’re going to have under the Morrison Government?”@JoshFrydenberg, “I will be prudent here and not comment on an ongoing investigation..” #AFPraids pic.twitter.com/h29zljbZml
— Airlie Walsh (@AirlieWalsh) June 5, 2019
Which is exactly what they want of us, they want us to stop asking questions and move on. It doesn’t seem to be a direct threat, so we dismiss it.
Gessen spotted the same aspect in America, writing “…A key characteristic of the most frightening regimes of the past hundred years is mobilisation. This is what distinguishes the merely authoritarian regimes from the totalitarian ones. Authoritarians prefer their subjects passive, tending to their private lives while the authoritarian and his cronies amass wealth and power.”
In this country, we see civil rights or the freedom of the press as a non-issue, we have no list of protections for the average citizen. Perhaps a local Bill of Rights seems too American, too not us.
Therefore, the Coalition’s slow amassing of power was fine, because we didn’t expect them to abuse it so openly. For a nation that mobilises to defend freedom of speech over a footballer’s Instagram, having the government telling us what we can report on should serve as aggression we cannot abide.
As Gessen proclaimed, our response matters, as “there is, in fact, no room for self-congratulation in the actions we need to take.”