16 March 2012

Will Ray Finkelstein's statutory "News Media Council" enable a totalitarian state?

"The fight for freedom begins with free speech"
Aung San Suu Kyi, The Observer, Sunday 11 March 2012

Aung San Suu Kyi was not saying this specifically in response to the report published 11 days earlier by the Honourable Ray Finkelstein QC on 28 February 2012 of his "Independent Inquiry into the Media and Media Regulation", but she could have been. Mr Finkelstein says in his report to the Australian Federal Labor government, who commissioned it, the following:

11.44 To rectify existing and emerging weaknesses in the current regulatory structures it is recommended that there be established an independent statutory body which may be called the "News Media Council", to oversee the enforcement of standards of the news media. ...

11.55 The News Media Council requires clearly defined functions. It is not recommended that one of them be the promotion of free speech. There are other ample bodies and persons in the community who do that more than adequately. ...
                  [bolding added by me]

What "ample bodies" would they be Ray? How would any such freely formed voluntary bodies compete with a statutory authority Ray? Are you suggesting they defy the News Media Council's rulings to promote free speech? Are you suggesting that speech coerced by a government body would be free speech?

I didn't think the Australian Federal Labor Government's opportunistic "Inquiry into the Media and Media Regulation in Australia" would be anything more than an irritating bye-product of a government under pressure looking for an easy media distraction from its then prevailing political woes.  The ostensible reason proffered by the ALP government for this enquiry was the moral frenzy over revelations of illegal phone hacking of private citizens by journalists on the other side of the planet in the United Kingdom. This was seized on as an opportunity to stick it to the publishers of what the government perceived as tiresome and unjustified criticism of it in the News Limited media in Australia (principally awkward speculation of internal ALP rumblings of a possible Rudd leadership challenge to the PM). Threatening such media organisations with a Leveson-like media enquiry was itself, at the time, a reprehensible misuse of government power, but surely any such  politically motivated enquiry would not be so reckless as to go on to make substantive recommendations to increase government power at the expense of freedom of speech in Australia? Nah, Mr Finkelstein QC has taken the opportunity to release a 474 page report with substantive recommendations that seriously imperil free speech in Australia.

Many other journalists and media commentators on all sides of politics have already contributed to an outcry by citizens around the world  defending free speech in Australia from this egregious attack by an Australian Labor Government commissioned enquiry. Apparently this government felt so threatened by criticism in the press and robust debate that it felt it as OK to muzzle free speech with a trumped up enquiry that has produced this result.

Mr. Finkelstein has also recommended a statutorily mandated "right of reply".

9.49   An enforceable right of reply is a desirable reform for the media. There are no significant moral or policy objections to such a right ...

Oh yes there are significant moral and policy objections to such a right Mr Finkelstein.  Not the least of which is that the modern world affords more avenues than ever before to express oneself and publish those expressions other than in a publication you disagree with. If someone publishes something you disagree with, you can now publish yourself. For instance, I disagree with Mr Finkelstein's recommendations. I do not call on him to publish my contrary views in an addendum to his report.  To compel others under pain of government sanction to publish a view for you is an act of the totalitarian thought police.

John Stuart Mill's classic and enduringly relevant 1859 treatise "On Liberty" established the modern philosophic and moral baseline for freedom of expression in Western civilization, and with the clear understanding that such a freedom is not absolute. It is understood that this freedom must always be tempered to a tolerable degree by the "harm principle", that one's speech must not actually harm others. There is clearly much debate on where the line is to be drawn, but freedom is the starting point. Mr Finkelstein seems to think that the starting point is that freedom of speech is a privileged afforded to citizens by a gracious government on conditions that the government imposes.

It is also seems less than evenhanded and unbalanced of Mr Finkelstein to suggest that a justification for having such a News Media Council and an enforceable right of reply, is the risk of defamation to person's reputations from media publications. Each of our States and Territories already have longstanding laws protecting people's reputations from defamation by media publications. Whether these laws are adequate and appropriate is always a matter for debate. But this was not an enquiry into the adequacy of current defamation and libel laws. There have been many previous such enquiries which were better equipped to deal with and focus on such law reform issues than Mr Finkelstein's media enquiry. To conflate defamation law reform with media regulation, as Mr Finkelstein appears to have done in his taxpayer funded enquiry, only demonstrates the dangers that can befall a free society that permits a government appointed official to determine the powers of government appointed officials.

Democracy is necessarily messy and noisy. Freedom of speech is not, cannot and should not be guaranteed in any one expression of speech, but in the protection of the right of any person to say or defend their views across a variety of media and time frames. The notion of "balance" is misconceived in the context of just one expression of speech. To assert that one expression of speech should be "balanced" erroneously assumes the patently false position that there is, for any one view expressed, an opposite view that for fairness sake must also be expressed. This willfully ignores both that in most instances of the expression of a view there are multiple other different views from multiple other perspectives, not simply one opposite view, and that such an opposite view may itself be unfair and irrelevant to the view expressed. To mandate "balance" in any one given expression of speech is to compel speech in an other that the person expressing it may not believe in or want to express. This is coercion, not freedom.

I have many other beefs with Mr Finkelstein's 474 pager, including that here in Australia we do not have any clear constitutional protections for freedom of speech, unlike in the USA. In such circumstances, to assert, as Mr Finkelstein does, that freedom of speech can "more than amply" be promoted by persons other than the statutory body that he recommends be set up to regulate media speech, is to leave freedom of speech at the mercy of that body.

The establishment of a statutory "News Media Council" as recommended by Mr Finkelstein is a dangerous and unnecessary attack on the freedoms of the citizens of Australia. The recommendations appear to be capable of being used to constrain criticism of government and control speech by corercive edicts from a government body. Those recommendations should not be implemented.

The fight for freedom begins with free speech

06 March 2012

Who are you going to believe – Government climate scientists or the Data?

Dr David Evans, formerly a full time consultant to the Australian Greenhouse Office and a PhD from Stanford, has written a brief Skeptics Case which was been republished recently on WUWT.

It is a succinct and well argued case essentially making many very similiar, if not identical, points to those made by Professor Richard Lindzen in his presentation to Westminster about the exaggeration of CO2 forcings in the CAGW climate models.

Here's Dr Evan's take:

... This is an unusual political issue, because there is a right and a wrong answer and everyone will know which it is eventually. People are going ahead and emitting CO2 anyway, so we are doing the experiment: either the world heats up by several degrees by 2050, or it doesn’t.
Notice that the skeptics agree with the government climate scientists about the direct effect of CO2; they just disagree just about the feedbacks. The climate debate is all about the feedbacks; everything else is merely a sideshow. Yet hardly anyone knows that. The government climate scientists and the mainstream media have framed the debate in terms of the direct effect of CO2 and sideshows such as arctic ice, bad weather, or psychology. They almost never mention the feedbacks. Why is that?...

When is the importance of this "feedback" issue in the climate models finally going to filter into the mainstream media and the political consciousness? There is a lot at stake politically in Australia, in particular, on this. The Federal Labor Government have nailed themselves to the mast backing the CAGW scientific models by legislating for a punitive Carbon Tax on all large Australian businesses. The CACW climate model is increasingly looking like it is mistaken but the ALP can't admit that. The science has certainly now been well and truly politicised here.

What will our scientific community now say?  Will they be scientists enough to be able to put the science before their politics? Will they be able to communicate to the world that the IPCC models on which the Carbon Tax is predicated, are probably wrong?

Or will they stay silent and just let the ecomonic damage of this Carbon Tax wreak its toll, in lost jobs, reduced competitiveness and lower productivity for Australian industry?

CAGW theory is not settled science

What's Up With That has directed me to a tutorial in physics and science contained in a comment by Professor Robert Brown of the Duke University Physics department on a post on WUWT about Climate Science and Special Relativity.

I enjoyed Professor Brown's post as much for its excellent exegesis on the nature of scientific certainty in physics ,as for its application of scientific principle to the Catastrophic Anthropogenic Global Warming theory.

This is Professor Brown's take:

You compare the predictions of their “catastrophic” theory five, ten, twenty years back to the actual data. If there is good agreement, it is at least possible that they are correct. The greater the deviation between observed reality and their predictions, the more likely it is that their result is at least incorrect if not actual bullshit. That’s all. Accurately predicting the future isn’t proof that they are right, but failing to predict it is pretty strong evidence that they are wrong.

Such a comparison fails. It actually fails way back in the twentieth century, where it fails to predict or explain the cooling from 1945 to roughly 1965-1970. It fails to predict the little ice age. It fails to predict the medieval climate optimum, or the other periods in the last 10,000 years where the proxy record seems to indicate that the world was as warm or warmer than it is today. But even ignoring that — which we can, because those proxy reconstructions are just as doubtful in their own way as the tree-ring reconstructions, with or without a side-serving of confirmation bias to go with your fries — even ignoring that, it fails to explain the 33 or so years of the satellite record, the only arguably reliable measure of actual global temperatures humans have ever made. For the last third of that period, there has been no statistically significant increase in temperature, and it may even be that the temperature has decreased a bit from a 1998 peak. January of 2012 was nearly 0.1C below the 33 year baseline.

This behavior is explainable and understandable, but not in terms of their models, which predicted that the temperature would be considerably warmer, on average, than it appears to be, back when they were predicting the future we are now living. This is evidence that those models are probably wrong, that some of the variables that they have ignored in their theories are important, that some of the equations they have used have incorrect parameters, incorrect feedbacks....     
                                                        [the bolding is added by me]

The IPCC is now sorely in need of a revisit to its earlier predictions and its recommendations about the future. CO2 does not look like the main culprit for the Global Warming from 1975 to 1998. The world does not appear to need to take drastic measures to reduce CO2 emissions by changing its energy sources. Australia does not have to tax its largest companies CO2 emissions making those companies less internationally competitive, imperilling workers' jobs. In fact the Carbon Tax is increasingly looking like a spectacular political folly.

And, in Professor Brown's opinion, the whole alarmist schicht is pointless anyway because:

No matter what, we will be producing far less CO_2 in 30 years than we are today. Sheer economics and the advance of physics and technology and engineering will make fossil-fuel burning electrical generators as obsolete as steam trains. Long before we reach any sort of catastrophe — assuming that CAGW is correct — the supposed proximate cause of the catastrophe will be reversing itself without anyone doing anything special to bring it about but make sensible economic choices.