We Know What’s Good For You
Gina Reinhart is a very wealthy person. She has made her fortune in mining. She is “one of them”. Apparently she has views which offend most reasonable, intelligent, and thinking people. She thinks that the environmentalist ideology of man-caused climate change is a bunch of baloney, for example. She is obviously ignorant and therefore to be dismissed. But she is also dangerous, and to be resisted mightily if she comes to close to our patch.
Except that Reinhart has money. She has made a sizeable investment in Fairfax Media which owns the Sydney Morning Herald and the Melbourne Age–venerable left-wing, pro-climate change, communitarian newspapers. Fairfax, of course, is a declining business. Its commercial strength has sapped away to where that once proud company now resembles a seven stone, white weakling slinking along Bondi Beach in high summer.
Overnight the Chattering Classes have expressed both outrage and alarm that one so unfit as Reinhart should actually own major newspapers in Australia (and New Zealand, for that matter). What on earth could they mean? Of course they mean that “fitness” has to do with supporting, representing, framing the news, and propounding views that are condign with what the Chattering Classes consider to be the truth. The idea that the Sydney Morning Herald may become a green-sceptical newspaper is a bridge too far.
But, of course, its not PC to actually say that out loud and in public. Instead, one has to conjure a smokescreen. And, of course, there is one readily at hand. Gina Reinhart’s ownership of Fairfax Media would apparently not be in the public interest. That settles it then.
It turns out that the public interest is a smokescreen for views and acts that one happens to approve of. Because one happens to think a certain way, and one believes one’s way is the right way, it follows that the views and positions one approves must be in the wider, public interest of everyone else as well.
Richard Ackland, writing in the said Sydney Morning Herald, explains just how public interest is a specious crock.
This is getting decidedly whacky. Yesterday’s Australian Financial Review reported an exciting new thought bubble from Canberra, saying ”federal cabinet is set to approve and present to Parliament a tough public interest test for media ownership”. The core ingredient behind the sudden propulsion of this idea must be that both Gina Rinehart and Rupert Murdoch are unsuitable people to run newspapers. The faith politicians have in such an amorphous concept as ”the public interest” is unbelievably touching. . . .
”The public interest” is a phrase sprinkled through legislation with gay abandon. It sounds democratic and noble, but at the end of the rainbow it has to be interpreted by a judge, or a cluster of judges – a recipe for uncertainty, because the judges themselves are uncertain.
Already in legislation the phrase competes with itself. For instance, in the Court Suppression and Non-publication Orders Act, a court can suppress something if it is in the public interest and that public interest outweighs the public interest in open justice. It’s almost a foregone conclusion as to which ”public interest” will win in that contest.
The Defamation Act starts off with some high-flown sentiment about not placing unreasonable limits on ”publication and discussion of matters of public interest”. It does not amount to a hill of beans.
The phrase appears in the Broadcasting Services Act, giving the minister power to take control over material to be broadcast ”in the public interest”. In the government’s issues paper on a cause of action for serious invasion of privacy, ”public interest” appeared 57 times. In the Finkelstein report, it was 85 times, the same number of times it was mentioned in the Convergence Review (including 13 times on one page). No doubt it is a popular rubric because it artfully allows plenty of imprecision and circularity in its application. . . .
Really, a public interest test is fine, as long as no one tries to define it. Lord Phillips (Baron Phillips of Worth Matravers), the president of England’s Supreme Court, tried to give it clarity in a recent libel case involving The Times: ”The public interest is whether, and in what circumstances, it is in the public interest to refer to the fact that accusations have been made …”
Already, you can feel things slipping away.
To determine public interest requires an overarching moral and ethical framework which defines the universal interests of masses of human beings. Without that framework, language about “the public interest” is vacuous, circular, and meaningless. But the situation is a bit more sinister than that. Since this high sounding phrase is now used everywhere, not just in public discourse, but also in legislation, elites will decide what the legislation actually means and what, therefore, our interests are to be whether we like it or not. “Public interest” becomes a very authoritarian and elitist construct. Undefinable and meaningless without recourse to a universal moral framework, “public interest” becomes defined and given due meaning by governors, politicians and judges.
As a Believer, clearly we know there is such a thing as the public interest. After all, the Living God sends rain upon the just and the unjust and it is in the public interest that He does. Without it, we would all become desiccated, starving husks in due course. But it is the Christian universal moral framework that makes the phrase meaningful and applicable.
It is the absence of a universal system of belief within secular humanism that makes the favoured construct vacuous. Ironically, it is precisely the secular humanists that resort to it with wild and gay abandon. Now why might that be, do you think?