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Bias – Are we talking lawn bowls or loaded dice?

Bowls or lawn bowls is a sport in which the objective is to roll biased balls so that they stop close to a smaller ball called a “jack” or “kitty”.

When the Murdoch papers launched their editorials on the front page, demanding that we vote out the ALP, some argued that as a privately owned newspaper, they had every right to do so. Anything else would have been a restriction on their “free speech”.

It’s a compelling argument. After all, the consequences of allowing a government to restrict or ban criticism can be extremely dangerous. Free speech stops us from falling into totalitarianism. It’s what separates us from “those” countries where human rights are stifled.

Except, one could argue, that producing a newspaper on that scale is not “free” (these days, it’s not even profitable). And because it costs a great deal of money, only a powerful few like Rupert Murdoch can push their opinions to a mass audience like that. Yes, I know that “free” isn’t meant to mean without payment in that context. It’s meant to mean free as in one of these many definitions:

free (fr)

adj.fre·er, fre·est

1. Not imprisoned or enslaved; being at liberty.

2. Not controlled by obligation or the will of another: felt free to go.

3.

a. Having political independence: “America . . . is the freest and wealthiest nation in the world” (Rudolph W. Giuliani).

b. Governed by consent and possessing or granting civil liberties: a free citizenry.

c. Not subject to arbitrary interference by a government: a free press.

4.

a. Not affected or restricted by a given condition or circumstance: a healthy animal, free of disease; free from need.

b. Not subject to a given condition; exempt: income that is free of all taxes.

5. Not subject to external restraint: “Comment is free but facts are sacred” (Charles Prestwich Scott).

6. Not literal or exact: a free translation.

7.

a. Costing nothing; gratuitous: a free meal.

b. Publicly supported: free education.

8.a. Not occupied or used: a free locker.

b. Not taken up by scheduled activities: free time between classes.

9. Unobstructed; clear: a free lane.

10. Unguarded in expression or manner; open; frank.

11. Taking undue liberties; forward or overfamiliar.

12. Liberal or lavish: tourists who are free with their money.

13. Given, made, or done of one’s own accord; voluntary or spontaneous: a free act of the will; free choices.

14. Chemistry & Physics

a. Unconstrained; unconfined: free expansion.

b. Not fixed in position; capable of relatively unrestricted motion: a free electron.

c. Not chemically bound in a molecule: free oxygen.

d. Involving no collisions or interactions: a free path.

e. Empty: a free space.

f. Unoccupied: a free energy level.

15. Nautical Favorable: a free wind.

16. Not bound, fastened, or attached: the free end of a chain.

17. Linguistics

a. Being a form, especially a morpheme, that can stand as an independent word, such as boat or bring.

b. Being a vowel in an open syllable, as the o in go.

I still don’t see one that quite fits the notion that blasting Murdoch’s wishes across a newspaper is an example of “free speech”. And yes, his editors will say that Murdoch doesn’t tell them what to write. He doesn’t have to. I taught a number of Year 12 classes over the years, and no-one ever told me that I needed to teach the VCAA curriculum – it was just sort of understood that – as a teacher – I’d do that with a Year 12 class and not run yoga sessions or recount interesting anecdotes from my high school days.

Of course, when it comes to the ABC, the notion of “free speech” is not as important as the notion of “balance”. As a tax-payer funded organization, the ABC shouldn’t be taking sides. If it has someone from the Left side of politics, then someone from the Right needs to be given a chance to respond, and vice versa. None of its commentators should express an opinion because THIS would influence people. “Media Watch” is attacked by Andrew Bolt as only having left-wing commentators. Right-wing journalists appear on the ABC lamenting that there are no right-wing journalists on the ABC. These things are more important than the “free speech” of an ABC commentator.

(The notion of “balance” on the ABC has always been a bit arbitrary to me. When a Christian appears, we don’t get a Satanist. Neither do we get a pyromaniac after a fire safety message. Who determines which things need balance, and which groups we can just say these are just nutters. And if someone is doing that, how does Piers Akerman ever get on?)

So it seems to me it works like this:

1. Mainstream Media can express any opinion they like and they’re allowed to have a right-wing bias because it’s privately owned.

2. The ABC must be unbiased.

3. The ABC has a bias to the left because it’s not saying the same things that Mainstream Media is saying.

4. To protect the ABC from accusations of bias it needs to report in exactly the same way as the Mainstream Media.

5. If it’s not reporting things in exactly the same way, IT needs some form of regulator because “balance” is more important than free speech.

6. The argument that the ABC should be a providing balance to the vested self-interest of private companies where individuals is a left-wing one and not worthy of considering.

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