Yesterday the Victorian Minister for Public Transport, Jacinta Allan made the decision to ban Sky News Australia from being broadcast in Victorian train stations. The reasoning she provided was that Sky had last Sunday aired an interview of Neo-Nazi Blair Cottrell. The minister declared that people waiting in train stations should not be forced to watch such offensive content, and so banned Sky News.
There are a couple of problems here. Firstly, the interview in question was NOT broadcast into train stations. The train stations only receive News bulletins and weather reports - they do not get any of the opinion or long form interview programming from Sky News. The minister then defended her decision by declaring that 'dozens' of Sky's advertisers had also broken with the company... this was another lie, with around half a dozen advertisers disassociating themselves. Then she stated that she had received 'hundreds' of complaints about sky news content being broadcast in train stations... yet when asked couldn't provide one example of unacceptable content that had actually been broadcast in the train stations, and later in the day the distributor of Sky News released a statement clarifying that since 2005 they had received only a handful of complaints about Sky News, and none about interviews.
It is clear that the minister has been caught out lying about her reasoning for the Sky News ban. That leaves us with the question - What is the real motivation? Well I would argue this is a retaliatory move from the Victorian government, meant to send a warning to media outlets.
Sky has two very separate sets of programming, it provides news and weather, and it also has a number of opinion programs which predominantly screen after 6pm. The majority of Sky's after dark commentators are conservative leaning, and some are quite a long way to the right. However it is clear that the programs that they host are not News or weather - they are opinion programs. These opinion programs, given that they are hosted by those on the right, tend to be anti Labor and the Greens, and sometimes even Anti Liberal because they perceive Malcolm Turnbull to be too Centrist or Left Leaning.
In all of the comments on social media that I have seen in support of this banning, almost all revert to condemning Sky for its after dark programming. People seem unable to understand that there is a difference between providing a news bulletin, and hosting an opinion program. They seem incapable of understanding that what was shown in the train stations was only News and weather, and that the opinion programs they detest so much were never shown. For those on the left who are supporting this ban, all they seem concerned with is that Sky puts on conservative commentators to host opinion programs, and this it seems demands government intervention and censorship... even of completely unrelated programming.
What is concerning to me is that these people are so happy to see a government intervene to censor political commentary. Make no mistake, this is a move by the Victorian Government to punish Sky for hosting shows which are critical of it. It is a warning - back off or face the consequences. This sort of media censorship is rightly condemned when it happens elsewhere in the world. We decry the Chinese Communist party when it intervenes to ban media that has said anything negative about the Chinese government, and yet somehow people are happy when the Victorian government does the same thing here..
To be clear, I am not defending Sky putting on Blair Cottrell, I detest the man, and everything he stands for. I am not defending the after dark commentators, most of whom I have strong disagreements with. What I am defending is the principle of freedom of the press.
The media must be able to freely report without fear of government intervention, and yes that means that opinion pieces must be allowed too - even the ones we disagree with. If the government disagrees with something that the media reports, or with the opinion of a political commentator, they can and should publicly challenge it, and refute it with sound argument. What they should never do, and shouldn't even have the capacity to do, is simply silence the dissenters through coercion and censorship.
If we allow government to impose bans and censorship on media, we move one step closer to a totalitarian state. If the Government can silence all of its critics, who will be left to hold it to account?
Daryl is a priest and chaplain living in regional New South Wales Australia. Learn more on the About page.
Disclaimer: The views expressed here are my own and do not necessarily represent the views of my church or any other organisation I am affiliated with.