Tag Archives: New York Times

Government v Triggs

24 Oct

 

messenger-season

It’s hardly President of the Human Rights Commission Gillian Triggs’ fault when the Australian government is the worst human rights offender that Commission has to deal with.

When a government acts criminally, one hope for recourse is that statutory bodies will refuse to collude with or enable that government’s criminal behaviour, and indeed, that such bodies will name and shame the errant government.

The Turnbull government’s accusation that Professor Triggs is “politicising” her role is, like much of this government’s spin, farcical. For a start human rights are inherently political, and secondly all actions by governments are also inherently political. If the Turnbull government is determined to transgress the human rights of refugees currently abandoned to a highly uncertain future on Manus Island and Nauru, Professor Triggs has no option but to hold it accountable, otherwise she isn’t doing her job.

Of course any commentary Triggs runs on the government of the day is necessarily political, favourable or otherwise. There are instances in which even the silence of someone in her position is political.

Is it the government’s expectation that Triggs will ignore human rights abuses because they are perpetrated by the government? In what country are we living?

Triggs isn’t acting in isolation. Amnesty, the UNHCR, professionals who’ve worked on Manus and Nauru, refugee advocates, some thirty nation states, and this editorial in the New York Times speak with one voice to Australia’s refugee detention policies, and that one voice is damning.

There’s no doubt that in some instances, including the New York Times editorial, there’s blatant examples of the pot/kettle affliction, however, that does not invalidate the truth of the protests against Australia’s policies.

In a classic abuser pattern of behaviour, the Turnbull government continues its efforts to destroy the messenger, in this case Professor Triggs, though the government isn’t fussy, the tactic is transferable. The first concern of abusers is to silence accusers, and the government has displayed this pathology innumerable times, not only in relation to the secrecy with which it surrounds Manus and Nauru and threats of retribution, including imprisonment, against anyone who might transgress those secrecy demands.

Last week, the Border Force Act was amended to remove a comprehensive list of health professionals from the threat of two years jail for speaking publicly about conditions they encountered whilst working in the detention camps. The Turnbull government was forced to make this particular backflip because health professionals have spoken out regardless of the intimidation, and even this collection of political grotesques can see the folly of prosecuting them. However, they can still go after Gillian Triggs and deprived of other targets, they’ll no doubt double their efforts.

(Note to Turnbull government: never wise to make threats you can’t carry out. Makes you look wussy.)

Obviously, the solution for the government is to cease persecuting refugees. The pursuit of Professor Triggs is a distraction: don’t look at the refugees, look at this woman who is (allegedly) overstepping her role. It’s a greater offence to (allegedly) overstep a role than it is to torture refugees. Again, we see the classic abuser spin: it is a far worse crime to speak out about abuse than it is to perpetrate it.

It’s been messenger season as long as I can remember, in private and in public life. The paradigm is deeply entrenched in our society. It starts at the top and it doesn’t trickle down, it roars like a river in flood. It’s time to turn it around and put the focus where it belongs: on the perpetrator. In this case, the Turnbull government.

Stand with the messengers. Stand with Gillian Triggs.

 

 

 

On Julian Assange & the media

20 Apr

It was a little unnerving to find myself in agreement with former Liberal MP Ross Cameron the other day when as a panelist on ABC’s The Drum, he spoke in support of Julian Assange. In a democracy, Cameron opined, it’s necessary to have someone like Assange attempting to force accountability and transparency from governments. I almost fell off my chair.

On the same panel Annabel Crabb declared her disapproval of Assange for choosing to use a Russian television outlet, “Russia Today,” as a platform from which to launch his new career as a talk show host. It was, she claimed, unethical. This is a view shared by many mainstream journalists, and has led to Assange being described as a “traitor” and a “Kremlin patsy.”

According to the New York Times, Russia Today “is an English-language news network created by the Russian leader Vladimir V. Putin in 2005 to promote the Kremlin line abroad…Basically, it’s an improbable platform for a man who poses as a radical left-wing whistleblower and free-speech frondeur battling the superpowers that be.

I can’t resist pointing out here that many of us would consider it unethical for Assange or anyone else to avail themselves of facilities offered by News Corp, but that’s another story and one ought not to attempt such comparisons. Clearly, Assange’s choices were extremely limited, and given the contrary nature of the man, going with Putin doesn’t seem entirely surprising.

Salon.com writer Glen Greenwald, in an interview with Russia Today, declared that “Attacks on Assange…reveal much more about the critics than their targets.” He went on to point out that Assange goes where the main stream media will not or cannot go. This is the privilege of the independent operator: mainstream journos want to stay exactly that, and are necessarily restricted  (to varying degrees depending on which mogul employs them) by their understandable desire to keep their careers.

If we can accept this about them, why must they be so carping about Assange?

Says Greenwald: “The rule is clear: it’s OK for a journalist to work for a weapons manufacturer, the US or British govts, & Rupert Murdoch, but not RT? Assange should be judged by what he does and the journalism he produces – not where it’s broadcast.

It seems timely, then to republish this piece I wrote for On Line Opinion in December 2010.

I’m indebted to Antony Loewenstein for his article of December 2 in The Drum titled “Where’s the media’s backbone over Wikileaks?”

In his article, Loewenstein takes the Australian media to task for its collective inadequacy in the reporting of the 250,000 US cables dumped by Wikileaks.

One aspect he singles out for attention is the series of calls for the assassination of Assange, the demands that he be tried as a terrorist and condemned to death, and the demands for him to be killed without benefit of a trial at all.

These reactions, or more accurately, these incitements to murder, came from senior political and media figures in the USA and Canada, individuals with a wide-ranging public voice, and plenty of influence. Their calls for Assange’s death were reported globally.

Demands have also been made for Assange’s arrest by the US, on as yet unspecified, even nebulous charges. Australian Attorney General Robert McClelland has offered to assist the US in its pursuit of Assange, and together with Prime Minister Gillard is exploring the possibility of bringing criminal charges against him in this country.

Julia Gillard has, with no substantial grounds at all, repeatedly referred to Wikileaks and Assange’s activities as “illegal.” Whether or not the Wikileaks dump is “illegal” is far from certain. Even in the US, who is the primary victim if indeed any crime has been committed by Assange, the legality or otherwise of his actions remains unclear.

Australia has not been sinned against in the dump, but irrespective of that, in their desperation to assuage the USA Gillard and McClelland are casting about to find an offence, any offence, with which to charge Assange.

Julian Assange is an Australian citizen. Our Attorney General and our Prime Minister have publicly committed to doing everything they can to assist the US in its pursuit of one of our citizens, a citizen who has now been threatened with death several times by several different figures, in that country.

This is really quite remarkable. Our government is supposed to protect its citizens, as it protects US citizens, from threats of death. After all, didn’t we just go to great lengths to ensure that the convicted wife murderer Gabe Watson would not be returned to his homeland unless they first agreed not to kill him? Yet we’ll hunt down one of our citizens who has not been charged with, let alone convicted of anything, and offer him up for assassination apparently without a qualm.

What a very special relationship indeed we have with the USA.

But what is breathtakingly alarming is that nobody in the mainstream media, and in government, seems to find it at all necessary to remark upon the fact that Assange’s activities are considered by influential and senior figures in the USA and Canada to be deserving of death.

If you ring up your ex and leave “if you don’t stop telling everybody I’m a tosser I’ll kill you,” on the message bank, you’re in big trouble. But if you’re a powerful figure in the media and politics in the USA you can volunteer anybody for slaughter for any reason, and nobody will hold you to account for it.

And if you’re the Australian government and it’s one of your citizens being subjected to that threat, you can offer to help find him and nobody in the mainstream media will question your sanity and your ethics.

It seems that in Australia we’ve now sunk to such a level of moral turpitude that we are not at all ruffled by the notion of a whistleblower in a democracy being murdered for his activities.

Silence implies complicity. Silence implies approval. Silence implies that it is fine by us to incite the assassination of someone who has caused bother and embarrassment to important people.

Embarrass important people? Of course you’ll be killed!

Loewenstein appeared on The Drum on ABC TV December 2, to discuss his perspective on the media’s coverage of the Wikileaks dump. The panel consisted of Annabel Crabbe, Leigh Sales (both senior ABC journalists) and Joe Hildebrand of   the Daily Telegraph. It very quickly proved impossible to persuade any of these three panelists to seriously address the media’s coverage of the Wikileaks affair, or indeed the affair itself. They would not address the contents of the cables, or the death threats. Not even the implications for free speech and dissent if the US does declare Wikileaks a terrorist organisation (as has been suggested by the US Administration and others) could tempt them into a more thoughtful state of mind.

In fact, the panel illustrated exactly what Loewenstein is complaining about. Amid much giggling, Crabbe remarked that Assange had thrown a “tantie” about a New York Times article, and asked what did that tell you about the man. Well, not a lot, really. He can spit the dummy. And this matters because?

Sales insisted that Assange is a journalist and not, as Loewenstein suggests, a whistle-blower, on the grounds that he releases his material through the mainstream newspapers. Therefore he ought to be playing by journalists’ rules, which apparently don’t cover dumping 250,000 cables in the manner in which he has dumped them.

Mercifully, I cannot recall Hildebrande’s contribution, other than that it involved a lot of noisy laughter.

These comments from Al Jazeera reporter, Mike Hanna, give an indication of the information that is now available to us, thanks to Wikileaks. Hanna is referring to allegations that US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton ordered US diplomatic staff to steal the personal data (credit card, frequent flyer information) of highly placed United Nations officials:

Even the most cursory read (of the leaked cables) makes clear diplomatic staff are being asked to conduct a massive intelligence gathering exercise – involving, to put it bluntly, the theft of personal data. This, on the face of it, is a document asking diplomats to carry out activities that are not only against all accepted protocols, but are illegal in terms of US or international law. To repeat, it is couched as an order, an instruction, not a request.

In other words, there was plenty for The Drum panel to have an opinion about, and intelligently discuss.

The panel’s attitude to the Wikileaks story was, and remains, inexplicable.

Assange has scooped every mainstream journo on the planet. He’s rewritten the rules of investigative journalism with his massive dump, and he’s not even a journalist. Reporters have to go to the secondary source because Assange controls the primary. He’s not one of them. He’s an outsider. He plays by his own rules. And he pays the price.

Loewenstein suggested that envy and jealous rivalry might be a contributing factor in the Australian mainstream media’s apparent determination to give the Wikileaks story as little in-depth attention as possible. This the only explanation I can find, unless they’re in cahoots with the Gillard government to give the matter the minimum amount of credence, as authorised by the PM, and instead to distract us by focusing on Assange’s hair colour, temperament, and how he should list his occupation on his CV.

Lowenstein also suggests that some Australian media are far too cosy with centres of power, and far too impressed by them. They are thus rendered incapable of comprehensively analysing an attack such as Wikileaks has made on that centre. He gives the example of the ABC’s World Today Eleanor Hall, of whom he comments: “It was painful on Monday listening to ABC radio’s The World Today grilling a New York Times journalist about his paper’s decision to publish some of the revelations. Virtually every question asked by host Eleanor Hall could have come from the State Department. The contents and implications of the cables were mostly ignored.”

This is scary stuff. Is it now becoming the media’s role to shoot the messenger and ignore the message? To ask questions on behalf of a government? To put obstacles in the way of the public dissemination of subversive material?

There’s no doubt Assange is a complex figure. He has been roundly criticised for exposing government secrecy while simultaneously running an organisation that is viewed as highly secretive by some observers. It’s ironic that in order to expose secrecy one has to be secretive, however, it’s also difficult to imagine how any organisation can offer protection to whistle blowers without engaging in some form of secrecy that will hopefully protect them.

Be that as it may, complexity in people who stand out on the world’s stage isn’t remarkable: only the other day I heard someone carping about how difficult Nelson Mandela could be. Such people do not inhabit the “imagined sensible middle” that mainstream journos are supposed to achieve. (This link to Mr Denmore’s blog “The Failed Estate” is worth a read, BTW.  It’s a response to the unrelenting carping of many journos about bloggers and social media commenters, which is not entirely different from their griping about Assange).

Even Ross Cameron has his sexual scandals, one of which caused him to lose his seat in 2004. Perhaps the journalists who carp and judge are morally beyond reproach: I do not know. What I do know is that I am grateful for mavericks such as Julian Assange. When Annabel Crabb, Leigh Sales, and Joe Hildebrand make a similar contribution to the world I will be grateful for them as well. It took guts to do what Assange did. It doesn’t take much guts to get up on the telly and laugh at him.



Strauss Kahn rape case in doubt – who’s got the most credibility?

1 Jul

Excellent analysis of the issues here

Prosecutors are re-considering their position in the case against former IMF Managing Director Dominique Strauss Kahn, accused of the sexual assault of a hotel housekeeper in New York.

According to the New York Times, investigators have discovered “major holes” in the credibility of the woman who alleged DSK forced her to perform a sexual act against her will.

The “major holes” are apparently issues involving her asylum application; the possibility of her links to criminal activities, and a phone conversation with her fiance in which they discussed the benefits of pursuing charges against DSK. Her fiance has drug convictions, and allegedly paid some $100,00 into her bank account.

As well, investigators discovered that the information on the woman’s asylum application was not consistent with what she told them.

Strauss Kahn’s lawyers have never denied that a sexual act took place, but claim it was consensual, and that they would discredit the housekeeper’s version of events. There has been no mention of DSK offering money for the woman’s sexual services.

None of the “major holes” in the woman’s account of herself prove that her version of events in DSK’s hotel room is wrong. The case has always been about a “he said-she said” situation. Since his arrest, several other women have come forward to give details of unpleasant encounters with DSK, and his private reputation as a sexual predator has been made public.

Yet this history doesn’t seem to affect his credibility when it comes to the events of that morning.

In a he said-she said situation, it all comes down to a battle for credibility.

The power dynamics are interesting: while at first blush one could see DSK as having all the power on his side even if the sex was consensual, the consequences have been catastrophic for him, as he lost his job, and quite possibly his future as a possible French president.

Against this, the housekeeper was possibly forced into a sexual act she did not seek or want, she may also have lost her job, and her application for asylum is under serious scrutiny. In the context of her life, the consequences for her are as catastrophic as for DSK.

But he’s still wealthy.

It looks as if no one will come out of this situation unscathed including the NYPD, who are now accused by some of rushing to premature judgement.

So the morals of this he said-she said story are? If you can’t be sure it’s safe do us all a favour and keep it in your pants, chaps.

And if you’re a woman with any history, you’ve likely got little or no credibility, no matter what the truth is.

In a little footnote to these events, Strauss-Kahn’s replacement at the IMF, Christine Lagarde, commented: “In my interview at the IMF with all the 24 administrators, there was not one single woman. So while I was being questioned for three hours by 24 men, I thought it’s good that things are changing a little.”

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