The ABC is a master of weasel words

THE Australian Broadcasting Corporation is a huge organisation, funded by public money, that dominates the media in Australia. It purports to be among the most liberal and forwar-thinking. Yet oft times, it is exposed as having a colonial outlook, one that harks back to the days of British Raj.

This is not surprising – Australia was settled by British convicts but the rulers were the upper classes from Britain. For many years, Australia had a whites-only migration policy.

For the most part I ignore the clear evidence of discrimination that I notice on the national broadcaster. But at times I react – as I did on September 5 this year, nine days before the federal elections. I submitted the following complaint:
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Back to the good old Mubarak days in Egypt

SO Egypt’s mild flirtation with democracy a la West is over. And it is unlikely to ever return. It’s happened on a good day too – the US celebrates its independence day and Egypt celebrates military rule. What a coincidence!!!

The problem is that the West wants its own systems imposed on other countries – in order to benefit economically. The idea that one cannot bring in a Westminster system and superimpose it on a different model does not really register with people at the US state department.

Mohammed Mursi is from the Muslim Brotherhood. He may be less extreme in his thinking than others in the same movement. But, obviously, he has never been a candidate of choice for the folk in Washington.
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Blurring the message

GONE are the days when politicians would speak directly to the people in order to communicate their message. These days, politicians use the media as a shield to try and get the message across.

That’s why they fail to win popular support.

It’s difficult to understand why, if politicians are seeking public support, they cannot go out and interact with the source of their power. Unless, of course, they are bad communicators, are afraid of being embarrassed in public, or are simply ill at ease with crowds.
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The China wave

PROFESSOR Zhang Weiwei is not particularly well-known around the world. An author and former translator for the Chinese supreme leader Deng Xiaoping, Zhang is, however, a very important figure in China.

He has written a ground-breaking book, The China Wave – which has not, as far as I can make out, been translated into English – about China’s way of approaching development and one that is attracting great interest in his home country.

In an interview with the one news service that seems to have a knack for ferreting out the interesting and the newsworthy – Al Jazeera – Zhang made some very interesting observations.
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Obama angers Israel – and conveniently forgets that Saudi Arabia exists

SOON after he came to office in 2009, US President Barack Obama made a trip to Cairo and gave a stirring speech at Cairo University. Obama is probably the best speaker in world politics and can soar to heights of great rhetoric; the effect of his Cairo speech was probably magnified by the fact that he was a few months into his four-year term and hopes were high that he would live up to the promises he had made while campaigning for the presidency.

A little less than two years later, with a great deal of cynicism over what Obama has turned out to be, he gave a second address today, focused on the Middle East, this time from the White House. And in so doing, he may well have ensured that he loses the presidential election in 2012.

The speech was apparently meant to give an official American stance on the incidents that have taken place in the Middle East since last December – the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt, and the ongoing struggle for freedom in Bahrain, Yemen, Syria and smaller agitations in other countries in the Middle East and North Africa.

The killing of Osama bin Laden would have guaranteed Obama re-election had he not opened his big mouth about Israel’s borders. But he chose to do precisely this and, in so doing, may well have lost the backing of the powerful Israeli lobby that can decide who rises or falls in American politics.

George Bush Senior was the last US president to feel the power of this lobby after he withheld loan guarantees from Israel in order to force the country to attend peace talks in Madrid in 1991; he lost his re-election bid to Bill Clinton.

Obama’s mistake was to backtrack on US policy; it is well-known that the US backs a settlement between the Israelis and the Palestinians based on the ceasefire lines of the 1967 Arab-Israeli war. This stance ensures that Israel retains control of the occupied West Bank and the Gaza Strip which it can then use as bargaining chips. Jerusalem is the main obstacle. (The so-called peace process over the last 20 years has given the Gaza Strip and about 20 percent of the West Bank to Palestinian control.)

But in his speech today, Obama said a two-state settlement between Israel and the Palestinians would be based on the borders that existed before the 1967 war. At that time, Jordan was occupying the West Bank and Egypt held the Gaza Strip. And Israel was not in control of Jerusalem.

Obama has a chance to fall on his knees and grovel and reverse his stance – he is due to speak to the biggest and most powerful Israeli lobby group, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, soon. But if he does repeat his comments there, then you can bid goodbye to the chances of a Democrat being in the White House for the next four years.

Predictably, Obama came down in support of Arab countries where the people have decided to fight for freedom. But his gestures to help these nations – involving the IMF and the World Bank – means that the process that was gone through in South America to make the nations of that continent servants of the US will be re-enacted all over again.

As expected, Obama did not dare to say a word about Saudi Arabia. There have been several low-key protests in the kingdom and women have threatened to drive en masse in protest against the ludicrous rule that prevents them from doing so. But Obama seemed unaware of this.

He mentioned the repression in Bahrain and even went to the extent of saying that Shia mosques should not be destroyed by the Sunni rulers but he did not chide Saudi Arabia for leading troops into Bahrain and playing a leading role in savagely quelling the popular protests.

The US treads carefully when it comes to Saudi Arabia. There is no better example to illustrate this than the events of 9/11; despite the fact that 15 of the 19 terrorists who attacked the US were Saudis, Washington did nothing to protest. Instead, it helped several members of the bin Laden family and royals from the Saudi clan to leave the US immediately after the attacks, at a time when air traffic was grounded.

The name of the game is oil. The Saudis are still the biggest producers and the country with the largest remaining reserves. If explorations in Iraq do turn up more reserves as some have predicted, then a future US president may criticise Saudi Arabia in public.

For the moment, Obama is as beholden to the Saudis as Dubya. He is conscious that the US still consumes 25 percent of the world’s petroleum and is up to its tits in debt.

The royal censor gets into the act

THE British royal family, an anachronism in this day and age, has shown its tendency to dictate proceedings in a strange way, totally against the grand British tradition of free speech.

Prince Charles has instructed the BBC to place strict conditions on the feed of the wedding between his son William and Kate Middleton which it provides to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation; these strictures effectively prevent what would have been the best program on the wedding, the view of the Chaser team, from going to air.

What’s outrageous is that the restrictions are specifically aimed at the Chaser – other not-so-straight coverage, such as that planned by Australia’s Channel 10, has no restrictions placed on it.

Charles has laid down the law to the BBC and the organisation has bent over and shown its backside.

The wedding is not a private affair – hundreds of millions of pounds in state funds will be used to provide security. Only the wedding expenses are being borne by the House of Windsor and the Middleton clan – the British taxpayer is forking out by the bucket at a time when the country’s economy and the financial standing of a large percentage of the populace is not exactly what one can describe as healthy.

It is a royal shame to waste public money at a time when most of the rest of the country is struggling to pay its bills. But when did the royals ever give a hoot about the public?

It is far too late for the Chaser folk to organise their own footage of anything remotely close to the wedding; indeed, people would like to watch some part of the official proceedings as they listen to the unique take of the Chaser team who are a class act.

Every country that claims to follow the liberal tradition and have a free press has its own set of satirists – for example, David Letterman, Jon Stewart, and Bill Maher in the US, Ricky Gervais and the Little Britain team in the UK and the Chaser and a multitude of others in Australia.

But the cold, clammy hand of censor Charles has clamped down and it’s back to the colonial era again when Britain told Australia what it could and couldn’t do. And Britain wants to spread the democratic tradition to other lands, I’m told.

This is a fine example, right from the top, of the class-ridden British society. Censorship at its brilliant best. One more good reason, if any more were needed, for Australia to cut the apron strings and become a republic.

Beating up on multiculturalism

TO ANY politician, people equate to votes. A particular community equates to a vote-bank. When it’s convenient to humour that community – i.e. when one needs their votes – the politician will speak good of them. If sucking up to another community will bring in more votes – doesn’t matter if it alienates the first community – the politician will take that route.

Multiculturalism is a popular political football. When politicians start talking it up or down it’s generally because they have spotted a potential vote-bank and want to try and consolidate their position
before the next poll comes around.

British prime minister David Cameron’s outburst about multiculturalism – at a time when the English Defence League was scheduled to hold a big rally – is nothing new. I’ve heard similar sentiments from former Australian prime minister John Howard, comments that contributed greatly to the Cronulla riots. Howard had form in this regard – he won an election in 1998 on the back of discrimination against Aborigines and a second one in 2001 by villifying Afghan asylum-seekers.

Others in the Liberal ranks, like Kevin Andrews, a former immigration minister, have also weighed in, drawing succour from Cameron. This Andrews is the same man who condemned an Indian doctor, Mohammed Haneef, to time in jail and trashed his reputation in the search for votes back in the run-up to the 2007 Australian national election.

This kind of beat-up often happens when economic conditions are bad – one can always blame the foreigners for it. And the UK isn’t in the best of economic health at the moment.

In the UK, within a few years, white people will be in the minority. If the experiment of bringing in migrants and making them part of British society has failed, then society and the government have to bear most of the blame.

A great deal of British policy on migration has been created in order to expiate guilt over its colonial rapaciousness. British guilt over the division of the Indian subcontinent is a classic example. No policy created because of such reasons will ever succeed. No politician has ever bothered to think about the settlement of people in such a way that ethnic ghettos will not be created. As the saying goes, birds of a feather…

Of course, one cannot dictate to people where they should live, unless one is living in a country like Singapore. But there can be more interaction to ensure that the kind of enclaves that one finds in places like Bradford in England are not created.

When ethnic people feel alienated from the mainstream, they tend to band together. This sense of alienation can be imagined or it can be real. Discrimination in the workplace, in public and the media – very subtle stuff at most times, things you can;t really pin down – tends to push people together with others of their kind and create a siege mentality. But when the government is only interested in is votes, these things do not weigh heavily on its collective mind.

There are cases when people in some areas realise the problems that are building up and move to make things better. Box Hill in Melbourne was a dangerous place to visit after dark; there were needles aplenty in the car parks some 10 years ago. But things have changed after local officials took steps to clean up the suburb. The population mix is still the same. But things are now very different because the community decided that it had to act and clean up the suburb for the good of its own children.

Politicians are unlikely to change their methods. People in various areas should act to ensure that newcomers get settled in and contribute to society. Making them feel they are outsiders greatly increases the possibility that the newcomers will turn against the very people whom they live amongst.

How governments deceive the public

IT’S interesting indeed when government policy is thrown open to the public, ostensibly for a debate to seek feedback on how the policy in question goes down with the masses. Most people misinterpret this to mean that the government is serious about wanting input from the great unwashed.

This is one of the great myths that is prevalent even today.

It’s something like the various ombusdmen set up in some countries to provide an outlet for the public to complain when they feel shafted by companies in some sectors – telecommunications and banking, for example.

Giving a person a chance to vent their frustrations provides a form of release. The ombudsman makes a pretence of listening – a very good imitation, I may add.

In the end, one gets little or no redress unless there is something really wrong going on and the original decision stands.

The same happens with government policy. Some bright spark decides on some policy to garner votes for the next election from a section of the populace which normally does not vote en masse for the party in government.

The best way to pretend that it is being done in consultation is to ask some other person in the party to invite a discussion – these days, that is done mostly on the internet. In years gone by, it was by issuing a white paper and then inviting people to write in with their suggestions, support or objections.

The original policy always includes a little wiggle room, concessions which the government is willing to give anyway. If the public do demand some concessions, the government then gives in on ground which it never wanted to enforce.

The public feels quite good about its activism and celebrates the ground it has gained. The government laughs all the way to the poll.

If the government is unable to get the policy through parliament because it lacks a majority of its own, then it concedes certain things to the opposition and certain others to the public. The wiggle room is always built in to the original draft.