Rupert’s Eldest Is Now My Favourite Murdoch

I have a new found respect for press baron, Rupert Murdoch’s eldest son, Lachlan.

I am kind of surprised at myself that I’d be defending a Murdoch when a lot of what his father and brother did, with the News of the World and the phone hacking scandal, was utterly indefensible and brought great discredit to the profession called journalism. In fact Rupert can count himself lucky he didn’t end up sharing a prison cell with one of his senior editors who wasn’t quite so lucky.

Today, Lachlan Murdoch took aim at the Australian Government’s new security laws and how they plan to apply them in relation to journalists.

In what is clearly an attack on press freedom, the new laws are aimed at whistleblowers or people who might be contemplating such an action and journalists who might be the recipients of that information. The penalty is Draconian. Up to 10 years imprisonment.

Lachlan picked a most opportune moment to let fly with what he thought about the Government’s laws. The occasion was an oration in honor of his Grandfather, the late, great, Sir Keith Murdoch, a legendary and fearless Australian newspaperman in his day.

His opening salvo was to remind everyone present that Australia ranks 33rd, just behind Belize on the Freedom House index, which is literally an index of freedom in the world. Twenty years ago the country was 9th.

Lachlan Murdoch told his audience that the Australian Government was always invoking the phrase: trust us we’re the Government while at the same time attempting to censor the media. But trust, should not be a consideration when it comes to restricting any kind of fundamental freedom. Hard won rights like Freedom of speech and freedom of the press should never be blindly entrusted to anyone.

He said the Government’s terminology when invoking these new laws against journalists, who might receive information considered to be revealing “special intelligence operations,” was both misleading and ambiguous. In any case, the Government had given itself the power to arbitrarily decide what does or does not constitute a “ special intelligence operation.”

Lachlan Murdoch then rhetorically and very cheekily asked if the Gallipoli campaign would have been classified as a “ special intelligence operation.”

He then went on to tell the story of how his Grandfather, Sir Keith Murdoch came into possession of leaked information, which he published, revealing the Gallipoli military disaster where 8000 Australians had been killed. It was the contents of a private communication between Sir Keith and the then Prime Minister of the day.

Lachlan Murdoch then suggested if this had been 2014, instead of 1914, his Grandfather would, in all likelihood, be facing the prospect of 10 years imprisonment for telling the Australian people information they had a right to know about. His Grandfather was praised rather than condemned for the brave stand he took in publishing what he had been told. And knowing his Grandfather to be the man that he was, Sir Keith would have happily gone to jail, if necessary, for revealing it.

Lachlan Murdoch told his audience that censorship should be resisted in “all its insidious forms.” He urged all Australians to be vigilant and spirited in their resistance to the gradual erosion of hard won freedoms such as the right to know, the right to be informed and the ability to make reasoned decisions in our society and in our democracy.

He ended with a flourish. Urging everyone in general, and journalists in particular, to be like his Grandfather and have the courage to act when those freedoms are threatened.

My sources tell me he was given a standing ovation. So I say, well done young Murdoch. You’re a chip off the old block after all. And Grandad would be very proud.

How Do We Make The World A Less Scary Place For Young Children?

The world is a scary place. If you listen to news reports, it’s positively terrifying.

So imagine the effect it’s having on a group of people, unable to analyze and process information properly? I’m talking about very young children. For them it’s worse than a horror movie. And in the pervasive, digital world we all live in, bad news is impossible to avoid.

The Sandy Creek School massacre in the United States, is a perfect example of what I am talking about. There was no escape. It was on television, radio and in newspapers and magazines. Young children couldn’t help but catch snippets. Either something they heard or just by eavesdropping on adult conversation.

Here’s another. An eight-year-old girl was in the habit of writing notes to her mother while they were cooking dinner with the television news blaring away in the background. One evening, the mother found a note at the bottom of a pile, after her daughter had gone to bed. It read: I’m scared they are going to bomb our place.

Next morning, the mother very gently asked her daughter about the note she had written. The little girl said from what she had seen on the TV news, she thought someone was going to come and bomb the family home. The mother told her daughter these were rare events and a long way away so it was very unlikely they would happen in the neighbourhood where the family lived. But it just goes to show how young children absorb information they hear.They lack the sophistication to distinguish between geographic distances so to them it must be happening in their own backyard.

Two scenarios that clearly invite two questions: How much should kids know about what’s going on in the world? And how much should adults tell them?

Not much according to the Australian Council of Children and Media. They say if a child, even as old as 12, doesn’t know about some horrific event, don’t tell them. They don’t need to know and in any case it will be of no benefit to them.

A Council spokesperson says hearing about a catastrophic event only makes young children feel anxious and unsafe. Children process information in terms of it being either black or white. They can’t understand, appreciate, or see the subtle differences. They don’t see a shooting or a murder or even a natural disaster as a random or rare event even if it happens thousands of kilometers away, on the other side of the world.

That observation has been borne out in work done by Diane Levin, an American Professor of Education. She says children think about news very differently from adults. Instead of it being an abstract event or disaster, children define it to include their own lives. And as a consequence, they interpret what they hear, see or read, in a very personal way. They worry about their own safety. They don’t understand or appreciate the difference between what might be an immediate threat and one that is very remote. Levin recommends that parents step in and make their children feel safe but they must always be careful about how they achieve that objective.

A child will always look to their parents for reassurance. The experts say children are also astute and very good at picking up on parental anxiety. And of course if they see that adults are scared, combined with these events being replayed over and over again on the television news, then it’s hardly a surprise that a child will become fearful.

So how should parents go about giving their children the reassurance they need?

Well, the experts have come up with a plan that goes something like this:

Turn the TV off especially around news time so they aren’t exposed to what is being reported in the media.

Validate and listen to their feelings calmly and give them time to talk without pressuring them.

If the event happened in a country a long way away, then tell them this,while at the same time reassuring them that they are safe.

Try to help them overcome their fears by talking it through with them, based on their age and understanding.

Tell them that scary things happen but there are also lots of people helping to put things right and doing their best to stop disasters from happening again.

It might not solve the problem completely for children but it seems like a good step in the right direction.

I guess what it boils down to is our response as adults. When catastrophes happen they touch our own sense of insecurity and mortality. The best thing to do might be to hold on to the sane and down to earth aspects of daily life because that will ultimately make the world seem like a safer place to children.

Sometimes I Don’t Understand Our Legal System

Sometimes the legal system needs to metaphorically hang its head in shame. It will make decisions based on some bizarre notion of political correctness instead of exercising plain common sense. Instead of upholding free speech, as you might expect in a healthy democracy, the legal system subjects it to a full blooded, frontal assault.

A well known British performing artist has been forced by a court to shelve plans for a book detailing his own childhood sexual abuse after (get this) his ex-wife was granted an injunction because their young son might read what he wrote.

Quite separate from the issue of the book banning, this case has already been the subject of some of the most intense and blanket suppression orders I have ever come across in 30 years of journalism. It makes a mockery of the notion of open British justice.

The performing artist can’t be named. The performance art that he is known for can’t be identified. His book publishers can’t be named. The ex-wife can’t be named or identified nor can their son. The exact age of their son can’t be released other than to say: “he is approaching teenage years.”

The ex-wife moved away from the United Kingdom after the couple, were divorced in 2009. But the country she moved to can’t be identified other than to describe it as a place called “ Ruritania.” Why they decided to call it that is anyone’s guess. Maybe the learned judges read too many Harry Potter books.

Seriously, this is Noddyland. The performing artist claimed he had a couple of compelling reasons for wanting to write the book. Firstly, to help him come to terms with a particularly dark and traumatic period in his life and secondly, to encourage other victims, who might have endured similar abuse, to come forward and tell their story.

In successfully applying for the temporary injunction, the man’s ex-wife relied on a legal case dating back to 1897. It involved a man who played a practical joke on an East London pub lady but was found guilty of the “intentional infliction of mental distress.”

The legal action was launched after a copy of the manuscript was leaked to the ex-wife. She said she was acting on behalf of their son who has Asperger’s syndrome, a form of autism, as well as attention deficit disorder and a number of other health problems. She claimed that publication of the book would be a misuse of private information and what her husband was doing amounted to negligence. She also argued that both she, and her former husband, had agreed to a court order at the time of their divorce to prevent their son from learning about the past lives of both parents which could have a detrimental effect on the boy’s wellbeing.

However, the court rejected any suggestion of negligence on the husband’s part. It said parents could not be liable for damages that might arise from parental decisions, made everyday, that might impact on their children. Similarly the court rejected the ex-wife’s claim that the manuscript was a misuse of private information. The book was about the performing artist not his son.

But even though it rejected these legal arguments, the court still found it was necessary to grant a temporary injunction.

In granting the injunction, the court said the performing artist’s book was semi-autobiographical. He was highly successful in his chosen career, despite a tormented childhood. He had endured sexual abuse at school over a number of years, which caused him to suffer physical effects as well as mental illness. He also got a thrill out of self-harm. But through his art he had discovered a means by which he could cope with the trauma of the past. In the manuscript, which the court read, the performing artist was described as having written with clarity and purpose offering some new perspectives on his life and career. But despite this, the court ruled no-one should be allowed to read it.

The court said while it accepted there was a public interest in the book being published, it decided to grant the injunction so that a trial could take place at a later time on the over-riding issue of whether the son’s rights should have precedence over the rights of the father.

Needless to say this case has sounded alarm bells for advocates of free speech. They claim it could establish a very dangerous precedent, which many book publishers say is deeply disturbing because it could undermine the rights of other authors.

A British group that lobbies to defend the rights of writers says the court’s decision paves the way for the injunction of memoirs of any work of non-fiction that may expose or investigate the past. The case allows an aggrieved party to cite the distress of a relative or friend as grounds for censorship.

Another group, Index on Censorship warned that this case represented yet more erosion of the boundaries of freedom of expression.

The performing artist says his right to free speech and the written word is particularly acute and should be respected because of what he went through. I, for one, wholeheartedly agree with him.