Inciting Ignorance – A New Crime for the Fourth Estate

A young man was sentenced to four years gaol last week for hitting an unsuspecting bystander and causing his death. I make absolutely no comment on the rights or wrongs of that case because I wasn’t present and I haven’t read the transcript.

I only know what I’ve heard or read in the media.

Which means I know absolutely nothing useful upon which to form an opinion because I no longer trust the media – especially the tabloid press – to give me some kind of balanced and objective account. Instead, I get hysterical tub-thumping about judges being ‘out of touch’ with community expectations and the need for politicians to prescribe mandatory sentences in order to satisfy the community’s thirst for vengeance.

I repeat, this is not an article about the Loveridge case – this is an article about the responsibility of the media to tell the whole truth and, if they do wish to air their ‘opinions’, to make sure those opinions are informed.

Something people tend to forget is that the judiciary (as much as the legislature) are part of the government in this country. Judges are doing the business of government when they sit in court and they need to be independent so they can’t be influenced by politicians – not least as it is the judges who rule on the (occasionally wrongful) actions of politicians.

This is the main feature of a society under the rule of law – which means that everyone is subject to the law – even (and especially) the lawmakers themselves. Individuals enjoy maximum freedom in a society characterised by the rule of law. Societies not under the rule of law are governed by the whim of individuals or classes or cliques, like Somalia, Zimbabwe, North Korea and any number of other benighted hell-holes in the third and second worlds.

Even in Australia, one of the freest societies on the planet, we see constant examples of creeping executive excess and it is only the independent judiciary which can protect us – shooting down laws which are beyond legislative power or protecting unpopular individuals from unfair treatment by the state, as represented by popularly elected politicians.

This is the problem – elected members of the legislature are too much swayed by the screaming of the mob and the mob are too much swayed by the shrieking of the media who seem to believe that blasting judges will always sell papers. The judiciary are all that stand between our (comparatively) just and free society and mob rule incited by media interests.

Is that the world we want – where the judiciary (as they did under the Nazis) simply become a rubber stamp to give the appearance of justice while sentencing principles are put in the hands of politicians all trying to outdo each other to satisfy the populist raving of the press?

That’s the world the Telegraph wants. I don’t usually read the front half of the Telegraph these days because I’m not much interested in celebrities. I prefer to read news, but yesterday I was at the airport with time on my hands and found myself reading a confected piece of outrage by so-called journalists attacking the judge in the Loveridge case and even questioning his qualifications to be a judge in a criminal matter.

Well where are your qualifications Alicia, Andrew and Amy, to judge a judge?

The Telegraph ‘opinion’ would be hilarious if it wasn’t so inflammatory and downright dangerous, which is why I am calling for a new offence to be created – inciting ignorance. Any person who publishes, knowingly or recklessly, any material which is likely to incite ignorance in others shall be guilty of a crime.

The media often refer to themselves as the Fourth Estate – the fourth branch of government under their concept of the Westminster System – and there is certainly something to be said for that. A free society must have a free press, but the press can be just as guilty of jeopardising our free society as any ratbag politician obsessed with feathering his/her own nest or knee-jerking to opinion polls.

Sentencing is an exceedingly complex matter and it takes years in law and legal practice to master and balance the many competing factors – rehabilitation and retribution being only two.

I normally just laugh at, or ignore, the coo-coo bananas raving of lunatics like the Telegraph Three but their piece on 12 November was dangerous with the capacity, in some small and nasty way, to panic voters and politicians into some diminution of the judiciary’s power to protect us from the scrutiny and fury of the state.

The Telegraph Three are guilty of the heinous crime of inciting ignorance and should be sentenced to life. Fortunately for them, the judges are merciful and have decided that no punishment could be worse than the ignorance from which they already suffer.

Judges have a profound and solemn duty to uphold the law and protect the rights of all, especially unpopular and despised persons whose rights the state might find convenient to ignore.

It’s a shame the media doesn’t perceive itself to have a similar sacred duty.

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