Freedom and The Writer
The Fourth Estate Needs You
The Fourth Estate
Honesty and integrity are prime ingredients to a healthy Fourth Estate. They haven't always been there in recent years. Viewers have been lulled by 'reality' shows sometimes posing as documentaries.
There have also been documentaries containing only half truths and too much bias. Documentaries such as Dumb, Drunk and Racist. Newspapers online and otherwise don't always have the personnel nowadays to do the kind of work we need them to do.
Thus how to make and keep the Fourth Estate healthy has become a big question. Another good question is whether we want to be entertained by the news and other sources of information or actually find out what's really going on in our world.
In recent times an Australian by the name of Julian Assange came to the fore to reveal the truth about some of the not so good things Americans in uniform were doing in places such as Iraq and Afghanistan. Fighting enemy troops is one thing and attacking unarmed civilians is another.
Today Iraq is in a real mess with Islamic State on the rampage destroying ancient monuments and killing innocent people. Through misinformation on the internet they have managed to increase their numbers.
We need American, British and Australian troops in places like Iraq and Afghanistan to be the good guys. This also means acting like the good guys.
We also need to know when our soldiers are not acting the way we want them to act..
For a time Assange was the conscience of the king or, in our generation, the conscience of the Prime Minister and the president. He has been taken out of the game.
The internet, his home base, however, can still get the truth out to the people. Unfortunately it can also do the opposite.
Who is at the forefront of protecting our rights as individuals? Some people would say that it is the members of the Fourth Estate.
Back in the 20th Century and earlier, the Fourth Estate was comprised of writers in print. Today the writers are still around and the Fourth Estate is still geared to kick the butts of those who would curtail our freedom, but the delivery system has changed.
Print is no longer alone. E-books and the E-press are more and more the methodology of getting the facts and the ideas out to the people. There is also radio, U-tube and film in general.
Television nowadays tends to not deliver as much as what it could in terms of what we need from it.
Unfortunately, the regular as well as pay television screens are filled most of the time with brain deadening contests from popularity to beauty to the bizarre. All of it is cheap, nasty and inclined to give one a false sense of what's really going on in the world.
The news programs on television are often too sugary with more 'human interest' fodder and less of what we could do with in our viewing diets.
There are also less reporters and first class journalists around. This means that there is more of a tendency to get information from government sources only and without further investigation. This is how the weapons of mass destruction fiasco came into being.
There simply weren't enough top news print and television journalists in the right places asking the hard questions. Is this such a bad thing you ask. People are still dying because the right questions were not asked so it continues to, yes, be a bad thing.
It was through good reportage that the Vietnam War came to a conclusion.
Little wars drained the British Empire near the end of the 19th Century and going into the 20th Century. Could these little wars have been prevented by active members of the Fourth Estate?
The USA has recently been drained by little wars and China's financial hold over much of the world increased.
Could better journalism had prevented at least one of these little wars from occurring? People are killed in these wars which eventually get maybe two paragraphs in some future history book.
In New South Wales, Australia are people being forced to make Halal approved food? There is that possibility.
When the Fourth Estate is good, it is Very, Very Good...
THE NEED TO KNOW
There is always the question of the need and the right of the public to know. Certainly, tapping the landlines and mobiles of celebrities just to get dirt on them has got to be seen as low grade yellow journalism not worthy of the Fourth Estate.
Who happens to be sleeping with who and why doesn't really interest me. The only time that it might be of interest is if there is money changing hands and the tax payer is footing the bill for some politician's fling. Even when that happens the journalist has to be very sure he or she has his or her facts straight.
There's nothing like putting an innocent man or woman up to ridicule over, say, mistaken identity.
With less people nowadays handling stories there is always the problem that faults in reportage might get through more and more. This sort of thing can't and shouldn't simply be dismissed as a sign of our times. We need our reporters on the scene and doing the best job they can possibly do.
In England and elsewhere the paper News of the World got into lots of trouble by breaking faith with both their readership and the general public.
On the other hand, it is not yellow journalism when we are told of members of the American military committing atrocities on civilians in either Iraq or Afghanistan if what we are told happens to be true. Such news, if it is true, is something we all need to know about and call upon the powers that be to do something about.
Sometimes a soldier that has seen too much combat with no end in sight goes mad.
Sometimes prisoners are mistreated by those not trained properly to deal with prisoners. They can also be pushed into doing so by members of the shadow community (FBI, CIA. etc).
Do we expect too much from the Americans? Do we expect too much from the British and also our fellow Australians? I believe the answer is no.
The good guys have to be good and seen to be good or what's the point?
The British Empire began to show cracks in its foundations at the beginning of the 20th Century when what was being done to Boer prisoners by the British during the Boer War came into question.
The way the Japanese treated prisoners of war during World War Two still comes back to haunt them. Hence how we view ourselves and how others view us and our exploits does matter.
If a nation claims to be for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness then that nation needs to strive to meet these claims. If it does, then writers need to be on hand. If it does not, then writers are definitely required to remind said nation of its claims.
Lies, Religion and Propaganda
Sometimes what we are confronted with isn't so much a lie as an omission. Some years ago there was a riot at Cronulla, south of Sydney, NSW, Australia. Over the last ten years whenever the riot is mentioned on television certain details are purposely left out.
The Muslim youth who hassled young Australian girls on Cronulla beaches for wearing bikinis have been carefully forgotten. The fact that a lifeguard was hit after he had just saved a life is no longer mentioned.
According to recent television the riot came out of no where and not out of what was originally a peaceful protest turned violent. Hence the riot can now be seen as a Caucasian Australian form of racism and not as a result of a minority of Muslims practicing both sexism and racism.
Yes, the truth can be slanted. The riot should not have happened, sure, but no one should have the right to hassle Australian girls on an Australian beach just because they are wearing bikinis. No one had the right to hit a life guard after he or she has saved a life.
In both Ghost Dance and Desk Job, two novels by yours truly, I let the whole truth about what happened at Cronulla be known (or as much of the truth as I have been able to discover). Journalists and newspapers at the time of the riot were also honest. The dishonesty and telling of half truths came later. I have also fought against these half truths in various blogs.
When the ABC (Australian national television and radio broadcaster) decided to run a documentary series accusing Australians of generally being racist because of the backlash recieved by overseas telemarketers I decided to put together a blog telling the whole story.
You can be polite to a telemarketer wanting to sell you something if they give it a try once, twice even three times. But if it is the same telemarketer phoning you up on a regular basis over a period of weeks, even months trying to sell you the same product then maybe you do have the right to get mad at them for doing so. If you are not interested you are not interested and there is a point where continual phone calls become a form of harassment.
Lies are easily spread on the internet and it seems that young Muslims growing up in a predominantly Christian world can be influenced in this way by overseas agitators. Also whackier so-called Christian outfits such as the Ku Klux Klan can spread their poison over the internet. Today the internet is a powerful instrument for both good and ill.
Are Americans always the good guys? No.
Are Americans always the bad guys? No.
Certainly there is propaganda around that would suggest that Americans are always the bad guys and are responsible for all the evils that plague our world. This of course is pure nonsense. It may also be seen as vicious propaganda.
It should be remembered that it was the Americans that kick started the United Nations. It should also be remembered that American scientists have done much to reduce disease throughout our world. Hence Americans may not be all good but they are definitely not all bad.
So how can novelists possibly protect our rights as individuals? Well, they can start by defining what these rights might just happen to be.
How can novelists possibly prevent our society from going into decay?
Well, novelists can send out warning signals in the chapters of their novels in the hope that at least some readers are paying attention and will act.British, American, Australian, and new Zealand writers have, over the last century or so, excelled in doing these things and much, much more.
There was a belief in Charles Dickens' day that the poor were poor because they deserved to be so.They were either too lazy in this life to make something of themselves or had done something wrong in a previous life and so were being punished for past sins by God.
Dickens, in his novel Oliver Twist, argued against this rather harsh point of view. What if a boy ended up in an orphanage or poor house by mistake? What if a child's full potential could never be realized because of crushing poverty?
Possibly his best work along this line was A Christmas Carol in which an old miser reforms after having been visited by the spirits of Christmas past, present, and future. Can a miser reform? Is their magic to be had at Christmas?
Rudyard Kipling, though British Empire through and through, was all for the underdog and an understanding of nature in his Jungle Books and in his great work, Kim.
It is through Kipling that we get the best picture in words of what 19th Century India, from top to bottom, was really like.
In Vanity Fair, William Makepeace Thackeray illustrates how a young woman from a less than prestigious background might play merry hell with her so-called betters just by simply being more intelligent than they happen to be.
Thus Thackeray brought into question the very idea of a person from the upper class actually being better than someone from the lower class due entirely to the class system of his time. In other words, class and intelligence are not necessarily related.
Lewis Carroll played with words like no one had really done before. The world could be loopy and traditional views on life were not always correct, practical or even relevant. All this shines through in his famous and perhaps infamous Alice books.
In George Orwell's Animal Farm and also his 1984 we see how ideas and even ideals may be twisted to take on sinister aspects. All are equal, for example, but some creatures are more equal than others.
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was all for the scientific approach and had a great deal of confidence, generally speaking, in the British Empire. This confidence was neither shaken by the Boer War or by the First World War. If nothing else, he set the bar high for the late 19th Century and early 20th Century people of Britain.
A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess was a timely warning about what might happen if and when the workers lose touch almost completely with their sons and daughters. Burgess depicts a violent future world in which social manipulation and the 'quick fix' is the order of the day rather than the correcting in any meaningful way of what has gone wrong in the society.
In Terry Pratchett's Discworld novels we are allowed to laugh at the absurdities of our own place and time. From suspect meat pies and meat pie sellers to whether we can trust in government paper money, he ropes us in. Are there lots of similarities between discworld and our world? You bet and this is why these Discworld books have been such a rip-roaring success.
Recently Terry Pratchett passed away but his writing lives on.
Through his novels Chrome Yellow and Brave New World, American writer Aldous Huxley has questioned the nature of progress and how it might become an end unto itself.
James Michener in historic novels, such as Hawaii, has given the USA much needed perspective.
In his novel Catch-22, Joseph Heller had something to say about the madness of war, big business and government. My favorite character in this book is Major Major Major.
Of the European novelists, Franz Kafka stands out as a champion of the underdog with both Metamorphosis and The Trial. The general idea of government being too much about one suit fits all was Kafka's main issue. And what an issue!
In Australia, illustrator and author Norman Lindsay's The Magic Pudding, we are shown how greed can compromise and even ruin friendship. It is a fast paced children's book also much loved by adults with all sort of Australian animals romping throughout it's pages.
Not long ago, Steve Carter and Antoinette Rydyr, two Australian illustrators and writers, came up with Femosaur World, an unusual take on the battle of the sexes. Set on a planet you really don't want to visit, it has had mixed reactions from feminists. Some absolutely loath it while others, getting the humor, absolutely love it. The illustrations are somewhat confrontational but that's half the fun of this horror masterpiece.
Meanwhile, my new novel, Desk Job, is set in mid-1990s Australia and examines government and private business initiatives against racism and sexism in the office gone wrong. It is my way of honoring Lewis Carroll and, at the same time, saluting Kafka's notion that one suit doesn't necessarily fit all.
In my office it is the mules who do most of the hard work and it is the creatures born out of some past moment of hell who are the huntresses and avengers.There are places of sanctuary where workers can work in peace. There are also places where everyone has to be on guard and on their best behavior unless they, of course, have the sort of armor likely to make them bullet proof. There are also creatures who do not need to work at all and there are those determined to bring order out of chaos.
Desk Job will draw you into a fantastic world not too far removed to the world of the office you probably already know. It may also get you to think a little about your own office, if you do work in an office, and your place in the scheme of things there. Truth to tell, 1984 got me to thinking about my place in the world and so did the Alice books and, all up, that wasn't a bad thing at all.
More by this Author
The Great Gatsby, The Red Badge of Courage, A Stainless Steel Rat is Born, Brave New World, 1984, Story of O, Tender is the Night, Wasp, Dune, Twilight Healer, A Study in Scarlet, Dracula, Jazz.
The 20th Century, Science Fiction, Isaac Asimov, Aldous Huxley, George Orwell, Cold War, H. G. Wells, A Woman of Mars, The Hulk, Ian Fleming, Tarzan, A Clockwork Orange, Agatha Christie, Biggles.
Australian Propaganda from convict origins, to outlaws, to World War One, to populate or perish. Racism, Reverse Racism, sexism, loose lips sink ships, Muslims, Christians, bikinis, The Simpsons, USA