1) Cultural Dwarfs and Junk Journalism: Ben Goldacre, quackbusters and corporate science (UK context)
Cultural Dwarfs and Junk Journalism is Martin Walker’s fourth book charting the development of the corporate science lobby that has grown rapidly since New Labour came to power in 1997. One of the most recent exponents of the Lobby is Dr Ben Goldacre who has regurgitated a bad ‘Science’ column in the Guardian newspaper since 2003. Like other quackbusters Goldacre claims to write factually based and scientifically accurate articles about health, medicine and science either supporting scientists and doctors or criticising individuals involved in alternative or nutritional health care. Goldacre’s writing, however, actually reflects the ideology of powerful industrial, technological and political vested interests.
Goldacre who it is claimed is a Junior doctor working in a London NHS hospital is actually a clinical researcher working at the centre of New Labour’s Orwellian spin operation that puts a sympathetic gloss on anything shown to create adverse reactions from MMR to Wi-Fi, while at the same time undermining cost-effective and long tried alternative therapies such as acupuncture and homoeopathy. Goldacre is involved with public health researchers well known for trying to prove that those who claim to be adversely affected by pollutants in our modern high-technology society, suffer from ‘false illness beliefs’.
Cultural Dwarfs and Junk Journalism, investigates Goldacre’s role in industry lobby groups and puts another point of view in defense of some of the people whom he has attacked, belittled, satirized, castigated, vilified, maligned and opined against in his junk journalism.
Cultural Dwarfs and Junk Journalism: Ben Goldacre, quackbusters and corporate science, is available from the Slingshot Publications web site as a free download, from mid-day on Wednesday January 2nd, 2008.
2) SILENCING DISSENT: How the Australian government is controlling public opinion and stifling debate (Australian context)
Edited by Clive Hamilton and Sarah Maddison
Silencing Dissent is a frightening analysis of the tactics used by the Howard government to silence independent experts and commentators as well as public servants and organisations which criticise its policies. For over a decade, the Howard government has found ways to silence its critics, one by one. Like the proverbial frog in boiling water, Australians have become accustomed to repeated attacks on respected individuals and organisations. For a government which claims to support freedom of speech and freedom of choice, only certain kinds of speech and choices appear to be acceptable. You can also order this book online through Allen & Unwin’s website.
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Foreword by Robert Manne
Over the past decade Australia has undergone a profound transformation, a kind of conservative-populist counter-revolution. The Howard Government has abandoned both the quest for reconciliation and the idea of multiculturalism. It has closed our borders to all those seeking refuge here by boat, by the use of military force. It has adopted a foreign policy of a more uncritically pro-American kind than was seen even in the era of Menzies. As part of that policy, alongside the Americans and the British, it has drawn Australia into the unlawful invasion of Iraq, which has predictably seen that country descend into the bloody chaos of sectarian civil war. It has turned its back on the first stage of the international fight against global warming, by refusing to sign the Kyoto Protocol. It has allowed the erosion of vital principles of our system of government—like the independence of the public service and the idea of ministerial responsibility.
What has been puzzling about this process is the absence of powerful scrutiny of the drift of the nation, of a spirited, honest and intelligent debate. While Australia has been transformed, large parts of the nation have seemed to be asleep. In a book I edited in 2005, Do Not Disturb: Is the media failing Australia?, one possible answer to this puzzle was suggested—the melancholy condition of the mainstream political media. In Silencing Dissent an even more alarming answer is provided—namely, that since its election in 1996, the Howard Government and its faithful followers in the parliament and the media have pursued a partly-instinctive and partly-conscious policy of systematically silencing significant political dissent.
It is at the heart of the argument of this book that there has been not one but many different ways in which this single objective has been pursued. Let me list some of the more important outlined here. In parliamentary inquiries government supporters have frequently showered expert witnesses of whom they disapprove with personal abuse. Scientists employed by government-funded agencies have been prohibited from communicating freely with the public on matters as serious as global warming. The independence of statutory authorities has been all but destroyed. The appointment of three of the country’s most strident cultural warriors to
the Board of the ABC was only the most conspicuous example of the Prime Minister’s conduct of a ‘long march’ through all of the culturally sensitive institutions of society. This process was deepened by a parallel trend—the use of government patronage and the taxation system to silence the voices of the non-government organisations, fully ninety per cent of whom now believe that they risk losing government funding if they freely speak their minds.
The government’s obsessive and unhealthy desire for control has extended well beyond suborning previously independent institutions and taming NGOs. When inquiries into catastrophic policy failures are judged to be unavoidable, it has either appointed trusted insiders not likely to embarrass the government (Iraq) or so framed the terms of reference that a politically embarrassing finding can be ruled out in advance (AWB). The same government desire to close down potential sources of dissent has recently affected its relations with the Senate. As soon as the government had the numbers, it made clear that the era of embarrassing independent Senate inquiries was over. Even its willingness to cooperate fully with the invaluable estimates hearings began to unwind. Long before, the desire to silence critical voices at the highest levels of the public service had also been made clear. To teach every public servant a salutary lesson, Admiral David Shackleton (over the children overboard affair) and the head of the federal police Mick Keelty (over Iraq), were openly humiliated for speaking truthfully but out of turn. Under Howard, even behind closed doors, public servants have been obliged to forget earlier lessons about the virtue of fearlessness, and to learn new ones about the importance of not offering unwanted advice. Inside the public service a spirit of stifling conformity and an atmosphere of general intimidation have come to prevail.
The health of a democracy relies on many different things: limited government; strong civil society; the independence of autonomous institutions; the encouragement of dissident opinion, wide-ranging debate. All these values are presently under threat. The Howard Government has become more intolerant of criticism and greedy for control the longer it has been in power.
The evidence presented in this volume offers the most compelling case yet about the increasingly authoritarian trajectory of the political culture during the Howard years. In addition, it offers vital clues about why opposition to the government’s counter-revolutionary transformation of the country, in so many different spheres of public life, has thus far proven to be so weak.
For both these reasons Silencing Dissent is a timely, disturbing and unnerving book.
Robert Manne, 5 November 2006
3) Inside Spin: The dark underbelly of the PR industry (Australian context)
By Bob Burton
Inside Spin is a blistering critique of the largely hidden role played by the public relations industry in Australia, Inside Spin reveals how corporate and government spin doctors invisibly influence just about every news story we read, see and hear. Winner of the 2005 Iremonger Award for Writing on Public Issues.
Public relations professionals invisibly influence just about every news story we read, see and hear. Even more significant is what they manage to keep out of the news altogether.
Inside Spin is the first behind the scenes investigation of the billion dollar a year Australian PR industry. Bob Burton illuminates the hardball and soft tactics used by PR companies to smother dissenting viewpoints, mask sponsors, court journalists, attack corporate competitors and influence politicians. Through detailed case studies from both private and public sectors, he shows just how much PR filters what we see, hear and think about the organisations that affect our lives and shape our society.
Inside Spin is a searing expose of the influence industry and the deep-pocketed organisations they serve.
‘While journalists surrender to the increasing mastery of the misinformation industry, media consumers will more often need to become their own gatekeepers. Bob Burton’s Inside Spin is a comprehensive guidebook.’
Chris Masters, ABC TV Four Corners
‘A punchy and passionate book that tells us things we need to know about both PR and journalism.’
Margaret Simons, author and journalist
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