The power of news media cannot be understated. It is a world-class informant, storyteller, historiographer and forecaster. It is one of the cornerstones of knowledge. Our world leaders recognize this and rightly fear it. Some, like Xi Jinping and Kim Jong Un, even go so far as to completely censor it. They sterilise the news narrative and construct a version of reality that strengthens their politics of fear. With this arrangement, there is no room for democracy. Without democracy, there is no room for individualism. Without individualism, we lose sight of what it means to be human.
Long gone is the distinction between news and commentary – for better or for worse – but if free thought and speech are essential to democracy, then the press must also be free and fair. A free press is not the same as a privileged press. The first is the lively clash of opposing ideas and interpretations of current affairs. The second is when writers escape personal responsibility – spurting biases and slandering officials while hiding behind the name and protection of a newspaper. But how can I criticise the media censorship that both extremes of the political spectrum favour, then also criticise writers who do not exercise any restraint at all? This apparent inconsistency has a simple resolve. At the core of classical liberalism is the belief in freedom. This freedom is afforded to all. However, classical liberals have always realised that one man’s freedom may infringe another man’s freedom. This places a responsibility on the individual to contribute to public discourse; to balance the social narrative; to present fair arguments; to prevent tyranny and defamation.
Honi Soit is the official newspaper of our University. It is a public platform for students, by students. It is not owned by any club or society. Because of this, there is a strong argument that its contents should be ‘free and fair’. Its writers cannot hide behind the banner of ‘free speech’ to actively infringe the liberties of others. This may seem like an extreme conclusion, but in constructing a one-sided version of reality Honi is doing just that. We see this in its coverage of Australia Day as Invasion Day, its puff piece on ‘necessarily egalitarian’ North Korea and its slandering of public Christianity on campus. In doing so, it is difficult to judge the publication as anything more than an echo chamber of hypocrisy.
Honi will, of course, counter that any imbalance in its coverage is because not enough writers are stepping forward with opposing opinions. There is a certain truth to this. It is one thing to complain about bias, and it is another to correct it. Though there are cases of conservative writers being censored out of Honi, most of these allegations are yet to be investigated. Regardless of how frequently this happens, the best way to quash this argument is to pick up a pen and write. And if Honi refuses to publish our articles, papers like the Sydney Tory will. If publications on campus are to be partisan, then we must not let the left drown out our voice. We need to balance the scales.
Every military official and public servant in the United States is given a copy of Hubbard’s “A Message to Garcia”. It is an article which overlays the journey of a young lieutenant with themes of stoicism and independent action. In the middle of the Spanish-American war, the young man is asked to deliver a letter. Without flinching or begging for further direction, he abandons his post of comfort and does not rest until the task is complete, “until he does the thing – ‘Carry a message to Garcia’”.
It is unsurprising that 225 million copies of this text have been printed to date in all written languages. The lieutenant has aspirational value. He represents a fierce nobility of spirit and dedication to duty. Those serving the public sector are encouraged to model his character. But Hubbord doesn’t stop there. He goes on to scathingly insult us all. He exposes the so-called “dowdy indifference” and “slipshod imbecility” of the general public. He leaves us feeling uneasy, compelling us out of lethargy and into action.
However, a deeper layer of meaning persists. Hubbord directly pits the lone soldier against young academics. The students represent a faceless mob who are paralysed by fear, or are idly avoiding the conflict that comes with independent opinion. The students prefer quiet library life over the roar of a legislative chamber, the instability of a public stage or the aggression from self-titled activists that roam university halls. Hubbard is not advocating violence and the lieutenant is not actively seeking conflict. However, being a soldier, he is trained to defend what is “strapped to his heart”. Likewise, we must follow suit. If universities have become the battleground for political debate, students must become soldiers. We must not be intimidated by the placards or chants of our radical peers. Young men and women alike who believe in equality of opportunity, in freedom from unjust interference, need to step forward. Smaller government, better borders, job creation, tax cuts and religious protection must be our mantra.
We must write, we must debate, because if we don’t, who will educate those who come after?
We must write, or we cannot complain about those who currently dominate our campus news narrative.
To adjust Hubbard’s concluding line: In every office, college, shop, store and factory, the world cries out for such; They are needed and needed badly – the men and women who are the stewards of democracy; the men and women who can carry a message to Garcia.