Sunday, October 21, 2007

Welcome back, Margo Kingston!

I met Margo Kingston in July 2004 at the Bungendore launch of her book "Not happy, John". Margo used to be a mainstay on Phillip Adam's wonderful radio programme Late Night Live and a very knowledgeable political journalist with the Sydney Morning Herald. She set up an inter-active online political opinion forum called "Webdiary" which she described as an "experiment in 'participatory journalism' between writer and reader". Webdiary was initially part of the Sydney Morning Herald's website. In short, she was one of the most important political journalists in Australia at the time.

And then she published "Not happy, John" in 2004, just before the last federal election.

At the book launch, Margo explained why she had started Webdiary and what had inspired her to write "Not happy John". She felt that the Liberal Party had led down "small l liberals". She outlined the way John Howard and his friends were undermining democracy in Australia through deliberate misinformation (eg on the reasons for going to war in Iraq), the removal of freedom of information by adding "commercial in confidence" clauses, pork-barreling as a way of buying votes, and pandering to overseas powers and bending the rules to accommodate them (such as during the visits of US President George Bush and Chinese President Hu in October 2003).

And she explained why the Australian media at the time seemed unable to critically analyse what was happening in front of their very eyes. I remember in particular her comment that in Australia, journalists only have a small number of potential employers: mainly Murdoch, Packer and Fairfax. A journalist who falls foul of either one of them may well find him- or herself out of a job permanently in this country. A strong incentive not to stray too far off the accepted course, especially if you have a mortgage to serve and a family to feed. Margo said at the launch that because she did not have to support a family, she not only had the freedom to pursue a more critical journalistic role, she also felt the responsibility to do so.

"Not happy, John" was a passionate book. It was an important book. Unfortunately, the Australian public was not ready for it and voted John Howard back into office. To make matters worse, John Howard not only dominated the Lower House, he also managed to secure a majority in the Senate. John Howard continued his disastrous policies on climate change and surprised the Australian people with the introduction of his so-called "Work Choices" legislation. Nobody was able to stop him.

And Margo suddenly vanished from the public scene. Her Webdiary got the chop from the Sydney Morning Herald. It was moved to a private website where it was kept alive by a group of concerned citizens. Margo no longer wrote articles. Her informed voice, so important for Australia's democracy, had fallen silent.

But now she is back. I heard her on Phillip Adam's Late Night Live last week Tuesday (16 October 2007). And she has written another book, "Still not happy, John". If the opinion polls in the lead-up to the coming election are anything to go by, a majority of the Australian public now agrees with her.

Welcome back, Margo. I hope we will hear a lot more from you again.

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