Sometimes a novel just flummoxes me. I have tried my best to get to grips with “J” by Howard Jacobson, which was shortlisted for the 2014 Man Booker Prize, but the novel made me feel vaguely worried and confused while I was reading it. That was probably the author’s intention, since those sort of feelings drove him to write it. It is set in a Britain of the near future, at a time after a calamitous global event. This event is called “WHAT HAPPENED, IF IT HAPPENED” or “Twitternacht” (with reference to “Kristallnacht” and Twitter.) As a result of this event, many people got killed, or were forced to move to other countries or back where they came from; everybody got given random, different names (oddly spelled), social media was banned and art was reduced to inoffensive, pleasing aesthetics so as not to arouse any extreme emotions ever again. The protagonists are “Kevern”, a carver of Welsh love spoons, and his lover, “Ailinn”. Continue reading
In Peter Carey’s new novel, Amnesia, the subtext of press freedom is woven through a plot about hacking, love, eco-terrorism, politics and journalism. And sometimes, it seems to be less of a sub-plot and more of a raison d’être. The novel, published in Oct. 2014 by Penguin, Australia and in the US by Knopf in Jan. 2015, is set in today’s Australia and deals with current issues, but is actually a history of the less salubrious moments in Australian government going back to the early 1900s. Carey has issues with the current Liberal Party right-wing government, with their stance on climate change, and a definite bee in his bonnet about freedom of expression and the Australian press. In the meantime, back in the real world, on the other side of the globe, fingers are being pointed at the Canadian press, with accusations that “there’s no overall culture of media criticism here”, that there is a “kind of a cosy culture of journalism in this country”, and that the Canadian press remains “largely unscrutinized”.
Different angles on press freedom
In comparison to what happened at French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in January this year, these events are small fry. We are talking local effects as opposed to global repercussions. But the underlying principle at stake is the same for news media around the world, in France, Australia or Canada; namely: freedom of the press. This means the freedom of communication and expression and absence of interference by outside entities in what gets published. But the flipside of freedom is the responsibility to set and adhere to industry codes for published information – and be open to scrutiny and self-monitoring. While various existing codes have some differences, most share common elements including the principles of — truthfulness, accuracy, objectivity, impartiality, fairness and public accountability. The battle for press freedom has been going on since the invention of the printing press in Johann Carolus’s Relation aller Fürnemmen und gedenckwürdigen Historien, published in 1605 in Strassburg, recognized as the first newspaper. The first fight for press freedom probably occurred around in England. So this is a centuries-old battle. Continue reading