'Scholarly' rationale for censorship


By Harry Van Moorst

Those of us who were dismayed at the outrageous media coverage of the Gulf War will be pleased to know that the military is about to provide us with a full rationale for media censorship during international conflicts.

The Queensland University of Technology is hosting, from April 3 to 5, the first International Conference on "Defence and the Media in Time of Limited Conflict". It promises to be almost as tightly orchestrated as was the Gulf War media coverage.

The conference will discuss "the increasingly complex and difficult relations between Defence and Media in time of war".

It aims at "providing answers and a set of guidelines to the contentious issue of the requirements for strategic and operational security ... versus the public's right to know and the media's duty to inform them". The conference will also be used to set up an "international media association" and a standing committee to provide such guidelines.

Conference organiser Peter Young is a research fellow in Defence Media Studies at QUT and has a military background. He has been strongly supported by the Australian taxpayer.

According to Young, "without the wholehearted support of the ADF [Australian Defence Forces], this conference would not have been viable". The ADF is providing many of the speakers, a significant part of the audience and Royal Marine commandos "to perform roles as ushers and security officers".

Participation is limited to only 120 people to ensure the conference equilibrium is not upset. A few rogue journalists such as Brian Toohey have reputedly found the $220 registration fee and obtained admittance, but the general tone is one of high security and control of both speakers and audience.

The conference will be chaired by Sir William Keys (past president, RSL) and Air Marshall David Evans (former chief of Australian Air Staff). The conference dinner ($80 a head) will be addressed by the US ambassador, Melvin Sembler. Dinner guests are asked to wear "black tie and decorations or uniform". Presumably no civilian women have been invited.

Speakers include ADF chief General Peter Gration, Major General Stuart Graham (USA) delivering a paper by General Westmoreland of Vietnam notoriety and the British land force commander during the Falklands war, Major General Sir Jeremy Moore.

In addition, the participants will be able to hear US Vice Admiral J. Metcalf III, who had the honour of being the commander of US intervention in Grenada, speak about the Panama and Grenada case studies. Undoubtedly he will explain why the thousands of civilian deaths resulting from these invasions were hidden from the public in the interest of international security and the new world order.

The conference will also be treated to a paper on the Gulf War and the media from General Michael J. Dugan, former USAF chief of staff.

Of the 16 advertised speakers, five come from academic institutions, but only one of these, Professor Clem Lloyd, has a specific relation to media studies. The rest of the academics come from various kinds of defence studies. Another two academics come from the Australian Defence Academy, while there are six speakers from the military.

Bill Hayden will open the conference in his official capacity as governor-general, Barry Jones will be speaking on the new high technology media, and Allan Behm (first assistant secretary, security, Attorney General's Department) will discuss "Terrorism and the Media".

Of course, the conference won't debate the question of war as an appropriate method of settling conflict, the role the media should take to promote peace or the fact that both the armed forces and the mass media are the instruments of imperialist forces, especially during times of war.

Still, if we allow the government to spend $24 million per day of our taxes on the military, it would be churlish to deny it the right to spend a few thousand dollars on a conference to help legitimise such expenditure.