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Serendipity, Editorial Prerogative and the Net

By John Salter - posted Tuesday, 15 February 2000

I am always on the lookout for signs that Australia will change its direction radically in the near future and finish tinkering with those ideas and practices that delivered us economic and other successes in the past. The Internet fosters this hope especially through its capacity for free information exchanges. This is the way of the future.

Another of the benefits of the Internet is getting your daily news online. This is the place to look for news of the future. When you surf the net for news it comes without the priorities and agendas of newspaper editors. You set these yourself and quite often you get to see unusual linkages between stories that reveal a larger picture, or another story-behind-the-story.

This happened last week with three news stories: the re-opening of the Australian embassy in Lisbon (The Sydney Morning Herald); a review of the New Zealand economy since the introduction of a GST; and the email "leak" at the Reserve Bank (The Age on February 3, 2000). Together, these stories suggest that one should be optimistic of the future for although they show the Australian ship of state to be wildly off-course, they also show it to be a leaky boat with an obviously limited future. This, of itself, suggests that change is on the way!


The article on the New Zealand economy, to the extent that it effects the common man and woman, provided clear evidence that our government is moving in the wrong direction. GST was only part of a package New Zealand adopted. Other parts include free markets and institution sell-offs - things we are already familiar with.

It would be defending the indefensible, however, to argue that government, either in New Zealand or Australia, is ensuring the greatest good for the greatest number for today, as that story revealed, one in six people and one in three children in New Zealand live in poverty.

The second story, on Foreign Minister Downer’s visit to Lisbon, was instructive not so much for its coverage of the re-opening, after eight years, of the Australian embassy there but for its comment that there is a widely-held perception among the people of Portugal that Australia intends to colonise East Timor.

This particular story is also a comment on the way that news or information circulates in society for this piece of information (or misinformation) has no circulation within Australian society and may be said not to exist here at all.

These two stories together, however, also reveal just how out of touch with their people governments can be. And they tell how information and misinformation can be manipulated within a closed system. The citizens of Australia would do well, before accepting a GST, to look wider than local sources for information, and the citizens of Portugal would be better off to get their news from the Internet.

Yet it is exposure of this kind of manipulation that makes people look to the Internet and other sources for the information they need - and what they find is not always what those in authority had hoped. It is not likely then that undemocratic information transfers will survive in the future. And this is the subtext to the third story, last week’s email "leak" at the Reserve Bank.


Everyone knows by now that the Reserve Bank (RBA) raised its overnight interest rate last week. However, the email containing this piece of information was released six minutes early. This produced an extraordinary reaction from the bank’s Head - who is taking steps to ensure that it never happens again! It’s a good illustration of how electronic information transfers are more difficult to control - which all suggests that the light of democracy is still burning at the end of the tunnel into the future.

People in business in Australia often talk about "having an edge". No doubt this term will take on another meaning for business in the future but at the present time it suggests that information can be possessed. One of the things that so stirred the Head of the RBA the other day was the fact that speculators cleaned up a few million dollars from that six minute "leak" of information. But this is not really a case of "possessing", for information only becomes information when it has been transferred. Those ill-gotten gains came not from possession of information but from timing. And this was only possible because our financial and monetary structures are closed systems.

Fortunately, closed systems are fast becoming a casualty of the Internet. The democratic transfer of news and information does not tolerate closed systems. Reading these three news stories in this way effectively liberates the information they contain from the closures of editorial preference. These three stories are functioning here to a personal agenda - one which offers primacy to the principle of democracy and the welfare of all Australians both now and in the future.

This kind of "liberation", where the story of an email leak at the Reserve Bank is allowed to intersect with a review of the New Zealand economy and the "colonisation" of East Timor, allows one to think the unthinkable. It also permits thoughts of a future which has no closed systems of information. These are the scourge of democracy.

When you seek news of the future in this way it very quickly becomes clear how radically different even conducting business in the future will be.

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About the Author

John Salter lives on Queensland's Sunshine Coast, where he lectured in the Faculty of Arts at the Sunshine Coast University until 1999. He is currently involved in a variety of interests including information design business, Jumping Fish Productions. lives on Queensland's Sunshine Coast, where he lectured in the Faculty of Arts at the Sunshine Coast University until 1999. He is currently involved in a variety of interests including information design business, Jumping Fish Productions.

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