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City Desk
11 May, 2009  
Ex-judge sups with a long spoon at reptiles knees-up

Former NSW defamation list judge David Levine made a glamorous appearance at the recent Free Press dinner in Sydney. We get his impressions about J.Lo Oakes … the state of media freedoms … judges, reptiles & pollies … and the strange sample bag of skin care products


imageYvonne Kux kindly invited me to the 2009 Press Freedom Dinner last Friday week.

Actually it was a reminder about the event in the Gazette of Law & Journalism that caught my eye.

I [seen here, right] emailed the nice lady at the Media Alliance (aka the Painters and Dancers Union) and asked whether it would accept me, a retired Supreme Court Defamation Judge and my money?

A gushing affirmative.

As a recently disembarked passenger from the judicial jalopy I was tantalised by the prospect of seeing the Reptiles of the Media at play in apparently so serious a context.

Your editor, Richard Ackland, had hinted at this in his Friday SMH column, as he did on the dress code “cocktail”.

Now the last caused some domestic ructions: “I need a cocktail frock for the journos’ do tonight. What?! That’s the dress code. Ridiculous! May I borrow one please? I don’t have one and is there something you want to now tell me after 40 years?”

On arrival, wearing a sober grey suite with a cocktail coded mauve shirt, I met my school colleague Bruce Donald AM, still practising as a media lawyer.

We agreed that neither of us has changed, in the sense of aging and looks, since 1961.

I complimented David Marr on his recent obituary of Lois Simpson; then, for me I like to believe, a nod from The Oz chap who recently referred to me as a leading media lawyer.

Having found my name tag, exceptional in having the spelling and pronunciation correct, I located table 8, clearly the one set aside for the human vertebrates, and found my companion to be a lexicographer, editor of the Macquarie Dictionary no less.

After the blah blahs and the yak yaks and putting dollars in a raffle box, we began to discuss what I have noticed to be the increasing use of “in regards to” as opposed to “in regard to” in public service vocabulary and occasionally the press.

This was done against the background of a slide show of heroes and martyrs, the dead, the missing and the threatened among journalists in our part of the world.

The absence of express reference to the Putin/Medvedev hitmen and the Islamist lunatics was noticeable.

imageSuddenly the gathering was attracted to and embraced by a gorgeous MC.

“Who is she?” I asked the lexicographer.

“Julia Zemiro [snap], she hosts SBS’ RocKwiz.”

Well, as I had heard only of SBS I suddenly realised I was in the presence of a celebrity! At last … must tell my kids who all live in Europe and America – they’ll know her.

Guest speaker Laurie Oakes edited Honi Soit when I was an Arts undergraduate.

Physically, alas, he appears not to have changed. His journalism, however, has.

He deserves the accolade of “respected”. He launched Secrecy and Red Tape: the State of Press Freedom in Australia 2009.

It makes for discomforting reading. It is thorough, considered, mature, objective and informing, not least by reason of the variety and high quality of the contributors.

imageMr Oakes’ (pic) speech in tone and sincerity was just right.

It is not as if there is no free speech here. Good heavens, take the night’s theme and the talkfest on May 18 and 19 – The Media Industries 10th National Public Affairs Convention.

Dangers lurk in what consumers do not know, in the fact that they do not know, when they are told that there are things they cannot learn and complacency then can thrive.

In 1983 Michael McHugh QC at the launch of the Media Law Association said the last bastion of freedom is Her Majesty’s judges.

Having been one of them, I agree.

The reptiles and the cognate category, politicians, do not think so, are afraid to think so or cannot agree.

Judges and the reptiles and the politicians should agree. Judges are the first to acknowledge they are but human. Perhaps the reptiles and pollies should think along those lines from time to time.

To return to table 8. On arrival I was as sober as befitted a former member of the judiciary. I was beginning to feel I was approaching the brink of a peerage and decided to take my leave with dignity.

I paid for the sample bag and now contemplate some of its contents.

There are several skin care products. Two for men, one unisex and one in a container that looks suspiciously like mace.

There is also a sachet and frankly I don’t know if it is wet towel or a prophylactic. Should I care?

Richard Ackland in his column referred to a reptiles’ “knees-up”.

I have difficulty with that. Some reptiles have little legs, some have none.

But “knees-up”? – I think former PM Malcolm Fraser’s wife Tammy should be asked to clear that one up.

David Levine