An open letter to Sharri Markson

October 17, 2014

The Australian‘s media editor, Sharri Markson, caused a storm this week when her newspaper published an “undercover” expose of alleged left-wing bias in two of the nation’s premier journalism programs at the University of Sydney (USYD and the University of Technology in Sydney (UTS)

sharri

Ms Markson relaxing after a hard day of study From http://www.bullshit-blog.com/sharri-markson-undercover-university/

Apparently she’s planning a follow-up and today emailed a selected number of journalism academics and others to seek their views about journalism education.

Sharri Markson's email. Oops, it leaked.

Sharri Markson’s email. Oops, it leaked.

Our correspondent, Martin Hirst, was not on the list even though he’s been a journalism academic for 20 years and is a well-known critic of News Corporation.

However, in to ensure Ms Markson gets the widest possible cross-section of views he sent her the following email.
Dr Hirst is not confident that his views will make it into Monday’s Australian, so in the interests of transparency he’s agreed to share them with us.

Dear Sharri,
Thanks for your interest in a wide range of views about journalism education in Australia.

I realise you have not actually requested my views, but I thought I’d share them with you anyway in the interests of ensuring that you do indeed get a wide range of views.

BTW: I did tweet a question at you a couple of days ago about your consideration of the MEAA Code of Ethics in your undercover story.You were busy and might have missed it; please consider sending me an answer.

In the meantime here’s my responses to your questions

What do you think about media studies and its love of critical theory, post modernism and even post Marxist critical theory?

MH: There is actually a broad range of theoretical approaches in media studies, not all of them revolve around critical theory, post modernism or post Marxist critical theory and of course, media studies and journalism studies are distinct disciplines that do have some overlaps.

Many journalism programs also operate alongside PR and other communication disciplines and we encourage students to take courses in these subjects as well. We also encourage them to take studies in non-communication disciplines in history, politics, psychology, sociology etc, even sports science in some places. We do this because – like you — we value the breadth of knowledge and we know that the news industry needs people with some content expertise, not just a ‘journalism only’ degree.

Views among journalism educators in Australia range right across the theoretical spectrum from highly normative approaches that continue to value objectivity and fourth estate theories of the press; there are even libertarians among us and then there’s those of us who think that critical theory is useful (careful how you define “critical theory” it has a 100 year history and many variations).

For instance: do you mean Habermas theory of the bourgeois public sphere or McChesney’s approach to media regulation in America, or British cultural studies; do you mean Frederick Jameson’s postmodernity, or David Harvey’s “condition of postmodernity” or Zygmunt Bauman’s “liquid modernity”?

Postmodernism and cultural studies are not overly influential in journalism education, the “media wars” of the 1990s were the highpoint of postmodernism in media theory and since then things have actually changed.

If you check out the websites of the various journalism courses in Australia you will see that there is a great deal of variety in approaches taken. Some of us are indeed critical theorists and even Marxists (though out of the 100+ who teach journalism in the higher ed system I think you could count them all on one hand).

I am really the only one who frequently puts up a hand to say “Yes, I’m a Marxist.” I am in a tiny minority. I am pretty sure that Wendy, Jenna, Margaret, Matthew and Penny (along with just about all of the JERAA’s membership) would tell you that they are explicitly not Marxists. Chomsky’s not even a Marxist.

The approach that some of us use — among others — is what you might call a “political economy” approach (it is not the same as Marxism, though it is a materialist worldview) and it involves an examination of economics and social relations; in other words an examination of historical reality, similar in many ways to the methods of journalism.

Political economy examines the news industry and the practices of journalism from a grounded position of asking “what is going on in the world and how do we explain it?” Again, you would be familiar with this approach from journalism – it is what journalists also do; ask questions, seek verification and try to approximate the truth using several sources and methods of triangulation.

Political economy is also related to sociology – my PhD is in this field and so too are those of many other journalism academics.
At the same time I also use the work of an American academic (now deceased) called John C. Merrill.

Merrill is interesting in many ways — he has written extensively on the “dialectic” in journalism — as he see’s it the struggle between “freedom” and “responsibility” and how journalists cope with that. Dialectics is not a purely Marxist concept, it goes all the way back to Heraclitus and the idea of “flux”, you would know this as “nobody steps into the same river twice”.

Merrill was a very conservative libertarian and thus would actually share some political opinions with your ultimate boss, Mr Murdoch. He would also probably be a member of the IPA today. So you can see, despite my Marxism, I am not sectarian.

On the other hand, to balance this out, quite a few journalism educators are not very theoretical at all and would rather teach the inverted pyramid than critical theory. Where you might find consensus among us is that a balance of theory and practice is important; most would also say practice should probably outweigh theory in a journalism course and in most of them it does.

Does it [critical theory] have a place in journalism education or is it ruining it?

Of course critical theory (of many stripes) and other theoretical approaches have a place in journalism education and, far from ruining it, actually improve it. I have been involved in journalism education since 1993 and I think it has got better in that time because those of us who came into teaching straight from the newsroom (and if you care to check that is just about everyone of us who is teaching journalism today, despite your newspaper’s constant dismissal of this fact without checking) have gained qualifications in teaching (for example I have a Grad Cert in adult education) and also have postgrad qualifications (I gained my MA in Australian Studies while working as a daily journalist and my PhD while working as a lecturer).

Theory and practice go together and in a professional course of study, consider nursing for example – as journalism in a university setting is — it is vital that both be central to the curriculum. As academics we are obliged to consider theory and practice, it is the role of a university to do both and challenging orthodoxy is part of that.

We challenge the orthodoxy of thinking within the journalism and news business as well. One orthodoxy that we challenge is the perception fostered by your newspaper (among others, but mainly you) is the whole “those who can do/those who can’t teach” dichotomy that is constantly thrown at us like rotten fruit. It is a false proposition and no more than populist nonsense, so why do you continue to spout it?

Is it because it suits your ideological agenda, because it is not supported by the facts? We (journalism educators) are not “failed” journalists as your editor continues to shout about.

Has there been a shift away from the practical side?

No, there has not been a shift away from the practical side of journalism in our courses. Practical and applied journalism are central to the journalism education project and embedded deeply in our curricula. There is, of course, variation between schools, but in general all of us take great pride in being practical.

If you look at unit and subject offerings across the country you will see a strong emphasis on “learning by doing” which is a key pedagogy in journalism education. Nearly all of us run online publishing outlets for student work (I am doing a research project on this at the moment and looking at the application of what the Americans call a “teaching hospital” approach to journalism education; you are welcome to contact me to talk about this).

My own pedagogy — which I’ve used very successfully for 20 years — is “the classroom is a newsroom / the newsroom is a classroom”.

This is simple really – we simulate the newsroom environment in our classrooms to teach the practical aspects of journalism — students do a range of tasks from compiling stories as in-class exercises from materials we give them (e.g. Media releases, etc) which would be a common first-year approach; then in more advanced units in second and third year students would be given real assignments; i.e.. “Get out of the classroom and find a real story to cover”.

We teach interviewing, research skills, how to do an FOI, how to keep contact books, writing the inverted pyramid, writing features, writing for online, audio and video editing, radio presentation and even on-air broadcast techniques for television.

There are hundreds of examples up and down the country of journalism students writing of the student press or their local paper, running community radio stations, doing current affairs programs for community TV, and having their own online outlets.
Then of course there’s the internships and work experience at all the major news companies across the nation and some of the newer start-ups too.

So it is wrong to say that there’s been a shift away from the practical side.
However, we do have a strong emphasis on law and ethics and you might argue this is theory, but it is equally about practice – we teach this through case studies and visits to actual courtrooms too.

Should journalism training return to a focus on the practical side rather than the theoretical?

There is no conflict here Sharri, see previous answer. In my view we get it about right, there’s always room for improvement and there is change constantly. Like the news business itself, we both (journalists and journalism educators) have to adapt to change because it’s right in front of us.

I hope you find my comments useful; I’d be happy to talk if you want to clarify anything.
You can look up my publications list from here. And you will notice I’ve actually written a couple of very practical textbooks among journal articles etc that you might dismiss as “critical” or even “Marxist” theory.

Best wishes
Martin


In the court of the Sun King, truth plays second fiddle to the gospel of Murdochracy

October 13, 2014

There is a fifth dimension; a parallel universe that revolves around a decrepit, dying and dangerous orb of hot gasses that is liable to frequent explosions raining down hot solar gusts of bile and venom on any random planetary object that displeases the ancient Sun King.

Welcome to the universe of News Corp; a solar system cut off from the rest of creation by an impenetrable wall of bias and a cult-like devotion to a host of terrible Gods. This parallel universe defies the laws of gravity and the morality of humans; it relies instead on the ancient and immutable laws of Murdochracy.

Old, florid Sun King prone to flare ups

Old, florid Sun King prone to flare ups

Even those who have served the Sun King with loyalty for many years live out their lives in fear of his vengeful minions. As former Times editor Andrew Neil famously wrote, to lose favour with the Sun King; to break the unwritten rules of Murdochracy is to be cast out from the universe to while away your days among mere mortals.

All life revolves around the Sun King; all authority comes from him. He is the only one to whom allegiance must be owed, and he expects his word to be final. There are no other references but him. He is the only benchmark, and anybody of importance reports directly to him. Normal management structures—all the traditional lines of authority, communication, and decision-making in the modern business corporation—do not matter. The Sun King is all that matters.

Read the rest of this entry »


BHS update

October 8, 2014

http://theculturetrip.com/asia/china/articles/zhu-yu-china-s-baby-eating-shock-artist-goes-hyperreal

Zhu Yu claims it was a real foetus stolen from a hospital
Part of the shock value?

http://www.academia.edu/875348/Violent_Capital_Zhu_Yu_on_File

http://says.com/my/news/this-photo-of-a-man-eating-a-dead-baby-s-fetus

http://eastiseverywhere.tumblr.com/post/81385801603/zhu-yu-eating-people-china-shanghai

http://books.google.com.au/books?id=mRmppyhh9W0C&pg=PA169&lpg=PA169&dq=zhu+yu+eating+fetus&source=bl&ots=2sWENDQxix&sig=n2m_g-VLLawnn6nJzlwGpKFFhfc&hl=en&sa=X&ei=3b80VNWxCcn48QWbsoKABw&ved=0CDMQ6AEwCDgK#v=onepage&q=zhu%20yu%20eating%20fetus&f=false

http://transgressivechineseart.wordpress.com/tewlt4/


Hypocrisy and a tame media: How Tony Abbott can steal our democracy

September 29, 2014

There is something deeply and disturbingly ironic about Tony Abbott meeting Egypt’s military dictator Abdel el-Sisi and asking the blood-soaked general to release journalist Peter Greste from his seven-year gaol sentence.

Greste was convicted of spreading “false” news that harmed Egypt’s national interest in a sham trial that resembled a Monty Python script rather than the heights of judicial intelligence.

Pick the thug in this photo. Hint: he’s wearing a blue tie and looks very grim.

The meeting between Abbott and el-Sisi took place at the United Nations general assembly in New York where both men gave impassioned, but totally wrong-headed, speeches about the threat of Islamic terrorism.

Leave out the grotesque parody of their meeting and what are we left with?

Two leaders who claim that it has become necessary to reduce freedoms in order to keep their citizens free.

In Egypt, el-Sisi is terrorizing the population with arbitrary detentions, the arrest of activists and death sentences handed out 600 at a time to alleged members of the outlawed Muslim Brotherood. Journalists and TV presenters are among those persecuted and gaoled for speaking out against el-Sisi’s coup and the farcical recent elections.

In Australia, Tony Abbott leads a government that is also slowly destroying our freedoms and political democracy so hard won over generations.

In a speech to Federal Parliament attempting to justify the anti-Muslim hysteria dog-whistled into being by a spurious “threat” of terrorism, Abbott laid out his anti-democratic agenda, couched in the faux-Churchillian tones of his political hero, John Howard:

“Regrettably, for some time to come, the delicate balance between freedom and security may have to shift. There may be more restrictions on some so that there can be more protection for others.”

Who are the “some” and who are the “others” in this Orwellian doublespeak?

Well, that is becoming clearer as the days pass and Abbott’s anti-freedom agenda becomes clearer.

Read the rest of this entry »


If you don’t laugh you lose

September 26, 2014

The war on terror and spying on everyone are both very serious business. The war on terror is killing people all over the world, including, sadly this week in Australia too.
The tragic death of Abdul Numan Haidar is not a laughing matter. The confusion, misinformation and outright lies being spread about this young man are appalling. That the news media is buying into it with awful headlines and front page stories vilifying him, his friends and even random, totally unconnected young men should shame some journalists into silence.


At the same time, the rush to cut into our liberties in the name of ‘protecting’ us from a shadowy threat that kills less people than bee stings is also not something to joke about, or is it?
In the last 24 hours a new Twitter hashtag has burst into prominence and it is taking the piss out of Raging Bedsore’s new surveillance powers.
Now that our security services have the right to monitor the whole of the inter-webs with just one warrant allowing them to tap into any computer ‘network’, it seems that nothing we do online is going to be private anymore.
Well, Twitter has always been a bit irreverent – do you remember the wonderful #TonysMovieNight, for example? And this week, #lifebeforeabbott has been trending too.
The rightwing trolls don’t like it and curmudgeonly columnists like Andrew Bolt complain (without even having a Twitter account) that social media is dominated by THE LEFT, but for those of us who
a) don’t like the Abbott government;
b) think the terror threat is overblown;
c) don’t like the idea of ASIO snooping on us around the clock and, more importantly,
d) have a sense of humour
then #HeyASIO is a great way to get your message across while having a bit of fun.

It’s only been active for  few hours, but by lunch time today it was trending heavily.

Melbourne trends
Check the stream yourself and prepare for a few belly laughs.
Here’s my highlights so far.

Ethical Martini’s top 10 #HeyASIO tweets


Why giving ASIO and the police more powers might be a bad idea

September 25, 2014

The first terror-related death on Australian soil tragically occurred on Tuesday night this week in Melbourne. A young man shot dead after attacking two officers with a knife outside a suburban police station. Police say the dead youth was known to them, and that his assault of the officers was unprovoked. Less than 24 hours later new laws giving the nation’s security forces additional powers were “bullied” through Parliament with barely any dissent.

However, the circumstances of Numan Haidar’s short life and his tragic end have been the subject of much ill-informed speculation, including the allegation – not confirmed by Victorian police – that he planned to “behead” the officers he attacked.

Interestingly – and to me quite shockingly too – when you google “Numan Haidar Melbourne” there is very little scooped up by the usually voluminous search engine (see first image below). But when you put “terror shooting melbourne” into the search engine there are thousands of results. [click images to enlarge and see detail]

An interesting comment on how the national security media is framing Mr Haidar’s death. He is constantly referred to by police and government as “this person”, Numan is dehumanised so that he can be posthumously demonised as well.

In the days before the fatal incident in Melbourne, television footage of federal police officers armed with automatic rifles guarding Parliament House in Canberra made for a discomforting sight.

This unprecedented move is, we are told, based on some overheard telephone “chatter” that may, or may not, relate to a real and credible threat to the lives of politicians or visitors to the nation’s capital.

In the past two to three weeks the Australian public has been slowly, but surely boiled like a frog to the point that our worst imagined fears seem all too real.

Now, in the wake of the Melbourne shooting of what the media seemingly delights in calling a “known terror suspect”, even though the young man was guilty of no crime, we can expect to see more calls for more police powers and further new surveillance and data retention powers will almost certainly pass through Parliament unopposed in coming weeks.

Tony Abbott and several of his senior security officials have drip fed the idea of a clear and present danger to Australian lives into a compliant media. The stories have been duly repeated; the raids orchestrated for the cameras and the serious press conferences held. The national security media has been briefed; it has recorded the messages; downloaded the talking points and repeated them back to us with a suitable tone of fear and loathing (aimed squarely at Australia’s tiny Middle Eastern Muslim population).

I don’t doubt for a minute that there are Australians serving with Daesh and al Qaida or its offshoots in Syria and Iraq. No doubt others wish to emulate their mujahedeen brothers and sisters and become ‘shaheed’ [martyrs] to the cause of fundamentalist Islam. There are others here, at home, whose passions have been roused by the attention they are getting from ASIO – passports being cancelled, constant visits from the AFP and round-the-clock surveillance of their movements and their phone calls.

But I also don’t doubt for a minute that there are similarly deranged members of Abbott’s “Team Australia” who habour similar murderous thoughts and are capable of issuing death threats and perhaps even carrying them out.

What I worry about is that the overwhelming police response is aimed at members of Australia’s Middle Eastern, Muslim minority and that the white supremacist, bigoted racist wallies who want to burn mosques and attack young Muslim women in the street are being left to foment their own special kind of trouble.

The police response so far – 800 heavily armed officers to arrest a couple of handfuls of suspects, most of whom have been released without charge – seems more than a little disproportionate to the actual threat level.

It also seems, looking from the outside, that current operational and intelligence gathering powers are adequate to protecting the population from any threat that home grown jihadis might represent. The idea that Daesh can attack Australia from its bases in Syria and Iraq is just a fantasy; or worse, it is deliberate scare mongering by the government aided and abetted by the national security media.

Read the rest of this entry »


Many places to hide information in the national security media

August 2, 2014

No place to hide: Snowden, Greenwald and Australia’s “national security media”

This piece was first published in New Matilda on 29 July 2014

Eyes On: The Five Eyes agreement means Australia is implicated in the global surveillance economy

Australia is about to get a new raft of national security legislation – the National Security Legislation Amendment Bill – that will radically increase the scope and powers of our spy agencies to snoop on private citizens. The justification for this ramping up of ASIO and ASIS espionage power is the supposed threat from Islamic radicals who, having fought overseas in Syria and Iraq, will be likely to import violent jihad back into Australia. It is a line run almost daily in the Australian news media over the past few weeks .

This is a tenuous justification at best. The historic evidence shows that the police – at both state and federal level – and the nation’s spooks already have ample power to deal with any real and present danger posed by jihadists. For example, Operation Pendennis, which led to the conviction of 13 alleged terrorists in 2007-2008, was conducted using existing phone-tap and other surveillance powers. Between July 2004 and November 2005, the Pendennis dragnet accumulated 16,400 hours of recordings from bugs and 98,000 telephone intercepts; but now ASIO, the Federal Police and state agencies want to sweep up even more calls and even more data.

Additional powers – to tap phones, infiltrate and hack computer networks, give spies the power to entrap suspects and to store electronic metadata for several years – are not necessary under current conditions. However, that has not stopped Attorney General George Brandis (aka “Raging Bedsore”) from touting the new laws as measures to save Australian lives and to keep safe the national interest.

Well, of course the Government – and her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition – would say that wouldn’t they? It’s no surprise that the nation’s politicians, who govern through the promotion of irrational fears and promises of a quick fix, would jump on the “more powers to the spooks” bandwagon. After all, there are votes and endorsements in “security” issues; as well as happy feelings of safety and warmth induced by the vague and unfounded notion of keeping the country out of “harm’s way” and by appearing to be “tough” on terrorists. It is the tried and true method of invoking the sexy beast Laura Norder; and in a world of uncertainty, devastation and death (think Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan Gaza, MH17 and other global hotspots) her warm, comforting embrace seems like a haven from the horror and bloodshed.

But perhaps we might have expected a little more searching, or a little more critical and independent analysis from the nation’s leading media outlets. Maybe it would not have been too much to ask for at least one correspondent or pundit to write a “think piece” about how the call for more spying and less oversight could result in less freedom, not more. Surely there is one “national security” correspondent or “defence” editor out there in the media world who feels it necessary to add a note of caution about our unthinking stumble towards Nineteen Eighty-four?

If you’ve been looking for that op-ed or the news piece quoting critics of the Government’s new legislation, you’ve no doubt been thoroughly disappointed. It is missing in action; not there, invisible and unreported. Instead what we’ve seen in the last few weeks is article after op-ed after editorial praising and supporting the unseemly rush to becoming a nation of spies and spied upon.

Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised at the lack of critical reporting; and, if you’ve seen Glenn Greenwald’s excellent recent book, No Place to Hide , you might be slightly and wryly amused at the lack of opposing views, but you won’t be surprised.

Greenwald has written his insider’s account of meeting Edward Snowden for the first time in a Hong Kong hotel room and coming to terms with the enormity of Snowden’s selfless action and the implications held in the treasure trove of National Security Administration data held in the cache of secrets he handed over for public scrutiny.

That story should be familiar to New Matilda readers. Unless you’ve been on Mars for the past year you will know about the NSA documents that revealed, inter alia, Australia’s spying on the Indonesians, the Americans spying on the Germans and pretty much any nation and anybody with a copper wire communication network, an Internet connection or mobile phone.

The sheer scale of snooping – billions of intercepted messages every day – is mind-boggling enough. Greenwald is convinced (and convincing) on the point that the NSA has a goal to collect every bit of electronic information that blips its way across the global communication network. He writes that the NSA mantra is “collect everything” and it is the logistics of doing this, then storing and sorting the results, that he forensically dissects in No Place to Hide.

One of the realisations that any intelligent reader of this book will come to is that the NSA and its “Five Eyes” partners (UK, New Zealand, Canada and Australia) [https://www.privacyinternational.org/reports/eyes-wide-open/understanding-the-five-eyes] could not manage the collection and sifting of so much data without the explicit cooperation of the world’s major telecommunications companies. Yep, just about everyone you deal with for your electronic data life is implicated – Yahoo, Skype, Microsoft, Apple, Google, Verizon, Dell, Facebook and countless others – everyone is scooping and sharing your data with the NSA and God knows who else.

As Edward Snowden told Greenwald during one of their first Hong Kong interviews: “I saw firsthand that the State, especially the NSA, was working hand in hand with the private tech industry to get full access to people’s communications.”

A quick reminder that Snowden was employed by the private consulting firm Booz, Allen Hamilton while working at the NSA HQ is all you need to grasp the implications of this. The entire global economy is now systemically and irrevocably enmeshed in an alliance with Governments to suck, squeeze and pulp our data in order to make the juice of profits and to keep the world safe from people like us.

That’s why it is really good to have strong individuals like Glenn Greenwald and Edward Snowden in the world today. If we relied on the mainstream media to tell us this stuff, we would never know.

No Place to Hide also provides clues as to the “Why?” of the MSM’s silence on the downsides to the creeping, all-seeing surveillance state. There’s a fantastic chapter that details the media’s complicity in not reporting, or more often mis-reporting, the actions of the NSA. The details are different, of course, but the general outline is applicable in Australia. We are experiencing the world of the “national security news media”.

The roots of the media’s complicit silence in relation to surveillance go back to the immediate political reactions to the events of “9/11”. Since that time, Greenwald writes, “the US media in general has been jingoistic and intensely loyal to the government and this hostile, sometimes viciously so, to anyone who exposed its secrets.” The same thing applies here. Even today some columnists cling to the lie of Iraqi WMD, preferring to spout the line that they just “haven’t been found yet”; more than a decade on from the disaster of Iraq some commentators refuse to see that it was a terrible mistake, built on fabrication and probably a war crime. But, history is written by the victors and its first “rough draft” is compiled by the loyal stenographers in the political press corps.

When it comes to “national security” and the surveillance state, loyal news editors and respected senior writers on policy and politics continue to toe the

When Greenwald appeared on the talk shows he was accused of helping a traitor [Snowden]

When Greenwald appeared on the talk shows he was accused of helping a traitor [Snowden]

line. When Greenwald was doing the rounds of American political talk shows, he was confronted with a wall of hostility from his journalistic colleagues: “Many US journalists resumed their accustomed role as servants to the government.” In June 2103 the story turned from the expose of “serious NSA abuses”, to one that Snowden had “betrayed” the US, “committed crimes and then ‘fled to China’”.

In Australia, the Snowden is a “traitor” line continues to be vehemently pursued in the Murdoch newspapers, which increasingly reflect a kind of Aussie-fied Tea Party ideological bent. And it is Murdoch’s The Australian that is leading the “national security”: cheer squad for Bedsore’s touted “improvements” to ASIO and ASIS spying powers. However, to be fair, the Fairfax outlets are well and truly in-line and waving the flag almost as vigorously as News Corps.

I call this proposition the “position of the complicit insider” and it’s not a new phenomenon. The political media – Press Gallery journalists in Australia – enjoy a privileged status alongside politicians, political advisors and senior bureaucrats. Reporters and commentators are often seduced by the close access they gain to the centres of power and political operators are therefore able to prevail upon them to non-disclosure of uncomfortable secrets. As well as this agreement not to rock the boat too hard in return for favours (in reality scraps of information that the insiders want revealed), political reporters feel a false sense of duty to act “responsibly” and not reveal information, or write stories that might damage some false notion of “national security”.

Anyone who regularly reads the “quality” press in Australia (including The Guardian), or who watches political chat shows on television will instantly recognize this problem.

In July 2014 we saw a good example of the supportive opinion piece genre in The Weekend Australian. Associate Editor Cameron Stewart wrote a lengthy commentary endorsing the Government’s proposed tougher surveillance powers and data retention laws . Stewart noted the “hand-wringing” of Left and liberal commentators when the then Howard Government updated and upgraded anti-terror and security laws in 2005 and added that in 2014 it was only “the Greens and a handful of human rights lawyers” who seemed to be complaining. Stewart repeats all the claims made by Bedsore and ASIO boss David Irvine that returning jihadists pose a significant danger and that the collection of electronic “metadata” is just a harmless means of identifying potential threats.

In Stewart’s worldview, any opposition to greater surveillance powers is dismissed as being an issue of concern only for “the Left” and its “prism of Cold War excesses”. Security officials are uncritically quoted about the effectiveness of metadata collection in previous terror-related prosecution. Stewart has only one area of concern: that journalists could be targeted by new provisions to prevent Snowden-style leaks. Stewart’s newspaper has never had much regard for Edward Snowden, whom it says – echoing the American view – is a traitor, not a whistleblower.

The Weekend Australian also carried an editorial supporting the boosting of security laws; ironically the paper seemed to blame communications technology for creating the need to change the law:

In the internet age, legislation governing Australia’s intelligence agencies must keep pace with terrorists’ capacity to use technology

When it comes to the Snowden materials, Greenwald makes the argument that the well-connected Washington media will never go all the way. He says it is an “unwritten rule” that only a few documents from such a vast treasure trove of secrets would be revealed, “so as to limit its impact…and then walk away, ensuring that nothing had really changed”.

This sensibility is evident in the recent Australian reporting of ASIO seeking more powers, or police breach of their own rules for eavesdropping.

A June 2014 story headlined ‘New surveillance powers aim to boost fight against terrorism’, by the Fairfax “National security correspondent” David Wroe, is framed in such a way that the move seems both natural and necessary. The lede clearly suggests that the move is necessary, “amid growing fears about the terrorism threat posed by Australians fighting in the Middle East.”

In the second par the clear distinction is made between “innocent third-party computers” and “a computer used by a suspect terrorist or criminal”, but already the scope of the powers is broadened from just a “suspect terrorist” to now include “criminal” behaviour.

The third par equates the reader’s interest with the point of view of the security services themselves by suggesting the new rules would benefit law enforcement “dramatically freeing up surveillance powers”. Of course, there’s really nothing to worry about because the new, expanded spying powers would only be used, reassuringly, “under ministerial authorisation”.

In the fifth par we are lulled to sleep with the anodyne phrase the “intelligence community” and with the further assurance that what this benign community group has “long called for” is to remove “hurdles” in the way of legitimate “investigations” and to fix a “failure of the law to keep pace with technology”.

The report goes on to tell us that the changes are based on recommendations made by a “parliamentary inquiry, last year, supported by Labor” – the appearance of bi-partisan support is meant to be reassuring too. We are reminded that the report to parliament “stressed there needed to be strict safeguards, including guarantees that the intrusion on the third party’s privacy would be minimised”.

The security community worldwide is fond of the word “minimised”. “Minimisation” is supposed to occur in the US context too, where it means that all non-relevant information is stripped from surveilled communications before it is passed on for analysis. However, as the Snowden documents reveal, in the race to “collect everything”, non-relevant data is always collected and nearly always stored, analysed and archived for later retrieval.

In other words, we cannot trust our political masters; they are probably lying to us and they are most certainly pulling the wool over the eyes of gullible “National security reporters” like David Wroe. Perhaps I’m being a bit harsh by suggesting Wroe is gullible and there is another explanation that stands up. If you are the “National security reporter” it really is not in your interests (or your employer’s) for you to run foul of the key sources who inhabit your beat. If you were to write critically about an official source, for example, the next time you call for a comment, s/he might hang up on you. More likely, their departmental boss will call your boss and you’ll be back on the shipping rounds.

Whatever the ultimate cause, the gulling of the public continues in Wroe’s June 2014 article when he pulls in a “third party” expert to assess the situation. In this case the expert is hardly an independent analyst:

Tobias Feakin, a cybersecurity expert at the Australian Strategic Police [sic] Institute, said the changes would update legislation that was ”well out of date”.

Oops, an interesting Freudian slip by David Wroe; Dr Feakin is actually attached to the Australian Strategic Policy Institute and has solid ties into the defence and security establishment, including the Royal United Services Institute (a UK-based military think tank) where he was “Head of Homeland Security Capabilities” and “Director, National Security and Resilience Department” between 2006 and 2007.

Most of the time we don’t bother to check the CVs of these experts that are put in front of us, all too often without question. If “expert” and “official” sources say something then a journalist will usually just report it with stenographic accuracy and perhaps (if we’re lucky) offer up one or two tame questions to be kicked away by the expert.

Dr Feakin is particularly popular on ABC News24 where he pops up on an all too regular basis, confirming Greenwald’s central thesis about media complicity. In September 2013 Dr Feakin was used as a source in an Australian Financial Review story about the new and expensive ASIO headquarters building in Canberra. This story reveals that when ASIO and the Defence Signals Directorate (DSD) occupy their new building, private companies in the security industry will be offered the opportunity to “collocate” some of their employees alongside the nation’s senior spooks.

It is expected the centre will allow executives and security staff from select industries to share knowledge and learn from government cyber specialists…in a bid to liaise more frequently with private industry, a task DSD cannot easily do as a Department of Defence entity.

This is another classic play from the American security state experience that highlights with some certainty that the Security State needs to be enmeshed with the security industry in order to function at a high level. If you ever thought the interests of the State and of Capital were not contiguous, let this dispel you of that myth right now. The AFR article confirms it with this simple statement:

Senior intelligence officials said they remain deeply concerned about the ­vulnerabilities that exist outside a few “islands of excellence”. They said ­relatively “hardened” areas include the major banks and Telstra, which last year hired a former DSD deputy director, Mike Burgess, as its chief security officer. (emphasis added)

Dr Feakin makes an appearance in the final two paragraphs of the story and it is abundantly clear which side of the security fence this “independent” analyst sits:

[Feakin] welcomed the move to integrate private firms into the new cyber operations centre, but said companies would have to be “willing to share data with government, otherwise momentum will be lost and they won’t keep their focus on such efforts”.

The story of Dr Feakin is also a salutary lesson that we should never take for granted the so-called independence and bona fides of the experts served up to us by a complicit and compliant media.

We can expect to see more of this type of “national security news” over the coming months as the new expanded spying power legislation is passed and bedded in. If you want to really know what’s going on, look beyond the mainstream media, which has decided to enjoy the comforts of the insider and to lull the rest of us into a false sense of security.

Remember, there really is no place to hide any longer.

 


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