Statement about disciplinary action at Deakin University

July 30, 2014

As part of the settlement of disciplinary action taken against me by Deakin University on an allegation of “serious misconduct”, I am pleased to be able to publish the following agreed statement.

 

On 15 and 16 April 2014 two articles were published on the Herald Sun webpage that included tweets I had posted. In those tweets I used inappropriate and offensive language, including profanity. My behaviour was then linked to my profession, as an Associate Professor in Journalism at Deakin University.

There has since been commentary about this being a matter of academic freedom; however, this has not been the University’s position and I agree that this is not at issue here as the University remains steadfastly committed to the principles of academic freedom. Their concern was not with any robust, critical enquiry, but rather with the inappropriate and offensive language I used which was not consistent with Deakin’s Code of Conduct.

I am remorseful for my actions, and for the impact they have had on Deakin University. I apologise unequivocally for my poor judgment and for any reputational harm caused to any individual and to the good name of Deakin.

I am pleased that the University continues to acknowledge my standing and expertise as an Associate Professor in Journalism, which is not in question. I look forward to continuing with my work at Deakin and to supporting the Deakin journalism program and students.

You can read my earlier statement about this matter, if you wish to.

At this time I am making no further public comment.

 

 


Apology to EM’s colleagues, friends and supporters

July 10, 2014

On April 15 & 16 this year, I engaged in a series of exchanges on Twitter.

It is essential that academics are prepared and willing to engage in robust debate about matters of public or academic importance, without fear of the consequences for them in doing so.

However, I recognise that the tone and content of my tweeted remarks was inappropriate for a scholar engaging in public discussion, and could readily be used by others to attack the reputation of Deakin University.

For this I apologise to my colleagues at the University, anyone offended by any of my tweeted comments, and to those who might expect a higher level of decorum when scholars are involved.


ASIO – still Australia’s “dirty secret”

July 1, 2014

Dirty Secrets: Our ASIO files

Edited by Meredith Burgmann
New South Press, $32.99

Dirty Secrets cover 400x0_q20If you exist with any level of social paranoia at all, you would not want to find yourself in the index of this book, for it’s a “Who’s Who” of former and current radicals, agitators and old Communists.

For those of us who like to read about Australian social history and the colourful characters who made up the student left of the 1960s and 1970s it is a delightful trip down memory lane.

One of the best pieces is the chapter about Communist Party member and author Frank Hardy, written by his son Alan. Reading this left me wanting to know more about this famous communist who broke with Stalinism in the mid 1960s and who was a champion of Aboriginal land rights throughout his life. One funny fact I learned from Hardy’s story is that in 1966 he was writing for Rupert Murdoch’s The Australian. How times have changed; there is no way today that a known communist would get space in that right-wing shitsheet.

The first-person memoirs were, for me, among the most interesting chapters. Some were startling for revealing how detailed the ASIO records appeared to be. The file on retired High Court judge Michael Kirby for example was started when he was 12 years old. Members of his family – in particular his father’s mother and her friends – were members of the CPA in the 1940s and 1950s and young Michael was dragged along to protests and meetings where he was photographed. Another entry mentions the child of one subject as being a seasoned kindergarten militant at the unlikely age of four years old.

There are some obvious and curious exceptions to the first-person style. Some chapters are based on interviews between the ‘subject’ and editor Meredith Burgmann and one, by Rowan Cahill, is written in an odd third-person voice. Perhaps this reflects Rowan’s own discomfort at having to confront a version of himself that was created by ASIO, but does not reflect his self-perceptions of personhood.

Several contributors make the point that reading their own files made them distinctly uncomfortable and it is one reason I have not yet accessed my own extensive ASIO records. The writers also make the point that the files are disjointed, disorganised and riddled with mistakes. They also contain photographs, some taken as part of routine surveillance, but more disturbingly, some obviously taken and submitted to ASIO by informants. The only photos of Verity Burgmann are of her in a bikini during the April 1978 International Socialists’ summer camp at Kempsey in NSW. I am in one of these photos and other friends have sent me surveillance images in which I appear with them.

Photo courtesy of ASIO

Photo courtesy of ASIO

My own ASIO files – at least the ones I am able to know about – are in eight volumes covering the period 1977-1985. One of them is a folio of images, probably including me on the beach with Verity and other holiday snaps. It is horrible to think that there are rats in the ranks, but these files make it clear that the spooks rely on recruiting people to infiltrate protest movements and left-wing organisations with the explicit purpose of gathering information.

In one story, the ‘subject’ of the file finds out 40 years after the event that ASIO broke into her flat, rummaged through her personal items and wrote down for its files the titles of books and magazines she had in her bedroom. In several chapters the subject discovers that ASIO made attempts to interfere with their job by trying to have them sacked, or intervening to make sure they were not employed. It seems that the spooks routinely make inquiries with employers when checking up on surveillance targets.

But it gets even more personal. Penny Lockwood, the daughter of journalist and CPA member Rupert Lockwood, recounts how her heart was broken by a man she loved when he revealed to her that their affair had been part of his job as an ASIO informant. She’s not the only one to receive such a shock; Peter Murphy mentions that he was in a relationship with an informer in the late 1970s while both were in the CPA. In 2011 a British case revealed that a police undercover officer had infiltrated an environmental group, befriended and then married another member, eventually having children with her. Gruesome and horrible as this sounds, we should perhaps not discount that it is still happening.

All this knowledge about ASIO’s techniques is very creepy and should make us angry. A leopard does not easily change its spots. We have no reason to assume that ASIO does not engage in infiltration, break-ins, creepy snooping, false attempts at intimacy, covert photography and video collection, contacting employers, or telephone tapping today.

Historically the entries fall into two categories: for the sake of discussion I will call them the “Cold War” period and the “early New-Left” period.

The “Cold War” files are those concerned with the 1940s, 50s and early 60s when the Communist Part of Australia was a real force on the Australian left. It was in this period that ASIO was tasked with keeping tabs on CPA members and fellow-travellers. It was a time of “reds under the bed”, the “yellow peril” and an irrational fear that the communists were in a position to do real harm to Australia’s interests.

This seems absurd now. The CPA was firmly riding the coat-tails of the Soviet Union, which made it an irritant in Australian foreign relations, but which also hamstrung the party politically. For 40 years the CPA was caught up in the reactionary vortex of Stalinism, despite the good union work of some of its best militants.

The entry by former High Court justice, Michael Kirby inadvertently highlights the sterility of Stalinist politics and the paralysing effect it had on a generation of Australian communists. Writing about his grandmother, Norma and her husband (not his grandfather), Kirby notes a rather depressing description of their living room:

…on the bookshelves in the rather dark lounge room of the Tempe residence were volumes of the collected speeches of VI Lenin and Joseph Stalin. I noted at the time that these books seemed in a pristine state, indeed untouched. No corners were turned down to indicate a well-love phrase or a point of departure where the reader could go no further…Indeed, not to put too fine a point on it, I was not convinced that Jack (or certainly Norma) had ever opened them. But they were on display for all to see. (p.56)

The “early New Left” files begin with the student movement of the mid to late 1960s; the Vietnam Moratorium, early Women’s Liberation, nuclear disarmament and the beginnings of the non-Stalinist left, including Australia’s early post-war Trotskyist parties.

However, there is also a very interesting chapter by historian and activist Gary Foley that provides something of a cross-over between the “Cold War” and “early New Left” interests and activities of ASIO. Gary has been active in left-wing and Indigenous politics for over 40 years and he first came to ASIO’s attention in the early 1970s. Perhaps the first time was 26 January 1972 when the inaugural Aboriginal Tent Embassy was established on the lawns of Parliament House (the old one) on the shore of lake Burley-Griffin. As Gary notes, the nation’s spies wasted little time in directing attention at a new wave of Indigenous radicals:

At eight minutes past six on the morning of 27 January, ASIO headquarters received a telex message from its Canberra office advising that the protest had been set up and seeking urgent information on the four young black men present on the lawns. (p.99)

Gary Foley was one of those young men.

However, by January 1972 ASIO had been interested in radical Aborigines for at least 20 years. The concern was that Aboriginal political networks had been infiltrated by the CPA, which – in ASIO’s fevered hive mind – meant that Indigenous activists were “dupes” and “stooges” for the communists and ripe to be influenced by Soviet agents.

The file on Frank Hardy – some 1500 pages covering the years 1950 to 1972 – is definitive of the Cold War period and Wendy Bacon’s file provides a useful insight into how ASIO dealt with the emerging new left.

Bacon was an anarchist student at the University of NSW when she came to the notice of the secret police in 1968. Her brother Jim (later Labor Premier of Tasmania) was a member of the Maoist CPA-ML (ML stood for “Marxist-Leninist”) and he too came to the attention of ASIO while a student at Monash University.

For students of the modern espionage game the stories told here also interesting because the main picture of ASIO that emerges from the pages of Dirty Secrets is that Australia’s premiere domestic spy agency is a bumbling clutch of Inspector Clouseau’s backed up by a squad of Keystone Cops who couldn’t find their assholes if they were on fire.

An entry from Alan (son of Frank) Hardy shows just how stupid some of ASIO’s informants really were:

  1. Alan Hardy is a blond haired, tattooed truck driver working for Dalgety’s
  2. Alan Hardy is very thin, lives with another boy in Kings Cross and is VERY interested in theatrics. (p.239)

Unfortunately, this bungling of simple details, like personal descriptions of individuals, gives a rather comical impression of what is essentially a well-funded, disciplined and aggressive formation of political police. While ASIO cannot be compared in every detail to the Stasi and we assume there are no dungeons in which political prisoners are held incommunicado and tortured, the job of the spies is to keep tabs on dangerous people; people like us.

Many of the 26 prominent Australians who’ve shared the secrets of their ASIO files in this collection recount how the entries made over a period of 40 years by spies and their informers are riddled with mistakes; misspelled names; dates and times wrongly recorded and physical descriptions that bear no resemblance to any person living or dead, but purport to be of the file’s “subject”.

But herein lies the danger in this book. It is a mistake to see ASIO, various state police Special Branch agencies and other collections of Australian “gooks and spooks” as benign, incompetent, out-of-touch or out-of-date.

ASIO is the Australian government’s dirty secret and we know little of its current operations – which no doubt continue to have stupid code names like “Operation Whip” – we know little of its political targets beyond the usual suspects.

Today those usual suspects are mostly – but by no means limited to – alleged Islamic radicals, so-called “homegrown” terrorists and the sort of young men who are most likely to venture outside Australia on “jihad” to Syria, Iraq, northern Africa or Pakistan.

We hear almost nothing today about ASIO’s spying on non-Islamic groups; we don’t know whose phones, email and Facebook communications they are monitoring; we don’t know the extent of ASIO’s files on groups like Socialist Alternative or Socialist Alliance or their infiltration of movements like the Leard Forest blockade.

We don’t know if the private security firms who have been caught out infiltrating anti-fracking groups are contracted to ASIO or if they just happily co-exist sharing personnel and “intel” on protestors and agitators.

The problem is the historical nature of this book. Most of the writers, even those who were members of the Communist Part of Australia back in the 1960s, are now 30 years older and 30 years more conservative.

They portray an image of radicals and leftists in the 1960s and 1970s as idealistic youngsters who were playing at being revolutionaries.

Many of them make the point that what they did was mostly harmless fun – like spray painting the walls of the South African Embassy compound in leafy, quite Canberra during the anti-apartheid movement.

They make fun of their arrests on ridiculous charges of disturbing the peace; they joke about discovering through the files that the phone taps that they thought were all part of dressing up as subversives 30 years ago were actually in place and being used to keep tabs on them.

Worst of all, many of them now describe their youthful convictions as folly and they lament the wasted hours they spent in “endless” and “boring” meetings discussing politics, tactics and revolution.

Michael Kirby is one who complains with hindsight that he should have been out partying instead of spending hours in the committees of the Council for Civil Liberties and other causes

Even Verity Burgmann, who was a comrade in the International Socialists in the 1970s and early 1980s says that she now regrets her involvement as a waste of time.

In the end, this is the reactionary message at the heart of this rather thick volume (464 pages). It is a shame that many of the contributors – who were pioneering members of the CPA, inspirational leaders of the women’s movement, foundation members of Gay Liberation, militants in the anti-Vietnam war campaign and the anti-apartheid struggles of the 1970s – now concede that maybe Australia does need a competent and well-managed domestic surveillance agency to help keep “us” “safe” from… Well, “From what exactly?” is the question I am left with.

That is why it is unfortunate – and profoundly apolitical – that so many of the contributions to this book end with the lament that from the 1940s to the 1980s ASIO seemed so unprofessional and incompetent in their espionage efforts. This comment, from the late Joan Bielski is typical and disappointing; coming as it does from the pen of a radical and militant leader of the early women’s movement:

As taxpayers, Australians have a right to expect a more sophisticated, politically astute security service…Recent cases made public suggest that ASIO is not such an organisation. (p.146)

ASIO can never be an organisation that “respects human rights” or “the right to differ and to advocate for a cause or an idea” as Joan Bielski might have wished for. The role of ASIO is to disrupt every radical “cause” and to prevent the spread of any “idea” that threatens the status quo.

The system hasn’t changed all that much in the post-war period. The old Communist Party is no longer a threat, but the ruling class is still the ruling class and ASIO – like the army, the police and the courts – is an institution established, funded, directed and managed in order to ensure that modern day subversives do not get the upper hand.

So while Dirty Secrets is a good read and a fascinating insight into the surveillance of radical Australians – at least up until the year 1983 – it is not a really effective guide to fighting back or resisting the predations of ASIO, or other spy agencies, into the left today. If the spooks were interested in the womens’ movement and the gay rights struggles of the 1970s-80s, we should perhaps assume they are just as interested in today’s activists too

ASIO’s focus may have shifted from radical leftists to the mostly concocted threat of “homegrown” “jihadists”, but we should not be under any illusions that our organisations and our movements are not being monitored, photographed and infiltrated today just as much as they were being 30 years ago.

The most salient comment in this regard comes from renowned jurist Elizabeth Evatt, the daughter of the famous Clive Evatt, the NSW politician and lawyer who successfully fought the Menzies’ government’s attempt to outlaw the CPA in the 1950s.

In this age of fear of terrorism, restrictive security legislation and security services concentrating on the prevention and punishment of politically inspired violence, we would do well to remember that judgments about potential subversion and security risks are not always based on reliable grounds. (p.330)

One obvious difference between 40 years ago and today, though it is about form over substance and it is really an artefact of neo-liberal postmodernism, is the privateers who spy on social movements. Today we know, from recent media reporting, that some of the spying on our activities and protests has been outsourced to private security companies. They are working hand-in-glove with the State because that’s what this rotten system is all about.

Finally I guess we should take some heart from the fact that the secret police cannot, at the end of the day, prevent revolution. We know this from the collapse of the Soviet Union and the Eastern bloc dictatorships, which had extensive networks of spies, and the more recent and inspiring examples of the Arab Spring in nations with a history of repression and brutal secret police agencies.

When we finally get rid of the State, we too will ransack the headquarters of ASIO and the other spy agencies and we too will get our hands on the up to date records, not the heavily redacted and sanitised versions that are released after 30 years by archivists when they can only be of use to historians and curious folk wanting to write memoirs of their long-forgotten radical youth.

Lets not have any illusions that organisations like ASIO are in any way “necessary” for our protection. Their job is to protect the interests of Australian capitalism and the State that serves it. Our job is to continue the struggle without worrying too much about the stooges who infiltrate our meetings and movements; they can’t really hurt us and they certainly can’t stop us.

Well done, as a reward for reading this far…enjoy classic Johnny Rivers.


Delusional free speech fundamentalists all on the same [racist] page

March 30, 2014

There are two certainties about the Weekend Australian that make a weekly reading of it a tiresome duty.

1. The newspaper propaganda sheet is tireless and relentless in pursuit of the shibboleths that occupy the increasingly erratic thoughts of Chairman Murdoch

2. The pervasive groupthink emanating from the  News Limited bunkers like the smell of a slow death, displays a remarkably consistent level of paranoia, delusion and editorial agreement among the chief journalists and writers propagandists.

Nowhere are these certainties more likely to reveal themselves than in the fevered attention the editor and his minions are throwing at the supposed attack on free speech posed by Section 18C and 18D of the Racial Discrimination Act. News Limited’s considerable, yet unprofitable editorial resources are being lavished on support for George “right to be a bigot” Brandis in his campaign to make it OK to be a racist in 21st century Australia.

In The Weekend Australian 29-30 March 2014 there are no less than six pieces supporting the campaign to have the ‘Bolt’ amendment passed in Parliament.

That alone is an indictment of their bleating claims that debate is being shut down and that 18C has a chilling effect on free speech. These dribblejaws are able to prosecute their case freely and at great length with the support of an editorial and acres of newsprint.

The only issue I have is that it is not a debate as such in the pages of the Weekend Australian. It is all one way traffic, it is propaganda without answer. Perhaps it is wishful thinking to argue that a newspaper that claims to take freedom of speech and debate so seriously would allow an oppositional voice. But hey, it is the party news organ of the coalition, so I won’t be so fucking stupid. How about you?

Read the rest of this entry »


When a spade’s a spade, let’s not be afraid to say so

March 19, 2014
This piece was published today on New Matilda.

Andrew Bolt’s ‘hurt’ over Marcia Langton’s comments was confected to force another humiliating backdown from the ABC, at a time when it’s already under threat, writes Martin Hirst

Andrew Bolt’s crocodile tears over being called a racist fool” by Marcia Langton were calculated to stir up more anti-ABC bile among his hardcore fans.

Despite claims to the contrary, Bolt himself would not be too much bothered by Langton’s comments; he is, after all, a champion of verbal abuse, nasty insinuation and downright mistruth. That makes this week’s apology on the the ABC’s Q&A program by host Tony Jones even weirder and more inappropriate.

If there was any offence at all, surely it was delivered by Langton and not by the program itself. That the ABC would apologise on behalf of a guest’s informed personal comment is extraordinary.

Where will it end? Will Mark Colvin have to apologise every time a guest or interviewee on PM criticises News Limited or the Prime Minister? Will Fran Kelly have to apologise to The Australian for daring to continue breathing?

This week, Langton herself apologised to Bolt on-air, on a different network, but in my view it was an apology born of hectoring and badgering, a token “sorry” offered to get Bolt and his trolls off her back as much as an indication of Langton’s real regret.

Langton issued a 19-page clarification, published on the Q&A website after the episode went to air, in which she said that she had only apologised for causing offence and hurt feelings, not “for my beliefs or my intention of trying to explain my beliefs”.

“I conclude that his singling out of ‘fair skinned’ Aboriginal people goes to the issue of ‘race’ and could be construed as racist,” Langton continued.

Anyone who pays even passing attention to Bolt’s disjointed meanderings in the Herald Sun can see for themselves that he is a hardened campaigner and a warrior for all that is good and right. A few pointy words would hurt him as much as a slap with a feather.

After all, in Eatock v Bolt, the Racial Discrimination case Bolt lost in 2011, he was judged to have failed to act “reasonably and in good faith”. His infamous comments about “light-skinned” Aborigines that landed him in court in the first place “contained errors of fact, distortions of the truth and inflammatory and provocative language”, according to Justice Mordecai Bromberg

Let’s not forget he was not keen to apologise for that offence and also claimed to be the victim in that case.

If Bolt was serious about taking offence at Langton’s comments he could have made an official complaint to the ABC, which I understand he did not do. Instead he chose to make a media circus out of the issue in order to maximise the damage to the public broadcaster.

He was successful in that aim. Jones’ apology on behalf of the network was another abject pre-emptive retreat by the ABC in the face of ongoing and concerted bomb-chucking from the News Limited bunkers.

The conservative commentariat is emboldened by such moves and by the tacit support given to their feigned outrage and conveniently hurt feelings by Prime Minister Tony Abbott and his senior ministers.

That the Prime Minister also considers it appropriate to comment on an ongoing legal stoush between the ABC and another News Limited hack, should signal that this government knows no bounds in its desire to nobble any independent and critical reporting of its actions.

His thinly-veiled warning that Cabinet will consider cutting the ABC’s already stretched funds even further in the May budget, because the public broadcaster has dared to defend itself in the Chris Kenny “sex with a dog” defamation suit against The Chaser, should send shivers down the spine of every comedy producer in the country.

If satire can be curtailed so easily through defamation actions, and a flagship current affairs program bullied into an unnecessary and uncalled for apology, then those of us who appreciate the ABCs independent take on the world will need to mobilise.

If we stand back and watch as the political attacks on the ABC gain in strength and frequency, we will only have ourselves to blame when the national broadcaster goes down in flames.


Free speech fetishist Tim Wilson is nasty, racist and wrong: he should resign

March 16, 2014

Australia’s recently-minted ‘Human Rights Commissioner’ says he believes in the rights of individuals, not of groups. In the Fairfax press Wilson is quoted thusly:

“I believe in individual rights, not in group rights,” Wilson says.

I’m not really sorry Tim, but this is utter cant and crap that completely underlines the point that your appointment was politically-motivated and entirely inappropriate.

I have written this open letter to Tim Wilson, urging him to resign.

Read the rest of this entry »


Right to know: the ‘nation’, the ‘people’ and the Fourth Estate

December 15, 2013

We might forgive politicians for putting the “national” interest before the “public” interest. But when the news media makes the same mistake, it is time to be worried.

The Guardian and the ABC rightly pursued the story of Australia’s spying activities on both Indonesia and Timor Leste. Not only have the revelations been embarrassing, they should also cause concern for anyone who values fairness and humanism in international relations.

It is therefore puzzling that News Corp broadsheet The Australian has so vehemently denounced the reporting of Australia’s spying activities. Why would one news outlet – one that so fiercely claims to be a champion of freedom in other realms – be so sharp in its criticism of fellow journalists who are really only doing their job?

The answer – in part – lies in unpacking the conceptualisation of the news media as the “Fourth Estate”, and also in differentiating the “national” and the “public” interest in these matters.

The media as the Fourth Estate

The “Fourth Estate” describes the journalists’ role in representing the interests of “the people” in relation to the business and political elites who claim to be doing things in our names.

The idea of the news media as the Fourth Estate has a chequered history. It began life as a term of abuse for the scurillous and ill-principled scribes of the press gallery at the Palace of Westminister. Conservative Anglo-Irish MP Edmund Burke coined the phrase as a way of mocking the gentlemen of the press.

However, in the intervening centuries, the Fourth Estate has come to mean taking a principled position to – as Australian Democrats senator Don Chipp would have put it – “keep the bastards honest”.

It is with this frame in mind that the news media should approach the Snowden materials and any story that arises from a careful appraisal of the revelations, allegations or speculations they contain.

National interest versus public interest

If we accept the premise of the Fourth Estate, we also have to ask ourselves if the “national” and the “public” interest are the same thing. It might be easy to think that they are, but it would be a mistake.

Both are abstractions and both are problematic. They exist as ideas, but in reality the nation and the public are not homogeneous. In a capitalist world both are divided along class lines. In this context, the national interest is about state secrecy and keeping things from us. On the other hand, the public interest is about disclosure and our right to know. As citizens we are “the people”.

The intellectuals of the 18th and 19th centuries who gave us the conception of the Fourth Estate as a civil watchdog to keep an eye on those in power also provided the philosophical argument for defining the public citizenry and the nation-state as two separate entities with differing interests.

This is clear from the writing of Thomas Paine and others, who pointed out and also acted upon the idea that we may have just cause to overthrow the state if it is seen to be no longer acting in our interests.

Today, governments that claim to act in the “public interest” must face daily scrutiny of their actions. They must be called to account when overstepping the bounds of what citizens will support, or when taking actions that are clearly not in our interests. We rely on journalists and the news media to do this job on our behalf.

This separation between the people and the state becomes more important when the economic interests of the powerful so frequently dominate society. In our modern world, the interest of “the nation” is no more than the collective interest of those who wield political and economic power. Today, the state is the executive branch of the ruling class.

The news media – as the tribune of “the people” – must be constantly on guard and alert to actions of the state, particularly when those actions may harm the interests of citizens.

The Snowden leaks

In the context of the Snowden revelations and, in particular, in relation to the allegations that Australian spy agencies were tapping the phones of the Indonesian president and his wife, we have to ask ourselves: Was that spying really in the interests of ordinary Australians?

We now also know that Telstra is collecting our phone metadata and that it can be accessed by government agencies without a warrant. Can we really see a benefit for ourselves in this action?

The answer to both these questions is a resounding “no”.

The Snowden materials should be published in all their embarrassing detail. Snowden is not a traitor or a “rogue”. He is a principled whistleblower whose actions have uncovered a global system of espionage and surveillance by powerful state security agencies against not only other states and agencies, but against anyone and everyone.

It is our right to be outraged at the actions of state agencies that eavesdrop on our conversations, emails and text messages without our consent. We should be more outraged that the spies and their masters then claim to be taking these actions in our name and in defence of our interests.

The actions of The Australian in denouncing the ABC and The Guardian and defending the government are therefore a complete betrayal of the Fourth Estate principles.

When a newspaper claims to speak to and for the nation – that is, to and for the people – but instead appears to speak for the government, it abandons any claim it may have had to independence of thought and action.

[This piece was first published on The Conversation on 11 December, 2013]


The ABC is right to pursue the Snowden documents; The Australian is so predictable

November 24, 2013

Oh dear, the predictability and monotony of The Australian‘s whining about the ABC was taken to new heights this week on two fronts: firstly, the revelation that the national broadcaster has to pay market rates for its premier on-air talent and, secondly, feigned moral outrage that the ABC would cover the very newsworthy disclosure that the Defence Signals Directorate wanted to listen-in on the phone calls of the Indonesian President and his wife.

Any reasonably briefed chimpanzee would be able to write the coverage of these issues for the News Limited papers. There’s a template, a formula and a draw full of boilerplate copy that oozes vitriol, arsewipe and stinking double standards.

Read the rest of this entry »


The media reform bills – what is really in them

March 19, 2013

Daily_Telegraph_19_3_2013 For the last 12 months we’ve been warned on an almost daily basis that the sky is about to fall in on media freedoms in Australia, but what does the legislation before parliament this week actually propose?

News Media (Self regulation) Bill 2013

There is one simple purpose to this legislation and it is not to stifle freedom of the press. Instead this bill simply creates the conditions under which the Public Interest Media Advocate (PIMA) can declare that an organisation is a “news media self-regulation body”.

The definition of a self-regulator rests on one condition: the body must have a self-regulation scheme that is binding on members.

The only other function of this bill is to remove a news organisation’s exemption from some provisions of the Privacy Act 1988 if it is not a member of a self-regulatory body recognised by the media advocate.

The effective clause of the Privacy Act is 7B(4) and as it currently stands, a news media organisation is only exempt from some Privacy Act provisions if it adheres to public standards. This new bill changes nothing in that regard.

That is it; that is all this legislation is aimed to do. The self-regulation scheme proposed in the bill is no tougher than the current rules and membership requirements of the Australian Press Council. Read the rest of this entry »


From “hate media” to another fine mess: How media reform got derailed

March 13, 2013

Don Pedro of Aragon: “Officers, what offence have these men done?”

Dogberry: “Marry, sir, they have committed false report; moreover, they have spoken untruths; secondarily, they are slanders; sixth and lastly, they have belied a lady; thirdly, they have verified unjust things; and, to conclude, they are lying knaves.”

William Shakespeare, Much Ado About Nothing Act 5:Scene 1

May 19, 2011: On a mild mid-autumn day in Canberra, Greens leader Bob Brown held a fairly standard media conference to discuss climate change, emissions trading schemes and the carbon tax. During the Q&A session Brown mentioned The Australian and questioned why it was editorially opposed to making the big polluters pay. The following exchange took place:

Brown:The Australian has a position of opposing such action. My question to you is ‘Why is that?’”

Reporter: “As they said the other day, when you’re on this side, you ask the questions.”

Brown: “No. I’m just wondering why the hate media, it’s got a negative front page from top to bottom today; why it can’t be more responsible and constructive.” [Interjection]

Brown: “Let me finish. I’m just asking why you can’t be more constructive.”

Actually, that’s a fair question. The Australian would rather parade the ill-thought opinions of buffoons like Lord Monkton that get to grips with climate science. The science doesn’t suit the business interests of The Australian’s real clients.

On that now fateful May day Bob Brown made the point that the maturity of the climate change debate in Australia is questionable:

Brown: “The Murdoch media has a great deal of responsibility to take for debasing that maturity which is informed by scientific opinion from right around the world.”

Brown’s comments were reasonable, but challenging the collective wisdom of the Murdoch press is never a good idea; it is at its most effective, ferocious, vicious and unforgiving when it is under attack.

Pack instincts kick in and that is what Bob Brown was facing that day on the lawns of the parliamentary courtyard. He was having a go at the coverage of climate change in the press and argued that The Australian’s reporting was “not balanced”, it was “opinionated” and “it’s not news”.

This was inflammatory stuff; several reporters snarled and barked back. Brown responded with a comment that really goes to the heart of this whole matter:

Brown: “You don’t like it when we take you on. Don’t be so tetchy, just measure up to your own rules.”

Unfortunately, but not surprisingly, it was the “hate media” grab – shorn of context – that made the headlines and the first (extremely rough) draft of history.

This was the genesis of calls for a public inquiry into media standards in Australia, but it was only the beginning.

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