I gave up my subscription to The Australian just over a year ago. It was the one resolution from New Year 2012-13 that I made and kept.
I drafted a post on it at the time, but decided not to bother publishing it, thereby depriving Murdoch of oxygen. This is what I wrote on 30 December 2012:
It’s not about the money. By my back of the envelope calculations every six-day delivery plus digital access subscription is actually losing money for News Limited. At $8.95 a week for the newspaper and the paywalled online content I was actually paying less than the price for home delivery alone and each daily paper was costing me less than the advertised cover price. Besides, I can afford it, so cost was not a factor.
What finally prompted me to stop my sub was the fact that I am increasingly agitated by the tone of The Australian’s coverage of politics and the shrill and incessant screaming directed at anything slightly left of the paper’s far-right conservatism.
For The Australian’s coterie of conservative commentators everything proposed by the Gillard Labor government represents a threat to civilisation and only the gathering forces of the libertarian right can overcome the descent into socialist Hell that the Gillard regime represents.
That this scenario is the product of fevered imaginations in the ranks of The Australian’s editorial leadership does not matter. Even the most debatable and opinion-laden piece of reportorial dross is labelled ‘Exclusive’ on the front page of the national daily and the paper’s columnists are uniformly opposed to anything progressive or ‘liberal’.
I am sick of it and I’m sure that my mental state is also polluted by the junk that is published relentlessly in pursuit of Murdoch’s regime-change agenda.
The Australian is not a newspaper in the sense of reporting items of public interest with a veneer of objectivity, it is nothing more than a cheer squad for Tony Abbott’s Liberal party.
Well, we all know what happened in 2013. The Australian and its stablemates The Herald Sun in Melbourne and The Daily Telegraph in Sydney, waged incessant war on Gillard and Rudd and the Labor Party and slavishly praised the Abbott-led coalition right up until the 7 September election date.
Since then, The Australian has championed all the causes, crusades and bullying, braying arrogance of the Abbott government.
All this hard work has not gone unrewarded. Several things have happened recently that make me think that the hotline between News Limited’s increasingly shrill coterie of senior shills and the government’s spinmeisters is always busy.
The two phenomena I wish to comment on today are evidence of this special relationship between the world’s greatest newspaper and the prime minister we had to have.
It’s simple really; the pay-off for The Australian’s loyalty and aggression has been inside information and news tips to feed the front page beast and a handsome payday for a coterie of eccentric, but suitably rightwing commentators who were being warehoused in the News Limited corridors until they could be dusted off for a suitable public purpose.
The elusive, EXCLUSIVE excusive
An “exclusive” in the newspaper world was always something that a reporter could be proud of and that an editor would get juicy over because it had the potential to increase sales and generate ‘buzz’ about the paper and the story. For a journalist, an exclusive meant free drinks at the bar, a pat on the back and a chance of promotion.
But, today at The Australian the EXCLUSIVE has become devalued to the point of worthlessness and over-used to the point of terminal boredom and cynicism on the part of the reader. More disturbingly it has morphed into what I am calling the EXCUSIVE, a story that provides political cover and excuses for the actions of the Abbott government. The Australian is now a mouthpiece and a megaphone for pro-Abbott propaganda.
Let me tender a few exhibits as evidence:
THE AUSTRALIAN, Thursday January 9, 2014
The front page of the 9 January paper had seven separate stories; six of them were badged EXCLUSIVE.
The lead “Labor, Greens end the affair” was written by Tasmania correspondent, Matthew Denholm. The exclusive was based on several “understands”:
The Australian understands the Tasmanian ALP is preparing to sever its four-year power-sharing alliance with the Greens…
While final decisions on the details of the Tasmanian split are yet to be made, The Australian understands a consensus has emerged in Labor ranks…
There is ongoing debate about whether, how and when to dump the two Greens minister — Australia’s first — from state cabinet, but The Australian understands this is the most likely outcome in the next few weeks.
There is not one source quoted in the eleven pars of this story on page one. It continues on page four for another nine pars before there is a quote from a living, breathing human being, if you can call a paraphrase with one word in “quotation” marks a quote quote unquote:
She [Lara Giddings, not the cat's mother] became a staunch defender of it and her Greens ministers, and in March last year said she would “absolutely” have Greens back in cabinet after the next election.
That’s 20 pars into the story before a source is supplied and then it’s a source negative to the intent of the story. But it is also at least 10 months old.
The first recent quote comes in par 22, and it’s another long paraphrase with only two pretty inconsequential words in quote marks:
Yesterday, Ms Giddings refused to say whether Labor would rule out future power-sharing with the Greens, instead confirming a decision would be made in “coming weeks”.
The full Giddings quote is then repeated two pars further down:
“You can wait and see what we have got to say over the coming weeks and months as we head to the election and where we are heading as the Labor Party,” she said.
You might think that by now, the plucky Mr Denholm would give up, but no for that is not the way at the nation’s finest broadsheet. When you don’t have a story and the on-the-record statement from the key source hoses down your speculation. Don’t give up, make it up.
Matthew ploughs ahead with the main theme of the story, despite the fact that he has got no on the record response from sources that back up his understandings.
A complete reversal by Giddings-led Labor follows similar stances against deals with the Greens taken by the party’s leadership in other states and territories.
Hang on. What “complete reversal”. All the paper has is a coy wait and see from Lara Giddings.
This EXCLUSIVE is a beat-up and it wouldn’t pass muster in my first year journalism tutorials. We insist on two real live interviews in most news stories our students write for us and normally we expect to see a strong supporting quote in the first four pars, not buried in the spill-over to page four. The headline might more honestly have been “Giddings says ‘wait and see’ on possible split with Greens”
If Matthew were in my class I would suggest he rewrite this as a story about Lara Giddings saying any decision on a split with the Greens is still weeks or months away. In other words, it is a non-story.
Why then is it on the front page as the lead in The Australian?
You’d have to ask Chris Mitchell for the real answer, but here’s one I made up earlier.
The story fits the ongoing narrative running through News Limited newspapers that the Greens are really communists in disguise, are bad for the country, are crackpots and fuckwits and part of the reason that Labor is so unpopular. Any EXCUSIVE that promotes the party line and has a bash at both Labor and the Greens has a deserved place on the front page.
The front page of The Australian is the front line in Murdoch’s war on logic.
My favourite front page EXCUSIVE in this particular edition of The Australian was a story about the tow-back of asylum-seeker boats to Indonesia. You might recall (by way of background) that Immigration Minister Scott Morrison and other senior Liberals, including Abbott, are maintaining a horrible secrecy on this issue and most of our information is courtesy of reporters in Jakarta, not Canberra.
Navy now ‘towing’ back the boats
Brendan Nicholson, Defence editor
The lead par on this story is a statement of the bleeding obvious:
The Abbott government is implementing a radical policy of towing asylum boats back to Indonesian waters.
Yeah, we know that Brendan, it was on the news last night and all over the web all day yesterday. An exclusive is supposed to be new and a story that nobody else has got hold of yet.
The cat is out of the bag on the exclusivity of this story in the long second par:
The Jakarta Post reported yesterday that…
After noting (without comment) that Morrison is refusing to speak, we are exclusively told in The Australian that “last night” an asylum-seeker spoke to “the Seven Network” about the tow-back. I didn’t see that interview, but I did see it on the ABC and the SBS.
There goes the EXCLUSIVE and the story tips over into being an EXCUSIVE again.
In this case the excusing is inserted by republishing a quote from Tony Abbott from his visit to Jakarta in October last year when he flatly denied that towing back boats would be Coalition policy.
During his first visit to Indonesia as Prime Minister, in October , Tony Abbott told a media conference in Jakarta: “Can I just scotch this idea that the Coalition’s policy is or ever has been tow-backs.”
The faithful stenographic chimp who occupies the chair reserved for the ‘Defence Editor’, dutifully repeats the lies as a way of hosing down the seriousness of this story:
During the election campaign, Mr Morrison said the Coalition never had a policy of towing boats back to Indonesia. He said that position had been misrepresented in the media over a long period.
You see, weasel words and dissembling are enough to convince The Australian that it is right. The coalition policy is “turnaround, not strictly tow-backs” according to Abbott, so that is how it is reported in the Murdoch press.
This is not an exclusive in any sense of the word. All the information contained in the story was already on the public record. What is EXCLUSIVE to this story is the EXCUSIVE pro-government spin imparted by the paper itself.
Four more EXCLUSIVEs appeared between pages two and five of The Australian on 9 January, some of them might be legitimate — ie stories that are first reported in the paper and not elsewhere, but at least one of them is exclusive because no one else would touch it. It is another EXCUSIVE based on the prejudices of The Australian, rather than any merit.
In this context EXCUSIVE is about campaigning in the dog whistle political style of The Australian — attacking targets in the sights of the Abbott government as a way of currying favour and displaying fealty to the Liberal conservative social agenda.
Uni defends audience with Assad
This is a follow-up story to other coverage of the visit to Syria and audience with Bashar al-Assad in Damascus by a group claiming some connection with the Australian Wikileaks party.
For the record, I think the visit was a stupid and disgusting mistake on behalf of those who went. It lends legitimacy to the Assad regime and also to claims that the Syrian opposition is mostly made up of al Qaida-style extremists.
I have publicly disagreed with Tim Anderson before about this and a year ago defriended him on Facebook after he continually posted pro-Assad comments and images to his timeline. I am a strong supporter of the Syrian opposition, but do not countenance jihadist sentiment. I support the secular revolutionaries and those who wish to bring down the Assad regime, rather than those who wish to establish a caliphate in the region.
Anyway, back to the story. The Australian had been pestering the University of Sydney (Anderson’s employer) to dissociate itself from his visit to Damascus and to condemn or even sanction him for his actions.
Despite this pressure, the university stood by Anderson on the grounds of academic freedom and it was right to do so. This is reported in the first par of Christian Kerr’s story, but it is just not good enough, as he goes on to explain (at great length)
The University of Sydney has defended as an exercise in academic freedom the visit of senior lecturer Tim Anderson to Syria as part of a delegation that met dictator Bashar al-Assad.
But the comments have not satisfied Education Minister Christopher Pyne or a group of federal MPs who wrote to the university earlier this week expressing concerns…
Then we move back into the murky territory of who understands what — can you hear the whistle boys and girls? This is Kerr’s stock-in-trade and a tried and true modus operandi at The Australian. Ethical Martini understands that this method is used because the stenographic chimps can learn it by rote and apply the formula to any story and any situation.
The Australian understands there is concern among the university’s top governing body, the senate, that Dr Anderson’s visit will compound concerns caused by the boycott of Israeli institutions and academics by its Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies.
This is the real nub. The Australian has been campaigning for months against the BDS campaign boycott being implemented by the CPCS because the paper is pro-Israel and pro-Zionist thanks to Murdoch’s business interests in the country, including possible covert hacking and spying on competitors in the pay-TV industry. [See Neil Chenoweth's exposure for the full story]
This brings us nicely to the appointment of Donelly and Wiltshire to head up a review of the national school curriculum. Both of these neanderthal hacks are favourites of Murdoch and Mitchell. They frequently opine in The Australian on education and other issues and they are both reliably rightwing to the point that they walk with a limp.
I have plenty more to say on that, but it is Sunday afternoon and I’m going off for a massage.
Tomorrow I am having surgery on my hand and I won’t be typing for a while, so this is the last post, so to speak, for at least two weeks.