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 Daily Telegraph has no credibility on journalism standards

December 15, 2013

It is simultaneously amusing and sickening to see News Limited newspapers attempting to lecture the ABC on standards in journalism.

Coming from the organisation that brought you the Abbott government, whether you wanted it, or not, it is a bit rich to complain of un-Australian, left-wing bias at the national broadcaster.

The chief stenographer at the Daily Telegraph is gainfully employed re-writing press releases and disguising advertising as news and the columnists are at the bar dictating their arid thoughts to the keyboard chimps.

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Yahoo! Here comes the new news

November 30, 2013

It’s been an interesting week in the new business, both globally and here in Australia.

At home some new start-ups, including another import from the UK. This time it’s the Daily Mail announcing an Australian edition. One Twitterati quipped that this would at least provide some much-needed competition in the right-wing junk journalism stakes currently dominated by The Australian.

But on the downside, one or two less happy stories of ailing start-ups and mooted closures.

On the world stage, it seems that Yahoo’s new business model is taking shape, following the surprise announcement that the NASDAQ-listed search and mobile App tech-giant has hired a group of well-known and high-profile journalists and editors to staff its own news portal.

The key hire is the award-winning and sometimes controversial Katie Couric, who will leave the American ABC network to join Yahoo. According to Yahoo, Couric will host a monthly interview program on the portal, but few details are available beyond that.

But why would a second-ranked search engine and internet portal want to buy into news and serious journalism?

The investment in Katie Couric and senior reporters from The New York Times signals that Yahoo wants to move into Web TV and take on the the giants of American network and cable television, and perhaps even Netflix, which is rumoured to also be looking at an Australian launch next year.

In recent months Yahoo, which is valued at around US$35 billion, has made a series of takeovers, mainly of Internet start-ups like the picture-blogging site Tumblr. But analysts think that it is still figuring out how to turn a profit from these acquisitions.

Tellingly, Yahoo’s share of online advertising (about 7%) is still behind Facebook (8%).

Recruiting Couric to be the new face of Yahoo’s news operation is an attempt to get a stock market bounce and attract eyeballs, which in turn should attract advertisers.

The key question though is where will those eyeballs be? In recent statements Yahoo CEO, Marissa Mayer, has said the company’s future is in mobile delivery.

However, mobile is “the right path” to be on according to Mayer, rather than an instant boost to advertising revenues. Digital plays take a while to turn from money sinks into profit centres.

Australia: following the leader?

Australia is following the bigger US and UK markets in seeing a wave of new start-up news providers both entering and leaving the market, which is creating both excitement and apprehension among journalists looking for new opportunities and among news consumers looking for something a bit more palatable.

Here at home this week, a new news start-up arrived and one recent entrant is in difficulties. In the past ten days or so, three new news publishers have announced their arrival in the Australian news market.

The biggest fish to enter the Australian news pond, since The Guardian six months ago, is the British-based conservative tabloid, The Daily Mail. Just this week it announced the imminent arrival of dailymail.com.au. It is a joint venture with Nine Entertainment, the Mail’s online arm dmg media and mi9 (a digital spin-off from the Nine group). There’s been very little said so far about who will head up the Australian operation, but its reported that up to 50 editorial positions will be created.

Two smaller and homegrown publications are launching into the Australian market; The New Daily and The Saturday Paper. The Saturday Paper will feature long-form journalism and will be published by Morry Schwartz (pubisher of The Monthly). Schwartz hopes it will be profitable with an initial printed circulation of between 80,000 and 100,000.

The New Daily recently launched entirely online and is financed by three major players in the Australian superannuation industry. The managing editor is former Fairfax and News Limited editor, Bruce Guthrie. The New Daily is running an advertising model and, like the imported Daily Mail, is not going behind a paywall. The New Daily’s backers hope it will be profitable within three to five years.

On the downside, Politifact, a fact-checking and independent journalism venture founded by former Fairfax editor Peter Fray has announced severe downsizing and possible closure as the sponsors who came on board during the 2013 federal election wind-down their commitment to the project. Politifact was based on an American model that calls out politicians for mis-statements and gives them a “truth-o-meter” rating. If it sounds like a gimmick, maybe it was, as the site only lasted seven months in Australia. Politifact is currently running on a skeleton staff and seeking new sources of funding.

The digital dilemma: How to make money from content

The question of how profits can be made from online news has several answers, but none yet a proven winner.

A recent American news start up NSFW Corp, which billed itself as “The Economist written by the Daily Show”, has this week closed its print edition and folded its digital business into another company, which is, itself, still reliant on angel investors from Silicon Valley.

And here lies the dilemma for the big global brands like Yahoo and The Daily Mail and for the more modest local start-ups, particularly those with a focus on serious journalism. NSFW Corp attempted to combine serious with hip and ironic, but that hasn’t worked out and perhaps the market for serious journalism is not where we think it should be.

On top of that uncertainty, the process for monetising the digital click-stream, whether on the desktop or via mobile devices, is still a large known unknown.

Television still dominates the global advertising market, while print advertising is in decline. On the other side of the ledger, digital revenues are not yet strong enough to support a reliable profit stream. NSFW Corp was offering a niche product and it was behind a paywall; not quite the same as ad-supported content, but another example of trial and serious error when it comes to financially-modelling new news.

Yahoo has a model that relies on volume-selling online and mobile advertising, but at a fraction of the price that print or broadcasting can command. The difficulty is that when you do this, the slice of total revenue you take from the cake has to be substantially bigger than your rivals if you are to survive and make a profit.

So far, no one has come up with a content formula that stacks the eyeballs high enough to satisfy all comers; with or without a paywall. The booking agents currently have the upper hand in setting prices for online advertising.

Over at Yahoo, Marissa Mayer is a smart CEO, she has a strong track record in the digital economy (she was formerly at Google) and her sense is that this expanding digital giant will eventually make money from its investment in Couric and news content. However, it is not a given that her vision will succeed.

There are nervous investors, from Nasdaq to Australian superannuation schemes, that hope she’s right about Yahoo, because their fortunes will also hang on the uncertain success of this bold experiment and others like it.

[This is a slightly longer and edited version of a piece I wrote for The Conversation, published 30 November 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.

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Student journalists are not “journalists”, they are students

November 10, 2013

A few days ago, my English colleague Paul Bradshaw wrote a piece “There’s no such thing as a ‘student journalist’” on his Online Journalism blog. He argues that there should be no distinction between journalists or students of journalism (presumably training to be employed as journalists after graduation) because they are both publishers of information and the students carry out the actions of journalists — they are effectively “doing” journalism — while they learn the skills, technologies and attitudes of the profession.

Students are experiencing first hand the culture of journalism, the experience of journalism and the social consequences of what they do. Paul writes:

There is no such thing as a ‘student journalist’.

Students of journalism no longer practise their work in the seclusion of a classroom. They do not write solely for lecturers, or even for each other.

Any student on a course with some awareness of the modern media world publishes their own blogs; their student media is accessible around the world. They contribute to networks, and build communities.

Even if their course provides no opportunities to do any of these things, they will have Twitter accounts, or Facebook accounts.

All of which means that they are publishers.

I don’t disagree with this in principle. Certainly any journalism course worthy of the name would be requiring students to participate in what I like to call “live fire” news exercises. These are usually done under close supervision. However, writing a blog as part of coursework (and for many students it is an onerous requirement of their study, rather than something they enjoy or immediately see the benefits of) is not journalism. Blogging is not journalism and I thought that debate was settled years ago.

Nor does publishing (in a very loose sense of the word) to Twitter and Facebook constitute an act of journalism, nor does it make reporters out of students.

Sure, every university student has a Facebook presence and some, but not all (and perhaps not even a majority) have a Twitter account, and even fewer are blogging with any regularity, if at all. Despite the hype, the digital natives continue to be social users of social media and rarely do their tweets or Facebooking or other encounters with social media (Instagram, etc) reach what we might call acceptable professional levels. (See for example, Hirst, M., & Treadwell, G. (2011). ‘Blogs bother me’: Social media, journalism and the curriculum. Journalism Practice, 5(4), 446-461. doi: 10.1080/17512786.2011.555367, the pre-publication version is available here).

So, on a purely practical level — that is the stage of professionalism achieved and achievable in the three years of an undergraduate degree — most of our journalism students are not operating as professional, or what I might describe as “real” journalists. Another practical point that we have to consider: not everyone in a journalism course wants to be a journalist and, even among those who do want to be, not all of them will make it for a variety of reasons.

Therefore, our role as journalism educators is more than producing the next generation of newsroom fodder, or even the next Pulitzer prize winner. It is a broader academic role: that of critic and theorist as well as cadet wrangler on behalf of News Corp or whomever the employer is likely to be.

The newsroom is a classroom; the classroom is a newsroom

For 20 years I have operated my journalism courses according to the principle that the classroom is a newsroom, but also that the newsroom is still a classroom. I believe that this is an important point to make in this current debate because, at the end of the day, we owe it to our students to recognise their status as students first and foremost.

To assume that we can (and should) treat them like fully-fledged working reporters does them a disservice and it could also be dangerous for them and for us. I do not want to seem like an old fogey, or as someone who thinks that the average 18-year-old is not mature enough to be treated like an adult. Of course they are and they deserve respect from their teachers and from members of the public that they interact with when we send them out into the world beyond the campus to practice their journalism.

And that word practice is the key. It is practice, to do something repeatedly in order to gain the skill; rather than practice as the performance of the work of a trade or profession that students are engaged in.

In my view, if we do not acknowledge the student status of our students (no, that’s not a tautology), we are not being diligent in our duty of care (the pastoral role of all teachers at all levels) to ensure that we “first do no harm”. Yes, we have to, as Paul rightly points out, engage our students in the daily routines and socialisation of newsroom practice and we have to move beyond the newsroom model too; but in doing so, we have to be constantly mindful that our pupils must be kept safe.

It is true that often the best way to learn is by failure — trial and error — and getting your hands dirty in real journalism exercises is valuable and effective pedagogy, but our students also need to know that the consequences of their failures are not catastrophic.

I have no problem with most of Paul’s points. Putting students in touch with local news outlets which might take their work is a key part of their learning experience. That is also why we offer internships and other work-experience opportunities. At my university we even give it a fancy name “work-integrated learning” and the acronym WIL. It is integrated into everything we do.

The same logic motivates us (journalism academics) to provide students with in-house publication outlets, from newsprint, through collaborations with local community radio and television stations and, increasingly, an online presence edited by tutors, or “journalists-in-residence”.

I think the danger in Paul’s assertion that there are no student journalists is that it might encourage us to forget that we are no longer in the news business. We are, first and foremost, in the education business. The job of the journalism academic (at least in the teaching side) is to educate, not to chase the news.

We can sometimes forget this and can get caught up in the day-to-day excitement of the hunt for news and chasing the story of the day.

But my advice for journalism academics who think this is the main game is simple: Go back to the newsroom.

It is not our job any more to get the “scoop”, we should not be thinking that the best way to influence the news process is to become part of it again from the sanctuary of the ivory tower. Sure, we need to act as editor, sub-editor and mentor to the student journalists in our classrooms,  but we should do this from the perspective of teaching and learning, not from the view of an editor whose job is to rundown the news and satisfy the public demand for information.

Any publication that arises from the work our students do while learning journalism is secondary to the real goal which has to be ensuring that the student experience of journalism education is a good one; that the learning outcomes are met; that the assignments are suitable to the level of study and that the students do not leave our institutions scarred for life because of a bad situation that could have and should have been managed more effectively.

One final point, which is also a comment on Paul’s reference to the “teaching hospital” model of journalism education which is based on the premise that university journalism programs should be covering local communities as a matter of course and as a priority at the top of the list of all the things they should be doing.

The key argument in favour of this is not one of pedagogy but of pragmatism. The reasoning advanced by supporters of this model is that the mainstream media is failing both in terms of garnering and holding public trust and also in terms of business modelling.

This is no doubt true and has been for a while. I wrote extensively on these issues in my 2011 book News 2.0 and I gave it the subtitle “Can journalism survive the Internet?” However, it is not, in my view, the fundamental role of the j-school to substitute for a strong news media outside the campus.

Maybe our graduates can be part of the solution to the declining popularity and profitability of the news industry, but not while they are students. To expect that of them is to place too much pressure on their shoulders at a time when they should be engaged with learning and critique.


We can no longer take these ‘journalists’ seriously

October 27, 2013

Any casual reader of Ethical Martini will know that I am a critic of News Limited’s newspapers; not because they are bad newspapers, but because of the hardcore conservative political agenda that they execute with extreme prejudice.

Not only do the bulk of News Limited’s senior journalists and columnists regularly indulge in denial of anthropogenic climate change, they also indulge in denialism when it comes to their own warped sense of self importance and political bias.

As a group, it seems that they just don’t see anything at all amiss in their slavish devotion to conservatives’ pet causes — bushfires are just part of the Australian vernacular, the ABC is a vicious nest of left-wing pustules that needs to be lanced and handed over to a junior mogul, school teachers are only marginally less feral than ABC-types, the carbon tax was killing business and Aborigines get all the privilege and none of the pain of being Australia’s first people.

It even extends to the role that these hacks and fluffers think they play in the larger realm of politics and the public sphere.

According to these enlightened bigots, this year News Limited’s news outlets were not campaigning for the election of an Abbott government to suit the political mood of the omnipotent Murdoch, it was for the good of the country. News Limited journalists and columnists know better than most of us what is in the national interest.

After all, as the old adage goes: “If it’s good for business it’s good for the country and if it’s good for the country, it’s good for business.”

And our new prime minister, Tony Abbott, knows all too well, what’s good for uncle Rupert is good for business and good for the good of the nation.

So, perhaps then, it’s not surprising that Abbott wanted to gather the faithful for a blessing and a booze up to cement the too-cosy relationship between his government and the conservative commentariat.

Only one problem in that little plan: it leaked. The Sydney Morning Herald let us know yesterday that the cream of Australia’s rightwing media meritocracy would be gathering ce soir for an intimate “Merci beau coup” from the Prime Minister, an a-la-carte feast and a couple of coldies.

I can’t help but wonder if Abbott says grace at these gatherings and counts his blessings.

Murdoch-last-supper

The guest list exposes the overly close relationship that senior News Limited apologists (and one or two Fairfax fellow-travellers) will have with Abbott and his inner circle over the next few years.

When entertaining at home Tony Abbott prefers like-minded company, if the guest list to his Saturday soiree is any guide. The Prime Minister’s first gathering of the Australian media is an invitation-only affair of conservative columnists and broadcasters.

Many are disagreeable, but, happily, rarely so with the nation’s 28th leader. Invited to dinner and drinks at Kirribilli House is a rollcall of Mr Abbott’s strongest supporters: among them Andrew Bolt, Piers Akerman, Alan Jones, Janet Albrechtsen, Miranda Devine and Chris Kenny.

Daily Telegraph editor Paul Whittaker, whose paper backed Mr Abbott to the hilt, will be in attendance. News Corp editor Col Allan is believed to have flown back from New York in time for the intimate gathering of friends. The Australian editor Chris Mitchell was invited, but told Fairfax Media he was unable to attend.

That most of Mr Abbott’s guests come from News Corp would surely please Rupert Murdoch, who is back in Australia. Fairfax Media columnists Paul Sheehan and Gerard Henderson were also invited to the knees-up, which was orchestrated by Mr Abbott’s chief of staff Peta Credlin.

Guests were asked to keep details of the evening strictly confidential. ”We do not release details of the Prime Minister’s private functions,” a spokeswoman said. She declined to respond when asked whether the taxpayer would foot the bill for the dinner and drinks.

In my view  being on the guest list for this “private” soiree disqualifies those who attended from ever writing another word about federal politics. The guests at last night’s benediction are fatally compromised and beholden to Abbott.

And it’s not private, what Abbott wanted was secrecy. If the PM is entertaining at his official Sydney residence and the invitations were arranged by his staff, then it is a public matter. The guest list should be public and we should also be told what the guests were talking about. Did Margie and the girls do the catering — fairy bread and communion wine? If Kirribili House was the venue then surely staff were on hand (paid time and a half perhaps?) and it is an official, not a private engagement.

There is an air of secrecy already surrounding the actions of this government and it is a shroud that the PM has pulled tightly over many areas of public policy that we should be privilege to. It is not OK for Abbott to entertain this bunch of flunkies at taxpayer expense.

Most of the guests were already firmly in the PM’s camp politically and the News Limited posse had shamelessly displayed their fevered loyalty to the coalition during the 2013 election campaign.

Whether writing out of personal conviction, romantic attraction to Abbott, or because of Murdoch’s unwritten, but unmistakable, orders, many of the gathered faithful have been loyal foot soldier’s in Abbott’s culture war for some time.

Now they need to be publicly exposed for the sychophantic arse-wipe, lickspittle, jumped up little Hitlers that they are.

Like most sociopaths, they bully down and kiss butt upwards.

Chris Kenny has recently been promoted to “associate editor” at The Australian, no doubt in recognition of his excellent service, which continued this week with another poke at the ABC and Insiders host Barry Cassidy in a fusilade of fury about the so-called “culture wars”. I can’t help but wonder where these stories come from, surely not an insider tip from a minister’s office. Kenny has once again proven his effectiveness as a doer of dirty work on behalf of the Liberal Party.

Chris Kenny's Twitter fan club show the love

Chris Kenny’s Twitter fan club show the love

Kenny is probably an obnoxious toad and even his teenaged son has had reason to question his father’s journalistic and political judgment. How’s this for character assassination en famile:

Kenny is a staunchly neo-conservative, anti-progress, anti-worker defender of the status quo. He is an unrelenting apologist for the Liberal Party. He was one of Alexander Downer’s senior advisers at the time of the Iraq War. He’s been known to argue for stubborn, sightless inaction on climate change. He spits at anyone concerned with such trivialities as gender equality, environmental issues or labour rights from his Twitter account on a daily basis. Recently, he characterised criticism of the lack of women in Tony Abbott’s Cabinet as a continuation of the Left’s ‘gender wars’. He is a regular and fervent participant in The Australian’s numerous ongoing bully campaigns against those who question its editorial practices and ideological biases. The profoundly irresponsible, dishonest, hate-filled anti-multiculturalist Andrew Bolt has recently referred to Kenny on his blog as ‘a friend’.

Kenny is a former Liberal staffer and, according to Mark Latham, (and Wikipedia) a failed candidate for Liberal pre-selection in South Australia. He also used to work for the ABC and is proof of its left-wing bias in action. It’s no secret that there’s a revolving door between journalism and politics. Reporters often jump back and forth between the newsroom and the politician’s staffroom and some even make it into Parliament. Kenny is treading a well worn path here.

Legend has it that Tony Abbott was once a journalist, or at least a “leader writer” at The Bulletin and other journalists have been electorally elevated to the position of  PM in the past. I am not complaining about people who make these moves, but it does indicate that there is a certain cross-over and shared sense of privilege between journalists and politicians.

It’s clear that the Abbott regime intends to bring these two groups even closer together and that he wants to keep this gang of trained attack dogs inside the tent pissing out, rather than pissing on his tent.

Perhaps keeping these tame flacks happy not a difficult job when your chief of staff moves effortlessly  in the same rarified and privileged social circles as high-flying politicians like Liberal Party boss Brian Loughnane, Peter Costello, Alexander Downer, Janet Albrechtsen and her partner, former Liberal Party headkicker Michael Kroger. It’s good to see that these folk can keep it all in the family.

Dog-whistler-in-chief, Andrew Bolt is also comfortable in these circles, there’s a few square kilometres in Toorak that is home to quite a few of his close friends and confidants. Abbott has early-on in his reign signaled his fondness for Bolt by granting him an exclusive interview (only the second since taking office a little over six weeks ago).

Writing in The Guardian, Katherine Murphy was keen to be seen to be fair to Abbott in relation to the interview with Bolt and she points out that on privatising the ABC and the recognition of indigenous Australians in the constitution, Abbott did not concede ground to the more gung-ho Bolt.

Bolt and Abbott may not (in public at least) see eye-to-eye. After all, the PM has to at least be seen to be governing for the whole country, not just his favoured few in medialand. If the PM were to concede that Bolt is right on all issues, it would give the game away. Abbott’s credibility demands that he been seen to be disagreeing (even slightly) with Bolt.

However, I am not so sure that this is the Prime Minster’s true face on display here.

There is no doubt in my mind that Abbott would love to privatise or close down the ABC, but he knows it would be a long and expensive political fight and one that might split the conservative coalition down the middle. I also don’t think that Abbott’s heart (while on his sleeve) is really in favour of greater respect, autonomy and funding for the cause of Aboriginal sovereignty.

Changing the constitution is an easy one for Abbott to champion — much like Malcolm Turnbull’s treacherous double game on the republic issue — but he has an easy out; he can simply shrug his shoulders when the referendum fails.

On the essentials there is no gap between Bolt and Abbott, as this exchange on bush fires and climate change shows.

AB: I’ve been struck by the insanity of the reaction in the media and outside, particularly linking the fires to global warming and blaming you for making them worse potentially by scrapping the carbon tax.

PM: I suppose, you might say, that they are desperate to find anything that they think might pass as ammunition for their cause, but this idea that every time we have a fire or a flood it proves that climate change is real is bizarre, ’cause since the earliest days of European settlement in Australia, we’ve had fires and floods, and we’ve had worse fires and worse floods in the past than the ones we are currently experiencing. And the thing is that at some point in the future, every record will be broken, but that doesn’t prove anything about climate change. It just proves that the longer the period of time, the more possibility of extreme events … The one in 500 year flood is always a bigger flood than the one in 100 year flood.

AB: The ABC, though, has run on almost every current affairs show an almost constant barrage of stuff linking climate change to these fires.

PM: That is complete hogwash.

AB: It is time to really question the bias of the ABC?
[Note the redundant question mark here, it was really Bolt telling Abbott that IT IS TIME to move on the ABC, EM]

PM: But people are always questioning the “bias” of the ABC.

AB: Yes, but you’re the bloke that is handing over $1.1 billion a year to the ABC to continue a bias that’s against their charter.

PM: If we were starting from scratch we may not have the media landscape that we do, but we’re not starting from scratch … The ABC is an important part of a pluralistic media landscape, and I’m not going to complain about it, Andrew. I will do what I can to ensure the ABC is well managed, has got a good board, a strong board, and …

AB: But would you agree that the bias of the ABC, as observed even by former ABC chairman Maurice Newman, is in breach of its charter?

PM: I would say that there tends to be an ABC view of the world, and it’s not a view of the world that I find myself in total sympathy with. But, others would say that there’s a News Limited view of the world.

AB: Taxpayers don’t pay News Limited.

PM: But I’m a conservative, I’m a traditionalist. I’m not persuaded that we need radical change here.

The exchange continues and Bolt slips in a question about the ABC stealing an audience from Fairfax, but hypocritically he doesn’t mention the loud complaints from his own boss on the subject.

AB: Does it disturb you that the ABC is venturing into new areas like the internet, in direct competition with Fairfax in particular, offering the same audience the same product for free?

PM: If the ABC were to come to us, this government, seeking more money to do things that took it into competition with the private sector, we’d say no.

Geez, Andrew, the ABC meddling with “new areas like the internet”; thanks for letting us know about this, it’s been nearly 20 years since we had the Internet and I had no idea the ABC was faffing around there rather than just being on the wireless. Can you spell “troglodyte”?

I don’t share Katherine Murphy’s sanguine analysis of Abbott’s  answers on the ABC. To me it is a signal that the ABC is going to be cut and cut hard the next time there’s a review of its budgets.

Abbott’s party for the faithful was more than just a way for the PM to say “thanks” to his loyal media lieutenants, it is also a way of keeping them close and, I am sure, that over a beer and snag sanga there was more than a little talk of “What next?”

The “conservative” and “traditionalist” Abbott has found a loyal Greek chorus that can stay on the songsheet and that is more than delighted to sing backing vocals while Australia burns. They are all, caps in  oleaginous hands, “glad to be of service”, I’m sure.

Sorry, that last link is to Wikpedia, but I’d rather get my news from there than from this bunch of second-rate apple-polishers.

The final question, which I hope some enterprising journo is pursuing: Who paid for this little gathering?

Was Andrew Bolt flown to Sydney in a VIP jet? Did other guests from out-of-town pay their own way? Were they ensconced in a nice harbourside hotel for the weekend and how much did the party cost?

The coalition has already proven itself to be a very snouts-in-the-trough government that is prepared to live high on the hog.

These well upholstered snouts may well be truffling in taxpayers’ pockets.

Just another example of their sense of privilege and hypocrisy. All of them are free-market warriors who despise (or pretend to) extravagant wastage and frivolous government spending, but not, it might seem, where personal gain and a chance to schmooze with the big boys meets prime ministerial hospitality.

Fuck’em all,  their pencil thin, Evian drinking, calorie counting, caffiene limiting, sodium sparing, nutrasweet sweetening, rear view mirror preening, carrot nibbling bunnies and the Range Rover they rode in on.

Fuck your big ol’ Sunday New York Times
Fuck the Wall Street Journal
And Newsweek
And the lot
Including Nation, Village Voice, Guardian and the rest
Stupid set of priviliged mutha fuckers
Think its fashionable to have an alternative view

And your idea of multiculturalism
Japanese restaurant on Monday,
Indian on Tuesday,
And on Wednesday, Caribbean,
Not too spicy please

And you can’t tell whether or not I’m joking, can you?
Dumb fuck.

Click the link, if you don’t know BFE you are about to be entertained.


Can cuddling up with the commercial media save the ABC from Abbott’s axe?

July 31, 2013

For fans of publicly funded broadcasting in Australia, Mark Scott’s speech to the American Chamber of Commerce in Australia last week had some good news elements, but is it enough to save the ABC?

According to Scott, the ABC is the nation’s most trusted institution; most of us are consuming ABC products and we like it a lot, despite its critics and naysayers.

However, for Friends of the ABC (FABC), Scott’s speech sent mixed signals about the national broadcaster’s future.

The Victorian spokesperson for FABC, Glenys Stradijot is “disappointed” that Scott appears to make an argument for the ABC in “purely commercial terms”, rather than emphasising the benefits of having a “truly independent” public broadcaster. It seems to “erode the very reason that the ABC exists” she says.

FABC-Conv-centre-25May13

Friends of the ABC picket the Victorian Liberal Party convention in May 2013 where a motion to privatise the ABC was due to be debated. The motion was not voted on after intervention by Tony #Abbocolypse Abbott

Read the rest of this entry »


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