Once more on groupthink: Repeat after me “We’re all individuals”

May 29, 2012

Accusations of bias and groupthink at the Australian Broadcasting Corporation are not new.
What is new is the intensity and ferocity of the attacks being mounted in the national broadsheet.
The Weekend Australian‘s double-barrel blast across the bows of the ABC is a good example. That it was followed up with an editorial is either overkill or hubris.

All this from a news organisation that in 2003 successfully resisted groupthink in its line on the Iraq invasion. Only 175 of Murdoch’s newspapers world-wide backed the invasion editorially. It would be churlish to mention that this was 100 per cent of his mastheads at the time.

The latest complaint about the ABC also throws into stark relief the lack of self-reflection within the national broadsheet.

The Australian has been at war with the ABC for many years and a quick search of the paper’s own database shows a remarkable tendency to launch broadsides at the ABC and its staff for perceived bias or alleged breaches of some unwritten code of balance.

(I’m not talking about breaches of the ABC’s editorial guidelines which are rare; but an unwritten code set by The Australian in a case of “Do as I say, not as I do”.)

A more cynical person might wonder if this is not just a little bit pots calling kettles.

“I know you are, but what am I?”

“Oho!’ said the pot to the kettle; “You are dirty and ugly and black! Sure no one would think you were metal, Except when you’re given a crack.”

“Not so! not so! kettle said to the pot; “‘Tis your own dirty image you see; For I am so clean -without blemish or blot- That your blackness is mirrored in me” [Wikipedia]

At the moment the fixation of the national broadsheet is focused on the Media Watch program and the ABC’s coverage of climate change.

Accusations of misreporting (deliberate or otherwise) have been flying between the two for weeks now and frankly, despite my intense interest, I find it hard to pick a winner.

It has become a “he said, she said” war of words that has seen both sides try to overwhelm their opponent with tactics of attrition and endless arcane paper trails involving emails, an exchange of unanswered questions and perhaps deliberate distortion of timelines and events.

At a more general level, it seems to me, the issue is really one of who do you believe. Read the rest of this entry »

More bad news for the Murdochs? Maybe Avaaz

May 18, 2012

Web activists Avaaz put Lachlan Murdoch’s media interests under the spotlight


Lachlan Murdoch’s familial and professional links with News Corporation – as well as Channel 10 and radio network DMG – are cause for concern for internet activists Avaaz.

The worldwide online activist group Avaaz, which claims over 14 million members and operations in 193 countries, has this week launched an Australian campaign against Lachlan Murdoch.

The group has written to the chair of the Australian Communication and Media Authority (ACMA), Chris Chapman, seeking an inquiry into Lachlan Murdoch’s links with News Limited, Channel 10 and radio networks DMG and Nova.

In an one-line email response to The Conversation, an ACMA spokesperson indicated that normal practice is not to comment on complaints.

According to Avaaz’s letter to ACMA, the group is alleging that Lachlan Murdoch could be in breach of the Broadcasting Services Act because he might be in a position of influence and control over three media companies that operate in the Sydney radio licence area.

Read the rest of this entry »

Rupert is safe from Australian regulators…for now

May 7, 2012

Australian media regulators would take an active interest in attempts by News Limited to increase its stake in Foxtel.

Problems facing media moguls Rupert and James Murdoch in the United Kingdom and the United States have yet to have an impact in Australia.

But if recent speculation is true that News Limited might be a buyer for James Packer’s 25% Foxtel stake, Murdoch could find himself in a forest of acronyms as various regulatory agencies – the Australian Consumer and Competition commission (ACCC), the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) and the Foreign Investment Review Board (FIRB) – take an active interest.

The continuing storm over the handling of the UK phone hacking scandal has seen a British parliamentary committee find Murdoch senior is not a fit and proper person to run a multinational media company.

The phone-hacking and police bribery scandal has led to more than 40 arrests in Britain and to a Sky news reporter admitting to hacking emails in pursuit of a story.

These revelations have also led to low-level investigations of News operations in the United States. In July last year, the FBI was reportedly opening an investigation of allegations that News reporters may have hacked the phones of victims of the 9/11 terrorist attack in New York and Washington DC.

There is no recent information to confirm that any investigation is on-going in the US. However, American politicians – always on the look out for a media opportunity – have signaled they are taking a keen interest in the British parliamentary report and the Leveson inquiry. A Washington DC ethics lobby group has also written to the US Federal Communications Commission seeking an inquiry into Murdoch’s control of the Fox network.

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) want the FCC to revoke Foxtel’s broadcasting licences. A US senator has also written to the chair of the Leveson inquiry seeking any information that might suggest American laws have been broken by News journalists.

Even is there is no illegality, Murdoch does face some problems in the US. Under American law, the finding that he is not a fit and proper person to run a business in the UK can be used to trigger an inquiry in the USA.

These ongoing worries are more than an embarrassment to the octogenarian patriarch; they are a debilitating overhang that could ultimately affect the fate of News Corporation – the parent company that manages the family’s global media business interests, including News Limited in Australia and News International in the UK. For example, BSkyB shares took a hit on UK markets after the email hacking story came to light. Read the rest of this entry »

Latest News disaster completes an “annus horribilis” for Rupert Murdoch

April 1, 2012

News all a-twitter over hacking allegations; Austar deal approved by shareholders

Reading this week’s media coverage of the NDS hacking and piracy allegations the first thing that springs to mind is that this continues an ‘Annus Horribilis’ for the Murdoch clan which began with News of the World in April 2011.

So far, the Australian Federal Police are saying they are waiting for a referral to launch an investigation into the continuing claims made in the Australian Financial Review that News Corp subsidiary NDS engaged in piracy and hacking in a bid to destabilise Australia’s pay TV industry, including Austar.

The AFR promoted the story on its website with links to an archive of 14,400 emails it claimed supported its allegations. The stories have suggested that News entity NDS encouraged hackers to spread code that allowed free downloads of competitor programs, which News has denied.

It comes as the BBC defended it’s current affair program Panorama against accusations by News Corporation that the program had “grossly misrepresented” it while airing an investigation into the computer hacking of British rival ONDigital.

The AFR says it is standing by its stories and sources, including over 14,400 leaked emails.

Yesterday Rupert Murdoch hit back on Twitter, saying the allegations are completely untrue and hinting that he might sue.

Murdoch’s tweet defence seemed a bit bizarre and the tweets that followed it became even more obscure. Perhaps there’s something to this, or maybe Mr Murdoch is showing his age and lack of social media savvy.

Here is the order in which Murdoch’s tweets appeared on Thursday afternoon Australian time:

In the space of 15 minutes Murdoch had moved from a plea for sympathy and understanding to issuing a cryptic war cry about freedom of thought and freedom of the market. He then attacked the Fairfax news media as a home for crazies.

It is no surprise that this provoked a backlash of tweeted derision against the 80 year-old. Many detractors pointed out that Murdoch has used his own media monopolies to gain and garner political favour and influence on four continents.

RT @AJLemP: @rupertmurdoch:‘Choice, freedom of thought and markets’. Says the man who profits from information control.

@rupertmurdoch Dude, just cause you seem ever so slightly paranoid today, does not mean, they are not out to get you. #Leveson #Kharma

If the allegations – that the News-owned NDS encouraged and promoted hackers and pirates to attack their Australian competitors – prove to be true, it could be the smoking gun that leads to the unravelling of the Murdoch brand in Australia.

That’s about the only certain thing we can say at moment, but it is worth observing that media inquiries into the allegations are uncovering some interesting links between the Murdoch empire and a whole platoon of retired senior military personnel and former spooks.

However, it is wise to be cautious here. There is no doubt these are serious allegations of potentially criminal behavior that will certainly attract police and regulator attention, but it is not directly linked to the UK phone-hacking scandal, nor to the News Limited newspapers in Australia.

This is a separate series of allegations about the pay TV operations that are at more than arms length from the daily management of The Australian, The Herald-Sun, The Telegraph, the Adelaide Advertiser and the Courier-Mail.

We should also remember that the alleged hacking and piracy happened more than a decade ago and such actions were not illegal under the Australian laws of the time. However, it is not a good look as Foxtel seeks to buy its competitor Austar.

News Limited and senior News Corp figures such as Chief Operating Officer Chase Carey have joined Murdoch in denouncing the allegations.

The company at the centre of the scandal, the UK-based NDS, has also issued strong denials. NDS is 49% owned by News Corporation and there has been speculation the piracy allegations could sour a deal under way to sell NDS to Cisco Systems for $5 billion.

Austar chief executive John Porter has also vigorously denied allegations in the AFR article, calling them “completely unjustified”. He’s been at the helm of Austar since 1995, so his views are worth noting.

On Friday, Austar shareholders voted to approve the $2.5 billion planned takeover of Austar by Foxtel (which is 25% owned by News Limited) even though the corporate regulator has yet to approve the deal. Foxtel has not been alleged to have been involved in hacking.

This story has a long way to go before it fully unwinds and there’s lots of loose ends, including questions about the role of several former Israeli, US and British spies with links to Mossad and a shadowy “black hat” hacking operation based in Haifa, Israel.

But does it, as some of the more extreme and vocal of News Corp’s critics suggest, indicate a mafia-like culture in senior management circles at News, where a disregard for the law and a “We won’t get caught” attitude stands in for the hubris and certainty of being part of the seemingly invincible empire of the Sun God?

We’ll have to wait and see, but the scandal has the potential to damage Murdoch financially.

On Thursday, News Limited’s share price fell 1.8% and closed at $19.12. On Friday it again finished slightly down, at $19.05.

Unfortunately for the News Corp family the allegations come on top of bad news in other share markets; the resignation of heir apparent James from News International as his role in the NOTW scandal came under scrutiny; ongoing allegations of criminal behaviour by News employees in the UK and calls for the British regulators to now examine this latest set of piracy claims.

The AFR’s investigation was linked to the BBC’s Panorama program so the allegations are likely to continue to get plenty of oxygen in Britain where BSkyB is also in merger talks with a pay TV rival. Murdoch could also be a victim of the relentless 24-hour news cycle he and Foxtel helped to create as this story begins to play in the US and other markets too.


This article was originally published at The Conversation.
Read the original article.

A new broom for News Limited and an interesting couple of days

November 10, 2011

The substantive text in this piece was published on 10 November 2011 on The Conversation. It was my first commission from them and I appreciate their creative commons approach to republishing. Eager readers will also know that I was involved in the Australian government’s media inquiry this week.

A transcript of my comments is apparently going to be made available, I will post it to EM when I can. I read through it yesterday to proof-read it. I think I did OK; but others will judge that. Speaking of which…

I have been attacked by the Daily Telegraph  twice and The Australian (several times) for being a Trotskyist, which they “revealed” (ha ha)and some how managed to make sound like I am deranged. How come they never attack libertarians for their views…and they are deranged!

I also made my cherry-busting appearance on Andrew Bolt’s blog. I did seek a right-of-reply by posting comments online to both places; but as of 6.18pm today, they have not been taken out of moderation. Unlike the 50-odd comments calling for me to be burned as a witch or sacked from my job.This is an interesting observation about the free speech fundamentalists. They bleat and moan and scream and shout about their own “rights” and then vilify those who dare critique them. But they will not extend common courtesy to their opponents.

In fact, there is no right of reply at News Limited as this lovely little ‘thank you notice’ makes very clear.

Contrast this with the pumelling I received on an anonymous blog, Bunyipitude written by someone who I only know as ‘the professor’ – it’s what he calls her/himself – after coming after me with both barrels he/she at least had the decency to post my response. The comment stream hasn’t been very complimentary, but I can take it. My only concern is that most posters there hide behind anonymity. It makes the whole experience surreal. They know who I am and can comb the interwebs for what they see as damning evidence of my perfidity, but I don’t know who they are. Then they get up set when I suggest they might be trolls.

On the other side of the ledger, I am grateful to News with nipples for a spirited defence of sanity. I note too that the author, Kim Powell is happy to identify herself. In fact she seems quite nice and I’d like to meet her. She is doing a PhD on online newsrooms so we’d have stuff to talk about.

Anyway, all I can say to my haters and detractors is: “The Devil made me do it.”

Read the rest of this entry »

Forward to the past! Warning Murdoch and Thatcher ahead: turbulence…take a sick bag

October 23, 2010

Bloody Rupert Bloody Murdoch! When is this old warhorse of conservatism, neo-liberalism and freemarket gluttony going to die? Not soon enough.

The sprightly 80-year-old has given another speech this week to celebrate the life and logics of his old friend and ideological soul mate Margaret Thatcher. Thatcher herself is not so well, she was unable to attend Murdoch’s speech or her 85th birthday the previous week.

That didn’t stop Murdoch from praising Thatcher in fulsome terms for saving the world from socialism in the 1980s.

It was that appreciation of individual aptitude and ability that made her so intolerant of the strictures of socialism. How quickly too many people have forgotten that she has not only changed Britain, but, along with Ronald Reagan, changed the world, much, much for the better. How many millions of lives have been improved by the lifting of the Iron Curtain and the collapse of the Berlin Wall?

Wow! Did Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan really do that?

Of course in the company that Murdoch keeps these creation myths are the stuff of life. He doesn’t have to believe it himself, nor do his hosts Lord Saatchi and the Centre for Policy Studies in London.

Murdoch just has to say it and his loyal minions – those who populate is media empire – will propogate the line without question, as they always do:

  1. The speech covered in The Australian and WSJ complete with video of the old bastard
  2. Murdoch at the World Media (capitalists) Summit, Beijing October 2009 – published in-full by  the Wall Street Journal and The Australian.
  3. Speech to the pro-Israeli “Anti-defamation League” October 14 2010 – praised by an editorial in the New York Sun.
  4. 2007 speech announcing News Corporation would be “carbon neutral by 2010 – published in-full in The Australian. [As an aside I can't help but wonder where the company is at with this. I suspect nowhere close and I bet Murdoch doesn't give a shit.]
  5. August 2009 James Murdoch speech damning the BBC for daring to have an online presence – published in-full in The Telegraph.

But, back to the present. Murdoch also knows that he speaks on behalf of the ruling class and he never misses an opportunity to rally the bourgeois to the flag of radical free market doctrine. Of course, the current British government is the political spawn of Thatcherism and she is no doubt proud that David Cameron is launching a full-scale assault on the British working class in the name of austerity and future prosperity.

Music to Murdoch’s villianous ears as he told the assembled Lords, the great and the good this week:

All of us in this room are united by a determination that Britain take the steps necessary to ensure the nation’s free and prosperous future. That is the challenge for politicians of all pedigrees and all parties.

This old goat revels in the thought that there might be a fight ahead. He was a staunch ally of Margaret Thatcher when she led the last Tory assault on the lives and income of British workers. But, you’d have to think that this time, given what we’ve already seen in Greece, Spain, Italy and France, that there may be some resistance to the new Thatcherism of Cameron and his Tory goon squad.

Sorry that you have had to endure all that. As an antidote to all that Murdoch doublespeak, here are a few lines from John Pilger that give a little perspective, if not much hope:

Britain is said to be approaching its Berlusconi moment. That is to say, if Rupert Murdoch wins control of Sky, he will command half the television and newspaper market and threaten what is known as public service broadcasting. Although the alarm is ringing, it is unlikely that any government will stop him while his court is packed with politicians of all parties.  [On the shoulders of tyrants]

Against this background, an editorial from Socialist Worker

George Osborne’s spending cuts are a declaration of brutal class war. The Tories deliberately set out to hammer down the living standards of workers and the poor in order to fatten profits and enrich the bankers and the bosses. Commentators sometimes say that the Tories’ plans are “as harsh as Margaret Thatcher’s government in the 1980s”.

They are not. They are far worse. They are much deeper than the vicious Conservatives attempted 30 years ago. That’s why there has to be a wave of serious resistance, or the Eton boys will trample on our class.

Murdoch himself never was an Eton boy, but he wanted to be. He is a brutal class warrior who knows which side he is on. He is also confident that his newspaper and other media assets will also back the Tories.

That is the real worry. And Murdoch is not only about setting the agenda through the signals his speech sends to editors and leader writers on his newspapers; like O’Brien in 1984, he knows the power of re-writing history in any battle for the present and the future:

[Margaret Thatcher] understood that a free society cannot thrive without its risk-takers and creative optimists and those willing to challenge conventional wisdom. And she recognized that the establishment can – and often should be – challenged. She also understood that the establishment wasn’t just the landed gentry, but institutions hungry for power at the expense of ordinary citizens.

What jibber-jabber. It was Thatcher’s friends – incuding Murdoch and Saatchi – who benefited from her wholesale assault on the institiutions of British life, starting with the unions, but extending to education, health and welfare. She was not mother Theresa, nor even Mary McKillop. Thatcher was a monster and Murdoch nurtured her.

And the liver-spotted megalomaniac is not shy about his own role in Thatcher’s success. He gloats about the battles of Wapping that all but destroyed the British media unions:

Many of the defining moments of my career have been in Britain. This includes fundamentally changing the newspaper industry in the 1980s – which has helped give us all the uniquely vigorous press we enjoy today.

Oh yes Rupert, that would be the vigorous press that you own that has recently being exposed as using illegal phone taps and spying to get stories. As Ian Taylor writes, there is a direct link between Wapping and the current lying scandal.

The full picture on News Group’s involvement in the hacking of mobile phones is still not clear, largely because the Metropolitan Police took the controversial decision not to inform the public figures whose phones had been targeted and the Crown Prosecution Service decided not to take News Group executives to court. Scotland Yard is likely to face questions about whether senior officers intervened to avoid alienating a powerful media group. [New Statesman]

But Murdoch doesn’t want to confront this issue. He bloviates on about the power of the free press and says he won’t tolerate “wrong-dooing”:

Our new world is one of modern mass communication, phone and text, without limit. Democracy will be from the bottom up, not from the top down. Even so, a free society requires an independent press: turbulent … enquiring … bustling … and free.
That’s why our journalism is hard-driving and questioning of authority. And so are our journalists. Often, I have cause to celebrate editorial endeavour. Occasionally, I have had cause for regret.

Let me be clear: We will vigorously pursue the truth – and we will not tolerate wrongdoing.

Bollocks to that Mr Murdoch///

[It's a beautiful day. I'm going to the markets and then whale-watching in the gulf. Analysis of the rest of Murdoch's speech can wait till I get back]

Dear Rupert, have you lost the plot? #paywalls

July 22, 2010

The Guardian is somewhat cheerily reporting this week that its arch-rival for British eyeballs, Murdoch’s The Times has suffered what appears to be a catastrophic drop in site traffic since ducking behind the paywall last month.

According to the Guardian‘s analysis (which you might discount on grounds of competitive one-upmanship)  traffic to the Times website has fallen as much as 90 per cent since the 15th of June this year.

The results also seem to confirm my analysis – soon to be published in News 2.0: Can journalism survive the Internet? – that the revenue streams from online subscriptions and daily paid visits are going to be a drop in the bucket compared to newspaper publishers’ overall income generating capacity:

There are approximately 150,000 Times print subscribers who get a free online registration, but if the estimated 15,000 daily online users who agreed to pay opt for the £2 a week deal, the paywall will generate £120,000 a month – £1.4m a year.

[Halliday, 20 July 2010]

That £1.4m a year is not going to cover the wages bill, let alone all the associated costs. It certainly is not a positive income stream.

I know that some commentators are suggesting that Rupert’s lost the plot – he is nearly 80 – and that the Internet has overtaken his usually sharp business brain because of its lightening speed; but I’m not so sure.

If you look at Murdoch’s strategy in New York, he has gone for a more traditional print-based newspaper war there; pitching the Wall Street Journal against the New York Times by upping its local coverage in a special section for the city that never sleeps.

To me this indicates a deeper game plan and a multiple strategy play that is yet to completely unfold. I’m not suggesting that Murdoch is going to be the ultimate winner here, but he is hedging his bets.

News International is also working on other aspects of the exclusivity of brand that the paywall might suggest. If you sign up and pay your 50 quid you get access to deals on executive travel, wine, books, etc. All aimed at the wealthier and older end of the scale. I’m shaking my head as I write this because not only is this approach nothing to do with the quality of the news on offer; but it also seems like a sinking lid strategy.

An older audience eventually gets smaller – it’s just the attrition of age and infirmity really. At the same time there’s nothing in the data to suggest that newspapers are generating interest in a younger audience – there is no long tail in this strategy.

The other clear observation is that no one has yet cracked the Holy Grail of the new business model for newspapers. It is obvious that in the short to medium term erecting a paywall means you take a hit; but it’s too soon to tell if there will be gains in the long run.

For readers, grazers and news surfers it means one less outlet, but in the crowded online market, the still-free alternatives are available to absorb the 90 per cent of Times‘ visitors who’ve given up on the once dominant masthead.

As one of my colleague remarked though, Times readers (at least those who have been loyal to the brand) tend to be conservative and may not like the more lefty tone of the Guardian or Independent.

It would be interesting to know where they’re going. Is it to The Sun, The Express or The Telegraph, or are they going off-shore for their news fix.

The next set of data on traffic, downloads and unique visitors to other news sites will be interesting, particularly if there’s a spike somewhere that might correlate with Rupert’s deserters.

I was on The Wire today discussing this issue.



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