EXCLUSIVE or ‘EXCUSIVE’? The Australian’s war against logic

January 12, 2014

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

EXCLUSIVE

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 [2013], 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

EXCLUSIVE

Christian Kerr

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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]


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.


Down the memory hole part 1: Repeat a lie long enough someone will believe it

July 25, 2012

The Armstrong Delusion

I’m not sure if you’ve noticed because they’ve been quite subtle, but whoever writes editorials for The Australian doesn’t like the idea that there should be some responsibility and accountability in the news media — particularly when it comes to News Limited papers.

I have collected more than a dozen editorials from The Australian that relate to media regulation, the Finkelstein and Convergence Review recommendations and the war on free speech that is currently crushing the news media. I have a pile of op-ed pieces 20 centimetres high and I’m slowly piecing together the story of the memory hole and the big lie.

It is impossible to include everything in one post because it is necessary to constantly check the facts. Big lies work through repetition and by relying on the assumption that no one will check the history and correct the record.

But I am working on a book about journalism ethics at the moment and a second one on freedom of speech so this is a research exercise. I am happy to share as I go along.

The memory hole is the device used in Orwell’s 1984. Winston Smith is obliged to correct (redact and edit) editions of The Times on behalf of the Inner Party. Whenever he corrects a piece of copy — usually because of some previous lie that now needs to be altered — the old story and all his working notes are sent to a furnace in the vast apparatus of the state. The offending materials are dispatched down the memory hole.

In the walls of the cubicle there were three orifices. To the right of the speakwrite, a small pneumatic tube for written messages, to the left, a larger one for newspapers; and in the side wall, within easy reach of Winston’s arm, a large oblong slit protected by a wire grating. This last was for the disposal of waste paper. Similar slits existed in thousands or tens of thousands throughout the building, not only in every room but at short intervals in every corridor. For some reason they were nicknamed memory holes. When one knew that any document was due for destruction, or even when one saw a scrap of waste paper lying about, it was an automatic action to lift the flap of the nearest memory hole and drop it in, whereupon it would be whirled away on a current of warm air to the enormous furnaces which were hidden somewhere in the recesses of the building.

George Orwell, 1984

The Australian and its free speech absolutist supporters are relying on the memory hole to erase any idea that there might be some value in media accountability and light touch regulation.

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An acceptable Press Council: We decide, you shut the f#ck up

July 11, 2012

The Australian Press Council has just announced five appointments to an advisory board that will help it review the APC standards and bring them up to speed with the digital reality of news publishing today.

Normally you might think this was good news, but not, it seems if you work for Chris Mitchell over at LimitedNews.

The panellists are all eminent in their respective fields, not folk I’d have round for a Gibson, but in their way decent, reliable and not prone to scaring the cats.

  • Hon. John Doyle AC (recently retired as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of South Australia)
  • Dr Ken Henry AC (formerly Secretary to the Australian Treasury; currently Executive Chair, ANU Institute of Public Policy)
  • Hon. Robert Hill AC (formerly Minister for Defence and Ambassador to the UN; currently Chancellor, University of Adelaide)
  • Mr Andrew Murray (formerly Australian Democrat Senator for WA; currently Chair, WA Regional Development Trust)
  • Ms Heather Ridout (formerly CEO, AiGroup; currently Board member, Reserve Bank of Australia).

Despite the credentialling and the vetting and the secret handshakes of these upstanding doyens of the establishment, The Australian‘s found sixty ways to Christmas to condemn, belittle and bemoan their appointment.

You may have trouble jumping over the firewall, though I understand their are ways around, under or through it (I pay for mine), so let me paraphrase and use a judicious amount of quotes – all of course legitimate in critical review and scholarship.

First a piece by Media diarist Nick @leysie Leys and the headline says it all in a loud, blaring voice:

Panellists have no editorial practice

A FORMER judge, a businesswoman, a former Treasury secretary and two former senators will be called on to advise the Australian Press Council on standards for journalists, despite none of them having any editorial experience.

Of the five appointments to the panel, none has any journalism experience and several have been on the receiving end of media scrutiny during their careers.

Well, there are not many people in public life who haven’t been subject to media scrutiny. But writing “on the receiving end of” makes it sound like they’ve repeatedly had some foreign object rammed up their bums — a bit like life in the Australian military it seems.

It taints them, subtle tarring and feathering – they must have done something wrong to be on the ‘receiving end’.

And of course, if you’ve ever been on the ‘receiving end’ of a late night call from a LimitedNews journalist with no agenda except to skewer the living beejesus out of you, then you would know how how it feels.

In fact, it could be argued that despite their lack of time in a functional newsroom (like many current LimitedNews hacks), their public lives and interactions with the media might make the famous five ideal and independent consultants for the important project of updating the Press Council’s standards, assessing their relevance and their relationship to the public interest.

In fact, nothing really remarkable as a media release from the Press Council points out:

Panel members’ advice will be provided on an informal basis.

The National Advisory Panel will be complemented by strengthening the Council’s other consultative processes. These include individual meetings with editors, regular Round Tables around Australia with media representatives and community leaders, and analysis of views expressed in the broader community. A number of senior journalists are also being invited to be general consultants to the Standards Project on an ongoing basis.

APC Update 9 July 2012

What sort of signal is that?

So you see, there will be input into the process from plenty of people with newsroom experience, no doubt some of them might even work for LimitedNews.

However, this reasonably balanced and low-key approach didn’t stop the increasingly erratic and unreadable Chris Merritt* from weighing in with another opinion piece.

There’s one thing you can say in favour of the senior headline writers at The Australian, they don’t fuck about; you’re never left guessing what the paper thinks:

They should stand aside if they want to help

Right, that’s clear then. So what did the great legal mind of one C Merritt make of this.

THE only way of making sense of the latest move by Julian Disney’s Press Council is to assume that its primary goal is political.

It looks like another move to distance his organisation from the media so it can be vested with coercive power.

Right now, the federal government is trying to decide whether the Press Council or some other body should be given statutory power over the media.

If the Press Council sees itself in that role, there is much to be gained by injecting more distance between the press and itself.

This helps explain why none of the five people who will have a role in reviewing the standards enforced by the council could be described as media authorities.

What?

“The only way of making sense…is to assume”

“It looks like…coercive powers”

Someone’s overdosing on the office kool aid.

What sort of signal does this send? If the rewritten standards bear the imprint of the panel’s advice, the enforcement of those standards could never be described as self-regulation.

The panel’s members must all be assumed to be people of good will. But if they really want to help, they should stand aside.

Their involvement, while well-intended, is presumptuous and counterproductive.

Recruiting such a panel for high-level policy advice on press standards makes as much sense as recruiting former newspaper editors to provide policy advice to federal Treasury.

What sort of signal does this send?

Well, let’s just assume that it’s loud and clear and follows the pattern established in a dozen editorials and countless op-ed pieces in The Australian over the last few months.

The signal is not too subtle and the signalers are wearing big dirty boots.

Just in case you can’t read the tea leaves, just assume I’m right. It goes like this:

Any attempt to impose any form of control, regulation, licencing, or pressure to behave in a nicer way to anyone who is in the way must be resisted at all costs and without fear or favour.

Opinion to the contrary must be stamped out, ignored, ridiculed and stamped out again.

We will not tolerate any opposition

Whatever you say will be taken down and used against you

Signals from the LimitedNews bunker are that not one foot-soldier will be spared in the war on media regulation.

It seems that Chris Merritt surrendered his sanity to the cause long ago.

There are plenty of news hacks who’s daily bread is predicated on giving advice to the federal Treasury on carbon pricing, which they consistently describe as a ‘tax’, on wages, which are consistently too high and on a myriad of other issues on which economics writers and newspaper editors feel qualified to have opinions.

So, quick corolary, why should lack of newsroom experience deny someone a say in the future shape of Press Council standards. Some might say it would actually be a good thing.

But will it satisfy Rupert?

As the leading figure in the Australian news media – the one with the most to lose – perhaps he should choose who gets to advise the news watchdog.

Seems only fair, so let’s help him decide.

Post your entries as a comment or email
ethicalmartiniATgmail.com

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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 »


Talking Points: The Australian’s cosy little club of groupthinkers

May 25, 2012

If you get to the bottom there is a topical easter egg surprise for loyal readers.

Over recent months many of my colleagues in the Journalism Education Association of Australia (JEAA) have attempted to get responses to The Australian’s attacks on us (over many months) published. We have had very little luck. One open letter that was sent from the association with more than 50 signatures was made available as a PDF from a deep recess of The Australian’s website,but not easily searchable and just last week I received this response from editor of Media Diary Nick Leys.

A right-of-reply @leysie style

Some of the attacks have centred on Dr Matthew Ricketson who was engaged to assist with the Independent Media Inquiry. The Australian‘s coverage of this issue has been appalling and one-sided, but when Matthew tried to defend himself he was not given space, instead Nick Leys cobbled together a piece from second-hand sources. It is what The Australian‘s editor-in-chief Chris Mitchell would call “four or five out of 10″ journalism.

Editor in chief of The Australian Chris Mitchell questions the journalistic credentials of those passing judgment on the industry. “Ricketson, Simons and their mate Andrew Dodd (Crikey contributor and Swinburne University of Technology journalism course convener) all worked for The Australian and you would give them barely a pass mark as journalists,” he says.

“Seriously. People who I would score four or five out of 10 are trying to determine the future of media regulation in Australia. Everyone in the business knows it is a self-serving joke and these people are dupes for Conroy.”

Chris Mitchell quoted approvingly and at length in his own newspaper. A cosy club Chris – you’re the patron

As the national association representing journalism educators and academics, you might think that the JEAA would be given some space to respond to criticisms and abuse hurled at us. For some reason, we are not considered worthy of space in the paper’s letters pages, let alone to write a column.

We have been accused of being a “cosy club” prone to  “groupthink” even though there are many disagreements among us. It is a puzzling charge and one that The Australian rejects when it is levelled against them.

It is puzzling because the op-ed pages of The Australian display a remarkable and consistent commitment to groupthink. Its columnists all sing off the same conservative songsheet with the libertarian soloists taking center stage all too often.

However, it might come as a surprise to readers of our national broadsheet that this same groupthink is also displayed in the letters pages.

For example, Mr Brenton Minge, of suburban Bulimba in Brisbane, must be one of the luckiest writers of letters to the editor in Australia. A Google search shows up a Brenton Minge who it seems has a  bent for letter writing, particularly on topics of religion, science and the “Leftist” ABC.  Maybe this is why he so popular with The Australian‘s letters editor.

Mr Minge has had nine letters published in The Australian’s Talking Points column since May 2011, for a total of around 1400 words. He is not the only one.

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