In recent days The Australian has launched a vitriolic and highly personal campaign against Margaret Simons the director of the Centre for Advanced Journalism at Melbourne University. The campaign is aimed at discrediting Meg and her colleagues (me included) who teach journalism and who are critical of some aspects of the Australian news media.
The Australian thinks that Margaret and others are part of some leftwing conspiracy. In other words, anyone with an opinion that editor-in-chief Chris Mitchell disagrees with is fair game for slander and professional assassination.
The premise for this nasty war against Margaret Simons and other journalism academics is that Meg is somehow in the wrong for not ‘disclosing’ that she was asked to provide a name to the Finkelstein review of someone who might make a useful research assistant for the inquiry. The undertone is that anyone critical of the current set up is naturally a Stalinist who wants to shut down the free press in Australia on behalf of the political class.
This is ridiculous and unsustainable, but it doesn’t stop the News Limited papers from barking on about it.
I am a defender of Margaret Simons, though I don’t know what ‘Advanced Journalism’ might be and Meg and I probably disagree on elements of both the Finkelstein inquiry and its value and on aspects of journalism education.
As is usual in such situations, The Australian has made no attempt to find an alternative viewpoint, instead over the past few days it has rolled out the usual suspects – convenient sources who have been used before and who are guaranteed to sing off the same hymnsheet as The Australian and who can be used as ‘useful idiots’ to promote its editorial line.
Shameful, sleazy, nasty and dirty. It is exactly what we have come to expect from this self-indulgent rag.
I have written an open letter to Nick Leys and other journalists at The Australian who are involved in this beat up. I am challenging them to offer a right of reply and indicating that I am willing to provide it at short notice so that it can be in Monday’s media section.
An open letter to Nick Leys & others at The Australian
I’m disappointed with the piece today by Christian Kerr, (additional reporting by you),
We now know academics favouring a new regulatory regime were brought into key roles in the inquiry.
Actually, you know nothing of the sort. Your paper has accused Margaret Simons of being a conspiracy theorist, but on this yarn you lot have out-conspiracied the Roswell crowd.
It is not unusual for government departments to discuss and recommend to ministers on the appointment of advisors and inquiry personnel. There’s nothing at all unusual in that.
But your motivation is not honest reporting, it is part of a political agenda you are running to shut down discussion and debate about the lack of transparency and accountability in the Australian media. You have built a monster out of spare parts and bullshit and now you want to chase it down.
Mate, this story is built on nothing but innuendo, supposition and anonymous comments describing journalism education as a ‘cabal’. It contains a hypothetical scenario from well-known conspiracy theorist, lunar explorer and conservative mouthpiece Gerard Henderson and another go for Tracy Winch, who hardly anyone’s ever heard of. Hardly worth the ink and paper, let alone the pixels.
Then suggesting that other journalism educators ‘went to ground’. I would hazard a guess that you didn’t try all that hard to find anyone.
You know I didn’t go to ground, but you made no attempt to seek a view from someone who is prepared to defend Margaret Simons. I was available and we were in contact via Twitter, you could have asked me for a response.
And the self-indulgence of quoting Chris Mitchell again. He’s your ed in chief and hardly neutral, his slander of Margaret and others is not worthy of some one in his position.
Hardly worth more than 4 out of 10 for journalism.
And the story itself is an absolute beat up.
You allege that there’s somehow a conflict of interest here because Margaret Simons made a submission to the Finkelstein review after being asked to recommend someone to work as an adviser. Hardly a hanging offence.
Margaret was asked to recommend someone, she recommended Denis Muller who seems (from the description in the piece today) to be eminently qualified.
Seriously, where’s the crime in this?
Sorry, but your continued attacks on journalism educators are wearing a bit thin,
How about a decent right of reply?
You’ve published four pieces on this non-story now and yet have not published one piece with an opposing point of view. You trotted out all the usual suspects with their predictable and safe (for the line you are running) opinions.
Questions have been raised about the involvement of Dr Simons and another journalism academic, Matthew Ricketson of the University of Canberra, in a government-commissioned media inquiry that ultimately recommended greater regulation of the media.
Nick, at this point you were the only one raising questions and you had to work really hard here to get anyone of substance to say anything really negative. Most of your sources admitted to not knowing much (if anything) about the circumstances surrounding your spurious allegation of conflict of interest and the others were ones you had lined up before to bash the Finkelstein inquiry.
You basically proved the point your critics were making: that your coverage of Finkelstein was misleading at best and grossly misleading at worst.
Then the pile on began. Columnist Peter van Onselen, who has become a professor of journalism without ever really being a journalist* (an inconvenient fact that you continue to ignore in your promotion of his wisdom) weighed in:
It is beyond self-evident that Margaret Simons should have disclosed that she recommended Denis Muller to work on the recent media inquiry.
How the fuck can anything be ‘beyond’ self-evident?
It is beyond tautology that The Australian would organise a gangbang like this. It is a time-honoured tactic at your newspaper. Whenever Chris Mitchell (editor in chief) gets a bee in his underpants the order comes down. Spare no expense, skewer [insert name of target here].
But the attacks on Margaret didn’t stop there, roll out Chris Kenny:
MARGARET Simons, in my experience, is more interested in conspiracy theories and political agendas than straightforward journalism.
Then, of course, the obligatory editorial written anonymously, but no doubt by one of the usual suspects who produced the bulk of the copy filed on this story.
This newspaper holds grave fears about the future of journalism education when people employed by universities to train graduates are of this ilk. Not only does Dr Simons support a reduction of media freedom she also styles herself as a crusader against anything that doesn’t measure up to her model of Left, liberal media. The universities need to seriously consider the debilitating contribution their journalism schools are making to public debate and to the skills-sets and open-mindedness of their students.
This is not only a grave slander against Margaret Simons personally. I know for a fact that she is a champion of press freedom, but it is an ominous sign that The Australian thinks it should be the arbiter of what constitutes a good journalism education.
This is is a dangerous idea for many reasons. Not least of which is that, contrary to the rabid ravings of The Australian, the news media does not do an effective job of self-regulation and it confuses the property right of newspaper ownership with the universal right of freedom of expression.
There is a self-serving circularity in its arguments.
Anyway, I am keen to offer your readers a different perspective to provide some balance to this “debate”, which at the moment is a witch-hunt.
I can do you a 1000 words by lunch time and not even break into a sweat, but I don’t think you would publish it.
Just like when I was attacked by all and sundry at News Ltd after my evidence to Finkelstein, instead of asking me about it, you all just implied I was part of some conspiracy hatched by Ricketson & co.
I can tell you right now, I am not their best friend by a long shot and I was as surprised as anyone to be first up at the Melbourne hearing.
I was there to talk about something completely different but was grilled for over an hour about freedom of speech and Andrew Bolt. I had no idea that was coming. Surely if it was a conspiracy and I was supposed to be part of it, I would have been warned so I could prepare my lines.
You were there Nick and didn’t even bother to ask me about it.
Despite having the published list of who would be called on that first day (clearly with my name at the top of the page) your paper ran with Robert Manne being ‘first up’, you were fucking wrong on that and just blindly ignored it.
Why? Because you didn’t have a fucking clue who I am. But then, lo and behold your colleagues ‘discover’ that I’m a certified commo and suddenly it was big news.
Mate, piss-poor journalism and dishonest.
I am director for the JEAA conference this year and I’d love you guys to come and be on a panel with someone from JEAA. The panel is ‘journalism education on the front page’.
And I want to write a reply to the stuff from the past few days, put that to your editor, you can have it for Monday’s media section. It would only be fair and balanced.
Note on Peter van Onselen
Author, academic and political commentator, Peter van Onselen has been appointed Foundation Professor in Journalism at The University of Western Australia.
He was an Associate Professor in Politics and Government at Edith Cowan University before becoming contributing editor at The Australian and a presenter at Sky News where he hosts its Sunday morning political program Australian Agenda. He has also appeared on television election panels covering state, federal and United States elections.
Being a commentator and hosting a chat show on Sky TV do not make one a journalist. I am not merely asserting this. One of the constant charges against journalism educators made in The Australian is that we lack experience, are too academic and couldn’t cut it in a newsroom. It appears that this criticism does not apply to the paper’s tame and in-house Professor of Journalism.
van Onselen got a PhD before ever setting foot in a newsroom. Not traditional, but no problem when his views conveniently coincide with Rupert’s.