Sleazy, nasty, dirty and wrong: Just another day at The Australian

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

Dear Nick,
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.

Cosy club behind a media watchdog

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.

Meg Simons becomes a ‘hot topic’ on The Oz Media pages

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 Leys 17 May

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.

Peter van Onselen, 18 May

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.

Chris Kenny 19 May

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.

Reporters reveal the role of journalism academics

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.


Ethical Martini

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.

Official biography of Professor van Onselen at the University of Western Australia

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.

11 Responses to Sleazy, nasty, dirty and wrong: Just another day at The Australian

  1. Well, no news here. It seems I won’t get my right of reply.

    However, I had a response from Nick Leys via Twitter @leysie.

    Of course, he doesn’t want to respond to the substantive issues, instead he reverts to the usual kind of abuse I get from trolls and dribblejaws.

    Because my Twitter handle is @ethicalmartini and this blog is called Ethical Martini [my name is Martin] – a nice and appropos pun, meant with good cheer and humour – well, you can guess the rest.

    Of course, I must be a drunkard prone to alcoholic rants.
    @leysie (his choice) responds

  2. Joshua says:

    Piss poor response, what a total git.

    [EM: I read this as ‘total git’ = @leysie, but I’m not entirely sure.]
    [A few hours later: see Joshua’s later comment. It is totally about @leysie (fist pump!)]

  3. Kenny & Simmons wrote dueling books about Hindmarsh Island drama back in last days of Keating govt

  4. John J says:

    Well, as if you would expect to get a sensible response from a Murdoch hack. The Australian has had good moments of journalism in the past, but it has just been an up-market scandal sheet for the last 10 years. And this rag is the only broadsheet newspaper easily available outside of NSW and Victoria. Thank God for the net.

  5. jane says:

    Is there actually a QUALIFIED journalist employed by that rag? If there are, the OO must have employed the bottom dwellers. At least The Melbourne Truth had a really good form guide.

    Keep sticking it to them. With luck, they’ll all be lined up at Centrelink before too much longer, along with the Parliamentary Liars Party. I wonder how poor old Liealot will pay his $700k mortgage, then?

  6. ivoburum says:

    As a TV presenter PVO’s probably had oodles of experience with ‘foundation’. Problem is that it all washes off pretty easily and when it does, your left with the tell tale signs – cracks, furrows and ruts – that mark him a News Corp man.

    [EM: “Bazinga!”]

  7. Norm says:

    News Ltd, especially the Herald Sun, were unrelenting in their criticism and pursuit of former Chief Commissioner of Victoria Police Christine Nixon in her 8 years in the job.

    Being male, at first glance Simon Overland looked like a more suitable replacement. That was until he criticised ‘The Australian’ for releasing information about an impending police raid on targets who were, or had links with, suspected terrorists. News Ltd appeared to take exception to the fact that he was more interested in integrity and professionalism than brand loyalty. Simon’s professional appointment was on borrowed time from that time onward. With victory for the LNP coalition in the state election, Simon’s time ran out.

    Carl Williams was a convicted drug dealer and murderer. In a bid to have his sentence reduced he was talking to police about the execution style murder of a couple. One half of that couple had knowledge of corrupt Victoria police officers involvement in a $1.3m drug rip off. The very same day that the Herald Sun reported on its front page that Carl was talking to police he was found in a pool of blood, bludgeoned to death, in his maximum security prison unit.

    What’s not to like about News Ltd and its rags like ‘The Australian’ and ‘The Herald Sun’?

    No stench here folks. Move on.

  8. Joshua says:

    Oh yeah, my response was directed at Leysie’s tweet. Your article is fantastic, really enjoyed it.

  9. Greg Treadwell says:

    I find it simply bizarre that journalists so often deem their own work beyond fair analysis and critique.

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