The ABC is right to pursue the Snowden documents; The Australian is so predictable

Oh dear, the predictability and monotony of The Australian‘s whining about the ABC was taken to new heights this week on two fronts: firstly, the revelation that the national broadcaster has to pay market rates for its premier on-air talent and, secondly, feigned moral outrage that the ABC would cover the very newsworthy disclosure that the Defence Signals Directorate wanted to listen-in on the phone calls of the Indonesian President and his wife.

Any reasonably briefed chimpanzee would be able to write the coverage of these issues for the News Limited papers. There’s a template, a formula and a draw full of boilerplate copy that oozes vitriol, arsewipe and stinking double standards.

The template begins with the standard operating principles straight from the Rupert Murdoch playbook:

  1. publicly-funded media is a bad idea because it interferes with the rights of privately-funded media to maintain a stranglehold on public information and a monopoly over the contents of our wallets
  2. the term “national interest” shall be used as code when talking about the interests of Rupert Murdoch, his associates in business and his friends in politics.

The formula is: two-parts ABC-bashing; three-parts washed up but loyal old farts to agree that ABC-bashing is the right thing to do; a smidgen of dissembling and half-truth; a pinch of dogma and lashings of indignation, fuelled by hubris and holier-than-thou, my-shit-don’t-stink egomania and season the whole mess of pottage with TOTAL AND UNCRITICAL support for the Abbott government.

The boilerplate copy comes in standard sizes and can be deployed in several contexts as this week’s defence of Tony Abbott over spying allegations/attack on the “Left” for always being wrong/periodic ABC-bashing joint exercise demonstrates:

“For the WikiLeaks brigade and Edward Snowden fans, ‘eternal vigilance is the price of liberty’ is no doubt a hackneyed old expression…what their simplistic approach forgets is that democracy is a complex balancing act.”
[Security never black and white, despite what whistleblowers think]

“Former ABC board member Keith Windschuttle, has backed calls for a review of the ABC’s $233 million Australia Network contract”
[ABC working against spirit of contract: Windschuttle]

This second boilerplate then includes the quotes you want and know you’ll get from such a reliable source:

“By publicising illegally obtained information that patently works against Australian interests in the region, the ABC appears to have abrogated its claim to be acting in the spirit of its original submission,” he said.
“If the ABC did not have the Australia Network contract, then it could have treated the Snowden leaks like any independent news organisation and publicised them, whether or not this was in Australia’s national interests or the public interest.”

If one such expert is not enough, then call in reinforcements, as in this comment from a former Airforce intelligence officer who is now an “adjunct” appointment (ie, in an honorary capacity) at Edith Cowan University. This is handy because it gives your expert unwarranted academic authority**:

Professor Biddington said the ABC had made a serious error of judgment and warned that the intelligence revelations could contribute to further tragedy on the high seas. “Indonesia has said it is no longer going to co-operate with Australia on people-smuggling. So the next boatload of asylum-seekers that sink and die could have been avoided or prevented.

“I don’t think the press here has acted in any way responsibly.”

Professor Biddington said the ABC had made a serious error of judgment and warned that the intelligence revelations could contribute to further tragedy on the high seas. “Indonesia has said it is no longer going to co-operate with Australia on people-smuggling. So the next boatload of asylum-seekers that sink and die could have been avoided or prevented.

“I don’t think the press here has acted in any way responsibly.”

– See more at:

Professor Mr Biddington has expertise in outer-space and giant telescopes, but there is nothing in his CV that makes him any more competent to talk about the ABC and press responsibility than say, Oh, I don’t know, Alan fucking Jones for example. And if you need even more juice, then add another “independent” expert to the mix. In this case, Mr Peter Jennings, tacked onto the bottom of Joe Kelly’s piece:

Australian Strategic Policy Institute executive director Peter Jennings said yesterday he believed the Snowden leaks were “very definitely not in the public interest”. “Leaking of the type Mr Snowden has apparently engaged in endangers US and allied national security and is both illegal and dishonourable,” he said.

That really is all you need, don’t worry about such niceties as balance, perhaps seeking a comment from the ABC or someone who would support the national broadcaster or its work on the Snowden documents.

And there’s no need to disclose any information about your sources either. If you say that Peter Jennings is from the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, that’s all the punters need to know.

“Mr Jennings, from the Institute? Ah yes, a lovely man. He knows what he’s talking about.”

Of course he does, the ASPI was established in 2001, during the third term of the Howard government, with funding from the Department of Defence. You also don’t need to know that Peter Jennings was an adviser in Howard’s office during the crucial years 2002-2003 when the invasion of Afghanistan was well under way and the invasion of Iraq (on false pretences) was being prepared.

But, the Institute is independent these days, isn’t it? Of course it is; only a little bit of its funding comes from the Department of Defence.  The majority of its funding now comes from corporate “partners”, many of whom know a thing or two about the defence business and who are all too willing to get behind the staunch views of independent experts like Mr Jennings.

Who are these corporate good-guys? Well, I’m sure they’re names you are familiar with.

The ASPI's corporate partners are familiar names in the war games

The ASPI’s corporate partners are familiar names in the war games

It really is that easy to cut and paste a “news” item for The Australian these days. Pick a nice soft target, one high on the proprietor’s hit-list and swing away. As we always say: “Don’t let the facts get in the way of a good story.”

Of course, there’s many ways to skin the ABC cat and another technique got an outing in Saturday’s Weekend Australian too. It’s the one thing about Christ Mitchell that I like; you can always rely on him to flog a dead horse. The Australian‘s editor-in-chief, chief propagandist is handsomely paid to be dedicated to the cause.  The cause de jour is, of course, putting the boot into the publicly-funded anything; even better if the corpse you’re kicking is a public broadcaster Enemy Number 1.

The formula doesn’t change much, in fact, for a story like this, it gets even better; all you have to do is interview the keyboard. No need for messy interviews with real people or comments from the corpse. That’s not the point!

The point is to fuel public anger about how TAXPAYER’S MONEY IS MISSPENT (in a faux, dog-whistle way), cover the corpse in bruises and then smear as much shit as possible over the decaying remains. You see, a shit-covered corpse doesn’t qualify for a right of reply.

Here’s how it works:

Open with a statement of opinion that looks like fact because you write it to read that way.

THE ABC has become increasingly centralised during the past five years, spending 33 per cent more on wages at its Ultimo headquarters in inner Sydney last year than in 2007.
[It’s your ABC, if you live in Sydney]

No need for a comment from the ABC on this story — the data speaks for itself. Any explanation that might be offered, or savings made by centralising operations in Ultimo are ignored. Note that there’s also no mention of Melbourne in the story. This is interesting because there’s a large, centralised staff and technical operation at Southbank. Perhaps adding in those figures would not have suited the purpose of the story.

What is the purpose of the story? Well obviously it’s to inform the public about just how wasteful and extravagant the ABC is, particularly in the salaries it pays to on-air talent. And why is this in The Weekend Australian?

Call me a cynic, but I can only think of one reason: a few days earlier the real bomb was detonated with a leaked ABC memo showing that several ABC on-air “stars” earn in excess of $200,000 a year. If the paper can keep adding fuel to the smouldering embers it is a win-win. It keeps the ABC stink story close to the top of the news agenda list of ideological priorities and it fills space cheaply.

Obviously two lessons can be learned from this.

The first is that none of these so-called ABC stars are worth anywhere near as much as they get because they are all Greens-voting, warmist, leftist, same-sex marriage supporters who couldn’t get a job outside of the ABC’s sheltered workshop. The second is that this is ANOTHER MISAPPROPRIATION OF TAXPAYERS’ MONEY.

There’s nothing dull or subtle about the news pages of The Australian and its stablemates in shame. It’s ideological editorial consistency is to be admired. It’s really only a pity that the sting was taken out of this EXCLUSIVE story when everyone else started to point out that salaries paid at the ABC are a fraction of what similar stars (often with less personality and less talent) are able to earn in the commercial media. One example will suffice; apparently the vile, misogynist and preternaturally rude Kyle Sandilands earns in excess of $2 million a year; enough as one Fairfax outlet** pointed out, to pay for nine ABC presenters.

A good angle on this story might have been to make the comparison between salaries paid at the ABC and at commercial media and then perhaps The Australian would have been able to use the headline:

Value for money in ABC salary caps

Yeah, sorry, I was a bit carried away there, and a little too enthusiastic to think that accuracy, balance and fairness were principles that animate anyone inside the News Limited bunker.

If we only consider the news pages of the national newspaper we might think that it does a good job of staying on mission and delivering mortal blows to the ENEMIES OF FREEDOM everywhere (including at the ABC). However, to understand the true majesty of the power and the glory of The Weekend Australian, we have to look at the features and opinion pages inside the Inquirer section.

It is in Inquirer that the heavy lifting is done.

The Inquirer — a happy nest of copycats and groupthinkers

I continue to shake my head in disbelief; even I didn’t think that the cabal of senior writers who populate the opinion pages of the Weekend Australian could kibbutz as effectively as they do on each other’s stories.

“What, they don’t kibbutz? You’re right, I’m sorry.”

I stand corrected; they don’t collaborate, each of their incredibly fine, free-thinking minds acts independently of the other brains in the hive mind editorial conference and the fact that all of them reach the same conclusion at the same time is a result of their RIGHT THINKING and is not a conspiracy, or an editorial decision to run the Murdoch/Mitchell line again, and again, and again.

I’ve already drawn your attention to the piece by Christian Kerr,  on why spying and democracy are compatible. It is a masterpiece of the genre and  opens with this conundrum of commonsense:

Democracy is a delicate balancing act not designed to be shared with the public on every occasion

WTF Mr Kerr? I’m sure you’re a political science graduate or something and presumably you are able to read as well as write. But, where are you getting your ideas from.

[added 25 November, because I can]

All I can suggest Christian is that you watch this very informative YouTube clip that explains in short simple words and easy-to-follow dance steps exactly what democracy is all about.

I always thought that the whole point of democracy was that it should be shared, you know kind of “of the people, for the people, by the people”. If we don’t have the right to know what elected governments do in our names then what sort of half-baked democracy do we live in?

Is it like the shed some dodgy tradies built, they said “That’ll do, near enough is good enough,” and you handed over the cash?

Of course, perhaps because I am closer to the “WikiLeaks brigade and Edward Snowden fans” than I am to your brand of libertarian fantasy I don’t understand you. I am perhaps, as your colleague Chris Kenny likes to point out, one of the “kids” who needs to be disciplined now that “the adults are back in charge”.


Of course, in a democracy, the people formerly known as the audience can’t be trusted to get things right. That’s why we need guided democracy and wise sages ensconced in News Limited to show us the path to RIGHT THINKING.

Why do The Australian‘s senior writers all think this? I’m not an organisational psychologist, but I do think the editorial groupthink is worrying. Their view of us is warped by their own sense of self; because they think that the rest of us are venal, greedy individualist turkeys like they are. They do not realise that it is, in fact, they who have been selected for these particular personality traits and ethical standards because that is what is required to work for the world’s greatest media outlet — even if they do loudly proclaim this themselves.

But, let’s go back for a moment to Mr Christian Kerr.

The democratic state needs an intelligence apparatus to protect its democracy from threats from fundamentalists, absolutists and other enemies of liberty.

The Snowdens and Assanges consider this a menace–or a subject for mockery.

Chris Kenny brings in reinforcements

Chris Kenny brings in reinforcements

Bugger, I’ve peen pwned again, my very reaction to this authoritarian scare-mongering and strawman-igniting bullshit is exactly to mock Kerr’s honestly held opinion. I am the stooge that proves his point.

No need for him to actually debate my opinions, it is enough to write them off as being the same as the “Snowdens and Assanges”.

No room for philosophical nuance, or to point out that in theories of democracy there is no automatic alignment of  the “democratic state” with the people. In fact, as the English (1649 and 1688), American (1776) and French (1789) revolutions all demonstrated, with unfailing intent and accuracy, is that the gap between the State and the citizenry is such that sometimes the people themselves need to take matters into their own hands and overthrow the State.

Nothing in history or politics rules out this fate for any government today.

But what I failed to understand is that intelligence gathering (in other words spying) “assists with the delicate balancing act of democracy”.

I still don’t get it. In my view (which Kerr would say is warped by my Snowdenism) a global system of friendly democratic states (for example as Australia and Indonesia are said to be) would not need the NSA, Prism and all the other God-awful means of surveillance at its disposal. Democracy, by its very nature, makes such inter-state spying unnecessary.

Certainly in a democracy, routine, wholesale and highly-intrusive surveillance of citizens would not be necessary.

There are two lines in Kerr’s opinion piece that I can agree with:

Our governments attempt to manage and accommodate the competing claims of different interests.

It is a delicate task, and one rich in paradoxes.

Absolutely, I concur Mr Kerr, but you don’t have the insight to understand how true this statement really is. Paradox and flux are the stuff of social relations. As I’m sure a learned scribe such as you would know , flux and the unity of opposites were two of the first great insights in Greek philosophy, particularly the work of Heraclitus.

The different interests that compete within the modern nation state are basically economic classes — rich and poor / bosses and workers / bourgeois and proletarians — and the role of the government (the State and its apparatus of politics and policing) is to ensure that the wishes of the ruling class (including Mr Kerr’s boss) are held paramount.

You might scoff at my Marxism, but I am right and only one tiny but telling example is needed to prove it.

I can’t make an appointment to go and see Tony Abbott in Canberra, but the head of Westpac can. You want another example? OK

This week the government is going to appoint a new committee to advise it on Indigenous policy. There are four so-called “business leaders” on the committee and not one trade unionist. What special powers do business leaders have that gives them privilege in the political pecking order and puts them at the front of the queue when government appointments are being made? None what so fucking ever is the honest answer, but you will never read that deviant view in The Australian. Instead the nation’s newspaper pays homage to such elite figures and would lead us to believe that being rich, powerful and in “business” means that you are automatically smarter and therefore entitled to a seat at the policy table.

The real issue in all of this is that there is terrible confusion among most journalists and editors about two key terms: national interest and public interest. They are not the same thing as I’ve tried to indicate in my recent comments above.

The national interest is the interest of the Nation-State which is nothing more than the collective interest of those who run the nation for the benefit of the wealthy and powerful. For example, why is it in the national interest for taxpayers to subsidise the Australian car industry, but it is not in the national interest for the car industry to pay decent wages to its workers, who, after all, actually make up the nation.

But in the Boilerplate Daily you won’t find subtlety and nuance, everything is black and white; good versus evil and Right versus Wrong Left.

Examples from this weekend’s Australian are abundant; startling for their similarity in tone and phrasing rather than for the predictable consistency of content.

Let’s end with a little bit of fun. This game is easy to play, all you have to do is match the phrase with the source.

You have four choices, two editorials, and columns by Chris Kenny and Greg Sheridan [$$$].

The behaviour of traitorous anarchists such as Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden distributing bulk supplies of classified material to willing publishers in the media is a world away from investigative journalists probing suspect government activities and revealing confidential documents in order to expose malfeasance.

…we might expect an organisation with the charter obligations and public funding of the ABC to at least demonstrate a level of maturity in its reporting. Sadly, it has been entirely lacking.

If taxpayers are expected to fund ABC reporters in Jakarta and other world capitals, we must expect more than the mere parroting of public lines from politicians and activists. We can get that on Twitter.

…the Australian taxpayer will presumably pay to highlight and amplify these damaging leaks against our national security, as much as is humanly possible, through the $1.2 billion we annually give to the ABC, which apparently sees its mission in part as destroying the national relationship with Indonesia.

One of my favourite paragraphs in the whole deal is this one,

For several decades [Indonesia] was racked by internal conflict, with hundreds of thousands killed in a savage period in the mid-1960s.

This bland statement totally smooths over State-sanctioned mass murder by Suharto in Indonesia in a civil war against Sukarno’s left nationalist government. Of course the coup that brought Suharto to power, and the mass slaughter that followed, was sanctioned by Western intelligence agencies acting in the national interest of the day. The same agencies that The Australian‘s senior writers think are capable of leading us through the paradoxes of our own democracies.

…the criticism of Abbott’s handling of this matter is analytically flawed, if not ridiculous at two levels…The underlying idea behind much criticism of Abbott…is childish and idiotic.

Labor should, in the national interest and in its own interest, support the government in general terms and otherwise shut up. So far Abbott has handled this matter well.

Our spying helps our neighbours because our security interests overlap…Mr Abbott has been right to stand firm and respectfully above the fracas.

His response has been in stark contrast to what we have become used to over the past six years, when prime ministers have been constantly and immediately reactive the visceral and ill-informed opinions of Twitter and its love-media.

The blind disdain the Left hold for Mr Abbott has prompted it to try to turn this issue against him…the usual refrain from the green Left has been Australia ought to pry more vigorously into the affairs of our northern neighbour. Yet this week the same voices have been overcome by a sudden incuriosity about Jakarta politics. In Indonesian Bahasa such people would be called munafik. We will settle for the English: hypocrites.

This last statement is a classic case of fact-free opinion, mis-directing inference and outright nonsense. The Australian left has a long tradition of supporting independence movements in the Indonesian archipelago, including Indonesia’s own independence from Dutch colonialism at the end of World War Two. This does not mean that the left calls for more spying on Indonesia.

In fact, the opposite is true. We want to know how involved our security services were in the 1975 invasion of East Timor, which led to the murder of five Australian journalists (something that The Australian is curiously unconcerned about) and the ongoing involvement of our spy agencies in the suppression of legitimate and democratic calls for self-determination in West Papua, Acheh and other provinces.

However, for pure spleen and bile, this extract takes the cake:

The hypocrisy of many of the green Left’s arguments over the Indonesian spying allegations is matched only by the perfidy that characterises the involvement of the ABC…the implications of running the Australia Network have left the ABC looking like an expert in double-dealing.

Sky News Australia, an organisation with a small ownership link to the publisher of this newspaper.

The decision to team up with the left-leaning Guardian and broadcast details from stolen national security documents has done enormous damage to Australia’s interests.

The Australia Network means the ABC has a duty to foster the national interest in Asia. The Guardian and other commercial media have no such duty.

This is just wishful thinking on behalf of The Australian and I love the token disclosure about Sky News. It is disingenous dissembling that masks the hurt feelings at News Limited because they were not party to the Snowden materials. I have no doubt that, hand-wringing aside, if The Australian had got the story about spying on SBY it would have run in the paper.

The ABC is doing its job by putting the traitor public interest hero Snowden’s material before the public. That is the job of an independent and fearless media that understands the important distinction between the interests of the Nation State and the economic elites that run politics in our sham democracy and the interests of the vast majority of us — the people — to know, understand, criticise and direct the actions of our elected leaders.

Under the Abbott regime, we can not expect The Australian the Boilerplate Daily to take on this important fourth estate job. Quite clearly the executives and senior writers in charge at News Limited know their role today and it is not public interest journalism.

It is to parrot the official line, polish the turd, coat it in glitter and look the other way while the rest of us are overcome from the stench.

The real hypocrites are Kenny, Kerr, Sheridan and the leader writers who pump out this bullshit day after day.

Perhaps we should ask for a disclosure of their salaries too.

The Australian and its stablemates have become a giant echo chamber. Put something in the news pages, ramp it up through three or four op-ed pieces by in-house chimps, roll-out the boilerplate editorials and then give the whole lot to Andrew Bolt who will amplify the noise and distribute it to the loyal dribblejaws who populate the comments section of his so-called blog, which is really just a series of cut and paste filler pars lifted from elsewhere, peppered with Bolt’s “insight”.

** You have to be careful with academics. Only choose the tame ones, any professor who disagrees with the line is to be harried and hounded.

** They would, wouldn’t they? Typical warmist, green love-media tactics.

One Response to The ABC is right to pursue the Snowden documents; The Australian is so predictable

  1. Dr Mark Hayes says:

    Several additional points need mentioning, Ethical Martini.
    Some News Corp commentators alleged that the ABC and The Guardian had had the Indonesian spying material for quite some time and had been sitting on it, waiting for some opportune moment to drop it to cause maximum impact as well as grief for the Abbott Government. And that both outlets had been reckless in publishing this material.
    I thought ABC MD Mark Scott’s refutation of these, and related, criticisms at Senate Estimates on Tuesday, November 19, 2013, was effective and convincing, and I’d hardly expect as experienced a journalist as the ABC’s Michael Brissenden to charge recklessly into any story, let alone one with all the obvious implications as the Indonesian spying story.
    Of course, as Mr Scott outlined, the ABC applied its own stringent EdPols, plus had the story leaglled to within an inch of its life, and I have no doubt Mr Brissenden would have also sought Off the Record, deep background, advice from his own sources too.
    My informed guess would be that Mr Brissenden’s spook contacts would have said something like, “Oh, shit! We’d prefer you didn’t run this tale at all, but if you do, and we can’t stop you, leave out any operational names or details about who actually did the phone tapping and how it was actually done”. Pretty much. Which was precisely what Mr Brissenden, and The Guardian, did.
    It’s now emerged that the source of the ABC salary details was a staffer in the office of South Australian Family First MLC, Robert Brokenshire, who’d inadvertently gotten the ABC salary details as part of another FoI trawl on ABC staffing levels, and, on realizing he’d gotten Commercial in Confidence and confidential staff salary details by mistake, in October, 2012, ordered his staff specifically not to release or make use of this material. He apparently had thought the relevant e-mail or file(s) had been deleted.
    The Australian, of course, for its own purposes, had been chasing ABC salary details for quite some time, also using FoI, and had, quite properly, IMHO, been knocked back repeatedly by both the ABC and the Administrative Appeals Tribunal.
    So, with the Indonesian spying story building, and some commentators already howling for treason trials for ABC staff involved, a loyal and publically spirited staffer of a conservative MLC passes over exqusite information The Oz has been chasing for many months, giving The Oz and other News Corp commentators further ammunition for their attacks on the ABC for (a) existing, (b) getting taxpayer funding and actually paying its staff largely much less than commercial media executives and stars get, (c) not running advertising, (d) being Australia’s most credible and respected news and current affairs source, (e) getting, though an admittedly messy and aborted tender process, the $230 million or so DFAT Australia Network Television contract which Sky TV (partly owned by News Corp, publishers of The Australian) should have easily won, and (f) see points (a) – (e) repeated loudly in various ways.
    So who was sitting on a story – the ABC salary info – for over a year and then chose to leak that confidential, and out of date, information in a way and at a time calculated to cause maximum grief for whom?
    As Goldfinger once said to James Bond: “Once is happenstance. Twice is coincidence. Three times is enemy action”

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