On Disruption: An insider’s view of the collapse of journalism

July 19, 2018

Can journalism and the news industry survive the perfect storm of digital disruption? Dr Martin Hirst reviews Katharine Murphy’s essay On Disruption.

Katharine Murphy’s brief essay On Disruption lays out for the reader a useful insider’s view of how the news industry and journalism are struggling to cope with the changes wrought by digital technologies and collapsing business models.

If you have any interest in understanding how the news establishment sees itself, and its prospects for surviving the crisis of profitability and trust, it is worth reading this pamphlet.

At only 120 pages, it would be unfair to expect Katharine Murphy to provide fully-articulated solutions to the almost panic-inducing problems confronting the mainstream media. Having said that, On Disruption is an insight into how establishment journalists see themselves, their mission and the state of their industry.

The key theme that Murphy explores is that the internet and social media instituted a period of disruption that has unsettled the news media and left it in a state of uncertainty that persists today.

This is true enough, but my criticism stems from the technological determinism that frames her view:

‘… the boss has decreed this is the future, not because he or she necessarily wants it to be, but because it is the future, and we are powerless to argue with it.’

This is a classic trope of technological determinism: the belief that technological change is the root cause of everything. In this case, it is the pessimistic, and ultimately passive, view that the future is somehow pre-ordained by the technology and that we are “powerless” to shape the future for ourselves.

Inevitably, Murphy argues, journalists must adapt to the new ways, rather than challenge them. The second telling point about the quote I’ve used here is the reference to “the boss”. This metaphorical figure is present in a long anecdotal metaphor that Murphy uses to explain how disruption has affected the news industry.

The analogy involves substituting the car industry for journalism. In the analogy, the reader is asked to imagine themselves as a worker in a car factory that is confronting technological change. Okay, it’s only a metaphor, so perhaps not be taken literally, but it is a key section of the first half of Murphy’s argument, so it is worth deconstructing.

Murphy begins by suggesting that the car analogy is ‘possibly psychic penance on my part’ for her previous work on ‘structural adjustment’, which emphasised ‘disruption as an economic homily’ while ignoring ‘the human dimension of the story’. As Murphy acknowledges, when there is personal interest involved, the human dimension suddenly becomes very real.

The take-away from this is that the structural adjustment process now being applied to journalism is a necessary corrective brought about by digital disruption. Read the rest of this entry »

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​Canberra Press Gallery black bans Nauru forum coverage (except for News Corp)

July 18, 2018

The Canberra Press Gallery has announced its members will boycott the Pacific Islands Forum in solidarity with banned ABC journalists. Political editor Dr Martin Hirst says this is an historic decision by the Gallery.

The Republic of Nauru — pretty much all of it (Image by Tatters via Flickr)

THE CANBERRA PRESS GALLERY has announced its members will boycott the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) in September in an act of solidarity with ABC journalists refused a visa by the Nauruan Government.

I’m very pleased about this. You could say it’s something for Gallery members to be proud of, but my only fear is that news organisations will find a work-around to make sure some reporters can break the black ban.

It’s not a surprise that the pro-Nauru, pro-gulag Newscorp papers have announced they will be sending a team.

In a strong statement, Press Gallery President, <a

The Nauru Government’s decision to block an ABC journalist from joining a media pool to cover the Pacific Islands’ Forum has been widely condemned by media rights organisations and by the journalists’ union, the MEAA. But it seems that, for some, it is difficult to condemn something that they secretly condone and would love to do themselves. It seems that, for some political leaders, free speech is great — but not for the ABC and not in Nauru Yes, I’m talking about the Prime Minister. All that Malcolm Turnbull could muster is that the decision is “regrettable”, but that it “must be respected”. In other words, I love freedom of the press, but not for the ABC and not in relation to Nauru.

If you watch the clip you can see that Turnbull is very uncomfortable with the words coming out of his mouth. His vocal cues show that he is insincere and suggest that he’s really delighted with the actions of the Nauru Government.

Clearly, you know, we…

We regret…

It’ll be regrettable if the ABC is not there. We’d love to have you there with us…

But we have to remember and respect Nauru’s sovereignty.

It is up to Nauru who cones into their country just as it is up to our Government – my Government – as to who comes into Australia.

And that’s the nub of it really. Turnbull is powerless to say or do anything against Nauru because his Government is totally dependent on the Pacific island nation as an offshore gulag in which to imprison women, children, and men who are refugees and who – according to international law and human rights convention – should be allowed to enter Australia.

Of course, we all know that Australia’s inhumane and potentially illegal incarceration of legitimate asylum-seekers is at the heart of the Nauru Government’s visceral hatred of the ABC.

Unlike the compliant Murdoch hacks who’ve been given access to Australia’s prison camps on Nauru, the ABC has covered the refugee issue and other human rights abuses by the Nauru Government accurately.

Which, of course, leads to the Nauruan accusations of “fake news” against the ABC.
Free press, but not you, or you, or you Read the rest of this entry »


Malcolm Turnbull’s protection racket for incompetent Ministers and MPs

May 4, 2018

There was a time where prime ministers insisted that their cabinet colleagues, junior ministers and backbenchers met certain standards of behaviour but today, the Ministerial Codes of Conduct are not worth the paper they’re printed on. Political editor Dr Martin Hirst explains.

First published on Independent Australia.

Cartoon by Mark David / @mdavidcartoons.

YOU COULD SAY this is a fable — a tale of two Malcolms.

Malcolm Fraser – the former Liberal Prime Minister who is reviled on the left for his role in former PM Gough Whitlam’s dismissal – was a saint and a man of great virtue compared to his namesake, Malcolm Turnbull.

Malcolm Fraser sacked two cabinet ministers in 1982 for bringing a colour television into Australia, but declaring it was black and white to avoid customs duty, Michael MacKellar was sacked for this relatively minor offence and Customs Minister John Moore was dismissed from his portfolio for his poor handling of the whole issue. A few years earlier, then MP Andrew Peacock offered to resign because his wife appeared in a television commercial for Sheridan Sheets.

As an aside, 20 years ago, even the disgraced war criminal former PM John Howard had the decency to sack two ministers over a travel rort over the paltry sum of $9,000.

In contrast, today Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull is running a protection racket, not a government. His ministers break convention and hide their actions from public scrutiny, and sections of the backbench seem completely feral, but Fizza does nothing to rein them in.

Lucky for us, the glitter is washing off and the machinations of the protection racket are being forced to endure the cleansing sunlight of public scrutiny.

 

Let’s take a look at some of the recent outrages, in no particular order.

Michaelia Cash

Minister for Jobs and Innovation Michaelia Cash has been hiding from the media for several months, constantly dodging questions about her portfolio and the circumstances under which her office tipped off journalists about an AFP raid on the offices of the Australian Workers’ Union. Four of Cash’s staff have left her office under an unresolved cloud of suspicion in the wake of the scandal. Her office is also using the excuse of the AFP investigation of the leaks to stall Freedom of Information requests by journalists trying to uncover the truth.

Read the rest of this entry »


A Chinese base in Vanuatu, or another Fairfax beat up?

April 13, 2018

Should Australia be concerned about a rumoured Chinese military expansion in the Pacific? Or is it yet another distraction from the Government’s domestic problems? Political editor Dr Martin Hirst investigates.

First published on Independent Australia Wednesday 11 April

ON MONDAY this week. the Fairfax papers and websites ran an “exclusive” story with the alarming headline ‘China eyes Vanuatu military base in plan with global ramifications‘ — but is the story accurate? The lead par was an insistent and alarming allegation that China was planning a naval base in Vanuatu,

‘… that could see the rising superpower sail warships on Australia’s doorstep.’

However, in typical fashion – that we’ve come to expect from mainstream journalists covering the “security” round – the next two pars walked back the suggestion and sourced it to “senior security officials” in Canberra. In other words, the reporter, David Wroe, had been given a “drop” a background briefing by an Australian spook, because the Government wanted to float the idea and get a reaction.

‘While no formal proposals have been put to Vanuatu’s government, senior security officials believe Beijing’s plans could culminate in a full military base.’

The tell that this was a planted story is in the lack of detail and the vague sourcing:

‘The prospect of a Chinese military outpost so close to Australia has been discussed at the highest levels in Canberra and Washington.’

The Vanuatu Government was quick to issue denials and even labelled the Fairfax reports as “fake news”.

Vanuatu’s Foreign Minister Ralph Regenvanu said rumours of discussions with China over a military base were false.

We are a non-aligned country. We are not interested in militarisation, we are just not interested in any sort of military base in our country,” Mr Regenvanu told the ABC.

However, David Wroe’s story still had the effect desired by the Australian “security officials” who briefed him. Within hours, PM Turnbull was able to front the media to express Australia’s concern at the – still unproven – rumours.

We would view with great concern the establishment of any foreign military bases in those Pacific Island countries and neighbours of ours,” Turnbull bloviated.

This is an interesting position and an even more puzzling definition of “foreign”. The United States operates more than 20 military bases across the Pacific – from Hawaii to Japan and many ports in between – so why isn’t this alarming to our Prime Minister?

And this is what is really ironic and cynical about Turnbull’s concern: there is – as yet – no Chinese military base in Vanuatu, yet the United States operates permanent military bases throughout the Pacific, including in Australia, Japan (21 bases), Guam and South Korea. Read the rest of this entry »


Malcolm Turnbull 30 days on #Newspoll death row

April 9, 2018

Malcolm Turnbull’s leadership is safe for now. However, as political editor Dr Martin Hirst reports, he is forever stained by his 30th Newspoll loss in a row.

Published on Independent Australia

MALCOLM TURNBULL increasingly looks like a very worried man.

It’s not surprising really; last weekend he was at an AFL game in Sydney and when his face was projected onto the big screen, the crowd let out a mighty roar.

Well, it was a sustained booing noise really and the Fizza looked very, very uncomfortable.

Today he is looking – and no doubt feeling – a lot more uncomfortable. It’s easy enough to shrug off a few, perhaps light-hearted boos at the footy; it’s a lot harder to ignore your 30th Newspoll loss in a row. Hard indeed, when your initial claim to the prime ministership was that your hapless predecessor had reached that magic number. But that is indeed the precarious position that Malcolm Turnbull finds himself in this week.

This week, Turnbull closed the gap a little on Shorten, but really only within the statistical margin of error. The ALP still holds a four-point lead – 52-48 – over the COALition. The shift in Turnbull’s favour is not enough to overcome the ALP’s substantial two-party preferred lead over the COALition.

He’s safe for now. But, not, perhaps, for much longer. According to reported comments, the main leadership contenders –Peter Dutton and Julie Bishop – have spent the last few days pledging their loyalty.

And we all know what that means … the leadership speculation will continue and so will the internal plotting against Turnbull.

Now, he’s also facing the difficulty of having a formal faction of backbenchers – the so-called Monash Group – who will be meeting regularly to agitate against the Government’s coal and energy policies. It’s not difficult to believe they’ll also be discussing Malcolm’s failures of leadership too.

Je ne regret, rein?

In late 2015 Malcolm Turnbull cited then Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s 30 Newspoll losses in a row as one of the reasons he launched his challenge. Now he is rueing the day. In the lead up to his 24th consecutive loss in the poll numbers, Turnbull was widely quoted as saying he regretted making the 30-loss issue so prominent.

“I do regret having said it,” Turnbull admitted today during a live internet radio interview with News Corp columnist Miranda Devine:

“Only because it allowed people to focus on that, rather than the substantive reasons [for my challenge]. The substantive reasons that I stated were related to economic leadership and governance.”

Instead, Turnbull has claimed that his challenge to Abbott was based on the latter’s poor communication practices and his failing economic policies. That was in December last year. Now he has added to his tally of failures and equalled Abbott’s disastrous record.

Read the rest of this entry »


#Fizza’s winning ways continue into 2018

February 11, 2018

Republished from Independent Australia

FEDERAL PARLIAMENT resumed this week, marking the official start of the political year in Australia. Ah yes, those hardworking MPs and senators. Most of us have been back at work for a month now, but these upstanding public figures need their beauty sleep, or at least to spend more time in bed.

At the end of 2017, Prime Minister Turnbull promised that 2018 would be the “year of rewards” and that all of us would prosper from the trickledown impacts of cutting company taxes.

So far, it’s just been a continuation of the chaos that dogged the Coalition last year — and the year before that and the year before that one too.

The only person who seems to have been rewarded so far in 2018 is George “Bookshelves” Brandis who has been promoted to the plum and coveted role of Australia’s official representative at the Court of St James.

Brandis left the Senate on Wednesday after delivering the traditional valedictory speech afforded to retiring members. But Brandis did not follow the script. He appeared to issue a veiled warning to his Coalition colleagues about the rise of creepy rightwing politics – and creepy rightwingers – in the Liberal Party.

“Increasingly, in recent years, powerful elements of right-wing politics have abandoned both liberalism’s concern for the rights of the individual and conservatism’s respect for institutions, in favour of a belligerent, intolerant populism which shows no respect for either the rights of individual citizens or the traditional institutions which protect them.”

Was this Brandis having a dig at his colleague, Unter Führer Peter Dutton? Many commentators seemed to think so. And perhaps it was more than a coincidence that the valedictory coincided with the parachuting of alleged racist and alleged war criminal, General Jim Molan into the Senate. Molan replaced former Nationals deputy, Fiona Nash who fell foul of section 44 last year.

According to credible research, backed up by his own sanitized memoir, Jim Molan was allegedly responsible for a series of potential war crimes, while serving in Iraq and a high-ranking Coalition general. While this is shocking enough, Molan’s entry to the Senate was marred by another scandal, this one much closer to home.

Molan shared the racist Britain First videos infamously circulated by Donald Trump last year. Of course, this potential disaster was turned into an opportunity by the agile and nimble Prime Minister.

Fizza took the opportunity to defend Molan loudly and in his most patrician shouty voice.

According to Turnbull’s logic, Molan can’t possibly be a racist because he once wore a uniform. In other words, being a soldier means you either a) are not a racist ipso facto; or b) your racism can be excused. Fizza had to ignore a whole lot of history of racism in the Australian Army and by Australian soldiers to come up with that fairy tale.

“The Leader of the Opposition wants to describe [Molan] as a racist. That is deplorable. It is disgusting. Jim Molan is a great Australian soldier. We are lucky to have him in the Senate. He doesn’t have a racist bone in his body.”

Yes, lucky indeed. Molan will no doubt bolster the ranks of the nasty faction around Dutton, Tony Abbott and their troglodyte henchmen (and women, but mostly men). Molan is a good fit with Dutton and co. As a leading exponent of “Sovereign Borders” he has experience in not being a racist, but…

In his own mind and words, Jim Molan is a champion of multiculturalism — a set of skills he learned well in the battlefields of Iraq where he led an equal opportunity policy of slaughtering men, women and children, regardless of race or religion. Too bad most of them were unarmed civilians and probably Muslims.

From the Sydney Morning Herald, 8 February 2018:

Asked if he apologised for his actions, Senator Molan said: “No I don’t. No, because I didn’t know it was an appalling organisation a year ago. 

“Anyone who thinks I am anti-Islamic or racist, as the allegations were made yesterday in The Sydney Morning Herald, is stark-raving mad. I have worked effectively cross culturally for years,” the former military major general said, referring to his role on missions in Muslim nations such as Iraq.

Senator Molan also denied he had shared articles about banning Muslim migration to Australia. However, his Facebook page still shows he shared two news articles about the issue in September 2016.

Jungle Jim is just another example of Australia’s seemingly willing and blind slide into open Trumpism in our politics. Malcolm Turnbull is also willing to let this happen on his watch.

We also learned this week that the Turnbull Government has learned nothing from Australia’s disastrous military adventurism in Iraq and Afghanistan on behalf of our American cousins. It’s a pity General Molan can’t share some of his no doubt deep expertise on the issue.

The Jobs and Growth government – which is presiding over one of the worst declines in real wages in a generation – has decided to propel Australia into the already crowded global weapons industry.

Yep, manufacturing armaments – you know, ordnance that kills people – is to be the new highway to economic nirvana and a bright new future for Australian industry. It’s a joke, but the punchline is you get blown to bits.

Yep, Malcolm is winning and winning this week. However, perhaps his greatest victory – the sweetest victor of all – was his sterling and spirited defence of embattled Deputy PM Barnaby #BeetRooter Joyce.

The week began well for Bananaby, the Daily Telegraph splashed his happy baby news on the front page. Oh how delierously delighted the nation was at that point. A true champion of family values had finally been blessed with a family.

Oh what? Really? He already had a family and the babymama was a former staff member, and she was married and….

Well, that quickly turned into a shit sandwich for everyone concerned.

And, of course, it is under these arduous and adverse conditions that Malcolm truly knows how to win. He gallantly dived in and took a great big bite of the sandwich, declaring through gritted teeth, and with an unpleasant look on his face, that Barnaby would make a good father and at least he hadn’t left his babymama to bring up the love child on her own.

He added that he really didn’t want to talk about it:

I’m very conscious of the distress this causes to others, in particular Natalie Joyce and her and Barnaby’s daughters, so he it is a private matter, a tough matter, and I don’t have any more to say about it. 

Lucy and I are very conscious of the hurt occasioned to Natalie and their daughters in and particular. So that’s why I don’t want to add to the discussion about it.

And, no wonder Fizza didn’t really want to talk about the BeetRooter’s baby. It seems that – despite self-serving media bleating about no real public interest in the matter – there may be more to come about the Deputy PM’s trysting with a former staff member.

A lot of people have been asking why the Daily Telegraph would publish this story now. And it’s a good question. I think I have at least part of the answer.

As regular readers of Independent Australia would know, the rumours about Bananaby’s extramarital nookie have been around for a while. We covered the story back in November last year, but back then the mainstream ignored it.

The real target of the NewsCorpse machete attack on Joyce was not the Deputy PM. He and his family are just collateral damage.

The real target is Turnbull himself.

Now it has been revealed that Turnbull’s office – and therefore the PM himself – helped move Mr Joyce’s girlfriend into a well-paying job in Matt Canavan’s office, he is firmly in the firing line.

Both Joyce and Turnbull will be under increasing pressure to either come clean about this – which could lead to one or both of them resigning – or they will have to double down and keep trying to put out a raging dumpster fire with methylated spirits.

I don’t put it past either of them to make a last-ditch effort to cling on to their jobs. After all, we now know for sure that it cost Fizza $1.75 million to buy his bed in the Lodge and the BeetRooter has paid the ultimate prize for his position — he’s earned the probably permanent hatred of a woman scorned, times by five.

My gut feeling is that NewsCorpse support for Peter Dutton is behind the stories coming out now. Somebody is certainly drip feeding the Daily Telegraph with juicy updates on the affair, the money trail and the inside goss on who knew what and when. Dutton is certainly the front-running challenger to replace Turnbull and the Libspill rumours just won’t go away.

We know from the Joyce story that if the rumours are swirling then there’s something lurking just below the surface.

It might be only the start of politics for 2018, but I’m willing to bet that Turnbull won’t be prime minister at the end of the year.

He won’t be beaten in an election, because the Coalition will want to cling on to the bitter end. Fizza will be replaced — sooner rather than later.

Dutton will become Prime Minister and the “Butcher of Fallujah” will get a cabinet post.

Here’s a bit of advice. If you get into trouble and Malcolm Turnbull offers to come to your defence, best you politely decline. He doesn’t have a good track record.

PS: I haven’t had the space to mention the Banking Royal Commission, which starts next week, but it doesn’t take a stable genius to know that, unless there is some dramatic whistleblowing, it will be a whitewash.

Also, and finally, the Closing the Gap report this week underlines just how good Turnbull is at winning. The gap in health, education, opportunity, wealth, life expectancy and incarceration rates between white Australia and Indigenous Australians is getting bigger. That is a win of Trumpian proportions.

You can follow political editor Dr Martin Hirst on Twitter @ethicalmartini.


I’m back in the Press Gallery – Now what?

April 25, 2017

Political editor Dr Martin Hirst talks about being back in the Press Gallery on behalf of IA.

We’ve done it. IA has gained a place in the Canberra Press Gallery. After months of work, putting together our submission, seeking endorsements from IA subscribers and current members of the Gallery, and preparing a portfolio of my work to be scrutinised by the committee.

In the four days our GoFundMe campaign has been live we’ve already reached 75 per cent of our initial goal of $10,000.

Thanks very much to everyone who’s donated so far and to all of you who will donate. With just a little more help, it looks like we will be in Canberra for the Budget session in May.

Originally published on Independent Australia as Rejoining the Press Gallery

From application to attending

Getting back into the game was a labour of love for me. I was curious about my chances of getting back into the Press Gallery after such a long absence and on behalf of an upstart media outfit that makes friends and enemies quickly and in almost equal measure. (I’m sure we have more friends than enemies, judging your generosity so far.)

So now I’m pleased, but also apprehensive. If you have any suggestions, I’d love to hear from you.

I was only a bit confident about the outcome at first. I knew our application was pretty good and that it ticked all the Gallery’s required boxes, but that was no guarantee they’d accept it.

We applied under the rules for ‘Freelancers, Bloggers and New Organisations’, which required us to get endorsements from existing members of the Gallery. And I’d like to thank the Gallery members who endorsed our application.

I don’t know, but our path may have been made a little easier by the fact that I have previously held Gallery accreditation. I worked as a correspondent for SBS for nearly three years from 1990 to 1993, so I had experience and some credibility perhaps.

Anyway, we’re in.

I was in Canberra on the 28th and 29th of March to collect my yellow pass from the Security Pass Office and took the opportunity to escort managing editor Dave Donovan and Sydney bureau chief Ross Jones around the building.

It was quite a nostalgic trip for me and it took me all afternoon to familiarise myself with all the routes around the non-public parts of Parliament House.

It reminded me that one of the missions we have in being in the Gallery is to show you what’s behind the curtain.

A lot of the important centres of power in Canberra are hidden in plain sight. The non-public parts of the Parliament building, like George Brandis’ diaries, hold a lot of secrets that they are unwilling to share with the public.

Unfortunately, IA’s presence in the Gallery is upsetting for some NewsCorpse scribblers. I’m not going to link to their spiteful drivel and the only comment I’ve got is “Suck it up children.”

Read the rest of this entry »