Communist journalists in Australia: meet Rex Chiplin

November 15, 2011

After my claim to having been the only Trotskyist to have worked as a journalist in the Canberra Press Gallery was recently  doubted by Gerard Henderson of the Sydney Institute, I thought I might see if it is possible to compile a list of potential competitors.

I know of only one Trotskyist (who could, by now, be an ex-Trot) who worked as a sub-editor on The Herald Sun in the 1980s. I don’t know if he’s still there or working elsewhere in the industry. I am not going to name him just in case.

This post is a work in progress and I would appreciate any help you can give me in that regard.

One contemporary who I know was, at some point, a member of the Communist Party of Australia and who has worked as a journalist for the Sydney Morning Herald and on the ABC’s Four Corners (howls of outrage from the dribblejaws) is David McKnight. However, what I am reasonably certain that David was NOT still in the CPA when he was working for Fairfax. He wrote several pieces for the Herald in 2005 and 2006, so perhaps he was no longer a communist by then.

Read the rest of this entry »


This is my city – get off the streets!

November 14, 2011

Melbourne was recently voted the world’s most livable city.

Mayor Robert Doyle wants to keep it that way.

Unfortunately the BDS movement and the #occupy protestors are getting in the way by exercising their right to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly.

Now the mayor has had enough

HT Mike Stutchbury via Twitter

I live in hope that the free speech fundamentalists might now start using their vast media power to get behind these plucky protest groups.


Thank you for your comment…now piss off back to Where-everstan!

November 13, 2011

After my appearance at the government-sponsored media inquiry in Melbourne last week I was suddenly on the News Limited radar. My name popped up in several news reports and comment pieces over the following days, but not once was I actually asked to comment, or explain my views.

The only inquiry I had from a News journo was late on Tuesday night when a reporter from the Daily Telegraph rang me at home. If I thought that this was going to be an opportunity to discuss my views on the Australian media, I was sadly disappointed.

The guy had been instructed by his editor to call and ask me a couple of questions. He didn’t really sound all that comfortable about it, but he plugged on. The first question was straight out of the Senator McCarthy playbook: Are you now, or have you ever been a communist?

All the Telegraph was interested in was whether or not I would confirm that I still hold left-wing views. The second question was could I supply them with a recent photograph.

“Yeah right,” I thought, “so you can out it on a ‘wanted poster’, I don’t think so.”

It’s interesting that the Telegraph would go down this line, when all the time News Limited papers are agitated about the media inquiry being some kind of McCarthyist witch-hunt against them. The next morning, it was ‘revealed’ in the Telegraph that I had links to an archive website called Marxist Interventions. the paper also pointed out that I am a critic of “Western capitalist democracy” and alleged that my criticism of News Limited had been “aggressive”.

I tried to respond to this by posting an online comment to the article; but it has not been published. In that reply I briefly set out why I am critical of “Western capitalist democracy” within the terms of polite and civil discourse.

On Andrew Bolt’s blog at the Herald Sun I was described as a “former Trotskyist and Pilger devotee”. Which is worse? I don’t know. Once again I attempted to post a polite comment; my main concern being to point out the factual error: I never once claimed to be a “former” Trotskyist. It was eventually published, but only invited more ridicule from Bolt’s followers.

A couple of days later Herald Sun columnist Miranda Devine weighed in, describing me as a “self-proclaimed Trotskyist,” and “anti-American”. I’m not sure where she got the idea that I’m anti-American. My father-in-law is a retired US serviceman; I lived in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, for three years and I have visited the US several times over the past decade. I love American muscle cars of the 1960s while recognising that they are gas-guzzling dinosaurs of the age of oil.

I don’t know what Devine means by “anti-American”. It’s a catch-all slur designed to make me seem some how less than credible; like Bolt calling me a “Pilger devotee”. Where’s the evidence for either claim?

No one has bothered to ask me what my views are on America or John Pilger.

If either Bolt or Devine is interested, this is what I would say:

I am not anti-American, but I am against American imperialism – so too are tens of thousands of Americans. Unlike the Murdoch media worldwide, I opposed both Gulf Wars, as did tens of thousands of Americans. I am against the US-led “war on terror” and I think that the American government has sanctioned war crimes in the name of “defending democracy”, while trashing democracy at home. Again, so too do tens of thousands of Americans.

Am I a “devotee” of John Pilger? No, and I’m sure he would hate to think that he has disciples or devotees. Do I admire his work and his public positions on imperialism, the Middle East and the war on terror? Yes I do; in the same way that I approve of and enjoy the work of that great anti-American documentary maker, Michael Moore.

Of course, in the eyes of the News Limited calumnists [sic] thinking favourably of Michael Moore or John Pilger is tantamount to treason. Thinking for yourself and deciding, after more than 30 years studying political economy, politics and journalism (and incidentally acquiring four degrees along the way), that you are willing to identify as a socialist is enough to get them all barking and howling at the moon; even in the middle of the day.

Considered, thoughtful, intelligent left-wing opinion cannot be allowed in the pages of the News Limited press; its very existence must be attacked, ridiculed and vilified at every turn of the page and every click of the mouse. It is why none of these people will be invited to have a column in The Australian, except for William Morris of course. If he wasn’t dead, I’m sure he’d be asked to contribute a few frothy words for the soft furnishings pages.

Why I am a socialist #1; Why I am a socialist #2; Why I am a socialist#3; Why I am a socialist #4;

Well, what I mean by Socialism is a condition of society in which there should be neither rich nor poor, neither master nor master’s man, neither idle nor overworked, neither brain­slack brain workers, nor heart­sick hand workers, in a word, in which all men would be living in equality of condition, and would manage their affairs unwastefully, and with the full consciousness that harm to one would mean harm to all-the realisation at last of the meaning of the word COMMONWEALTH .

Why I am a socialist – William Morris

If you want to know what kind of socialist I am, then look over here.

Imagine what we could do with the accumulated trillions of dollars in the hands of a tiny minority of capitalist parasites. We could feed, clothe and shelter the millions who live on less than $2 a day, just as a start. The state, with its armed might that is used to repress dissent and defend the interests of the tiny minority would no longer be necessary. There could be genuine democracy. With the end of capitalist competition for profits there would be no war, so the massive resources that go into killing machines could be put to use restoring the environment, for education, health, community care of the sick, the young and the elderly. And much more.

[What do we mean by socialism?]

And here’s why you should be a socialist too.

I don’t really expect that I would be treated politely, or with any respect, in the limitednews pages; but I was still surprised then to see myself talked about again in the Saturday (12 Nov) Weekend Australian.

The paper’s media diarist (or at least one of them, apologies to @meadea) Nick Leys filed a brief piece on the Tuesday afternoon (8 Nov) quoting my solicited comments at the media inquiry:

The first submission at the public hearings has been made by associate professor Martin Hirst who has spoken about free speech and the responsibilities of the media.

He said mainstream media is failing in this responsibility by limiting “the variety of views and opinions.”

“there is not a lot of strong left opinions in the mainstream media and I think that is a lack of diversity.”

Later he told the inquiry: “the public does have a right to expect honesty and truthfulness and a range of opinions.”

So far so good. Straightforward and accurate. But these sensible comments were to be buried a few days later by @leysie (is that a misspelling?).

I thought long and hard about why the sudden change in tone and I think I understand now. When Leys filed the short, factual piece reporting my comments in a straight newsy way, he didn’t know about my supposedly hidden socialist past. It wasn’t until he got back to the office to find that I’d been outed on the interwebs that the tone changed. He then got the News Limited line straight: under no circumstances was I to be given any credibility at all.

All the limitednews calumnists have now got the message and have fallen into line. Writing in Monday’s Media section of The Australian, veteran Murdoch apologist Mark Day argues that my appearance on Tuesday has fatally damaged the credibility of the Finkelstein inquiry.

On Tuesday, the Finkelstein inquiry into the print media got under way in Melbourne with an academic Trotskyite leading a procession of lefties calling for an overhaul of media regulation. Nothing could have been more damaging to the credibility of this once-over-lightly look at the print media.

[Cup runneth over for industry junkies]

Really, does one lone Trot have the power to do that? Imagine what we could do with a party of thousands. The week before, Mark Day was happy to ignore me in his preview of the inquiry:

THE Finkelstein inquiry into print media gets under way in Melbourne tomorrow and there are no prizes for guessing which way it will go. First up to give evidence are the “Bad News” academic Robert Manne, Crikey founder Stephen Mayne and its current owner/publisher, Eric Beecher.

[Inquiry’s focus on manipulation is a joke]

Day had the running order clearly showing that I was “first up”; but at that point, my name didn’t strike horror into the hearts of reasonable men and women and the mention of Manne, Mayne and Beecher was sure to scare the horses, they were in the front lines.

You think I’m paranoid? Well sorry to disappoint. The punning ‘trot’ headlines continue to spew out of the Murdoch bunkers. Try this sorry exercise, for example: Trotting out nonsense at an inquiry into nothing by David Penberthy. You see a pattern emerging here?

The inquiry’s a joke and the pinkos are out to get us:

The Federal Government is in the middle of holding an inquiry into the Australian media. If a camel is a horse designed by a committee, this inquiry is the strangest beast to wander out of Canberra in a while. It is wholly an accident of the fraught marriage of convenience which Julia Gillard was forced to enter into with the Greens to cling to power. Its terms of reference are absurd.

[Trotting out nonsense at an inquiry into nothing]

But this stuff plays well to a News Limited audience, even if some, like “Richard”, are a little bit confused in the comment thread on Penberthy’s piece:

News limited is a very broad and sprawling organisation. While I like the Australian and the Daily Telegraph, I absolutely hate the Courier Mail, its a perverse hotbed of reds and socialists doing their darnedest to corrupt Queensland with leftist slime, I sincerely believe that.

Anyway back to@leysie. After getting the story straight [Hirst, Manne, Mayne and Beecher would now be known by the collective noun a “procession” of lefties], Nick Leys contributed a fine and lengthy piece for Inquirer in the Weekend Australian (12 Nov), which deftly establishes the News Limited agenda through insinuating an ulterior motive on behalf of the inquiry head, former judge Ray Finkelstein:

Was the structure of that first day designed to allow Finkelstein to deal with the more extreme concepts of media regulation and any vendetta against News Limited? It appeared so.

How else do you explain the near-histrionic appearance by Martin Hirst, a communications academic who told the inquiry he had been living in New Zealand for at least four years?

“I am not here to bash the Murdoch press,” he said, before doing just that.”I was blown away,” he said theatrically of the discussed political coverage. “Every story about federal politics is slanted. If they can find a way of attacking Julia Gillard or another Labor minister, they do.”

“Ouch,” histrionics, theatrical? Nick, you were there in the chamber with me for nearly two full days; did you see me waving my arms or shouting? Did you see evidence of Vaudeville song and dance? Did you watch me weep, or scream or laugh hysterically?. No, jackass, you didn’t!

You sat less than 3 metres away from me for most of Wednesday and made no effort to talk to me. You knew I was there because you were following and contributing to the #mediainquiry twitter feed.  Why not ask me a question? Journalists are supposed to conduct research and interviews. Why didn’t you make any attempt to make contact with me?

Were you afraid I might breathe Trotsky-germs on you; or did you think I might not quite fit the nasty straitjacket you and your colleagues were busily stitching up for me? Or were you told not to give me any oxygen in case I actually sounded sensible and reasonable – like I did on Tuesday morning when I was just another media academic?

Instead of going to the source, you have strung together two quotes from me as if they were part of the same (breathless?) sentence. But the transcript clearly shows they were separated by a good 10 minutes or more. I can estimate this because there’s nine pages of transcript between my first statement and the phrase that @leysie attempts to link it to.

The first part of the quote, including the remark “I’m not here to bash the Murdoch press”, is on page 10 of the transcript I have, which puts that phrase into some context:

I am not here to bash the Murdoch press, but I think across the board in the mainstream media there is what I would call a limited variety of speaking positions.  There is a limited view of what are permissible views in terms of what’s actually picked up and promoted through the media.

This comment is not aimed at News Limited alone, I am clearly linking my comments to the mainstream news media in general. Then there’s four pages of general discussion – and when I say discussion I mean that I was effectively being cross-examined by the judge.

The next mention of News Limited is a comment I make about Andrew Bolt and the Racial Discrimination Act case, which in the copy of the transcript I have is on page 15. Clearly that is some considerable number of minutes after “I am not here to bash the Murdoch press.”

MR FINKELSTEIN:   Why shouldn’t people scream abuse at each other?

DR HIRST:   It’s not very helpful.

MR FINKELSTEIN:   It might not be, but might the question be:  so what?  People scream at one another.  In other  words, they are uncivil in their political communications. In a democratic society, can I ask the question:  so what?

DR HIRST:   I guess because free speech has consequences. I guess, in a sense, that was at the heart of the Bolt matter before the RDA, that it was deemed that there were consequences of Andrew Bolt’s commentary.  It was deemed in that context to be hurtful and I would actually argue inciteful, as to incite others into action.  I make that point in the paper that you read, that in fact that is the  situation.  I would actually argue that Andrew Bolt was aware of that, and that there was a purpose behind what he was doing.

MR FINKELSTEIN:   His conduct was governed, as the court found, by existing legislation.

DR HIRST:   Absolutely, yes.

I have highlighted the line ‘in the paper that you read’, to demonstrate an important point about my appearance at the media inquiry that you will never read in the News Limited papers. I was there with my colleague Ivo Burum (@citizenmojo) to talk about something completely different. Our joint submission to the inquiry said nothing about News Limited, or Andrew Bolt; it was all about Ivo’s very successful projects teaching the tools of the trade to all sorts of interesting people. Take a look at this video to get an idea of what we’re talking about.

When Ivo and I sat down in front of the judge and the professor, we had no idea that our carefully prepared double act on NT Mojo was going to be hijacked into a discussion of free speech, racial vilification, market failure and the limits of press freedom at limitednews. I was not there, as the Telegraph was trying to suggest, as part of an anti-Murdoch conspiracy. The transcript clearly shows it was the judge who opened that Pandora’s box, not me.

Ray Finkelstein’s opening gambit was to take both of us down a rabbit hole:

MR FINKELSTEIN:   Can I deviate, though, from the terms of your submission, Doctor, and ask you some other I hope related questions.  I ask them in part because I have read a publication of yours to do with free speech and racial vilification.

DR HIRST:   It was only published a couple of days ago.

MR FINKELSTEIN:   It was published on 5 November, according to the copy that I have.

A draft of the paper, currently submitted to a journal for peer-review, was uploaded to my Academia.edu profile page on Saturday 5 November. It is called ‘I’m not a racist.’ Andrew Bolt and free speech. This was not part of my submission to the media inquiry; it is part of a broader study that I’m doing into free speech and commecial speech in the marketplace of ideas and the capitalist (private) media.

The next installment has the working title “There’s no such thing as free speech”. You will have to wait for that, but no doubt the dribblejaws will wet themselves with barely contained rage at the mere suggestion of an idea that I could even possibly contemplate such heresy against the founding fathers.

But anyway, I digress. The point is that my first comment about News Limited and my brief mention of the Bolt case do not amount to me going to the inquiry with a Murdoch-bashing agenda.

In fact, coming to that point, my comments were in response to the one question asked by the professor during my time at the front table. It is in the context of me talking about the failure of the free market  to provide a wide diversity of media voices in a capitalist economy, particularly in the mainstream media. It is worth reading this exchange, because it also puts to rest the lie that I was only talking about the Murdoch media.

I think in terms of the main ways in which we get political information and the main ways in which the public sphere is created and informed, it still relies quite heavily on the main players in the marketplace, and they are heavily capitalised global companies in most cases that do, I think, have greater clout because of their economic size and wealth.

Economic power does bring with it a certain amount of political and  social power as well, in the battle of ideas.  It actually creates a much bigger platform and louder megaphone than somebody on a blog that gets a couple of hundred views a day.  It is a much more powerful tool of speech.

…I don’t think the marketplace of ideas is actually an open and fair marketplace where everybody has the same right of access and the same ability to be heard.

DR RICKETSON:   What might be an example of what you were just talking about before with the mainstream media and the fact they have an undue influence?  What is an example of  that, that you can think of?

DR HIRST:   I think the kind of editorial pages of any newspaper provide that kind of platform.  The Insiders program on the ABC, Four Corners, 7.30 Report, all those type of things generate a huge amount of interest – Q&A,  all of that type of mainstream political information programming, news and current affairs type of programmes, I think carry a much greater social weight in terms of how we as a society form opinions and react to those things than the internet and blogs and those kind of things at the moment.  There is definitely still a dominant mainstream media in that regard.

One example that is very current, which I am sure other people will talk to you about today, is the idea that the News Limited newspapers are running some kind of political agenda at the moment against the Gillard government.  I actually think that is true.

I have only been back in the country now for about four months after living in New Zealand for four and a half years and I was absolutely blown away by that, and by what I see appearing now in the newspapers, particularly in The Australian, which I have a subscription to and I look at every day.  There is a consistent kind of approach to the way that The Australian is actually reporting federal politics at the moment.  It seems to me that the people who are arguing that there is an anti-Labor bias in the editorial pages and in the news pages of that paper are absolutely right.  You see it every day.

So, there you go; I mentioned  the editorial pages in “any” newspapers, and four ABC programs to illustrate my point; only then did I talk about The Australian.

But it actually gets more interesting. You see, I am accused of being part of the amorphous group who are conspiring to have the Murdoch press shut down. I can tell you right now that I have not caucused with Professor Manne, Stephen Mayne, or Bob Brown. I don’t speak to Labor politicians and they don’t ring me for advice (huge sigh of relief in News HQ?).

I was very careful to put on the record my views about any suggestion that I am in favour of shutting down News Limited through government regulation. I am not; I believe if it is to be shut down, it should not be by any other means than workers’ direct action, a’la 1975.

In 1975, before the News Corporation became a multinational conglomerate and moved its headquarters overseas, journalists at its flagship The Australian went on strike to protest the lack of fairness at their paper.

In 2011, in a sign that the peaking of News Corporation power had come at a price to its integrity, almost to a man and woman, those whose profession required they stand up for the public interest appeared to be fawning for favour at the requirement of their employers rather than feeling any obligation to the ethics of their profession.

Utherssay.com

Yes, I still believe in direct action. We are the 99 per cent.

So, what did I say inside the inquiry? Well, in a nutshell I said that the Murdoch press can do what it likes, that it has a ‘right’ to be anti-Labor and that we have to live with that, even if we don’t agree with it, or like it.

DR HIRST:   I don’t have a problem with The Australian doing that, but I just think it is interesting.  I am not saying that The Australian shouldn’t do that, or it doesn’t have a right to do that; I am just observing that I think that’s what is happening.

MR FINKELSTEIN:   But it’s not just an observation.  Don’t you mean that in a critical way?

DR HIRST:   Yes, I’m critical of it, but I’m not arguing that it should be stopped; that we should actually stop The Australian from doing that.

…MR FINKELSTEIN:   That is not a complaint about the content of the political articles?

DR HIRST:   I’d politically disagree with the editorial line of The Australian, but I’m not suggesting for a minute that The Australian should be banned or anything like that. I’m just making the observation that that seems to me to be one of the advantages of having a $30 million printing press that you can use.  It gives you a big advantage in terms of the battle of ideas, absolutely.

OK. got that? Like I said, this comes some 10 or more pages after my first comment and it is in response to direct questions from the chair of the inquiry.

I’d also like to nail the false allegation against me that I am pro-censorship and want the government to regulate the Murdoch press. It’s amazing how many of Andrew Bolt’s regular readers actually believe this deceitful line that he and News Limited calumnists are pushing at every opportunity. Just take a look at the comment streams on his blog and ones like this in the outer spirals of the cyberverse. Some of these posters, most of whom are anonymous and unaccountable for their disturbing worldview, are clearly living in a parallel universe.

Anonymous said…

I thought ‘shtum’ or other variant spellings, was from the Yiddish, given the ‘sh’ sound. Which will only further fuel Hirst and the Hirstians’ belief in the Murdoch-Bunyip-Zionist-RWDB-Bolt-Big Carbon-Big Pharma-Max the Chocolate cabal. Play that tune, you jolly paranoids! It’s got a good beat and you can dance to it. Neil In Newcastle

Yeah, if you say so Neil.

If you go back to the inquiry transcript you can see that I was able to get on the record my view of media licensing. Far from supporting it I am totally opposed and actually suggested that the government pull back from licensing, not impose more.

I think there is a need to probably adjust some rules and regulations.  For example, is there really any point any more to licensing broadcasters when there is no longer a shortage of spectrum?

…I think Bob Brown’s submission raised the idea of licensing newspaper owners.  I would actually argue that you should look at taking away any kind of licensing regulation around broadcasting because, in fact, the  argument for that, which is spectrum scarcity, no longer exists.

This is on page 12 of the transcript I have. It indicates that, far from only bashing Murdoch, I was answering questions and making points on a range of issues.

I made a similar point when questioned in a media scrum outside the inquiry on Tuesday.

SIMON LAUDER: The first to give evidence before the inquiry was Deakin University journalism lecturer, Dr Martin Hirst. The media is not allowed to record proceedings, but Dr Hirst spoke outside the hearing room.

He says the public doesn’t trust the media.

MARTIN HIRST: Any surveys that you look at that talk about trusted professionals – journalists rate about as high as prostitutes and used car salesmen and I think that is a problem that we need to address and I think journalists need to talk about that and start addressing that themselves, because if you don’t, if journalists don’t start fixing it themselves, there will be licensing, there will be regulation and I think that would be a blow to media and to freedom of speech.

Of course, that’s taken from the left-wing ABC program PM, so they probably doctored the quote (with my help) to confuse the dribblejaws. Joking aside, this comment makes it quite clear where my sympathies lie. I am in favour of journalists fixing the problem on their own terms. I have argued elsewhere that news workers must take collective responsibility and collective action to resolve these issues. The near hysteria from senior News Limited head-kickers is not in journalists’ best interests, nor, I would argue, is it in the greater public interest, which I also spoke about at length in my comments before the inquiry.

I think the marketplace of ideas rhetoric, which is, if you like, the rhetoric of liberal democracy and representative democracy and capitalist economy and capitalist society, is a flawed model in that the marketplace is not a level playing field.  It doesn’t give everybody the same rights of access.  I think it commodifies the notion of public interest, which is something I am also quite interested in exploring, because I think that our definitions of public interest are actually based on ideas of the market.

If you look at the legislation around broadcasting and telecommunications, for example, with the public interest test, that is often based on looking at economic benefits, so the public interest is defined in those terms and citizens are defined in that regard as consumers rather than as an expression of political ideas.

I think that there is a philosophical debate to be had about the idea of the marketplace of ideas and how relevant it is, and if it is working.  My argument would be that it is not working and that we are in a situation we are in  today, in terms of the collapse of business models and decline in public trust in journalism and in the news, as a result of failure of the market as it is currently established.

If you want to know more about this line of reasoning and how it relates to issues of trust, public interest, citizen journalism and new business models for the news media, then you can read about it here.

It is good though, that I’m not the only one attempting to tell another version of the media inquiry story. I am grateful to @watermelon_man (aka David Horton) for his tweeting, his good humour and this post in which he outlines a reasonable seven point plan:

Fundamentally you need (1) an ownership diversity mechanism (2) a “fairness” and balance doctrine in some form, (3) a return to a clear distinction between news and “opinion”, (4) some measure of truth in reporting (and advertising), (5) clear labelling of vested interests and institutional homes of commentators, (6) some protection for privacy and against libel, and (7) a complaints mechanism with teeth. Then see how it goes and review at regular intervals.

[Fit to print]

Finally, I’d just like to say a word to that man of integrity and letters, Gerard Henderson, of the conservative Sydney Institute. I don’t usually read Henderson’s Media Watch blog, but since it contains a reference to me this week (Nov 11), I thought that taking a quick look might be a good idea.

Well, not so much. It reads much like a discussion the Mad Hatter might have with himself on rising from bed and trying to work out which pants to put on. The bit about me is also done in this shambolic style:

Martin Hirst – A Trot With The Lot

Associate Professor Martin Hirst, who hails from Deakin University, is a former ABC journalist and a current dedicated follower of the Marxist revolutionary Leon Trotsky.  According to the website Marx Interventions [sic], Martin Hirst claims to be the only Trotskyist to have ever worked in the Canberra Press Gallery as a journalist. [I doubt this. – Ed].

It seems strange that the Media Inquiry believes that a taxpayer funded Trotskyist is the best person to lead off its public hearings.  This is what Robert Service had to say about Leon Trotsky in his well regarded Trotsky: A Biography (Macmillan, 2009):

…Trotsky was no angel. His lust for dictatorship and terror was barely disguised in the [Russian] Civil War.  He trampled on the civil rights of millions of people including the industrial workers.  His self-absorption was extreme.

By the way, Dr Hirst is on the public record as declaring that “objectivity as a principle of journalism is no longer the holy grail”.  Martin Hirst is an academic.  Can you bear it?

I haven’t read Service’s biography, perhaps I will one day. But so that you can decide for yourself, here are two reviews. The first in the Torygraph claims it a masterpiece, the second by Paul Le Blanc pans it as a stinker.

Of course for the libertarian-minded Henderson and his free-market thinking, Trotsky must be a monster. That he relies on Robert Service for his view of Trotsky comes as no surprise. This from the Wikipedia entry on Service:

His biography of Russian revolutionary Marxist and co-leader of the Russian Revolution Leon Trotsky had been subjected to severe criticism since its publication for historical falsification. David North, chairman of the International Committee of the Fourth International published his criticism in the form of a book, In Defense of Leon Trotsky[1]. The accusations of not meeting basic standards of historical scholarship and numerous factual errors in the biography were also seconded by the American Historical Review[2][3].

The last point: Henderson also attempts to cast doubt on my reputation by suggesting I am wrong (possibly lying, or ill-informed) about being the only Trotskyist to have worked as a journalist in the Canberra press gallery.

Well, Gerard, go and find another. I wish you luck. It would be nice to have a fellow-traveler to share the opprobrium with.

And yes, I do not think that the pursuit of objectivity is the holy grail of journalism. I am not alone in that view it is fairly mainstream now in the literature and even among journalists, both working and retired; living and dead.


Naive DimPost editorialist up in arms …Who rights [sic] this drivel?

September 14, 2011

This post deserves a subtitle:

“Kick’em when they’re up; kick’em when they’re down” Don Henley (see below)

My concern this evening is a weird little editorial in today’s Dominion Post concerning the reportorial credentialing of one N Hager Esq.

To wit, in evidence I copy and paste the following:

Hager sees himself as an author and a journalist. In the common definition of the journalistic craft, he is not. He is a meticulous compiler and ferreter out of information that some people would wish to keep secret, and he is very good at it.

What? Can I just take a moment to let this sink in.

Nicky Hager’s not a journalist, at least as you [DomPost editorialist 13.9.2011] choose to define it.

How do you define it by the way?

Nicky’s not a journalist, but he might be an author though.

Is that good or bad?

Is that what you’re saying here?

I must have missed something, run that par by me again…

Hager sees himself as an author and a journalist. In the common definition of the journalistic craft, he is not. He is a meticulous compiler and ferreter out of information that some people would wish to keep secret, and he is very good at it.

I don’t think “ferreter” is a word in the context you’re trying to shoehorn it into.

But, leaving aside your poor composition skills, what you’re trying to say is that Nicky Hager is good at his job — ferreting out information that some people would wish to keep secret — but that’s not journalism as you define it. How do you define journalism by the way? That last bit sounds suspiciously like what journalism is. Or at least, what it should be.

I must be stupid, but I still don’t get it…tell me more.

The flaw in Hager’s modus operandi is that he amasses what he has learned and then presents it to the public through the prism that best suits his world view, without allowing for the possibility that there might be a plausible explanation for what he has “uncovered”. The case he builds is thus rarely troubled by opposing opinions and inconvenient facts, realities that journalists in the mainstream media are morally obliged to take into account, and present.

[Seeing Afghanistan through naive prism]

Excuse me, even the headline on this piece doesn’t stand up to lexical scrutiny.

OK, you can call me a media studies poser if you like. You won’t be the first. The fact remains, we have to deconstruct this argument to make sense of the DomPo’s position.

First of all, a disclaimer. I know and admire Nicky Hager. I consider him a friend and I’ve defended him before here at EM on similar charges from Fran O’sullivan.

I haven’t yet read Nicky’s latest book Other People’s Wars — the centre of this controversy — but I am told by reliable sources that it is brilliant and you should all read it. I’m picking up my copy from Unity Books in the morning and will read it on the plane home this weekend.

I think his work in Hollow Men is exemplary investigative journalism, despite this mean-spirited and misleading line in the DumPoo’s rite [sic] of reply.

Take his earlier book, The Hollow Men, for example, which – though not news to political junkies – made uncomfortable reading for some associated with the Don Brash-led National Party.

Not even faint praise in this damning dismissal from the Dismal Poke.

Speaking of definitions of journalism didn’t Lord Harmsworth once say that it was about “afflicting the comfortable”?

Like many a determined investigator, some of whom have worked at the DomPost and done brilliant work of journalism, Nicky takes excellent care of his sources and his facts. He does, in other words, exactly what those imbued with, and accountable to, the spirit of excellence in reporting, should do.

The sputtering [sic] rage of the Dim’s editorialist — whether real or feigned for 13 sovereigns — is best expressed in this nonsense:

In the common definition of the journalistic craft, he is not.

Did that make your eyes water? Ferfucksake! Is this grammatic and syntactic outrage the result of outsourced subbing? Is there nobody in the office to tell the editorialist they’ve written gibberish; up with which we will not put.

[Ahhem, so to speak]

Can we just look, for a brief indulgent moment, at the definition of a journalist that is common today.

Actually, we might need a few, here’s one to be going on with.

“Journalism without a moral position is impossible. Every journalist is a moralist. It’s absolutely unavoidable. A journalist is someone who looks at the world and the way it works, someone who takes a close look at things every day and reports what she sees, someone who represents the world, the event, for others. She cannot do her work without judging what she sees.”

That’s from Marguerite Duras, it is echoed by many; including George Orwell. Regular readers of EM will know my line Orwell and Trotsky.

I’ll be back. In the meantime…

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The rhetoric of chattering classes disguises anti-worker bias in limited news

August 30, 2011

When the ruling class feels strong and the political leadership of the labour movement is corrupt to the core, a political paralysis descends on the parliamentary wing of the working class intelligentsia.
The constant chattering about the so-called “chattering classes” deafens us to the hardline surge now underway in Australian public life.

One of the worst offenders is the new enfante terrible in the Murdoch stable – imported stable bully-boy Brendan O’Neill. He is a serial offender when it comes to to trash-mouthing the so-called chattering classes. In harness with the dreadful Bolter, O’Neill is gung-ho for intellectual-bashing, public sector trashing, culture wars scorched-earth pollicy-wielding plonker.

O’Neill is even described as an “ex-Trotskyist” on The Australian’s website. Fuck-that-for-a-fucking-joke. The Murdoch mandarins love to dress up their tame spouters as ex-lefities. It plays to their prejudice and their perceived audience. It also silences any idea that the op-ed pages are not Foxified – that is “fair and balanced”.

The Australian's new "ex-left" attack dog

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British judges are Laura Norder’s sock puppets

August 20, 2011

How utterly absurdist, outrageous and unreasonable to jail two young men for ‘inciting’ a riot through Facebook.

Jordan Blackshaw, 20, and Perry Sutcliffe-Keenan, 22, were given stiff jail terms in northwestern England on Tuesday for using social networking sites to “organize and orchestrate” disorder during the recent UK unrest.  [More in The Guardian]

The judges have meted swift ‘justice’ to these unfortunate saps; supposedly this is in line with British public opinion. It certainly reflects the tub-thumping Colonel Blimp rhetoric of David Cameron and his Tory rump.

It’s doubtful that John Cleese and the Monty Python crew could produce a more biting satire than this real life episode. Well, they probably could, remember “Upper Class Twit of the Year”?

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Consumerism by other means: #UKriots, burning Babylon and #neoliberalism

August 14, 2011

Guest post by Dr Wayne Hope

Identifying the “causes” of major civil disturbances is always difficult, there are so many to choose from. Even the mundane vagaries of the weather have to be taken into account. Nearly all urban riots of recent vintage happen in the summer, hot sultry evenings are ideal, and it  seems that rain has, of late, dampened the spirits of enthusiastic rioters in the Midlands and northern cities.

In fact one might plausibly argue that without the typically dreadful English weather, riots would be more serious and happen more often. The underlying and proximate cause of urban rioting have been festering quite nicely in Old Blightly and I for one am not the least bit surprised over recent developments .

If we start with Tottenham, police racism, police brutality and a police culture disconnected from local communities is a perfect Molotov cocktail to set things going. Such was evident in the Afro-American race riots of the 1960s and the Parisian riots of 2005.

There are many other examples; a spark to set off the cocktail is all that is needed.

Now, it also true as the Tory press and politicians have tirelessly pointed out that thugs and “yobbos” have joined in the action. These outgrowths of Cameron`s “broken society” belong to postcode gangs who have formed alliances of convenience to loot, take on the police and cause mayhem.

This has echoes of the “Babylon’s burning” era of the late 70s and early 80s, since then 20 years of neo liberalism have embittered a new generation of  white and non white gangs. No suprises there. Out of this general milieu there were also, without doubt, disturbed individuals who gained immediate pleasure from burning out cars, smashing plate glass windows and torching buildings.

And then we had the pilferers, “illegal shoppers” who just wanted to grab stuff because, well, it was cheap and armfuls of trainers and iPads are are tidy little earner, covertly on Facebook or down  at the markets. This was the spirit of self reliance and entrepeneuralism that politicians from Margeret Thatcher to Tony Blair have been trying to promote. To put it another way this was consumerism by other means.

As far as I could see the illegal shoppers and their accomplices covered quite a wide demographic, some were black dispossessed youth, others were  low to middle income people of both genders who were relieving the frustration of not being able to afford the relentlessly advertised fashion items and electronic goods. Still others ,of more comfortable means enjoyed the thrill of it all. I agree somewhat with the conservatives on this matter, there has indeed been a breakdown in social ethics in British society.

However, I must point out in the strongest possible terms that ethical breakdown is endemic at ALL levels of society from the bonus swilling tax avoider and financial speculator propped up by powerless taxpayers to the political classes of in the Commons and Whitehall lining their pockets with the baubles of office; to the media elites who hire professional privacy invaders to hack the communications of anybody they choose in order peddle defamatory lies and half truths for a tidy profit.

With these shining examples of cynical self interest  why not join in?

It’s bloody obvious innit, everybody’s out for what they can get. And then there is the nihilism ,the purposelessness of bored youth. I saw them during my last visit to London, in Camden Town, hundreds of them just hanging about after 1am, waiting for nothing to happen. So then, what has been the establishment’s response?

I think we saw it in a newsphoto from Clapham of a young blonde woman standing among a group of angry gentrified Clapham residents,they were out to clean up the mess with their brooms, the young woman wore a teeshirt which said “rioters are scum”.

So here we have the preconditions for the next riot, “them and us”, class war, batten up the hatches and let’s continue with our strategy of systematic social exclusion and seclusion of the better off.  More police, more security guards more electronic surveillance and lots of finger pointing. Cameron`s “broken society” thesis is not far off the mark.


#londonriots Looking for answers in the wrong places

August 10, 2011

If you want to know what’s really behind the rioting of the last few days in London and half a dozen other UK cities, all you need to do is understand the social dislocations, anger and cynicism that tell the real story of the numbers:

Unemployment statistics in Britain are sadly vague, but a reasonable estimate of youth unemployment just in Hackney is 33 percent.

The figure is from Michael Goldfarb an NPR correspondent who lives in the Hackney area. He goes on:

What happens after the rioting subsides is difficult to predict. Entry level jobs are in short supply these days, and as the government’s austerity measures begin to bite here, it’s not likely to get better any time soon.

Why London exploded last night

Unfortunately, I haven’t heard many commentators (liberal or conservative) talk about this. Instead we get lines like this

This type of coverage is not helpful

[anchorstooge] Many commentators say youth unemployment is behind the riots but [insert name of expert] from [insert name of rightwing thinktank] believes its just a bunch of sodding criminals who’ve been pampered too long by the nanny state

[expert, speaking in posh condesending tone that fits his double-barrel moniker] These young people come from intergenerationally dysfunctional families and they have a hand-out mentality. They don’t have to work, they just get pregnant or go on the dole. They are work-shy gangsters and by-the-way most of them are black, but we won’t mention that.

That type of commentary – criminalising the young rioters and blaming them for their existence – is underpinned superficial coverage (like in a warzone) by anxious-looking mainly white correspondents standing alongside police barricades in the early afternoon and vox-popping the gawking public.

It is stenographic churnalism of the worst order. It’s not good, but it’s understandable. The black, brown and poor white communities of the UK and elsewhere get almost no coverage of their daily lives. They live in estates surrounded by poverty, only able to secure low-wage jobs (if they can get work) and they live hand-to-mouth, day-to-day.

But then I found this little gem, recorded straight from the TV, but it’s brilliant.

I was pretty gobsmacked that Piers Morgan tweeted that the rioters should be treated like terrorists and shot, but it isn’t really that surprising. I guess it is his gall, under fire for phone hacking, and trying to rehabilitate his dusty image.

Then Darcus Howe pops up and gives the clearest and most eloquent defence of young people in the UK today. It is shocking when he mentions that Mark Duggan’s head was blown off by the police bullets. That’s yet to be tested, but the BBC anchordrone is clearly rattled and she should be.

Howe has a grand dignity and he let’s her know well and truly.

Fantastic remedy to the wall of BS.

Howe is right, it’s time to start listening to these young voices, but more importantly give them a future without random and constant police harrassment and give them work or education. Sure, many of these youngsters may be unemployed, but some are not. Some are also probably students who took part in other recent protests in the UK. They are not terrorists. But the Daily Star‘s front page is typical of what the British press is saying up and down the country.

The point is that the reasons behind what’s happening are complex and the broadcast media in general and TV in particular has so far not done a great job of analysing the causes. Instead it seems that large sections of the British media have fallen in behind David Cameron’s dangerous police-state rhetoric.

I’ve only heard one black voice on the radio (in Australia admittedly) making the absolutely valid point that all reporters need to consider. He said something along the lines of:

If the media is going to call this “mindless” violence, then it also has to ask the question: What makes these young people mindless?

He’s absolutely right. Part of the problem here is the news value of proximity. I don’t just mean physical proximity to the riots, but also social and cultural proximity and affinity between the reporters (mainly middle class and educated) and the ruling class. That’s why the very same correspondents who were four months ago covering riots and large protests in Cairo were telling a very different story to they one they’re telling about London.

In Egypt the media dismissed Mubarek’s ravings about rioting gangsters and focused on making the young people in Tahir square into revolutionary heroes and martyrs.

The lives of young men and women in Hackney is not that different to those of the same young people who so bravely chased off the (now) evil Mubarek regime.

The same root causes underlie both situations. The difference is that in Hackney the local political culture is completely flattened under media-driven consumer lust. The same issues and desires motivate the youth, their expression takes a different form.

Two other young black voices I heard on the radio this morning sum this up very well. Two women (17 and 18) were vox-popped. They had taken part in the night’s rampage and at 9.30 in the morning (Tuesday in London) were still in the street drinking from a bottle of wine they had looted. They’d been drinking all night and described what they’d been doing as fun.

But the telling comment they made was that the real target of their anger was “all the rich people”. That’s a pretty good gut instinct and it’s ultimately right. Unfortunately, these two women saw the local shopkeepers as representatives of these rich people. That’s a mistake, but it really only masks a deeper sentiment that does go toward explaining their anger and their sense of joy at the destruction they had helped to cause.

It was, in their view, no doubt an attack on the system that oppresses them.

That’s why the politics of this are so important.

Now the backlash will begin and it will be fuelled by racism. The Milwall fans who were supposedly defending their turf were all white and most likely target recruits for the English Defence League which recruits off the terraces (if not already members).

If the media continues to swallow and promote the spin from Downing street and the political establishment it will give the racists heart and the situation will get worse – a lot worse – before it gets any better.

The heavy police presence and aggressive pattern of arrests that will now rain down on Hackney and the other suburbs where disturbances occurred will only add fuel to the fire.


What’s wrong with this picture: One plucky demonstrator, two an anarchist criminal

March 27, 2011

Protesters against the government of Syria set fire to offices of the ruling party today while hundreds of political prisoners were released in a bid to appease the rioters.

Syrian protestors torch officesThe Independent, 26 March 2011

Commander Bob Broadhurst, who led the police operation, said: “I wouldn’t call them protesters. They are engaging in criminal activities for their own ends.”

Activists attempt to hijack anti-cuts demoThe Independent, 26 March 2011

An interesting contrast in the way that anti-government protests are reported in the news media. Half a million demonstrate in London and the media focus is on a small group of anarchists (as identified by the media, btw); but in the Middle East the same small groups of militants are cheered and championed in the British press.

The top example here relates to those plucky, angry and totally-justified protestors who set fire to a building in Damascus – surely a criminal action

The second is how the UK’s top riot police officer describes British protestors who vent their anger by occupying an upmarket dairy (Fortnum and Mason) and smashing a few windows.

It’s OK for the British press to champion the cause of the Syrians because that doesn’t threaten privilege at home. But, of course, any action that does challenge the comfortable lives of the British ruling class is instantly dismissed as criminal behaviour.

Even the Guardian takes up this trope:

The generally good-natured mood was soured by violent and destructive attacks on symbols of wealth including the Ritz, banks and a luxury car dealer, and an occupation of the upmarket food store Fortnum & Mason.

Anti-cuts march  draws hundreds of thousansds as police battle rioters, The Guardian, 26 March 2011

Contrast this with the coverage of similar violent riots in Yemen and Bahrain which have left hundreds dead. The Independent and The Guardian can afford to be on the side of the Arab protestors and condemn the violent way that police handled those demonstrations.

Serried ranks of riot police advancing behind a cloud of tear gas and backed by armoured vehicles and helicopters cleared protesters from Pearl Square, which has been the gathering point for protesters.

Bahrain and Yemen declare war on protestors, The Independent, 20 March 2011

Wow, “serried ranks of riot police advancing behind a cloud of tear gas”, isn’t that exactly what’s just today happened in London too?

One Guardian columnist does make the explicit link between London and Cairo, and this is the real point that the news media can’t grasp.

Western elites are, instead, stressing the differences between east and west as they scramble to morph their longstanding support of north African dictatorships into sudden solidarity with rebels. This revisionist view holds that the uprisings are mainly about the desire of young people in the Middle East to live in western-style democracies.

Priyamvada Gopal, Trafalgar has much in common with Tahir, The Guardian, 25 March, 2011

Not only are ruling elites scrabbling to cover their burning arses on this one, they are also having to struggle with locals making the same connection between Trafalgar Square and Tahir Square. The news media – often a faithful mouthpiece for elite opinion – is also struggling with the complexity and contradictions in their position.

On one hand, supporting the dangerous, violent and often bloody protests in the souk and the Arab street is good for business, ‘we’ want these dictators to fall:

In eerie succession, one after another, autocrats and despots across the region are coming down with freedom flu.

Simon Tisdall, Syria’s Bashar al-Assad has been struck by freedom flu, The Guardian, 25 March, 2011

But they can’t help the knee-jerk reaction that condemns angry protestors who take matters into their own hands – at home; while simultaneously cheering the exact same actions in foreign lands.

Hey, guys, wake up and smell the revolution – this is global capitalism after all.

It’s not that hard to think clearly about this dialectic of the front-page,  as Priyamvada Gopal shows us:

It is simplistic to assume that protests in the west and the Middle East are fundamentally different because “they” are fighting “blood-soaked” despots while “we”, after all, live in liberal democracies…

Both capitalist democracies and dictatorships use political means to concentrate wealth, power and privilege. In Britain and the US, the right to fight corporate power collectively – and effectively – through unions is under ongoing attack. In Britain, the state uses demonisation, brute force and disproportionate punishment to contain mass demonstrations and talks of making some peaceful means illegal. In the US, Democratic legislators resisting anti-union measures, which were then forced through anyway, were threatened with arrest. Britain has seen policies destroying public services hastily enacted without a clear mandate while civil liberties are constantly eroded and inequalities expand. If Gaddafi screams “imperialism” when things get sticky, our politicians find it convenient to denounce “multiculturalism”. What unites the interdependent ruling elites of Britain and Bahrain is the priority they give to the entitlement of the few at the expense of the many, often embodied by dodgy business deals.

Thanks Priya, you show these numbnucks how it is done. Dodgy business deals are universal and the occupation of Fortnum and Mason is because the business owner, Lord Green, is a tax criminal. No, he’s not Mubarak, but I bet they exchange cards at Christmas, and that dear Hosni likes F&M tea very very much.

 

 

 

 

 


Déjà vu all over again: Operation Oddity Awe

March 20, 2011

Well the inevitable overnight pounding of Baghdad Tripoli will teach that old foolish despot Saddam Hussein Muammar Gaddafi a stonking lesson in defending civil liberties the power of a wounded imperialist beast  that he will never forget.

But what next for the bold and staunch Security Council Unites States puppeteers? On the eighth anniversary of the shock and awe campaign against Baghdad – and we all know that’s ending well #FAIL! we see another attempt at “regime change by proxy”. Robert Fisk’s piece “First it was Saddam” is laden with  humour, irony and anger; but it reminds us “trust no-0ne”.

The logic of the US (UN proxy) argument against Gaddafi – that he is using the machinery of state to attack his own people who simply want him to move aside – means that US warships should also be firing missiles at several other royal compounds in the region.

A quick review of what’s happening in the Middle East and a brief look at the “who’s who” of dictators and general fucktards-in-charge would suggest that several kings have put themselves in the firing line by their recent actions.

Here’s a quick survey of the current news from Yemen and Bahrain, where pro-democracy protestors – just like the plucky Libyans – have been gunned down in recent days.

Oh hey, and don’t forget the House of Saudi, which is financing and supporting those pulling the trigger in Yemen.

The difference is plain though; Gadaffi is currently a “baddie” in the simplistic PR spin from the State Department, while the Saudi, Yemeni and Bahraini ruling elites are “friendlies”.

I am very disappointed with the news media over this issue. As soon as the “bang bang” starts the embedded knuckleheads in the compliant news media suddenly have deep amnesia.

They have forgotten all the lies that surrounded shock and awe and more importantly and more worryingly, the news media has conveniently forgotten its own disgusting, abject, grovelling and deceitful role in that sorry little saga of war crime, murder and mayhem.

This front page is a good example of what I mean. Instead of focusing on why the attacks and challenging them, the New Zealand Herald chooses instead to run this stupid line from one of Gaddafi’s rants as an excuse to paint the attacks as justified.

This is not good enough.

I’m out for a Sunday drive, more later.