An open letter to Sharri Markson

October 17, 2014

The Australian‘s media editor, Sharri Markson, caused a storm this week when her newspaper published an “undercover” expose of alleged left-wing bias in two of the nation’s premier journalism programs at the University of Sydney (USYD and the University of Technology in Sydney (UTS)

sharri

Ms Markson relaxing after a hard day of study From http://www.bullshit-blog.com/sharri-markson-undercover-university/

Apparently she’s planning a follow-up and today emailed a selected number of journalism academics and others to seek their views about journalism education.

Sharri Markson's email. Oops, it leaked.

Sharri Markson’s email. Oops, it leaked.

Our correspondent, Martin Hirst, was not on the list even though he’s been a journalism academic for 20 years and is a well-known critic of News Corporation.

However, in to ensure Ms Markson gets the widest possible cross-section of views he sent her the following email.
Dr Hirst is not confident that his views will make it into Monday’s Australian, so in the interests of transparency he’s agreed to share them with us.

Dear Sharri,
Thanks for your interest in a wide range of views about journalism education in Australia.

I realise you have not actually requested my views, but I thought I’d share them with you anyway in the interests of ensuring that you do indeed get a wide range of views.

BTW: I did tweet a question at you a couple of days ago about your consideration of the MEAA Code of Ethics in your undercover story.You were busy and might have missed it; please consider sending me an answer.

In the meantime here’s my responses to your questions

What do you think about media studies and its love of critical theory, post modernism and even post Marxist critical theory?

MH: There is actually a broad range of theoretical approaches in media studies, not all of them revolve around critical theory, post modernism or post Marxist critical theory and of course, media studies and journalism studies are distinct disciplines that do have some overlaps.

Many journalism programs also operate alongside PR and other communication disciplines and we encourage students to take courses in these subjects as well. We also encourage them to take studies in non-communication disciplines in history, politics, psychology, sociology etc, even sports science in some places. We do this because – like you — we value the breadth of knowledge and we know that the news industry needs people with some content expertise, not just a ‘journalism only’ degree.

Views among journalism educators in Australia range right across the theoretical spectrum from highly normative approaches that continue to value objectivity and fourth estate theories of the press; there are even libertarians among us and then there’s those of us who think that critical theory is useful (careful how you define “critical theory” it has a 100 year history and many variations).

For instance: do you mean Habermas theory of the bourgeois public sphere or McChesney’s approach to media regulation in America, or British cultural studies; do you mean Frederick Jameson’s postmodernity, or David Harvey’s “condition of postmodernity” or Zygmunt Bauman’s “liquid modernity”?

Postmodernism and cultural studies are not overly influential in journalism education, the “media wars” of the 1990s were the highpoint of postmodernism in media theory and since then things have actually changed.

If you check out the websites of the various journalism courses in Australia you will see that there is a great deal of variety in approaches taken. Some of us are indeed critical theorists and even Marxists (though out of the 100+ who teach journalism in the higher ed system I think you could count them all on one hand).

I am really the only one who frequently puts up a hand to say “Yes, I’m a Marxist.” I am in a tiny minority. I am pretty sure that Wendy, Jenna, Margaret, Matthew and Penny (along with just about all of the JERAA’s membership) would tell you that they are explicitly not Marxists. Chomsky’s not even a Marxist.

The approach that some of us use — among others — is what you might call a “political economy” approach (it is not the same as Marxism, though it is a materialist worldview) and it involves an examination of economics and social relations; in other words an examination of historical reality, similar in many ways to the methods of journalism.

Political economy examines the news industry and the practices of journalism from a grounded position of asking “what is going on in the world and how do we explain it?” Again, you would be familiar with this approach from journalism – it is what journalists also do; ask questions, seek verification and try to approximate the truth using several sources and methods of triangulation.

Political economy is also related to sociology – my PhD is in this field and so too are those of many other journalism academics.
At the same time I also use the work of an American academic (now deceased) called John C. Merrill.

Merrill is interesting in many ways — he has written extensively on the “dialectic” in journalism — as he see’s it the struggle between “freedom” and “responsibility” and how journalists cope with that. Dialectics is not a purely Marxist concept, it goes all the way back to Heraclitus and the idea of “flux”, you would know this as “nobody steps into the same river twice”.

Merrill was a very conservative libertarian and thus would actually share some political opinions with your ultimate boss, Mr Murdoch. He would also probably be a member of the IPA today. So you can see, despite my Marxism, I am not sectarian.

On the other hand, to balance this out, quite a few journalism educators are not very theoretical at all and would rather teach the inverted pyramid than critical theory. Where you might find consensus among us is that a balance of theory and practice is important; most would also say practice should probably outweigh theory in a journalism course and in most of them it does.

Does it [critical theory] have a place in journalism education or is it ruining it?

Of course critical theory (of many stripes) and other theoretical approaches have a place in journalism education and, far from ruining it, actually improve it. I have been involved in journalism education since 1993 and I think it has got better in that time because those of us who came into teaching straight from the newsroom (and if you care to check that is just about everyone of us who is teaching journalism today, despite your newspaper’s constant dismissal of this fact without checking) have gained qualifications in teaching (for example I have a Grad Cert in adult education) and also have postgrad qualifications (I gained my MA in Australian Studies while working as a daily journalist and my PhD while working as a lecturer).

Theory and practice go together and in a professional course of study, consider nursing for example – as journalism in a university setting is — it is vital that both be central to the curriculum. As academics we are obliged to consider theory and practice, it is the role of a university to do both and challenging orthodoxy is part of that.

We challenge the orthodoxy of thinking within the journalism and news business as well. One orthodoxy that we challenge is the perception fostered by your newspaper (among others, but mainly you) is the whole “those who can do/those who can’t teach” dichotomy that is constantly thrown at us like rotten fruit. It is a false proposition and no more than populist nonsense, so why do you continue to spout it?

Is it because it suits your ideological agenda, because it is not supported by the facts? We (journalism educators) are not “failed” journalists as your editor continues to shout about.

Has there been a shift away from the practical side?

No, there has not been a shift away from the practical side of journalism in our courses. Practical and applied journalism are central to the journalism education project and embedded deeply in our curricula. There is, of course, variation between schools, but in general all of us take great pride in being practical.

If you look at unit and subject offerings across the country you will see a strong emphasis on “learning by doing” which is a key pedagogy in journalism education. Nearly all of us run online publishing outlets for student work (I am doing a research project on this at the moment and looking at the application of what the Americans call a “teaching hospital” approach to journalism education; you are welcome to contact me to talk about this).

My own pedagogy — which I’ve used very successfully for 20 years — is “the classroom is a newsroom / the newsroom is a classroom”.

This is simple really – we simulate the newsroom environment in our classrooms to teach the practical aspects of journalism — students do a range of tasks from compiling stories as in-class exercises from materials we give them (e.g. Media releases, etc) which would be a common first-year approach; then in more advanced units in second and third year students would be given real assignments; i.e.. “Get out of the classroom and find a real story to cover”.

We teach interviewing, research skills, how to do an FOI, how to keep contact books, writing the inverted pyramid, writing features, writing for online, audio and video editing, radio presentation and even on-air broadcast techniques for television.

There are hundreds of examples up and down the country of journalism students writing of the student press or their local paper, running community radio stations, doing current affairs programs for community TV, and having their own online outlets.
Then of course there’s the internships and work experience at all the major news companies across the nation and some of the newer start-ups too.

So it is wrong to say that there’s been a shift away from the practical side.
However, we do have a strong emphasis on law and ethics and you might argue this is theory, but it is equally about practice – we teach this through case studies and visits to actual courtrooms too.

Should journalism training return to a focus on the practical side rather than the theoretical?

There is no conflict here Sharri, see previous answer. In my view we get it about right, there’s always room for improvement and there is change constantly. Like the news business itself, we both (journalists and journalism educators) have to adapt to change because it’s right in front of us.

I hope you find my comments useful; I’d be happy to talk if you want to clarify anything.
You can look up my publications list from here. And you will notice I’ve actually written a couple of very practical textbooks among journal articles etc that you might dismiss as “critical” or even “Marxist” theory.

Best wishes
Martin


Measuring research impact – the metrics of grey collar labour

May 15, 2012

Academics in western higher education institutes are increasingly being assessed according to performance measures and metrics that resemble a Taylorist production line from early twentieth century capitalism.

The days when public intellectuals could luxuriate in ivory towers have long since faded into history. These days academic offices resemble open-plan public service pod-farms. There are no leather arm chairs or pipe-smoking professors in the refectory.

You are more likely to see us hunched over a pile of marking or filling in endless performance review and appraisal forms.

Higher education has become instrumentalised, commodified and regimented.

Students are no more. Instead we have customers and we must take them on an effortless journey from juvenile to adult while they continue to live at home well into their 20s and expect a steady diet of spoon-fed readers and easy marking.

Of course, this is a gross over-simplification and I know that many academics (myself included) continue to take pleasure in teaching and in mentoring students as they take hold of their own learning and see the light at the end of the assessment tunnel.

There’s increasingly less time for research, not to mention less hard-to-get dollars available. This is particularly true in the social sciences — often considered of lower value that attempts to cure cancer, make ‘clean’ coal, or map the human genome.

One metric that is used to sort “good” research from “ordinary” or “bad” is the notion of impact. Government departments have produced scads paperwork to grapple with this concept. Often it leads to nothing and after a few years the measures are scrapped or replaced with even more arcane forms of policing.

It’s gratifying then to see how impact is measured in less formal ways.

Take The Conversation, for example. On this collaborative and innovative site, impact is measured by social media tools.

The result is an instant and accurate picture of how the work of grey collar intellectuals is affecting the people around them.

Impact as measured by social media tools. If you ‘like’ my research just click.


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.


Academic, Media & Religious Freedom ~ Not ~ in Fiji

August 28, 2011

by Dr Mark Hayes

Update, September 4, 2011 ~ This Post started out as something else, but, over the last week of August, 2011, it morphed into a major, running, UpDate on developments in Fiji, several currents of which seemed to coalesce with very worrying speed and intensity. Most of it was written over August 27 – 31, with some tweaking and a few extra links added, until September 4.

I also know this Post has been read in Fiji, as well as more widely.

I won’t update this Post again, but will link to it as relevant in any future Posts on the general topic of Fiji, of which there will be more when events there suggest it and I decide I have something useful to contribute.

Of course, the Comments section remains active and I welcome any comments, which will not be censored (aside from normal, journalistic, editing as to clarity, legals, and taste).

Original Post continues –

I started to compile a more comprehensive wrap on recent developments in Fiji – more attacks on unions, the media, the Methodist Church – but then things started moving so fast on several fronts that I gave up, and will get to the bits and pieces, with much more context, in due course.

Scroll down for material on More Fantasy and Nastiness in Fiji, traversing the latest round on the Fiji regime throttling the Methodist Church, more on how media freedom is also throttled in Fiji, how the University of the South Pacific throttles academic freedom, continuing raids on the Fiji National Provident Fund, and insights into Fiji’s justice system under the military dictatorship.

Why Civil Resistance Works

A long anticipated and exceptionally valuable study, Why Civil Resistance Works: The Strategic Logic of Nonviolent Conflict, by American scholars, Erica Chenoweth and Maria J. Stephan, has landed on my desk. This is formidable and very thorough scholarship of the very first order which assembles and analyses a vast amount of historical and contemporary data to show, about as conclusively as this kind of research can do, that nonviolent direct action is much more effective at removing dictators, supporting democracies, and challenging domination than armed resistance or terrorism. That’s a huge claim, to be sure, and their work deserves a very close read, which I’m doing now.

You can get a feel for the book from this article, published in Foreign Affairs by Erica Chenoweth on August 24, 2011, and this earlier article, by Erica Chenoweth and Maria J. Stephan, “Why Civil Resistance Works: The Strategic Logic of Nonviolent Conflict.” International Security 33, no. 1 (Summer 2008): 7-44 (172 k PDF).

As well, I’ve been watching an excellent documentary on the impacts of global warming on Kiribati, The Hungry Tide, which has added to my collection of material on this crucial issue, has been doing the rounds of Australia’s film festivals recently, and brought back acute memories of my trips to Tuvalu where I’ve seen, and reported upon, the same kinds of effects.

More recently, Australia Network Television’s Pacific correspondent, Sean Dorney, has been to Kiribati to report on frustrations experienced from global warming’s front lines as they try to access mitigation funding and assistance pledged after the Copenhagen conference. His reports, including one on Radio National’s Correspondent’s Report for August 20, 2011, have been outstanding.

Sean Dorney’s Australia Network Television News Kiribati story ~ August 8, 2011

But, Memo to the always terrifying ABC Standing Committee on Spoken English (SCOSE) – Please come for Correspondent’s Report presenter, Elizabeth Jackson, for two broadcasting sins. Firstly, she mispronounced the name of the place ~ Kiri-bas ~ and not Kiri-bati. Secondly, she did so twice, in the introduction to the story, and again in the backannounce, clearly demonstrating she didn’t listen to the story she was presenting, in which the reporter pronounced the name correctly. Back in my days at the ABC, we’d be flogged in the car park for such gross violations of SCOSE directives!

Read the rest of this entry »


Stephen Joyce – “Yes minister, your F grade IS well-deserved.”

March 10, 2010

There’s a not-so-subtle form of political agitation that Government ministers employ when they want to stir the pot and push through some ill-conceived short-term policy change that will save them money and make them look good to some sections of the electorate.

It’s called “dog whistle” politics and the simple technique is to make an emotionally-charged announcement in a speech or other forum that gets the media’s attention and then gets the hounds racing.

Tertiary Education minister Stephen Joyce made a dog whistle announcement yesterday in a speech to the Wellington Chamber of Commerce.

The language of dog whistling has to be carefully constructed. There are two methods – scare mongering and aspirational – and both are usually employed.

Here’s a sample of Joyce’s aspirational language. The language of “improving outcomes”:

  • Increasing the number of young people achieving degrees
  • Increasing the success rate of Maori and Pasifika students
  • Increasing the number of young people successfully moving from schools to tertiary
  • Improving the outcomes of level one to three study
  • Improving the educational and financial strength of providers, and strengthening the research outcomes.

Who could disagree with these sentiments. Of course we want to improve and increase the outcomes of tertiary education. But, as always, the devil is in the details.

Read the rest of this entry »


Old habitus die hard, diehards just get older. Goldfish bite back

May 29, 2009

For the record, I started on this post way back at the end of March. I last worked on it before today on the 2nd of April. I was hoping to wait till I had more time, but some things just can’t wait. I have broken my vow of silence, now it’s back to the garret.

I’m prodded into action this afternoon by an opinion piece Savaged by blogosphere goldfish from Fairfax columnist and avowed curmudgeon Karl du Fresne attacking left-wing academics in general and those engaged in critical media studies in particular.

The original post was a response to a piece by Karl attacking Massey University media studies lecturer, Sean Phelan for writing an academic journal article critiquing a culture of anti-intellectualism in the New Zealand media and commenting on the state of journalism education in this country. Both of these are areas of professional concern for me, so I eagerly read both pieces with some interest.

I have now ingested all of this material and, I intend to get my goldfish teeth into some serious chewing on some big ideas. This is actually a high stakes argument. Not on any personal level, but in terms of defining and debating some important issues about journalism in New Zealand and about the philosophy of journalism more generally.

I don’t think it’s a simple binary argument either. There are many nuanced positions, it’s just that Karl du Fresne has nailed his colours to a particular flag and let go a broadside at his perceived ideological foes.

I suppose he should expect some response and as he points out, mine has been a while coming. I haven’t been idle in that time, several plans are afoot to further the discussion, but I guess a more immediate response is necessary as my name and Sean Phelan’s have again been dragged through the mud on the bottom of Karl’s size nines.

Read the rest of this entry »


Peter McGregor – free at last

December 2, 2007

this just in from Peter McGregor,
the charges have been dropped, about time.

Hi all,
Just letting you know what has happened with my court
case.
—-
Senior Constable Stuart Cosgrove wrote to me: Frid 23
Nov
> > Mr. McGREGOR, I wish to advise you that the charge
of
Enter Inclosed lands not prescribed premises without
lawful excuse brought against you in relation to an
incident that occurred at the University of NSW on 5th
July 2007 and is which is scheduled for hearing at
Waverley Local Court 6th Dec 2007, is to be withdrawn
as per request by the University of NSW.
Regards, Stuart Cosgrove, Senior Constable, Maroubra
Police Station
————
When I then spoke to Constable Cosgrove, he said that
UNSW had only contacted the police about dropping the
charges in the last week or two. (The ‘details on the
offence/s’ are:
Unlawful entry on inclosed land….
“did without lawful excuse enter into the inclosed
lands of UNSW situate at Anzac Parade Kingsford
without the consent of Matthew JOSS (UNSW Head of
Security) and Dr Andrew LYNCH (Event Co-Coordinator)
the person apparently in charge of the said inclosed
lands.”)

Many of you will remember the way George Williams and
UNSW previously refused to contact the police to
request the charges be withdrawn.(See below – (1))
Hear is what they are saying now:
”14 Nov 2007 Mr Stephen Langford,25 Comber
St,Paddington,2021
Dear Stephen,
Thanks you for your card about the charges against
Peter McGregor. I’m not sure where you have got your
information from, but we have not actually laid any
charges against Peter. Those charges were laid by the
police in regard to events that occurred outside of
our conference. In fact, we have contacted the police
now on a number of occasions indicating our own desire
that the charges not proceed. However, the police have
made it clear that it is their decision as to whether
to proceed because the charges have been laid by them
and not us.
I would not like to see the charges proceed, & if you
support that aim the approprite people to write to are
the authorities.
Yours sincerely, George Williams “
——–
Do any of you have any ideas above why the police have
belatedly dropped the charges, and/or what the
machinations have been at UNSW? For instance, Tharunka
interviewed me & George Williams, but the student
paper hasn’t even mentioned the court case…
It seems that we may have struck a blow for free
speech, and exposed George Williams & the Gilbert &
Sullivan Law School in the process.
So many thanks for your support, you don’t need to
come to Waverly Court on Thurs 6th Dec., and I will
keep you posted.

Love & rage, Peter
—–
(1) Victoria Finlay [mailto:V.Finlay@unsw.edu.au]
_Sent: Thursday, 23 August 2007 9:53 AM_To: Lo
Schiavo, Fabian_Subject: regarding Peter Macgregor

_Dear Mr LoSchiavo, __Further to my recent email
response to you on behallf of the Vice-Chancellor
regarding the arrest of Mr Peter McGregor, I would
like to add the following comments. __Mr McGregor made
a protest against the Attorney-General in the morning
session of the ‘Symposium on Law & Liberty in the War
on Terror’ on 5 July 2007. Mr McGregor was removed
from the venue by Police officers providing Mr
Ruddock’s security. They did not charge him in
relation to his protest and left the campus with the
Attorney-General. The police prosecution relates to
subsequent dealings with police and Mr McGregor
elsewhere on campus. _ _The Centre of Public Law made
the decision to deny Mr McGregor further access to the
event after he had been removed. This was after
attempting to negotiate terms on which Mr McGregor
could reasonably continue to attend the Symposium.
Essentially, Mr McGregor was not prepared to
guarantee that other speakers would not also be
disrupted. _ _The conception of the Symposium was……

Yours sincerely, __Victoria Finlay_Executive Officer
to the Vice-Chancellor_


QUT saga, last laugh for John and Garry

November 13, 2007


Ethical Martini is back after a short break that included a fun and busy trip to the USA and Canada.
While I was away the QUT saga involving my friends Garry Maclennan and John Hookham came to an end. It seems that QUT was forced to back down on every claim against the pair. John sent this message through today, which sums it up.

Dear Friends,
The saga of “Laughing at the Disabled” has now come to close (at least as far as Gary and I are concerned). As you probably all recall, we brought an action against QUT in the Federal Court. The university settled this out of court. Under this settlement we were to be re-instated, our records restored and the misconduct findings declared null and void. We were also paid $100,000 each in damages. After we accepted this offer to settle, QUT signaled its interest in settling all matters with us and we agreed to continue our negotiations. While we were considering the final offer, Garry and I decided to visit QUT to collect some personal belongings.

Unfortunately there were some ugly incidents when we attempted to re-enter the workplace. As a consequence, we decided it would not be in our best interests to return to work at QUT under any circumstances. We accepted the QUT offer which included our resignations but because of the confidentiality provisions, I am unable to discuss the terms of that settlement.

But, I have attached herewith a photograph of Gary and I with our lawyer, Stephen Kerin leaving the Federal Court building after finalising the settlement. This picture captures our joy on the brink of settlement.

I would like to conclude by once again thanking all of you for your support throughout this very difficult and very important dispute. I hope our actions have done much to further the cause of freedom of speech and academic freedom in Australia.

Amandla!

John Hookham


NMHRC to investigate QUT-Noonan claims

September 27, 2007

Well, interesting.
In my previous post on the QUT shenanigans, there’s mention of the National Health and Medical Research Council – the peak body for research ethics in Australia, possibly investigating claims that QUT PhD student Michael Noonan may have breached protocols in relation to his research project “Laughing at the Disabled”.

I emailed the acting Director of Progam Assurance, Dr Gordon McGurk (see below)

Dear Gordon, I am writing as a concerned academic.
I would like to know if the NHMRC is investigating claims of unethical research practices made against QUT PhdD student Michael Noonan in relation to his thesis “Laughing at the disabled”.
I understand that Mr Noonan may well have violated well-established ethical guidelines for dealing with Indigenous people in some aspects of the video work he is compiling towards his thesis. There is an allegation against him that he has possibly misrepresented May Lulu Dunne and obtained a consent form/release form from her under false pretenses, or worse.
Drs Hookham and MacLennan are facing serious misconduct charges for raising some of these issues and from my understanding of their case, they have been badly treated by QUT for blowing the whistle on what they saw as poor supervision of Mr Noonan’s thesis and the ethical issues surrounding his work with both disabled persons and Indigenous Australians.
As a supervisor of postgraduate students I am familiar with ethics considerations in relation to thesis work and other research projects in Australia and elsewhere. I also know that in most cases they are stringently enforced. I can only wonder at what the breakdown was at QUT in relation to Mr Noonan’s thesis.
Are you in touch with QUT over this matter and do you intend to conduct any inquiries of your own, or to cause the NHMRC to investigate this matter further?
Thanks
Martin

About an hour later I received a response:

Dear Martin

Following yesterday’s revelations regarding the alleged lack of consent or ethical approval before filming Ms Dunne, I am making this issue a matter of urgency. I have put together a brief for the Chief Executive to alert him and the executive to what may have happened.

The NHMRC had planned to investigate other alleged breaches following the conclusion of the legal action between QUT and Drs Hookham and MacLennan. However, this most recent information may precipitate some action sooner than planned.

Yours sincerely

Gordon McGurk


QUT sacks academics – update

September 27, 2007

I have just received this message from John Hookham regarding the ongoing disciplinary action against him and Garry MacLennan at QUT in Brisbane. You can find my previous posts on this case here.

Dear Colleagues,

Some months ago, I sent out a letter informing you about a PhD project entitled Laughing at the Disabled: Creating Comedy that Confronts and Offends. This was a project being carried out by Michael Noonan who is a PhD student at our university, Queensland University of Technology (QUT).

My colleague, Dr Gary MacLennan and I strongly objected to this project on the grounds that it set out to demean people with cognitive disabilities. We felt that the central thrust of the project was to mock and ridicule people with intellectual impairment. Furthermore, we questioned the fact that the university had given this project ethical clearance. We pointed out that the correct protocols for Ethical Research involving Humans had not been properly followed. We brought this to the attention of the university, (QUT) by writing to the Dean and by submitting a Formal Complaint to the Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Prof Arun Sharma.

All our objections were ignored. As a consequence we wrote an article in the Higher Education Supplement of the national newspaper, The Australian. In the article we were critical of the project, the supervisory team and the Human Research Ethics Committee (HREC) that approved the project.

As a result of writing this article, Dr MacLennan and I were charged by the university for Misconduct and had to face a Misconduct Investigation Committee. The Chair of this committee and the two academics on the committee were chosen by the Vice-Chancellor, Prof Peter Coaldrake. We had no say whatsoever about who should be on the committee.

In my opinion, the Hearing that we faced was nothing other than a kangaroo court or Star Chamber. It seemed clear to us, from the outset, that we would be found guilty and that the verdict was pre-determined. During the process, we were not allowed to screen the film to show what we had objected to and the committee refused to view the material. This despite that fact that it was our response to the material that had prompted us to write the article. The committee also refused to examine the ethical clearance process.

In my opinion, during the Hearing, witnesses for my defense were threatened and intimidated. At the end of the Hearing, my representative, Dr Lisa Bridle, was frightened that the university might take some action against her for supporting me and immediately burst into tears.

The next day Dr MacLennan collapsed and had a nervous breakdown. He was treated by a medical physician.

The committee subsequently found us guilty of all the charges brought against us. There is no appeal process and the Vice-Chancellor decides on the penalty. There are no checks and balances in the system to limit his power. Prof Coaldrake decided to suspend us without pay for six months. He also informed us that he would be bringing a second series of charges against us.

Fortunately we were able to get legal counsel and we are currently in the process of contesting the manner in which our investigation was conducted. But we still have further charges hanging over our heads.

In the Hearing one of the charges against us was that we had misrepresented Michael Noonan’s work. There was a scene in the film involving an interaction between one of the disabled men (James who is autistic) and an Aboriginal woman. This took place in a country barroom. James was told by Noonan to enter the bar and ask if there were any young women in the town as he was looking for a girlfriend. In the scene we saw, the Aboriginal woman was inebriated and embraced James.

Noonan claimed that we misrepresented him as he never intended to screen that scene in public again. But now he has put this scene up on the web and said he is very proud of it. An Aboriginal friend of ours has gone to Boulia and made contact with May, the woman in the scene. Her name is May Lulu Dunne and she is a tribal woman from the Northern territory. She is horrified and feels shame that such images of her have been put up on the web. She emphatically denies giving permission for the filmmaking and her partner supports her version of the affair. It must be said however that Noonan claims to have a release form though no one has sighted it.

QUT has a policy of reconciliation with indigenous Australians. It has also signed onto the ethical protocols for research involving indigenous Australians.

Ted Watson who is acting for May Dunne has made an official complaint to the NHMRC, which is the body charged with seeing that university research involving humans is ethical.

I and he are convinced that QUT has acted in violation of the protocols for research involving indigenous Australians. These are as follows

National Statement for Research Involving Humans

Research involving Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People

Six core values

· Reciprocity

· Respect

· Equality

· Responsibility

· Survival and Protection

· Spirit and integrity

The Clauses

The researcher should ensure that the research methods are respectful.

There should be evidence of support for the research project from relevant Aboriginal and Torrres Strait Islander communities and the research methodology should engage with their social and cultural practices.

The researcher should seek to identify any potential negative consequences of the proposed research, to design process to monitor them and to advise steps for minimizing them.

The research methods and processes should provide opportunities to develop trust and a sense of equal research partnerships.

The benefits… should include… research outcomes that advance the interests of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples.

The described benefits from research should have been discussed with and agreed to by the Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander research stakeholders.

The Statement makes it quite clear that researchers need to obtain permission from not only the participants but also the Aboriginal community. Aboriginal academics and elders have fought hard for these protocols to ensure that their people are not exploited. QUT is bound by these protocols but is clearly in violation of them here. Prof Rod Wissler has appeared on national television as a spokesman for QUT claiming that the scene with May is fine and does not breach research ethical protocols.

It is quite clear that Michael Noonan has ignored these research protocols. So not only are the disabled being laughed at in Michael Noonan’s research, he has also included a comical portrayal of an Aboriginal woman, who has done nothing to merit such ridicule and mockery.

Once again I ask you as concerned academics or citizens to make clear that such practices violate our ethical code and are unacceptable. Those concerned should write to Gordon.McGurk@health.gov.au of the National Health & Medical Research Council and ask him to investigate this matter immediately.

Please also write your concerns to the Minister for Indigenous Affairs, Mal Brough at Mal.Bough.MP@aph.gov.au and the Shadow Minister for Indigenous Affairs, Jenny Macklin at j.macklin.mp@aph.go.au

Thank you once again for your support.

John Hookham

This message was also sent from Ted Watson

Dear Friends,

My Name is Ted Watson. I am an Aboriginal man. I have been granted power of attorney to act on behalf of May Lulu Dunne who was filmed by Michael Noonan in the Australian Hotel in Boulia Easter 2006 as part of his PhD Project. The project was called Laughing at the Disabled: Creating Comedy that Confronts, Offends and Entertains.

In Easter 2006 Noonan took two intellectually impaired men to Boulia to find girls and to ask about the Min Min Lights. He sent them into the pub and there they met May Dunne. She is a tribal woman from the Northern Territory and is a decent caring grandmother of 52 years of age. She had too much to drink when Noonan filmed her but this is an exception for her. On Noonan’s film she comes across as the stereotypical drunken indigenous woman that white people love to portray. In May’s own words she tells us

“At no time was I asked permission to be filmed or sign any paper…I was hurt and shamed to see my actions shown on the internet in [the] Courier Mail newspaper website at our local library by Mr Ted Watson on Friday 14//07. I watched ABC and SBS hoping I would not be see[n] by everybody especially my people and family in a drunken way. I am upset now and want my pictures taken of the website…”

Noonan and QUT have broken all of the protocols for doing research involving indigenous Australians. We the Aboriginal people of Australia fought hard for these protocols. They are

National Statement for Research Involving Humans

Research involving Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People

Six core values

· Reciprocity

· Respect

· Equality

· Responsibility

· Survival and Protection

· Spirit and integrity

Clauses in the Protocol
The researcher should ensure that the research methods are respectful.

There should be evidence of support for the research project from relevant Aboriginal and Torrres Strait Islander communities and the research methodology should engage with their social and cultural practices.

The researcher should seek to identify any potential negative consequences of the proposed research, to design process to monitor them and to advise steps for minimizing them.

The research methods and processes should provide opportunities to develop trust and a sense of equal research partnerships.

The benefits… should include… research outcomes that advance the interests of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples.

The described benefits from research should have been discussed with and agreed to by the Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander research stakeholders.

I repeat that Michael Noonan has clearly broken all these protocols. Yet QUT set up an internal review following a complaint about his research and they found him not guilty. The academics who did this have betrayed my people and they have also shamed their own university.

May has also asked me to say that she thinks it is nasty to make fun of and rubbish people like Darren and James who do not understand what is going on. May herself is the guardian and carer of an intellectually disabled man. The Aboriginal people of Boulia were horrified when Noonan and Spectrum Organization put Daren and James into the rodeo ring and made them act being a bull and a matador so people would laugh at them. May and her family could not understand why people were being so cruel to James and Darren. But then we Aborigines have never understood why white Australians can be so cruel to other whites.

There is now an interview with me up on YouTube. The link below will get you there.

Please pass on the link to all interested parties especially indigenous groups all round the world.

We Aborigines are having a very hard time now, what with our rights being trampled on and our land being taken off us. We need help and support from everyone.

We need an apology from QUT to May Dunne, compensation for her suffering and the removal of Noonan’s footage of her from the Courier Mail website.

Yours in the struggle

Edward James Watson

This is now an international issue that hopefully will seriously embarrass QUT and vice-chancellor Peter Coaldrake. Here’s an interview with UCLA Professor of Philosophy Calvin Normore. He describes the suspension of Garry and John as a serious threat to academic freedom.