EXCLUSIVE or ‘EXCUSIVE’? The Australian’s war against logic

January 12, 2014

I gave up my subscription to The Australian just over a year ago. It was the one resolution from New Year 2012-13 that I made and kept.

I drafted a post on it at the time, but decided not to bother publishing it, thereby depriving Murdoch of oxygen. This is what I wrote on 30 December 2012:

It’s not about the money. By my back of the envelope calculations every six-day delivery plus digital access subscription is actually losing money for News Limited. At $8.95 a week for the newspaper and the paywalled online content I was actually paying less than the price for home delivery alone and each daily paper was costing me less than the advertised cover price. Besides, I can afford it, so cost was not a factor.

What finally prompted me to stop my sub was the fact that I am increasingly agitated by the tone of The Australian’s coverage of politics and the shrill and incessant screaming directed at anything slightly left of the paper’s far-right conservatism.

For The Australian’s coterie of conservative commentators everything proposed by the Gillard Labor government represents a threat to civilisation and only the gathering forces of the libertarian right can overcome the descent into socialist Hell that the Gillard regime represents.

That this scenario is the product of fevered imaginations in the ranks of The Australian’s editorial leadership does not matter. Even the most debatable and opinion-laden piece of reportorial dross is labelled ‘Exclusive’ on the front page of the national daily and the paper’s columnists are uniformly opposed to anything progressive or ‘liberal’.

I am sick of it and I’m sure that my mental state is also polluted by the junk that is published relentlessly in pursuit of Murdoch’s regime-change agenda.

The Australian is not a newspaper in the sense of reporting items of public interest with a veneer of objectivity, it is nothing more than a cheer squad for Tony Abbott’s Liberal party.

Well, we all know what happened in 2013. The Australian and its stablemates The Herald Sun in Melbourne and The Daily Telegraph in Sydney, waged incessant war on Gillard and Rudd and the Labor Party and slavishly praised the Abbott-led coalition right up until the 7 September election date.

Since then, The Australian has championed all the causes, crusades and bullying, braying arrogance of the Abbott government.

All this hard work has not gone unrewarded. Several things have happened recently that make me think that the hotline between News Limited’s increasingly shrill coterie of senior shills and the government’s spinmeisters is always busy.

The two phenomena I wish to comment on today are evidence of this special relationship between the world’s greatest newspaper and the prime minister we had to have.

It’s simple really; the pay-off for The Australian’s loyalty and aggression has been inside information and news tips to feed the front page beast and a handsome payday for a coterie of eccentric, but suitably rightwing commentators who were being warehoused in the News Limited corridors until they could be dusted off for a suitable public purpose.

The elusive, EXCLUSIVE excusive

An “exclusive” in the newspaper world was always something that a reporter could be proud of and that an editor would get juicy over because it had the potential to increase sales and generate ‘buzz’ about the paper and the story. For a journalist, an exclusive meant free drinks at the bar, a pat on the back and a chance of promotion.

But, today at The Australian the EXCLUSIVE has become devalued to the point of worthlessness and over-used to the point of terminal boredom and cynicism on the part of the reader. More disturbingly it has morphed into what I am calling the EXCUSIVE, a story that provides political cover and excuses for the actions of the Abbott government. The Australian is now a mouthpiece and a megaphone for pro-Abbott propaganda.

Let me tender a few exhibits as evidence:

THE AUSTRALIAN, Thursday January 9, 2014

The front page of the 9 January paper had seven separate stories; six of them were badged EXCLUSIVE.

The lead “Labor, Greens end the affair” was written by Tasmania correspondent, Matthew Denholm. The exclusive was based on several “understands”:

The Australian understands the Tasmanian ALP is preparing to sever its four-year power-sharing alliance with the Greens…

While final decisions on the details of the Tasmanian split are yet to be made, The Australian understands a consensus has emerged in Labor ranks…

There is ongoing debate about whether, how and when to dump the two Greens minister — Australia’s first — from state cabinet, but The Australian understands this is the most likely outcome in the next few weeks.

There is not one source quoted in the eleven pars of this story on page one. It continues on page four for another nine pars before there is a quote from a living, breathing human being, if you can call a paraphrase with one word in “quotation” marks a quote quote unquote:

She [Lara Giddings, not the cat’s mother] became a staunch defender of it and her Greens ministers, and in March last year said she would “absolutely” have Greens back in cabinet after the next election.

That’s 20 pars into the story before a source is supplied and then it’s a source negative to the intent of the story. But it is also at least 10 months old.

The first recent quote comes in par 22, and it’s another long paraphrase with only two pretty inconsequential words in quote marks:

Yesterday, Ms Giddings refused to say whether Labor would rule out future power-sharing with the Greens, instead confirming a decision would be made in “coming weeks”.

The full Giddings quote is then repeated two pars further down:

“You can wait and see what we have got to say over the coming weeks and months as we head to the election and where we are heading as the Labor Party,” she said.

You might think that by now, the plucky Mr Denholm would give up, but no for that is not the way at the nation’s finest broadsheet. When you don’t have a story and the on-the-record statement from the key source hoses down your speculation. Don’t give up, make it up.

Matthew ploughs ahead with the main theme of the story, despite the fact that he has got no on the record response from sources that back up his understandings.

A complete reversal by Giddings-led Labor follows similar stances against deals with the Greens taken by the party’s leadership in other states and territories.

Hang on. What “complete reversal”. All the paper has is a coy wait and see from Lara Giddings.

This EXCLUSIVE is a beat-up and it wouldn’t pass muster in my first year journalism tutorials. We insist on two real live interviews in most news stories our students write for us and normally we expect to see a strong supporting quote in the first four pars, not buried in the spill-over to page four. The headline might more honestly have been “Giddings says ‘wait and see’ on possible split with Greens”

If Matthew were in my class I would suggest he rewrite this as a story about Lara Giddings saying any decision on a split with the Greens is still weeks or months away. In other words, it is a non-story.

Why then is it on the front page as the lead in The Australian?

You’d have to ask Chris Mitchell for the real answer, but here’s one I made up earlier.

The story fits the ongoing narrative running through News Limited newspapers that the Greens are really communists in disguise, are bad for the country, are crackpots and fuckwits and part of the reason that Labor is so unpopular. Any EXCUSIVE that promotes the party line and has a bash at both Labor and the Greens has a deserved place on the front page.

The front page of The Australian is the front line in Murdoch’s war on logic.

My favourite front page EXCUSIVE in this particular edition of The Australian was a story about the tow-back of asylum-seeker boats to Indonesia. You might recall (by way of background) that Immigration Minister Scott Morrison and other senior Liberals, including Abbott, are maintaining a horrible secrecy on this issue and most of our information is courtesy of reporters in Jakarta, not Canberra.

Navy now ‘towing’ back the boats

EXCLUSIVE

Brendan Nicholson, Defence editor

The lead par on this story is a statement of the bleeding obvious:

The Abbott government is implementing a radical policy of towing asylum boats back to Indonesian waters.

Yeah, we know that Brendan, it was on the news last night and all over the web all day yesterday. An exclusive is supposed to be new and a story that nobody else has got hold of yet.

The cat is out of the bag on the exclusivity of this story in the long second par:

The Jakarta Post reported yesterday that…

After noting (without comment) that Morrison is refusing to speak, we are exclusively told in The Australian that “last night” an asylum-seeker spoke to “the Seven Network” about the tow-back. I didn’t see that interview, but I did see it on the ABC and the SBS.

There goes the EXCLUSIVE and the story tips over into being an EXCUSIVE again.

In this case the excusing is inserted by republishing a quote from Tony Abbott from his visit to Jakarta in October last year when he flatly denied that towing back boats would be Coalition policy.

During his first visit to Indonesia as Prime Minister, in October [2013], Tony Abbott told a media conference in Jakarta: “Can I just scotch this idea that the Coalition’s policy is or ever has been tow-backs.”

The faithful stenographic chimp who occupies the chair reserved for the ‘Defence Editor’, dutifully repeats the lies as a way of hosing down the seriousness of this story:

During the election campaign, Mr Morrison said the Coalition never had a policy of towing boats back to Indonesia. He said that position had been misrepresented in the media over a long period.

You see, weasel words and dissembling are enough to convince The Australian that it is right. The coalition policy is “turnaround, not strictly tow-backs” according to Abbott, so that is how it is reported in the Murdoch press.

This is not an exclusive in any sense of the word. All the information contained in the story was already on the public record. What is EXCLUSIVE to this story is the EXCUSIVE pro-government spin imparted by the paper itself.

Four more EXCLUSIVEs appeared between pages two and five of The Australian on 9 January, some of them might be legitimate — ie stories that are first reported in the paper and not elsewhere, but at least one of them is exclusive because no one else would touch it. It is another EXCUSIVE based on the prejudices of The Australian, rather than any merit.

In this context EXCUSIVE is about campaigning in the dog whistle political style of The Australian — attacking targets in the sights of the Abbott government as a way of currying favour and displaying fealty to the Liberal conservative social agenda.

Uni defends audience with Assad

EXCLUSIVE

Christian Kerr

This is a follow-up story to other coverage of the visit to Syria and audience with Bashar al-Assad in Damascus by a group claiming some connection with the Australian Wikileaks party.

For the record, I think the visit was a stupid and disgusting mistake on behalf of those who went. It lends legitimacy to the Assad regime and also to claims that the Syrian opposition is mostly made up of al Qaida-style extremists.

I have publicly disagreed with Tim Anderson before about this and a year ago defriended him on Facebook after he continually posted pro-Assad comments and images to his timeline. I am a strong supporter of the Syrian opposition, but do not countenance jihadist sentiment. I support the secular revolutionaries and those who wish to bring down the Assad regime, rather than those who wish to establish a caliphate in the region.

Anyway, back to the story. The Australian had been pestering the University of Sydney (Anderson’s employer) to dissociate itself from his visit to Damascus and to condemn or even sanction him for his actions.

Despite this pressure, the university stood by Anderson on the grounds of academic freedom and it was right to do so. This is reported in the first par of Christian Kerr’s story, but it is just not good enough, as he goes on to explain (at great length)

The University of Sydney has defended as an exercise in academic freedom the visit of senior lecturer Tim Anderson to Syria as part of a delegation that met dictator Bashar al-Assad.

But the comments have not satisfied Education Minister Christopher Pyne or a group of federal MPs who wrote to the university earlier this week expressing concerns…

Then we move back into the murky territory of who understands what — can you hear the whistle boys and girls? This is Kerr’s stock-in-trade and a tried and true modus operandi at The Australian. Ethical Martini understands that this method is used because the stenographic chimps can learn it by rote and apply the formula to any story and any situation.

The Australian understands there is concern among the university’s top governing body, the senate, that Dr Anderson’s visit will compound concerns caused by the boycott of Israeli institutions and academics by its Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies.

This is the real nub. The Australian has been campaigning for months against the BDS campaign boycott being implemented by the CPCS because the paper is pro-Israel and pro-Zionist thanks to Murdoch’s business interests in the country, including possible covert hacking and spying on competitors in the pay-TV industry. [See Neil Chenoweth’s exposure for the full story]

This brings us nicely to the appointment of Donelly and Wiltshire to head up a review of the national school curriculum. Both of these neanderthal hacks are favourites of Murdoch and Mitchell. They frequently opine in The Australian on education and other issues and they are both reliably rightwing to the point that they walk with a limp.

I have plenty more to say on that, but it is Sunday afternoon and I’m going off for a massage.

Tomorrow I am having surgery on my hand and I won’t be typing for a while, so this is the last post, so to speak, for at least two weeks.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Talking Points: The Australian’s cosy little club of groupthinkers

May 25, 2012

If you get to the bottom there is a topical easter egg surprise for loyal readers.

Over recent months many of my colleagues in the Journalism Education Association of Australia (JEAA) have attempted to get responses to The Australian’s attacks on us (over many months) published. We have had very little luck. One open letter that was sent from the association with more than 50 signatures was made available as a PDF from a deep recess of The Australian’s website,but not easily searchable and just last week I received this response from editor of Media Diary Nick Leys.

A right-of-reply @leysie style

Some of the attacks have centred on Dr Matthew Ricketson who was engaged to assist with the Independent Media Inquiry. The Australian‘s coverage of this issue has been appalling and one-sided, but when Matthew tried to defend himself he was not given space, instead Nick Leys cobbled together a piece from second-hand sources. It is what The Australian‘s editor-in-chief Chris Mitchell would call “four or five out of 10” journalism.

Editor in chief of The Australian Chris Mitchell questions the journalistic credentials of those passing judgment on the industry. “Ricketson, Simons and their mate Andrew Dodd (Crikey contributor and Swinburne University of Technology journalism course convener) all worked for The Australian and you would give them barely a pass mark as journalists,” he says.

“Seriously. People who I would score four or five out of 10 are trying to determine the future of media regulation in Australia. Everyone in the business knows it is a self-serving joke and these people are dupes for Conroy.”

Chris Mitchell quoted approvingly and at length in his own newspaper. A cosy club Chris – you’re the patron

As the national association representing journalism educators and academics, you might think that the JEAA would be given some space to respond to criticisms and abuse hurled at us. For some reason, we are not considered worthy of space in the paper’s letters pages, let alone to write a column.

We have been accused of being a “cosy club” prone to  “groupthink” even though there are many disagreements among us. It is a puzzling charge and one that The Australian rejects when it is levelled against them.

It is puzzling because the op-ed pages of The Australian display a remarkable and consistent commitment to groupthink. Its columnists all sing off the same conservative songsheet with the libertarian soloists taking center stage all too often.

However, it might come as a surprise to readers of our national broadsheet that this same groupthink is also displayed in the letters pages.

For example, Mr Brenton Minge, of suburban Bulimba in Brisbane, must be one of the luckiest writers of letters to the editor in Australia. A Google search shows up a Brenton Minge who it seems has a  bent for letter writing, particularly on topics of religion, science and the “Leftist” ABC.  Maybe this is why he so popular with The Australian‘s letters editor.

Mr Minge has had nine letters published in The Australian’s Talking Points column since May 2011, for a total of around 1400 words. He is not the only one.

Read the rest of this entry »


Saurons of cinema: Gobbits and Quislings in a tale of ‘yore

April 9, 2011

The drafty Stalinesque lecture hall underneath Auckland’s trade union headquarters in Grey Lynn was a fitting stage for the evening of ‘serious fun’ and ribald politics, earlier this week, when Warner Brothers won the despised and coveted Roger Award for the worst transnational operating in Aotearoa/New Zealand.

It was fitting that the gun-running, racist lackey Bugs Bunny was on hand to accept the Roger on behalf of his bosses.

Bugs Bunny takes home the Roger for God-knows-what nefarious doings. Photo Nigel Mofiet

Read the rest of this entry »


We don’t trust the news media – so where’s the news in that?

October 8, 2009

UMR Research has today [7 October]  released the results of a survey of New Zealanders that show, on the whole, that we don’t trust the news media.

As UMR Executive Editor Tim Grafton said in a company media release, the findings really come as “no surprise”.

What would have been newsworthy and surprising, would be a survey that says the news media’s doing well in terms of accuracy, balance and a willingness to admit mistakes.Nearly two-thirds of respondents  felt there was a problem with the media: only 35 per cent said the media was accurate, 30 per cent  that the news was balanced and only 27 per cent believed the media was willing to admit to mistakes.

Age and gender also appear to influence the results, which is also not surprising really. We might expect older men to be more inclined to read newspapers and therefore perhaps more inclined to complain and to notice potential problems.

The real issue is what, if anything, the news media – or more accurately perhaps, editors and senior journalists – are going to do about their poor standings.

Read the rest of this entry »


Boquet for HoS – attempting to come clean on Veitch

April 26, 2009

I would like to congratulate Shayne Currie and David Fisher for the piece in today’s Herald on Sunday [Inbside the Veitch media circus] and for getting Tim Pankhurst to at least put something on the record about the genesis of the whole caravan.

I was interviewed for David’s story and in the course of our long-ish chat I raised the idea that the Dom Post and the other media outlets, who bought into the story subsequently, actually owed the public a certain level of disclosure about sources.

I know this flies in the face of accepted ethical wisdom about protecting sources and so-called “shield laws”, but I argue that in this case the motivation of sources is actually a key element of the story.

This is particularly salient when everyone involved – editors, journos, PR managers and the central protagonist – all admit that scrambling for the media high ground (and a position of control) was a key objective of both sides.

Unfortunately, we – the readers and viewers – were not privy to who the sources were, though in David’s piece, the Team Veitch PR expert, Glenda Hughes, says that she was reactive to the media most of the time and only admitted to “selling” a story on one or two occasions.

I am still mulling over a more considered and lengthy post on this story. In my view it is a fantastic case study of media actions – in this case feeding on one of its own – almost an act of cannibalism. I’m sure none of us (media people) would like to be in Tony Veitch’s shoes and see our career shredded.

I actually have sympathy for everyone caught in the shockwaves of this story.

Kristin Dunne Powell has been unfairly and disgustingly labeled a “bunny boiler” [cultural reference to Sharon Stone’s character in Basic Instinct]. Her life will never be the same again.

Tony Veitch does not at the moment have a life – he is medically unfit for work, marriage and friendship – he may well be the “author” of his own misfortune, but he got plenty of help from the news media.

Zoe Veitch is also a victim, her performance during the whole saga was as “stoic wife”, but she too got dragged through the PR fence backwards from time to time.

The families of key figures are all scarred and substantially out-of-pocket. Therefore we have to ask, was it worth it? Was the public interest really served by the attention this story got?

I don’t think the media covered themselves in glory on this story. I will post something more substantial later.

I’m also considering doing an academic paper on this for a journalism studies conference in December. If anyone would like to talk to me about it, particularly any journos or editors, I’d love to hear from you.

ethicalmartiniATgmail.com is the best way to get in touch. Or you can leave a comment to this post. For the record, if you leave a comment I will assume that it is public and that you consent to me using it in any research publication that results (eg: conference paper and/or journal article).


The moral purpose of journalism

January 14, 2009

“We always end up starting with the Israeli side,” said a Japanese television journalist, speaking on the condition of anonymity, “because that’s where we are and that’s what we can see.”

(Christian Science Monitor, 10 January 2009)

The job of the news media is not to try to solve all the world’s problems, but to shake awake the world’s conscience. Good journalism can do that.

(Philip Seib, The Global Journalist, 2002, p.xiv)

I’ve been deliberately staying away from posting my thoughts on the coverage of the present conflict in Gaza; mainly because when I try to watch it on TV I get enormously angry and depressed. I’m also reluctant to say too much because there’s nothing more likely to stir passionate outrage among the dribblejaws than yet another anti-Israel rant.

But I’m now going to dip a toe in these troubled waters. My inspiration to do so comes from a number of sources:

  • The heroic act of shoe-throwing that I’ve covered in a number of posts. I’ve made it clear that I support the actions of the Iraqi journalist Muntadhar al-Zeidi. When he threw his shoes at George W Bush it was a symbolic act of disgust and outrage that had, apparently, been simmering in Muntadhar’s head for some time. It was, in my view, the act of a morally-upstanding person. From the positive reactions globally, it seems that many people agree that Bush deserved it.
  • I’m currently reading Philip Seib’s The Global Journalist: News and Conscience in a World of Conflict, and the book begins with an interesting, though flawed, thesis on the moral responsibilities that journalists carry around in their ethical kitbags.
  • Finally, I think it’s important to defend a political critique of Zionism from accusations of racism and anti-Jewish “hate speech”.

Before you read any further, you need to know that I am a strong supporter of the Palestinians who thinks the state of Israel is an imperialist construct and an outpost of American projected military power in the Middle East. I’ve come to the conclusion that journalists have a moral responsibility to say as much and to predicate all their reporting of the current Gaza conflict, as well as coverage of Iraq, Iran, Syria, Afghanistan and the associated “terror frame” of news analysis on this controversial starting point.

In other words, I believe in what Martin Bell calls the “journalism of attachment”, rather than feeble attempts at objectivity, which is, in and of itself, a form of inbuilt and largely unconscious bias.

Read the rest of this entry »


Morning Report – echo chamber for the opposition?

August 14, 2008

I like Morning Report, it’s my daily fix of news and current affairs. Occasionally I get annoyed with the focus on local crime stories, traffic and weather, but that’s cool; it’s just a morning heart-starter.

But in the last few days I have become more than annoyed, I’m totally jacked-off with Sean Plunkett in particular. I’m rapidly coming to the conclusion that Morning Report is just an echo-chamber and amplifier for every piss-ant little claim made by the Nationals and now also the ACT Party.

It was double-barrel this morning and Sean really got on my goat.

First an uncritical acceptance of National claims that DOC is going to spend $2 million on a re-branding campaign; then ACT Party defence spokesbot, Heather Roy, (are they even big enough to have spokesbots?) banging on about some 40 year-old clapped out jets that the Government wants to sell.

Then the claims are rewritten and bundled up into the next news bulletin, making them ‘fact’.

Have the Morning Report presenters and producers left their critical faculties at the door? Read the rest of this entry »