It’s lonely crying “wolf”: Terrorism 101 – lesson for the Herald Sun

January 2, 2015

Ah, so the new year starts as the last one ended with a fact-free front-page EXCLUSIVE, but this time, the culprit is not The Australian, but its sister paper, the Herald Sun published in Melbourne.

According to today’s front-page splash “EXCLUSIVE TERROR SIEGE TWIST”, the Hun makes the bold claim that Sydney siege killer Man Haron Monis is “NO LONE WOLF“.

Don't worry, its bark is worse than its bite

Don’t worry, its bark is worse than its bite

It really is like taking cheese from a mouse to pick on this sad excuse for a birdcage liner, but when it get as silly as this, I must call out the editor because, surely, it is his call to put such garbage on the front page. Take this for a lead (and remember the root word in “news” is new):

Sydney siege terrorist Man Haron Monis delivered a chilling lecture calling for an “Islamic society” to a packed prayer hall in 2009 — the same year he dropped off security watch lists.

Did you catch the date? It was five or six years ago, give or take a New Year holiday. And, wow, a Muslim who believes in an “Islamic society”; I bet there are not more than, Oh, I don’t know, let’s guess 1.6 billion people who might fit that description.

But, hey, Muslims; they’re dangerous, right? Yes, they are; not like the world’s estimated 2.2 billion Christians who go to church every week and listen to crazed men in long frocks calling for a “Christian society”.

A list of the world's scariest religions from worst to least worser

A list of the world’s scariest religions from worst to least worser

Read the rest of this entry »

Black and white and Reds all over: My last 2014 post about The Australian

December 29, 2014

It must be some sort of ignorant bliss to be a columnist or leader writer with The Australian and to live in the certain knowledge that Chris Mitchell’shair is always right about everything.

Not having to think abstractly or go outside the rectangular box of its pages to find something as subtle as flux, contradiction and 50 shades of grey must make for an easy life of absolutes without the worrying niggles of nuance and self-doubt.

Mitchell's hair

The superbly talented and all-round whisky-loving cartoonish genius, Mr Onthemoon drew this.

Read the rest of this entry »

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


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


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.











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 »

Sleazy, nasty, dirty and wrong: Just another day at The Australian

May 19, 2012

In recent days The Australian has launched a vitriolic and highly personal campaign against Margaret Simons the director of the Centre for Advanced Journalism at Melbourne University. The campaign is aimed at discrediting Meg and her colleagues (me included) who teach journalism and who are critical of some aspects of the Australian news media.

The Australian thinks that Margaret and others are part of some leftwing conspiracy. In other words, anyone with an opinion that editor-in-chief Chris Mitchell disagrees with is fair game for slander and professional assassination.

The premise for this nasty war against Margaret Simons and other journalism academics is that Meg is somehow in the wrong for not ‘disclosing’ that she was asked to provide a name to the Finkelstein review of someone who might make a useful research assistant for the inquiry. The undertone is that anyone critical of the current set up is naturally a Stalinist who wants to shut down the free press in Australia on behalf of the political class.

This is ridiculous and unsustainable, but it doesn’t stop the News Limited papers from barking on about it.

I am a defender of Margaret Simons, though I don’t know what ‘Advanced Journalism’ might be and Meg and I probably disagree on elements of both the Finkelstein inquiry and its value and on aspects of journalism education.

As is usual in such situations, The Australian has made no attempt to find an alternative viewpoint, instead over the past few days it has rolled out the usual suspects – convenient sources who have been used before and who are guaranteed to sing off the same hymnsheet as The Australian and who can be used as ‘useful idiots’ to promote its editorial line.

Shameful, sleazy, nasty and dirty. It is exactly what we have come to expect from this self-indulgent rag.

I have written an open letter to Nick Leys and other journalists at The Australian who are involved in this beat up. I am challenging them to offer a right of reply and indicating that I am willing to provide it at short notice so that it can be in Monday’s media section.

An open letter to Nick Leys & others at The Australian

Dear Nick,
I’m disappointed with the piece today by Christian Kerr, (additional reporting by you),

We now know academics favouring a new regulatory regime were brought into key roles in the inquiry.

Cosy club behind a media watchdog

Actually, you know nothing of the sort. Your paper has accused Margaret Simons of being a conspiracy theorist, but on this yarn you lot have out-conspiracied the Roswell crowd.

It is not unusual for government departments to discuss and recommend to ministers on the appointment of advisors and inquiry personnel. There’s nothing at all unusual in that.

But your motivation is not honest reporting, it is part of a political agenda you are running to shut down discussion and debate about the lack of transparency and accountability in the Australian media. You have built a monster out of spare parts and bullshit and now you want to chase it down.

Meg Simons becomes a ‘hot topic’ on The Oz Media pages

Read the rest of this entry »

More bad news for the Murdochs? Maybe Avaaz

May 18, 2012

Web activists Avaaz put Lachlan Murdoch’s media interests under the spotlight


Lachlan Murdoch’s familial and professional links with News Corporation – as well as Channel 10 and radio network DMG – are cause for concern for internet activists Avaaz.

The worldwide online activist group Avaaz, which claims over 14 million members and operations in 193 countries, has this week launched an Australian campaign against Lachlan Murdoch.

The group has written to the chair of the Australian Communication and Media Authority (ACMA), Chris Chapman, seeking an inquiry into Lachlan Murdoch’s links with News Limited, Channel 10 and radio networks DMG and Nova.

In an one-line email response to The Conversation, an ACMA spokesperson indicated that normal practice is not to comment on complaints.

According to Avaaz’s letter to ACMA, the group is alleging that Lachlan Murdoch could be in breach of the Broadcasting Services Act because he might be in a position of influence and control over three media companies that operate in the Sydney radio licence area.

Read the rest of this entry »

Rupert is safe from Australian regulators…for now

May 7, 2012

Australian media regulators would take an active interest in attempts by News Limited to increase its stake in Foxtel.

Problems facing media moguls Rupert and James Murdoch in the United Kingdom and the United States have yet to have an impact in Australia.

But if recent speculation is true that News Limited might be a buyer for James Packer’s 25% Foxtel stake, Murdoch could find himself in a forest of acronyms as various regulatory agencies – the Australian Consumer and Competition commission (ACCC), the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) and the Foreign Investment Review Board (FIRB) – take an active interest.

The continuing storm over the handling of the UK phone hacking scandal has seen a British parliamentary committee find Murdoch senior is not a fit and proper person to run a multinational media company.

The phone-hacking and police bribery scandal has led to more than 40 arrests in Britain and to a Sky news reporter admitting to hacking emails in pursuit of a story.

These revelations have also led to low-level investigations of News operations in the United States. In July last year, the FBI was reportedly opening an investigation of allegations that News reporters may have hacked the phones of victims of the 9/11 terrorist attack in New York and Washington DC.

There is no recent information to confirm that any investigation is on-going in the US. However, American politicians – always on the look out for a media opportunity – have signaled they are taking a keen interest in the British parliamentary report and the Leveson inquiry. A Washington DC ethics lobby group has also written to the US Federal Communications Commission seeking an inquiry into Murdoch’s control of the Fox network.

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) want the FCC to revoke Foxtel’s broadcasting licences. A US senator has also written to the chair of the Leveson inquiry seeking any information that might suggest American laws have been broken by News journalists.

Even is there is no illegality, Murdoch does face some problems in the US. Under American law, the finding that he is not a fit and proper person to run a business in the UK can be used to trigger an inquiry in the USA.

These ongoing worries are more than an embarrassment to the octogenarian patriarch; they are a debilitating overhang that could ultimately affect the fate of News Corporation – the parent company that manages the family’s global media business interests, including News Limited in Australia and News International in the UK. For example, BSkyB shares took a hit on UK markets after the email hacking story came to light. Read the rest of this entry »


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