Politicising human rights – what a terrible thing to do

June 9, 2015

So, finally, in 2015 Australia the debate about human rights has become politicised.

 

It’s about time really, human rights should be a very political question. You know, discussing the politics of who does and who does not support universal human rights should be regular dinner time conversation in most normal families, or pub chatter for the more inebriated among us.

In any civilised country, one that prides itself on taking human rights seriously, the application or removal of those rights should be a matter of political discourse and close attention. Which, sadly, leads me to surmise that Australia today is losing some of its civility.

Our ability to have a sensible and sensitive conversation about the importance of human rights and to debate the failures (or the rare successes) of our government (of any stripe) in promoting human rights seems to be diminishing.

Instead the media thugs and government bullies are out to silence one of the last bastions of criticism of Australia’s uncivil and inhumane refugee policies and to shut down debate about the steady erosion of our rights through the over-reach of surveillance and through the fear-mongering around terrorism.

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Groupthinking or just not thinking? “Bedwetters” in the NewsCorpse bunker?

March 1, 2015

The most entertaining aspect of the slow disemboweling of Two Punch Tony has been the serial flip-flopping by the over-priced keyboard warriors in the NewsCorpse bunkers.

Astute observers of the Murdoch press in Australia are not surprised to see only one version of the hymn sheet being printed each day, but then we watch, smirking, as the various soloists each wobble to the microphone to sing their allotted verses accompanied by the cacophony of the discordant Greek chorus standing beyond the ghostly glow of the footlights.

This sort of thing.

A hatrick of keyboard monkeys, they must be right.

A hatrick of keyboard monkeys, they must be right.

It might just be a case of magical thinking — you know, if you wish really really hard then something will come true. Or, it might just be that for the Right Wing columnists in Rupert’s employ the thought of a small ‘l’ socially liberal Liberal turns them into “bedwetters“.

And the two-faced doublethink is amazing from these Orwellian reptilians.

Actually, this is not journalism either.

Actually, this is not journalism either.

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The view from Disneyland — you can see the Newscorpse bunkers from here

February 8, 2015

There have been two important speeches at the National Press Club in the past week or so. One of them got bucket loads of media coverage and has turned into a national story of gargantuan significance. EM covered it here.

The second NPC speech received some coverage, but there have been few ripples across the pond and the story has died. However, EM can’t let it go because it is a subject dear to our heart — Freedom of the Press.

Just two days after Two Punch delivered his wooden and self-wounding speech on Monday, perhaps fatally injuring his own prime ministership and his political party in the process, the chair of the Australian Press Council, Professor Julian Disney, gave an address to the gathered scribes and interested onlookers.

Disney’s speech won’t kill off the Press Council, but he is leaving soon anyway and his replacement has been announced, Professor David Weisbrot; so, in some ways, the address was a valedictory.

Disney also used the speech to make some thinly-veiled comments about the role of destabilisation and undermining of the Council’s authority by Rupert Murdoch’s NewsCorpse.

newscorpse log

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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.

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Back to the future? Red scare alarmism shakes the Murdoch empire over G20 shirtfront

November 13, 2014

What a strange bunch of headlines today on Murdoch’s Australian tabloid newspapers.

It’s almost as if the last 25 years never happened. In the week that the world is celebrating the fall of the Berlin Wall — the most potent symbol of the end of the Cold War — Murdoch’s crazy liquid modern tabloid editors have raised the spectre of a ‘Red Scare’.

You couldn’t make this stuff up, but Murdoch’s minions apparently can and will.

The Russian boats are not even close to Australia’s territorial waters (see below), but the editors — juiced up on Rupert’s kool-aid — cannot resist a good old RED SCARE front page.

Without a moment’s hesitation the claxon sounds and it’s all hands on deck as the plucky crew of HMAS NutsandBolts rally ’round the flag to repel all boarders and STOP THE BOATS.

Yes, even that classic, elastic, all-purpose, sea-going three-word slogan gets another run and is put to good secondary dog-whistle use.

As if thing aren’t already bad enough in the #CityofFear as it locks down in anticipation of the visigoth horde of visiting G20 dignitaries, the good burghers of Brisbane will have to contend with most of the city’s CBD being closed to ordinary folk, lest they wander into the view of the snout-in-trough great and good.

And, as the CuriouS Mell has been reminding THE ENTIRE NATION for months, marauding anarchists are also sneaking into the country to wreak havoc on unsuspecting civilians and to wage jihad on 20,000 heavily armed police mobilised to instil THE RULE OF LAW into anyone stupid enough to think about protesting injustice, criminal tax fraud, the fleecing of the world’s poor to fund extravagant global orgies of greed (like the G20) or demanding serious action on climate change not the weak DIRECT ACTION proposed by TWO PUNCH TONY.

For months the CuriouS Mell has been warning of anarcho-terror threats to the #CityofFear

For months the CuriouS Mell has been warning of anarcho-terror threats to the #CityofFear

Today the CuriouS Mell has been reinforced by the other titles in Murdoch’s stable — THE HUN, THE AGONISER & THE DAILY TERROR — to remind us JUST HOW VULNERABLE Australia is to maritime attack by a ‘fleet’ of Russian naval vessels which is somewhere well away from us, but possibly heading into international waters ‘somewhere off Queensland’.

Even the NORMALLY RELIABLE Australian got in on the act. With a news story, an opinion piece by Abbott’s court jester and food-taster Greg Sheridan and an editorial. Talk about OPERATION OVERKILL, if that doesn’t have the Russian admirals quaking into their seaboots, nothing will.

OPERATION OVERKILL: meaningless graphics, Greg Sheridan and a tub-thumping editorial.

OPERATION OVERKILL: meaningless graphics, Greg Sheridan and a tub-thumping editorial.

 So is there a ‘sovereignty’ issue here?

Well the Russian ships are still over 200 nautical miles outside Australia’s extensive Exclusive Economic Zone — so at least 400 nautical miles away; it’s unlikely they’ll come much closer. If you were Bougainville, you might have reason to worry, but not us.

CALM THE FUCK DOWN! The fleet is not even close.

CALM THE FUCK DOWN! The fleet is not even close.

Territorial Seas

Territorial waters, or a territorial sea, as defined by the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea,[1] is a belt of coastal waters extending at most 12 nautical miles (22.2 km; 13.8 mi) from the baseline (usually the mean low-water mark) of a coastal state. The territorial sea is regarded as the sovereign territory of the state, although foreign ships (both military and civilian) are allowed innocent passage through it; this sovereignty also extends to the airspace over and seabed below. Adjustment of these boundaries is called, in international law, maritime delimitation.

The term “territorial waters” is also sometimes used informally to describe any area of water over which a state has jurisdiction, including internal waters, the contiguous zone, the exclusive economic zone and potentially the continental shelf.

(Yes, this is from Wikipedia)

So really, what’s the problem?

Well, if Russia wants to sail its ships into our region it is free to do so. It has full rights in all international waters and also the right of ‘innocent passage’ all the way into Australia’s territorial seas. This means they can come within 12 nautical miles of the mean low water mark.

That’s pretty close! But it is unlikely that the Russians will want to do that.

However, it would be very funny if they did. The Murdoch papers would go apeshit and they’d probably want to mount a DUNKIRK style flotilla. Maybe Rupert could lead them out in one of his superyachts. He could ram the Russian flagship and go down all guns blazing.

No doubt, Abbott would give him a state funeral and he might even get that knighthood that’s eluded him for sixty years.

Shirtfront! This is a shirtfront!

When our Prime Minister threatens to “shirtfront” the leader of another nation it should not be a surprise if that nation then decides to use its far superior naval power to return the gesture.

The alarmist headlines and Cold War rhetoric of the Murdoch papers is just stupid under the circumstances.

It is propaganda aimed at the readers of the Terrorgraph, the Hun, the CuriouS Mell and the Agonizer to keep them worried and alarmed.

It is the generation of what philosopher Zygmunt Bauman calls ‘liquid fear’. Whipping up irrational scare tactics in order to hide the true purpose — social and political control of the population.

Given the MURDOCH EMPIRE’s great love of our own DEAR LEADER, it is natural that they would generate a moral panic involving imaginary SOVIET MILITARY HARDWARE and that they would use a ‘hammer and sickle’ motif to illustrate their RED SCARE stories, even though the old Soviet regime has been dead and buried for more than a quarter of a century.

The RED FLAG is way more frightening than the RED, WHITE & BLUE of the Russian Federation and it has the added advantage of associating the approaching Russian fleet with communism and THE LEFT, which is, as we know so well, the real enemy of the NEWSCORPSE mercenaries.

There really is only one response…ridicule


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


In the court of the Sun King, truth plays second fiddle to the gospel of Murdochracy

October 13, 2014

There is a fifth dimension; a parallel universe that revolves around a decrepit, dying and dangerous orb of hot gasses that is liable to frequent explosions raining down hot solar gusts of bile and venom on any random planetary object that displeases the ancient Sun King.

Welcome to the universe of News Corp; a solar system cut off from the rest of creation by an impenetrable wall of bias and a cult-like devotion to a host of terrible Gods. This parallel universe defies the laws of gravity and the morality of humans; it relies instead on the ancient and immutable laws of Murdochracy.

Old, florid Sun King prone to flare ups

Old, florid Sun King prone to flare ups

Even those who have served the Sun King with loyalty for many years live out their lives in fear of his vengeful minions. As former Times editor Andrew Neil famously wrote, to lose favour with the Sun King; to break the unwritten rules of Murdochracy is to be cast out from the universe to while away your days among mere mortals.

All life revolves around the Sun King; all authority comes from him. He is the only one to whom allegiance must be owed, and he expects his word to be final. There are no other references but him. He is the only benchmark, and anybody of importance reports directly to him. Normal management structures—all the traditional lines of authority, communication, and decision-making in the modern business corporation—do not matter. The Sun King is all that matters.

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