Last Friday, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull took time out of his busy(?) schedule to launch a book written by Chris Mitchell, former chief editor of Murdoch’s newspaper, The Australian.
Malcolm’s speech was, according to him, “uncontroversial” but it was interesting nevertheless – not for any scandalous revelations but for the embarrassing sycophancy peppered with self-promotion about his own journalistic credentials, followed by a hypocritical plea for truth in politics and reporting. .
Turnbull said of Mitchell’s retirement “He left his job at the peak of the industry at the very premature age of 60. I can’t imagine why he did that, seems far too young to step down from a big job.”
Well according to AFR, Mitchell was “nudged into retirement by Lachlan Murdoch just before Christmas last year.” Oops.
Turnbull sang Mitchell’s praises saying he had led The Australian with “great insight and great intellectual ability during a critical time in our nation’s history.”
This is not a view shared by other journalists and it is not borne out by the reality of declining sales.
Guy Rundle gives a scathing assessment of Mitchell’s time at the Oz at Crikey.
Right-wing papers have tended to concentrate their firepower in the opinion pages, while preserving a degree of accuracy and objectivity in the news pages. But under Mitchell’s reign, the Oz broke away from this, and became unashamedly partisan, injecting comment and spin into the slightest of news items
…. they decided to be a megaphone for neocon propaganda. The Oz was the vanguard command for a war against Labor, with the Melbourne and Sydney tabloids providing the heft.
….campaigns were descending into vendettas; the attacks on commercial rival the ABC were self-parodic; those on people like Australian Human Rights Council president Gillian Triggs unfair; and the sustained assault on Aboriginal academic Larissa Behrendt was simply an attempt to do her head in.
There was one big result of this indeterminate period: Tony Abbott. The continued batty stoking of climate change denialism, and sundry other matters, had done in Australia what News had done in the US with Fox News: created a bubble, separated from the world, which made reality testing impossible. Murdoch’s organisation, taking on implicitly and explicitly the mix of batty Christian culture politics and free-marketeering of its master — his fully erratic nature now visible to the world through his tweets — simply didn’t want to believe that the neocon future hadn’t worked out. While economies became more concentrated in the hands of capital, social values became more progressive, green, intersectional, “diverse”, etc, etc. Abbott was their neocon champion reborn, and so there was never any real criticism of his approach, until it became impossible not to record the full disaster. But Abbott could only ever have been chosen as leader in the first place by a party working within the right-wing bubble, to which News had greatly contributed.
…on [Mitchell’s] watch, the paper has gone from being merely unprofitable to being genuinely precarious. Mitchell leaves a right-wing politics in disarray, and a paper so uneconomic that its continued existence depends on the kindness of strangers. Vale Mitchell, power’s valet.
Considering this widely agreed view of the demise of factual reporting under Mitchell, it was with some incredulity that I read Turnbull’s speech calling for “truth, fairness and accuracy.”
Turnbull expressed concern about the “trends towards an industry too often prey to shallow analysis, a blurring of ethical standards and focus on the ephemeral rather than the substantive.”
He spoke of high-level discussion at the recent UN leaders’ summit in New York about “post-truth politics – the phenomenon of politicians relying on claims that sound right but simply aren’t true.”
What we are starting to see, and you see it, I believe we saw it in the last election with the so-called Mediscare, you see it increasing in other places of the world where the range of political discourse has become so disconnected from reality. And even though the media calls it out, the politicians have the ability to access consumers directly in a manner than reinforces their prejudices.
… increasingly as we move into a world where narrowcasting is possible, and this of course began with cable television and the internet has absolutely supercharged that, we run the risk that everybody in effect gets the news service that they want, that confirms their prejudices, confirms their disposition rather than challenging it to a balanced analysis.
Now this is an issue that we are grappling with. As usual technology has moved ahead of our ability to understand it and indeed reimagine a civil and a balanced discourse that is going to lead us to the right policy outcomes.
I believe that the fourth estate has a very privileged role in our democracy. You’ve heard me say this again and again that the work that journalists and editors do is just as important in maintaining our democracy as the work we do as members of Parliament or ministers or Prime Ministers or judges. It is absolutely critical.
Without the commitment to truth, fairness and accuracy we won’t get the intelligent, well-informed, rational public policy discourse Australians are entitled to expect and it is getting harder to get that across. Harder than ever before.
In the noisy, frenetic world of internet media where barriers to entry have never been so low and competition so intense – how can media outlets continue to invest in the quality journalism so vital to democracy?
The sheer gall of a Coalition politician praising a Murdoch newspaper whilst blaming the internet for a lack of balance in reporting is beyond laughable.
Get used to it, Malcolm. Your mouthpiece/boss is losing his grip. And so are you.
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