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Speaking truth to power

This week we have learned a lot about the way that the political media operates. That’s not to say any of us were surprised to see behind the curtain and find journalists complicit in a union-bashing charade. The surprise is the way these journalists have responded to the one amongst them who had the integrity to do the right thing: Alice Workman from BuzzFeed. The surprise is that they can argue with a straight face that their priority is always to protect their sources, and that this two-dimensional moral code is how they have been doing their jobs for so long, they’ve lost the ability to look at it objectively and ask if it’s really in the public interest. The surprise is that they’re willing to defend themselves speaking un-truths on behalf of power, instead of doing their jobs, the jobs they no doubt expected themselves to do as idealistic 22-year-olds: speaking truth to power. The surprise is the total lack of self-reflection and the hostility towards Workman, when Workman has done them all a favour. Have they ever wondered why they are at the bottom of the trust scale, trusted only slightly more than their political allies; the politicians they receive leaks from?

The natural state of affairs would have unravelled as it usually does, had Workman not had the bravery to smash the racket. Allegedly a media staffer working for the Liberal Minister for Employment (I say allegedly as Minister Cash claims the staffer acted without her knowledge), tipped off journalists to be on the ready when the offices of the Australian Workers Union were raided by the Australian Federal Police on behalf of the Minister’s latest publicly-funded-union-bashing organisation, the Registered Organisations Commission.

The plan was to have plenty of juicy footage of union staff looking nervous, while grave-faced AFP officers carried ‘evidence’ out of the union. And of course the political journalists delivered this in spades, being their usual obedient little selves when it comes to helping with any campaign of union bashing, or Labor bashing, that drops in their lap through their speed-dial tip-off-line.

No doubt the vast majority of news-watching public, as journalists are aware, aren’t across the intricate details, nor willing to do the follow up necessary to see what this raid was actually about. If journalists had chosen to frame the raid not as an allegation towards the union (allegations on the nightly news equate to guilt in the minds of the public), and instead a political witch-hunt against a union who has done nothing wrong, the story would have looked very different. Would the public mind that the union helped fund the establishment of GetUp? In fact, the AWU’s association with GetUp, I believe, works in their favour.

GetUp is a grassroots organisation that the public have embraced, and continued to fund through small donations over ten years, counting on them to expose political wrong-doing and to educate the electorate about policies during election campaigns. Ironically, GetUp fills the void left by political journalists who would prefer not to embarrass the hands-that-feed-them-tipoffs. And is it really news to anyone that the union donates to the Labor party? I’ll give you a hint: unions are labour movement organisations, Labor is the political arm of the labour movement, so, um, yeah, that seems fairly legit to me!

But this isn’t the angle the journalists went with. Even when, the next day, an ROC spokesman admitted he might have mistook AWU for a different organisation, as AWU hadn’t refused to hand over documents, which the union said they would happily email through if asked. Even when it was revealed that the ROC apparently acted from an anonymous tipoff about AWU documents being destroyed, even though these documents had already been provided to the other publicly funded union witch hunt Royal Commission. So, the union was actually the victim here – raided because someone at ROC has a bad memory and can’t do their job properly (apparently). The union is left with their reputation in tatters, with most journalists unwilling to correct the record.

The point is, Alice Workman saw this situation is wrong. It’s not a complicated moral argument to explain why some sources should be protected, and others should be exposed as the opportunistic conspirators that they are. Sources who are without power, who are taking on those with more power (such as Ministers in the government), who are at risk of being punished for this bravery, should of course be protected. Whistle-blowers. For instance, staffers in the political system who see something unethical occurring and believe the public have a right to know. Again, ironically, in this case I would call Alice Workman a whistle-blower. Don’t believe me? Here’s a former insider saying the same thing. Workman knows the conventional operations of the Press Gallery, the daily modus operandi, is to use leaks from within the political establishment and to report them in a way that damages the opponents of those groups. By questioning this, by outing where the AFP raid came from, Alice was speaking truth to power. Truth to the powerful editors of the mainstream news media who dictate that unions and Labor should be bashed, workers should be hurt because of it, and that the Minister for Employment can weaponise the news cycle to help her political fortunes, and most of the time, can feel safe in the knowledge she won’t be caught out.

It’s time journalists in the political media asked themselves what their job really is. Is their job to help the powerful political establishment build campaigns of mistruth against their rivals? Or, is it their job to work in the little-guy’s interest, in this case in the interest of the workers the union represents, and to speak truth to power? This is a wakeup call. The members of outlets struggling to convince the public of their value, struggling to make enough money to sustain their operations, would be wise to listen.


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  1. babyjewels10

    This government couldn’t exist without these feeders of fascism. Bent journalists.

  2. Peter F

    From the AFP web site:

    ‘The AFP Commissioner reports to the Minister for Justice, the Hon Michael Keenan MP.’

    Why are we not questioning the fact that the information about the AFP raids turned up in Cash’s department?

    It would appear that they felt some responsibility to report back to Cash.

  3. Joseph Carli

    Dead right, Victoria…oh didn’t the MSM have a good belly-laugh when they slammed Julia Gillard…and who amongst us here on social media can forget when they not only missed, but sneered at “playing the gender card” her misogyny speech that went around the world at least two times before the jerks suddenly “saw the light”…and that included the women journo’s who ought to have known better..Their making themselves players in stead of reporters has brought them inside the tent, sure, but that same tent as the conspirators!


    not likely that mere tip offs are covered by confidentiality and certainly wouldnt be by legal privilege.

  5. Glenn Barry

    Wonderful piece and I believe it clearly outlines criteria by which to discern the correct course of action based solely upon the agenda of the source of information.
    This would have the desirable outcome of media no longer being solely the manipulated arm of media advisers and PR miscreants.

    Surely the intent of the provider of the information should form at least part of the consideration in their decision making process, and when that intent is a nefarious purpose ought to constitute part of the narrative

  6. jim

    “The plan was to have plenty of juicy footage of union staff looking nervous, while grave-faced AFP officers carried ‘evidence’ out of the union”. What does this evidence relate to, money going to Getup a decade or so ago.
    IMO it’s the IPA monies that ought to be raided.

    When historians look upon the works of the Rudd/Gillard Labor era, despite its off and on leadership spills (engineered by the Liberals) and some slip ups here and there, it will be acknowledged Labor’s success was more profound than its failures. It should also be acknowledged that under the prime ministership of Julia Gillard, not only did Australia receive AAA ratings from the three major agencies, but for the first time in 40 years the unemployment rate, inflation rate, and interest rates were all below 5%.
    Labor’s legacy will shine through stronger than the current Abbott/Turnbull era of negligence and imcompetence, whilst the Hawke/Keating eras were defined by economic reforms the Rudd/Gillard era will be defined by the fiscal economics, environmental preservation, and friendly diplomatic relations with Asia, building upon our success in the process and laying the foundations of a modern Australia…….And most importantly decreasing the wealth gap, and thereby…..healthier people.

    We have become collectively very much richer but much more unequal.


    s 252 (5) Fair Work Act only requires registered organisations such as AWU to retain docs and records for 7 yrs. cash lodged the complaint to ROC last week about donations from AWU to GETUP! in 2005. ROC has no legal authority to obtain records earlier than 7yrs ago. The warrant was incorrectly issued. The Magistrate errred. The warrant was illegally issued. Someone must have lied on the affidavit evidence accompanying the application for tne warrant. There is significant collussion and illegality involved here by the Turnbull LNP Gov and officers of the Crown, particularly at ROC, the AFP and the AEC. What we have in Turnbull is the rule of lawlessness and illegality. Not the rule of law. Turnbull is a criminal.

  8. David Minter

    Many will recall how the MSM pursued Craig Thomson only after Tony Abbott started accusing him in parliament. The accusations once started didn’t stop. The LNP, (particularly Abbott) knew when Thomson was to be arrested and the media throng was already entrenched outside his electorate office. it was most coincidental that Abbott was at the same time waffling on at the National Press Club and barely blinked when informed of the arrest, according to reports.
    The LNP have no qualms about ruining peoples lives.

  9. Umberto Ledfooti

    We can’t expect much from the spineless, absolutely gutless, Australian mainstream media – not even to report accurately and factually on matters of public interest.

    None of these parasites dared to look hard at pathological rorter, Kathy Jackson – no, that was Peter Wicks and David Donovan at Independent Australia who led the way there.

    None of these self-described “investigative journalists” in the mainstream media dared to report how Tony Abbott groped a female indigenous poet at Borcelli’s Cafe in Adelaide. Where was Kate Mclymont – waiting for Brosnans Investigations or one of her friends in One Nation to do the work for her? Meanwhile, if it wasn’t for the hard work of Stephen Hagan and the Bush Nations Telegraph, nobody at all ever would have known about this disgusting travesty.

    But what else can Australians expect when the bar is set so low? When asked why neither he nor his network reported on numerous and extensive travel rorts by Abbott, a pathological and inveterate liar, the much-lauded-among-fellow-vermin veteran, Paul Bongiorno, replied: “He denied it and we believe him”.

    Which says it all about investigative and reliable journalism in Australia’s mainstream media.

  10. paul walter

    Very, very astute stuff from Rollinson.

  11. Kyran

    This debacle underscores not only the irrelevance of these ‘journalists’ and their jaded part in a pantomime that has long lost its currency, but their allegiance to a political system, rather than any desire to seek the truth.
    From memory, the warrants were issued after midday, with the raids scheduled for mid-afternoon, in time for the evening ‘news’. That the time frame was to accommodate an out-dated news delivery service in complete denial of the 24/7 digital age is nothing other than a further example of a government in chaotic denial of reality.
    On ‘The Guardian’ live feed on Wednesday, it was blatantly obvious that Cash, Hanson, and others, were filibustering to avoid disclosure before the evening news. A pathetic attempt to pander to an irrelevant time frame.
    There was never any doubt about the partisan nature of Newscorpse, from its owner down to the sub-editors and alleged journalists. What the Press Gallery have exhibited this week is a full disclosure that they are no different to the Newscorpse hacks.
    By openly declaring they are actors in the pantomime called government, not independent observers, they have removed any semblance of credibility. Without credibility and independence, there can be no trust.
    There was a headline on the ABC site, “Trump’s attacks on the media are an assault on good journalism.” Without having read the article, my response was “Duh!”
    The problem MSM have is that his attacks gained credibility because there hasn’t been good journalism for so long now. MSM imbedded themselves into the story, guaranteeing their irrelevance.
    If you look at the Press Gallery elites, now busy devouring each other, and their form, they have been so busy with the personalities in politics they have ignored the issues of policy for more than a decade.
    Remember the Rudd/Gillard/Rudd years? There was, undeniably, leadership issues. MSM in general, and the Press Gallery in particular, ran with the leadership issue whilst failing to report on any of the achievements. They now pay attention to mindless miscreants and fail to report on the trashing of so many standards set by previous governments.
    Week after week, we are told that the government has had a ‘good week’, or a ‘not so bad week’. This week was, apparently, their ‘worst week’.
    Imagine, as best you can, what the reporting have looked like in the MSM and the elite Press Gallery if it had been Labor in power for the past four years. Can you see it? Had Joyce, Cash, Hanson, Dutton, Bishop, Turnbull, Pyne, etcetera been Labor politicians, what would be their treatment in MSM?
    The same?
    Isn’t that a much easier arbiter of journalistic integrity?
    No wonder they are devouring each other. It’s that final feeding frenzy of the irrelevant.
    Thank you Ms Rollison and commenters. Take care

  12. diannaart

    In the long, long list of hypocritical conservative behaviour, is the one where union donations to Labor (and other progressive parties) are somehow tainted, dubious and even corrupt, whereas the massive donations to regressives , I mean conservatives by big business, extremely wealthy individuals (Turnbull?) and others of the wealthy elite is considered “fair and reasonable.”

    Good work Victoria.

  13. Shogan

    Peter F, this may go some way to answering your question…

    “Justice Minister Michael Keenan’s office was advised by federal police just before search warrants were executed at two Australian Workers Union offices on Tuesday.

    Mr Keenan told AAP on Thursday his office had briefed him shortly afterwards, as was “usual practice”.

    “Again, in line with usual practice, my office briefed the prime minister’s office as the search warrants were being executed,” Mr Keenan said.”

    The question you now need to ask is, “How did that information get to Senator Cash’s office?”

  14. paul walter

    Interesting as to who passed the legislation for the ROC last November after the Royal Commission into the unions, the Shorten witch hunt and for demonstrating who passed the legislation in the Senate, surely knowing what the specifically structured org was actually intended for.


  15. Terry2

    Alice Workman was entirely ethical in exposing a cover-up and lies being told by a minister and her department. I note that Sharri Markson is one of those condemning Workman so she (Workman) is obviously on the ethical side of this argument.

    By the way the darling of the Liberal Party, Kathy Jackson will finally face a four week committal hearing, on seventy charges of theft and misappropriation from the HSU and its members, commencing November 13. This after years of delay and obfuscation, memory lapses, inability to comprehend the charges, claims of victimisation [and disposal of assets].

    When it comes to Union wrongdoing it seems strange that the coalition have been so silent on matters concerning Ms Jackson.

  16. paul walter

    Terry 2 (joyously) you read the piece by Amanda Meade in the Grauniad?

    Watched her on the Drum on Thursday I think and impressed by the young, decent woman.

    How important whistleblowers are.

    Dr Kelly, Manning, so many others. Too close for comfort, the exposure of what the government was trying to get away here and scum like Markson can eat dewlap forever.

  17. Sean Crawley

    Thank you Victoria for presenting this viewpoint. I watched Insiders yesterday and the journos vehemently defended “that their priority is always to protect their sources”. I can now see how flawed that general position is when applied to cases such as this.

  18. Rossleigh

    Journalists protecting their sources has two aspects to it.
    First, there is a real need to protect a whistleblower who may be subject to intimidation or revenge if found out. (The noble reason)
    Second, if journalist reveal their sources too readily, then anyone who tells them anything will suspect that they’ll be found out as the source, so people will be less likely to tell them things. (Self-interest!)

    In the Cash case, there isn’t a noble reason and it was in the self interest of the people doing the tip off to let the media know, so next time, they’d still get their tip; it’d just be the same anonymous source that tipped off the ROC!

  19. Glenn Barry

    @Rossleigh – in agreement…
    It’s really only necessary to differentiate between a whistleblower or a source who is not seeking to gain for themselves, their employer or an associate – i.e the information is provided in the public interest.
    The second category is the agent provocateur manipulating the media for nefarious ends or in the interest of themselves, their employer or an associate.

    Shouldn’t it be within the sphere of judgement of journalists to discern the difference between the two possibilities, and I believe this is where the leak originating from Alice Workman was a moment in time where it became possible to differentiate between purpose one and purpose two.

    Alice Workman was provided with the source of the original leak to other journalists as a means to reveal the information in the public interest, so clearly whoever it was that provided her that information did so to counter the manipulation of the media being perpetrated by Cash’s office.

    Interesting course of events as it illustrates the polar opposites in the one incident

  20. paul walter

    What happened here was that the leak was made but not meant to be traced back to Cash’s office- they WANTED the press about to highlight the “raid”, thus the inference that the raid was actually ABOUT some thing (you don’t have a raid unless there is something wrong, do you?). The leakers weren’t the heroes, but Workman, a young journalist, out of not believing the stunt was what it was (wtf??), rebelling against the cosy practice involving selected journalists and politicians.

  21. paul walter

    Convicted on her own testimony. At the very least, how could she have “assured” the Senate without at first checking with her office.

    But we know it is much more serious than that and that the cowardly PM likely has been in on that stunt also.

    These are horrible, horrible people, dianaart.

  22. Jan

    diannaart : Cash’s behavior is despicable. Doug Cameron quote; They are question.Just too simple and straight forward. Is there any decent people in the LNP? Cash is a just a bullshitter; full stop.

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