How many of you thought Joe Hockey “won” his court case?
Well, most of the articles I read started with that headline, and even though, they nearly all explained that he was only successful on the headline, “Treasurer for Sale” and the tweet not the article itself, I found the headlines misleading… which is ironic considering that’s the thing that Hockey won on. The judge found that the accompanying article did not defame Joe Hockey, just the phrase, “Treasurer for Sale” by itself without the context of the article.
And it’s a pretty interesting definition of a “win”. If Hockey was upset about the headline, “Treasurer for Sale”, then his defamation certainly didn’t make the phrase, “Treasurer for Sale” something that everyone forgot, even though it was found by the trial judge that the headline,”Treasurer for Sale”, by itself, without the subsequent story explaining the context was defamatory. So let me be quite clear here. Even though I – along with every media organisation – am only using the phrase, “Treasurer for Sale” in refering to headline that Fairfax published and I personally don’t think that he has behaved corruptly. I’m just making the point that it the phrase, “Treasurer for Sale” upset him, then his defamation action has simply kept the phrase. “Treasurer for Sale” in the media, even though the judge told everyone that a tweet or headline, by itself, was defamatory. If he’d just accepted that this was a private media organisation who had a right to be as opinionated as they like, even if it meant presenting incorrect information, then the phrase, “Treasurer for Sale” wouldn’t be in the media as much as it is.
This is, to me, a strange definition of a win.
Now I’ve always thought that the media had an obligation to educate us wherever possible – unlike failed Liberal leader Malcolm Turnbull who thinks that they could be as “opinionated” as they like, unless they’re the ABC. Of course, if I was being opinionated, I could remind everybody of Turnbull’s role in the “utegate” affair and the fake email, but that would be hypocritical. What I mean by “educate” is simply to present us with the additional information that help us to understand what’s being discussed.
For example, to remind us that it’s an accepted convention under the Westminster system that if a minister misleads Parliament, he or she is expected to resign. During Question Time, unless a minister can speak with certainty, then he or she is expected to take the question on notice. Misleading Parliament wasn’t as simple as breaking an election promise. Of course, under Howard this was often ignored, and the excuse that the Minister had the wrong information or wasn’t fully aware of the matter was acceptable. These days, there’s no expectation, and the media rarely report “misleading Parliament” as a big deal.
So when a story comes along, one should expect that the media do more than just report as though they’re reading from the press release. A month ago, the media treated us to several stories about a Christian couple who announced that they intended to divorce if same sex marriage was legalised in Australia. Writing in the Canberra CityNews, Mr Jensen told us:
“So, the decision to divorce is not one we’ve taken lightly. And certainly, it’s not one that many will readily understand. And that’s because it’s not a traditional divorce.
“You see, after our divorce, we’ll continue to live together, hopefully for another 50 years. And, God willing, we’ll have more children. We’ll also continue to refer to each other as ‘husband’ and ‘wife’ and consider ourselves married by the Church and before God.”
The media lapped this up, and gave Mr Jensen plenty of space. They reported his views on same sex marriage, which I suspect was his aim. Ok, so far no problem. People have a right to their views being aired, so long as they don’t contravene any laws and if someone is able to pique media interest with a clever stunt, so be it.
But I do think that the media has an obligation to challenge what is clearly wrong.
You see, this man is attempting to change the traditional view of divorce. He says so himself. But the trouble with that is that he’ll have to get the legislation changed. In none of the stories about Mr Jensen and his wife did I see anyone point out that he is not eligible for a divorce:
“You need to satisfy the Court that you and your spouse have lived separately and apart for at least 12 months, and there is no reasonable likelihood of resuming married life. It is possible to live together in the same home and still be separated.”
Divorce – Federal Circuit Court of Australia.
So, simply walking in and telling the court that you want a divorce because gay people are marrying doesn’t cut it. And continuing to live together as “man and wife” also makes a divorce out of the question. Either he intends to lie under oath, or he won’t be able to divorce.
The obvious point is that he was trying to generate publicity to spread his views, but how is the media such a willing tool? Where’s the challenge to what is so clearly a hollow threat? Even if Mr Jensen intends to “divorce”, there’s no way he could legally do it, on the statements he’s given.
Of course, it’s the same with politicians. Far too often they’re allowed to make statements without reference to the facts. Occasionally, one of the “aggressive” female interviewers on the ABC will point out that there is, in fact, film of the head being nailed to the floor, so there’s no way that it can be denied, but generally it’s all treated much like a high school debate where you get points for making up the most convincing case and neither the facts nor the consequences are relevant.
So this morning, when I heard a sound-bite where Andrew Robb told us that the decision to tell the Clean Energy Commission to exclude wind farms from future investments was part of a deal with crossbenchers over the renewable target, I had more than a few questions. Weren’t we promised that this government wasn’t going to do deals? Didn’t Labor support the new target? Why the need for the deal? Oh, Labor weren’t going to support burning wood as part of the RET. Well, how can we justify cutting down trees as helping the environment unless it’s part of “renewable energy”?
I wonder if Mr Robb was asked any of these questions.
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