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Tag Archives: Margo Kingston

Independent media: the sleeping giant and the MSM’s response

Paul Sheehan’s recent attacks on the hugely popular Facebook site Tony Abbott – Worst PM in Australian History are not isolated incidents of the mainstream media (MSM) publicly airing disdain towards the social media.

Ferocious, and to some, persuasive attacks by the MSM have become rabid from the moment the independent media (the Fifth Estate) and voices in social media (blogs, Facebook, Twitter) became even the slightest of threats to their diminishing integrity. And why wouldn’t their integrity be diminishing when the direction we’ve seen in the MSM leans towards, especially in the last few years, are stories that are trivial, narrow, shallow and sensationalist? And often untrue. My recent article, The facts versus Andrew Bolt offered an example of the of the fabricated sensationalism so evident in today’s media.

It was a couple of years ago that I first noticed the MSM unleash an attack on the independent blog sites. A couple that I read from the Murdoch media exhibited a sort of ‘xenophobic’ hatred. Christian Kerr, a political journalist with The Australian, savaged the blogosphere with more zeal than I’ve ever heard him attack incompetent politicians, writing that:

It’s also worth noting that the`blogosphere’ supposedly outraged is the small incestuous clique of self-identified lefties, with readerships composed mostly of themselves, who were more than happy to out other bloggers a few years ago with whom they disagreed.

That last bit, for the uninitiated, is a reference to the modern dull and doctrinaire Crikey and its very own Adrian Mole, barrister-blogger Walter Jeremy Sear, and his role assisting The Sunday Age dissect the corpse of the spectacularly snarky site The Spin Start Here that offended sensibilities for years until it reached its logical conclusion and ripped itself apart. Sear was happy to help with an outing then.

The whole thing smacks of naivety and self-righteousness.

And naivety and self-righteousness seems to define the vast majority of the Australian blogosphere. That and whining conspiracy theories.

Quite remarkably, Christian’s little dummy spit was shadowed by the editorial of another from the Murdoch empire, the Townsville Bulletin, which announced to North Queenslanders that bloggers are cowards:

When reporter James Massola “outed” an anonymous blogger in The Australian newspaper last week, he received death threats and a torrent of personal abuse.

How dare someone in the mainstream media name one of these increasingly puerile bloggers, self-appointed guardians of righteousness and all that is wrong about society and, in particular, newspapers.

Grogs Gamut was named as a Canberra public servant and the reaction from his mates was as predictable as it was boring.

Those who hide under the veil of anonymity, taking cheap shots to satisfy their trendy social agenda, don’t like it when they are thrust into the real world.

The great thing about newspapers is that, love us or hate us, we’re the voice of the people. We represent the community, their views, their aspirations and their hopes. We champion North Queensland’s wins and we commiserate during our losses.

Oh how high and mighty they are, being the acclaimed “voice of the people”. And true to from, jumping in on the act the aforementioned Andrew Bolt screamed that the outed blogger, Greg Jericho, be sacked from his usual job. Indeed, let’s punish this new media.

There is no doubt that all forms of dialogue in the social and independent media have profoundly influenced the nature of modern communication and obviously this doesn’t sit well with the traditional media. The above references are indicative of their opinion that the new media produces public discussion that falls well below their standards. I, however, disagree. News stories these days are nothing more than opinion pieces to which nobody is held to account.

New media is now holding them to account and this sits very uneasily with them.

In a few short years the new media, blogging in particular, has become a global phenomenon and it has reshaped our view of journalism. It is in the political sphere, that the impact of blogging is being nurtured.

In an essay titled The Influence of Political Blog Sites on Democratic Participation, ShariVari wrote that:

A computer-mediated environment may make it easier for citizens to express their feelings about political candidates and allow them to speak more candidly than if they were in a face-to-face situation. The diversity of the internet gives citizens access to a wide variety of opinions and information that they may not have access to otherwise, and this may play a role in changing or shaping an individual’s political views. After disregarding any blog sites that have a corporate financial objective or are engaging in political agenda-setting, political blog site users can begin to discuss their personal view points with peers.

I find this essay to be rather heartening. As a blogger and a social media user who has lost all faith in the MSM it was good to know that we can indeed have an impact, albeit small at this stage.

ShariVari concludes that:

All of the research shows that increased opportunities for participation can only encourage democracy . . . This research means that citizens are increasingly turning to and trusting the Internet for accurate information, using it as a platform for participatory democracy, and becoming more knowledgeable about political information in the process. A Spiral of Silence is less likely to exist where citizens have only each others’ opinions to evaluate in terms of their own civic participation and lack status cues such as gender, race, and socio-economic status. Blog sites definitely are increasing the ways in which citizens can participate in their democracy.

The above article, although American and a couple of years old, aptly describes how independent media is now evolving in Australia.

Independent media are better suited to provide the diversity which is often ignored by traditional journalists. Both independent and social media advances the opportunity to expose doctored or omitted facts from mainstream media and point out the bias by particular reporters who do not provide such opportunity for his/her readership to give voice to alternate opinions.

Independent media also encourages contributors and readers to think objectively and ask the probing questions that might often be avoided by the MSM, particularly if they are working to a different (or hidden) agenda. Further, social media gives people the opportunity to analyse and disseminate the news and opinions thrown at them from the established media and as a consequence social media is awash with a more objective and factual analysis. Where, for example, would you find corrections to false or misleading statements from the current government exposed? Not the MSM. Not the MSM as they operate under a different agenda.

But if the MSM was objective, impartial and committed to providing a quality service then there may not be the thousands of social media groups the MSM are now taking a disliking to.

Had we a balanced and analytical media, there would be blogs and social media groups, certainly, but at the extremes of the political spectrum although their popularity would have been limited to those that simply agreed with them. Now we have people turning to the new media because they know they cannot expect the truth out of the old media. If the MSM did their job better they wouldn’t need to be so capriciously attacking social media because, quite simply, they wouldn’t be competition.

Sheehan’s recent attack, as mentioned earlier, is not an isolated incident. David Donovan of Independent Australia has also been targeted. David innocently tweeted:

Forgive if I recall incorrectly, but didn’t Abbott promise to spend his first week as PM in an Indigenous community?

It was a fair question. If it wasn’t bad enough that this pre-election commitment was washed aside by the MSM, then the insulting attack on David by Samantha Maiden, the national political editor of News Corporation’s Sydney Sunday masthead, the Sunday Telegraph was. The attack was personal. I encourage you to read David’s account of it.

What on earth is wrong with the MSM? Not only is the credibility of their professionalism crumbling but they attack the independent media for introducing the credibility that they themselves lack. Independent media are asking the questions that should be asked. Independent media are exposing the falsehoods that should be exposed. And in doing so, incur the wrath from the MSM who people, traditionally, have looked to for balanced news and opinion.

Margo Kingston – a former journalist with the Sydney Morning Herald and now a leading figure in social media – summed it up rather succinctly in an interview with The AIMN:

It’s scary that the media are not doing their job. Many journalist friends have expressed the same concerns; they don’t feel as though they are traditional journalists anymore, they are simply writing what the powerful want them to write . . . And there are journalists in the traditional media who secretly admit that the new, independent media is the way of the future.

Some, however, are obviously frightened of it. They can persist with their attacks, but like their news stories they are shallow as rossleigh proved when he spoke to the creator of the Tony Abbott – Worst PM in Australian History Facebook group; the one that Paul Sheehan fabricated stories about. It was a glaring example of story being made up to attack the independent media. It’s not a good move. The Fifth Estate is a sleeping giant. It’s starting to wake up and my advice to the old media is not to provoke it. It is going to consume you. We are no longer passive observers. Margo adds:

We need to build a bridge between the new media and journalists who see the corruption within the mainstream media. We need to collaborate and work together. We can do this by luring traditional journalists into the new media and free them of their shackles. If we do this, one day we in the new media will look back and be grateful for the decisions we make today.

That would be ideal, however, even if ‘traditional’ journalists prefer to ignore the freshness that the new media can offer, there has already been an emergence of ‘new’ journalists in the Fifth Estate to fill the void.

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The growing irrelevance of the Murdoch media

For a number of decades the Murdoch media have enjoyed an unbridled run as the major source for news, information and opinion in this country. It is a position, many would suggest, that they’ve protected without ethics or morals. Especially when it comes to opinion. Theirs, and only theirs counts and they’ve recently become fanatical at protecting it.

For example, anyone wishing to have their own ideas and opinions published on their media sites have had to contend with the editorial policies that are generally based on the ideology of the editors (or Murdoch himself, perhaps) and of course, on what is sellable. However, this regime of control over what content is allowed to emerge is now collapsing in today’s world of participatory media.

We have witnessed the internet create an arena where everyone can be a publisher. All a person needs is an opinion. Today’s audience want to be part of the media, rather than passive receivers. Not only do they want to comment on the news, they want to be part of creating it. They no longer rely on the Murdoch media.

Hence the rise of the citizen journalists, better known as the ‘Fifth Estate’ who are better suited to provide the diversity that today’s democracies need, yet which are often ignored by traditional journalists. The Fifth Estate advances the opportunity to expose doctored or omitted facts from mainstream media and point out the bias by particular reporters who do not provide such opportunity for his/her readership to give voice to alternate opinions. Aka Andrew Bolt, for example.

The Fifth Estate also encourages contributors and readers to think objectively and ask the probing questions that have blatantly been avoided by the MM; lending rise to the growing opinion that the Murdoch media is working to a particular political agenda. Their lack of scrutiny to the leader of the opposition, Tony Abbott, and his empty bag of policies, is typical of this.

Further, the Fifth Estate have the opportunity to analyse and disseminate the news and opinions thrown at them from the Murdoch media. Denis Shanahan’s interpretation of the opinion polls are good example, which are clearly based on his opinions, and not the polls. After each of his articles, the Fifth Estate is awash with a more objective and factual analysis.

Another direction we’ve seen the Murdoch media lean towards are those stories that are trivial, narrow, shallow and sensationalist. And often untrue. But the Fifth Estate generally has the meaningful intention of changing the direction of the media and exposing the shallowness and inconsistencies so evident in today’s Murdoch media. The events of the last week have certainly highlighted this. Following Margo Kingston’s explosive story EXCLUSIVE: Abbott forced to repay $9,400 he charged taxpayers to promote his book the Fifth Estate (and social media) shifted into overdrive to find out more about what could turn out to be one of the defining moments of the 2013 election campaign. The mainstream media was eventually swept up with the story gaining currency with Fairfax, the Guardian and the national TV channels. But not so with the Murdoch media. While the rest of the country was falling over itself providing their readers/viewers with the latest developments, the main story on news.com was how a surfing advert was considered offensive. Clearly more important than what is now called battlerort, but I’d prefer to think that the Murdoch media is just making it obvious that they don’t want Tony Abbott tarnished in any way.

The Fifth Estate, subsequently, has exploded in numbers and influence in Australia, not because they are the echo of dissenting voices but because the Murdoch media has created an arena for them to enter. If the Murdoch media was objective, impartial and committed to providing a quality service then in a modern democracy there may not be a Fifth Estate, or for that matter, the dozens of blog sites that exist purely to fill in the gaps exposed by the Murdoch empire. It is also fair to say that the Murdoch brand has been tarnished globally over the last 18 months thanks to the despicable phone-hacking scandal. Arguably, Rupert Murdoch is one of the most despised individuals in the developed world. He could also be considered the least trustworthy. So how can we trust his media outlets? It is becoming increasingly evident that his only interest in Australia is how much it can add to his bottom line and his newspapers are filled with stories each shaped to ensure that the profits head upwards. For example, could his loving support for Tony Abbott be motivated by Abbott’s promise to dismantle to Government’s NBN program? A move, as pointed out in Why Murdoch’s media is gunning for your NBN, that would keep his bottom line healthy.

There is no doubt that in a few short years the Fifth Estate has not only reshaped our view of journalism, but has unlocked previously unrealised publishing opportunities. The blog sites of the Murdoch media usually filter out contributions from bloggers whose opinion do not fit into their schema, so while independent blog sites provide some impact, the avenues through the Murdoch media have been providing none.

Then what are the impacts of the Fifth Estate?

This remains the unanswered question, or if you will, a work in progress. The Fifth Estate still has nowhere near the influence of the Murdoch media, such as being able to manipulate election outcomes or influence public discourse, but, the events of the last week show that the sway of the Fifth Estate is gaining traction. Independent Australia (IA) and the aforementioned Margo Kingston are now providers of news, but not only news, but on the stories that would be filtered out of the Murdoch media, and both IA and Margo are attracting massive audiences which one would expect is to the detriment of the Murdoch media. They lead a number of long-established independent sites such as Andrew Elder, The Failed Estate, The Pub, Café Whispers, The Political Sword, Grog’s Gamut and more recently here at The AIMN where alternate opinions are awarded some voice.

In a democracy we need these alternate voices. Margo Kingston sums up why:

“Journalists used to be a bridge between the people and the powerful. Journalists used to be outside the circle but now they’re inside the circle. They’ve joined the powerful and this very dangerous for a democracy”.

“It’s scary that the media are not doing their job. Many journalist friends have expressed the same concerns; they don’t feel as though they are traditional journalists anymore, they are simply writing what the powerful want them to write.

Very true. Hence we need to make the Murdoch media irrelevant. And that’s not beyond us.

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House of cards

HouseOfCardsDear Tony Abbott,

You probably get a lot of letters from both admirers and those seeking to criticise every facet of your existence. I am one of the latter. You might recall I’ve written to you before. Last time I wrote I told you about how concerned I was that you weren’t getting proper scrutiny in the mainstream media. Thankfully, since the recent change in ALP leadership, the media seem to have moved past their obsession with Julia Gillard. And in want of something else to write about, some of the more scrupulous journalists are taking some interest in your plans for the country and your behavior in trying to achieve your ambition to be the next blue-tie-wearing Prime Minister of Australia.

The introduction of the Guardian’s local edition has helped this happy scenario come about. Just in the last few days, Margo Kingston revealed your lies about using Comm cars for private travel while promoting your book Battlelines. I’ve also seen an article about your Direct Action policy by Lenore Taylor, Jonathan Swan from the SMH has taken an interest in the Ashbygate Trust and Chris Uhlmann asked you some direct questions about your ‘stop the boats’ policy on ABC’s 7:30. Did I say policy? Apologies, I meant slogan.

All of this scrutiny no doubt makes for an unhappy week for you, which I’m not ashamed to say makes for a very happy week for me. It’s clear you’re under a bit of pressure, what with your cowardly decision to turn down a debate with Kevin Rudd and this behavior in your pie stacking press conference was just, well, I don’t know what it was Tony?

But the reason for my letter is not to make your week any worse, although that would be a welcome side effect. No, I’m writing to you about your crumbling personal character and policy platform which is quite clearly a house of cards, built on quick-sand foundations. You see, the thing is Tony, when I stand back and look at what you spend 95% of your time in the media saying, it’s pretty clear to any objective outsider that you’ve set yourself up to fail. And it’s quite clear why you can’t possibly risk debating Kevin Rudd at this point in time, because you know as well as I do, if you’re really honest with yourself, that your house of cards could come crumbling down at any moment. Because it’s basis is a massive pile of dishonorable, weasel word, downright misleading and dishonest sloganeering and smear. This is what you have built Tony. And I think it’s time you realise just how dangerous a position you are in.

It’s all been so easy up to now. It’s no surprise that you’re suffering from the worse kind of complacency. The complacency of a man who hasn’t had to defend his own positions. Who hasn’t had to compete on a platform of ideas and intelligent debate about the merits of your alternative plans. All you’ve had to do for the last three years is to call Julia Gillard a ‘liar’ and your work for the day was done. How easy you must have thought life was. How weak your brain muscle must have got over all this time while you leisurely went about your business, doing stunt after stunt on your anti-Carbon-Price-Convoy-of-No-Charisma, spending hundreds of thousands of dollars of tax-payers’ money on your never ending election campaign, while paying little or no attention to the policy success of your rivals in the government. And while paying little attention to the merits of what was coming out of your mouth.

Yes, I’m talking about the merits of what you have been talking about for the last three years. Because the fact is, while you’ve been using your Murdoch-inspired media pack to convince the Australian public that Julia Gillard can’t be trusted, the real truth has been that your entire policy platform, your whole view of the world, is so easily unpicked that you literally will not risk being asked any questions about it. It’s as flimsy as your claim to have ‘no specific knowledge’ about the Slipper/Ashbygate scandal. But know this. We can see right through you Tony. And right through your cheer squad of angry Abbott supporters who scream and yell on the radio, write misogynist blogs and troll #auspol.

If you were an emperor Tony, you wouldn’t be wearing any clothes. But you’re not an emperor. And your supporters have no logical argument for why they support you. Because the truth is, they have absolutely no reasonable way to defend your policy positions, except to admit the one thing they, and you, will never admit. And that is that your slogan policies aren’t based on intelligence, truth and respect. Let that settle for a second Tony. Intelligence. Truth. Respect. When you say ‘stop the boats’, you deny the complex problem of displaced, scared, desperate people looking for some way to save their lives. When you say Labor is all about debt and you spread economic doom and gloom around the economy, you deny the Global Financial Crisis and Labor’s success in steering the country away from recession. When you say ‘axe the tax’, you’re pretending the problem of climate change is not important enough to make sacrifices for. And you think short-term opportunism is more important than the lives of future generations of earth’s inhabitants. When was the last time you, or any of your LNP colleagues, showed intelligence, truth and respect? I can’ think of a single instance.

Because let’s be frank Tony. There’s a reason why weasel words are your only option. You’re only interested in helping a very small percentage of the Australian population. The minute anyone examines your slogan policies, this truth is revealed like budgie smugglers tearing open in the surf. The reality is, you’re the enemy of the working people you stand next to at your countless factory visits and anti-carbon tax rallies. You cosy up to them as if you’re backing them all the way, when really you would happily destroy their prosperity, their stability of employment, the infrastructure they need, their access to government services including health and education, if you thought there was a buck in it for your rich mates. Everything you say and do is designed to both fool people that this is not your true purpose, and to reassure those who know you are only supporting them that you will continue to do this. Please understand that when I say you only care about Gina Rinehart and Rupert Murdoch, I’m not saying you literally only support two people. I’m talking about Rinehart, Murdoch and the people who are like them; those who aspire to be as selfish, ruthless and rich; those who fantasize about a world where the Rinehart/Murdoch philosophy is acceptable and success is measured by how like-them you are. It’s a disgusting aspiration Tony, and you should be embarrassed to be encouraging it.

As soon as this fact becomes more apparent to the electorate, as soon as they realise how abhorrent your world view is, you’re done Tony. Because I believe Australians are better than this. While you’ve been aiming for the lowest common denominator, you’ve been underestimating that Australia is a community. Not an economy. The economy serves the community, not the other way around. Your house of cards will come tumbling down as soon as this simple truth is more widely acknowledged. I just hope this happens before the election, and not after.

 

Margo Kingston: building bridges

There is an old movie line I often recall: A life filled with activity suggests a life filled with purpose.

I have no hesitation in borrowing that line in applying it is an apt portrayal of well-known Australian author and journalist; Margo Kingston. I’ve been a big fan of Margo’s since her book Not happy, John hit the shelves in 2004, so I was chuffed to be granted an interview with her last week. I was to discover just how active and purposeful her life has been, and still is, and that there is far more to Margo than the book which first introduced her to me.

But first, a little background.

Margo, a Queenslander, graduated from university with a degree in arts and law and practised as a solicitor in Brisbane before lecturing in commercial law in Rockhampton. The move to journalism saw her working for The Courier-Mail and within a year moved to The Times on Sunday. She had since worked for The Age, The Canberra Times and A Current Affair before moving to The Sydney Morning Herald, where she worked until her retirement in August 2005. Her first book was Off The Rails: The Pauline Hanson Trip which recounted her experiences (as a journalist) on the One Nation Party’s election campaign in the 1990s. She is also known for her now defunct blog, Webdiary.

“Writing the book about the One Nation Party experience was a testing time for me and I vowed never to write another book again. I didn’t consider myself an author or a person willing to be one. A journalist, yes. An author, no” recalled Margo. At this point I was wondering why she later decided to write Not happy, John, however, a slight hesitation on my behalf gave her the opportunity to proceed with an explanation. “While I was working for the Sydney Morning Herald I was invited by Phillip Adams (from Radio National’s Late Night Live) to be on the discussion panel of the Adelaide Festival of Ideas. It was there that Phillip tapped me on the shoulder and said I needed to write a book about John Howard. Of course, the answer was an insistent ‘no’ but the response was “it’s your duty” and one thing led to another and before I knew it I found myself writing Not happy, John“.

It wasn’t long before the book put her on the outer with her employer.

“After a long-term Government everyone in the media seems quite happy with how the country is governed and so after many years of Howard the Sydney Morning Herald had drifted slowly to the right. The publication of the book was frowned upon and my run-ins with the SMH editor are now famous”.

I could sense that Margo is more excited about her post-SMH life, even though when she began her new incarnation she did so as an emotionally shattered soul.

“From the time Not happy, John hit the shelves I was battered from pillar to post at the SMH. They grilled me relentlessly because of the damage this could cause to Howard. I put up with this shit for a few months before I limped away in search of a new Margo Kingston. The old Margo Kingston was driven from the head and now felt broken. Everything was draining the life out of me, even running Webdiary. I’d had enough. The new Margo was going to be driven from the heart and that’s how my life flowed over the next seven years. My new love was my family, my garden, and especially my friends. The latter being the most important. I’m a disaster at love and I chose to lead a celibate life – and you can print that – as I don’t want relationships to interfere with the love between friends. I want friends, not lovers. I also wanted some recovery time”.

In this period of ‘recluse’ Margo began a degree in nursing. It was difficult for me to understand how one of Australia’s best-known journalists would consider such a move, as admirable as it was. “It was the new Margo” she reminded me. “The new Margo that was going to be driven by the heart. I just knew it was the right thing to do”.

Then, after taking an interest in social media recently and recognising what a wonderful and powerful tool it is, the passion for media slowly returned. But it was more than that; it was also the realisation that the old media was leading this country down a dangerous path.

“Journalists used to be a bridge between the people and the powerful. Journalists used to be outside the circle but now they’re inside the circle. They’ve joined the powerful and this very dangerous for a democracy”.

Now she was firing up.

“It’s scary that the media are not doing their job. Many journalist friends have expressed the same concerns; they don’t feel as though they are traditional journalists anymore, they are simply writing what the powerful want them to write. The real turning point for me came after Mark Scott’s treatment of John Faine recently. That was f*cking pathetic. Faine was doing his job and Scott publicly chastised him. The ABC under Scott has lost it’s way. I repeat, it’s pathetic. I’m not going to let that episode go away. It’s the social media users, such as Twitter users and bloggers that will do something about it. We need to keep pushing it”.

The firing continued. “Fairfax, the ABC and even Crikey are too f*cking timid to do anything to upset the powerful. It’s up to social media. And there are journalists in the traditional media who secretly admit that the new, independent media is the way of the future and we must join with them. We need to build a bridge between the new media and journalists who see the corruption within the mainstream media. We need to collaborate and work together. We can do this by luring traditional journalists into the new media and free them of their shackles. If we do this, one day we in the new media will look back and be grateful for the decisions we make today”.

And how does all this feel? “It’s just like the good old days of Webdiary. Social media provides a forum for all Australians and I’m loving it. Without Twitter and my own newly established site Australians For Honest Politics I couldn’t have got the fight back. I see hope now. But first we need to build those bridges”.

Who better to lay the first plank than Margo Kingston?

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