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An Open Letter to Fairfax Media Limited

To whom it may concern,

A great deal has been said about the media in Australia of late, especially with regard to political coverage. Most of it has been necessarily and appropriately critical. Many Australians feel that the media has failed them and continues to do so. Not even the people’s ABC has been spared, and rightly so. Its coverage of the current election campaign has been little more than a failed social experiment in journalistic sloth. Essentially reblogging stories from other news outlets regarding polls conducted by those news outlets is hardly journalism. Nor is posting Twitter feeds in the place of actual analysis. But you, Fairfax, are not innocent in this or removed from the public’s critical glare. Fairfax News unashamedly joined the Julia Gillard lynch mob and cheered at the gallows. The negativity that the Gillard Government faced from the MSM, right across the board, was unrelenting. Your anti-Labor leanings have noticeably softened with her departure, but there is still a great deal of work to be done if any kind of balance is to be restored to the presentation of political information and opinion in this country. I presume you care about that.

You would be studiously aware, no doubt, that the main focus of the public’s criticism has been News Corp. The reasons for that are as obvious as the glaring and daring headlines, transparent and tenacious as they’ve been in driving the Murdoch agenda to seat Tony Abbott in the Lodge. It’s surely incontrovertible that the Murdoch press has fully embraced the philosophy and modus operandi of the Tabloid Press. Australia has been confronted for too long with the jaundiced jabbering of pseudo-journalists of the Gemma Jones ilk, who would be far more appropriately assigned to writing gossip columns. Mind you, the difference between that and what is presently being offered as news is one measured in yoctometres. That the Murdoch Media Machine has made this choice, taking some of Australia’s most respected print media outlets with it, is plain enough. What may not be so obvious is the potential benefit that exists for Fairfax in this betrayal of all things intellectually and morally credible.

The gleeful abandon with which the Murdoch Press has thrown off the shredded rags of any vestigial sense of journalistic integrity has been most unedifying. Aren’t there laws about disrobing in public? But whilst the journalists of News Limited indulge in their collective streak across the playing field of Australia’s media landscape, a task goes unattended. A void has been created in the news market in this country, as well as in the hearts and minds of politically engaged and concerned Aussies. That void is simply one of reasoned, objective journalism that does not ignore the code of professional ethics governing it, but instead takes pride, both professional and personal, in adhering to it with consistent authenticity. It is that of a media that does not attempt to obfuscate the difference or blur the line between journalism and commentary or opinion; a media that does not set out to manipulate the perspective or emotions of its readers when reporting news; a media that seeks to report news rather than be the news.

I put it to Fairfax News that they have an opportunity to take that market share and fill that commercial and emotional void. Yes, news is resource heavy and doesn’t attract the profits enjoyed by other facets of the media, but no price can be put on the status and pathos afforded a respected and trusted news service. I assert in the strongest possible terms that in what is commonly known as the Mainstream Media, no such news service exists. You only have to look at the social standing of journalists to know this is true. People simply no longer trust you. And that is nothing less than a cultural tragedy – one that we ignore at our peril.

The demand for real, balanced, ethical journalism is alive and well. Australians all over this land are crying out for it – into their beers and into their keyboards, or in some cases both things simultaneously. The market for it is genuine and not just something artificially generated by the ephemeral passion and pandemonium of an election campaign. The significant rise of alternative on-line information sources is testament to this fact. Rest assured that if the Coalition should prevail on September 7 much of the public is excruciatingly aware – and some of it dangerously and naively unaware – that the Murdoch media empire will not provide the sort of scrutiny of Government that the people of this Nation require and deserve. Current circumstances make that patently clear. Neither the Murdoch press nor the Coalition are going to look that particular gift horse of reciprocity in the mouth. If they did, the stench of the halitosis might well render them as catatonic as Tony Abbott in an awkward interview.

This is a defining moment, I believe, not only in Australia’s political history, but also in its media history. Fairfax has the opportunity to capture not only a specific share of this media market, but also a place deep in the spirit of average Australians. It’s an opportunity for Fairfax to reverse, or at least mitigate the trend of cynicism directed at Australia’s media with respect to news and political coverage in particular. This is not hubris, nor is it excess maudlinism. It’s real. The need is real. The demand for that need to be met is real. Can Fairfax enter that reality?

Now, you may feel you already have a place there, and it’s true that to some extent you do, but you must surely also appreciate that the larger market share for real news and real journalism is not a mere abstraction but something tangible and there for the taking. This particular market, made available by Murdoch’s deliberate and seemingly joyous relinquishment of it, doesn’t require capital investment; it requires intellectual and moral investment. All it takes for that market to be in your hands is to heed the calls of the people and to meet their demands for better quality political journalism. I believe Murdoch has handed this opportunity to you on a gold plated, solid silver platter. Even Bargain Hunt couldn’t put an estimate on its value.

You have before you the opportunity to be the news service that Australians trust uppermost. You have the opportunity to return the craft of journalism to a place of respect in our communities. Please don’t underestimate or dismiss the significance of the absence of that trust and respect in Australian society. It has been socially cancerous. Cynicism is cancerous. Who can the people trust? It seems not the politicians. Nor is it anymore those whose brief it is to cut through the jungle of Machiavellian Madness and give us some clear, unbiased and informed vision into that which effects our everyday lives. There was a time when journalists appeared to feel the moral weight of meaningfully and objectively informing the community. There is a certain sentimental yearning running through the Australian psyche right now with regard to that time. You can either tap into that sentiment and become culturally relevant, or you can strip off and let it all hang out with the cavorting clowns of the Murdoch Circus.

As far as I can tell, only one of those options comes at any real cost.

 

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A Parable

Once upon a time in a country where most people lived on subsistence farms, there was a village where everyone lived on a subsistence farm. Let’s call this village “Present”.

One day, one of the villagers said that a traveler had told him that if they took some of the trinkets that the mothers made to The Capital, they could exchange them for better seeds. At first, the villagers were sceptical but eventually, the Chief said that he gave his approval. and so this villager – let’s call him “George” – was given permission to take a handful of trinkets to The Capital and exchange them.

Sure enough, the seeds he came back with were better, so every year he went to The Capital and every year he came back with interesting things.

Then, one day, he came back and said that a “machine” was coming. This “machine” could be used by the whole village and it would mean that the women needed to spend less time in the fields so that they’d have more time to make the trinkets which sold so well in The Capital.

People were impressed, but The Chief said this was challenging “the order of things”, and one must never do that. George suggested that they put it to a vote – a radical concept – but only after the “machine” gave a demonstration of what it could do.

Once people saw what the “machine” could do, they liked it. They had time to make more trinkets. Their yields were better than ever, and they had so much food they started to trade their excess food with other villages for more trinkets which they sold in The Capital.

This worked well for several years until, one day, The Chief walked into the village.

“I have some terrible news,” said The Chief. The villagers gathered around. “To have this machine we have gone into DEBT!” The villagers were confused they didn’t understand debt. “This means,” continued The Chief, “that many of your trinkets go toward paying off a thing called interest, and that it will take a long time before we pay off this machine. I demand a new vote.”

“Some of what you say is true,” spoke up George, “but haven’t things been better since we got this machine? Don’t we have more food? Are we not creating more things to sell in The Capital? Don’t people have more time? Are we not spending more time helping our children to learn skills that other villages don’t have?”

“We are in debt!” yelled The Chief. “It is bad magic. We must sell this machine and get out of debt. And you all must work longer hours. There will be no more trips to The Capital.”

“No-one even knew we were in debt until you told them,” argued George. “And we’ve been able to pay it off without a problem. Future generations will be better off because we produce more, because of what we’re doing now. A small debt doesn’t matter.”

“I demand a fresh election,” said The Chief. “I went to The Capital and there was a man named Rupert Murdoch who said that you should all get rid of this machine and put me in charge.”

“All right, let’s vote,” said George.

So the people voted. But because they were ignorant villagers, they all said why should we listen a man who is not from here – this “Rupert Murdoch” – tell us how bad things are. We are better off than we have ever been. We seem to be able to manage this debt. We wouldn’t have even known if it wasn’t for The Chief. And he’s just bitter because he lost the election.

Thank God that here in Australia we’re not ignorant, and understand that it’s good that Rupert Murdoch should be able to tell us who to vote for.

 

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Haters want to hate

It’s clear Australian voters aren’t rational, but do they have to be so blatantly mindless as well? When I say voters, I’m currently referring in this context to the people recently polled by ReachTEL and whose responses contributed to this headline on News.com:

“Voters trust Opposition Leader Tony Abbott most to deliver NDIS, poll reveals”

I had to read this a couple of times before I believed what I was seeing. The figures in the article state that 57% of the poll’s respondents trust Tony Abbott to deliver the NDIS, more so than they trust Julia Gillard. Surely, even someone completely rusted onto the Liberal party, even Peta Credlin, even Gina Rinehart, even Rupert Murdoch, even Alan Jones, even Tony Abbott himself must see the inanity in this poll result. The NDIS is Labor’s policy. It was the work of Bill Shorten, and only with Julia Gillard’s support did it have any hope in hell in getting a name, let alone being successfully implemented. Tony Abbott supported Labor’s NDIS policy after many months of non-commitment, only after it became obvious that if he didn’t, he would be seen as the scrooge we all know him to be. But just because he supported it, does not mean he gives a crap about it. He never raised such a scheme as even an idea when he was in government for many years. And when the policy did finally pass the lower house, much to the joy of the Labor MPs who worked tirelessly to make it happen, Tony Abbott and his team weren’t even there to see it happen. Because they couldn’t bear to be seen celebrating a policy win by the Labor government. A Labor government policy. So on what far off planet do these voters live if they think Abbott would be the better person to deliver a policy that was designed and successfully passed through the Parliament by Gillard’s Labor government?

At this point I’m pretty much ready to say to Australian voters, wake the f*ck up. Could you really be so misinformed by the Murdoch, Fairfax and ABC press, so out of touch with the policy platforms of the two major parties, and so ready to hate everything Julia Gillard does, that even when her government successfully implements a policy of huge national significance, you give Abbott the credit?

Perhaps this isn’t just a sign of an electorate that is completely uninterested with the roles played by the Labor Party and the Liberal Party in delivering the landmark NDIS policy. Perhaps it’s a sign of just how disengaged ordinary voters are from, well, political reality.

I guess it’s these same voters who haven’t twigged that the Carbon Price is designed to save them and future generations of their family from the effects of climate change. It’s these same voters who refuse to equate Murdoch’s campaign to bring down the Gillard government with an agenda to destroy the NBN, a technology that puts his Foxtel profits at risk. It’s also these same voters who don’t understand that Gina Rinehart hates the Mining Tax not because she wants to make enough money to keep employing more workers, but because she doesn’t want to pay tax on her super profits. Because she wants to keep the money from the sale of Australia’s resources for herself. These voters are probably willing to support policies that they do understand, such as the Gonski school funding, but they’re still not willing to give Gillard the credit for designing and delivering such policies. Gillard is damned if she does, damned if she doesn’t.

The other truly frustrating part of this whole messed up situation is that Abbott supporters never have anything nice to say about Abbott. They only have bile to spew at Gillard. Ad astra is right, propaganda directed at the Gillard government is spreading hatred throughout the electorate. This hatred is making the electorate crazy. Here’s a challenge for any Abbott supporters who come across this post and decide to make a comment. Please tell us why you support Abbott, without mentioning Labor or Gillard. I dare you.

 

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Rupert, check your letter box; you’ve got mail

The letter from Dick Smith to Mr Williams, CEO of News Limited in Australia that we published here under Murdoch Censorship Gives the Lie to ‘Freedom of Speech’ Claims went – to use a modern internet term – viral. Dick Smith has since been widely commended for having the guts to take the fight to one of the most influential, powerful, and many would say, ‘corrupt’ individuals in the world. It’s unheard of in this country for anyone to stand up to Rupert Murdoch. None of our politicians can do it. To do so would see the end of their political careers.

Dick Smith had nothing to lose. He’s successful in his own right and doesn’t rely on Rupert Murdoch to survive. But there are people whose careers are, or can be destroyed by Rupert Murdoch and they are also putting pen to paper. They all have something to lose. They all sacrifice their livelihood for having the courage to tell the truth.

I have found three such letters (of the dozens) written over the years. One from an Australian businessman – the typical Aussie battler; one from a British politician; and one from an American journalist. Let’s start with the Aussie, Michael Atwell, Managing Director of For Sale For Lease.

Mr.K.R.Murdoch, Chairman and CEO, News Corporation.

1211 Avenue of the Americas, New York, New York 10036. USA.

Dear Rupert Murdoch,

I wonder if you are aware that one of your many companies which is in a monopolistic position in Australia is attempting to kill a number of small but progressive companies in the real estate sector? Companies that are saving Australians money when homes are sold? Companies whose progressive hardworking owners, working families, may well be bankrupted and broken by your actions?

BuyMyPlace, ForSaleForLease and PropertyNow are three internet based companies which have been successful in enabling home owners to sell their own homes and avoid the fees and commissions charged by traditional real estate agents. Realestate.com.au is by far the most important website available in Australia, by its own admission nineteen times the size of its nearest competitors. Mr. Murdoch you own Realestate.com.au. Your company is refusing to renew contracts for BuyMyPlace, ForSaleForLease, Property Now and a number of similar companies which will remove them from the market and strangle their livelihood. Why is this happening Mr. Murdoch? Could it be that these efficient progressive companies who save money for the average Australian are cutting into the wonderful income of the fat cats of the real estate industry? An industry which spends millions of dollars of their clients’ money placing advertisements in your newspapers? An industry which your company is trying to privately regulate to the benefit of traditional real estate agents, evidenced by the presence of two prominent real estate agents on the board of your company Realestate.com.au?

There will no doubt be an ACCC enquiry into the conduct of your company, and it may well be that in due time it’s actions will be judged harsh and inappropriate. In the meantime nearly one thousand Australians who are in the process of selling their homes will be significantly disadvantaged. Young working families who have done nothing wrong will lose their livelihoods, and the opportunity for Australians to follow the international trend known as FSOB, or for sale by owner, will suffer a severe setback in order to protect the sometimes exorbitant commissions of traditional estate agents.

It is very disappointing to witness your company using the considerable clout of your organization to strangle small progressive companies who are delivering a real advantage for average Australians. Mr. Murdoch there is still time for you to step in and prevent this grossly unfair action. Please do so.

Yours sincerely,

Michael Atwell

And next is this very damning letter from Tom Watson, the Member of Parliament for West Bromwich East (UK).

Mr Rupert Murdoch
Chairman and CEO
News Corporation
1211 Avenue of Americas
New York
NY 10036

18 September 2012

Dear Mr Murdoch,

As you know, I have been uncovering criminality at News International for several years. During which time, the company’s management has regularly asked me to provide evidence of its habitual criminality. I have resisted such requests, as I did not believe they were sincere. It was my belief that senior people at the company knew perfectly well about journalists being involved in phone hacking, computer hacking, bribery and blackmail. And that the company had no wish to deal with these problems – did not even see them as such – rather to know what evidence existed in order to destroy it, to muddy the trail, in short, to cover up. For these reasons, I have resisted passing on evidence to you, and have passed it solely to the law enforcement authorities instead.

Nevertheless, I am writing to you today because I believe it may be possible that that era may be drawing to a close. I believe it possible that you and the current executives at the company may have realised that it is now too late to cover up what has gone on at News International. Whether or not you, and your executives, knew about the widespread use within News International of the latest investigative technique to be revealed – burglary – I believe you may now realise that the flat denial and attempt to destroy evidence of previous days will no longer wash with anybody.

I have seen a document from the hard drive of private investigator Sid Fillery, a regular contractor at News International through his company, Southern Investigations. The document, entitled “Alex1.doc” refers to a request for a sortie into the home of a woman living in Ascot. The hard drive was seized by the police in 2002 and is still in their possession. I understand that it was reviewed by the police in 2010 and that an internal document at the Metropolitan Police states quite clearly that they believe the file shows a conspiracy to break and enter into private property. Further details are on the front page of The Independent today.

You might not also be aware that a number of high profile figures who were the victims of phone hacking also reported mysterious break-ins at their homes. The pattern is the same: the homes clinically entered but no valuables taken. My colleague, Chris Bryant was so concerned that his home had been covertly entered that he reported the matter to the police. I understand the Metropolitan Police dispatched Commander Yates to take the statement. I understand the file containing the statement has gone missing.

I have audio testimony from the undercover former police officer with intimate knowledge of Southern investigations who claims that the burglary of the homes of MPs was a regular occurrence.

I am also aware, through the lawyer of a hacking victim, that there is testimony from another former private investigator that he was regularly hired to break into the homes of individuals who were the subject of investigation by News International. At the present time the investigator is not prepared to speak out in public.

This evidence has come to light after the Leveson Inquiry has stopped taking evidence. I think it important that you make a public statement to clarify how you intend to deal with these startling new revelations and how you will assist the police with their investigation.

Shortly, I will also be writing to you confidentially about information I have received from a former employee of the company regarding the conduct of former News of the World journalist and now Sunday Times investigator, Mazher Mahmood.

If there is any integrity at all to your claims to want to clean up the corruption and criminality endemic in your company, perhaps you would act on the evidence I am adducing. Public re-assurance that this matter is being dealt with would be welcome.

I would be grateful for a swift reply to this letter.

Yours sincerely

Tom Watson

And finally one from American journalist Trish Nelson whose professional career would have been on tenterhooks since penning this letter:

Rupert Murdoch
Chairman and Chief Executive
News Corporation
1211 Avenue of Americas
8th Floor
NY, NY 10036

Dear Mr. Murdoch:

I am writing to you because I understand you own and control a large number of newspapers, television stations and other kinds of media outlets.

I have been sickened and saddened by the choices your news organizations have made to show, over and over, on TV, horrible, hate inspired images against President Obama, and people carrying signs with messages of violence.

You are taking advantage of a few sad, ignorant people, who don’t know any better, because they believe Fox News and people like Glenn Beck and Bill O’Reilly care about them and are telling them the truth. They don’t understand that these people are just doing what they do because they are TV and radio personalities. The people in those crowds don’t understand that they are being used, and the ideas that they are supporting are actually harmful to them. This is not right.

Do you do this for the money? How much money do you and yours need? Are you trying to start full-blown civil unrest so that you can make even more money?

Do you have any idea what it is like out here, having to live and work alongside people who are so horribly misinformed about how the world works? Who actually believe Obama was not born in this country, who actually believe in death panels, who actually believe President Obama is the equivalent of Adolph Hitler and is someone to be feared? They get these ideas from your media organizations.

And it makes them dangerous and sick on an individual level.

Maybe you have the right to do whatever you want, but you are hurting people in our country, and I would like you and your stations to start showing some restraint before one of these individuals thinks they are doing the right thing by actually committing an act of violence.

Trish Nelson
Iowa City, Iowa

P.S. I would also be interested to know the reason why one million anti-war protesters did not deserve any TV time at all, but a few thousand tea-baggers and anti-Obama, anti-health care people deserve so much?

Rupert, check your letter box; you’ve got mail. Hate mail. The hate you spread is finally coming home to roost.

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News Limited and self-regulation

News Limited’s tawdry campaign proves Conroy’s point.

After Rupert Murdoch’s chickens came home to roost spectacularly in the UK, his emus are scuttling about in Australia.

The entire Australian organisation is attacking the federal Government over proposed legislation to strengthen media self-regulation.

Absolutely predictable. News Limited is the main perpetrator of media abuses in Australia. And hence the strongest proof the current self-regulation system is useless. Naturally it will squeal when called to account.

Intriguingly, we are seeing precisely the same tactics deployed against the Minister for Communications Senator Conroy and his proposed rule changes as gave rise to the need for them in the first place.

News Corporation in the UK now admits to having hacked the phones of a murdered schoolgirl, and of countless public figures, and of deceased servicemen and their families. All this they denied for years with point blank lies.

They have been found to have fabricated damaging stories about their enemies and suppressed stories damaging to their friends. They have been caught using criminal means to obtain information, including pay-offs to police. These they also lied about for years.

Several British editors and executives have now been sacked, others jailed or charged, and a newspaper shut down in shame.

In the USA, Murdoch’s Fox News is notorious for distortions, omissions and fabrications in political reporting. Outlets there bow to the whims of Rupert Murdoch regarding content. But the man himself is unaccountable.

Downunder, Justice Bromberg found Australia’s most widely read columnist Andrew Bolt guilty of multiple fabrications in Melbourne’s Herald Sun. The Federal Court judge found Bolt had no evidence for more than 19 damaging lies in his racially-motivated attacks against vulnerable Aboriginal people.

This was not a first for Bolt. For years he has waged campaigns against Aborigines and others based on falsehoods. He has been admonished by academics regarding his persistent refusal to write accurately about climate. He was found guilty of “very, very serious libel” in 2002.

No other media organisation in any other civilised nation would employ Bolt as a journalist.

Just a year earlier, Justice Stephen Kaye in the Victorian Supreme Court slammed Murdoch executives for lying to the court. In the matter of Bruce Guthrie’s wrongful dismissal the judge said he “had reservations about a number of features” of the evidence of News Limited’s then chief executive John Hartigan. “In my view Hartigan was an unreliable witness …”

Kaye was even more scathing of Herald and Weekly Times chief Peter Blunden. “The explanations given by Mr Blunden in evidence,” the judge said, “do not survive scrutiny”.

In the matter of Eatock v Bolt, Justice Bromberg also rejected the testimony of Murdoch executives.

The conclusion is inescapable: it is an organisation run by liars who employ lying editors to supervise lying reporters.

The Australian Journalists Association has a 12-point code of ethics. All twelve are now routinely violated by Murdoch employees.

In 2010 Herald Sun reporters lied about their identity to ensnare politicians in a British tabloid-like sting. They had the support of editors and executives – despite explicit condemnation in the code.

Most Murdoch publications are now merely spruikers for conservative political causes which they advance with distortion and lies. The frequency and viciousness of these crusades increased markedly after Labor came to power in late 2007.

In 2008 Glenn Milne in The Australian attacked PM Kevin Rudd over a risqué play in Gippsland which the local Labor candidate had promoted in his newsletter. Milne failed to disclose, however, that the tawdry theatrical event was actually approved and funded by the previous Howard Coalition Government.

Glaring examples since then are the relentless campaigns against the economic stimulus packages during the GFC, against climate change, against the mining tax, against the carbon tax, against internet security, against changes to discrimination laws and against the National Broadband Scheme.

Sydney’s Daily Telegraph was found by the Australian Press Council to have used false customer figures in a news story on the NBN. Other Telegraph articles were found misleading by serious omission. The Council expressed concern that “within a short period of time three articles on the same theme contained inaccurate or misleading assertions.”

The Daily Telegraph ran a front-page story headed “Thousands of boat people to invade NSW”. The Australian Press Council found elements of the story to be “gravely inaccurate, unfair and offensive”. The Council condemned the newspaper for “an especially serious breach of its principles.”

Murdoch outlets have attacked the PM ruthlessly over her alleged involvement with a union two decades ago. They have produced no evidence whatsoever of anything amiss and were forced to retract and apologise at least twice.

They have constantly attacked the Treasurer Wayne Swan who, according to external assessment has done a better than average job.

The last four years “have been disastrous for Australians,” claimed The Daily Telegraph in 2011. “There have been broken promises, billions lost in wasteful spending and economic mismanagement and sheer incompetence.”

This was the month Australia gained its triple A credit rating with all agencies for the first time ever. And shortly after The New York Times reported “Australia’s economy has been booming”.

In February this year, The Australian ran a cover story headed “Mutiny kills PM’s Bob Carr plan”. It contained at least six “revelations” relating to the appointment of Bob Carr as Foreign Minister. All six were soon proven fabricated.

Murdoch publications have campaigned against all Labor state governments. News reporters at Brisbane’s Courier-Mail were instructed to use the news pages to drive a campaign targeting then Premier Anna Bligh.

The campaign against the Greens, and former leader Bob Brown in particular, has been particularly vicious.

An editorial in The Australian declared “We believe he (Brown) and his Green colleagues are hypocrites; that they are bad for the nation; and that they should be destroyed at the ballot box.”

These are not just vigorous campaigns confined to the opinion pages, which would not be so objectionable. But crusades fought with distortion and lies in the news content.

Can anything be done? Ex employee Bruce Guthrie who defeated News Limited in court in 2010 believes “you can bite back against Murdoch”.

Senator Conroy seems to be attempting exactly that. Will he succeed? We shall see.

Guest post by Alan Austin.

Alan is an Australian freelance journalist currently living in Nîmes in the South of France, but who returns to Australia regularly. His interests are religious affairs, the economics of development and integrity in government and the media. He has been published in many print outlets and worked for eight years with ABC Radio and Television’s religious broadcasts unit. He has also worked as a journalist with the aid agency World Vision and the Uniting Church.

 

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Media consumers have little to feed on

Anyone who read Tory Shepherd’s article The guts of the matter is that we want policy, not politics on news.com’s The Punch this morning would have reached the same conclusion as I. It was a shocker. It strictly adhered to the Murdoch Media’s rules one and two: blame the government; when in doubt . . . blame the government.

The article, which was about an open house Community Cabinet in the South Australian electorate of Boothby reminds the reader that:

Labor has disembowelled itself and we’re all standing around trying to divine the future from its spilled entrails.

And those standing around, we learn, want to know if the Government is going to fix important mainstream issues:

How will they fix mental health, and youth violence? What are they going to do about those drowning at sea and those arriving here? How will they look after single parents who struggle to both pay the rent and buy food?

What are we going to do about climate change, the cost of living, education, childcare, the ageing population?

What are we going to do about climate change? You’ve got to be kidding me. My question is: “Why haven’t the media told them?”

For over a year they followed Tony Abbott as he visited every business in the country and predicted with fear and smear how the ‘carbon tax’ would destroy their respective industries and how he was likely to be the last person to walk through their doors. Butchers, bakers, candle-stick makers; there’d be none left after the dastardly tax annihilated them. Even whole towns were predicted to be wiped off the map. And the media turned each utterance into a headline. The Government is tackling climate change, a simple point that the media has failed to point out. The Murdoch media have been long-term debunkers of climate change and now one of their journalists has the audacity to join in the community chorus and ask of the Government what they intend to do about . . . climate change.

How hard it must be for a journalist to visit a Government web site to look at what is actually being done about an issue? Why can’t they then publish their findings in an informative way? I’ve spent five minutes in Google and I’ve found the answers to all the questions asked by the community and echoed by Tory Shepherd. Here are a few: You can click on a link for climate change, here for mental health, or here for youth violence.

Even though I thought Shepherd’s article bordered on the ridiculous, it still didn’t prepare me for the quality of the reader comments her article attracted. Consider these gems of ignorance:

A Concerned Citizen says:

07:55am | 22/02/13

What function does a government serve if they are not going to address and fix problems facing Australia, or manage infrastructure?

PJ says:

07:28am | 22/02/13

The carbon tax is another Gillard Government tax, like the Mining Tax, which does not work. Its burdon has fallen entirely on the ordinary Australians.

Leopold says:

06:52am | 22/02/13

This government has been too focused on bribing voters with handouts that ultimately go into the pokies and the pockets of carlton united breweries, rather than investing where it will make a difference.

Super D says:

07:15am | 22/02/13

Eventually the ALP will realize its actually about policy.

GregE says:

12:38pm | 22/02/13

If pensioners are struggling, wtf has the ALP done for them over the last 5 years?

GregE says:

09:54am | 22/02/13

. . . the problem is that we have seen lots of policy announcements from the ALP over the last 5 years. And many if not most of those ended in non delivery or a disaster.

james says:

12:41pm | 22/02/13

Gillard have policies only to safeguard her job ( knifing!! !)
Not for the ordinary people’s jobs.
That is the bottom line!!!

james says:

01:16pm | 22/02/13

I am too eager to go to polling station now !!!!
I am sick and tired of all these bloody nonsense lies from Gillard.
Time to restore the integrity of our parliamentarian standards in this country.

People who provide comments on news.com sites would obviously belong to its group of loyal readers. As media consumers they are fed very little. The media doesn’t even bother to inform them of what is happening in their own back yard. Starve them as much as possible but throw a bit of manure around to fertilise their ignorance.

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The people versus Murdoch

Plato (428-348 BC) was opposed to the use of the written word; convinced that it destroyed memory. People, he argued, wouldn’t bother to memorise facts or stories. Spreading words indiscriminately was wasteful and they were not to be trusted.

How prophetic. And yet, though spoken over two millennia ago, how utterly contemporary. Look at our mainstream media (MSM) with their central tenet that their journalists are reliable, truthful and objective. Who do you believe? Them or Plato?

The direction we’ve seen in the MSM leans towards in the last couple of decades favours stories that are trivial, narrow, shallow and sensationalist. And often untrue. Truth doesn’t sell a newspaper. If Plato were alive today he would no doubt bemoan the MSM have been spreading words indiscriminately and wasteful. And they most definitely are not to be trusted.

Some bloggers have publicly stated what Plato would have agreed to, and in response the MSM unleashed a ferocious and to some, a persuasive attack on the independent blog sites. A couple that I’d read earlier from the Murdoch stable exhibited a sort of ‘xenophobic’ hatred, which first became evident a couple of years ago. Christian Kerr, a political journalist I admired, 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 the proclaimed masthead of the Murdoch empire, the Townsville Bulletin, which announced to stunned 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.

Represent the community! Don’t you mean control the community?

Blogging has profoundly influenced the nature of modern communication and obviously this doesn’t sit well with the traditional print media. The above references are indicative of their opinion that blogs produce public discussion that falls well below their standards. I disagree. News stories these days are nothing more than opinion pieces to which nobody is held account.

The blog sites are now holding them to account and this sits very uneasy with them.

Many blog writers have a natural gift of being able take the single main story of the day – turn it into something worth reading – and foster the expression of a range of opinions that otherwise would not, or may not, have the opportunity of being expressed to a wide audience via the MSM.

In a few short years, blogging has become a global phenomenon. It has not only has reshaped our view of journalism, but has unlocked previously unrealised publishing opportunities. Blogging itself, in my opinion, is journalism. The readership is limited, hence blogging sites with similar agendas often link their sites together to broaden the impact of their commentary. The blog sites of the MSM usually filter out contributions from bloggers whose opinion do not fit into their schema, so while independent blog sites provide minimal impact, the avenues through the MSM can provide none.

Then what are the impacts of the independent blog sites?

It is in the political sphere, that the impact of blogging is being nurtured.

In his/her March 2010 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 found the essay to be rather heartening. As a blogger 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. If we follow the trend seen in the United States, we may one day see a healthy blogging industry flourish in Australia.

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.

Up until recently, people in democratic societies wishing to have their ideas and opinions published had to contend with editorial policies that were generally based on the ideology of the editors, and of course, on what was sellable. However, this regime of control over what content is allowed to emerge is collapsing in today’s world of participatory media.

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.

Many bloggers believe they are better suited to provide the diversity that today’s democracies need, yet which are often ignored by traditional journalists. Blogging advances the opportunity for bloggers 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.

Bloggers also encourage contributors and readers to think objectively and ask the probing questions that might often be avoided by a mainstream media organisation, particularly if they are working to a different (or hidden) agenda. Further, through blogs, people have the opportunity to analyse and disseminate the news and opinions thrown at them from the established media; the blogosphere is awash with a more objective and factual analysis.

Blogs have exploded in number, not because they are the echo of dissenting voices, but because the MSM has created an arena for them to enter. If the MSM was objective, impartial and committed to providing a quality service then in a modern democracy there may not be any bloggers, or for that matter, the millions of blog sites that exist purely to fill in the gaps exposed by the mainstream media empires.

In other words, it’s the people versus Murdoch.

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