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The dearth of Australian journalism

ABCTV’s the Insiders broadcast 29/7/2018 the morning after Super Saturday demonstrated the parlous state of quality Australian journalism.

After interrogating Liberal Minister for Defence Industry and Leader of the House Christopher Pyne, and Opposition Deputy Leader Tanya Plibersek about the results of the previous night’s Super Saturday by-elections, host Barrie Cassidy introduced the panel.

For me this is when Australian journalism slipped over and fell on its arse.

The Guardian’s Katherine Murphy, the Australian’s Niki Savva and News Corp’s jolly old Uncle Malcolm Farr, all but spat their coffee across the set when Cassidy suggested it is time for media to drop the Kill Bill / Anthony Albanese-is-waiting-to-challenge nonsense.

The Three Amigos came close to hyperventilation. I would not be surprised if half their press gallery colleagues did the same, as they swallowed Berocca and munched handfuls of Panadol to clear muzzy heads.

The gallery including the Conversation’s redoubtable Michelle Grattan, fell for a Liberal Government ‘drop,’ namely Albo is set to challenge Bill Shorten.

Never mind the fact Tanya Plibersek minutes earlier swatted the story as so much tosh, or Wayne Swan said much the same on an earlier ABC news programme, or that Albo had called the story rubbish. No. Three top notch journos turned face-on to the cameras and said in effect, ‘we reported a non-story and are sticking with our assertion’.


Arrant nonsense.

How do I know this, and why do I believe this morning marked a low point in the worst week in the history of Australian news media?

If these three reporters had squeezed into the Unity Hall Hotel in Balmain on the day then Prime Minster Kevin Rudd announced reforms to mechanisms to appoint Labor Party leaders, and thus forbid a repeat of the Rudd / Gillard / Rudd debacle, they would have witnessed Anthony Albanese (Albo) at his finest.

Albo is my local member and I am a rank and file member of the Australian Labor Party.

Anthony Albanese, his close friend and mentor, former Senator John Faulkner, and the nation watched acts of unparalleled bastardry, which spelt the imminent examination of the ALP.

Make no mistake; Labor as a collective knew it either reformed or experience a horrible death.

Neither Albo, Faulkner nor other party activists, were prepared to allow this to happen. If Savva, Murphy and Farr didn’t know this, then they should not be in the business of reporting.

Here is the rub. This trio and the majority of the Canberra press gallery – so called ‘insiders’ – no longer report. They comment. But commentary is not journalism. Rather it is a corrosive aspect of the global entertainment industry’s gleeful destruction of the integrity of the fourth estate. Witness the Channel 9 take-over of Fairfax.

Did Savva, Murphy, Farr and others ring Albo’s office and ask for an interview? I’m not sure, but if they did, they did not file a report; at least I cannot find one. Indeed, Savva and Murphy said to Cassidy, ‘according to unnamed sources we knew something was going on and we faithfully reported this.’

Huh? How is it small journals such as this news outlet, with unerring accuracy, called the story out as a non-starter?

By the end of Insiders Savva, Murphy and Farr on cue, wept crocodile tears about the demise of Fairfax, but avoided the perspicacity of Cassidy’s argument the Kill Bill strategy had failed.

The ‘Albo for PM’ yarn will stink-up the place for a few more days despite the fact a slew of ALP federal members would make exemplary prime ministers.

Consider the talent of Albanese, Bowen, Plibersek, Burke, Chalmers, Clare, Wong, Dreyfuss, Lamb, and others. Now imagine a Muslim PM, Ed Husic, or an Aboriginal Prime Minister, Linda Burney. I can. Compare these citizens to the nincompoops which comprise the LNP Government. Yet according to the Canberra press gallery, their version of the story – Albo, aka Beatrix Kiddo, aka the Bride – will faithfully follow the Kill Bill script. Yeah right, just like the fairy tale of South Australia’s darling of the IPA Georgina Downer, taking her seat as the new federal member for Mayo.

Pick up your redundancy cheques, boys and girls, and don’t bother switching off the lights on your way out.

Henry Johnston is a Sydney based author. His book, Best and Fairest is available at Valentine Press.

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  1. king1394

    So much of MSM is prediction and scuttlebutt, which is why I have preferred to take my news reports from AIMN, ‘The Conversation’ and the amazing resource that is Facebook, if you have the type of friends who read widely and share the range of articles from the plethora of specialised sources. (It’s no wonder that a major campaign has been launched against the wide range of opinions available on FB, without ever recognising that most reasonably well-informed people are perfectly able to sort the gold from the dross).

    For far too long, MSM has delighted in reporting ad nauseum speculations such as leadership disputes mainly in the ALP and election dates, while managing not to report at all on, let alone analyse, policies and real events. It would be great if the journalists mentioned above could have considered the issues and the opinions of local people in the electorates rather than parroting Turnbull’s never ending rants. Of course, creating a never-ending sense of crisis around the stability of the ALP’s leadership is a way of supporting the conservative side of politics, even though it is much more possible for a Liberal spill to take place.

    Among other things they could examine is why the trope of ‘leadership’ means so much to them, considering that the Prime Minister is selected by the majority of his/her party, and is not an elected office. They could also wonder why so many PHON preferences leak to the ALP, while so few Green ones go to the Liberals. They could deeply analyse why Turnbull prefers to call others liars instead of better explaining his policies.

  2. John Kelly

    I couldn’t believe how defensive the three amigos were, this morning. They knew they had been sucked in and couldn’t bring themselves to admit it. Pathetic!

  3. Kevin Clsrke

    Katherine Murphy is a good writer, but she is with the wrong paper. She consistently defends Turnbull and seizes on anti-Shorten stuff with relish. Numerous posters to the Guardian comments complain about her bias, to the point where she is now a protected species – critical comments are taken down almost immediately. This morning Murphy and Savva got off the by-election as soon as they could, after first suggesting that Labor almost cheated by their ‘ ground staff’ being so rude as to tell the truth. It was a thoroughly undignified display by all three guests, topped only by Downer’s dad rubbishing the voters of Mayo for failing to recognise his family inheritance, and Turmbull’s flat denial that it was a judgment of Turnbull v Shorten, which he had implored votes to make it.

  4. John Lord

    The no not I defence was a bit hard to take from very experienced writers. I do however have a likeness for Murphy’s words.

  5. John lord

    Agreed John but I do have a liking for Murphy’s words.

  6. Jennifer Demas

    Henry, journalism has died a hell of a long time ago, the day the Tsar and captains of industry treat Australia like the family farm, they decide, the who, what and when, the than USA President Woodrow Wilson, “The government, which was designed for the people, has got into the hands of bosses, the special interest. An invisible empire has been set up above the forms of democracy” and the rest is history, today a politicly and economically disenfranchised people, unravelling social fabric viscerally angry and divided against it self. Australia does have a rear vision mirror before it’s way way too late. All politics is and will always be personal, universal healthcare, education dignity in retirement, eat heat or treat, the social fabric, but we’ve been led to believe that politics what’s dictated by the media Tsar and corporate union. It’s time the masses take back politics and by pass the media Tsar and corporate union media dialysis machine.

  7. corvus boreus

    In egotistical self-reference, I shall offer a (slightly re-edited) regurgition of my own prior stated opinion on the subject;

    ‘The very same factors that serve to convince me of the eminent suitability of Anthony Albanese to lead the ALP (a combination of a comparatively solid reputation for personal/team integrity and an obvious pragmatic, practical intelligence) are the same basic reasons why I reckon the recent widespread media speculations over an ‘Albanese leadership bid’ are an artificially confected crock of proverbial insubstantialities.
    Labor are not going to repeat the mistake of changing captain/coach this close to the big game.’

  8. Zathras

    Journalism now needs to be entertainment, whether it’s about gossip or some sort of bloodsport, just to capture and maintain the attention of the consumer.

    Emotion is more important than mere fact because now there are “alternative facts”.

    Television will broadcast any old nonsense just because they have the video and newspapers are notorious for plagiarism.

    They may blame the Internet for their problems but they also rely on it heavily for content.

    If there’s no news to report, have a Poll and that automatically becomes the news.

    In the end, it’s all about selling things to consumers, whether it’s a funeral fund or somebody’s opinion of the truth.

  9. Babyjewels

    I’ve been disappointed a couple of times of late with Katherine Murphy, but not the other two clowns. They are always a disappointment.

    Agreed. There are very few I’d trust and that’s a real shame because I’m old enough to remember a time when I did believe most of what I read in my daily tome. (Now online independent media.)

  10. Wayne Turner

    “Unnamed sources” = They made it up.

    All biased pathetic hacks.

    Proving any idiot could do their job.

    The cheer squad and promotional wing of the COALition.

    The MSM sucks in Australia.

  11. Wun Farlung

    Bazz offered a get out and all of them denied the chance 2 out of 3 I expected but Murph how can she think she is a respected Journalist after that?
    Quit while you’re behind murphy

  12. Peter Dixon

    Well said!

  13. Kaye Lee

    I admire Murphy’s writing about climate change (or perhaps Lenore Taylor’s moreso) but this stuff about Albo is really journos reading stuff that wasn’t said, ignoring stuff that was, and then trying to justify it. They are effectively silencing Albo because every time he says something, they read it as him jockeying for position. This is a great pity because we need his voice. Who cares who wears the crown? Who cares who cuts the ribbon? Bill should go out and defend Albo and point out the damage the media are doing in silencing his voice. Bill should say something to the journos who continually keep asking about leadership like “Why don’t you listen to the substance of what Albo is saying.. He, like every Shadow Minister, speaks for the Labor Party.”

  14. Terence Mills

    It was Turnbull who made the Super-Saturday by-elections all about leadership and the contest being between him and Shorten when clearly the issues in Braddon and Longman were local.

    From my observation, Longman, an area I know well, was responding to the cuts to education, the gutting of TAFE, hospitals and the degradation of Medicare which highlighted the clear distinction with the coalition’s frenzy to cut taxes (and inevitably services).

    It was clearly the media who then picked up on Turnbull’s tactic of making it a contest of the leaders and they assumed that a loss to Shorten would place his leadership in jeopardy but strangely, the loss by Turnbull doesn’t place his leadership at risk according to the media.

    If these by-elections were all about leadership and national policies then Turnbull has been roundly rejected by the electorate.

    The suggestion that Albo should take on Shorten for an ALP leadership contest was concocted by Newscorp in a mischievous attempt to bring instability to the very solid leadership of Shorten : if you want instability and infighting you need go no further than the Liberal party room.

  15. Rhonda

    I totally agree, Henry, and might I add how weakly they all responded to Georgina D’s failed (again) bid for IPA, soz, I mean, Mayo. Yes there were predictable oohs and tut tuts in response to daddy Downer’s woeful tweets, but re GD, it was all poor dear…”how brave and dignified, bravo sweetums” crappola from go to wo, except for the talking pictures segment with Mark H – that was funny

  16. Rhonda

    I was already irritated by the media for running with the Longman/Braden potential loss (of ALP seat defenders)- we heard constant reference to how remarkable and historical this was GOING to be (done deal much!) and how the fallout for Bill was going to be huuuge, yadda yadda – never once was any of this “reporting” contextualised with any back story from the previous election, or indeed PHONs role with her on-again-off-again toxic relationship with the LNP. It’s al tool blergh for words! I reckon Katherine Murphy is probs having to be mindful of her future jobs and growth! She’s looking out for herself, not us

  17. helvityni

    Rhonda, I have always seen Murphy as Mal’s girl, on top of that she has that irritating gravelly voice….
    I still like Cassidy, at least he admitted being wrong, not so Nicky or Catherine….

  18. New England Cocky

    Why was I reminded of “Hamlet”, Scene 1 when watching the three crones of the MSM, Gratten, Savva and Murphy. All of them are unyielding apologists for the Liarbral Party and LNP misgovernment.

    Now Henry, it is not “balanced objective opinion” to list the the top ALP leaders while listing all of the NLP leaders in the same sentence. With Muddles Turdball under pressure from Benito Dutton for the Liarbral Party leadership and subsequent position of PM, it is just totally unfair to make such an overwhelming comparison.

    “Consider the talent of Albanese, Bowen, Plibersek, Burke, Chalmers, Clare, Wong, Dreyfuss, Lamb, and others. Now imagine a Muslim PM, Ed Husic, or an Aboriginal Prime Minister, Linda Burney.”

    ALP 11+, LNP 0. QED.

  19. Sadha R

    It is sad to see quality and honest journalism in this country going the same way as manufacturing. When the powers that be believe that they know what is best for the people and give them unwanted products made here the inevitable usually happens.The automotive manufacturing industry went into demise because of this. When journos just comment rather than report to keep the Murdochs of the world happy ( so that they keep on getting more and more handouts from the ruling mob) the intelligent public just reject their crap. Sadly technology has also contributed to the loss of sound journalism.The crap artistes respond by trying to stifle the last post of decent and fair reporting the ABC.We may yet become zombies like big brother

  20. DrakeN

    Good article Mr. Johnston, and the usual worthy commentary.

    My own gripe is with the Guardian Australia newspaper which employs Katharine Murphy as Political Editor, even though she is so clearly biased towards the mass delusion of a Canberra Press Gallery which writes opinion as if it were fact.

    To me she displays no evidence of journalistic integrity and honesty.

    @John Lord: Ms. Murphy writes very well – if you consider veiled untruths to be ‘good’.
    In my opinio, her choice of words and use of syntax are indicative of someone who would be better working as a politician’s “spin doctor”.

  21. guest

    It is interesting to compare the writings of journalists with the reality of what happened. Politicians are equally vulnerable.

    We saw that with “Insiders” where journalists had to face reality and failed. And so did Pyne when he refused to admit that Turnbull had made the by-election into a contest between himself (Turnbull) and Shorten. Journalists had taken up that idea and publicly said so.

    But that kind of refusal to face reality also comes out in the readers of news media. The Australian presents itself as ‘Newspaper of the year’ and is supposed to be ‘For the informed reader’. For me it is none of those things.

    As an Australian, the newspaper does not speak for me. When I read parts of it, as I do occasionally to see what the latest obsession is, I feel i am in a foreign country.

    I cannot see it as ‘Newspaper of the year’ because it is no more than a propaganda broadsheet writing for the rusted on right-wingers, with huge influence from US politics.And no wonder, with its foreign proprietor and its journalists so much in love with the US and Trump.

    And I am not convinced the readers are very much informed. Once the paper might have claimed it was fair and balanced even if it wasn’t – but now it does not even pretend.

    So when we look at Letters to the Editor, for example, we see some egregious ignorance. For example, the question by one correspondent asking what evidence there is that global warming is having any effect. Why does he not know? For a start, perhaps he does not want to know. But then his chosen source of news is not telling either, because that news source prefers to present long debunked anti-science propaganda as quasi-science. So the ‘informed reader’ is not being informed at all, nor is the ignorant reader.

    Another simple example is the reader who claims that there is nothing new about climate change, Why, there has been climate change before and he refers to the Jurassic age. What is the point of mentioning some other period of climate change which has occurred in the past under different circumstances? The reader has clearly made no attempt to find out about our present climate change, nor has his news source told him.

    My understanding is that news media are to be educators to inform readers of the truth. But that is perhaps naif. What has happened is that news sources have become a means for distributing opinions more than real news. So it now becomes fashionable to reject even the truth as “fake news’ and people are confused in a fog of of misinformation. Which means that no one, not even politicians, journalists, scientists, doctors…anyone, is to be believed – only oneself and favoured contacts on Facebook (perhaps not even them).

    It is a sad situation being exploited – and apparently all that matters is the money, so that left-leaning journalists will write for the right to try to increase readership, and the ABC/SBS is accused of bias because …it does not counter every leftish item with a rightish view. Imagine the clogging up that this would bring. “Our report about global temperatures will ow be followed by flat-earth temperatures.” And there would be some “journalists” who would do that.

  22. Henry Johnston

    Since writing this item, media switched focus from the non-story of the so-called Albanese challenge to the actual and viable threat to PM Turnbull’s from former PM Abbott. History, not media, will likely chronicle the Member for Warringah the most destructive politician since Federation.

  23. New England Cocky

    Now, now Henry, you just encourage Toxic RAbbott to challenge for the leadership of the Liarbral Party because that is the only way that the genocidal policies of Benito Dutton will survive the 2019 Federal election. We are working very hard to replace the former Queensland policeman and his unaccounted wealth.

  24. Alan Baird

    Face it. Tony Albanese torpedoed Bill on the company tax cuts issue with his business friendly SMH article. It has already thrown doubt into my mind about just how prepared Labor is to walk the talk in government in ending their long attachment to neoliberalism. There are still plenty who believe. Labor needs to disavow the Hawke years.
    Rolling back every facet of this pox on our country should be the central issue to be acted upon by a Labor government. Just this morning ScoMo was repeating the trickle down lie, again and again. On ABC news. Ad nauseam. It pollutes our existence. No one can explain the trickle down mechanism, let alone demonstrate it working. The top end continues to rise into the distance, far away from the average punter.
    When does company tax reach a point where it can stay and the wages keep pace?
    I would suggest zero company tax would soon produce similar effects as we have right now. After a “decent interval” the inadvertently dripping taps would soon be tightened again. Followed by a request from business for grants…
    Until we have an Opposition proudly heralding a genuine mixed economy with an eminent place for government, we can expect no improvement in the parlous state of politics.

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