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Trial by media

In the heart of the nation’s capital, in the heart of its Parliament, we have the Canberra Press Gallery and, in its private alcove, the National Press Club. It appears to be the beating heart of the political news media bias that is driving at least half of the country nuts.

The National Press Club has a Facebook page and when you start looking around you don’t have to go far to see obvious signs of bias.

What’s obvious is a single announcement of guest appearances by the Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, and, on the following day, the Leader of the Opposition, Tony Abbott. Further down the page there’s a separate notice for the appearance of Mr Abbott. No sign of a separate notice for Ms Gillard, so that looks like favouritism.

What’s not so obvious is a complaint by Neil Spencer, on December 16, 2012. Mr Spencer questions the relatively poor coverage of the outcome of a court case which has become known as Ashbygate. The hearing created sensational front page news. The verdict was buried in the back pages.

Instead of replying directly to Mr Spencer’s post, the FB page administrator referred him to another story in The Daily Telegraph relating to action being taken against the former Speaker, Peter Slipper, by the Federal Police. The administrator makes the rather snide remark: “We thought you would appreciate this one.”

Clearly, the administrator is of the same mind as the Opposition Leader, Mr Abbott. In three separate and long-running attacks on the government Mr Abbott has chosen to ignore the rule of law, the assumption of innocence, and demand that the government leap into a guilty verdict that would advantage him politically and damage our legal and parliamentary process severely (see Lies, damned lies and sour grapes).

Mr Spencer’s post, the administrator’s response, and my comment appear in full (so far January 18, 2013 12.45 pm) below.

Neil Spencer

To all you journalists please read the following:

I am very disillusioned with the media response to the Slipper/Ashby verdict. The whole issue is being played down by most media outlets. I don’t know why. Here is a story that any investigative journalist would love to get their teeth into. But yet there is this apprehension from the print media and on air media alike. The Daily Telegraph reported the verdict of the case on page 17 on 13th December. That in itself is an admission of reporting bias. [Right-wing News Limited commentator] Chris Kenny stated that [Prime Minister] Julia Gillard shouldn’t get involved in this muck raking. My god. After what she has been subjected to from the Opposition and, in particular Tony Abbott, she has every reason to ask Mr Abbott for a full explanation. The Australian people deserve a full explanation.

The Australian people deserve to have balanced reporting on all issues, especially those of a political nature. Is there not one journalist out there who is in the MSM who is prepared to investigate the story of possible conspiracy by Brough and other members of the LNP? Are they afraid there might be repercussions from their employer if they did so? If that is the case, then they are being accessories after the fact by assisting in concealing the truth. The employer would not be the type of employer that a professional journalist should be associated with. Regardless of the outcome of investigations our country will be the better for it.

I just don’t know how reputable journalists can be instructed on what they should or should not investigate. If a story comes to light then a journalist should find out the facts by investigating until such time as the story can go no further. Under the present climate of investigation a Watergate could be carried out in this country and the perpetrators would be able to get away with it. God help Australia.

Like December 16, 2012 at 8:28pm

National Press Club of Australia

We thought you would appreciate this one:

January 10 at 9:54am

Barry Tucker

Neil Spencer raised a valid point. You didn’t address his complaint. Instead, you referred him to another Telegraph story about Federal Police charging Mr Slipper with fraud (their first attempt to charge him fell through, so they went back further in history to find another one).

Your failure to address Mr Spencer’s complaint is pathetic. Referring him to another story (in which Mr Slipper is a defendant and not proven guilty of anything) is even worse. It is worse because your actions in this matter amount to Trial by Media. Your actions tell me that you believe Mr Slipper is not entitled to natural justice, that in the view of the National Press Club he is guilty and must remain so, regardless of the outcome of the Ashby/Slipper court case and the comments and judgment of Justice Rares.

If there are any further developments, I will add to this article.

Further comment: The Daily Telegraph article that Neil Spencer was referred to was written by News Limited journalists Steve* Lewis and Patrick Lion. Steve Lewis was liaising with James Ashby before he filed his sexual harassment claim against Mr Slipper in the Federal Court. Mr Lewis was summonsed to appear before the court.

[*Steve Lewis was elected to his second term as vice president of the National Press Club in 2009. I did not know that when I wrote this story yesterday.]

The judge ruled that matters related to cab charge documents had nothing to do with the allegations of sexual harassment and were introduced in an attempt to damage Mr Slipper’s character in order to strengthen Mr Ashby’s claim.

The Lewis/Lion story acknowledges Mr Slipper’s court victory. It then refers to Mr Ashby’s allegations re the cabcharge dockets, which the judge has ruled are irrelevant:

The allegations are a major setback for the former speaker, who three weeks ago secured a victory when allegations of sexual harassment were thrown out in the Federal Court. His accuser, former adviser James Ashby, alleged he saw Mr Slipper signing blank Cabcharge dockets on visits to Sydney in early 2012. Those allegations are not the subject of the court action.

Note carefully the last sentence above. If Mr Ashby’s evidence re cabcharge documents has been ruled irrelevant, and “Those allegations are not the subject of the court action.” then what is the point of including the last two sentences in italic above?

In his judgment, Justice Steven Rares said Mr Lewis ”was motivated by the opportunity to obtain newsworthy stories”. He also noted there was ”nothing unusual in a symbiotic relationship between members of the media … and persons involved in politics”.

It may not be obvious to the casual reader, but it is clear to me that Mr Lewis, at least, is continuing his campaign to damage the former Speaker, Mr Slipper — a campaign that began with his liaison with Mr Ashby and is continuing in spite of the Federal Court dismissing the allegations of sexual harassment. Mr Ashby and one of his legal advisors are appealing the judge’s decision and comments on the case.

The judge also was of the opinion that Mr Ashby’s case against Mr Slipper was a conspiracy to bring down the federal Australian government. It has been pointed out by news media commentators and members of the fifth estate (the new, alternative, news media) that while Steve Lewis had his head down feeding stories back to his newspaper he somehow missed one of the biggest political scoops of the past decade.

A story about a conspiracy to bring down the government would not serve the agenda of Mr Lewis’ employer, News Limited, in the same way as a series of stories alleging sexual and other misconduct by Mr Slipper. That’s why this story is being referred to as Ashbygate.

[Additional information, January 19, 2013]

While News Limited media maintains its campaign against the federal government, the Fairfax owned press, notably The Sydney Morning Herald (SMH) and Melbourne’s The Age, have softened their approach since about the time of the Prime Minister’s so-called “misogyny speech” (see Pennies drop and the balance shifts).

SMH columnist Richard Ackland in his column yesterday (January 18, 2013) said the investigative bloodhounds of the press have let “Tony Abbott and other leading Coalition ornaments off the hook”.

“There are still so many loose threads dangling off the James Ashby case it is amazing that those dedicated to holding politicians to account have let this one pass.”

Read Mr Ackland’s column here.

Veteran investigative reporter Margo Kingston (a former SMH journalist) also commented on the sudden lack of interest in the Ashbygate affair in her story for Independent Australia yesterday. See:

Are the actions of Mr Lewis in investigating and reporting the Ashby case as squeaky clean as Justice Rares seems to think they are?


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  1. Catching up

    This story will not go away.

    It will be like a wound that is not treated.

    It might grow a skin over it, but will fester below the surface.

    Will need to be lanced down the track.

    Not unlike a boil..

  2. Catching up

    Truth, it is not going away, because we are not going to allow that to happen.

  3. Truth Seeker

    Barry, nice one. 😀

    Cu, you are right, this story will not go away, and I love your analogy of the boil that needs to be lanced.

    Very reminiscent of my poem “The Boil” , posted on CW, and more recently on my blog. 😆

    Barry keep up the good work. 😀

    Cheers. 😀

  4. Mark Rich

    Keep it up Barry, the media bias over Ashbygate is disgraceful. Now all they want to cover is the lack of revenue from the mining tax and yet when it came in the cost to industry was going to be the end of mining in our country
    We have gone beyond journalism into something I don’t recognise but I know it’s not ethical

  5. Miglo

    Another top post, Barry.

  6. 730reportland

    The National Press Club Foolbook attitude doesn`t surprise me.
    Last year they were happy to be `punked` not once, but twice.
    First, dedicating one session to Monckton and fake-science.
    Second, turning it into the Alan Jones screech hour with pictures.
    Whatever the `merits` are of topic/guest is to be given a session leaves a lot to be desired, remember this includes my ABC air-time. This is becoming just a Canberra Press Gallery circle-jerk, without much use to the public. A poor job of transcripting the speech AND questions and answers by my ABC too.

  7. dafid1

    Barry the MSM are hoping like hell the Ashby appeal will win and the whole disgraceful attempt at a coup, thats what it is, will be swept under the media carpet..
    News for the news mafia, no friggin way, the bed is made, the occupants are known, eventually sleep will overcome them and they will take up residence.

  8. rkg31557Green

    Am I correct in thinking that the same Mr Lewis, is the journalist that broke the Godwin Grech email and also so the issue of Craig Thomson. He is not a very good investigative journalist he is at the moment 2 for 3 and the 3rd is looking a little thin as well.

  9. Miglo

    Yep, the same Mr Lewis.

    His track record is poor.

  10. Truth Seeker

    The sad thing for Ashby and all the other players is that when the shit hits the fan, or they have passed their use by date, they will quickly learn, like Slipper did, that there are very few, if any;

    “Friends in the LNP”!

    Poem just posted 😀

    Cheers 😀 😆

  11. Chris Crash

    No wonder our substandard MSM is sacking journalists left, right and centre. They all seem totally incompetent. As for the sycophantic National Press Club, what a disgusting lack of fair play emphasised by their brown noses. A sad highlighting of actually how useless they really are. We all watch in gleeful anticpation of all their jobs disappearing due to total lack of confidence from the Australian public. With all their bullshit, they are so toothless and biased that we now reject most things they say, despite their active campain to install St Tony of Bullshit into The Lodge and further embarrass Australia every time he opens his disingenuous, insincere and deceptive gob.

  12. Catching up

    “Time for us to get back to focussing on matters of substance (ie policies) in the way that we demand of the mainstream media, instead of simply howling for Abbott’s head.”

    Sorry, that is what we are about, using the only tools available to us.

    When Mr. Abbott puts forward some serious policies, we will sure deal with them.

    Looking forwarded to that day.

    In the meantime, we will keep harping on what Abbott does and says.

  13. Drag0nista

    This article seems to be based on a misunderstanding of what the National Press Club of Australia is, and what it has power (or not) to do. The NPC was established in the 1960s to hold luncheon addresses for the working media. These days it is also a social club with members that include MPs, advisers, public servants, members of the diplomatic community, journalists and lobbyists. Any member of the public can also be a member. The NPC has no power over what the media reports or does not report.

    If you are concerned about the media not covering matters adequately, comment on their opinion pages or write to ACMA or the Australian Press Council. If you are concerned that someone has broken the law, then complain to the Director of Public Prosecutions.

    If you are concerned about why Peter Slipper resigned, ask Windsor and Oakeshott why they tapped him and the shoulder and told him to resign.

    If you are concerned about Tony Abbott becoming Prime Minister, pressure the media to focus on his policies. Raising the pitchforks because of Ashby will get nowhere, just like the AWU witch-hunt got no where with the Prime Minister.

    Time for us to get back to focussing on matters of substance (ie policies) in the way that we demand of the mainstream media, instead of simply howling for Abbott’s head.

  14. dafid1

    With respect to your comment.. [If you are concerned about Tony Abbott becoming Prime Minister, pressure the media to focus on his policies. Raising the pitchforks because of Ashby will get nowhere, just like the AWU witch-hunt got no where with the Prime Minister]
    Wrong and wrong. How can we pressure the media on Abbott’s policies, he has none. oh sorry yes he does bring back work choices, apart from that it is impossible to attack a vacuum.
    As for pressure on the media re Ashby. You say it will get nowhere, well if we shut up about what is a disgraceful coup attempt, to bring down the Govt of the day, a legit, democratically elected Govt, sure we will get nowhere. I for one intend to keep on and on until the perpetrators of this treason are brought to justice. For too long we Labor people have sat back on the defense, as the Torys well know. Not this time, its attack mode, give them some of their own.

  15. Catching up

    To undermine, maybe. To create a scenario that is not based on truth, I suspect is different.

  16. Drag0nista

    It is not treason, nor sedition, for Mal Brough to seek to undermine his competitor for the seat. Ashby and Brough were found to have used the courts improperly, not Abbott. The scent of imaginary blood is sending those who don’t like Abbott crazy. If you think Pyne was chatting to Ashby as an agent of Tony Abbott then you are operating in ignorance. The media know that side of the story but will not report it because it is a “private life” issue. Brough and elements of the LNP (that is the Qld LNP) are the instigators of the Ashby farce, not Abbott. There is no scalp to be had here. Best move on to something more substantial.

  17. Barry Tucker

    I agree with what DragOnista says about the role of the National Press Club. My story relates to something I noticed on the club’s Facebook page and what else I noticed as my story developed. These things are relevant to the outrage that is being expressed on social or alternative media, so I feel justified in dealing with them here and elsewhere.

    I also agree, as DragOnista points out, that we can be more effective if we are more focused and direct our complaints to the appropriate authorities. The first part of that process is making people aware of the problem, which is what I do here, on Truth in News Media, on The Sniper and on Twitter @btckr.

  18. andyrob

    “The media know that side of the story but will not report it because it is a “private life” issue.”

    FFS Dragonista, wake up to yourself. Do/did you not think that “private” text messages between a couple is “private”???? Do you not recall all the front page (Full Page) headlines, prior to the court decission (funny, nothing now!).

    And yes ABOTT as the leader is accountable for the shit that has gone on just like he tries to bring Julia to account for stuff an gets it plastered all over the MSM.

    Look at the facts . This IS IMO Australia’s watergate/coup attempt.

  19. Rose

    All I ask for is a media that reports the facts, and stops peddling their opinion as facts. I can’t welcome The Guardian quick enough to our shores, because at least they are free of political influence and shabby unethical reporting.

  20. Drag0nista

    Perhaps you need to check the facts @andyrob. The tweets between Slipper and Ashby were submitted as evidence and therefore made public by the courts, not the media. Re Abbott’s accountability – if Abbott needs to be accountable for Mal Brough then Gillard needs to be accountable for Craig Thomson (neither have been shown to break the law at this point, BTW). I agree that Brough should lose his preselection.

    But to think that shrill shrieks of sedition/treason will bring down Abbott is purely nonsensical. Bringing down Slipper could not (and did not) bring down the government as it always had a spare vote.

    The AshbyInquiryNow brigade is becoming the laughing stock of social media, second only to the rabid JuLIAR brigade on #auspol. It’s awful that Ashby and Brough attempted to entrap Slipper and they should be dealt with by the full force of the law. Trying to bring Abbott into the matter is simply hysterical clutching at straws.

    Focus on matters of substance. That’s what we keep asking the mainstream media to do.

  21. Miglo

    Or maybe as alternative reporting. 😉

  22. Drag0nista

    The Guardian won’t improve factual reporting, but will provide more left of centre opinion parading as analysis. Sadly that will be welcomed as objective reporting.

  23. johnlord2013

    The Forth Estate

    With the advent of a minority government ( and a women as its leader)in Australia the forth estate ( with mainly male journalists ) decided they would have none of it. In the past two years the Prime Minister has been subjected to the worst possible sexism. Newspapers have almost treated bringing her to account as sport, not only deriding policy but even her attire.

    Meanwhile, while they have been typing away at their grotty keyboards and losing any sense of balance and reason they have allowed the leader of the opposition to escape any scrutiny at all. So engrossed have they been with the bringing down of a female prime minister that they have allowed Mr Abbott to spread his negativity and sexism like rust through the community.

    How embarrassing is their misreporting of the past few months that they completely misread the significance of her misogyny speech. How is it the the international media could pick up on the reality that it is about sexism (not politics) while our own press was caught up in the slop of their own importance. Mass reporting of the events world wide together with two million hits of her speech on YouTube confirmed this to be so.

    On top of this I have been following politics in Australia for fifty years and I have happily accepted the cut and thrust of it. Even the theatre of it. I have experienced the ups and downs of players on both sides of the political divide. I have read much on the subject and confess to being a political tragic. And I have probably seen more political scandal than most including the Whitlam times when an unelected head of state dismissed an elected prime minister.

    But nothing approaches the stench surrounding the Slipper affair. Now lets be serious here. We have a judge finding that members of a political party (The LNP) conspired with James Ashby to use the courts to bring a false claim against the speaker of the house with the eventual intent of bringing down the government. Do I need to repeat that or does the reader grasp the seriousness of the judges findings. BUT WHERE IS THE OUTRAGE. Why is the media not falling over itself demanding answers. Why indeed. Why is the Forth Estate (the custodians of the people’s right to the truth) being so neglectful of its public duty to pursue the truth.

    There is a reason and that is that 70% of the print media in Australia is owned by that bastion of the right wing Rupert Murdoch and something needs to be done about it.

  24. Drag0nista

    You’re right Miglo – ppl want alternative biased reporting, not balanced or objective reporting 🙂

  25. Drag0nista

    Gee johnlord2013 I guess Ashby cld get a job as a fortune teller if nothing else. When Ashby started his scheme to “entrap Slipper and bring down the govt”, Slipper was the Liberal member for Fisher and Harry Jenkins was the Speaker. The scheme was about Brough knocking off Slipper forLiberal preselection in Fisher.

  26. 730reportland


    The NPC was established in the 1960s to hold luncheon addresses for the `propaganda` media. These days it is also an `inner-circle` with members that include MPs, advisers, public servants, members of the diplomatic community, `propagandists` and lobbyists. Any member of the public can also be a member. The NPC has no power over what the media reports or does not report, and every power over luncheon addresses.

    It is a waste of time complaining about the media not covering matters adequately, to the `gummy` ACk-MA or Australian Press Council, as nothing changes usually, or if it does, too late.

    Windsor and Oakeshott got Peter Slipper to resign. Mr-Rabbit and Joolya didn`t.

    The embedded media won`t focus on Mr-Rabbits policies, just screech in an unhinged fashion about trivial stunts. Grogsgamut can safely re-date his 2010 post to 2013.

  27. Miglo

    Reb, I’m fairly sure the ‘we’ means those of us who do not belong to the mainstream media.

  28. Drag0nista

    Gee that was clever – do you have anything of substance to say about the points I made?

  29. reb

    “Sorry, that is what we are about, using the only tools available to us.”

    Who is this “we” that you speak of….?

  30. Catching up

    It seems some have long memories, and the inability to let bygones, be bygones.

    Why not leave things in the past, where they belong.

    Just agreed to disagree is OK with me.

  31. Catching up

    reb, I do not want to go down that path again.

    What I will be doing, is ignoring your personal comments, in fact I believe it will be safer to ignore all you have to say.

    I will leave it up to the readers to make up their own minds.

    This is the last comment on the martter.

  32. reb

    Well, I think that’s what you thinks “we” means, but I think that CU has a more pre-determined view of the political leanings of the “we” collective.

    Naturally I may be mistaken.

  33. Miglo

    That’s the way I see it, probably because that’s the context I use it in.

  34. reb

    Fair enough too… 🙂

  35. 730reportland

    “_Gee that was clever_”
    Nah, wasn`t being particularly clever D, just showing there is different ways of viewing NPC, CPG and the non-existing, but badly needed News_Media_Council, with teeth.

    “_do you have anything of substance to say about the points I made?_”
    If you are concerned ‘this’
    If you are concerned ‘that’
    are not really points. You should realize I`m up to speed on this part. 2013 will be a no NMC/CR zone.

  36. reb

    But my question was in relation to CU’s use of the collective “we”…

    So it (the question) still kind of remains.

  37. reb

    I’m not bringing up the past, are you…?

    I’m just asking what you mean when you say…

    “Sorry, that is what we are about,”

    What do you mean by “we” do you mean “we” as in AIMN….?

  38. reb

    “This is the last comment on the martter (sic)”

    Not it’s not.

    “Agree to disagree?”

    I’m not even sure what it is you’re even saying, since you refuse to clarify yourself by responding to the simply question I asked in the first place… So how can I possibly “agree to disagree…”

    Honestly… It’s not that complicated…. 🙄

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