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Watchdogs asleep in their kennels

Political journalists pride themselves on being watchdogs who prevent abuse of power. Watchdogs are supposed to bark when they smell something suspicious. So how do you explain the news media sleeping through the exposé of suspicious secret correspondence between powerful friends in the Liberal government and the big banks? Are the watchdogs getting old and no longer have a scent for a story? Or worse, have they been muzzled by the powerful interests they are supposed to be watching?

This story is fascinating because the red-meat delivered to journalists came from an unusual source: – ACTU Secretary Sally McManus. On Tuesday afternoon 5 February 2019, the day after the Banking Royal Commission findings were handed down, the ACTU released letters they discovered through a Freedom of Information request.

These letters revealed a cosy friendship between the Liberal government and the big banks; so cosy the banks had a discussion with the Treasurer about how their possible misconduct would be investigated in a Royal Commission.

Recall on 30 November 2017 Prime Minister Turnbull and Treasurer Morrison announced plans for a Royal Commission into Misconduct in the Banking, Superannuation and Financial Services Industry. The day before, on 29 November, the ACTU found Morrison received a letter marked DRAFT and ‘for discussion’ from then NAB chairman Ken Henry.

This letter laid out for Morrison the bank’s recommendations on the Royal Commission’s terms of reference, the type of person the Commissioner might be, how long the Commission would last, and assurances the banks were well behaved businesses, nothing to see here, move along.

The next morning, the day the Royal Commission was announced, an almost identical letter was sent to Morrison signed by the heads of the big four banks. Low and behold, the Banking Royal Commission was relatively short. McManus pointed out it was a year as compared to two years for the Abbott government’s Royal Commission into Trade Union Governance and Corruption.

Of course there is no proof the Liberal government took advice from the banks in their design of the Banking Royal Commission. But the existence of the letters sent immediately before the Liberal government finally bowed to pressure from the Greens, Labor and their own backbench to hold a Banking Royal Commission, are highly suspicious. ACTU Secretary McManus said the letters were “another piece of evidence that the Morrison Government is protecting the big end of town.”

Social media audiences lapped the story up. In one week the ACTU’s video was viewed 210,000 times on Facebook and 73,000 times on Twitter. All this red meat, and the watchdogs slept through it. Two days after the social media release, the ACTU emailed union members asking them to share the video since they reported ‘Just one media outlet has covered this story – the ABC’. News.com.au and other News Ltd websites published the syndicated AAP video with a short caption, but never allocated a journalist to cover the story.

Where were the masthead watchdogs? Where was The Australian? Where was Fairfax? Or is Fairfax gone now? Where were the shock jocks and A Current Affair? Where was The Guardian? Where were the questions for Morrison about his correspondence with the banks? What could explain the media ignoring the ACTU’s investigation? In a week where journalists were barking for stories about the Banking Royal Commission, how was this story not a relevant contextual piece for how the Banking Royal Commission came to be? Asleep perhaps? Or muzzled by their owners who, as it turns out, also have a snug relationship with the powerful political class they’re supposed to be watching?

What makes this sleeping-dogs situation even stranger is the news media’s usual paranoia about news breaking without their input. Ever since the rise of social media, journalists have feared the threat of the audience finding news straight from the source and therefore bypassing the business model of the news media.

The ACTU’s decision to do their own journalism should be a worrying sign for the news industry. Freedom of Information requests are relatively easy to do. The ACTU showed any citizen journalist can place important information in the public’s hands by publishing it free-of-charge on the internet. Journalists chose to ignore this story, despite it being handed to them on a platter, but the ACTU reached a huge audience regardless.

There are plenty of journalists looking for work having lost their jobs in mainstream news rooms. Perhaps they will find homes in the media teams of political groups and organisations who have learned news stories don’t necessarily need to be mediated by traditional news media outlets; they can go direct.

If the old-school watchdogs are going to ignore red-meat, others will do their work for them. The public need the powerful to be held to account. If traditional journalists refuse to do it, someone else will fill the void.

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28 comments

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  1. Jack Cade

    Watchdogs? There have not been watchdogs in Australia since Bob Ellis and his like.
    What we have, now, is lapdogs. Murdoch rounded up all the mongrels whelped by the old DLP, riddled with Santamaria’s distemper.

  2. Diannaart

    Victoria

    Have tweeted your article to Dr Kerry’s Phelps, Adam Bandt and, out of interest, Alex Turnbull.

    There are watchdogs but not to be found in the MSM or political elite.

  3. Bronte ALLAN

    Can any of what this so-called “liberal/country party” do get any worse? Sadly, with the coming Federal election looming, the litany of lies, truth bending etc that Slo Mo & his cohorts will sink to will get even worse! It has already started with the accusation of Shorten & his lot already “allowing” (?) so-called illegal refugee boats to once again, start coming to Australia! As for any of these so-called “watch dogs” (?), where were they when the Bank Royal Commission was being drafted? The so-called “free press/media” (?), especially Mudrake & his rags, bloody Jonas & his idiot so-called “broadcasters” (?), the “really great”–NOT–Sky mob, like Cretin, Blot etc who, almost 95%+ support the liberal/country mob all the way. In all these collective minds, anything “wrong” with Australia is obviously the Labor parties fault & anything right with this county must be the good work of the liberal/country parties lot! Sadly. with the approach of the next Federal election, the amount of Labor shaming/blaming will come at an alarming rate, with the liberals etc trying everything in their power to denigrate Labor & Shorten. And they will stop at nothing! BASTARDS, the lot of them!

  4. Kaye Lee

    The Guardian did report on this to a degree back in December.

    “First there was the extraordinary fact that Turnbull announced the royal commission the very day the banks – the ones supposedly being investigated – asked him to set one up and even rather helpfully provided some advice on the terms of reference.”

    https://www.theguardian.com/business/grogonomics/2017/dec/03/shades-of-sir-humphrey-in-banking-royal-commission-terms-of-reference

    And the ABC actually included a copy of the letter from the banks in an article on November 30th last year. They didn’t need FOI to get a copy of that.

    https://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-11-30/banking-royal-commission-announced-by-pm-after-big-four-letter/9209926

    The Ken Henry involvement the day earlier was perhaps unknown but the interference by the banks had already been reported on.

  5. Geoff Andrews

    I watched “All Governments Lie” (Executive Producer, Oliver Stone) on SBS On Demand last night.
    It answers all the questions on “watchdogs” posed in this article. Highly recommended.

  6. helvityni

    Geoff Andrews, pity I missed it, hopefully I find it on Demand…I met Oliver Stone when he was promoting one of his movies in Oz…

    Anything by him would have been better than the much touted, but rather confusing ,Cry, I watched last night on ABC…..

  7. King1394

    Oh so unfair. Journalists from the Australian have been furiously investigating Michael Daley’s past. They seem to have found some juicy stuff from back when he was a Mayor somewhere. Smearing an ALP opposition leader has to take priority.

  8. Shaun Newman

    Yes, the tories have been typically silent on this issue which speaks volumes as to who they support, not the customers, that’s for sure.

  9. Michael Taylor

    May I brag?

    Thank you. Don’t mind if I do.

    Christmas before last Carol and I were invited by one of the unions here to go along and meet Sally McManus and listen to her speech.

    Mingling around beforehand we were introduced to Sally as people from The AIMN, and she then said to us; “Don’t go away. I want to speak to you two.”

    A few minutes later she came back, smiled, and said; “You guys are doing a fantastic job.”

    The biggest thrill from that was knowing that she reads The AIMN.

  10. Jack Cade

    Well done! To be honest, I now look for the ‘news behind the news’ and non-pc opinions in the alternatives, like AIMN, IndependentAustralia, The Saturday Paper and Crikey. The only msm I read is The Guardian, which, despite its reputation as a liberal voice, it is only a tad more liberal than the Age was until a month or so ago.
    I don’t mind contrary opinions; what I cannot abide is opinion masquerading as news. I watched a YouTube of George Galloway arguing with a Sky reporter about their allegations that Corbyn was anti-semitic. Galloway said that the defecting Labour MPs were all Blairites and pro-Netanyahu. Galloway said there was film of one of them bragging that she’d received 1 million pounds from the Israeli government but only Al-Jszeera had aired it. He challenged Sky to run it but they declined. It didn’t suit Murdoch agenda.
    All governments lie; some lie when it’s easier to tell the truth. We have such a government in Australa.

  11. Maladjusted

    Thank you Victoria. Michael; I hope there are a lot more people reading this site. Do you have any AIMN stickers for vehicles?

  12. Michael Taylor

    Damn good idea. I’ll look into that.

  13. Kaye Lee

    I think Sally is doing an outstanding job. It’s good to know that our contributions might be helping in some small way.

  14. Miriam English

    The video link seems to be dead now… 🙁
    Ignore that. I was using a non-compliant web browser. The video is still there:

  15. Geoff Andrews

    helvityni,

    I saw it on SBS ON DEMAND – in “Documentaries”. It’s still there.

  16. George Villiers.

    It was sad watching Miranda Devine trying to justify all the criminality on the current affairs show the Drum earlier.

  17. Diane

    Whenever I’m at an airport (not often enough for my liking but there you go) and there are free internet screens, I always make sure to leave them open on the AIM page… If even one person who didn’t know about you before has a read and becomes a regular, I’d be happy.

    On another note, another day, another LNP scandal….,https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2019/feb/25/christian-porter-says-campaign-bus-is-not-free-it-just-hasnt-been-paid-for-yet?CMP=soc_567&fbclid=IwAR1ngJSmiopNbwk4R5V3Ft4eMoJWC6AXQWjBEikdXImXjz3_t2i6gtpPWv0

  18. Miriam English

    Diane, what a great idea. I’ll be sure to do that when I go to the library. 🙂

  19. Michael Taylor

    Thank you, Diane. We appreciate your support.

  20. Jimmy

    Michael, could you give the readers something to print out about Aimn.
    A letter box drop while walking the dog is one way of spreading the real news.

  21. Michael Taylor

    Jimmy, I’m sure I could get our developers to make something. 😀

  22. Jimmy

    I’ll put thousands in letter boxes.
    Seeing i live in Alan Sludges electorate.

  23. Alcibiades

    Michael,

    Re “AIMN stickers for vehicles?” & ” … give the readers something to print out about AIMN. A letter box drop …”

    Please contact via supplied email if interested in discussing significant financial contribution/s (donation/s) specifically in support of the above sterling proposals.

    Long time reader/lurker, first time poster.

    Acta, non Verba.

  24. Kaye Lee

    The more voices joining the conversation the better. As Milton Mayer said in They Thought They Were Free…..

    Principiis obsta and Finem respice—‘Resist the beginnings’ and ‘Consider the end.’

    https://www.press.uchicago.edu/Misc/Chicago/511928.html

    If you have time, read the excerpt. It is scarily reminiscent of much we are seeing now from our government

    They “kept us so busy with continuous changes and ‘crises’ and so fascinated, yes, fascinated, by the machinations of the ‘national enemies,’ without and within, that we had no time to think about these dreadful things that were growing, little by little, all around us.”

  25. Michael Taylor

    Do we have any graphic designers among us?

    Need a new header and a logo.

  26. Trish Corry

    Excellent article. We have had those on AIMN argue that Twitter is not relevant. I think this article shows how important Twitter is to Independent media/ political blogging. Not only for new sources of information or dissemination of information, but those (authors) who do not participate, are constrained by the sources of mainstream media for their information, largely. Of course there are other sources, but those who rely largely on main stream newspapers as “research” for their Independent articles, exclude themselves, not only from additional sources and perspectives, but are at risk of just putting a different spin on MSM spin.

    Those not on Twitter would not know, but Victoria has shown tremendous leadership and tenacity in challenging some of the accepted norms of mainstream media and taking on some big names. And I mean BIG names.

    These Twitter threads (which is kind of like a blog, but broken up into separate paragraphs by linking each individual tweet in a thread) by Victoria, are not only incredibly informative, but are incredibly valuable in encouraging others to think differently about main stream media.

    Victoria’s voice around the power structures used by MSM journalists and legitimacy of voice for “non Blue Ticks” over “Blue Ticks” has sent a very powerful message. (Blue Ticks are verified accounts. Non Blue Ticks are citizen users.)

    Also, Victoria’s voice around the structure and style of reporting on political matters, selective reporting and structural design to appear “balanced” when it is far from balanced, is too, incredibly valuable.

    I think it’s fair to argue that Victoria has upset the comfort zone of some pretty prominent journalists.

    Because of contributions like Victoria’s on Twitter, many are promoting various Independent sites as their “preferred sites” over main stream sites.

    In doing so, Victoria is insisting on better quality journalism and the punters are noticing and now are demanding this more and more as well. The journalists as a collective, are slow to catch on, sadly.

    Well done on this article, Victoria and all the other work you have been doing raising awareness and speaking out against the norms, power and inadequacies of the MSM. Yours is a very valuable contribution.

  27. Wat Tyler

    The Milton Mayer article describes precisely what has been happening in Australia over the last couple of decades.
    My pet beef is the way the AFP appears to have become a body that keeps into action when the Coalition calls but drags it’s heels when it’s a potential embarrassment to it. And the smug look on Cash’s face when telling the PEOPLE that she doesn’t have to answer any questions the PEOPLE put to her, confident in the knowledge that nothing will be done against her. And that the AFP didn’t bother to ask her any questions anyway.
    Drip, drip, drip.
    It has become commonplace for the idea that raising the ‘Hitler issue’ signals that you have lost the argument. The fact that this allegation is made by those accused of being LIKE nazis has never been noted. Many people still believe that the Tampa tales were true, and John Howard, the architect of the decline in Australia as good, decent and humanitarian people is wheeled out by the Right regularly. I wouldn’t be surprised if miracles were attributed to the dessicated rodent when he has power-walked out of the land of the living.

  28. Kaye Lee

    Wat Tyler,

    This paragraph from the Mayer article sums it up for me….

    “To live in this process is absolutely not to be able to notice it—please try to believe me—unless one has a much greater degree of political awareness, acuity, than most of us had ever had occasion to develop. Each step was so small, so inconsequential, so well explained or, on occasion, ‘regretted,’ that, unless one were detached from the whole process from the beginning, unless one understood what the whole thing was in principle, what all these ‘little measures’ that no ‘patriotic German’ could resent must some day lead to, one no more saw it developing from day to day than a farmer in his field sees the corn growing. One day it is over his head.”

    How have we gotten to a place when we are arguing about whether people in our care should receive medical treatment? Or where people are cut off from any income for missing an interview? Or where we think its ok for our government to spy on us? Or where people are deported, separated from their family and the country where they have grown up? Or where mothers are taken from their children and locked up for not paying small fines?

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