All praise the muppet

COMMENT

By Barry Tucker                    10 September, 2015

Why do journalists feel compelled to praise LNP federal government leader Tony Abbott? He’s praised when he deserves no credit at all.

Across Fairfax media today he is given credit for the decision to take 12,000 refugees from war-torn Syria. Much is made of comparisons with historical intakes. Much is made of the heroic Abbott for making this decision. Little is made of the pressure within the party room and from some ministers for the change. In all of the praise for this wooden muppet, the plight and rescue of refugees is overlooked. Their future and their fate in Australia is overlooked.

Only a few days earlier Abbott was saying there would be no change in intake numbers. He was moved but unmoved by pictures and video of 3-year-old Aylan Kurdi lying drowned on a beach or lying limply in the arms of a security man. His brother Galip, 5, and their mother, Rehan, also drowned when their refugee boat capsized.

I read a front page article in today’s The Sydney Morning Herald by Mark Kenny. He referred to a “stunning change of heart” by Abbott. He referred to Abbott “staring down the anti-immigration hardliners” in his cabinet. In Melbourne’s The Age, national affairs editor Tony Wright used the same “stared down” term.

What’s interesting about Mark Kenny’s page 1 article is that it had disappeared by the time I got home from the coffee shop and began searching the internet and comparing articles. Kenny had not tweeted or promoted his article this morning. By about 11 am, his article could not be found on the SMH website.

SMH political reporter Latika Bourke had a more rounded compilation of the refugee intake saga.

Inside today’s SMH, Michael Gordon’s article on the Syrian refugee announcement was a good piece of work, much closer to the reality of Abbott’s ‘change of heart’ than anything else I’ve read today. It names those government men who were moved by the Syrians’ plight and urged Abbott “to do more”. One of them, Craig Laundy, is holding his seat by the slimmest of margins. If I was a cynic I’d say he was more worried about losing his seat than any more Syrians losing their lives. I’d like to know if he supports the allies’ decision to extend bombing to Syria.

Michael Gordon’s article ends by pointing out the paradox Abbott’s government has now created. More Syrian refugees are being taken in because a little boy drowned, basically, while others seeking refuge remain locked up and languishing on offshore detention camps. Abbott deserves the credit for that situation too. It’s one he forced the former Labor government to resume.

The reality of the situation is that hard-line, hard-hearted Abbott is given the credit because the hard-arsed government he leads has been shamed into doing more to help the refugee crisis that a previous LNP government is at least partly responsible for. The credit belongs to those members of the government who forced Abbott to change his mind. Anyone who thinks Abbott would have changed his mind without this pressure is deluded. You have to look no further than the tough statements he was making in the few days before his ‘change of heart’.

The further reality is that Abbott personally and his government, in particular, is still down in the polls after two years. The by-election in the federal seat of Canning, WA, is a little over a week away and the outcome is considered crucial to Abbott’s fate.

The apportioning of credit to Abbott for recent Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) is somewhat similar. Years of negotiation were done by the previous Labor government and completed by LNP government Trade Minister Andrew Robb. Abbott may have contributed in behind-the-scenes discussions, but he gets the bulk of the credit for merely signing the documents.

The shallowness of the man was revealed again in his interview with the ABC’s Leigh Sales on the 7.30 Report last night. Asked about some specific points related to the state of the economy, Abbott responded: “The boats have stopped.” When Sales tried to get him onto the subject, he repeated: “The boats have stopped.”

We don’t know what went on when ministers and MPs met to consider increasing the Syrian refugee intake. We do know that Abbott is a cold-hearted monster who has slashed a mountain of welfare, foreign aid and other assistance in preference for a reduction of national debt. We know the Syrian intake decision (plus the bombing campaign) is going to add to that debt. We know Abbott’s position in the polls stinks.

The greatest likelihood is that some journalists in the Canberra pool are continuing to promote Abbott in an effort to increase his poll position. It’s in their interest to do so — they think — because they backed him in his opposition to the previous Labor government. They can’t admit they backed a dud.

Unfortunately for them, for him and for his government, the strategy is not working. The people are able to read, to watch and to listen. They see through the shallow charade and Abbott remains where he deserves to be — in the pits.

PS: Since writing this story I have learned that the government’s National Security Committee discussed a further intake of Syrian refugees and recommended the 12,000 figure. The decision was not Abbott’s.

Ben Doherty reports in The Guardian on the LNP government policy of offshore detention for refugees (including Syrians) who tried to reach Australia by boat, because they are clients of “people smugglers”.

Also in The Guardian, political editor Lenore Taylor reports on the results of a Lonergan Research poll on the increased Syrian intake and the Operation Sovereign Borders program (which includes turning back boats).

ABC jewel in the crown

OPINION

By Barry Tucker                    September 1, 2015

The Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) is a jewel in the crown of Australia’s democracy. It’s under threat again.

On the ABC’s Radio National breakfast program this morning federal immigration Minister Peter Dutton complained that Fairfax Media was campaigning “to bring down the government” and Fairfax “was being helped by the ABC”. He didn’t complain when ALL of Australia’s news and entertainment media campaigned relentlessly against the former Labor federal government during its six years in office. The hypocrisy of Liberal MPs and government supporters is almost beyond belief.

The ABC is under threat from the present extreme Right-wing “Liberal” government of Tony Abbott, his policy advisers the Institute of Public Affairs (IPA) and media mogul Rupert Murdoch (News Corp).

Tony Abbott has said the ABC will not be privatised. Abbott says a lot of things and often goes back on his word. On the eve of the 2013 federal election he made several promises. One was “No cuts to the ABC”.

Abbotts lies and promisesAlso prior to the 2013 election, Abbott’s Treasurer, Joe Hockey, said ABC won’t be sold, but “waste will be cut”. His 2014 Budget used the former John Howard government trick of “efficiency dividends” to cut $254 million from the ABC’s budget over the next five years, resulting in program cuts and staff retrenchments. Other government departments, non-government agencies, programs and commissions also suffered funding cuts, efficiency dividends or defunding.

The IPA has recommended that the Abbott government break up and sell the ABC and its sister operation the SBS (basically an ethnic language broadcaster).

IPA ABCIn the UK, Rupert Murdoch and his son James campaigned against the taxpayer funding of the BBC. They are in reality objecting to public financing of news, comment and public affairs organisations that compete with their News Corp interests in radio, TV and the Press. The situation is exactly the same in Australia, where News Corp journalists and Liberal supporters constantly campaign against the ABC, claiming it is riddled with Left-wing commentators without ever providing a shred of evidence or naming anyone.

Criticism, even occasional criticism, from the Left or the Right, is seen by the recipients as bias.

That is the background and the reality of the situation. I like to provide these details because the MSM, in its relentless grind of deadlines and the 24-hour media cycle, largely processes the Press Release and moves on to the next item, digressing occasionally to deal with the latest scandal. It rarely takes the time to join the dots.

Today’s scandal is that Peter Dutton sees Fairfax and the ABC as running a witch hunt against the federal government. The real scandal is that Dutton should criticise the news media for doing its job. In Egypt today, such journalists would be jailed. The government Dutton represents intends to do the same to journalists, whistleblowers even medical staff who dare release
details of inhumane treatment of asylum-seeking refugees jailed in offshore detention centres. There was some indication today that the government might reconsider its detention centre policy, so the criticism Dutton complains about may ultimately have a positive effect.

The nut of the situation is two-fold. On one hand we have a federal government that cannot tolerate opposition or criticism. That immediately brings to mind a Fascist regime and the government only has itself to blame if that is the impression people have.

A meme that circulates on social media.

A meme that circulates on social media.

The aborted Operation Fortitude in Melbourne last Friday is a pertinent example of this government’s thinking (a Border Force raid on workplaces went ahead in Darwin, almost unnoticed). In fact, what Dutton is complaining about is a direct result of many of his government’s policies. And it is not only some journalists who are complaining. There’s a widely held view that the federal LNP government is failing, is chaotic, lacks cohesion, leaks and is putting out confusing messages about the economy. The evidence is in consecutive opinion polls that have the government and its leader trailing the Opposition.

On the other hand we have a media mogul, Rupert Murdoch, who cannot abide opposition either. His approach is to buy up the opposition, incorporate it into his empire, strip some of the assets and improve productivity, efficiency and profitability by merging and minimizing production units. One other thing Hockey’s 2014 Budget did was to defund the Australia Network, which the ABC was operating to broadcast TV into SE-Asia. Murdoch originally won the tender for this service but it was taken off him by the Gillard government.

In this continuing war against the ABC no one is asking what the alternative would look like. With the ABC broken up and probably gobbled up by Murdoch (who can afford it) we would be left essentially with an ailing Fairfax Media, still reeling from the after-effects of young Warwick Fairfax’s catastrophic privatisation bid while trying to adjust to social media and online publishing.

How many would be happy to read the Right Wing views of Piers Akerman, Janet Albrechtsen, Andrew Bolt and others of that club spread wide across the nation — to the exclusion of almost all Left Wing views, even moderate and Centrist views?

Apart from that, the ABC is more than news, RN brekkie, the 7.30 Report, Lateline and Q&A. It is a multi-faceted beast, involving city and regional radio broadcasts on various channels and covering a staggering array of programs. Likewise TV, on four channels designed to cater to various tastes, including 24 hours of news and commentary. In addition there is on-line publishing content of news and opinion, another thing that rankles the ABC’s opponents.

All of this costs the community very little, around 14 cents a day. Perhaps we get it too cheaply. One commercial alternative, Foxtel Platinum, costs subscribers $4 a day, and that’s for TV only.

The cost is not the great issue. The range of content and the freedom to express an opinion — even to criticise a government and its policies — is far more important. We must never lose this jewel from our crown.

PS: Meanwhile, a clamour continues for the loosening of cross-media ownership laws (another IPA recommendation). See the ABC’s Media Watch of August 31, 2015, for some background on what’s happening to regional TV stations.

More reporting on Australia’s news media is available on the ABC’s Media Report and mUmBRELLA on-line.

To see what a Fascist government would look like and how it would behave see this long but fascinating article in NewMatilda.com.

ABC is on Australia’s side

ABC managing director Mark Scott says the organisation is on Australia’s side. He was responding to further criticism by government leader Tony Abbott, following the controversial appearance of Zaky Mallah on an episode of current affairs program Q&A.

Mallah, who was acquitted of some charges and found guilty of others, asked Parliamentary Secretary Steve Ciobo if he thought he should have been stripped of his citizenship following his sentencing. Ciobo’s hardline reaction turned the segment into a slanging match. It ended with Mallah saying it was attitudes like Ciobo’s that were driving Muslims overseas to join the fighting. Abbott said it was a serious error of judgment to allow Mallah on the show and “heads should roll”.

More than anything else, the episode is another demonstration of the LNP coalition government’s intolerance of any criticism or opposing point of view; its apparent hatred of free speech. Government MPs have used the episode to continue their attack on the ABC, which media mogul Rupert Murdoch and so-called think tank, the IPA, want privatised. Abbott has banned his ministers from appearing on Q&A during the period of an inquiry, expected to take about three months.

It’s important to note that Mallah asked to be allowed to put his question to a Q&A panel. His request was considered and approved. He was not sought out and invited to create controversy, as some have suggested.

In a calm and detailed response contrasting with Abbott’s hysteria, Scott explained the status of the ABC and the vital role it played in Australian news and current affairs. Scott’s remarks were made in the annual corporate affairs oration to the Centre for Corporate Public Affairs. I can’t find the address on that body’s website. The above link takes you to an ABC website story, with the text of the address embedded in a scrollable window.

For earlier stories on the on-going anti-ABC saga, see: War on ABC continues in this resource centre.

Commercial grab of media assets begins

By Barry Tucker                  8 November, 2014

We have what seems to be the opening shot in the commercial news and entertainment media’s campaign for consolidation of outlets.

It came in a statement to the annual general meeting by Fairfax Media chairman Roger Corbett on Thursday, 6 November, 2014.

The Right wing “think tank” Institute of Public Affairs (IPA), in reality the policy-forming arm of the Liberal party, supports the move. See M Media, item 27 Eliminate media ownership restrictions.

Further media consolidation (buying up, merging, selling off excess assets, increasing market share, eliminating costs, competition and diversity) is the newspaper industry’s solution to a failing business model.

It has been failing mainly because advertising has moved from newspapers to the interwebs, to manufacturer’s and retailer’s websites and other forms of web advertising. Newspapers were too slow to follow the shift, although some set up sectional advertising (like job vacancies, used cars or real estate), with mixed success. Online versions of newspapers still struggle to get readers to buy subscriptions or pay to read.

The answer is to get the law changed so they can buy up what they can and flog the bits they don’t want. Existing laws prevent a newspaper having more than 75 percent of readers, or any company having a newspaper, TV and radio outlet in the same city.

If they get their way (and under the present regime and “opposition” in Canberra they will) the loss will be to jobs, variety and diversity.

Federal “Liberal” government ministers (Attorney-General George Brandis and communication minister Malcolm Turnbull) say further consolidation is justified because the interwebs have provided greater diversity.

This is a shallow lie because an internet edition of a newspaper is not more diverse than its parent and it is not a second newspaper. While potentially it may be available to millions around the world, its circulation is limited to those who use the interwebs to read their daily paper.

Radio and TV stations are also on the interwebs, and the same principles apply.

Where the internet has made things more diverse is in a product like Youtube (which did not exist before and has no commercial equivalent anywhere else) and the usually privately-owned, not very profitable and limited readership newspaper magazines and blogs of the Fifth Estate.

It’s ironic then (or perhaps it is just another lie) that News Corp joint chairman Rupert Murdoch’s main argument for more consolidation is that it will allow companies to be more diversified — to the public’s benefit.

At the same time he argues that the BBC in the UK and the ABC/SBS complex in Australia should be privatised because the taxpayer should not be supporting media and entertainment outlets. The reality is they compete with his business and you don’t have to be too bright to figure that out.

It will be a tragedy if the ABC/SBS complex is ever privatised because the commercial operators would not bother to provide the type and variety of program that these outlets provide. They also provide the main alternative point of view to the very obvious, biased, materialistic and opinion-forming and moulding of private enterprise. Honesty, I would go mad if I had to watch commercial TV and listen to rowdy commercial radio day and night. They might be to blame for the madness that seems to surround us today.

Those who think you are easily fooled continue to claim that the ABC, in particular, is a rat’s nest of Left wing loonies but — in a spectacular fail — they struggle to name one or two. They just go on repeating the lie in the hope that eventually it will be accepted as the truth. Honesty, if you had a stick you could wear yourself out poking it at all the Right wingers who infest ABC radio interview and talk shows, news presenters and interviewers and panel show hosts and their guests.

I could name a bunch of apparent Right-leaning ABC radio and TV journos and presenters but — frankly — they can surprise you at times. I’ll name one: the boss Mark Scott — a died in the wool, true blue Liberal — and, frankly, he sometimes surprises me too. See: Dangers for public debate in media war — Mark Scott.

The ABC producers are a more obscure bunch and their opinions and attitudes are not so easy to determine.

The new federal “Liberal” government has lost no time implementing its traditional fear, law and order, public control program — even finding itself a real shooting war to get involved in.

Rupert Murdoch’s co-chairman and son Lachlan has spoken out against the government’s new security legislation, which raises the possibility that whistleblowers and journalists could be jailed for up to 10 years for revealing details of “special security operations”. Attorney-General Brandis says it is not likely to happen and he would have to authorise it in any case (I am not reassured because Brandis is a dissembler in the Liberal mould).

It seems odd to me that Lachlan has criticised a program of the government that his father had a big hand in installing. Anyway, Lachlan has done a better job than any media outlet or even the Labor opposition, which merely waved the legislation through, followed by a belated “Hey, hang on a bit”.

Some may remember the howls of protest that greeted the former Labor government’s clumsy bid to change some aspects of news media regulation early in 2013. The government wanted to introduce a Public Interest Media Advocate (PIMA). This person (independent of government) would oversee the codes of conduct the newspapers had already agree to. The PIMA would also rule on the advisability of further media consolidation.

I was fascinated, but not fooled, by the newspaper barons’ screams of Freedom of the Press [barons]. “Censorship!” Accompanied by Photoshopped pictures of Labor government ministers as dictators or Nazis. There was no censorship or further control, in effect, than already existed.

There’s plenty more in this blog under Newspapers and Inside Journalism. See: Labor too gutless to fight media laws.

The real fear, which the newspaper proprietors and their cowering journalists failed to mention, was the PIMA’s oversight and ruling on media consolidation.

Now that those same newspaper proprietors have got the proposed legislation squashed and the Labor government defeated (who are the censors, who are the Nazis?) the consolidation can begin.

Is the CIA the ghost in the machine?

By Barry Tucker                    9 October, 2014

It is often said this or that journalist works for a police or spy agency. It is rare for one to come out and confirm it.

Udo Ulfkotte has done just that. Moreover, he claims the western news media, almost in its entirety, has come under the influence of the USA’s Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).

Ulfkotte went public because, he says, he fears the CIA is trying to start a war with Russia.

Ulfkotte, a former editor of Germany’s Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, had been working in the USA, where he claims he was maintained by the CIA.

In an interview for Russian tv, Ulfkotte said: “I became ‘honorary citizen of the state of Oklahoma’, … Why? Because I write pro-American. I was supported by the Central Intelligence Agency, the CIA. Why? Because I am pro-American. I am fed up with it; I don’t want to do it anymore; and so I have just written a book, not to earn money, no, it will cause a lot of trouble for me. [I wrote it instead] to give the people in this country, Germany, in Europe, and all over the world, just a glimpse of … what goes on behind the closed doors.”

Has Ulfkotte been “turned” by Russian intelligence?

You can read his story here and here or follow related stuff in this Google search result.

And another Google search result on CIA in Australia, including references to John Pilger.

 

Civic leaders hit back at Telegraph

By Barry Tucker                    7 October, 2014

An article in last Friday’s The Daily Telegraph — describing Young as “the unofficial Muslim capital of the outback” — was contradictory, misleading and inaccurate, according to Young’s civic leaders.

Their rebuttal appeared in The Young Witness, a Fairfax Regional Media publication.

According to the mayor, John Walker, and the council’s general manager, Peter Vlatko, the story painted a very different picture of the town they know and what they see every day.

“First of all the journalist needs to understand where the outback is … then they’ve alleged we’re the capital,” Mr Vlatko said.

“What’s the story? They interview one person and paint the whole town based on that, something that’s not true.

“It’s so misleading and inaccurate it’s not worth the paper it’s written on.”

Mr Vlatko said the Telegraph story was devoid of facts.

Mayor Walker said he spoke “favourably” about the Muslim community when he was interviewed by the Telegraph.

“Maybe that’s why they didn’t put it in,” Mr Walker said.

Read the online version of the Telegraph story and pictures.

 

Journos challenged by one of their own

Comment

By Barry Tucker                    28 September, 2014

In a rare article — written at the end of a strange week — The Guardian’s Deputy Political Editor, Katharine Murphy, illustrated some failings of the news media.

Some might say it’s a timely article. Others might say it’s long overdue.

It was triggered by the news media’s handling of a national security alert that began a week earlier and culminated a few days later in the death of Abdul Numan Haider. Haider was shot by a policeman after Haider attacked him and a colleague with a knife outside a Melbourne suburban police station.

Murphy takes the media to task for its reporting and misreporting of the incident and its handling of aspects of the national security alert.

During the week, the Australian parliament began accepting — rather than debating — wide-ranging and extraordinary new powers granted to security agencies in dealing with internet material.

The proposed laws allow for journalists and whistle blowers to be jailed for revealing details of security matters.

Murphy is critical of the news media for having little or nothing to say about how the legislation will affect their ability to do their job.

On a broader front, social media in particular has had a lot to say about what it sees as a fraudulent security scare, conceived to boost support for Australia’s re-engagement in Iraq while distracting people from intransigent opinion poll figures for the LNP government and its harsh and unpopular budget.

Read all about it.

Murphy’s 26 September tweet:

A love letter to my profession

began an argumentative exchange with News Corp journalists Miranda Devine and Samantha Maiden over the fact that Murphy had named News Corp papers The Courier-Mail and The Daily Telegraph, but not The Sydney Morning Herald, which headlined Haider as “teen jihad” in advance of any police or coronial findings.

Murphy responded by saying The Sydney Morning Herald was covered by her use of “we” and tweeted that “we” included herself. She did not seek to exclude herself from making errors.

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Fairfax Media stuffed up badly by publishing the picture of a young man wearing a suit (see above) and identifying him as Haider. The young man and his father were outraged and severely embarrassed, with the man’s father saying his son’s future prospects have been severely damaged.

The photograph was lifted off a Facebook page. People who read widely know that the social media world can be a dangerous place, for various reasons. Nigel Phair, director of the Centre for Internet Safety, University of Canberra, commented on the incident and the dangers in an article for TheConversation.com.

Myles McGuire studied journalism because he thought he wanted to be one. He writes about that and what happened next in a thoughtful reaction to Catherine Murphy’s article, titled: Why I’m not a journalist.