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).

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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.

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.

 

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.

A dangerous media assumption

Comment

By Barry Tucker                    22 September, 2014

When beheadings are on people’s minds, it might be assumed that is what is meant by a terror incident.

Apparently the news media made this assumption last week when intelligence and police briefings referred to an intercepted phone call related to creating an incident.

A beheading was not mentioned in the phone call. Someone in the news media made that assumption and the rest followed. The bloke who leads the LNP government (famous around the world for his gaffes and bloopers) was happy to use the term because it suited his fear campaign, which many non-Conservatives see as a deflection from his unpopular Budget and low poll ratings.

John Kelly has written more about the news media’s part in this for The Australian Independent Media Network (AIMN), in an article entitled Abuse of process.

Daily Telegraph slips up in sleazy stunt

By Barry Tucker                    19 September, 2014

The Daily Telegraph’s gossip columnist Annette Sharp sought unflattering pictures of TV presenter Samantha Armytage.

The pictures were published in the paper’s Sydney Confidential, accompanying an article on channel 7’s Bringing Sexy Back, which Armytage presents and which is low in the ratings. The article was critical of Armytage’s style off-screen, showing her off duty and in casual clothes.

The incident has caused outrage in newspaper articles and on social media.

Sharri Markson, Media Editor for News Corp sister publication The Australian, published this email that was circulated to picture agencies:

“Looking for sam armytage looking scruffy/too casual/not sexy/bad for asap please — OK to go back and send older pics — dates on them would be good

Thanks v much

Amanda”

The email was sent by Amanda Wynne-Williams, Nationwide News’ Network Picture Editor, on behalf of Sharp, for an article that appeared in The Daily Telegraph today.

Markson wrote a story about the incident for The Australian (see here and here) and was critical of Sharp on her Twitter account.

Sharp responded to some of the criticism with these tweets:

Sharp tweets

Later in the day Tweeters began to make comparisons with the social media bullying of TV presenter Charlotte Dawson, who took her own life last February. Dawson had been prominent in a campaign against social media bullying.

You can follow versions of the story in this Google search result.

Annette Sharp on Twitter  |  Sharri Markson on Twitter  |  Samantha Armytage on Twitter

Women in leading MSM roles

Comment

By Barry Tucker                    18 September, 2014

I know of many women in leading roles in the MSM, so I find it strange that a researcher claims this is not the case.

In an article for TheConversation.com, Why men still run newsrooms, defying the influx of women, academic Louise North says relatively few women reach key decision-making roles. This begs the question: How many seek such roles?

Of four North names as examples, I would suggest only one, ABC News Director Kate Torney, has a decision-making role; the others no doubt participate in suggesting the day’s leading news items.

North quotes another source as putting the percentage of women journalists in Australian news media at just over one third. We are not told how many of them have an executive or decision-making role in a newsroom.

The research seems to be fixated on executive roles on newspapers, discounting the influence of bureau chiefs, news editors, chiefs-of-staff, senior sub-editors, researchers, librarians and, in other contexts, picture editors, studio directors, camera operators, radio interviewers, TV presenters and senior political correspondents. All of these people have an influence on deciding the flavour and focus of the daily news and its presentation.

I would not be surprised if the influx of women across the very broad spectrum of news media (including all Press, radio, TV, news agencies, women’s, special interest and other trade magazines and internet sites — even academia itself) is much greater than the 33% North mentions.

The news room of the daily newspaper has always been a very blokey place. It is hardly surprising that all or most of the senior executives have not been replaced by people from the 33% pool of women. However, from my own experience, the position is different in other news and related media.

So there’s a relatively small pool of women to provide the next executive. No doubt some don’t want the role and some are not suitable. How many are left? There are some notable examples of women journalists with a very high profile who have moved into a higher executive role and made a hash of it. A good reporter, journalist or editor of either gender is not necessarily a good executive. The role requires further specific studies, such as some psychology or human relations management.

It may be that women prefer another kind of leading and more exciting role, reporting from the bureau’s studio, the recently ended door stopper or a relatively safe place near the front line — complete with flak jacket and helmet.

Louise NorthDr Louise North has written extensively on gender and newsroom culture and has taught in the disciplines of Sociology, Gender Studies, Journalism and Media Studies. Her work has appeared in international and national scholarly journals. Her first book, The Gendered Newsroom, (2009, Hampton Press) received international recognition from some of the world’s most respected scholars in the fields of journalism and feminist media studies.

Louise has worked as a print journalist for 23 years and in 2013 co-founded the hyperlocal online magazine Bluestone Magazine.

Bio from TheConversation.com