A dangerous media assumption


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.

News media hammers the Scots


By Barry Tucker                   18 September, 2014

The role of the news media, the printed Press in particular, in reporting, interpreting and commenting on news events and in shaping public opinion are common themes in this blog.

The behaviour of the Press, the MSM generally and even the entertainment media during the six-year term of Australia’s federal Labor government was extraordinary for its anti-government bias.

The build-up to Scotland’s referendum on independence provides another outstanding example of the bias of the commercially-owned news media. The Guardian’s George Monbiot comments.

News media ignores Abbott’s moral failure

By Barry Tucker                    29 August, 2014

The News media should be all over Tony Abbott’s latest expenses rort. The implications of this moral failure are more serious than sending warplanes to Iraq.

The affair was mentioned in newspapers, on TV and radio (I can confirm hearing it on the ABC RN Breakfast show). However, it was merely mentioned and then dropped as an issue.

Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull told ABC’s RN he could not recall Abbott telling his party room colleagues that he staged a visit to the Peter MacCallum cancer clinic in order to claim expenses for attending a fund raiser in Melbourne the previous day. Mr Turnbull told RN: “He did not say that to the party room.”

However, long-time Canberra political journalist Michelle Grattan, in an article in TheConversation today, has confirmed that Abbott had told his party room meeting about the rort. Grattan has a reputation for careful fact checking.

Grattan wrote: “… Abbott said he’d had a Monday night fund raiser in Melbourne that was followed next morning by a visit to the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre to bring the trip within official entitlements”.

So, the news media mentioned the incident and has now moved on. I think this shows poor news judgment. When you consider the past fuss over MPs rorting their travel entitlements, the treatment handed out to former LNP MP Peter Slipper for accepting roles of Deputy Speaker and Speaker (he was shopped to the Federal Police for a $900 infringement, which normally would be handled quietly under the Minchin Protocol) and the widespread criticism of the government’s harsh 2014 budget, this open admission by Abbott becomes a serious news story.

The situation shows that the rorting continues and the news media is not prepared to hold the rorters to account.

It could be argued that Abbott simply continued his long-standing practice of arranging trips that have a multiple purpose in order to justify claiming an MP’s travel entitlements. In this case it is quite clear that Abbott arranged the visit to the Peter MacCallum Cancer Clinic in order to claim expenses for his visit to Melbourne for the previous day’s Liberal party fund raiser. The visit to the Peter Mac served no other practical purpose. He made an announcement about a $64 million package to enhance security against terrorism on Australian soil and had a Q&A with journalists. That could have been done by press release or by his deputy or another minister.

Abbott’s salary of more than $500,000 a year (plus benefits) is the highest in the western world (former Labor PMs Julia Gillard and Kevin Rudd mark II received the same amount). The fact that he constantly tells lies, misleads the public and cheats to defraud the taxpayer tells us all we need to know about his moral values. It needs to be remembered that, as government leader, Abbott has the power to unilaterally commit Australian troops to war.

The federal Treasurer, Joe Hockey, provides a similar example of rorting. The cigar smoking millionaire has brought down an extremely harsh budget, one that takes from the unemployed, the ill, the disabled, the homeless, the elderly, parents and students while giving to wealthy individuals and industries. He says his budget is fair. Those who are hard up he calls “leaners”. Those who are well off he calls “lifters”.

Joe Hockey claims an MP’s accommodation expenses of $270 a night for sleeping in a $1.5 million Canberra home owned by family members. That’s $1,350 for five nights in what is virtually his own place. The taxpayer’s are buying this joint for the Hockey family.

Again, Hockey is merely taking advantage of the MPs entitlements as laid down in the rule book. While slamming those less well off as being “leaners”.

There is clearly something wrong here. That is why the news media is wrong to let go of this issue and of these two examples.

Abbott’s admission to the party room (stated in response to criticism for being one hour late for the party room meeting) is a clear statement of deliberate and premeditated fraud. Both Abbott and Hockey should be removed from office as quickly as possible in the best interest of the Parliament and the people.

Who’s really running Australia?

Comment and compilation

By Barry Tucker                    31 May, 2014

The Institute of Public Affairs (IPA) is not a secret organisation, it’s just that no one wants to talk about it.

By no one, I mean our main source of news and current affairs: the mainstream news media (MSM), commercial newspapers, radio and TV and the ABC/SBS.

Now that it’s too late, some bloggers and journalists who have migrated from the MSM to online newspapers and magazines are beginning to reveal more about the IPA.

By too late, I mean the dreaded Mad Monk (Tony Two Face, the IPA Hit Man) is now running the country and steadily implementing the IPA’s policy program.

What has happened since the 7 September, 2013 federal election makes it clear why Abbott did not reveal his policies before the election. His policies are those of the IPA and they are not the kind of thing you would want to talk about in an election campaign.

They are not the kind of thing the MSM advised the voters about prior to, during or since the election campaign. Talks of savage cuts here, there and everywhere were spoken of as necessary to deal with a “Budget Emergency!”

To a large degree, the MSM does not want to talk about the fact that the “Budget Emergency!” is totally false and created in order to justify the savage, ideological, cuts contained in the new government’s first Budget.

Such is the nature of the commercially operated MSM (ABC/SBS excepted), the IPA and the “Liberal”, neoConservative, Libertarian or Tea Party whatevers who are now in charge of our economy and our once-decent society.

The real crisis is structural — how our governments go about taxing things, the archaic structure of taxation policy and the fact that the politicians haven’t got the guts or the will to modernise the entire system. The “Liberals” are working on a taxation White Paper — I’ll make sure I have my seat belt fastened before I read that one.

The job of revealing and discussing the true budgetary position has been largely left to expert commentators in the alternative news media, the Fifth Estate, especially the academically sourced TheConversation.com.

The IPA, formed in 1943, was instrumental in helping launch the Liberal Party of Australia the following year. The IPA is funded by memberships, donations and corporate sponsorships. It is today rightly seen as the policy formation wing of the Liberal party, as stories in this blog, in The Sniper and the items listed below show.

Although the IPA has a public face via the frequent appearances of its spokespersons on ABC programs and websites, the tragedy is that the ABC has only once taken the trouble to make it clear who and what the IPA is and what it represents (in a Media Watch segment).

The latest revelations on the IPA come from former MSM journalist Mike Seccombe, in an article in today’s The Saturday Paper. Seccombe reveals some of the IPA’s other nefarious activities, such as posing as a friendly representative of the environment movement and trucking owner/operators.

On 25 August, 2013 Fairfax’s Melbourne newspaper The Age published a lengthy story claiming some of the world’s largest companies have dropped financial support and membership of the IPA. The story said the changed attitude towards the IPA was due to “concern at its vociferous campaign against action on climate change”.

On the same day The Age published a detailed article on the IPA’s development* over the decades and its present position.

At the IPA’s 70th anniversary dinner last year, Abbott told guests he would adopt 10 of the then 75 items on the IPA’s agenda to change the shape of Australian society.

These items were not put before the electorate for its consideration. Instead, voters were promised a number of items that would not be changed. Abbott has since reneged on every single thing he promised not to cut and has so far failed to deliver on some things he promised to do.

Broken promises

Work has started on some of his “roads of the 21st Century” and while the boats have slowed (due to Labor’s policy of denying settlement in Australia) or been turned back (due to the Liberal’s Operation Sovereign Borders policy) they are still coming, but not “arriving”.

On 6 September, 2013 Crikey’s Andrew Crooke surveyed the IPA’s agenda list (which had grown to 100 items) and wrote about what might happen to each item.

Earlier this week, Glen Murray produced a blog on the IPA that is similar to Andrew Crooke’s story, but shows (with links) which of the IPA’s 100 items have been endorsed or enacted by the LNP coalition government.

Murray’s blog makes it clear that the IPA is the policy forming wing of the Liberal party.

It’s way past time for the commercially operated MSM to do the job that’s expected of it and inform its readers, listeners and viewers of who and what the IPA is and who is now really running this country.

It would be helpful if the ABC would describe the IPA as a Right-wing Liberal party policy formation unit and provide a suitably descriptive caption for its other guests on current affairs programs on radio and TV.

More information on people past and present involved in the shadowy world of the IPA is contained in Tim Wilson and the Institute of Public Smokescreens, an article published by Independent Australia.

Update, 31 August, 2014

I have asked the IPA’s policy director, Chris Berg, for his notes or research on IPA item 77: Allow the appointment of Ministers from outside the parliament. I asked only once and I have had no reply.

This federal LNP government, like the LNP state government in Queensland, has adopted the practice of setting up commissions to inform the government on policy alternatives. Commission members tend to be LNP cronies who largely tell the government what it wants to hear. Their reports are described as “reports to the government, not reports of the government”. The practice allows a certain amount of hand-washing when it comes to implementing policy.

A possible source for IPA policy is the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). ALEC believes in limited government, free markets and federalism. It claims almost 2,000 members and says it is the USA’s largest, non-partisan, individual public-private membership association of state legislators.

The USA Centre for Media and Democracy has a website devoted to exposing ALEC.

Another source of IPA policies could be the USA’s right-wing think tank the National Centre for Policy Analysis (NCPA), an organisation that is similar to the IPA.

Here are the results of two Google searches for ALEC and NCPA, if you want to conduct further research: ALEC | NCPA

ALEC and NCPA are just two of a collection of lobbyists that are influencing government policy formation in the USA. These organisations are more organised and more powerful than anything a political party or citizens group can organise. Their founders and members exhibit a “blood-lust” and determination that I have often seen in corporate executives. This may be why they are winning the game. Corporates have a win by any means mentality while ordinary citizens are just too busy coping with life to do much about it.

Two years ago an American web site, Truthout, produced a lengthy article describing several of these US lobbyists and the methods they use. We can see this is beginning to happen in Australia.

The academically based and authored TheConversation.com has produced a series of articles under the general heading Remaking Australia on the eve of the federal LNP government’s first year in office. Not part of that series, but equally relevant, is another TheConversation article: Changing the soul: are conservatives the new radicals?

* The Age article has been archived. I’m trying to get access to it (15/01/2015).


Clive Palmer, a bufoon with a purpose?

Barry Tucker                    21 May, 2014

After playing in the wings, millionaire miner Clive Palmer swaggered into centre stage in 2013 — threatening to win the federal election and become Australia’s next Prime Minister.

He often makes outrageous statements. Our parliamentary system is rotten. So is the news media. It’s hard to determine where he really stands on anything.


Jane Gilmore, editor of on-line magazine The King’s Tribune, recently produced this part profile, part analysis of the man who might determine the fate of the Conservative’s (they’re not Liberals) first Budget.

Follow on Twitter @JaneTribune  @CliveFPalmer

Inside Canberra, looking around, looking out

By Barry Tucker                  6 March, 2014

Tory Shepherd, Political Editor for Adelaide’s The Advertiser, also has gigs on commercial and ABC radio and TV programs, including Insiders. Shepherd spent a year in Canberra then wrote a colour piece on her experiences.

It included this:

There Really Is Such A Thing As Groupthink

“But it’s not what the hard-right blowhards think — that the press wing of Parliament House is a bunch of loony lefties who take their socialism with a mung bean chaser.

“Parliament House is its own mind marinade.

“However, it is still a place of fiercely independent minds — there are clever people and genuinely brilliant people and furious disagreements. It’s just that it’s hard, sometimes, to remember that there is this outside world of people who aren’t journalists, or bureaucrats, or politicians, and easy to end up writing for those inside your bubble, rather than in the real world.

“The groupthink means that politics is always the most important thing, not the people.”

And concludes with this:

Sometimes It’s The Little Things

“Be nice to the people who bring you your spaghetti marinara or pull you your One Fifty Lashes. In my first week alone I learned from various Canberra establishments which MPs tip, which ones are arse grabbers and which ones are loose-lipped gabbers.

“The walls have ears. Look over your shoulder before you talk, check who’s around before you make that call (this loud-mouthed journo still has to learn that lesson).

“And to paraphrase the Sunscreen Song. Accept certain inalienable truths. Prices will rise, politicians will philander; you, too, will get old. And in Canberra, going to the Durham is never, ever a good idea.”

It’s a humorous article, contains insights, and is a rare attempt to explain the relationship between the players in federal politics and the consumers of political news. You will find Shepherd’s article here.

@ToryShepherdAdelaide/Canberra · theadvertiser.com.au

Budget spin enters Fantasyland

Comment By Barry Tucker                    5 April, 2014

The Budget spin of Australian federal Treasurer Joe Hockey has entered the world of fantasy. It’s a world where fantastic imagination, lies, obfuscation, bull-dust, half-truth and distortion gets mixed in a muddle — all designed to blind-side the voters.

Sometimes it blind-sides the news media. Sometimes some of the news media get sick of the deception, get sick of being played for fools — and let rip.

This is a story about such an occasion. Some mistakes were made along the way.

Let’s begin with this meme, circulated on Twitter on Thursday, April 3, 2014. hockey con job It’s WRONG! Well, half wrong. The reference to “Treasury Analysis” is wrong.

Treasurer Hockey issued a “Briefing Note”. His note was supposedly based on Treasury modelling. The online news magazine Crikey.com pointed out how some news media portrayed the briefing note as a “Treasury Analysis”.

Crikey said the briefing was written by Hockey’s media adviser, former The Australian Financial Review journalist Gemma Daley.

When I followed a link accompanying the meme above I found the Crikey story. It was written by Bernard Keane and Glenn Dyer.

They went ballistic over Hockey’s references to Treasury numbers and forecast revenues and expenditures:

“… Joe Hockey is treating us as complete idiots.”

“Hockey would like us to see him as a budgetary innocent who has found himself in the middle of a fiscal minefield planted by Labor.”

“And if Hockey seriously expects us to believe his latest argument, he must have nothing but contempt for us.”

The two journalists then proceeded to pull the Treasurer’s Briefing Note to pieces.

He may not have written it but, as the issuing Minister, Hockey’s responsible for it.

This is not the way Canberra-based journalists normally deal with material issued by government ministers. The ministers know that and no doubt they count on it.

What Hockey is doing is softening up the public, mainly low income taxpayers, for a tough May Budget and he’s trying to blame spending by the previous Labor government for that.

Basic Liberal party ideology is to sell public assets, slash welfare and enrich the middle to upper class and big business — their key supporters. Late this week, on the eve of the re-run West Australian election of Senators, Hockey had the gall to tell the public his Budget was NOT ideological. He chose the friendly Andrew Bolt’s radio show to sell the line that his tough Budget was necessary to provide for future sustainability.

Hockey’s Briefing Note was not widely reported on, as far as I can tell. It came on the heels of a meeting with State Premiers during which Hockey hammered out his demands that they sell public assets to pay for the projects that the “Infrastructure Minister” government leader Tony Abbott wants to take credit for. He offered a sweetener of 15% of something as an inducement.

So public assets will be sold to build infrastructure (the “roads of the 21st Century” that Abbott has promised as his monument), plus 15% from Treasury (taxpayer’s cash) and no doubt the roads will be public/private ventures that will have tolls. All very nice for Abbott’s corporate mates, but it does little for cities that are crying out for more mass transit and light rail.

One journalist who ignored Hockey’s briefing was The Guardian online’s Political Editor Lenore Taylor. Taylor told me if she reported on every pre-Budget positioning she would not have time for anything else.

Others were easily sucked in, like the ABC’s The World Today presenter Eleanor Hall and Canberra correspondent Alexandra Kirk, under the website headline: The full story … Hockey and Labor positioning ahead of budget ‘hard decisions’. Hilarious!

Hockey: As we approach the Budget, more and more evidence emerges of what was left behind by our predecessors.

Kirk: Mr Hockey’s used the Treasury modelling to argue that without a change in policy direction, spending is projected to outstrip revenue in every year for the next decade, meaning the Budget would be in deficit for a 16-year stretch.

Hockey: Sixteen years. Sixteen years of deficits without a recession, without any significant downturn, is the legacy of Labor. And unless we take immediate remedial action in the Budget, then Australia will never have a surplus. The fact is we have to address this and address this fast.

Kirk then spoke to Labor’s Treasury spokesperson, Andrew Leigh, who said the Budget position was to a large extent of Joe Hockey’s own making.

Leigh: Joe Hockey should not be allowed to try and fool the Australian people into the state of the books when he took over. That was clearly set down under the Charter of Budget Honesty and the pre-election Economic and Fiscal Outlook. And it clearly said, Budget back in surplus in 2016-17.

Then came economist Chris Richardson, of Deloitte Access. He said there was a Budget problem that needs to be fixed, but it doesn’t need to be fixed tomorrow.

There’s more from all parties in the ABC interview.

Rupert Murdoch’s The Australian, reported on the Briefing Note on April 1. Unfortunately that story is behind the paywall.

The URL in the Google search result says the story is “premium content”. Ha!

It’s based on a Briefing Note that Hockey was pushing into journalists’ hands. The story must contain some terribly perceptive and erudite comments from a Murdoch propaganda hack.

Much kudos goes to the two Crikey journalists who had the decency, the integrity, the knowledge and the insight to treat Hockey’s Briefing Note with the contempt it deserves.

Now you see it …

Comment and compilation

Barry Tucker                   27 March, 2014

In a foolish and ultimately self-incriminating move, Murdoch’s Sunday Telegraph has tried to protect federal government leader Tony Abbott from humiliation.

Mr Abbott is quite capable of humiliating himself. In fact, he usually does it on a daily basis, making protecting him a full-time, even futile, job.

In short, The Sunday Telegraph pulled a page from 22 December, 2013, containing a story in which Abbott ruled out the reintroduction of knights and dames. Following a commotion on social media, the page was restored to the online edition the following day.

The original story was written by Samantha Maiden, National Political Editor for Rupert Murdoch’s major metropolitan newspapers. It was not major news. It mainly quoted Abbott as saying he would not be following New Zealand’s lead by amending Australia’s top honour, the Order of Australia, to a knighthood or a dame.

However, the 22 December story suddenly became big news on the night of Tuesday, 25 March, 2014, when Abbott announced the reintroduction of knight and dame honours for “pre-eminent” Australians. They would apply automatically to Governors-General, to some who accepted public office, but probably not to those who sought public office, such as politicians.

Yesterday afternoon tweeters, myself included, began researching, found the 22 December article and began tweeting the link to our followers. Abbott’s back-flip, secrecy and obfuscation created quite a stir — although we should be accustomed to it by now. A few hours later, when I wanted to re-read certain parts, the story had disappeared from the web.

When Maiden was asked if she had an explanation, she replied there was no conspiracy. The following morning, she said the removal of the page had been “inadvertent”. There is no suggestion Maiden removed the web page. That would require online editing skills and probably a log-on password by an authorised online editor.

This is where the story becomes interesting and relevant (unlike almost any Opposition Point of Order during Question Time in the federal House of Representatives). It is not unusual for a politician to change their position on something. They generally have one position during an election campaign and a different one after the campaign, depending on whether or not their party won. It is not unusual for Abbott to change his position on everything. As I wrote earlier, he keeps his minders busy.

However, The Sunday Telegraph is not, or should not be, Abbott’s minder. The fact that it has taken this role upon itself is instructive.

It would have been better to leave the page in place and not draw attention to Abbott’s flip-flop by making the page disappear. It was a foolish move because anything that appears on the web is copied and cached in many other places. The fact that the page has reappeared after a storm of social media fuss proves that removing it was recognised as a mistake.

I say “removed” and I mean to imply deliberately removed because there is no way the page removal could have been “inadvertent”. It disappeared soon after tweeters began referring to Abbott’s obfuscation. It was deliberately removed in what turned out to be a futile bid to save Abbott embarrassment.

Abbott has been severely embarrassed by his reintroduction, without consulting his cabinet or the Australian people, of these imperial honours, which have been described by former Liberal Prime Minister John Howard, and others, as “anachronistic”. I have a list of seven Liberal MPs, so far, who are annoyed or bemused by Abbott’s honours.

On the day following Abbott’s announcement, Question Time was reduced to a farce, with several Opposition MPs kicked out for what Madam Speaker Bronwyn Bishop referred to as “… a new tactic of an outburst of infectious laughter”. Abbott lost his temper at one point, leaning over the despatch box, glaring and yelling at Opposition Leader Bill Shorten, who had been humming Rule Britannia.

Abbott’s behaviour was the first evidence we have seen of the underlying bullying nature he exhibited through his university days. It was the proof I’d been expecting to see that he is, as I’ve written here before, probably not mature enough to responsibly exercise power.

He has now made at least three captain’s calls since 1 December, 2009 and they have all ended in near disaster for him. The first was his challenge to then Liberal Opposition Leader Malcolm Turnbull. He won that spill by a single vote. The second was his expensive Paid Parental Leave scheme, which offers new working mothers six months leave at full salary — partly paid for with a 1.5% tax on big employers. There is opposition in his party to the plan. The third and most recent was his reintroduction of some imperial honours, the last of which were abandoned in 1982.

Either Abbott has not accepted an Australian honour, such as the Order of Australia (AO), or not enough of his friends or staff have taken the trouble to prepare an application for one.

Here are some of the relevant tweets:

Sam tweet 1

Sam tweet 3


The following day:

Sam tweet 2


Sam tweet 4

Pandys tweet

One of the results of following the original link:

Page gone missing

And if it inadvertently disappears again, read this cached copy.

Unexpectedly, News.com’s National Political Editor Malcolm Farr reported on Abbott’s humiliation.

And The Guardian Aus Political Editor Lenore Taylor did some straight reporting of the facts.



Labor too gutless to fight media laws


Barry Tucker                    25 March, 2014

Australia has one of the most concentrated news media ownerships in the world. The federal Liberal National Party coalition government is planning to loosen ownership laws.

In an article in The Guardian, West Australian Greens Senator Scott Ludlam says the move poses a threat to Australia’s democracy by limiting different voices, opinions and exposure.

Senator Ludlam does not present a solution, or propose any action. I asked him if he would present a Bill to the Senate, amending media ownership laws and forcing Rupert Murdoch to divest his News Corp of some of its newspapers, at least. I’ve asked the same of some Labor MPs. I have not yet had any replies.

Such a Bill would pass the Senate, with Labor’s support, because the Greens hold the balance of power, at least until the new Senate sits in July 2014. But the Bill would not pass the Lower House, where the governing Liberal National Party coalition has a large majority.

Labor could work with the Greens on such a Bill and at least bring on a debate and public exposure of the issues and the threat. It will not, however. It lacks the stomach for a fight with the federal government and will not fight before the 2016 election campaign. Murdoch has supported Labor Prime Ministers Gough Whitlam and Kevin Rudd. He has also turned on them and had their governments defeated. I suspect that rather than fight Murdoch’s near-stranglehold on Australian news and entertainment media, Labor will hold out for his blessing in a future election campaign — practical politics, but bad for our democracy.

Murdoch owns an estimated 67% of city, suburban and regional newspapers in Australia, in addition to magazines and part ownership of commercial free-to-air and pay TV stations, AAP news agency, opinion poll companies and more. See: Murdoch’s media monster for more.

Out of sight, out of mind

Comment & Opinion

By Barry Tucker                    6 December, 2013

Amongst the blur of intelligence-gathering leaks, diplomatic scandals, Gonski manoeuvres, carbon price ultimatums and debt ceiling negotiations, the plight of asylum seekers slipped just a bit further from the Australian public’s consciousness this week.

So begins an article by Paula Matthewson, in today’s online magazine The Hoopla. It’s about the plight of asylum seekers, who the previous Labor government (after a flip-flop) and the present Liberal-National Party (LNP) government (by adopting and adapting Labor’s policy) are trying to keep out of sight, out of mind.

Matthewson is concerned with the inhumane aspects of Australian governments’ policies on the issue of asylum seekers and with the present government’s ludicrous policy of limiting news releases of arrivals to a Friday news briefing. Indonesian news media (and people smugglers) know as much if not more about refugee boat arrivals in Australia as Australian journalists, well before the Friday briefings.

Matthewson mentions the Australian news media’s compliant kowtowing to the federal LNP government’s campaign of limiting news, but doesn’t get suitably enraged about it. This is the political party and these are the journalists who screamed blue murder over the attempt of the previous government to make some minor reforms to news media regulation. This government could not maintain its policy of secrecy and limited news for long if the news media adopted the sternly critical approach it should use — as it did with the previous Labor government.

There is one consolation and something to look forward to. No journalist worthy of the title likes to be denied a story. Gaps are appearing in the Coalition government’s cohesion and when the news media gets the whiff of blood in its nostrils it will go in for the kill — as it did with the previous Labor government.

Update, 27 February, 2014

Former Liberal Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser has become an advocate for refugee rights since retiring from politics (and the Liberal party). He has proposed a solution to the asylum seeker/refugee quagmire.

Oz govt secrecy starts to stink

Comment and opinion

By Barry Tucker                    6 November, 2013

Just over two weeks ago I wrote in The Sniper’s blog about the “Rise and rise of secrecy“.

“The Australian Liberal-National Party coalition government elected with a large majority on 7 September, 2013, is exhibiting an unpleasant and unwelcome tendency towards secrecy.”

The MSM, on-line magazines and bloggers are taking up the cudgel.

“The Rise and rise of secrecy” contained several current links and updates. It is now time to migrate the story to Truth in News Media.

By far the best summary of what is happening appears in today’s on-line magazine Independent Australia. That round-up, by Clint Howitt, presents a staggering picture of government arrogance and indifference, under the title Abbott’s Secret State.

In an article in Fairfax Media’s The Canberra Times, veteran press gallery journalist Laurie Oakes says the Abbott government is “thumbing its nose at voters” with its lack of transparency and communication. Some see the story, by Tom McIlroy, as a promotion for Oakes’ book, Remarkable Times: Australian Politics 2010-13, due for release soon.

Others might say it’s hypocritical of Oakes or any other mainstream news journalist to criticise the L-NP government after they worked so hard to install it by destroying any credibility the previous Labor government had earned.

Oakes referred to news media control, the expenses rorting scandal, lack of access to Ministers and arrogance.

I have read of others saying it was similar disregard for the Canberra Press Gallery, and for its then doyen Michelle Grattan in particular, that set Grattan and then the whole pack against then Prime Minister Julia Gillard. The government is playing a risky game. If it favours any one news organisation (like former Prime Minister Rudd II did) it could suffer the wrath of the remainder. At present, the Liberal-National Party government can rely only on Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp newspapers, Channel 10, Sky and radio shock jock mates and a handful of ABC journalists and presenters. With that bloc supporting the government and the remainder of the news media attacking, it won’t take long for news consumers and voters to see the light.

Howitt writes: “Singling out Immigration Minister Scott Morrison, Mr Oakes said arrogance and disregard for truth would ultimately backfire.”

He quotes Oakes: “You can’t thumb your nose at the voters’ right to know and you can’t arrogantly say ‘we’ll let the voters be misinformed and we won’t help journalists get it right’. That’s just a disgusting attitude.”

People have been wondering what Murdoch might have been after when he switched his backing from Kevin Rudd I sometime late in 2009, after a visit by L-NP Parliamentary Party Leader Abbott, a few days after he succeeded to the role.

Writing in the SMH’s Business Day today, Elizabeth Knight claims Murdoch’s after the rest of Channel 10 (his son Lachlan owns 10 per cent). Her article is titled Murdoch wants his pound of flesh and is slugged Opinion. As Knight points out, Murdoch would have to jump a lot of hurdles before reaching this goal. Perhaps Treasurer Joe Hockey (foreign investment decisions) and Malcolm Turnbull (Communications, including media), who sat at Murdoch’s table at his Lowy Institute address last week, can move these hurdles out of the way.

At least Murdoch is not after the ABC, or parts of it — a thought that was making some people seriously ill. See also in this resource centre: War on ABC continues.

The secrecy story is being run in conjunction with stories of L-NP MPs rorting of their expenses (claiming expenses for attending weddings, football games, race meetings, anything where politics may be discussed or voters bumped into). Also in the mix is the Draconian anti-biker laws recently introduced in Queensland by the extreme Right wing Premier Campbell Newman. Similar laws have been enacted in NSW and Victoria and South Australia took action a few years ago. It’s a revival of L-NP State government law and order campaigns of the ’70s, which drew criticism that they were designed to deflect attention from other matters.

Queensland’s version of the anti-biker laws has drawn the most criticism, with legal experts and citizens expressing fears the laws could easily have a wider application. Michael Cope, president of the Queensland Council for Civil Liberties, wrote about this in an article in today’s Guardian, under the title Queensland’s ‘anti-bikie’ measures are an assault on our civil liberties.

Cope writes: “The Queensland Council for Civil Liberties (QCCL) takes the view that any interference with a recognised civil liberty or human right should only occur if that interference can be rationally demonstrated to be necessary, reasonable, justified and proportionate. The Queensland government has demonstrated neither.”

• Former Liberal party member and political blogger Andrew Elder (@awelder) has given the MSM a good thrashing for its recent unprofessionalism, willing blindness and current hypocrisy.

• Elder’s blog refers to this article on the government’s attitude, by Paula Mathewson, in King’s Tribune. Both articles refer to another, by journalist Bianca Hall. All are relevant to this blog.

Update, 9 November, 2013: I referred to Laurie Oakes’ hypocrisy above. In an open letter for on-line magazine The Australian Independent Media Network today, Victoria Rollinson gives Oakes a severe dressing down. Ouch!

Update, 9 December, 2013

A few days ago a row broke out in the federal Coalition ranks over criticism of the leader of the government’s Chief-of-Staff, Peta Credlin. Complaints about her dictatorial manner and attempts to control elected MPs and lesser mortals are not new. On this occasion the news had more to do with her defender, Finance Minister Senator Mathias Cormann. He told critics within government ranks to “back off”.

Credlin is married to federal director of the Liberal party, Brian Loughnane, and has previously been CoS to Liberal ministers.

Note: Stories in this resource centre will be corrected, if necessary, and some will be updated as the subject evolves.

Political journos get their just desert


By Barry Tucker                    26 October, 2013

Nothing unusual about Australia’s political leaders having folks around for dinner. It’s part of the job: hobnobbing with diplomats, industrialists — even journalists.

Peter Munro must have missed out on an invitation. He’s a bit narky in this report for the Federal Politics section of The Sydney Morning Herald on tonight’s do.

Abbott’s first gathering of the Australian media is an invite-only affair of conservative columnists and broadcasters, Munro writes.

“Many are disagreeable but, happily, rarely so with the nation’s 28th leader.”

Who got an invite and who didn’t? Several are named in Munro’s story.

For an interesting exercise, check the names in the story against what those people write or say on tv — shows like the ABC’s Insiders, The Drum or Ten’s The Bolt Report or Meet the Press, newspaper columns and stories by members of the Canberra Press Gallery in the Fairfax and Murdoch papers.

Here’s a little oddity from Munro’s story. He reports that: Abbott this week divided Australia’s media landscape into two broad camps: ”There tends to be an ABC view of the world, and it’s not a view of the world that I find myself in total sympathy with. But, others would say that there’s a News Limited view of the world.”

It’s curious that the Liberal party still insists that the ABC exhibits a Left-wing bias. It certainly hasn’t done so since Abbott became Liberal Parliamentary Party leader on 1 December, 2009. Apparently, if you’re not consistently 100% behind the Liberals you must be biased against them. They’re an intolerant lot.

Oh, and “News Limited” has been News Corp since 1 July, 2013. We all make mistakes — even Abbotts.

Here’s another strange thing. It’s related and it’s not. Last night, 25 October, Channel 9’s Breakfast co-host Lisa Wilkinson delivered the Andrew Olle Lecture.

What’s amazing about that (apart from the fact she is only the second woman journalist to have done so) is that there is not a single mention of the furore over political news reporting during the two terms of the previous federal Labor governments.

It’s like, “we’ve done nothing wrong; we were proper and correct; nothing to see here; move on”.

Almost all of the fuss occurred in social media and in the independent online magazines and news sites. You will find plenty of that recorded in this resource centre.

To Wilkinson, and the rest of the commercial and publicly-funded news media, it’s as if nothing unusual happened. There was no palpably biased reporting against Labor or favouritism for the relentless negativity of Abbott and his cohorts.

Wilkinson, quite rightly, spent a lot of time commenting on the sexist depiction of women (and their fascination with it and themselves, it has to be admitted) and asked when, if not now, will the mass media get over itself and its preoccupation with this topic. It’s time the mass media treated women equally, not differently and not as sexual related objects.

The reality is, as the mass media keeps telling us, women make most of the buying decisions and pampering to them and their concerns (apart from liberation) is the lifeblood of advertising revenue.

Wilkinson deals with Twitter and Facebook, with the new electronic media generally, and says it is now an indispensable part of journalism. But she makes what I think is an error by claiming that the old established MSM is the sole guardian of the truth when it comes to accuracy, and that consumers of news will always fall back on old media when seeking the facts.

Old media is dying, and old journalists can’t face that fact. In talking about old media, Wilkinson gets into stuff like tradition, legitimacy, intimacy among journos, encroachment upon sacred turf by the insolent new media — anyone with an iPhone or laptop. It is those things that make it hard for some journos to let go of the old and get with the new.

Politics and the news media in Oz

By Barry Tucker                    24 October, 2013

Tim Dunlop writes for The King’s Tribune, The Drum and other publications. He is the author of The New Front Page: New Media and the Rise of the Audience, released last August.

In the two articles below he comments on the state of two-party politics in Australia and the news media’s involvement.

In The Press Gallery cheer squad, in The King’s Tribune, Dunlop compares the news media’s treatment of Tony Abbott and the former Prime Minister Julia Gillard.

In The future of Australian electoral politics, in The Drum, Dunlop writes about a transition that is slowly happening in Australian two-party politics and the mainstream news media. Dunlop says the two parties and the news media seem to be barely aware of their increasing irrelevance. It’s a good read.


‘Right to know’ smothered by silence

By Barry Tucker                    23 October, 2013

The new Australian federal Liberal-National party’s hardline asylum seeker policy has been dealt with by the news media, briefly, and then forgotten.

The government’s approach has been to virtually declare war on people smugglers and to declare the asylum seekers as “illegals”. It has directed Public Service staff to refer to them as “detainees”.

Handling boat arrivals is administered by a newly-promoted three-star general and the government’s policy goes under the title of Operation Sovereign Borders. The war footing flavour of the policy allows the government to hide behind a veil of secrecy, designed, it says, to avoid giving information to the enemy (the people smugglers).

The danger is that the news media becomes complacent or lazy and fails in its role of informing the public and keeping the government under surveillance and even in check. In addition, there is a dehumanising effect on the asylum seekers.

These issues, problems and failings are dealt with in an article in The Conversation by Denis Muller, Senior Research Fellow in the Centre for Advancing Journalism at University of Melbourne.

Abbott’s a media control freak


By Barry Tucker                   3 October, 2013

In his first overseas diplomatic mission as head of the Murdoch Government of Australia, Anthony (Tony) Abbott barred Indonesian journalists from attending a key news conference.

The presser was held in the Indonesian capital of Jakarta on the morning after talks with Indonesian leaders that encompassed Abbott’s plans to stop the flow of refugee-seeker boats and trade, especially the live cattle trade.

Indonesian journalists were told the ban was imposed at the request of the Office of the Prime Minister. Australian journalists who have since sought a reason for the ban have not received a reply.

The head of the Jakarta chapter of the Alliance for Independent Journalists, Umar Idris, said: “We cannot accept whatever reason Australia gave for limiting access to information for Indonesian journalists.”

Mr Umar said the ban was not just discourteous, but criminal.

“The press law in Indonesia says it is a crime to limit journalists to get access to information. The penalty for that is two years’ imprisonment,” Mr Umar said.

Abbott, who studied Law, Economics, Politics and Philosophy (but not Media) worked as a journalist for The Bulletin and The Australian. He, or his minders, carefully chooses which radio and tv outlets he appears on for interviews. His preference is for the Sydney radio shock jocks (eg: Alan Jones) or the part Murdoch owned Sky News while severely limiting his appearances on ABC tv shows like Insiders, the 7.30 Report and Q&A.

The Age’s Michael Bachelard reported on the Jakarta media ban.

After Abbott returned to Australia, he held a news conference with visiting New Zealand Prime Minister, John Key, on Wednesday, 2 October. During the presser Abbott controlled questioners turn about: one from Australia, one from NZ. When Abbott tried to end the presser, Mr Key said he wanted to take more questions.

Here is a list of stories on Mr Key’s visit.

And there was this Tweet:

The look on PM Key’s face when Abbott turned to run from their presser was priceless. Guess that’s not how a PM behaves across the Tasman.