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.

Pressure builds against news media bias

Comment By Barry Tucker                    28 August, 2013

Official action to correct unbalanced and biased political reporting in Australian news media has begun. It may be too little, too late to save the federal Labor government, with an election 10 days away.

The move gained weight when Labor Prime Minister Kevin Rudd protested against the front pages of Rupert Murdoch’s Sydney tabloid The Daily Telegraph that have appeared since the election campaign began.

Tele front page, day 1.

Tele front page, day 1.

The Daily Telegraph and Murdoch’s Brisbane paper, The Courier-Mail, have since ridiculed Labor MPs, once depicting them as Hogan’s Heroes characters, some wearing Nazi uniforms.


Col Allan, mastermind of tabloid covers. NY Times pic

Col Allan, mastermind of tabloid covers.
NY Times pic

On day 1 of the campaign, PM Rudd claimed Murdoch had told his journalists “to go hard on Rudd and don’t back off“. Here’s an ABC radio follow-up. The original story is hard to find in the mainstream Press, but follow-ups are plentiful — telling in itself. Back in May, Murdoch tweeted that “polls show nothing can save this miserable government. People decided and tuned out months ago”. The Liberal National Party Opposition has stated that the government’s claims of news media bias are false.


In an interview in The Australian (Murdoch’s flagship national broadsheet), the Opposition leader, Tony Abbott, said Mr Rudd got the media coverage he deserved.

On August 12, the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Communications*, Anthony Albanese, said News Corp journalists had told him they were “embarrassed” by the effects of the reporting and front pages since the election campaign began. (*Communications includes broadband, ABC and media generally).

Visiting British MP Tom Watson (@Tom_Watson) told Fairfax’s The Australian Financial Review Murdoch’s tabloids had become propaganda sheets that abuse their monopoly position.

Mr Watson has appeared on numerous radio and tv programs during his visit (he sat on the UK parliamentary committee that investigated allegations of phone hacking by Murdoch and other UK journalists). He is here to observe the conduct of the Murdoch news media during the election campaign, not to conduct an exposé of Murdoch newspapers as it was originally reported.

Early on Tuesday (August 27), PM Rudd said all Australians should view Monday night’s episode of the ABC’s Media Watch, which provided evidence of biased political coverage by News Corp. Graphs used in that program demonstrated the extent of the negative coverage of the government and the favourable coverage of the Opposition. The Daily Telegraph and Ms Gemma Jones, a Telegraph reporter named in the Media Watch program, have stated they will complain to the ABC and the Australian Communications and Media Authority over the episode.

On Tuesday, the Australian Press Council’s chairman Julian Disney wrote to all major newspapers’ editors, pointing out that guidelines require their papers to distinguish between news and opinion. AAP produced a report on the APC chairman’s lettter, reproduced in Fairfax’s The Sydney Morning Herald. Read the Reuters version of the story.

Queensland mining magnate Clive Palmer, convenor of the Palmer United Party (PUP), with candidates standing in every federal seat, has been critical of Murdoch, of news media coverage and the political Duopoly — the dominance of two major and opposing political parties. Mr Palmer has said the news media is operating to maintain this dominance at the expense of minor parties. He recently clashed with controversial ABC radio presenter Jon Faine over allegations of sexual misconduct against two PUP candidates.

Mr Palmer hung up on Mr Faine — terminating a brief and shouty interview. Before hanging up, Mr Palmer suggested the presentation of unproven allegations was typical of the unethical practices of some news media.

Mr Faine has been “spoken to” by ABC management over a interview in which he aggressively sought proof of journalists’ allegations of professional misconduct by former Labor Prime Minister Julia Gillard during her time as a lawyer with the Australian Workers Union (AWU). The allegations have not been presented before a court and remain unproven.

It is increasingly clear that the connection between the news media and opinion polls needs to be broken. ABC management must be free of political allegiances. Journalists have guidelines designed to assure impartiality and they are easy to work with. The Labor government’s attempt to introduce changes to the structure of the APC were amateurish and inadequate and would have done nothing to improve the situation, beyond limiting the amalgamation of news media ownership. Ultimately, the journalists themselves have the power to continue or to end the present unsatisfactory and unfair situation which is clearly not in the best interests of Australia’s democracy.


ACMA invites you to help frame new rules

The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) is inviting members of the public and media industry to contribute to a review of broadcasting codes of practice.

You can visit the ACMA website for further information. Meanwhile, the ACMA news release on this matter is reproduced in full below:

ACMA media release 36/2013 – 3 June

An issues paper (PDF | Word) asking if broadcasting regulation is keeping up with the rapid changes in society has been released today by the Australian Communications and Media Authority.

The ACMA wants to hear from citizens and industry participants about what should be included in contemporary broadcasting codes of practice  (the rules around what you see and hear on radio and TV).

The ACMA recently launched the Contemporary community safeguards inquiry to establish the core principles that should guide the broadcasting industry’s development of its own codes around content. It includes important components like factual accuracy, balance and fairness, privacy, classification, decency and advertising.

‘This is a groundbreaking opportunity for people to get involved and make sure their views are heard,’ said ACMA Chairman, Chris Chapman.

‘We feel the time has come to take a “first principles” look at what contemporary codes of practice really need to address. We also want to know how community attitudes may be changing in relation to these components,’ Mr Chapman said.

The Contemporary community safeguards inquiry issues paper underscores the imperative that Australia’s broadcasting codes of practice keep pace with changing community expectations and changing broadcasting business models. The ACMA is inviting public submissions to the paper by mid-July 2013.

The ACMA is also holding a series of Citizen conversations  throughout June on topics related to the issues paper. These are free events and will be held at the ACMA’s Sydney office, and will be webcast nationally.

Facilitators and panellists will include media commentators, representatives from most of the TV and radio networks, as well as industry and academia.

More information about the inquiry and how to register can be found here. A video about the inquiry can be seen here. Media is free to use this video.

To arrange an interview, please contact: Emma Rossi, (02) 9334 7719 and 0434 652 063 ormedia@acma.gov.au.

A brief history of news media regulation

Comment & compilation by Barry Tucker          January 10, 2013

Attempts to find an ideal model of news media ownership and regulation in Australia have been going on for some decades. Journalists have been eager, involved and then denied. Owners have been interested, involved, disenchanted and manipulative. Some politicians got their hands dirty. The latest effort, based on the Finkelstein Inquiry (see below), is being debated.

Professor Wendy Bacon produced and published a timeline of this history from 1971 to 2011 in newmatilda.com. Ms Bacon, an academic, investigative journalist and former head of the Journalism Program at the University of Technology, Sydney, is a board member of the Pacific Media Centre                 ( http://www.pmc.aut.ac.nz/ ) and a contributing editor for newmatilda.com,

No Rules For Murdoch To Break

By Wendy Bacon               July 20, 2011

Wendy Bacon

Wendy Bacon

HOW did we end up with a corrupt multinational running the country’s most powerful media company? [Rupert] Murdoch’s long record of opposing press regulation has helped — as our timeline shows:

Follow the timeline: http://bit.ly/odBMU9

Online magazine The Conversation rounded up news media commentator and academic opinion on the Finkelstein Inquiry on March 2, 2012.

The Finkelstein Inquiry into media regulation: Experts respond

Read that story here: http://bit.ly/yKA45n

Journalists union: The Media Section

Media Entertainment & Arts Alliance

PO Box 723, Strawberry Hills, NSW 2012

Phone 1300 656 512  |  Fax 1300 730 543

email mail@alliance.org.au  |  http://www.alliance.org.au

Federal Secretary, Christopher Warren

Paul Murphy has been appointed chief executive of the union on a five-year contract, beginning in March 2015.*

Executive Assistant, Jennifer O’Brien

Journalists are represented by the Media Section of the Media Entertainment & Arts Alliance. The union represents members in disputes and negotiations.

Complaints against an individual journalist can be referred to the union’s Judiciary Committee. If the matter is not settled satisfactorily either party can appeal to the (State) Appeals Committee within 28 days.

To see the complaints procedure, visit the MEAA: http://www.alliance.org.au Click the menu Media Section and choose from the drop down menu.

* See The Australian for details on Murphy’s appointment.

Media Alliance Code of Ethics

Respect for truth and the public’s right to information are fundamental principles of journalism. Journalists describe society to itself. They convey information, ideas and opinions — a privileged role. They search, disclose, record, question, entertain, suggest and remember. They inform citizens and animate democracy. They give a practical form to freedom of expression. Many journalists work in private enterprise, but all have these public responsibilities. They scrutinise power, but also exercise it, and should be accountable. Accountability engenders trust. Without trust, journalists do not fulfil their public responsibilities. Alliance members engaged in journalism commit themselves to

Respect for the rights of others

1.  Report and interpret honestly, striving for accuracy, fairness and disclosure of all essential facts.  Do not suppress relevant available facts, or give distorting emphasis.  Do your utmost  to give a fair opportunity for reply.

2.  Do not place unnecessary emphasis on personal characteristics, including race, ethnicity, nationality, gender, age, sexual orientation, family relationships, religious belief, or physical or intellectual disability.

3.  Aim to attribute information to its source.  Where a source seeks anonymity, do not agree without first considering the source’s motives and any alternative attributable source.  Where confidences are accepted,  respect them in all circumstances.

4.  Do not allow personal interest, or any belief, commitment, payment, gift or benefit, to undermine your accuracy, fairness or independence.

5.  Disclose conflicts of interest that affect, or could be seen to affect, the accuracy, fairness or independence of your journalism.  Do not improperly use a journalistic position for personal gain.

6.  Do not allow advertising or other commercial considerations to undermine accuracy, fairness or independence.

7.  Do your utmost to ensure disclosure of any direct or indirect payment made for interviews, pictures, information or stories.

8.  Use fair, responsible and honest means to obtain material.  Identify yourself and your employer before obtaining any interview for publication or broadcast.  Never exploit a person’s vulnerability or ignorance of media practice.

9.  Present pictures and sound which are true and accurate.  Any manipulation likely to mislead should be disclosed.

10.  Do not plagiarise.

11.  Respect private grief and personal privacy.  Journalists have the right to resist compulsion to intrude.

12.  Do your utmost to achieve fair correction of errors.

Guidance Clause

Basic values often need interpretation and sometimes come into conflict. Ethical journalism requires conscientious decision-making in context. Only substantial advancement of the public interest or risk of substantial harm to people allows any standard to be overridden.

If you feel an Alliance member is in breach of the code, you can lodge a complaint using the process outlined here.

To lodge a complaint with The Sydney Morning Herald

The procedure to lodge a complaint with The Sydney Morning Herald is to contact the newspaper’s Community Editor by email.

The Community Editor is Kathryn Wicks. [November 10, 2012]

Email: readerlink@smh.com.au

In the event that the matter is not settled, the next step would be to contact the Australian Press Council http://www.presscouncil.org.au