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.

Daily Telegraph disgraces itself again

By Barry Tucker                   25 May, 2014

Rupert Murdoch’s attack dog tabloid The Daily Telegraph has launched a disgusting attack on disabled and mentally ill pensioners.

The newspaper misled its readers by claiming a queue of people were disabled pensioners. It juxtaposed this with a famous picture of World War 2 Diggers to make an irrelevant comparison between real heroes and people it claimed were “slackers”.

Gutter pressSocial media was quick to point out the misuse of a stock photograph from Shutterstock. Others were incensed by the misuse of Damien Parer’s historic war picture.

The Daily Telegraph on-line edition ran the story under the heading: Disability pensions are a losing battle.

That story was the latest instalment in the Tele’s campaign against pensions and in support of the Liberal-National Party’s first budget, the most unpopular budget in 20 years.

Disability Discrimination Commissioner Graeme Innes commented on the campaign in an interview for the ABC’s PM radio program.

Frank Quinlan, CEO of the Mental Health Council of Australia, responded to the article on the ABC’s The Drum.

Complaints about newspaper articles should be lodged with The Australian Press Council.



What were they thinking?

Comment, compilation by

Barry Tucker                    18 March, 2014

Here’s a story we haven’t heard the last of.

Background: Queensland Police offer various news media access to the operations of Taskforce Takeback. Brisbane’s channel 9 assigns a reporter to cover the story for A Current Affair (ACA). The reporter is allowed to speak to and ask questions of occupants of premises visited by police and of some persons arrested; some of these questions are offensive by any measure and a breach of the persons’ legal rights. The ABC’s Media Watch (MW) of 17 March, 2014 covers the ACA story, which was telecast on 24 February, 2014.

This series of events is a can of worms.

  • Why did Queensland Police invite the news media to accompany Taskforce Takeback officers on their operations? The scope for abuse of legal rights is considerable under such circumstances.
  • Why did the ACA reporter, Jenna Hudson, say her assignment was “exclusive” and her access “unprecedented”? Both of those claims are wrong.
  • Why did Ms Hudson feel it was in order to say to one detained person: “You’re the scum of the Earth”?
  • Why did Ch9’s ACA assign Ms Hudson to this story when her judgment and knowledge of basic legal rights seems to be questionable?
  • Why did Media Watch pick certain parts of Ms Hudson’s 8min, 27sec report and leave out others?
  • Why did police say their footage showed no incriminating evidence when an officer is seen handling and referring to a plastic bag said to contain cocaine? See Q 9, transcript MW questions to Qld police & answers below.

People who have been following Queensland politics under LNP Premier Campbell Newman will be aware of his crackdown on members of motorcycle clubs and owners of tattoo parlours, both of which are alleged to be involved in organised crime. The State’s justice system, structure and members of the judiciary at all levels appear to be under attack — a related issue but separate to this story. Another related but separate issue: the right to assemble and associate is also under attack in Queensland, along with voting rights and voter IDs — definitely a separate but related issue.

Premier Newman wants publicity for his hard-line approach to crime and dissent.

On my second last point above, Ms Hudson has tweeted that she has some issues with the MW treatment of her story:

Jennas tweet Relevant links:

The ACA telecast of 24 February, 2014

Transcript, MW questions to Qld Police and its answers.

The Media Watch telecast of 17 March, 2014

A Current Affair’s Facebook page. Scroll down to 24 February, “Busted”. Click on Show More Comments.

Any subsequent updates will be posted here eventually.

Press Council upholds two complaints re AWU affair

By Barry Tucker                    20 September, 2013

The Press Council has upheld two complaints by Melbourne law firm Slater & Gordon relating to stories about the so-called AWU affair.

The complaints relate to articles written by Fairfax Media’s Editor-at-Large Mark Baker. The stories appeared in Fairfax Media’s The Age,The Sydney Morning Herald and The Canberra Times on 13 October, 2012.

The council’s ruling refers to the “publication” and does not name the journalist. In part, the ruling said:

“The Council has concluded that the publication failed to take reasonable steps to ensure fairness in the report in relation to whether the firm held a file on incorporation of the association. Even if the story is interpreted as having done no more than report allegations, rather than endorse them, their gravity was such that the firm should have been given a reasonable opportunity to respond prior to publication. The legal correspondence relied on by the publication did not provide sufficiently strong grounds for its failure to do so. The Council has also concluded that failure to seek comment for fear of triggering an injunction may be justifiable in some circumstances but in this instance the risk of an injunction did not relate to the statements in question and they could readily have been checked with the firm. Accordingly, the complaint about the report is upheld on these grounds.”

Complaints about three other statements in the articles were not upheld by the council.

News media that signs up to and submits to the council’s adjudications are required to publish the council’s rulings. The ruling was reported in Fairfax Media newspapers, the Michael Smith blog, the online magazines Independent Australia, and elsewhere.

The article is behind the pay wall, but you can sign up for a free one-month subscription. Mr Baker replied to the report with a statement that Independent Australia describes as “bizarre”.

You can read the Independent Australia story here and Mr Baker’s statement to here.

Read the Press Council’s ruling in full here.

Other Press Council rulings can be found here.

Mark Baker

Mark Baker

Mark Baker’s profile, from The Age online: Mark Baker is a former Managing Editor (National) of Fairfax Metro Media, Senior Editor of The Age and Editor of The Canberra Times. He spent more than 13 years as a staff correspondent in Asia, covering the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and is a former Political Editor and Canberra Bureau Chief of The Age.

A few hours after posting the above story, Michael Smith advised me that the Press Council had issued a further Notice relating to some of the reporting of its findings. The council took exception to a statement that the journalist in questions [sic] had “fabricated evidence”, as claimed on one website.

You can read the Press Council’s further Notice, or Update, here.

On his website, Michael Smith commented on Mark Baker and Slater & Gordon under the headline: “Mark Baker — verballed by people who do what they falsely accuse Mark of doing”.

His brief story included a reproduction of the council’s further Notice and a link to the original. Some comments appear below the story.

26 September. reports that Mark Baker is not happy with the Press Council ruling, which he says is “flawed and illogical”. Mr Baker underscores his anger by saying “The council would be greatly improved if they banned people with a preference for cardigans and twin-sets from membership.”

Read all about it. You might have to subscribe to a free monthly subscription to It’s worth it.

AAP news agency threatens legal action

By Barry Tucker                    19 September, 2013

The operator of a Facebook page, People for Schapelle Corby’s Page, says the news agency AAP has threatened a citizen with legal action following a series of exchanges.

The unnamed citizen originally complained to AAP about a reference in an ABC news story to Ms Corby being fined for “secondary indiscretions in jail”.

An AAP journalist responded:

“After reading the ABC story attached to your complaint, it is clear to me that the ABC has altered what AAP reported, but attributed the ABC’s reporting of this case to AAP.  I “NEVER” reported that Schapelle Corby had been fined for “secondary indiscretions”. I only ever reported what the Bali Prosecutor’s office told AAP, which was that the fine paid last week was a condition of Corby’s original sentence.”

This cartoon appeared on the Facebook page.

This cartoon appeared on the Facebook page.

The ABC News/Radio Australia/Australia Network reported the story under this headline:

Indonesian reports suggest prison warden has signed review of Corby parole

The ABC story was first posted on Wed 11 Sep 2013, 1:20am AEST. It was updated Tue 17 Sep 2013, 6:12pm AEST and this footnote was added:

[Editor’s note: (September 17) Our original article incorrectly reported that Schapelle Corby had been fined for “secondary indiscretions in jail” and attributed the information to Australian Associated Press (AAP)]

But this story, on the ABC’s Radio Australia website, contains the original error. It has not been corrected and does not carry the Editor’s note quoted above.

It seems that only the ABC misinterpreted the AAP story, apparently mistaking “secondary” for a second offence while in jail. The $A10,000 fine was part of the original sentence.

A Google search result shows numerous news outlets reported the fine had been paid, but none refers to a secondary offence while in jail.

On 10 September, 2013, BigPond News online website reported the fine being paid and, after beating up the intro, attributed the story to AAP.

Another report of Schapelle Corby’s relatives paying her fine appeared on, on 10 September, 2013. The story was bylined By Pazis, but the source was attributed to (a Fairfax website):

Corby pays $10,000 cash ahead of parole By  on Sep 10, 2013

Yahoo!7 News published a video report on the story at 6.02am on 11 September, 2013, but that video may have expired because it will not download.

You can read the Facebook account of the affair here.

Comment: News organisations are sensitive about accusations of inaccuracy because it goes directly to perceptions of their reliability. In this case, the ABC corrected its error, although it took a week to do that. In other cases, notably criticism of the former federal Labor government and former PM Julia Gillard in particular, the ABC has resisted admitting to mistakes, bias or unfairness and to apologising for them. This attitude does not serve the organisation’s best interests.

The Facebook entry says the citizen complained to the ABC’s Managing Director, Mark Scott, and the entire board, asking for an explanation, and demanding an apology to Schapelle Corby and her family.

No response had been received by this afternoon. A response is not likely either because the ABC’s complaints procedure was not followed. Those procedures, or links to them, can be found on this resource centre. See Regulatory Bodies, or the ABC entries.

I am trying to get a copy of the AAP email so that I can judge the level of the threat of legal action. The Facebook entry says an injunction was referred to. It may be that AAP, which was not responsible for the error made by the ABC, feels the volume and strength of the exchange of correspondence was excessive. This is a symptom of the frustration that people are experiencing in dealing with Australia’s news media and the diversity of the complaints procedures. Given the nature of the new federal government, this is likely to get worse rather than improve.

A journalist with an agenda

Comment and compilation
By Barry Tucker                    19 September, 2013

An ABC radio presenter and wife of a former* News Corp editor appears to be running a vendetta against Schapelle Corby.

Miss Corby was sentenced to 20 years jail in Indonesia in 2005 for attempting to import 4.2 kg of cannabis, concealed in her boogie board bag. She has always maintained her innocence. Ms Corby was in the news again recently due to reports of further steps being taken to have her released on parole.

Three days ago the independent Mathaba News Agency reported on a column in Brisbane’s The Courier-Mail (News Corp) by ABC journalist and presenter Madonna King.

The story was headlined “Don’t be fooled by Schapelle Corby’s misguided fan club”.

Ms King’s husband, David Fagan, was* until recently the editor of The Courier-Mail. Ms King has a regular column in the paper and has written about Ms Corby on a number of occasions. She is the joint author, with Cindy Wockner, of “Bali 9: The Untold Story”. Ms Wockner is a freelance journalist who also writes for News Corp publications. Ms King and Ms Wockner have Twitter accounts.

What could be Ms King’s reason for running a vendetta against Schapelle Corby? She is not the only Australian journalist who appears to be anxious to maintain the impression in the public mind that Ms Corby is guilty as charged. These journalists and authors also maintain that claims Ms Corby’s boogie board bag was being used by a ring of drug smugglers operating in Australian airports are a fiction. Ms Corby’s defenders claim that corrupt activities at Australian airports are being covered up to hide embarrassing details about slack security arrangements.

Madonna King

Madonna King

Ms King appears to have something of an obsession with Schapelle Corby’s looks. She refers to her doe-eyed appearance, as if Ms Corby is using her wide-eyed innocence to hide guilt.

In The Courier-Mail column linked above, Ms King makes a comparison between Schapelle and Renae Lawrence, one of the Bali 9.

“Her case, just as heartbreaking for her family as Corby’s is to hers, doesn’t rank the same attention or sympathy,” Ms King writes.

“Could that be because she’s not as attractive as Corby?”

Could it be that Ms King is envious of Schapelle Corby’s looks? A cartoon accompanying her column mocks Ms Corby’s wide-eyed facial features. It’s not an attractive look when a newspaper ridicules and humiliates the defenceless, but that is the kind of low journalism we have come to expect from the Murdoch news media.

Using the law to hound, imprison or bankrupt political enemies has become the standard tool of neoConservative politics, one that has been effectively used by the Australian Liberal Party under its leader, Tony Abbott.

The news media behaviour in the Corby case has always reminded me of the Lindy Chamberlain case. Mrs Chamberlain (as she was then) claimed her baby, Azaria, was taken by a dingo at the Uluru (Ayers Rock) camp site. The bulk of the news media assumed Mrs Chamberlain was guilty, evidence was mishandled, auto paint was misidentified as human blood. It took decades and a number of retrials and inquiries before Mrs Chamberlain was proven to be innocent.

See also Was Schapelle Corby “sacrificed”? in this blog. That story contains links to The Expendable Project and other sources.

CORRECTION (22 September, 2013): This article originally referred to Ms King’s husband, David Fagan, as being the Editor of The Courier-Mail. News Corp announced his “removal” from the position of Queensland Editorial Director on June 13, 2013. He was previously Editor of The Courier-Mail. See this ABC News item for further details.

Claims emerge of opinion poll rigging


By Barry Tucker                    31 August, 2013

Evidence has emerged that at least some opinion polls are rigged. In one case, a journalist is alleged to have skewed his story to suit the agenda of his boss.

Earlier this week mining millionaire Clive Palmer said he gave large amounts of money to polling companies when he was a director of Queensland’s Liberal National Party (LNP*).

The Murdoch owned The Australian’s online edition quoted Mr Palmer as saying: “When I was a former party director there were polling companies that I used to give large donations to and they’d write the results for them [polls],” he said. This quote is not accurate. A transcript shows Mr Palmer was interrupted and The Australian’s journalist completed his remark for him.

The paper was reporting on Mr Palmer’s appearance on ABC TV’s Lateline on Tuesday night, 27 August. The link above takes you to a video replay and a transcript.

This is the exchange from the transcript of the Lateline interview:

“EMMA ALBERICI: In 11 days time you expect to win as many as 15 seats at the election, what gives you that confidence given the latest Channel seven ReachTEL poll has you winning no seats at all?

CLIVE PALMER: ReachTEL never have you winning anything. When I was former party director there were polling companies I used to give large donations to and they would write …

EMMA ALBERICI: Are you saying the polling’s rigged?

CLIVE PALMER: Of course the polling’s rigged. Rupert Murdoch owns Galaxy** poll and Newspoll and the media tries to set the agenda and determines the result of an election before it’s been held. That’s not a democracy, it’s up to the people.”

In today’s online magazine Crikey, senior journalist Andrew Crook wrote that Murdoch’s The Daily Telegraph has been caught out “spinning” the result of a Galaxy poll “designed to sledge Labor’s National Broadband Network” (NBN). Mr Crook did not say who had caught out Galaxy. Presumably it is himself.***

Mr Crook also points out that the poll was financed by listed virtual office company Servcorp, but this is not declared in the Telegraph story on the poll’s findings. Mr Crook also mentions that Servcorp has donated more than $1 million to the federal Liberal Coalition (the Opposition parties), although he states these donations do not appear in the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) website. Cash donations to political parties have to be declared to the AEC and stories are emerging that donations totalling many millions have not been reported.

Labor watcher and biographer Bob Ellis has been running a series of articles on his blog and in online magazine Independent Australia (IA), claiming polls are being rigged. Mr Ellis and supporters also conduct small flash polling in limited areas. In an IA article published yesterday, Mr Ellis reported on a conversation he had with an unnamed Newspoll employee.

The story begins with a segment from the Lateline interview referred to above. Scroll down for the Newspoll conversation.

See also: Can news media influence election outcome?

* The Liberal National Party (LNP) is the Queensland version of National Party of Australia (the Nationals), the coalition partner of the Liberal/National federal Opposition.

 ** I am not sure that Murdoch owns Galaxy Research. Wikipedia says its poll results are published in Murdoch newspapers:  Herald-Sun, Courier-Mail and The Daily Telegraph. Newspoll data are published in The Australian.

*** On 4 October, 2007, Crikey’s Peter Brent reported on polling, under the headline: Forget the election contest, look at the pollsters

Update, 21 March, 2014

I have read a few academic articles that have wrestled with the question of what, if anything, drives the opinion polls. It’s a struggle that usually ends in an unsatisfying draw, the learned “judges” being unable to decide the matter.

On Monday, 17 March, 2014, I tweeted the following:

My tweet

Blogger and former Liberal party insider Paula Matthewson took up the issue with an article in The Hoopla the following day. In a brief piece, Ms Matthewson did what the academics and researchers have not been able to do. It’s simple psychology stupid. And a fair bit of logic.