The unbelievable Andrew Bolt

Comment and analysis

By Barry Tucker                    22 November, 2013

Andrew Bolt is an experienced and senior journalist, a former editor and, today, a newspaper columnist who has his own TV show (The Bolt Report). He is a paid propagandist for media mogul Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp and, on Channel 10, for Murdoch and mining magnate Gina Rinehart — both climate change/global warming denialists.

In Australia and in the UK Murdoch is opposed to the taxpayer funded Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) and the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC). He claims these organisations have an unfair advantage, they are competition (they don’t carry paid ads) and — most curious of all — they threaten the diversity that private enterprise could otherwise offer. These arguments are consistent among those who work for Murdoch, who must therefore be opposed to independent thinking. The Institute of Public Affairs, a Liberal think tank founded by Murdoch’s father Keith, and others, recommends that the ABC be broken up and sold. See items 50 and 51.

Murdoch’s arguments were put forward, with a slightly different spin, in Australia recently by another of his employees, Mary Kissel — an editorial board member of the Wall Street Journal, owned by Dow Jones & Co, a division of Murdoch’s News Corp. Kissel argues that public funding is detrimental to innovation. She does not point out that Murdoch’s near-monopoly of print media in Australia (plus TV holdings) is itself detrimental to innovation, as well as free enterprise, variety, diversity and as we have recently seen democracy itself.

Earlier today I read something that shocked and disgusted me. Not because it influenced me but because of the influence it might have on readers who are less well informed. Occasionally in TruthinNewsMedia I take a newspaper article apart, line by line. This is one of those days and the subject is the unbelievable Andrew Bolt.

Bolt wrote the article below, an “opinion” piece, in Murdoch’s Melbourne newspaper, the Herald Sun.

ABC can’t keep its big advantage over private media

THE Abbott Government has wanted to dodge the fight it must have with the ABC. It can’t afford the blood right now. It needs to establish its power and trust. And there’s Malcolm Turnbull, of course, the ABC favourite who stands guard as Communications Minister.

The above is the headline and the introduction, not necessarily written by Bolt. However, I begin there. There can be only one justification for the headline: Murdoch’s print media empire is failing, Ch10 is in trouble, and he wants to remove any competition. The ABC can keep its “big advantage” (and it should) as long as the taxpayers are prepared to pay for it. The alternative is whatever Murdoch wants to give readers and viewers. It’s strange that Murdoch and his propagandists can argue that the existing diversity is a barrier to diversity or innovation, which would disappear if he got his way. A monopoly is no incentive to provide diversity, innovation or outstanding service.

THE Abbott Government has wanted to dodge the fight it must have with the ABC. It can’t afford the blood right now.

If the Abbott government has wanted to dodge the fight why is News Corp trying to pick one? Is Murdoch or the government running the country? Why must it have this fight? Presumably because of the reasons I’ve already outlined.

It can’t afford the blood right now.

Indeed. The leader of the Liberal-National Party Coalition government, Tony Abbott, his Immigration Minister, Scott Morrison, and his Foreign Minister, Julie Bishop, have bungled Australia’s relationship with Indonesia because of their policy of turning back refugee boats (which Indonesia opposes) and because of Abbott’s refusal to openly apologise to Indonesia’s first family for the Australian security services hacking their mobile ‘phones, which occurred under the previous Labor government’s watch. There are many things wrong with this Abbott government and they began to emerge very soon after the 7 September federal election — especially on issues of “secrecy”. This is not the time to detail them, but Bolt is right when he says the government “can’t afford the blood right now”.

It needs to establish its power and trust.

The government is having trouble establishing its power. It won a majority of seats after the distribution of preferences, but not on the initial vote, which puts its mandate in doubt. It fought the election on promises of immediate action on stopping refugee boats and abolishing the “carbon tax”. It has done neither. Indonesia has cancelled co-operation on “boats” due to Abbott’s mishandling of diplomacy and the Labor/Green alliance in the Senate will not allow the carbon tax abolition Bills to pass, putting the country at risk of a Double Dissolution election only a few months after the last election. This government is having some difficulty establishing trust, although it promised a government of experienced (Howard era) ministers and government by “adults”. Power, as Abbott sees it, is getting Bills passed by the Lower House, where he has a considerable majority. There has been speculation for some years that Abbott will force a Double Dissolution in the hope of getting control of both Houses. God only knows why he wants such power and what he would do with it. Trust will come if he can demonstrate that he is governing for all of the people, as he promised, and not just for the Liberal party, which seems to be the case.

And there’s Malcolm Turnbull, of course, the ABC favourite who stands guard as Communications Minister.

So, apart from the government’s real problems, there’s Malcolm Turnbull, “of course”. “… of course, …” must mean that Bolt must think every reader knows what he means by that. But what does this code mean? Turnbull was Liberal leader in Opposition before Abbott beat him by a single vote (1 invalid and 2 MPs absent) on 1 December, 2009, on the issue of a carbon trading scheme which the previous Liberal government had been on the verge of introducing. Abbott previously flapped around like a fish out of water on the issue (once referring to himself as “a weather vane”). He identified a no action policy on climate change as an issue that Murdoch would support and won his backing. Since then Turnbull has been the shadow communications spokesman and is now its Minister. Turnbull, whether he believes in it or not, opposes Labor’s fibre to the home national broadband (NBN), favouring his fibre/existing copper hybrid which can be completed earlier and cheaper. Abbott and his Treasurer, Joe Hockey, have stated publicly that the ABC will not be privatised (Hockey has said any waste in the service will be cut). Presumably then, Turnbull would be in agreement with Abbott and Hockey. I haven’t seen any evidence that Turnbull is the ABC’s favourite or that he is standing guard. Government ministers have said the ABC will not be privatised. What is Turnbull supposed to be guarding against? Maybe, with the voting as close as it was, and Abbott’s messy start in switching from Opposition to government, Turnbull is a threat to Abbott’s leadership. If Abbott can’t get his carbon tax abolition Bills through the Senate, or if there’s a massive flip-flop in favour of a carbon trading scheme (also Labor’s preference) Turnbull (a previous supporter of an ETS) would be in better standing than Abbott. So he’s a potential threat to Abbott and the abolition agenda. Time will tell.

Here’s a comment from Bolt on 25 October, 2013. Bolt’s claim that the ABC “has a strong and near-uniform Leftist bias that is a breach of its charter” is laughable. This claim is often made by those on the Right. It may have been true many years ago, but it has not been the case since former Liberal Prime Minister John Howard appointed people to the ABC’s board with instructions to root out the Left bias. Earlier this year Abbott said present MD Mark Scott (one of Howard’s appointees) “still had some work to do”. That is also laughable. Since early last year I have been challenging people who make the claim of Left bias in the ABC to name just one Left-wing journalist or one program with a Leftist bias. No one has been able to do it. But the claim suits the Murdoch/IPA/Liberal party agenda. As WWII Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels said, keep repeating the lie until people accept it as the truth.

But for how much longer can the Government let the ABC run amok? I don’t just mean that the taxpayer-funded ABC has become even more stridently partisan since the election. Not satisfied with having Leftists helm every one of its main current affairs shows, it’s now screening slabs of comfort food for Labor viewers traumatised by the election result, from an hour of Julia Gillard being “interviewed” by worshipper Anne Summers to four hours of Paul Keating being adored by Kerry O’Brien. Just as concerning is how the ABC is metastasising, using our $1.1 billion a year to strangle private media outlets and stifle diversity.

The above paragraph is just plain sick. Where is the evidence that the ABC is running amok? Bolt says it has become “even more stridently partisan since the election”He has a point, to a degree. It is absolutely crystal clear that practically all of Australia’s political journalists were out to demolish the former Labor government, which was something of a national embarrassment. Job done, some journalists have focussed on the new Liberal government and they are having a picnic. Some of the stridently Right-leaning ABC journalists, Chris Uhlmann for example, have been moved on to other areas — their job of bringing down the Labor government completed. Uhlmann is producing a documentary on the past few years of Labor in government. Given his anti-Labor bias, I shudder to think how that will turn out.

The interview with Gillard was an interview (I ask the questions and you answer them), so I don’t see the need for the quotation marks. The second of the two interviews was telecast by Sky TV (1/3rd News Corp, ch7 and ch9); Bolt thinks this is irrelevant. In the reference to the O’Brien/Keating interview there is a snarky and irrelevant remark. I’ve been following these four interviews with Keating. O’Brien puts some tough questions to Keating, puts him on the spot. Keating answers directly. One criticism I could agree with, if Bolt had made it, O’Brien could dig deeper at times.

So the ABC is using its budget “to strangle private media outlets and stifle diversity”.

You would think, with his years of experience in journalism, Bolt would have learnt a few things about business. The ABC provides diversity, as everyone including Bolt knows. With its various radio, television and overseas TV service, Australia Network, it is very diverse — which costs a lot of money. The reality here is that the old newsprint business model is falling apart as people and advertising move to the interwebs*. At the same time, newspapers making this migration are having a hard time convincing people to pay for online reading material. Bolt and his boss Rupert need to toughen up, to get real. People won’t pay good money for a shit product — that’s the problem. Giving Rupert a complete monopoly by selling the ABC to him is not the answer. Mark Scott would agree. Somewhere in this resource centre is a reference to Scott quoting the UK Guardian editor, who said there can be no justification for selling publicly funded media in order to prop up a failing commercial business model**.

No healthy democracy should have a state media this dominant, with the ABC sprawling over four national TV channels and four radio networks, and now an online newspaper that gives free the kind of news and views that dying Fairfax newspapers must sell to survive. And, of course, there’s the taxpayer-funded SBS and taxpayer-funded Conversation.

The first phrase above just knocks me out. How dumb is the Australian electorate supposed to be? How dumb is Bolt if he thinks any serious-minded person could swallow that line? His boss, Murdoch, dominates the news media in this country. Bolt knows it and so do most journalists (they are not all political, of course) and even some of the readers.

The ABC’s online newspaper that Bolt refers to must be The Drum, or it could be one of the many sites for ABC radio and tv news. If it’s The Drum online he’s referring to, hell, even Bolt can post a story there but I’m sure it wouldn’t be the kind of thing Fairfax newspapers need to sell to survive. It’s curious that Bolt mentions dying Fairfax newspapers in this context and not those of his boss, or the few other surviving, smaller groups. In referring to SBS and The Conversation, Bolt ignores the fact that they are not entirely taxpayer funded and both produce a better product than anything the Murdoch empire can put out. Again, it’s a case of get rid of the competition, especially the good stuff, and leave the field clear for us to own everything and produce cheap, profitable garbage.

This week showed the danger the ABC now poses to diversity. In May, Peter Fray, former editor-in-chief of the Sydney Morning Herald, started PolitiFact Australia, a website that checked the truth of what politicians said. But while he was hiring staff, the Gillard Labor government gave the ABC a $10 million top-up, in part to create a Fact Check unit of its own in direct competition not just with PolitiFact but Fairfax’s own “Fact Checker”.

No surprise this week PolitiFact said it had cut its staff from seven full-timers to just three part-timers and even they would be gone unless some moneybags showed up.

Said Fray: “We don’t have the budget the ABC does and taxpayers’ funding.”

Taking the three paras/sentences above together, um, boo hoo. Once again, it’s an object lesson in running a successful business. First rule: Identify a need that is not being filled. Second rule: Make it profitable. Peter Fray had an idea, gave it a whirl, it wasn’t profitable. He failed, go sit in the naughty corner, think about the mistakes you made, get up and try something else. It’s how businessmen learn to run a business. You don’t learn that in Harvard Business School, as would-be moguls Warwick Fairfax, James Packer and Lachlan Murdoch discovered — very much to their cost. I’m a bit of a news and politics tragic, but I don’t think I would go so far as to visit all three of those fact-checkers to see what they decided about every story. It’s horses for courses. I don’t see the need for fact-checking departments. Journalists are supposed to check their own facts. You’d think Bolt would know that by now.

So how much longer will the Government let the ABC destroy free enterprise – and the culture that supports it?

As I’ve said before, the ABC is not out to destroy free enterprise; that is not its job. It’s flat out trying to make up for the news, variety of opinion and in-depth analysis the free enterprise news media is failing to deliver. We are fortunate to have a political system and a culture that supports a rich and multi-faceted resource like the ABC. I call it our national treasure. You would think Bolt would know that too. And you know what? I suspect he does.

Bolt was interviewed by Jane Hutcheon for ABC TV’s One Plus One, which ran on Friday night, Saturday and Sunday, 21-23 February, 2014, and was heavily promoted (and I emphasise heavily), especially throughout Saturday on ABC News24. The promo said Bolt is “one of Australia’s most powerful opinion makers”. He has columns in Murdoch newspapers, a blog site and presents the now one-hour The Bolt Report on Channel 10 on Sundays (Channel 10 is part-owned by Murdoch family members, mining billionaire Gina Rinehart and others). I fail to see the justification for the One Plus One program, especially because the interview barely dealt with the constant controversy surrounding Bolt’s views on global warming. He is either a sceptic or a denialist.

In the interview, Bolt describes himself as “a doubter” and he meant about things in general. He also said he was concerned about anyone who did not doubt, or question. In the context of “doubt”, I refer you to this article by Robert Manne***, published in The Monthly in August 2012, entitled A Dark Victory – How vested interests defeated climate science. It deals with the history of the climate change denial movement and its prime objective of creating “doubt over reason”. It refers briefly to Bolt and how he operates. Murdoch’s Fox News has been exposed in Slate for distorting facts to influence the climate change debate.

Bolt’s extended Sunday show on Channel 10 will include a News Watch segment. In an article in The Guardian online, Ch10 said the new segment would “put the media under genuine scrutiny”.

* See websites of Audit Bureau of Circulations, MuMBRELLA, Morgan Research and Essential Media for periodical figures on newspaper circulation and sales. If the declining rate continues they will disappear within five years.

** UK Guardian Editor Alan Rusbridger, in the Cudlipp lecture, January 2010.

*** Robert Manne is Emeritus Professor and Vice-Chancellor’s Fellow at La Trobe University and has twice been voted Australia’s leading public intellectual. He is the author of Left, Right, Left: Political Essays, 1977–2005 and Making Trouble.

Further reading. Professor John Quiggin (@JohnQuiggin), an economist at the University of Queensland, does battle with Bolt on global warming/climate change and other matters. In his latest blog, Quiggin provides a list of what he calls “Bolt’s greatest hits, or rather misses”. Links are provided to them and comments appear below.

Anne Summers profiled Bolt for The Monthly in 2011. See here for reviews of the Summers article.

Mainstream news media largely ignored the March in March protests of March 15-17, but those who did report it focused mainly on a few rude and offensive signs. Bolt referred to some of these signs in his 16 March column, including one banner that said: “RESIGN, DICKHEAD”. Lyndon Morley, who created that banner, has responded on his website lyndonmorley.com. The article was reproduced on the news magazine IndependentAustralia.

I am constantly being told to ignore Bolt because his opinions do not matter and they appeal to a small audience. I have a different view, which is expressed in Morley’s response.

Update, 19 March, 2014. A controversy has emerged over an appearance on the ABC’s Q&A of Professor Marcia Langton and Andrew Bolt. Bolt took exception to a remark by Langton. He claimed she had called him a racist and he demanded an apology. This is an ongoing debate and the incident and subsequent comments may be subject to legal actions. There is a wealth of material available by searching Google. For that reason and because the matter is continuing and unresolved it will not be reported on here. It may be subsequently summarised when it is resolved.

Update, 27 March, 2014. Writing in NewMatilda, Ben Eltham describes how the needs of one man, Andrew Bolt, is causing the federal government to rewrite discrimination law, especially Section 18C and related sections of the Racial Discrimination Act. The article includes a comment by Human Rights Commissioner Gillian Triggs.

In The Sydney Morning Herald today, Peter Hartcher and James Massola report that the original draft of proposed changes to the Racial Discrimination Act by Attorney-General Senator George Brandis was rejected by Cabinet and his Bill has been watered down and changed to an exposure draft, for public debate.

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It’s payback time in the Press Gallery

Comment

By Barry Tucker                    27 September, 2013

There’s a new extreme Right wing government in power in Canberra and many would say a biased news media in general put it there.

Observers will now be watching closely to see who in the Parliamentary Press Gallery is rewarded for their services.

Crikey.com’s media journalist Matthew Knott has been asking around and has put together an interesting and insightful piece on who’s who in the Press Gallery and who’s likely to get what.

If the link doesn’t give you access, you can subscribe to a free monthly subscription to Crikey.com, including its daily email digest. This is not a free ad or a contra deal. I am a paid up subscriber.

Claims emerge of opinion poll rigging

Compilation

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.

Is Rupert Murdoch planning a home coming?

By Barry Tucker                   29 August, 2013

Rodney E. Lever once worked for Rupert Murdoch and is today a Murdoch watcher, commentator and blogger.

In an article in online magazine Independent Australia, Mr Lever writes about some of the pressures building up around Murdoch and his influence on news coverage during Australia’s current federal election campaign.

Murdoch, born in Melbourne, traded his Australian citizenship to comply with rules affecting ownership of USA television companies. Mr Lever speculates that Murdoch is backing a Liberal election win because a Liberal government would welcome him back but a Labor government would not. It’s a long bow, in my opinion, but it’s always interesting to read Mr Lever for his opinions and insights.

Here’s another point of view, from The Australian Financial Review’s Neil Chenoweth, author of three books on Murdoch, the latest being Murdoch’s Pirates. He is talking to the ABC’s Richard Aedy on Radio National’s Media Report, 30 August, 2013.

The ABC MP3 audio file has headlines first, then the interview with Mr Chenoweth.

Public comments on media bias

Comment by Barry Tucker                   25 August, 2013

Nazis2

You might say the picture above is funny. You might say “Ha. Get over it.” When you consider that it’s one in a series of front pages denigrating the federal Labor government your opinion might change, even a little.

The Daily Telegraph front page cartoons have been causing a stir. Only one has resulted in a ruling, ordering an apology, by the Australian Press Council. That does not mean that only one has been the subject of a complaint.

The one above drew a complaint from Labor Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, the man depicted as a Nazi officer. His complaint was met with derision from Right-wing politicians and commentators. They claimed Mr Rudd was exaggerating and trying to deflect attention onto the national broadband issue and away from himself. The Murdoch news media campaign against Labor has been running since mid-2009. Murdoch previously supported Rudd.

The ABC News website ran the picture, a brief story (with links) and invited readers to comment.

Read all about it.

Newsagent refuses to sell Murdoch’s Telegraph

By Barry Tucker                    7 August, 2013

A newsagent couple in a small New South Wales town have refused to sell The Daily Telegraph of August 5, 2013, because of its biased front page.

Gareth Gardner photo 050813GGF01

Gareth Gardner photo 050813GGF01

Glen and Kim Sheluchin (above) said they were refusing to sell the edition as a protest. Mr Sheluchin rang the paper’s Sydney office to tell them about the decision.

Mrs Sheluchin is a former Liberal voter who now supports the Labor Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd.

She said her decision to withdraw the edition would have been the same if the cover had been biased against the Liberal Opposition.

Mr Sheluchin said he didn’t appreciate a newspaper telling him how to vote.

“A paper is there to provide us with information so we can form our own decisions,” he said.

The Sheluchin’s store is in Wallabadah, a small township off The New England Highway, well inland from Port Macquarie and 74 km south of Tamworth.

The full story and the picture above was published in Tamworth’s The Northern Daily Leader (a Fairfax publication) today.

Read all about it.

The Daily Telegraph went further with its Thursday, 8 August, edition. A poor quality picture of the front page appeared on Twitter at about 11 pm and attracted considerable outrage.

Tele 1

The faces belong to Anthony Albanese (L), Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Communications (media), Craig Thomson, former Labor MP now Independent, and the Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd. The uniforms and insignia are those of WWII Germany. Thomson is wearing a US Air Force cap.

The DT’s treatment of the story relates to the fact that Craig Thomson was suspended from the party because of allegations of misusing his union credit card. Those matters are before the court.

After resuming the Prime Ministership recently, Mr Rudd brought on a national intervention in the affairs of the NSW branch of the Labor party due to other matters that were about to be reported on by the NSW ICAC (corruption commission).

Those matters did not involve Mr Thomson. Mr Rudd’s move, along with other decisions he announced, was designed to improve Labor’s image ahead of the general election on 7 September, 2013.

The Daily Telegraph story said the fact that Mr Albanese had a beer with Mr Thomson made a mockery of Mr Rudd’s efforts to reform the party.

Tele 2

The image above appeared on The Daily Telegraph’s website. The small inset purports to be a photograph of Mr Albanese (L) and Mr Thomson drinking together.

The picture was overlaid with this caption:

THOMMO’S HEROES: SGT ALBO SAYS ‘I KNOW NUTHINK!’ ABOUT HIS BEERS WITH CRAIG
A SECRET meeting for beers between Deputy Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and Labor pariah Craig Thomson has undermined PM Kevin Rudd’s claims he is forging “a new way” for the ALP.

You can read the full story, if you want to.

Update, Friday, 9 August

And then the idea began to catch on:

Catchy

The CEO of News Corp, Kim Williams, today announced his resignation, after 20 years service, effective this weekend. Media site mUmBRELLA has a good coverage of the story.

An appeal for decency

Comment by Barry Tucker                    5 July, 2013

The Victorian Women’s Trust today ran full page newspaper ads critical of Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, Opposition Leader Tony Abbott and certain sections of the mainstream news media (MSM) for their attitude and behaviour towards Australia’s first female Prime Minister, Julia Gillard.

The ad said the 2010 election delivered a hung parliament, but one that governed full-term and effectively with the support of two key independents.

“However, from the outset, and despite its democratic legitimacy, the Gillard-led minority government sparked an unheralded series of hostile reactions from different quarters across the country.

“An Opposition Leader, stung by being denied what he saw as his due, proceeded to launch a ‘seek and destroy’ mission centred on opportunistic appeals to people’s prejudices and fears. A deposed Prime Minister, stung from being removed so decisively by a Caucus that had lost faith in his capacity, spent the next three years currying allies on a parallel treacherous
‘seek and destroy’ mission – with Prime Minister Gillard squarely in his sights.

“Significant sections of the mainstream media fuelled these separate but powerful agendas by refusing to accept the legitimacy of the minority government with Julia Gillard at the helm. Her many achievements went largely unproclaimed while her mistakes were amplified — and continually referenced. Instead of delivering dispassionate reporting, seasoned journalists and broadcasters became players in the game.”

The sentiment contained in the ad is one of the neatest summaries of the past three years that I have read. It concludes with an appeal for a return to decency in Australian society.

Read the advertisement in full. The ad may appear as a .pdf file and it may not. It takes about two minutes to download and your browser may time out. I’ve reproduced the text of the ad below.*

Mary Crooks AO, is executive director of Victorian Women’s Trust and author of A Switch in Time — restoring respect to Australian politics, which you can download here.

Biased news reporting in action

Incidentally, the ABC News Radio report on the advertisements gives observers of news media a chance to see cherry picking, spin and bias in action. If you read the advertisement first and then read the ABC story you can clearly see what the reporter has done.

1. Criticism of the Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, is used for the introduction of the story, although the advertisement is equally critical of the Opposition Leader, Tony Abbott, and the MSM.

2. The phrase “seek and destroy” is used in relation to Mr Rudd although, in the advertisement, it is first used against Mr Abbott. The ABC story does not say this phrase was also applied to Mr Abbott.

3. References to biased and unbalanced reporting by the MSM, of which the ABC is part, is pushed further down in the story than it is in the advertisement.

4. The ABC story begins and ends with references to Mr Rudd.

The main fact of the story — the full page newspaper ads — is news. The criticism of Rudd, Abbott and the MSM is nothing new. As a journalist, I would have made more of the advertisement’s appeal for a return to decency in Australian society. That is the news — that is where, hopefully, we are headed.

*A copy of the ad.

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Credit where credit is due

WE HAVE all witnessed something
extraordinary in Australian politics over
the past three years.
The 43rd parliament came to a close with the
removal of Julia Gillard as the nation’s first
female Prime Minister: the first woman ever to
hold the position after one hundred and ten years
of federal political leadership that saw 26 male
Prime Ministers elevated to the highest office.
The frenzy of the forthcoming federal election
campaign will change the nation’s focus. Before
it’s too late, we want to pay public tribute to those
who made this period of democratic minority
government a successful one – against the odds.
The federal election of 2010 delivered a hung
parliament. Prime Minister Gillard successfully
negotiated and formed a minority government,
the fourteenth in our history. This coalition of
the ALP, Independents and the Greens, opted to
provide careful, thoughtful, stable government
for a full term, so that our national government
could get on with the business of governing in
the national interest. And it did just that.
However, from the outset, and despite its
democratic legitimacy, the Gillard-led minority
government sparked an unheralded series of
hostile reactions from different quarters across
the country.
An Opposition Leader, stung by being denied
what he saw as his due, proceeded to launch
a ‘seek and destroy’ mission centred on
opportunistic appeals to people’s prejudices and
fears. A deposed Prime Minister, stung from
being removed so decisively by a Caucus that
had lost faith in his capacity, spent the next three
years currying allies on a parallel treacherous
‘seek and destroy’ mission – with Prime Minister
Gillard squarely in his sights.
Significant sections of the mainstream media
fuelled these separate but powerful agendas by
refusing to accept the legitimacy of the minority
government with Julia Gillard at the helm. Her
many achievements went largely unproclaimed

while her mistakes were amplified – and
continually referenced. Instead of delivering
dispassionate reporting, seasoned journalists
and broadcasters became players in the game.
Low showing in opinion polls was attributed to
her poor communication and her government’s
performance, without factoring in the damaging
impact of the on-going duplicity within her
own party. The very day in March this year that
Prime Minister Gillard delivered a majestic
Sorry speech on forced adoptions, a speech that
belongs to the store of great national oratory, she
had to contend with yet another destabilising
leadership meeting at which her opponent failed
to declare himself.

The ensuing toxic political discourse
surrounding the Prime Minister and the
minority government gave public licence
across the community, online and elsewhere,
for an unprecedented campaign of sexist
and chauvinist abuse, denigration, double
standards, gross disrespect for the office of
Prime Minister and gross disrespect for her as
a person.
It has been a fraught political environment
and we remain baffled by several of the Gillard
government’s policies – on immigration and
asylum seekers, reducing economic support for
single parents and the Prime Minister’s position
on same–sex marriage. By and large, however,
she has displayed an enormous capacity and
style of effective leadership rarely seen in
parliamentary leaders across the political
spectrum. She oversaw the introduction of a
raft of impressive and far-reaching legislation,
showing high-order negotiation skill, sharp
intelligence and a great ability to command
strategy and detail across complex issues.
Much of this legislation is nation-building,
addressing our common future as Australians
– the introduction of a carbon price, the roll
out of a National Broadband Network, The
Murray-Darling Basin Plan, a ground-breaking
National Disability Insurance Scheme, a much
more equitable model for funding primary and
secondary education, a national paid parental
leave scheme, and the establishment of the
Royal Commission into Child Sexual Abuse.
There were many more reforms. Achievements
in foreign policy, including Prime Minister
Gillard negotiating the basis for future high
level discussions with China, were notable and
more far-reaching than those of her recent
predecessors.

On her watch as the nation’s Prime Minister,
our growing economy has been the envy of the
world – low unemployment, low interest rates,
low inflation and triple-A credit ratings.
We salute former Prime Minister Julia Gillard
for getting on with the business of governing
for us, the people; for the skilful negotiation,
resolve and the leadership required to maintain
the confidence of the Lower House; for steering
the government through a full term; for enabling
close to 500 pieces of legislation to be passed; for
introducing significant and visionary reforms
that will deliver great benefit to the Australian
people in the time to come; and for remaining
strong and poised when everything bar the
kitchen sink was thrown at her.
We pay tribute to those male and female
colleagues who worked with her on the nation’s
behalf, respected her capacity and gave her the
loyalty she deserved.

We pay tribute to retiring Independents Tony
Windsor and Rob Oakeshott for their true
independence, their courage and hard work in
upholding democratic values; and for enduring
with dignity, the threatening abuse aimed at
them, their partners and staff.
The success of this minority government has
come at a significant cost.
The past three years have led to a great loss
of civility and common decency, a poisonous
political discourse and a downturn in respect
for our leaders. We now have a climate in which
people willingly and disrespectfully attack
one another in anonymous and often vitriolic
commentary that is no substitute for mature
democratic debate. There is a jaded cynicism
and a sense of deep despair and powerlessness
across much of the community.
With men now back in their perceived ‘rightful
place’ as political leaders of both the government
and Opposition there will be little gendered
attack in political circles. But the seams of
aggressive contempt and sexist abuse that lay
beneath everyday life and which surfaced with
Julia Gillard’s elevation as Prime Minister, have
not gone away.

We have just lost our very first woman Prime
Minister – a woman with a great sense of
purpose and skill, a true reformer. Julia Gillard’s
final observation, in a speech of supreme grace,
was that her experience as the country’s first
female Prime Minister will make it easier for the
next woman, and the next and the next. If this
proves to be the case, she will deserve further
recognition and gratitude.
Smoother passage for the generations of younger
women coming through the ranks will only come
about with more commitment – changes within
political parties themselves, a greater focus on
the benefits to be gained from gender equality,
cultural change that reduces violent abuse and
sexism and social action at many levels of our
society.
The truly ugly aspect of our national life revealed
by the past three years should give cause for us
all to reflect on what else is required to restore
and maintain respect, civility, common decency
and a fair go for women – in our society and in
our democratic politics.

Mary Crooks AO                  Diana Batzias
Executive Director                 Acting Convenor
Victorian Women’s Trust      Victorian Women’s Trust
Author of A Switch in Time
http://www.vwt.org.au

The Board and staff of the Victorian Women’s
Trust wish to thank the generous and thoughtful
women who provided us with the funds to place
this statement on the public record – without
the privilege of tax deductibility