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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News Corp’s role in Labor’s defeat

News Corp newspapers played a significant role in the defeat of Labor in the 2013 federal election, according to a Kevin Rudd (former PM) insider.

In a book to be released on 4 November, 2013, Bruce Hawker, one of Rudd’s closest advisers, describes the efforts that were made to regain the support of News Corp in the lead-up to the election campaign.

Hawker says News Corp’s anti-Rudd, anti-Labor campaign (some of which appears on this website) did Opposition Leader Tony Abbott’s dirty work, which meant Abbott could appear to be playing a positive role.

“News Corp is easily the most powerful political force in Australia – bigger than the major parties or the combined weight of the unions … I saw how, on a daily basis, the storm of negative stories that emanated from News Corp papers blew our campaign off course,” Hawker writes.

Murdoch supported Rudd as Opposition Leader during the election campaign that won government for Labor in 2007 but withdrew this support as Labor went down in opinion polls during 2010. Abbott was elected Liberal Parliamentary Party leader on December 1, 2009.

You can read more about the book, The Rudd Rebellion: The Campaign to Save Labor, in an article in the Guardian by Lenore Taylor.

Follow Hawker on Twitter @brucehawker2010

War on ABC continues

By Barry Tucker                    1 November, 2013

Mary Kissel is in Australia to speak at the Public Knowledge Forum on the state of the news media. She is not a fan of publicly funded news organisations like the ABC.

Mary Kissel

Mary Kissel

That’s not surprising. She is on the editorial board of the Wall Street Journal, owned by Dow Jones & Co, a division of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. Murdoch doesn’t like the publicly funded BBC or the ABC either.

Murdoch says the BBC is unfair competition to his (majority owned) BSkyB satellite and mobile phone operation. Kissel’s spin on this is that public funding is detrimental to innovation.

Kissel is in Australia as the guest of the US Studies Centre. The Public Knowledge Forum is an international seminar on the connection between the rapidly changing news media landscape and democracy.

You can read more on this in an interview with Andrea Carson, Honorary Research Fellow, Centre for Advancing Journalism, University of Melbourne, for The Conversation.

You can also read Kissel’s article on an interview she had with then Opposition Leader Tony Abbott.

Update, 21 November, 2013

Opinion and Comment

Yesterday, the News Corp empire in Australia rocked the world of journalism by releasing details of salaries of the ABC’s top political journalists and presenters.

According to Crikey.com the story was broken by Sarah Martin, a political reporter on Murdoch’s Adelaide Advertiser. You can read the Crikey version, including reaction by ABC MD Mark Scott and the list of salaries.

Some Twitter followers speculated that the salary data was released to destabilise ABC staff and provide information for commercial outlets that might want to poach ABC staff.

Rupert Murdoch’s campaign against the ABC rolled on today with an opinion piece in Melbourne’s Herald Sun by one of its former editors, Andrew Bolt.

Those who are aware of what is happening to Murdoch’s Australian newspapers (in terms of paid circulation and paywall income*) will find Bolt’s “opinions” laughable. Unfortunately, those who are less well informed might swallow his garbage. *See articles in Crikey.com, mUmBRELLA, Audit Bureau of Circulations or Nielsen Online Ratings for details.

The real threat to democracy in Australia is the near-monopoly and distortion in the News Corp news media. In a massive statement of hypocrisy, Bolt refers to the ABC’s nation-wide coverage: “No healthy democracy should have a state media this dominant …” His article is wildly inaccurate and misleading. He does not refer to the vast newspaper ownership of his boss, or to his interests in radio and television, free to air and subscriber based.

The bias and “projection” in Bolt’s article has to be read to be believed — not that any of it is believable.

Update, 24 November, 2013.

An article in today’s Guardian says the office of former Liberal MP and current Family First MP Robert Brokenshire was the source of the ABC salary material that was leaked to Rupert Murdoch’s Adelaide Advertiser. ABC MD Mark Scott says the material was sent to Brokenshire in October 2012. Its release now makes it part of the usual coordinated Murdoch campaign across a broad front.

The leaking of ABC salaries has now been conflated with News Corp’s attack on the ABC and the Guardian for releasing the spying information that has led to a diplomatic incident between Australia and Indonesia.

Miranda Devine, a columnist on News Corp’s The Daily Telegraph, expressed her opinion on the two stories yesterday.

After reading Ms Devine’s piece you might like to visit this analysis of it on the Loon Pond blog.

See also my analysis of an article by The unbelievable Andrew Bolt. Compare the Bolt story with Ms Devine’s column to get a measure of the coordinated attack that News Corp is running.

Update, 25 November, 2013

An AAP story published on the Yahoo!7 website today says the Family First office staffer who released the ABC salaries to News Corp has been suspended for a day, pending further action.

Family First MP Robert Brokenshire apologised to ABC staff for the leak.

The AAP story says:

“A Senate estimates hearing found several years ago that it wasn’t in the public interest to release the ABC’s payroll information.

“However, a News Corp spokesman defended the publication of the information. ‘The ABC is a publicly-funded organisation. The news story in The Australian today is in the public interest,’ he said last week.”

Update, 26 November, 2013

News Corp columnists Janet Albrechtsen and Andrew Bolt continued their attack on the ABC today, this time referring to the corporation’s release of spying data in combination with the online Guardian. Ms Albrechtsen called for ABC MD Mark Scott’s resignation. Bolt wrote an hysterical attack piece that is funnier than anything I ever read in Mad Magazine.

It’s also hyper-hypocritical. Bolt released spying details in the Howard government era, according to Margo Kingston. Scroll down to the fourth para below the second picture. Incredible!

Albrechtsen’s column.

Bolt’s column.

Update, 3 December, 2013

ABC MD Mark Scott today said the ABC has come under a concentrated attack by News Corp over the release of the Indonesian spying story. Read his comments in on-line media magazine mUmBRELLA.

Update, 5 December, 2013

The campaign goes on, with former ABC senior executives, politicians and others joining in the attack, some calling for an inquiry and some for reduced funding.

Here are some of the latest stories:

• MD Mark Scott defends ABC independence, the Guardian.

How the ABC should serve the national interest, Ben Eltham, New Matilda.

In defence of an independent ABC, Amanda Meade, the Guardian.

Update, 9 December, 2013

Ian McAuley is an adjunct lecturer in public sector finance at the University of Canberra and a fellow at the Centre for Policy Development. In an article in New Matilda today he exposes the nonsensical argument that the Liberals and News Corp are using against the ABC.

Update, 11 December, 2013

ABC chairman Jim Spigelman today told the National Press Club in Canberra a number of external audits into alleged political bias in ABC reporting are under way. He said the results will be published.

• Watch the replay of the ABC telecast of Spigelman’s address.

Read a report of Spigelman’s comments by Johnathan Swan in Melbourne’s The Age (Fairfax).

Read a report of Spigelman’s address to the National Press Club by Crikey’s Media Editor Matthew Knott.

Update, 3 February, 2014

ABC radio’s PM presenter Mark Colvin interviews federal LNP Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull on the proposed inquiry into cost and efficiencies of the ABC.

The journalists’ union issued a statement on January 30, 2014, calling on government leader Tony Abbott to declare support for an independent ABC and its journalists.

The Institute of Public Affairs (IPA) executive director John Roskam advocates selling the ABC.

Update, 14 March, 2014

Two audits by senior journalists into alleged bias in ABC news and current affairs have concluded with no significant findings of bias, but with evidence of failing to check some details.

A Google search result for stories related to the two audits.

Update, 17 September, 2014

“Conservative commentator” Janet Albrechtsen (referenced above), an arch critic of the ABC and a former board member, was appointed to the panel that oversees ABC board member selection on 2 July, 2014. It is claimed her selection was not a party or government decision but done at arm’s length. Her partner, Michael Kroger, is another Liberal party warrior.

Fiona Stanley is a research professor, UWA, a Vice Chancellor’s Fellow, Melbourne university, and an ABC board member. In an article in The Sydney Morning Herald today, Stanley wrote about the value of the ABC to the Australian community.

Update, 1 December, 2014

The ABC’s Lateline presenter and interviewer Emma Alberici has detailed the economic situation faced by commercial news media and compared their service and output with that provided by the ABC.

Alberici provides researched facts, something the ABC’s critics rarely manage to do. In doing so she exposes the lies and the hypocrisy of the mainly Rupert Murdoch owned newspaper campaign against the ABC.

Alberici’s article appeared on the ABC’s The Drum website.

The ABC is not the only public broadcaster under attack from Murdoch. The Guardian’s Antony Loewenstein says it is happening globally.

Update, 4 December 2014

The ABC is expected to retrench 100 journalists as part of its “efficiency dividend”, a euphemism for budget cuts. Remaining journalists will have to work harder to provide same coverage and adapt to some new programs and schedules — the opposite to an efficiency dividend.

An efficiency dividend (budget cut) can be made when it is shown efficiency has improved and existing staff and budget is surplus to requirements. The ABC is being forced to make savings that are being imposed across the board.

Popular veteran and sometime employee rep on the ABC board, Quentin Dempster, has had his Friday night Statewide 7.30 report cancelled and finishes up tomorrow. He’s leaving the organisation.

Senior foreign correspondent Trevor Bormann resigned last month in advance of details of the cuts, describing the ABC as “confusing and dysfunctional”.

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.

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.

Nazis2

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.

Murdochtweet

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.

FDR2

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.

Bias in the Canberra Press Gallery

Political opinion by Barry Tucker                    20 August, 2013

This opinion piece may seem to be simplistic and it may seem to be biased. Having looked at the problem for many months, I am satisfied that what I am about to write is true and I will do my best to keep my personal bias (pro Labor) under control.

Allegations of anti federal Labor government bias in the Canberra Press Gallery are not new. I am not aware of any statistical analysis that would support or disprove these claims. Anyone’s impression of bias relies on casual observance, personal bias and a lack of carefully compiled evidence. Therefore, the allegations cannot be proven and must be formed by emotional reaction due to personal bias.

Proving bias is extremely difficult. The researcher would have to collect and study all of the radio and tv broadcasts of commercial stations, the ABC and the SBS, the major and minor newspapers (their social, financial and even their sports pages in addition to the main news pages), the news agencies (AAP, etc), their interweb equivalents including the webzines (Crikey.com, The Monthly, etc) and the tweets and blogs of their staff. It’s a monumental task to collect the data and a strictly impartial approach is required to interpret it accurately.

Bias can be hard for the casual observer to judge accurately because impressions are coloured by personal bias. One negative comment may be interpreted as “totally biased”. Some think ‘if you’re not 100 percent behind us, you must be biased’. My opinion of which journalists are biased, and which way, varies from time to time. Suffice to say, if a journalist is consistently and persistently biased in favour of the Left or the Right then you have a proven case. I could name several who fit the category and I am sure you could too.

Journalists vary their approach to interviewees, depending on many things: length of interview, time allowed for broadcast, time to pass before deadline (urgency), set questions, outdoor ambush, breaking story or follow-up and their opinion of whether the subject is inclined to be evasive. These variations can form an impression in the mind of the observer. Proof of bias can be found by comparing what the journalist writes subsequently with what you witnessed during the interview — if you watched the interview or ambush (or door stopper).

That was a cautionary backgrounder. Now to get to the point.

It’s my opinion that the anti-government bias that seems to dominate political news reporting can be sourced to policy stuff-ups during the first Rudd PM era. Two things need to be taken into account here. 1) This was a new government and new governments are likely to make mistakes. That’s not an excuse, it’s a reality. 2) During that period Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp (nee Limited) started to become critical of the Rudd government it had previously supported. It was an attitude that influenced other news media (the so-called “following” phenomena).

I have worked in a few Press Galleries (PG) and I can say it is a dynamic and sometimes intimidating environment. The long-term journalists in the PG see themselves as players in the political game, believing they can call shots, influence politicians and set the theme of the day for the junior journalists to follow. If you are young, ambitious and arrogant you may try to ignore them — at your peril. The consequences are that you will find yourself on the outer, given the cold shoulder, ridiculed, criticised and left out of the loop. Stories will break and you will not be told about them. At the same time it will be made clear to you that you must pass on anything that you hear because “we are all one happy family”. Workplace bullying for sure.

It is through the practices above that senior PG journalists set the theme of the day, focus the interest of other journalists, divert attention from analysis of other policies, and so on. It leads to “following” and “the echo chamber” of journalists interviewing each other and confirming each other’s point of view. Journalists and vested interest commentators are more likely to disagree.

The early policy failures of the new Labor government fed directly and conveniently into the lines being pushed by the News Corp media and the Liberal National Party (LNP) Opposition. Failed policies (or experiments) like “petrol watch”, “grocery price watch” and “cash for clunkers” fed the bad news cycle. It continued with cost blow-outs on PM Rudd’s schools buildings program, roof installation and issuing of pocket money cheques to keep the economy alive during the Global Financial Crisis. The deaths of young men involved in installing roof insulation and subsequent house fires were tragedies that almost finished the Labor government. The Coroner’s Court and other inquiries take a different view than the federal Opposition, but that is not as widely reported.

You could argue about the rights or wrongs of policies that are either experimental or designed to avoid financial recession. From the Liberal party point of view, anything that is experimental or an unprecedented change with an unknown outcome is anathema. So is spending money. Money in the Treasury should be used to reduce business taxes, full stop.

So Labor’s experimental errors outweighed its financial initiatives and the negative news cycle continued. PM Rudd began sliding in the opinion polls, and he’s on the bottom again today. Victory was in sight for the journalists banging on day after day about policy failures and spending and for the LNP Opposition who quite rightly felt it had the government on the ropes. Then came the disaster of disasters. The Deputy PM rolled the PM and it was suddenly a whole new ball game.

The 2010 election that new PM Julia Gillard called early, in order to legitimize her reign, resulted in a draw with Independents holding the balance of power. Gillard won the negotiations with the Independents. Opposition Leader Abbott proclaimed that a government that found it hard to govern with a majority would find it impossible to govern with the support of Independents and one of the most negative Opposition attack campaigns in Australian political history began. The Press Gallery, looking down on the antics in the debating chambers, had little option but to report on one negative attack after the other. Had I been in the PG at the time I would have soon got sick of it and gone looking for other stories, but that’s another story in itself.

The question for PG members, their employers, the consumers of political news and the politicians is: Did the journos have the focus right? That question is epitomised in the PG’s reporting of the famous/infamous “Misogyny Speech”, which went viral over the interwebs. While feminists and their supporters saw it as a watershed moment for their interests, the PG for several days at least saw it as the shrill ranting of a madwoman. There was something wrong with “the nuance”. The LNP Opposition pretty much agreed with the PG but also saw it as an unwarranted attack on their leader, Abbott, who does seem to have an ongoing problem with his view of women.

Even before the Misogyny Speech, nothing was off the table as Abbott tried to ensure he did not become “… the best Opposition Leader never to have become Prime Minister”. I could go on with details, but books have been and will be written about the past six years of this federal Labor government, its Opposition and the news media’s role in developments. It’s my belief that the news media (in its many forms) shapes the opinions that are expressed in the polls — a subject that is scarcely considered or debated. The fact that newspaper companies have a financial interest in some of these opinion poll companies is disturbing, given their potential to influence public opinion.

I want to put on record that there is an alternative scenario to the past six years: Labor’s early experimental policies were designed to make a difference. Rather than merely criticise them, the news media could have analysed them and the reasons for their failure. We could have learnt something useful. In reality, that’s a bleeding heart scenario. Politics is a rough game, played for big prizes: the right to decide what happens next and control of the purse strings and the means of filling (or emptying) the purse.

For those interested in the relationship between the news media and politics, spend some time finding out who owns what and what their motives are, or might be. It’s worthwhile because it explains a lot about what you read in the newspapers and which bits are believable.

To finish, the newspaper industry (as we all realise, I’m sure) is in decline. Unless it tapers off in the next few years, newspaper sales are on course to hit rock bottom by 2020/21. This picture is being obscured by some who amalgamate newspaper sales with subscriptions to their pay wall content on the web version. Crikey.com yesterday published an article that claimed newspapers are fiddling the books on sales as they try to cling to what’s left of their business model. (Read the mUmBRELLA version.)

Good news doesn’t sell. Bad news and delicious scandals sell papers, which makes me wonder why the Ashbygate affair hasn’t been properly exposed in the Press and elsewhere, especially by the ABC’s 4 Corners. I leave the rest to your imagination and for your sake I hope it’s as cynical as mine. “Good night and Good Luck.”