Friday, January 7, 2011

Running Amok at The Australian

Murdoch's The Australian, which ludicrously bills itself as the 'Heart of the Nation', is the most blatantly and relentlessly ideological of Australia's corporate fishwrappers. This purveyor of climate change 'scepticism', free market fundamentalism, militarism, Islamophobia, general all-round nastiness, and (despite the occasional sop to the contrary) pro-Israel zealotry, was recently the subject of a well-deserved verbal walloping by former Labor Party leader Mark Latham. Some excerpts:

"In the self-indulgence stakes it is hard to beat The Australian. Newspapers are supposed to talk to their readers about interesting events. Too often The Australian talks to itself about itself. Barely an edition passes without the denigration of its imagined foes, defined as those who disagree with its editorial line and/or work for rival media companies - a broad catchment. Barely an edition passes without the invention of a new angle by which the paper can boast of its imagined magnificence." (Yes, it's you I'm talking about, The Weekend Australian Financial Review, 29/12/10)

"The problem with modern journalism is one of expectations. As Peter Costello has noted, journalism is the only profession in which its proponents have no direct experience with their subject matter (as parliamentarians or public servants) yet regard themselves as experts. Given the nature of their work, reporters spend a lot of time hanging around important people, building an impression that they know what these people are thinking. These two factors combine to create a psychology of false wisdom. When a politician provides a journalist with off-the-record information, it is usually reported at face value. No weight is given to the way in which politicians tell reporters only what they want them to hear - to set a certain agenda, to destabilise a certain opponent, to achieve a certain self-serving goal. Journalists have an expectation of knowing all when, in practice, they can only ever know a small portion of a politician's activities." (ibid)

[Although Latham doesn't mention foreign editor Greg (Jerusalem Prize) Sheridan in his serve, the glove certainly fits. With respect to the latter's 'coverage' of the Middle East conflict in particular, and Middle East issues in general, he acts merely as a medium for Israeli politicians, channeling their words and agenda, unmediated by any hint of critical analysis or scepticism.]

"[The Australian's] owners and managers not only have a strongly formed opinion about politics, they believe their views should be adopted by the political system. Its editorial statement of December 18 captures this approach neatly: the paper has 'well-developed ideas about what Australia needs and it is against this vision that we assess policies and tactics'. This could readily pass for the charter of a political party. In some respects, this is what The Australian has become. It sees itself as a participant in the political process, forging a lively policy agenda and making and breaking political leaders. Have no doubt The Australian considers itself one of the most important institutions in Parliament House. It has moved beyond the dissemination of news and into the distribution of political power. Just as it is willing to browbeat politicians who defy its editorial line, the same self-indulgent methods are applied to its rivals in the media. Ultimately, this is what its edition of December 18 was about. It declared that day 'a crisis in political journalism that mirrors the crisis in the political class' and, more generally, the media 'have lost the trust of consumers'. I agree with these statements. The sad thing for The Australian is its lack of awareness in appreciating its own role, spearheading the decline in political journalism in this country. As the ancient Greeks inquired, in words inscribed on the golden stone walls of Delphi, 'who will guard the guardians?' The Australian is out of control." (ibid)

I'm reminded of an earlier Latham reflection on the antipodean component of Murdoch's "Evil Empire":

"How bad are News Limited and its anti-Labor propaganda? It's a running dog for Howard and the Libs, with its shocking stance on Iraq, the neoconservatism of The Australian and its disgraceful defence of Abbott and his scam with Australians for Honest Politics. In my experience, it's a company run on personal connections and preferences, not the facts. I'm embarrassed to think I used to be a columnist for the Tele. Ian Moore and David Penberthy have their heads in the toilet bowl over Sandra in my office and this business with her partner, who's in strife over his role in a Port Kembla brothel. In truth, the Tele loves brothels, they help to pay their wages and add to Murdoch's profits. Just look down the back of the paper, page after page of brothel advertising. Moralising, hypocritical Tories - is there a worse species of animal on earth?" (The Latham Diaries, Wednesday, 3 September 2003, pp 232-233)

Wonderful stuff!

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