Thursday, October 10, 2013

The Strange Silence of Guardian Australia

Katharine Viner, editor-in-chief of Guardian Australia has posted a thoughtful essay on GA's website: The rise of the reader: journalism in the age of the web (9/10/13).

Among the many comments in the thread which followed her piece was this by the courageous director of Sydney University's Centre for Peace & Conflict Studies, Associate Professor Jake Lynch:

"Interesting account of the dispute with Julie Bishop. I wonder if it is at all related to Guardian Australia's refusal to take any interest in Bishop's abuse of her office to stifle dissent on a key area of foreign policy? Before the election, she told Murdoch's Australian newspaper that government research grant money would be withheld from me, and any other academics who support a boycott of Israel - even for projects on unrelated topics. This would, she said, be a 'government-wide policy'. I am about to find out whether it will actually be implemented, since I am up for a Discovery Project grant from the Australian Research Council, with funding decisions due to be released later this month. Education Minister Christopher Pyne would have to write the cheque, if my proposal is approved by fellow academics. Hopefully he will take an approach more in keeping with intellectual freedom.

"Meanwhile, the Australian has continued to pursue the story. One of its reporters, Ean Higgins, has offered occasional news pieces, which have been both accurate and balanced. But another, Christian Kerr, has produced a steady stream of sensationalised and agenda-driven articles, calculated apparently to 'egg on' the Coalition and the pro-Israel lobby.

"Other media have generally left this issue to the Australian. From the Sydney Morning Herald, there has been a deafening silence. The Conversation* refused to run anything on it, despite the topic being of direct concern to academics, who make up the vast majority of its contributors and a big slice of its readership.

"I did get a piece on the ABC's opinion site, The Drum commissioned by its editor, Chip Rolley. As he is the former artistic director of of the Sydney Literary Festival, he has a 'hinterland' of professional achievement in a field other than journalism, which I have guessed might give him more 'bottom' when it comes to resisting criticism from the pro-Israel lobby or Bishop herself. From the rest of the Corporation, there has been an apparent 'pre-emptive buckle'. Producers of two programs on ABC Radio refused my offers to come on and discuss it.

"In short, the story typifies the way such issues develop in a public sphere beset by the narrowness and shallowness of the Australian mediascape, with its ownership patterns referenced here by Katharine Viner.

"I had assumed that Guardian Australia would take on the job of filling in some of the gaps, the 'strategic silences', that result - and the successes she claims in this lecture bear that out. Australian politicians should really not be able to get away with calling people terrorists when they are not, or failing to act meaningfully in response to the evidence of anthropogenic climate change or its connection with the growing intensity and frequency of extreme weather events. In these respects, GA has already contributed helpfully to accountability in its short career.

"But repeated attempts to get GA to take an interest in Julie Bishop's stifling of dissent by victimising me, and any others who advocate an academic boycott of Israel, have failed. It has been like striking a match against a wet box.

"We are gathering support on a petition and will shortly try to get some media attention for it, see here: Perhaps then the Guardian will decide it can no longer leave this important story to the Murdoch press."

The interesting thing here is that Katharine Viner is the co-editor (with Alan Rickman) of the 2005 play My Name is Rachel Corrie, a moving play based on the writings of the ISM activist crushed to death in 2003 by an Israeli military bulldozer while attempting to defend a Palestinian home. A play, moreover, whose first  performance in New York failed to go ahead due to Israel lobby pressure. Viner is further described in a 2005 interview as having a "fascination with the Middle East, [spending] most of her holidays in places like Lebanon, Syria, Israel and the West Bank, to the point where her brother jokingly dubbed her a 'trauma tourist'."** GA's refusal to report the facts of Jake Lynch's case is therefore puzzling in the extreme. 

[*Described by Wikipedia as "an independent source of news and analysis that uses content sourced from the academic and research community"; **It's good to feel scared from time to time, Julie Tomlin,, 4/5/05]

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