Monday, November 29, 2010
The Bunker Mentality
That's one way to read the latest flare-up of hostilities between Rupert Murdoch's hirelings and a broad cross section of the community who thinks Australia's most powerful media group systemically ranks reporting the truth a distant second to pushing its various ratbag, ideological barrows.
The last episode - the spiteful unmasking of popular political blogger Grogs Gamut - brought out the vindictive worst in The Australian, a newspaper that these days is almost a parody of itself so little attention does it pay to the normal journalistic principles of balance, accuracy and fairness.
Incidentally, ABC managing director Mark Scott - who originally drew the wider public's attention to Grog's criticism of the media's federal election coverage - made the astute observation in a speech last week that The Australian seemed to be objecting more to Grog's authority than his anonymity
"It was symbolic of a larger unwillingness by The Australian to cede to a civilian journalist the ability to shape the agenda - a role The Australian, and some other mainstream news organisations, have long had to themselves. Grog's Gamut, like so many citizen blogs before it, had sidestepped the gatekeeper," Scott said.
Now, the Murdoch flagship is at it again with editor-in-chief Chris Mitchell saying he will sue journalism academic Julie Posetti for defamation for tweeting reported comments at a conference by a former reporter of the newspaper saying she had been told by Mitchell what to write in the lead-up to the election.
That the powerful editor of a national newspaper should be so thin skinned as to threaten a little known academic and micro-blogger in this way just beggars belief. It goes so much against the essence of good journalism in fostering openness, independence of mind and public debate. And it suggests Mark Scott was right. The Australian, like any bully, is seeking to intimidate its victims into isolation and silence.
As it turned out, Mitchell ended up looking silly when a sound recording of the speech upon which Posetti's tweets were based revealed her reporting to be accurate. This, together with the fact that she was covering a public meeting (which attracts qualified privilege), would seem to undermine Mitchell's case somewhat.
But aside from his bullying behaviour, this case also showed News Ltd's tendency to circle the wagons and use its news pages to push its agenda, even in nominally 'straight' news reports. So, today, we saw the paper have reporter Sally Jackson cobble together a story saying the defamation case was 'unremarkable'.
Jackson finished off her report by giving her boss a free hit at Posetti, quoting Mitchell as saying that it was "very worrying as a parent of university students and a journalist of 37 years that a journalism lecturer and academic does not understand the laws of defamation".
How much more worrying, then, that the editor of our only national broadsheet should have so tenuous a grasp on media law and so low a respect for the standards of his profession? And how much more worrying that a newspaper nominally dedicated to revealing the truth of things should so brazenly seek to silence its critics, suppress dissent and quieten new media voices?
Posted by Mr D at 10:08 PM