Wednesday, March 13, 2013

The Real Despots

The front pages of Rupert Murdoch's tabloids in Australia on Wednesday tell you everything you needed to know about the case for media reform in this country.

A modest, some would say timid, response by Communications Minister Stephen Conroy to the Convergence Review and the independent media review of Ray Finkelstein was met with an hysterical, deceitful and typically self-serving response by the press.

Western suburbs commuters could be forgiven for expecting a morning raid from the secret police after being confronted by the Daily Telegraph's front page comparing Conroy to Stalin, Mao, Mugabe, Castro and every other go-to despot bar Hitler.

In the Herald Sun, Conroy was photo-shopped as a KGB colonel alongside the headline 'Gillard's Henchman Attacks Our Freedom'.

All this over a report which recommends continued self-regulation of the press, supplemented by a public interest test to ensure diversity in media market which is already the most concentrated in the developed world.

No mention of the fact that Conroy outright rejected Finkelstein's recommendation of a statutory News Media Council, replacing the toothless Press Council and incorporating the functions of the current broadcast regulator ACMA.

It was the release of the Finkelstein report early last year which sparked an equally hysterical spray of headline headless chookery. And there has been constant squawking ever sense from an industry that is expert at masking its own interests as the public interest.

Australians should be aware that this calculated misrepresentation of the government's recommendations mirrors closely what happened in the UK late last year after the release there of the report of the Leveson inquiry sparked by the phone-hacking scandal.

 Leveson recommended the appointment of an independent, self regulatory body for the press, and a system of arbitration that allows people who have been victims of media wrongdoing to seek redress without having to go through the courts.

Just as in Australia, the release of the report unleashed a tide of ranting, hysteria from sections of the tabloid press with claims of impending totalitarianism and the ritual locking up of journalists.

Ever the voice of reason, former Murdoch editor Harold Evans eventually stepped in, accusing his former colleagues of cynicism and arrogance and declaring he was appalled by the deliberate misrepresentation of the report's findings.

Would only there such sane voices in Australia, where a poisonous media and political climate makes it virtually impossible to have a rational discussion about media regulation and when even the most modest proposal is met with 7-on-the-richter-scale OUTRAGE.

Lost in the noise that a good deal of the media - the broadcasters - are already subject to statutory regulation, that we have independent courts and a dozens of statutory bodies that operate without government interference. ACMA is one.

No-one is considering the possibility that the true despot is not the state, but a growing plutocracy that destroys the possibility of reform and poisons democracy.

Newspapers are businesses  like any other. Why are they special? And why should newspaper editors, as Leveson said, be allowed to mark their own homework?  Why should they be able to get away with the twisting of facts and outright lies?  Who polices them? How can we expect journalists to be true to their own code of ethics when a single employer controls 70% of the industry? If the media protects the public, who protects the public from the media?

When I studied journalism 30 years ago, my lecturer told us two things that have stuck with me. As a journalist, you have a special responsibility to the public - to be fair, to be balanced, and, most of all, to be truthful. Without truth, there can be no trust. And without trust of the public, you cannot expect to maintain the privileges of a journalist.

In that case, The Fourth Estate becomes The Failed Estate. Welcome to the Murdochcracy.

(See also:)


  1. Does anybody in the media acknowledge a conflict of interest when reporting about the changes to media regulation?

    1. Member of the media here (albeit trade media) uhh.. yeah this is despicable journalism. If I caught one of my guys writing like that, I would kick their ass. Also why I would never, ever work for a business even partly owned by Murdoch.

  2. Good article Mr D. Actually, very good.

    As are these 2 in their different ways.

    Perhaps pop these into your 'recommended sites and blogs' list?


  3. Excellent rant Mr D. From the Theatre of the Absurd at Murdoch central to Fairfax whingeing about over-regulation you'd be forgiven for thinking something Big and Horrible was coming down the tubes. Instead, what little there is in Conroy's regulation package sees a change from self-regulation (oversight via the Press Council) to... self-regulation (oversight via the Press Council) (with a few minor add-ons). The Press Council - about as spineless, toothless and gutless as it is possible to be without being automatically classified as a member of the Protozoa.


  4. We have the worst and most limited media in the world. Without online media we would all be mushrooms living in the dark.

  5. The great irony is that Williams was addressing the Israel-Australia thing - Israel of course banned all media from talking about the arrest, death and cover up of an Australian so that a government won't be embarrassed.

    The Israeli media is run by the IDF, perhaps Williams would prefer that here?

  6. That well-known Murdoch tabloid the Financial Review spent about five pages saying much the same thing.

    1. Yes but Michael Stutchbury of the Australian is now the editor of the Fin review and has ruined it.

  7. So News Ltd "journalists" are comparing Conroy to dictators that kidnapped, tortured and murdered journalists who were doing their jobs of seeking and reporting the truth?

    Wow, they are really doing their profession proud.

  8. All this outrage from the company that hacked the phone of a murdered child. These people are totally devoid of any morals. The sad thing is, they've met our expectations.

  9. Journalistic integrity is dead because it doesn't sell. No one cares any more if their news source is accurate. The tabloidisation of our news sources is reflective of our insularity as much as our disenchantment with the honesty of our media.

  10. Self-regulation seems to be buzzword nowadays. I would like to extend it other things like: speed limits, car parking, mortgage repayments, etc.

    The possibilities are endless.

  11. "A modest, some would say timid, response by ....[the ALP]...was met with an hysterical, deceitful and typically self-serving response by the press."

    See here's one lesson the ALP have never learned to put into practice.
    "Might as well be hung for a sheep as a lamb"

    If you, ie the ALP, are gonna be shat on from a great height you might as well do something worthwhile in the process.


  12. Is that the truth, or is your news Limited?

  13. A despot is someone who throws their political opponents in jail on trumped up charges.

    Enter stage left from the past Mr David Ettridge. Please tell us your story.