Iron Mark Latham seems to have forgotten his medication. Whether it’s Hector the Parrot, or Piers Ackerman’s personal life, Latham has an opinion in this humdinger of a speech he gave to Parliament on Tuesday.
Tuesday 15 October
Mr LATHAM(Werriwa) (4.09 p.m.)I support media diversitynot just diversity in ownership, but, most importantly, diversity in media opinion. The Broadcasting Services Amendment (Media Owner-ship) Bill 2002 should be opposed for the way in which it would stifle diversity in Australias media. It would put more power in the hands of the big media holdings and lead to a narrowing of media opinion across the country.
Indeed, this is a bill for the insiders - those who already hold power and influence in the Australian media. What we need is a government that is willing to empower the outsiders, to break down the centres of power in our society and democratise all aspects of our national life in politics, in public culture, in the economy and in the media. This is the key test for the laws governing Australias media ownership.
I believe it is possible to identify two distinctive political cultures in this country. The powerful centre of our society, concentrated in the international heart of the major cities, talks a different language from suburban communities; in lifestyle and political values, they are poles apart. At the social centre, people tend to take a tourists view of the world. They travel
extensively; they eat out; they buy in domestic help.
This abstract lifestyle has produced an abstract style of politics and media commentary. Symbolic and ideological campaigns are given top priority. In the suburbs, by contrast, the value set is more pragmatic. People lack the power and resources to distance themselves from neighbourhood problems. This has given them a residents view of society. Questions of social responsibility and service delivery are all im-portant.
What matters is what works. Unfortunately, the Australian media are dominated by insiders, and this applies to both the Left and the Right of politicsthe old and the new establishments.
Let me give one example. Australias best known, and perhaps longest standing, left wing newspaper columnist is Phillip Adams. One of Australias most prominent right wing columnists is Piers
Akerman. At face value, one might regard them as poles apart. But in fact they are soul brothers. They are both political insiders living in the inner city enclave of Paddington. As such, they have very little experience with suburban life and suburban values. They both practise an abstract and symbolic style of journalism; they are both out of touch.
Whether it is the Left or the Right in Australian media opinion, it is an insiders job. We do not have people who live and write from the great suburbs of this nation. We have a lack of media diversity. We have a lack of diverse media opinion. And this bill would make it much worse. It is bad enough as it is at the moment. This bill would make the problem even worse. We do have a lack of diversity in the Australian media, and it applies to most media outlets. We have a paucity of outsiders. The suburbs are badly underrepresented, both in the journalistic profession and among those who call themselves opinion leaders in the newspaper columns.
My Life As a Dogsbody
I can refer to my own experience. During my time on the backbench, I wrote a newspaper column for
the Daily Telegraph between 1998 and 2001. That newspaper, to their credit, knew that they were
hopelessly underrepresented by columnists and journalists from Western Sydney. To their credit, they
tried to do something about this embarrassment. They were always promising to do something about it but they were never able to achieve a higher level of representation from Western Sydney.
When I came on board in 1998, they had Miranda Devine. She reckons she knows something about
Western Sydney, but she is from the lower North Shore. They had Piers Akerman, who lives in Pad-dington and has a holiday house in Pittwater, a long way from the western suburbs that he purports to write for. And they had Michael Duffy from the eastern suburbs. Then there was me. I was from Campbelltown.
I was the only Tele columnist who lived west of Annandale. With my departure, I must sadly report, they do not have anyone who lives west of Annandale writing for that paper and its Western
Sydney audience. It is a paper of insiders trying to appeal to outsiders. That is one of the reasons why in recent times they have been struggling with their circulation.
This problem of narrow media opinion is reflected in news reporting and priorities. I recall the situation a few months ago when the Vinson report on school education threatened to close down selective high schools in Western Sydney, the very best of our educational institutions. Unhappily, it was seen by the Daily Telegraph as a non-issue. What did they put on their front page the day after this threatening Vinson report? The front page of the Telegraph was dominated by the theft of Hector the parrot. Of course, you need to ask where Hector came from. Was Hector a parrot from Blacktown, Liverpool, Bankstown or Fairfield?
Mr PYNE interjecting
Mr LATHAMNo. There were three or four pages of coverage about Hector. Hector was from Ryde on the lower North Shore. Hector came from the Prime Ministers electorate. Sadly enough, in the narrowness of media opinion in this country, even the parrots are insiders. Even the parrots are insiders in the extensive coverage in the Daily Telegraph.
There is a lack of diversity in media opinion. I know my colleague opposite, the member for Sturt,
would have reservations about this legislation. I think he was just indicating some to the House by way of interjection, and I am sure that, along with other small l liberals, he would be opposing this bill in his heart, but he might not be able to bring himself to oppose it in a vote in the House. So we do have a problem, and the member for Sturt knows the problem full well. We have the same insiders and opinions that are recycled
Mr PYNEMr Deputy Speaker, I raise a point of order. The member for Werriwa should get a wig and a gown if he is going to start verballing other members of the chamber in this way.
DEPUTY CHAIROrder! There is no point of order.
Mr LATHAMAs you know, Mr Deputy Speaker, members who break the standing orders and
interject do so at their own peril. I thought that is what he said, but if not I stand corrected. But we still have this problem in the Australian media: the same insiders, the same opinions recycled week after week. This problem is particularly acute on the conservative side. The same opinions are repeated endlessly.
I would suggest to the House that the best way to understand this phenomenon is to read a revealing
new book by David Brock called Blinded by the Right. It lifts the lid on the corrupted networks and
fraud of the neoconservative project in the United States media. The similarities with Australian columnists such as Piers Akerman are quite stunning. David Brock was one of the heavy hitters of the American media during the Clinton period. He led the attack on Anita Hill, he broke the Troopergate story and he discovered the notorious Paula Jones. He was a darling of the Republican Right. But behind the scenes the story was quite different. Over time, Brock came to see the futility and fraud of neoconservative journalism.
This is the story he tells in Blinded by the Right. As a young man he got into politics and jour-nalism as an act of rebellion against his family. He writes about this, and I quote extensively:
“I had begun my career by suppressing my liberal social values to get ahead in the conservative movement; I then abandoned the conservative traditions of restraint and civility for Gingrich ends-justify-the-means radicalism. As a closeted gay man, I did the work of the right wing lawyers
of the Federalist Society, the Christian Coalition, and the worst bigots from Arkansas racist, homophobic Clinton-haters.”
“Through it all - the destructive partnership, the careerism, the personal aggrandisement in my mind I managed to rationalise each of my actions.” He then goes on to write: “All the attacks, the hateful rhetoric, the dark alliances and strange conspiracies … it all led right here: I lost my soul.”
That is the story of David Brock in the United States, and the comparisons with Piers Akerman are indeed quite remarkable. Paddington Piers comes from a traditional left wing family with a deep concern for refugees and multiculturalism. His brother Kim is one of Australias leading experts in Aboriginal culture, history and social justice. As a young man, Piers Akerman was a Maoist who signed up to the Association for International Cooperation and Disarmament and denounced the Vietnam War as one of the most obscene crimes of the 20th century. Today, of course, he is the ultimate chicken-hawk: someone who did not want to go to war himself but now urges war for young Australians in Iraq.
Akerman then turned on his family, his own flesh and blood, to seek the embrace and encouragement of
the other side of politics. He wanted to prove himself by winning the support of those who are least likely to approve of someone called Akerman. In effect, however, this meant leading a double life. In his book, David Brock writes of the double standards of neoconservative journalists, preaching morality and family values in public yet leading a life of decadence and hypocrisy in private. So too with Akerman. I note the comments of my colleague the member for Wills in October 1997 in this place, when he said:
“I too have been aware for some years of reliable reports that Piers Akerman was a cocaine userand much more recently than the 1970s. The copy kids who worked at News Ltd in Sydney in the mid-1980s could hear him in the toilet at 9 p.m. snorting cocaine while he was working on the Australian and he used to reminisce at the local pub about his drug-hazed days in the US.”
This makes an important point; it is a telling point. But I think we can be too harsh; indeed, I would congratulate News Ltd for giving a drug addict a second chance in life. It is not easy. We should all appreciate the lesson that is involved, but I would also urge Mr Akerman to give others the same second chance: to give minorities, the dispossessed, the disadvantaged and the poor in our society the same second chance in life, just as News Ltd has given him a chance to write
columns for their newspaper.
The comparisons continue. In his book, David Brock describes neoconservative journalists as an
army of (political) operatives posing as commenta-tors. It is a very useful quote. That is the problem we have in Australia. It is the narrowness of media opinion; it is the insiders job that would be made much worse by this particular legislation passing through the parliament. In Akermans case, I am indebted to my colleague the member for Griffith, who has provided some statistics about the narrowness of Akermans opinionindeed, the political bias that is involved. I quote from the member for Griffiths article in the Daily Telegraph on 9 September. He states
that his office looked at:
.. the 150 or so articles that Akerman had written since the beginning of last year …
The member for Griffith goes on to state: “The scorecard goes something like this: on 88 occasions,
youve directly attacked Labor for its various crimes against humanity. On 31 occasions, youve told us what a fine bunch of chaps the Liberals are. And guess how many times youve had something nice to say about Labor? Just for respectabilitys sake, I thought maybe you could have risen to the occasion once or twice by saying some-thing positive. But no, the answer is a big, fat zero.”
Piers - the PM’s Mouthpiece
A telling piece of research that confirms the problem; it confirms the problem of the narrowness of media opinion in this country a problem that would be made worse by this legislation. In fact, Akerman is not a commentator, he is a de-facto press secretary for the Howard government. This problem is confirmed in Brocks book, where he talks not only of political bias but the wilful invention of stories to suit political purposes. At page 159, he writes of how he wrote
articles that were:
“… a mix of circumstantial observation and rumourand no-one would ever be able to tell which parts of it may have been accurate and which parts were not.” So too with Piers Akerman. When I challenged him recently about one of his journalistic inventions, he responded that it is defensible for comments to be wrong, even grossly exaggerated, based on prejudice or obstinacy.
Piers must be really proud of himself today. His column in the Daily Telegraph starts as follows:
October 14, 2002 was Australias 9/11. On Sunday, he referred to an Indonesian terrorist or-ganisation called FI. Enough said accuracy and Akerman are obviously foreign worlds. Indeed, it is measure of the mans sickness that his column today uses the tragedy in Bali as an excuse to attack his fellow Australians, to continue his obsession with the ALP and to revive his prejudice against Muslim Australians. Why anyone would want to blame Australians who had absolutely no involvement in the Bali bombing is beyond belief.
Akerman indeed is Australias answer to David Brock. At one level, it is surprising that a prominent and professional media group like News Ltd would maintain such a partisan and incompetent fool but, as I mentioned earlier, their Second-chance Drug Rehabilitation program is to be
commended. They are a socially responsible organisation. Other organisations are also quite tolerant. In his book, David Brock exposes the role on the congressional aides and right wing think tanks -
Mr PYNEMr Deputy Speaker, I raise a point of order. I am loath to interrupt the member for Werriwa, but I ask you to point out to him that he supposed to be discussing the media ownership bill, not launching personal and vindictive attacks on particular journalists.
The DEPUTY SPEAKERThe member for Werriwa has been tying in his comments to the media ownership bill. He has been keeping his comments very smartly to the bill.
Mr LATHAMWe have a problem of narrowness of media opinion in this country. As the Brock
book exposes, in the United States it is fed by congressional aides and right wing think tanks in the United States, confirming what Hillary Clinton described as a vast right-wing conspiracy. In Sydney, the Centre for Independent Studies hosts a monthly lunch in Balmain of all places, where it coordinates the neoconservative approach to the culture war, feeding gossip and attack lines to journalists and other commentators.
Tony O’Dreary - Akerman’s No 1 source
In Akermans case, most of his material comes directly from the Prime Ministers press secretary, Tony OLeary. Paddington Piers, for instance, was an integral part of the governments slur campaign against Justice Michael Kirby. He was constantly briefed about the Heffernan bucket-job
and the Prime Ministers intentions, until the matter was exposed as a fraud and an embarrassment to the government.
As the Attorney-General would appreciate, none of this is good for the health of our democracy. The
media should be impartial rather than partisan. It should commentate on the political process rather
than participate in it. It should not be a freak show for neoconservative politics and its pursuit of the culture war. Traditional conservatives understand the point, as I am sure the members opposite would agree. In the United States, Republican strategist Lee Atwater ridiculed hard-core conservatives as the extra chromosome crowd.
Towards the end of his book, David Brock laments how he had become a dancing bear for the far Right. In Australia, of course, we have this problem of media narrowness and, on the neoconservative
side, they have a troupe of dancing bears. There is Akerman, Andrew Bolt and Janet Albrechtsen
Cokey, Nancy and Filthy dancing the same step to Tony OLearys drum. I can understand why News Ltd employs Akerman it is a socially responsible corporation. But does it really need three
dancing bears when one would suffice?
In the last sitting week, I explained to the House how Bolt does not practise journalism but paranoia. Bolt was engaged in an act of journalistic fraud, emailing my office on 29 August with the false claim that he had a very funny confrontation with Stephen Roach and that he wanted to write a very funny little item, even though he intended to do the opposite.
It is difficult to understand how News Ltd can continue to employ someone who is regarded, even by
his colleagues, as a fraudster. I have an email which further demonstrated this approach. It is an email that Andrew Bolt sent on 30 August to the aforementioned Stephen Roach. He wrote as follows:
“Sorry Steve but I forgot the other questions. Did Latham have anything to do with your decision to approach me on Wednesday? Did he urge on you or ask you to go over to me? Can you tell me what connections you have with him?”
Bolta Bolt - the he-man’s misogynist
Recently, Mr Bolt made himself notorious for saying that women should not be in the Australian parliament because they are irrational. How irrational is this? This is not journalism; it is paranoia. It is the work of an irrational and paranoid mind. In his recent comments, Mr Bolt said that we should not have more women in the Australian parliament because women are more likely than men to practise witchcraft.
I suggest that what he calls journalism is a lot closer to witchcraft than any of utterances that you might hear from women around country. In Albrechtsens case it is even worse. She has a
history of inaccurate and malicious journalism, having been found guilty in several defamation cases. In one of her pro-USA columns in February this year, she fabricated words by General Norman
Schwarzkopf. Earlier this month, in her desperation to attack the union movement, she failed to disclose her personal financial interest in the collapse of Ansett.
Then in a notorious exchange, Media Watch exposed her attacks on the Muslim community in this
country as being based on plagiarism and journalistic fraud. She is David Brock in a dress. Albrechtsen has not even attempted to refute these claims, preferring nstead to launch a distinctly uncivil attack on Media Watch itself.
If an academic, a politician or any other public figure had such an appalling record of inaccuracy, fraud and incompetence, they would be sacked no questions asked, just sacked. Albrechtsens
survival is a very bad reflection on the profes-sional ethics and standards at News Ltd.
So we have these three dancing bears for the neo-conservative cause in this country. It is a sign of the narrowness of media opinion. I am very concerned about these developments at News Ltd: not only have they not recruited journalists and columnists from Western Sydney to replace me; they have narrowed their base to the dancing bears and to neoconservative political partisanship on the pages of their newspapers.
This bill, of course, would worsen the problem. This is a bill to narrow the ownership of Austra-lian media. As you narrow ownership, inevitably you narrow opinion, you reduce the media in it standards and you reduce its diversity of coverage. You reduce its gene pool: the number of journalists it can call on to produce reporting and opinion for the nation. The bill should be rejected. As I said at the beginning, we need a government that helps outsiders, a government
that empowers people in the great suburbs and towns of this nation, to play a bigger role in the economy, in our society, in the political system and, most importantly, in the media.
This is legislation for the insiders. It would give extra power to those who already have influence and a big say in the pages, the screens and the sounds of the Australian media. We do not need legislation for the insiders. We do not need a narrowing of ownership and opinion; we need a very
different approach to this bill, which should be com-prehensively rejected by the House.
Mr PYNE (Sturt) (4.29 p.m.)Before I touch on particular aspects of the Broadcasting Services Amendment (Media Ownership) Bill 2002, I make the point that the member for Werriwa should wear a wig and a gown the next time he comes into the chamber and tries to verbal other members. He adds to the most negative stereotype of politicians who come into this House and use the privileges that the House extends to slander other members of the Australian community who do not have the opportunity to come into the House and defend themselves.
The Teenage Toecutter to the Rescue
His attacks on Piers Akerman, Janet Albrechtsen and Andrew Bolt are all of a piece with someone who believes that the law does not apply to them. He can come into this House and slander these people with the paltry evidence that he put to the House and they have no capacity to sue him. (Quorum formed) I thank the member for Werriwa for ensuring that the speech I am giving is even more relevant. Before the call came for the forming of a quorum, I was commenting on the speech made by the member for Werriwa, who claimed that he wanted to broaden the media base. He complained that the media ownership bill would continue to narrow the base - but he then spent the remainder of his contribution, almost his entire speech, trying to eliminate one particular source of opinion in the pressnamely, that of con-servative writers like Andrew Bolt, Janet Albrechtsen and Akerman. On the one hand, he claims that this bill will narrow the base, which he is opposed to; on the other hand, he uses his speech to try and eliminate a sector of opinion that he does not agree with. (Quo-rum
In all seriousness, while the member for Werriwa appears to think it is terribly amusing to keep 35
members of the government from their work, I would remind him that those members are probably trying
to help people who may be trying to find loved ones, looking after the injured in Darwin and bringing people back from Bali. By being so flippant and trivial about this debate, he is keeping them from other work that they could be doing for their constituents.
The member for Werriwa has unfortunately developed a Hillary Clinton syndrome: he is so convinced
of the conspiracy theories and paranoia regarding the so-called neoconservative right that he is now using the debate on the media ownership bill to expound such views. I think he should take his lead from those in the White House who started to push Hillary Clinton away from the centre of power in the Clinton years. His speech was a terrible attack and slander on people who cannot come in here and defend themselves Piers Akerman, Andrew Bolt and Janet Al-brechtsen.
The only one he left out was Paddy McGuinness. He has been rowing with Paddy McGuinness for the last month. I am surprised and shocked that he did not use his speech as an opportunity to row with Paddy McGuinness, who is a very decent commentator on political happenings in this country. The member for Werriwa and Paddy McGuinness are locked in yet another row, and the member for Werriwa is yet again trying to narrow the base of media opinion in this country by eliminating from the media all those people who do not share the views of the ALP.
I will give the member for Werriwa a couple of examples. We do not usually get a good run out of
Phillip Adams. Phillip Adams does not usually give us a good run in the Australian. Kenneth Davidson in the Age does not usually give the coalition a good run. But you do not hear us running to the press corps saying, Get rid of these people; eliminate this opinion. Goodness, for 13 years and most of the last eight we have put up with the fact that the press gallery largely does not support the Liberal Party. But you do not see us complaining about it; we just get on with
the job. This bill is about trying to give people greater opportunities to express opinions.
In any discussion about media policy, we need to define the role we expect the media to play in contemporary Australia. I believe that the media has a critical role to play in the proper functioning of our democracy and in our economy. Without an informed public, democracy is compromised, so it is in everyones interests that all Australians have access to objective
and informative coverage of local, national and world news. That network of news coverage includes
the publication or broadcast of opinion pieces and investigative reporting.
The delivery of these services lends itself to a more aware electorate who are better placed to make important decisions at the ballot box. Likewise, consumers and producers have a right to product information, service reviews and financial analysis. An absence of this sort of detail
works against the long-term interests of both consumers and producers. Without full and open access
by markets to business news, our capital markets cannot reach their full potential. The current restrictions on media ownership are anachronistic and represent a restraint of trade.
Mr Pearce interjecting
Mr PYNEAs the member for Aston has pointed out, the member for Werriwa has been broken by my
withering attack on him and has scurried from the chamber to lick his wounds. He may well return for
another bout down the track. The member for Werriwa would agree that the current media laws are
anachronistic. They were introduced by the Hawke-Keating government and they are a restraint
of trade. The member for Werriwa is one of those Labor members who like the honourable shadow
minister at the dispatch box, the honourable member for Hunter would agree that restraint of trade is a bad practice in a country like Australia, and I am shocked that the Labor Party would not support the lifting of this current restraint of trade. This is another example of the two-facedness of the Labor Party. The member for Werriwa has licked his wounds and has returned. He has bandaged himself and returned to the chamber, and I welcome him back.
Mr HardgraveHes limping!
Mr PYNEThat is exactly right. As the minister has pointed out, he has limped back into the chamber.