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Federal

Sep 15, 2010

The Oz versus the Greens: well beyond the normal News Ltd bias

Judging by their frantic self-justification, the penny has dropped at The Australian that they have overplayed their hand in declaring their desire to destroy the Greens. We're used to News Ltd's bias, but this is something new.

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Judging by the frantic self-justification yesterday and today, the penny has dropped at The Australian that they have overplayed their hand in declaring their desire to destroy the Greens.

This is a significant addition to our understanding of News Ltd’s agenda. I predicted the day after the election that this secretive, unaccountable American and Saudi-owned media company would go after the Greens, but I never thought it would be baldly stated as an editorial goal of the paper.

It’s one thing to be biased in your coverage. The paper’s consistent partisanship and open hostility to Labor is taken as read by all except its most blinkered adherents — even, perhaps, by its own journalists, some of whom are prone to reassuring people outside the News Ltd bubble that they don’t really agree with many of the things they write and shouldn’t be judged on them. And to an extent it’s understandable, given the paper’s declining readership that skews much older and wealthier than even other newspapers.

But its declaration of war on the Greens is a whole step beyond that.

Doubtless at some point after that editorial, the penny dropped in the minds of News executives and Chris Mitchell that, having declared that the goal of the paper was the destruction of the Greens, nothing The Australian reported about the Greens could henceforth be taken at face value. Anything it reports about the Greens, or policy issues of concern to the Greens, is now automatically suspect. How can anyone trust it to report accurately on the Greens or environmental issues?

The ABC, which is used to taking its late night and morning news agenda cues pretty much directly from The Australian, will now have to vet and fact-check even the most anodyne report if it touches on a party that outlet has vowed to destroy.

Such a declaration can now not be withdrawn without inviting even more ridicule than has already been heaped on the paper. Thus the rather frantic tone of self-justification over recent days. In the single funniest editorial of perhaps the past decade, The Australian yesterday declared itself the victim of a conspiracy by the ABC and Fairfax to undermine its quality journalism. Perhaps annoyed that its clear intent to delegitimise the new Labor minority Government was identified so early, it declared that The Oz was the real victim of delegitimisation — delegitimisation of its coverage. Its media writers — who are front and centre on many a campaign of import to News Ltd’s commercial interests — have also joined in. Chief Kool-Aid guzzler Caroline Overington devoted most of her Monday media column to hectoring Laura Tingle and David Marr. And today Geoff Elliot ran a series of truncated quotes from “senior media professionals” to back the newspaper.

None of that will help: The Australian is condemned out of its own mouth — its political reporting is automatically biased, not just by the usual partisanship, but by an open declaration that it wishes to destroy the Greens.

An example of how they will try happened earlier this week. On Monday, The Australian put together a story about Greg Combet and his attitude toward coal, given its prominence in his electorate. A journalist from the paper called the Greens to invite them to respond to Combet’s comments. Sensing a trap, the Greens refused to cooperate, offering an anodyne comment about “building a working relationship” with Labor. Yesterday, according to the Greens, another journalist from The Australian called again to try to extract a more useable, aggressive quote about Combet and coal, and when the Greens refused again to play along, threatened to run a “Greens going soft on coal” story and ring around environment groups to elicit hostile comments about them. The Greens have mentioned the incident to environment groups and suggested they be on the alert for journalists from The Australian trying to manufacture splits in the environmental movement.

Impressive stuff from an outlet that claims it is being bullied by Bob Brown.

The Australian complains about “delegitimisation” of its coverage. The delegitimisation is entirely self-created, and started when it switched from being a conservative paper — for which there is a strong case in the Australian media landscape — to a partisan paper. But an open declaration that it intends to destroy, rather than accurately report on, an important aspect of Australian politics takes The Australian’s degradation of its own reputation to a new level.

Bernard Keane — Politics Editor

Bernard Keane

Politics Editor

Bernard Keane is Crikey’s political editor. Before that he was Crikey’s Canberra press gallery correspondent, covering politics, national security and economics.

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103 comments

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103 thoughts on “The Oz versus the Greens: well beyond the normal News Ltd bias

  1. Daemon Singer

    I do wonder whether it will come as any sort of shock to the Australian, that outside of the Liberal party and its coalition with the Nationals, most people who are actively involved in politics are actually quite smart, and I’m not talking about the politicians themselves, but rather those of us who come election time stand up and assist our chosen party at the polling place.

    I actually enjoy many things about The Australian, but I have to confess that its substantially right-wing bias has become somewhat tiresome over the last few years. Now to have them actively engaged in pulling a political party down, puts them in a somewhat invidious position vis a vis information reliability.

    Declining readership aside, their seeming incapacity to understand the needs of the current generation of news consumers must weigh heavily on the minds of their accountants when we all rush out in the morning with a cup of tea and sit down in front of a computer and read all three newspapers within half an hour (Brisbane-based). Added to that is the fact that we read those same three newspapers at no charge, and it seems the writing should be on the wall, even if it isn’t, for the Oz and their colleagues.

    One gets somewhat used to the Murdochs, the Fairfax’s et al screeching about whichever party they don’t particularly like, trust etc., But to have them come out so bluntly and put their political cards on the table is a somewhat new experience, at least to this reader. I’m not sure whether it was an accidental breach of the Chinese wall, or whether they are trying for a new look, but it sure does make reading the Oz a whole new ball game.

    One can only hope that the subs and friends of the ABC spent a little time looking about before sending items off to News 24, which would then have the capacity to make them look rather stupid, if it had come straight out of the Oz.

  2. Daemon Singer

    @Adam Gilbert: I agree. It’s a sad indictment on Australian media in general, but the right-wing elements of it in particular seem to almost take it as a personal affront when somebody other than the Lib/National coalition get up.

    Speaking of “get up”, the exercise by that pseudo-political body during the recent election must also have given them (the Oz), cause for concern, since by its very existence Getup is demonstrating that there are a lot of Australians are there with enough concern about the political process to want to involve themselves in it at a grassroots level with a view to being heard in the corridors of power, just for a change. I suspect it’s true to say, it certainly is from my perspective that once a political party is in power irrespective of what badge they wear, the people who put them there are simply ignored.

    Perhaps it’s time for such information organs as the Oz to take a long hard look at what people actually think rather than what they think people should think (based on their editorialising about whatever it is they want people to think about). In truth none of these media organisations believe any of us actually think, but rather are guided in our actions in an unthinking way by what we read in the media, and what we do as a result of that reading.

    @D Smith: it’s interesting to see the reaction one gets, when one informs the caller, especially a commercial organisation such as a telco or a bank that the call is being recorded. In general, they can’t get off the phone fast enough.

  3. Space Kidette

    Surely, this vindictive vitriol, which has become the trademark of the Oz and it’s stuck-up, holier than thou, lower than C-grade journalists, just has to wither and die soon. Although, I must admit that it has become my real life Dilbert dose every morning.

    I read it in anticipation of the hiliarious over-extension of the tiniest of details into sensationalist, life-threatening global dramatics that has me in absolute stitches most days. Would I ever buy an Oz – Never! Nor would I purchase any of it’s stablemates. Limited News will never see coin from my pocket.

    What is very sad is that the power of the media is being exploited to influence the mindless masses who do purchase this daily rag to determine the political outcome preferred by one individual. I am glad to see that the industry as a whole, has decided to beat up on these media dictators, and I am equally glad to see that Bob Brown is wise to BS being bandied about and his decision not to be ridden roughshod by those mindless journalists.

    As to what is happening with the ABC journalists – I can’t figure out what they have to gain by being Ruperts second mouthpiece. I used to be proud of the fact that the ABC represented truth in journalism and could be trusted to present balanced and factual reporting and analysis. Now I don’t even bother to flick over to Aunty – except for the Gruen Transfer and Spicks and Specks. Their news and current affairs I can read anytime at OZ online.

  4. Space Kidette

    Surely, this vindictive vitriol, which has become the trademark of the Oz and it’s stuck-up, holier than thou, lower than C-grade journalists, just has to wither and die soon. Although, I must admit that it has become my real life Dilbert dose every morning.

    I read it in anticipation of the hiliarious over-extension of the tiniest of details into sensationalist, life-threatening global dramatics that has me in absolute stitches most days. Would I ever buy an Oz – Never! Nor would I purchase any of it’s stablemates. Limited News will never see coin from my pocket.

    What is very sad is that the power of the media is being exploited and extreme bias is being used to influence the mindless masses who do purchase this daily rag to determine the political outcome preferred by one individual. I am glad to see that the industry as a whole, has decided to beat up on these media dictators, and I am equally glad to see that Bob Brown is wise to BS being bandied about and his decision not to be ridden roughshod by those mindless journalists.

    As to what is happening with the ABC journalists – I can’t figure out what they have to gain by being Ruperts second mouthpiece. I used to be proud of the fact that the ABC represented truth in journalism and could be trusted to present balanced and factual reporting and analysis. Now I don’t even bother to flick over to Aunty – except for the Gruen Transfer and Spicks and Specks. Their news and current affairs I can read anytime at OZ online.

  5. Douglas Evan

    The Oz is running true to form with its attack against the Greens. The strategies its journalists have been using against the Greens have been used by them before in other circumstances. Bob Brown was quoted by Laura Tingle in the AFR “…The paper sees itself as a determinant of democracy in Australia. … It has stepped out of the role of the fourth estate to think it’s the determinant of who has seats in the Parliament and it’s time it was taken on.” He is right. Tingle may well have highlighted the real reasons for this latest flurry of disinformation and dirty tricks when she wrote on September 9 ‘…If nothing else, the government has a range of major policy issues to make with direct commercial consequences for News (Limited). …Those decisions start with the question of what the government does about a review of the sport anti-siphoning list which determines which sports can be shown on free to air and pay TV – for which you can read Foxtel. What happens to the national broadband network has long term implications for Foxtel and internet broadcasting. Government support for the ABC’s 24 hour news channel – which already has three times as many viewers as Sky News … is another commercial threat which fits into a global campaign News is running against public broadcasters.” There is ample reason to suppose that what is really driving the Oz’s campaign to destabilize a legitimate elected government is their desire to protect their profits.

  6. anony

    caroline overington? looks like her behaviour re: george newhouse/malcolm turnbull is now her standard procedure.

  7. alan austin

    It is SOOO refreshing to see The Oz exposed and humiliated to the point it is lashing out to defend itself – at last. But what a pathetic defence.
    “There was no joint approach to the election. The Australian, The Daily Telegraph, the Herald-Sun and the Courier Mail backed the Coalition; while the Advertiser, The Sunday Telegraph and the Sunday Herald-Sun endorsed Labor,” the editorial asserts.
    This is a ludicrous claim. Yes, a minority of the Murdoch papers reluctantly conceded in their election-eve opinions that there was insufficient reason to change government. But not until after they had all in unison perpetrated appalling anti-Labor and anti-Greens distortions and lies for years – not just in their opinion pieces but in so-called news reportage.
    Even today’s (It is still Wednesday here in France) editorial continues the distortions: “What we are proud to own is the robust reporting that we published on issues such as the $43 billion National Broadband Network, the flawed Building the Education Revolution program, and the disastrous pink batts insulation scheme.”
    Commentators on economics and politics across Europe all look enviously at Australia’s Treasury and Cabinet for the extraordinary speed and effectiveness of their actions at the beginning of the global financial crisis. Australia alone, most analysts now agree, got the timing, the direction and the quantums of the stimuli right. And thus, alone in the capitalist world, avoided recession and the resultant burgeoning debt and human misery.
    To read The Oz, you would think Australia’s Labor Government was the world’s greatest failure. May the critiques – Bernard’s today and Jason’s earlier – continue and strengthen.

  8. David

    And how about this……

    [AFP says no to Robb request September 17, 2010 – 10:24AM

    AAP

    Federal police will not investigate the leaking of confidential coalition costings during the election campaign.

    The leaked Treasury document, published by Fairfax, debunked the size of savings the coalition had estimated from dumping Labor’s national broadband network.

    “The Australian Federal Police has completed an evaluation in relation to a referral received from the Opposition Finance spokesman Andrew Robb MP in relation to unauthorised disclosure of financial documents,” a spokesperson told AAP on Friday.

    “The evaluation did not identify any Commonwealth offences.”

    The police decision did not stop Mr Robb from attacking the government.

    “The AFP’s report on their investigation into the leaking of a confidential Treasury note to The Sydney Morning Herald effectively confirms that the leak came from the Treasurer, Wayne Swan, or a senior member of his staff,” Mr Robb told The Australian.]

    Swan should now demand the Feds investigate Robb about that leak and get the ba—rd. He is now telling so many porkies trying to cover his ar-e he will get caught out eventually.
    Meanwhile on 2GB yesterday Hockey told the Libs own personal shock jock Jones the Feds were still very interested to investigate the ” leak “. Strange that 12 hrs later they found there was nothing to investigate. Why am I getting vibes that Hockey and Robb are running for cover. Go get em Swanee, its you they have been attacking.

  9. Daemon Singer

    @VENISE ALSTERGREN: one funny side of this whole process is that if we go as visitors to an Asian country, we can look around till the cows come home for an interesting piece of land to buy-but we won’t be able to buy, because most countries aren’t for sale. Australia stands almost alone in the Asia-Pacific with the possible exception of New Zealand in being quite happy to literally sell the farm to all comers so long as they have money. There is no requirement to prove public good, the only requirement is to put your money down.
    For a while there I believe there were some plans to stop Chinese investor owners buying here and then popping off back to China, and getting a rental return out of Australia, with no more effort than to flog your slaves hard enough and long enough to make you enough money to be able to fly to Australia in the first place.
    One of the great sadnesses for me in terms of the destruction of the Australian manufacturing sector (by the Howard government, not by the unions), is that we have set the situation in place where none of us care enough about our country to make a stand in terms of it being sold, because everybody with a block of land to sell, sends it off to auction hoping that the crowd of bidders will include Chinese nationals, because they are dripping with money, and are only looking for a place to spend. If in completing that spend they own a piece of another country, then good for them but I wonder what the reaction would be in mainland China if the government suddenly turn around and decided to sell blocks of land to anybody with enough money. Then we would see how long the Communist Party holds up wouldn’t we? Chinese at least have enough pride in their country to not be happy with the idea of selling it to foreigners. Why don’t Australians care that much about their country?

  10. Venise Alstergren

    PETER EVANS: Perhaps it’s just that I happen to have been born here that I value it?
    If countries are so meaningless I wonder why all countries endorse passports?

    People need a meaningless concept to nail themselves to a spectral* flag. Most people find religion fills that void. As an atheist, born of an atheist family, I prefer to relate to my country. Not unlike a bird going to its nest, I suppose. Come to think of it, birds have a quality that is sadly lacking in Australia. They don’t crap in their own nests.

    As for the way we allow our country to be dug up, tunnelled under, vaccumed (sic) out for the last remnant of asbestos, the last smear of fossil fuel-oil- and the last wisp of coal-dust. Added to which the way we allow fine rivers to become turgid streams, soil to be turned into talcum powder, and housing estates to be built where once there was fertile land reveals the complete disregard we have for this country.

    I hope I live long enough to see the last piece of land to be sold to a foreign country-the Chinese, the Americans, the Irish. Were not cheap, we’ll go to bed with anyone-The look on the purchaser’s face will be something to behold when they discover the title deeds which will reveal the fact that the land has already been sold to two hundred other people.

    There’s nothing wrong with the concept of a country-it’s just the people who turn it to dross.

    *word ‘spectral’ used because it has a certain alliterative quality. Ditto the revolting English ensign which lingers on as long as the heredity monarch we remain tied to, will ever have me feeling anything but a sense of shame. (As for the Oz anthem—chunder.)

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