The Australian is accusing Media Watch of a lapse in journalistic ethics. But there’s plenty that’s dubious about it’s own reporting on the plain packaging issue.
The Australian’s point-scoring against rivals is normally confined to the Media pages, or, at best, a sidebar on the front page. But “the heart of the nation” splashed front and centre with its response to Monday’s episode of Media Watch (itself a takedown of the Oz’s “tobacco consumption is going up” June 6 exclusive — which Crikey handily debunked the same day).
But that wasn’t all. Page 4 had a further four commentary and analysis pieces on the disagreement (including a rather a dry one about how to interpret data). But the report that took the most chutzpah was the one by legal affairs editor Chris Merritt, which pinged Media Watch for a lapse in journalistic ethics for not disclosing the political affiliations of its two key witnesses. Economist Stephen Koukoulas, quoted in the Media Watch piece, worked for Julia Gillard, while public health expert Professor Mike Daube, also quoted in Media Watch, chaired a government panel that recommended plain packaging laws. In case that hasn’t hit home, the report goes on to quote the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance journalistic code of ethics on the issue.
Hang on a minute. On the very same page, an analysis piece by Sinclair Davidson fails to disclose the fact that he’s a senior fellow at the Institute of Public Affairs, an organisation with political allegiances relevant to a discussion of tobacco laws (and, as revealed by Media Watch, that benefits financially from tobacco).
And that’s not all. While we’ll leave the statistical wrangling to those who know how to do it better (the aforementioned Koukoulas already has a further response to the reports up on his blog), we did notice the Oz’s report described, again, data source InfoView as an “independent firm that uses industry sales figures”. When Crikey did our own debunking of that June 6 plain packaging yarn, reporter Sally Whyte called InfoView to ask a few questions about its data. To quote her report:
“… The research is funded by Big Tobacco. When Crikey called InfoView to ask about the research, we were told InfoView would not make any comment and any inquiries about the research should go to Scott McIntyre, spokesman for British American Tobacco, a multinational tobacco company. McIntyre says the data comes from numbers provided by the industry to Sir Cyril Chantler, who is leading the British review into the possibility of plain packaging in the UK.
“McIntyre confirms that British American Tobacco pays InfoView to collate the information. ‘Just like any company with fast-moving goods, we keep an eye on the market. It’s mainly something we use to keep an eye on the industry.’”
So InfoView is funded by British American Tobacco, relies on British American Tobacco’s spokesman to handle media inquiries for it, and is something British American Tobacco uses to “keep an eye on the industry”. Some “independence”. And yet, we are told, its figures are more reliable than those from the ABS.
Barry’s response (on Twitter): “Some days I just have to pinch myself to know I’ve not dreaming.”