So has the media overstepped the mark
in its reporting of the terror arrests? The Australian has today taken a stand
and faced its critics in the ABC and Fairfax, defending its reporting of events,
and attacking “ethical gatekeepers.”

Leading with a strident editorial, the paper also spooled its legal editor Chris Merrit onto the
story.
His conclusion? The media coverage hasn’t contaminated the chances of a fair
trial for the accused.

Turning its guns on the Heralds
David Marr and Lateline‘s Tony Jones, The Australian staked its claim that good old
fashioned gumshoe journalism has put it ahead of the pack in reporting national
security issues.

The paper is keen to push its credentials –
even quoting my view on Tuesday on the subject. The Australian‘s spin commentator, Anthony McClellan, echoed my views in his
column this morning: “Fairfax journalists seem sluggish in this area, playing
catch-up…The security agencies and police know how to play the media game as
well as the politicians. A trusted journalist is quite a good
asset.”

Crikey subscriber Andrew Le Clercq responded firmly
to my assessment yesterday: “Get your hand off it, Hugo. News is actually miles
ahead in getting government leaks and tip-offs of impending action because they
stick to the party line. Work for Rupert and sing from the approved song sheet.
You may be fed the nods, winks, tips and tidbits but is it journalism or
something more akin to the workplace bullsh*t IR ads on the TV?”

Good question, and it’s a debate worth having. Let
me start the ball rolling by making this observation. It’s one thing to enjoy
the ear of the government, it’s another to ram home that advantage.

In my experience as a member of the federal
parliamentary Press Gallery, I’ve observed that News journalists have worked
harder and smarter on intelligence issues. I offer this, admittedly
glib, test: If Al-Qaeda operatives were to unleash an attack in the press
gallery at 10am on a sitting day, gunshots would echo through largely empty
Fairfax bureaux. Only Michelle Grattan, who’s been permanently clamped to her
desk since about 1981, would be in the firing line.

Yes, News Ltd enjoys an institutional advantage in
reporting issues the Government wants us to hear. But it’s up to their rivals
to work harder to offset the balance. There’s little evidence this is
happening. Send your views to [email protected]