The “drop”, the “drip”. Call it what you will, it has been one of journalism’s dirty little secrets for too long.
A few weeks into a stint on the state political round for The Daily Telegraph in the mid-80s, the boss called me in for a chat – not enough front page exclusives for Mondays.
A problem easily fixed, he said. “Just have a yarn to a couple of Government press secs on Friday, and get them to keep something for you. You can let ’em know we’ll give it a good run.”
It turned out the last bit didn’t need to be spelled out – the Wran press machine under David Hurley, long-time A Current Affair executive producer, had the routine down pat.
Even for someone who’d been an “insider” for about five years, albeit it an obviously naive one not long down from the bush, this insight into how the game was played came as a bit of a shock. (To think I’d put all those splashes produced by my predecessor down to diligence and a vast network of contacts.)
One year later back in Queensland, back on the same round, and the same rules applied, if a little less formally. Still, the problem was so bad under Joh Bjelke-Petersen that it warranted a mention in the Fitzgerald Report into corruption.
“In Queensland, Government reports and information are invariably ‘leaked’ to selected journalists who are able to delude themselves that they are not being used … Media units can also be used … to control and manipulate … the dissemination of information to the public.”
Anne Davies turns her column today over to describing how it works in NSW – same as it ever was.
Davies says the practice “comes perilously close to being advertising for political parties” but fails to call it what it is: corrupt journalism, a fraud on the public perpetrated by hypocrites.
If a naive neophyte can miss seeing what is going on, what chance does the average punter have of knowing that they are being deliberately kept in the dark and fed bullsh-t by the same mob that is meant to be telling it like it is, “the public’s right to know” and all that guff.
Tony Fitzgerald went on to say that if press secretaries were not in the business of ensuring the public was well-informed, “then their existence is a misuse of public funds, and likely to help misconduct flourish”.
So sack the lot of them already!
Footnote: The Fitzgerald Report was ghost-written by Crikey’s Margaret Simons, one reason that it is so readable, and should be required reading for all cadets.