An effective shield law to protect journalists’ sources would ensure the public would be better informed. The Press Council years ago developed the first coherent proposal for such a law, but only recently did it seem that this might be achieved.

So this is hardly the time for journalists to be behaving badly. But that is what the three journalists did when they came out about their dinner in 2005 with Peter Costello. As Gerard Henderson wrote, had the journalists been politicians, the media would have been calling for their resignations.

As long ago as 1996, Professor John Henningham demonstrated that journalists tend to be well to the left of the general public. This shouldn’t matter – provided the news is reported objectively, and comment is clearly distinguishable. So how do our media perform?

One of the most damning assessments of the Australian media in recent years came from the highly regarded British editor, the late Bill Deedes. He concluded:

I have rarely attended elections in any country, certainly not a democratic one, in which the newspapers have displayed more shameless bias. One and all, they determined that Australians should have a republic and they used every device towards that end.

In the last week or so, we have seen a feeding frenzy over Kevin Rudd’s visit to a strip club, even stories about a relative who was once as a stripper. In the meantime, most of the mainline media have ignored the latest developments in the Heiner affair about the destruction of evidence by the Goss cabinet relating to child abuse in a state detention centre. This is that a letter has just gone to the Premier calling for the appointment of the special prosecutor recommended by a House of Representatives Committee.

That this letter is signed by several eminent judges and other lawyers, including the former Chief Justice of Western Australia, David Malcolm, hardly a conservative, is news.

It passes the “HH” test, which I shall return to. Piers Ackerman demonstrated in the Daily Telegraph that the claim that Heiner has been already been investigated adequately is just not true. (He published the judges’ letter in full on his blog, and has been interviewed at length by Alan Jones.)

On Sunday he pointed out that a pastor who similarly destroyed evidence in relation to child abuse was charged and found guilty. This suggests that the law is being applied differently in Queensland. That’s news. Given the manufactured fervour of the campaign against Dr Hollingworth, why is there silence on this in the mainline media, and of course, on Media Watch?

Apply that “HH” test . If John Howard were close to those who seem to have broken a provision of the criminal law, wouldn’t that fill the front pages and the TV screens for weeks?

The Howard Haters would ensure that, and they would be justified.

Peter Fray

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