The subject of today’s tutorial is Case Studies in Extreme Media Censorship in the 21st Century. We could begin by discussing exemplary media censorship scenarios in China, Zimbabwe or Russia, but today we will start much closer to home.
Our analysis begins on page 16 of today’s West Australian newspaper — a full page advertisement under the heading “An Open Letter to 30,000 Shareholders of The West Australian“. It was placed (at a cost of $4500) by Bert Reuter of Mosman Park, WA, who explains that buying the ad was the only way he could present his views about “a very important issue before us involving one of Western Australia’s major public companies”.
Bert Reuter — a former distinguished Perth media executive — is referring to the bid by the Seven Network to overturn the board of Western Australian Newspapers (publisher of the West Australian). Reuter says buying the ad was the only way he or anyone else could express their views on a subject of crucial political and business importance in WA because the monopoly West Australian refuses to publish any comments or letters on the issue. (His unpublished letters can be read here).
Australian media censorship of issues of direct interest and relevance to readers is not confined to the West Australian, of course. Fairfax censors are equally effective. The Age, for example, has published not a word about a meeting last week where 235 editorial staff unanimously condemned their editor-in-chief Andrew Jaspan for undermining the newspaper’s editorial independence — even though The Age media reporter filed a story on the subject which inadvertently didn’t make it into his own newspaper.
After that meeting, Fairfax CEO David Kirk sent a memo to Age staff telling them he was “very disturbed that some on the staff felt free to tape Andrew’s remarks and distribute them to other media outlets, and that they want to air such concerns outside the paper.” However Mr Kirk went on to reassure staff that because “Fairfax Media has never been in stronger shape … we have the resources to invest in journalism of the highest standards, and that makes us proud every day.”
David Kirk should not feel proud of journalism that censors coverage of isses directly affecting its own readers. Nor should the editor of The West Australian.
There are too many media companies in Australia who spend their time doing their jobs — investigating and castigating others for the way they run their governments or their businesses, and who actively ferret information from private meetings about important issues — while privately practising selective censorship over equally important issues.
The forces of censorship, unprofessionalism and hypocrisy are alive and well in the Australia media. It’s just that you rarely get to read all about it.