How can the fourth estate be a truly independent observer of government when some of its leading practitioners have become partners or spruikers of the same government?
Over recent weeks that question has assumed real currency as a growing number of senior Australian media operatives have been cosying up to the Rudd government in a way that conjures potential for conflict, compromise or at least bad optics.
Take ABC journalist Geraldine Doogue. Surely her reputation for vigorous independence can only be harmed by delivering these words in thanking Kevin Rudd for his keynote speech at the Sydney Institute’s annual dinner last week (complete with a salute):
I do hope that you continue to enjoy your time as Prime Minister, and enjoy bringing us along with you. And may I thank you in that eloquent way you immortalised recently … Prime Minister, we salute you!
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None of the media heavyweights who attended the weekend Ideas Summit used words or gestures that appeared to be quite as obsequious as those of Geraldine Doogue, but the highly visible presence of the top brass from News Limited, Fairfax, Seven and the ABC could easily be construed as a blurring the boundaries between the reported and the reporters. Not to mention the editors of The Monthly and the Griffith Review, whose support of the Rudd worldview is already established and, after the weekend, even more of a special partnership.
What happens when the same government runs into trouble and deploys its spinners to get good coverage from those media organisations?
What happens the next time a big media company lobbies government to secure more government advertising?
What happens to the adversarial relationship over media policy or broadcasting licences when the big guns who attended and proselytised the Ideas Summit are sitting across the table from the ministers who sat with them at the Summit?
Media’s role is to scrutinise, government’s role is to be scrutinised. Kevin Rudd has got a lot of uber media types just where he wants them.