Is there anything Sydney’s Daily Telegraph won’t publish in its pursuit of circulation and notoriety?

Of course there is. The Telegraph has standards. It won’t publish embarrassing or negative stories about its proprietor, his family or his business interests. And it’s unlikely to publish — for purely commercial reasons — anything its readers would consider un-Australian or seditious.

Beyond that, as it demonstrated last Thursday with its seedy story naming and shaming a well-known singer who allegedly had sex with Australian soldiers in Afghanistan, according to a totally unsubstantiated Australian Army report, there is no cesspit too deep for the Telegraph’s toxic journalism du jour to reach.

All of which would be the sole business of the paper, its editor and its lawyers, except for one thing. Where the Tele descends, the debate about media freedom and responsibility follows. As David Marr noted on ABC TV’s Insiders yesterday, stories like this give ammunition to the proponents of increased privacy laws on the media.

The Daily Telegraph is in trouble. Its audited weekday circulation is falling — down from 406,000 in 2002 to the most recent audit of 366,000 and, apparently, still falling. If it is not yet a failing newspaper, it is a flailing newspaper. Handling issues of editorial integrity are minor. Getting talked about is everything.

Surely it is time for News Limited’s chief John Hartigan, himself an old Telegraph hand, to step in and put a lid on the sewer. His admirable campaign to force governments to create more freedom and access for the Australian media is compromised every time his own tabloid “flagship” runs another tawdry story which, in the process, adds even more distance to the space between the words “journalism” and “responsibility”.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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