Note: This piece was written for the daily edition of Crikey early in the week starting Monday 17th August – for some reason it fell through the cracks and, like all news pieces, it got stale after a few days – however I still think the analysis is sound – you might have other views, and of course, are welcome to make them known by your comments!!

And just for a further update, at the bottom I’ve included a par from Endeavour Consulting’s views about the recent events in the NT and the “misleading and eccentric” reporting of recent events in the NT by The Australian journalists – as reported in Crikey yesterday.

Over the weekend of Saturday & Sunday 15 & 16 August The Australian maintained it’s bizarre position that Alison Anderson was a visionary that could do no wrong and was now a victim of a dastardly conspiracy by a manipulative Gerry Wood and the forces of absolute evil behind NT Chief Minister Paul Henderson’s ruthless determination to hang on to power at the expense of “her people” – whomever they may be.

There are, of course, many other more considered views about Anderson’s recent contributions to political life in the NT.

And, as Alice Brennan of the ABC in Alice Springs reported on Friday 14 August – there is at least one mob of “her people” that are less than impressed with Alison Anderson, at least in her capacity as their local member:

“Rebel MLA ignoring us: community. The residents of Ampilatwatja, 325 kilometres north of Alice Springs, walked off their community a month ago protesting against their living conditions. A spokesman for the Ampilatwatja community, which is in Ms Anderson’s electorate, says it is disappointed they have not heard from the politician. “Nothing,” Richard Downs said. “It just shows to me what sort of a person she is. “She doesn’t have concerns enough to give us a call and say, ‘Look, I’m going to visit with you, I’m going to listen to you and see what we can do.’ “You know the rules, you should have stayed in there and looked after your constituents – that’s both black and white. “Look, do what you want to do but we certainly ain’t gonna support you no longer.”

As reported previously by Crikey and much more colourfully and disdainfully at VexNews here and here, being a journalist or political spinner in Darwin these days carries some serious personal and professional risks.

And, not least among the small gene pool of journalists and spinners in the NT, The Australian’s local journalists appear to have been in the recent political mess in the NT up to their necks.

On the weekend in question The Weekend Australian’s coverage of the outcome of the biggest political crisis in the short and inglorious history of the self-governing NT was limited to this cursory assessment by Natasha Robinson of Friday the 14th’s proceedings in the NT Parliament and to publishing the full text of Anderson’s self-serving-in-shameless-defeat-but-none-of-it-was-my-fault speech to the Legislative Assembly during that Friday’s marathon sittings.

As this excerpt shows, Anderson’s speech was pretty much all-about-Alison:

“I have always been a passionate politician; I speak out for what I believe in. I spoke out against the Labor government when it took over Aboriginal land at McArthur River. I crossed the floor with two of my Indigenous colleagues. I did not have to cross the floor then; it was not my people, it was not my land. The fact that the Labor government extinguished the right of these Aboriginal people forever is what made me act on my principles and come to support the member for Arnhem on that occasion. Two years ago, I spoke out for the federal Intervention when Territory Labor wished it had never happened. Now, I have spoken out against SIHIP, the biggest scandal I have seen in my political career. I have left the government and given away my ministerial portfolios. I am not one to keep quiet when the wellbeing of my people is at stake, but my Labor colleagues were quite prepared to sweep this disaster under the carpet.”

The Australian’s nominal contingent of three NT-based journalists has been numerically diminished since Natasha Robinson fled southward late last year after reportedly declaring her inability to work with local “Chief”, Paul Toohey, who himself recently pulled the pin on principle from News Limited over “Northern Correspondent”, and current partner of Anderson, Nicolas Rothwell’s closeness to the recent chaos in the NT.

Rothwell is by all accounts unwilling to write about current events in NT politics without making a declaration to his readers about his relationship to Anderson. Robinson is now back in the NT and is supported by a bevy of other flacks not seen here before and that seem unsuccessfully to be trying to fill the substantial gap left by Toohey’s absence. Toohey is apparently looking for work in Darwin and may well turn up to strut his stuff at the wonderful little Darwin nightclub “Happy Yess” this Saturday night with his occasional band, The Presley Boys.

Crikey had earlier sought details of the rumoured declarations of the relationship between Rothwell and Anderson made by Rothwell to both his superiors at News Limited and to various politicians and staffers at the NT Parliament but received no responses.

Meanwhile, from the same Murdoch stable as The Australian, the local daily tabloid NT News has come through the last couple of months with a greatly enhanced reputation as the local journal of record.

Previously more well-known for it’s “tits-and-crocs” coverage rather than in-depth political analysis, the NT News has, during the recent series of rolling constitutional crises that have beset the NT , presented some of the best journalism on local politics I’ve seen in the twenty-five years I’ve had the general misfortune to read it.

Over the last few weeks in particular its coverage and commentary has been thorough and insightful and it can rightfully claim, through the work of Nigel Adlam and Nick Calacouras in particular, that it has led the journalistic charge and provided both a source of valuable commentary and an all-too-rare outlet for reader’s opinions via its letters and the publication of reams of text messages.

I cannot say how long this golden thread of quality in NT journalism will last – but judging by the manner and tone of this response from NT News Editor Julian Ricci to comments made in a Crikey piece by David Curl last week – informed and insightful comment and real citizen access to its pages might be hanging around in the Top End’s only daily for a good while yet:

The editor of Northern Territory News Julian Ricci writes: There are so many blatant falsehoods and inaccuracies in the dribble that appeared under David Curl’s byline (twice) that it barely deserves a response. But he, and Crikey, cannot be allowed to get off that lightly.

Curl (yesterday Item 10 NT washup:desperately seeking stability) writes that the recent Territory government crisis was precipitated by the resignation of two ministers who both resigned citing articles in the NT News, and not over some major policy issue. That bit’s at least true … well, at least, that’s what both former ministers are on the record as saying when they stepped down. He states that both pieces were written by senior journalist Nigel Adlam. Wrong. The first article was written by political reporter Nick Calacouras which led to the resignation of Minister for Indigenous Policy Marion Scrymgour.

The second was a commentary piece written by Adlam at the senior editorial team’s direction. It was the opinion of the newspaper. The new Minister for Indigenous Policy Alison Anderson blamed Chief Minister Henderson’s lack of rebuttal for her resignation.

Finally, Curl states “free speech and independent opinion* are also in dangerously short supply” in the Territory. We say if Curl regards the NT’s non-aligned daily newspaper, a regional bi-weekly, four community newspapers, several regional weeklies, the ABC, three commercial TV stations and many more radio stations as a “dangerously short supply”, he must regard Sydney and Melbourne as the only population centres where people can relax, free of the misplaced fear of manipulated news coverage.

FOOTNOTE*: Over the last nine days of the political crisis the NT News published more than 100 letters and more than 350 text messages on the subject from its readers.

And finally, as promised above, this from Endeavour Consulting’sPolitical Developments in Australia – July 2009” as reported in Crikey yesterday:

Indigenous housing and the defection of Alison Anderson: “Anderson’s position is, of course, completely spurious. The delays in delivering the housing package essentially demonstrates the Commonwealth’s ongoing incompetence in delivering any social programs in the NT… These developments demonstrate the continuing poisoning of NT indigenous affairs and politics by the NT indigenous intervention, which has caused the breaking up of political alliances and divisions within the Aboriginal leadership group. The negative effects of this have been reinforced by the misleading and eccentric coverage of NT issues in News Ltd publications.”

Got a comment about the NT News, The Australian, The ABC or any other coverage of the recent events in the NT?

Post a comment and have your say – register -it only takes a minute – and share your thoughts!!

Get Crikey for $1 a week.

Lockdowns are over and BBQs are back! At last, we get to talk to people in real life. But conversation topics outside COVID are so thin on the ground.

Join Crikey and we’ll give you something to talk about. Get your first 12 weeks for $12 to get stories, analysis and BBQ stoppers you won’t see anywhere else.

Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
12 weeks for just $12.