In [yesterday’s] Australian, Mark Day compares the Sandilands everyone loves to hate just now (that’s the radio Sandilands, not to be confused with Crikey‘s aviation guru) with the Crikey newsletter, which seems to be a constant mosquito in The Australian‘s ear.

Day forgot to mention a few things about Crikey: the Labor-stimulus cheering squad, the one-sided witch-hunt of “climate change denialists”, the offensively anti-Christian cartoon strip, editorials that are sometimes immature … the list goes on. For a much more thorough panning of less-than-perfect Crikey‘s gaffs and shortcomings, Day could have perused Crikey‘s own Letters column, which dwarfs that of The Australian, and which does not flinch or fudge when readers or high-profile figures are less than amused and write in to say so. For example I have little doubt that Crikey will print this letter without editing this paragraph at least, but I’ve learned with The Australian not to even bother.

That’s why I subscribe to Crikey, and will continue to do so, and only intermittently read The Australian. The latter devotes very little space to letters, only prints a token number of those that criticize it, and cuts them all in half anyway. The vast majority of right-of-reply is filtered and sifted into bite-size quotes in the news pages by gatekeeper journalists and editors, who still in 2009 persist in believing that their years of experience give them some special insight to the right “news angle” of every story. So you’ll never know if you’re missing out on an important reply or correction.

In contrast, every day in Crikey there is something from persons or organizations who feel misrepresented by something written the day before. You watch and you learn. You take nothing as final until a debate has run its course. You read things from the horse’s mouth. Crikey has no pretensions like “Don’t you know who we are? We are a major masthead, of course we are right.”

Some editors in The Australian consider themselves to be players on the political stage. This is a gross conflict of interest.

On March 9 this year I wrote to The Australian to ask why it had buried a full-page Op-Ed article by Malcolm Turnbull in The Weekend Australian, which I had not even noticed when I first read the paper that day:

I find it a bit strange that The Weekend Australian buried Malcolm Turnbull’s response to Kevin Rudd’s Monthly essay in an inside page of the Inquirer section on Sat 7th March, with no front-page banner and not even a very clear indication at the front of the Inquirer section.

You have a front-page article by Dennis Shanahan summarizing just one of the points Turnbull made at the end of his essay — out of context, giving the false impression that Turnbull has nothing but cheap shots to offer — still without making it clear that the actual Turnbull article can be read inside.

By accepting an article from the leader of the Australian Opposition then burying it, you have done a serious disservice not so much to him as to the political process in Australia. Even if you didn’t think it was a good article, it was still a major piece of information for the public. I don’t know if this is careless or sinister on your part, but either way I believe it is an abuse of the trust placed in you as a major carrier of public debate.

The Australian was at that time pursuing an aggressive campaign to have Peter Costello challenge Turnbull and take over the Liberal leadership. They neither printed nor replied to my letter, or to a follow-up letter on 11 March.

I’m not a Liberal myself (I’m a “liberal” and a believer in John Stuart Mill’s open market of ideas), but I felt The Australian had gone beyond the pale, accepting a piece that could have been more published more visibly elsewhere, just to bury it. So I wrote to Turnbull’s office, where his advisor Andrew Hirst showed somewhat more interest in The Australian‘s conduct. (People at that level often don’t have time to read the same format we do; they get Media Monitors clippings of the important stories, so the trick had gone unnoticed in Turbull’s office.)

On April 13 The Australian printed another Op-Ed piece by Malcolm Turnbull. This time a banner did advertise the article inside.

The date of publication coincided with the death of Frank Costigan, and The Australian took the opportunity to dredge up old allegations that Kerry Packer had been a master criminal (codenamed “Goanna” by the National Times in 1980). On the page directly opposite Malcolm Turnbull’s article, the Goanna story was re-hashed, together with a big photograph of the Goanna master criminal himself, walking alongside his young dashing lawyer at the time, Malcolm Turnbull.

After that I gave up on The Australian as a serious newspaper. I still read it from time to time because quite frankly most of the alternatives are worse.

But the only content I pay for is one where people are allowed to speak for themselves. If Crikey‘s refusal to act like a hoary member of the newspaper establishment plagues The Australian, then I say more power to it. Keep up the good work and here’s my subscription renewal.

James McDonald
NSW 2038