The Australian’s media commentator Mark Day has a swing at me in his column today, over this piece I wrote for Crikey last week.

Day completely misreads me.

Apart from the headline, which I did not write and which does not reflect the contents of what I wrote, the thrust of my piece is that journalists should be very careful of being used by their sources, and should always be alert to their motives. 

That is hardly controversial, nor is it particularly “left wing”. It is Journalism 101.

I also suggested that the Herald Sun seems to be being used.

I am sure Day did not mean to suggest that the Herald Sun no longer thinks being aware of sources’ motives is good practice. And I am sure he did not mean to imply that judgement and an appreciation of broader public interests has disappeared from the job description of News Limited editors.

Being careful of sources is particularly important when it comes to institutional corruption, and in Victoria at the moment we are at a particularly difficult time in the history of journalism. If I may be so bold as to quote the Fitzgerald report on corruption in Queensland (which I had a hand in writing):

 

Both the journalist and the source have a mutual
interest: both want a headline. Yet if the journalist is so undiscriminating that the perspective taken serves
the purposes of the source, then true independence is lost, and with it the right to the special privileges and
considerations which are usually claimed by the media because of its claimed independence and “watchdog”
role. If the independence and the role are lost, so is the claim to special considerations.

The media is one of the most important and effective mechanisms for the control of powerful institutions and individuals by reason of its ability to sway public opinion. Those who wish to mould public opinionmust do so largely through the media.

The media played a part in exposing corruption, and two media organizations contributed to the setting up of this Inquiry. Unfortunately it is also true that parts of the media in this State have over the years contributed to a climate in which misconduct has flourished….Fitting in with the system and associating with and developing a mutual interdependence with those in power have had obvious benefits. The journalist and the source have a mutual interest: both want a headline. Yet if the journalist is so undiscriminating that the perspective taken serves the purposes of the source, then true independence is lost, and with it the right to the special privileges and considerations which are usually claimed by the media because of its claimed independence and “watchdog” role. If the independence and the role are lost, so is the claim to special considerations.

 

The rest of Day’s column is largely a harrumph about supposed left wingedness, Eric Beecher and other perceived evils. I think I can safely let it go through to the keeper.