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This boring election is the media's fault, not ours

Crikey readers have their say on the election campaign thus far, from the Greens, to the Crikey tipping competition and mental health policies.

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CORRECTION:

In yesterday’s Tips and Rumours section an anonymous tipster referred to a recent Macquarie Group AGM during which an elderly lady became unwell. The tipster wrote: “the woman was carried out by some security and believed to now be in hospital. No mention of the incident again during the meeting.” This is incorrect.

A Macquarie Group spokesperson has told Crikey that the AGM was suspended when the lady collapsed and medical assistance was immediately called for. The lady was treated by a St John Ambulance officer outside the meeting and an ambulance was called. The Chairman of the meeting gave an update on the lady’s condition later during the meeting. This is from the transcript of the meeting:

“Just one thing I would like to report, ladies and gentlemen, is that the lady who took ill earlier today has been taken to hospital by ambulance.  Her family has been notified and are going to meet her there.  She has regained consciousness quickly and appears to have stabilised.  That is good news.”

Crikey apologises for the error.

The election:

Les Heimann writes: Re. “This is all your fault” (yesterday, item 1). Bernard Keane seeks to blame the voters for “getting the government we deserve” in some manic reasoning that places the sleepy working family as the villain for stunningly boring politics.

A stunning and boring election? Absolutely Bernard. But you answered your own question: currently we have a media pack baying for blood based on innuendo, rumour and dirt, meanwhile the media barons are in the background whipping their attack dogs into action, sourcing and receiving reaction.

So our politicians simply say nothing, be nothing, don’t provide a target, because whatever a politician says will be seized upon and fought over by the media wolf pack.

Whose fault is it? The media.

Tom Richman writes: Re. “Essential: Labor drops but still holds a handy lead” (yesterday, item 8). What  happened between Bernard Keane’s morning posting yesterday about how the “election is surely now the Liberals to lose”, based, I trust, on the latest Nielsens/Newspolls, but by the afternoon he writes: “Labor’s big lead has fallen away in this week’s Essential Report [Crikey’s very own poll], but the government still holds an election-winning two-party preferred lead.”

Clearly, if Bernard can’t trust the latter’s results get rid of them. On the other hand, should he find the former polls untrustworthy, at the very best relegate them to nothing more than an asterisk to Essential Report.

You can’t have it both ways.

Julien Marr writes: After reading the sports pages after trawling through the black hole of election comment I had a thought: if the election was covered with even half of the passion, knowledge, in-depth commentary and investigative reporting that the AFL is then it would be an election to behold. But it’s not.

We simply have a bunch of children eagerly following Abbott and Gillard submitting reports that are on par with “what I did on my holidays”.

John Turner writes: Has Julia Gillard given any thought to the consequences of associating herself with Barry Hall,  the current Bulldogs player? Many AFL followers will recall Hall’s record of self-confessed “brain snaps“.

Was Hall one of those from whom she sought and received advice about how to deal with her predecessor?

The Greens:

Keith Binns writes: Re. “Greens out of the blocks but off the rails in wintry Canberra” (yesterday, item 2). The main reason I read Crikey is for independent and reasoned comment. I’m beginning to get to the point where I won’t bother reading Bernard Keane (in the same way I would not waste my time reading Gerard Henderson or Tamas Calderwood) as his pieces are so full of bile.

His piece on the Greens yesterday was most odd. Anyone who has been reading the excellent and depressing Crikey updates on climate change will be hoping fervently that the Greens get the balance of power in the Senate so that something useful might actually be done about climate change so that our children and grandchildren aren’t faced with the catastrophe of millions of displaced people.

The future of the world is at stake and Bernard wants to make snide remarks about Bob Brown. As I say, most odd.

And if his argument on the VST had been followed back when NSW actually built infrastructure, then the North Shore Line would still be in the planning stage.

Pensioners:

Beryce Nelson, a very grumpy not so old woman, writes: Re. “Pummelling of pensioners just plain wrong” (yesterday, item 9). I just hope I am still alive in 30 years and alert enough to watch the many David Penberthys of this Andy Warhol world pining for retirement at 70, severely disabled by gout and/or arthritis from years of over-indulgence, partially blinded by Macular Degeneration from decades of staring at computer screens, hard of hearing from too many weekends of night-club cacophony, still forced to stagger off to some $6 an hour, six hours a day, six days a week airport toilet cleaning job, finally to discover that their promised superannuation payout was a mirage on someone else’s horizon.

Then I will know not only that history does repeat itself but that there is some justice in this world.

Mental health:

Lorraine Bochsler writes: Re. Dr JJ Carmody (yesterday, comments). Is he serious — Julia Gillard’s mental health credentials are that a friend at secondary school had a father who was Professor of Psychiatry!  And from that he goes on to “imagine” that she learned about mental illness!

If she had a friend whose father was a mass murderer would she be considered to be well informed on that subject. Ridiculous. I think that families of those who suffer from mental illness would know a lot more about the appalling lack of attention to that sector by governments, as would those who work in the sector.

And as for counselling tolerance, patience and understanding, is he counselling John Mendoza? Or is he counselling those who care for those who suffer from mental health issues? Or is he suggesting to John Mendoza that Julia Gillard should be shown these, and if so why?

She chose to be the leader, she wants to go on being the leader, she doesn’t appear to have been leading as she has now announced that she is going to start leading.

Crikey’s election tipping contest:

Denis Goodwin  writes: Thank you to Crikey for running a tipping competition for the August 21 election. As a previous runner up in the last NSW state election I was eager to have a look at process. I was surprised to find that tipsters are required to tip the party that wins in 20 nominated marginal seats. In the event of a tie the winner is the one who guesses the total number of two party preferred votes received by the winning candidate in Bowman. If that is tied “first in” gets the prize.

It does occur to me with the sorts of political insiders that are subscribers of this fine service that a good number of people may have access to private polling in these marginal seats. This will give them an advantage that they might not have had if all seats were included in the competition. The task in Bowman of predicting the total number of votes reminds me of the competitions at school fetes where you have to count the number of jelly beans in a jar. What sort of election tipster would enter now with the way opinion polls are fluctuating from week to week?

Don’t get me wrong I am still planning to enter but I will take a chance with the “first in” rule and wait a while before doing so.

International Power and Hazelwood:

Jim Kouts, Group Manager, Corporate Affairs, International Power Australia, writes: Re. “Cash for clunkers: $1b for clapped-out, world’s worst-polluting coal generator” (30 July, item 9). International Power Australia in recent years has been forced to regularly correct the false and misleading statements that green activist groups make about our Hazelwood power station.

Unfortunately, these groups are not willing to deal with the facts but are prepared to misrepresent the truth in an attempt to mislead the Victorian and Australian community. We will continue to correct their statements to help ensure there is a sensible and honest debate about carbon dioxide emissions.

However, we were extremely disappointed to see Crikey publish these blatantly incorrect assertions through your “research scientist” Dr Michael R James. Dr James’ 1000-plus word attack on International Power and Hazelwood is littered with too many wrong and misleading statements to address individually. However, his commentary includes one major falsehood that must not be allowed to pass uncorrected.

Dr James claims at various points through his article that the power station was due to be closed in 2005 and that the Victorian Government had “extended Hazelwood’s license (sic) to pollute to 2031”. Wrong. Very wrong.

Even the most cursory research (and surely it isn’t unreasonable to expect a “research scientist” to check at least some facts) would reveal that International Power purchased Hazelwood from the Victorian State Government in 1996, with a 40 year life to 2036. The Bracks Labor Government subsequently approved an environment effects statement in 2005 that allowed International Power to move a river and road to access the coal allocated to Hazelwood at the time of sale. Under Victoria’s electricity privatisation program, Hazelwood was NEVER scheduled to close in 2005.

While it may suit Dr James and others to perpetuate this factual error, I believe Crikey owes it to its fee-paying subscribers to set the record straight.  International Power welcomes informed and constructive debate on this important energy and environmental issue. However, we believe the debate must be based on fact rather than myths generated by activist and interest groups.

Inflation vs. deflation:

Niall Clugston writes: Re. “For policy makers, inflation vs deflation is a choice between two evils” (yesterday, item 21). It’s a bit extreme of Adam Schwab to argue the world economy faces a “choice between two evils”: deflation or hyper-inflation.

Are price stability or moderate inflation completely impossible? Implied in this is a wild exaggeration of the power of monetary and fiscal stimulus, as if world governments can go from one pole to the other at the flick of a switch.

His conclusion that deflation may be the lesser evil is also questionable. The stability of Japanese living standards during the “lost decades” seems more a testament to Japan’s economic and social safety net than to the benign nature of price collapse.

If deflation took hold in America it would mean a rerun of the Great Depression.

The Walkley Founndation:

Wendy Bacon writes: In several respects, Christopher Warren’s response (yesterday, comments) sidesteps the issues I raised.

I stated clearly that those opposing this Exxon Mobil/Walkley agreement are not doing so because sponsorship itself is an issue. I mentioned a number of the other sponsors, none of whom are inappropriate. I also acknowledged that UTS students were going to video the event. We have now withdrawn from that agreement.

I am not sure what Warren means by stating that the Walkley Foundation is politically neutral. I assume he is not using this phrase in a narrow politically party sense. In a broad sense, journalism does take a broad political position in relation to its role in a democracy and in holding power accountable. The Walkley Foundation is the professional development arm of the MEAA which often criticises government over lack of strong shield laws, weak freedom of information laws and so on.

It adopts these positions  as a consequence of its underlying political stance in relation to core principles of the public right to know and the independence of journalism. In a world in which mega corporations such as Exxon Mobil wield as much influence as many governments, surely the MEAA can take a stance in relation to companies.

Warren makes the obvious point that many journalists practise in the context of commercial relationships.  It does not follow however that as Warren suggests, one cannot distinguish between commercial relationships or that all sponsorships are therefore equal. By taking this approach, he conveniently rules out any discussion about ethical boundaries.

No one has suggested that individual journalists will be compromised by this sponsorship. The issue is what Exxon Mobil is potentially gaining from the relationship.  This move is part of a multifaceted PR strategy which will allow Exxon Mobil to publicly associate its name with some leading names and institutions in Australian and international media.

Warren does not address our central concern which is that Exxon Mobile has not only lent its support to organisations which have supported the view that climate change is a wilful conspiracy by scientists but it has misled the public about this  funding. Shareholder, media and environmental pressure led it to promise that it would cease its support for organisations promoting climate skepticism but in fact, it continued the funding during 2009. This has been widely reported by The Times, The Australian and many other outlets. I am not arguing that climate skeptic organisations should not be allowed to express their views. The issue is whether our union should link itself with an organisation which funds them to do it.

Despite a drop in its 2009 profits to $19 billion, Exxon Mobil has huge resources to support a wide range of organisations. It spent $27 million alone last year on lobbying the US Congress about energy policy.  It will continue to do. This is irrelevant to the consideration of whether Exxon Mobil is an appropriate sponsor for a media conference.

Warren asserts that that the code does not allow journalists to be affected by commercial considerations in their work.  While this does not seem to be relevant to the sponsorship deal, it does open up another issue.  Journalists do strive to remain independent of commercial considerations but as we demonstrated in our Crikey Spinning the Media,they often do not succeed. During our research for that series, we were contacted by a number of young journalists who felt afraid to speak publicly about the pressures on them.

The MEAA needs to go further than a mere restatement of the ethical position and address this issue in practical ways. Leading journalists and others speaking at the conference may not experience these pressures. Young journalists, however, might appreciate sessions on how to deal with spin, including government PR which makes it increasingly difficult to get the story.

Hopefully, this discussion will get people involved in thinking about what approach they take in relation to this issue. Many journalists, academics, environmentalists and others are signing an open letter which is now on the ACIJ website. Those who want to sign can email acij@uts.edu.au. At Australian universities this week, students, who are the future journalists and members of the union, will discuss the issues and make up their minds.

Those signing the letter urge the MEAA will withdraw from this deal before next week.

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