Sep 15, 2010

The Oz versus the Greens: well beyond the normal News Ltd bias

Judging by their frantic self-justification, the penny has dropped at The Australian that they have overplayed their hand in declaring their desire to destroy the Greens. We're used to News Ltd's bias, but this is something new.

Bernard Keane — Politics editor

Bernard Keane

Politics editor

Judging by the frantic self-justification yesterday and today, the penny has dropped at The Australian that they have overplayed their hand in declaring their desire to destroy the Greens. This is a significant addition to our understanding of News Ltd's agenda. I predicted the day after the election that this secretive, unaccountable American and Saudi-owned media company would go after the Greens, but I never thought it would be baldly stated as an editorial goal of the paper. It's one thing to be biased in your coverage. The paper's consistent partisanship and open hostility to Labor is taken as read by all except its most blinkered adherents -- even, perhaps, by its own journalists, some of whom are prone to reassuring people outside the News Ltd bubble that they don't really agree with many of the things they write and shouldn't be judged on them. And to an extent it's understandable, given the paper's declining readership that skews much older and wealthier than even other newspapers. But its declaration of war on the Greens is a whole step beyond that. Doubtless at some point after that editorial, the penny dropped in the minds of News executives and Chris Mitchell that, having declared that the goal of the paper was the destruction of the Greens, nothing The Australian reported about the Greens could henceforth be taken at face value. Anything it reports about the Greens, or policy issues of concern to the Greens, is now automatically suspect. How can anyone trust it to report accurately on the Greens or environmental issues? The ABC, which is used to taking its late night and morning news agenda cues pretty much directly from The Australian, will now have to vet and fact-check even the most anodyne report if it touches on a party that outlet has vowed to destroy. Such a declaration can now not be withdrawn without inviting even more ridicule than has already been heaped on the paper. Thus the rather frantic tone of self-justification over recent days. In the single funniest editorial of perhaps the past decade, The Australian yesterday declared itself the victim of a conspiracy by the ABC and Fairfax to undermine its quality journalism. Perhaps annoyed that its clear intent to delegitimise the new Labor minority Government was identified so early, it declared that The Oz was the real victim of delegitimisation -- delegitimisation of its coverage. Its media writers -- who are front and centre on many a campaign of import to News Ltd's commercial interests -- have also joined in. Chief Kool-Aid guzzler Caroline Overington devoted most of her Monday media column to hectoring Laura Tingle and David Marr. And today Geoff Elliot ran a series of truncated quotes from "senior media professionals" to back the newspaper. None of that will help: The Australian is condemned out of its own mouth -- its political reporting is automatically biased, not just by the usual partisanship, but by an open declaration that it wishes to destroy the Greens. An example of how they will try happened earlier this week. On Monday, The Australian put together a story about Greg Combet and his attitude toward coal, given its prominence in his electorate. A journalist from the paper called the Greens to invite them to respond to Combet's comments. Sensing a trap, the Greens refused to cooperate, offering an anodyne comment about "building a working relationship" with Labor. Yesterday, according to the Greens, another journalist from The Australian called again to try to extract a more useable, aggressive quote about Combet and coal, and when the Greens refused again to play along, threatened to run a "Greens going soft on coal" story and ring around environment groups to elicit hostile comments about them. The Greens have mentioned the incident to environment groups and suggested they be on the alert for journalists from The Australian trying to manufacture splits in the environmental movement. Impressive stuff from an outlet that claims it is being bullied by Bob Brown. The Australian complains about "delegitimisation" of its coverage. The delegitimisation is entirely self-created, and started when it switched from being a conservative paper -- for which there is a strong case in the Australian media landscape -- to a partisan paper. But an open declaration that it intends to destroy, rather than accurately report on, an important aspect of Australian politics takes The Australian's degradation of its own reputation to a new level.

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103 thoughts on “The Oz versus the Greens: well beyond the normal News Ltd bias

  1. Daemon Singer

    I do wonder whether it will come as any sort of shock to the Australian, that outside of the Liberal party and its coalition with the Nationals, most people who are actively involved in politics are actually quite smart, and I’m not talking about the politicians themselves, but rather those of us who come election time stand up and assist our chosen party at the polling place.

    I actually enjoy many things about The Australian, but I have to confess that its substantially right-wing bias has become somewhat tiresome over the last few years. Now to have them actively engaged in pulling a political party down, puts them in a somewhat invidious position vis a vis information reliability.

    Declining readership aside, their seeming incapacity to understand the needs of the current generation of news consumers must weigh heavily on the minds of their accountants when we all rush out in the morning with a cup of tea and sit down in front of a computer and read all three newspapers within half an hour (Brisbane-based). Added to that is the fact that we read those same three newspapers at no charge, and it seems the writing should be on the wall, even if it isn’t, for the Oz and their colleagues.

    One gets somewhat used to the Murdochs, the Fairfax’s et al screeching about whichever party they don’t particularly like, trust etc., But to have them come out so bluntly and put their political cards on the table is a somewhat new experience, at least to this reader. I’m not sure whether it was an accidental breach of the Chinese wall, or whether they are trying for a new look, but it sure does make reading the Oz a whole new ball game.

    One can only hope that the subs and friends of the ABC spent a little time looking about before sending items off to News 24, which would then have the capacity to make them look rather stupid, if it had come straight out of the Oz.

  2. Mr Squid

    I don’ think the Australian’s piece of self-debasement will have any effect on the ABC whatsoever. it too has set itself on a course of debauching every principle of ethical, honest, objective, independent and responsible journalism.

  3. Pamela

    I decided to personally blacklist The Australian by reading it online only- and never buying it. Sadly may be heading this way with what was once my beloved AGE.

    Just too much OLD PARADIGM- Bob Katter you have much to answer for!
    But seriously the old one -two political game is just so last year. Time for real discussion, reflective new ideas. Is this not why we decided not to give the bastards a free run? We are just over watching the kiddies fight.
    Time the media caught up and stopped alternately urging and reporting the puerile fights. The Coalition 2IC needs debarking- did you see her last night UURRRGH and Yes Fran- you are in there too.

    Still in luv with Crikey though…

  4. Jimmy

    You should also not discount the effect their blatant dummy spitting after labor was returned to their delegitimisation.
    Hopefully now they have been exposed we might be able to get some rational analysis of policy or is that just to much to ask?

  5. Scott

    The only way to have a truely balanced view point is to read the words of both the left and the right. The left is well served with the SMH/Age so it is only fitting that The Australian performs the role of mouthpiece of the right (at least it’s not the telegraph).
    I reconn the Oz should just stand behind it’s comments instead of trying to backtrack. Just looks weak.

  6. tentomushi1

    “Some papers did engage in front-page editorialising during the campaign, but The Australian was not among them.”

    Oh boy did that comment have me laughing for a while!

  7. deconst

    Fox News was once a legitimate news organisation. I wonder how many parallels there are between its descent and the descent of the Australian.

    The recent antics of that newspaper and its parent company show how significant media anti-consolidation laws are in protecting diversity of opinion.

  8. klewso

    The Greens should be issued with tape recorders for all incoming phone calls.

  9. johnd

    Well, it’s nice to see that Rupert has ordered that the Australian should more closely emulate his crown-jewel news organization Fox News.
    Soon the Oz will be filled with pseudo journalists frothing at the mouth and declaring that Julia was born in Haiti and is a citizen of Bosnia, and so shouldn’t be allowed to be Prime Minister.

  10. D Smith

    @Klewso, under the Australian telecommunications act, you must notify the other party on the phone that the call is being recorded.

    I can’t imagine any of The Australian’s reporters wanting to be recorded. They’d probably report it as “Another attack on the Saintly Australian by those evil hippy, communist, stalinist, union loving, elitist, educated Greenies.”.

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