Correction:

John Arthur, media adviser for Special Minister for State Gary Gray, writes: Peter Criss wrote in Crikey yesterday a claim that: “What many may not realise is that politician pay rises benefit not just current politicians, but all qualifying pre-2004 retired politicians. If those retired politicians are survived by their spouse, this pay rise also goes to them. Such are the terms of the pre-2004 Parliamentary Contributory Superannuation Scheme (PCSS) — which must be irresistible if you’re entitled to it …”

He’s wrong and a little research on either the webpage of the Remuneration Tribunal or the Special Minister of State would have clarified the matter. A press release from the Special Minister of State issued on December 15 states:

“The increase will become effective only after Parliament passes further legislation to prevent windfall gains by current and former MPs belonging to Parliament’s original defined benefit pension scheme established in 1948.”

Sad truth about asylum-seeker policy:

Tony Kevin writes: Re. “Silence on asylum seekers” (comments, yesterday). I do not know David Hand and did not discuss with him his letter. But I agree with it. I had offered on December 19 to write a piece on the Prigi SIEV for Crikey for December 20. I was ready to roll. Was it a Crikey policy decision that the subject was not important enough for a commentary?  You would be in large company there with most mainstream dailies — I was pleased the Canberra Times published my op-ed on December 20, no other daily showed interest.

At the moment there is a locked-in and pernicious public myth that these comparatively infrequent events involving major fatalities on SIEVs (more than 520 boats have arrived safely) are all the fault of those greedy people-smuggling scum. Actually, a poorly monitored and out-of-control joint Australian-Indonesian people-smuggling disruption program, and a border protection system whose operational doctrines are systemically indifferent to protecting asylum seeker human life at sea (fortunately, this is mostly not the case at the operational front end),  are a big part of the reason for these deaths. But no one wants to know this.  Does Crikey want to join Gillard and Abbott and most mainstream media in perpetuating this corrupting myth?

Corrupting, because as long as government and media together send an exonerating message to the AFP intelligence gathering and disruption teams in Indonesia, and to the Australian maritime border protection system in all its declared and secret parts — “it doesn’t matter if any of you guys sometimes stuff up and people die, we will just cover up for you and blame people smugglers as we have done since SIEV X in 2001” — people will go on dying in these SIEV boats. And step by step, this is brutalising our country. We are becoming inured to SIEV deaths at sea, having been taught to see them as “inevitable” (Chris Bowen — just days before the Prigi SIEV). Each time it happens, the public shock level is less. And the resentment at having our Christmas holiday festive spirit dampened is greater.

Dear me, what about the not-dead dictators?:

John Richardson writes: Re. yesterday’s editorial. Gee Whizz Crikey; how about being a little original? Every two-bit “journalist” and “politician” the world over has spent the past 36 hours sinking the boot into our poor, dead “Dear Leader”.

In the play books I’ve seen, Uncle Kim has been characterised as a tyrant, a murderer, a hijacker, a kidnapper, a nuclear terrorist; as having a reputation for living a lavish lifestyle … fine foods, cigars, cognac and women (sounds like a few people we also know in Washington, London and Canberra).

We have been informed that there were fears that Uncle Kim might pass weapons of mass destruction to “the terrorists”, while Greg Sheridan, that masterful judge of character from The Australian referred to him as “the most grotesque dictator of our time”. And there’s even been a suggestion that it wasn’t a dingo, after he was seen lurking near Azaria …

Then, along comes Crikey, ranting about “slave labour” and people being “held without charge or trial” … “Amnesty found evidence of the use of torture cells, small cubes in which it is impossible to either stand or lie down” …  “researchers revealed the case of a boy of 13 confined to a cube for eight months”, etc.

Give us a break. Your comments could equally have applied to George Bush and Guantanamo, while your remarks on a teenage boy could equally apply to some of the teenagers from Indonesia who have been imprisoned by the Australian government as “refugee smugglers”.

Seriously though, not a peep from anyone about Kim and his evil ways for years, but the moment he shuffles off this mortal coil, it’s on for young and old. What a pity we can’t display our courageous commitment to the downtrodden by speaking out against living tyrants, instead of wasting our time over the dead.

Is Julian Assange a journalist (cont)?:

Michael Fink writes: Henry Rosenbloom (comments, yesterday) says “it’s very simple, really: journalists write journalism, but Assange doesn’t”. And with that he would deny Assange any protection afforded by the freedom of the press.

But freedom of the press doesn’t exist to protect writing. It protects the dissemination of information that might embarrass governments, but which is in the public interest. To be effective such protection needs to be afforded to publishers, journalists and — if it’s neither of those — whatever Rosenbloom wants to define Assange’s role as. Whether or not Assange wrote a nice little introductory paragraph and conclusion to top and tail the content of the cables matters not a whit.

Guy Rundle writes: Henry Rosenbloom argues that Julian Assange is not a journalist. He is wrong on several counts:

  1. In traditional terms, Assange has co-written one book of reportage (Underground), several op-ed pieces, and produced synthesising news reports (the early WikiLeaks report on Somalia, for example). The recent WikiLeaks project on totalising private online surveillance included a degree of synthesis and interpretation.
  2. He’s a paid up member of the relevant MEAA section.
  3. Publication of leaked documents is a journalistic activity per se. When The New York Times published the entire Pentagon Papers, were they not engaged in journalism?
  4. Newspaper editors go from one year to the next without writing an article. Most I presume would still claim that they are, among other things, journalists.

The 19th century term “journalist” is pretty archaic in itself. In this context it just means “writing-based media worker”. Henry’s irritation with the description has a touch to it, of old-media narkiness about new meida practices.

Doug Melville writes: Hmm … and what do we say about journalists who barely disguise a regurgitated party press release? Does this mean an editor is not a journalist? How much involvement with the creation of content and the process of publication does one have to have to be a journalist? Besides which, in some companies these days they aren’t known as “journalists” — they are “content aggregators” — and Assange certainly qualifies as that. I think that the media enquiry here and in the UK might have some pertinent comments about what passes for journalism these days, and potentially a working definition?

No NBN without Conroy?:

John Kotsopoulos writes: So Glen Frost (comments, Monday), Stephen Conroy is just a passenger in the NBN express. Really? I am prepared to bet that if Turnbull had managed to derail the NBN as he was instructed to do by that nit Abbott, people like you would have been all over him like a cheap suit decrying his failure. Conroy hasn’t just bested Turnbull, the so-called premier parliamentary performer, he has also been able to defy the News Ltd machine and its endless politically motivated campaign of misinformation. No Conroy, no NBN. It’s that simple.

Questioning the Qantas tip:

Mark Edmonds writes: Re. “Tips and rumours” (item 7, yesterday). I seriously can’t believe a Qantas 747 captain said that the pax capacity of a 747 is 260. According to Wikipedia QF aircraft are all 400 series — the last 338 has been retired. And if you want Qantas’ actual seating configuration go here.

Now it might have been that that particular flight only had 260 passengers — that’s another issue. I think you will find that the Dreamliner is supposed to be Qantas’ solution to long-haul, light-load legs.

I think you really should ask yourselves when you get these tips, “Is it true?” and, more importantly, “Why is this person telling me something if it isn’t true?”. The story here could be Qantas pilots sink to new lows of deception to support their industrial campaign.

Peter Fray

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