Jul 15, 2014

Watchdog or attack dog? The Australian at 50

Australia's only nationwide broadsheet turns 50 today. Former Australian media writers Matthew Ricketson and Andrew Dodd take a look at the vendettas it has pursued over the years.

Anniversaries are a good time to celebrate achievements and reflect on mistakes. For its 50th anniversary today, The Australian is awash with the former and starved of the latter.

The “50 years in 50 days” series the newspaper has been publishing daily leading up to today's anniversary date has recounted, among many topics, the boldness of Rupert Murdoch’s original decision to launch The Australian, the forging of a national approach to covering news and culture and the long struggles to make the newspaper financially viable. There is undoubtedly a great deal to celebrate in the newspaper’s history;  just as The Australian claims the right to scrutinise society rigorously, however, so it too should be scrutinised. The problem is that in recent years The Australian has proved itself extraordinarily thin-skinned in dealing with criticism. The newspaper devoted close to twice as many words excoriating Robert Manne as he had written in his 2011 Quarterly EssayBad News: Murdoch’s Australian and the shaping of the nation”. The newspaper deploys four main weapons against critics: first, it unleashes a torrent of articles contesting even of the tiniest points, so as to wipe the critic’s original point from everyone’s mind; second, it attacks the critic personally and pitilessly; third -- somewhat paradoxically -- it ignores the critic; and fourth, when all else fails, it simply continues asserting something as true as if no one has ever shown it was false. In the latest issue of The Monthly, Margaret Simons, the director of Melbourne University’s Centre for Advancing Journalism, urged media commentators to stop talking about The Australian because that only feeds what she terms its narcissistic impulses. She swiftly earned herself schoolyard sarcasm from the newspaper’s Cut and Paste section and finger-wagging from Gerard Henderson in The Weekend Australian. The Australian’s influential role in national affairs continues to merit discussion, but her point carries some weight. Has there ever been another Australian media outlet whose editor-in-chief, with a daily leader article and the services of hundreds of journalists at his disposal, feels the need to be quoted so frequently in his own newspaper? We compared the number of times Chris Mitchell’s name was mentioned in The Australian over the past two years to July 5 with the number of mentions of The Age’s editor, Andrew Holden, in his paper. It was not surprising to find that Mitchell was mentioned almost three times more often. And this was before yesterday's Media section interview, which was accompanied by five photographs of Mitchell.

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14 thoughts on “Watchdog or attack dog? The Australian at 50

  1. SusieQ

    A paper launched with noble intentions, maybe, but has become way, way to partisan and predictable.

  2. thelorikeet

    Coming soon, the anti Matt and Andy lift out …

  3. klewso

    “Papa ‘doch’s baby – power without election.”
    And – when it comes to watching – two eyes are better than only one, Right?

  4. Venise Alstergren

    Rupert Murdoch will scarcely be remembered as a builder. Rather, he is an infamous destroyer. So what possible reason would he have had to hang onto “The Australian?” Will this be the one thing he can claim to have created? It so, he has deluded himself. “The Australian” may have been started with good intentions but, as with anything else he has had his hands on, he had to destroy it. His once shining ideal has become predictable, parochial and pedestrian.

    On his tombstone someone should write ‘Here lies the man who killed the printed media.’

  5. Robert

    The Australian??? No thanks, I have enough Sorbent at home!

  6. Hunt Ian

    It is a propaganda rage, despite some straightly reported stories.It influences other journalists, who are generally afraid to the generally right wing coverage of Australian media.To the tactics noted, we can add selective reporting. Claims against Julia Gillard about her home renovations and whether her boyfriend at the time corruptly paid for them were given stand out coverage but there was no trace of her builder’s evidence that he was paid in full by Julia Gillard herself.
    When Joseph Stiglitz says that there is no sound basis economically for the Abbott government’s campaign for the destruction of the welfare state, and bringing inequality in Australia closer to what pre-tax incomes reveal, he is ignored.
    There is nothing to celebrate about what has become a vicious weapon for selling Rupert Murdoch’s ignorant views of the market and climate change.

  7. Kevin Herbert

    The Dirty Digger’s Daily…say no more

  8. Yclept

    Murdoch’s toilet papers have as much credibility as anything that comes from Tony Abbott’s mouth.

  9. Paddlefoot

    This ain’t no Versailles but it does house an army of sycophants, creepy crawlers and porch flunkeys. A heady mix of self importance and small mindedness. A waste of free speech.

  10. AR

    An old man’s fancy, it will die with him.
    Imagine FishEyes or young Lochinvar bothering with all that messy ink’n’stuff!

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