For those who have been puzzled by News Corp’s sustained attack on the New South Wales Independent Commission Against Corruption, the company’s soft-on-corruption agenda has become even broader in recent days. The Australian’s media commentator Mark Day today launched a disturbing attack on Fairfax’s extraordinary Unaoil scoops, which exposed global corruption in the oil industry. According to Day, it goes like this:
"I doubt that more than 1 per cent of Fairfax’s readers cared more than a tinker’s cuss about the story. Bribery in the Middle East? No shit, Sherlock! Big business paying money to smooth its way through corrupt regimes where transparency, process and fairness are concepts as remote as democracy? Whoever would have thunk it? "Fairfax dedicated acres of space to longwinded prose about people we’ve never heard of doing things we hardly care about. If these shenanigans have a cost to Australian consumers -- and they probably do, given they would be factored into the cost of oil -- it was not quantified. If this is the kind of journalism Hywood ­believes will sustain Fairfax into the digital future, I fear that he will have nothing but disappointment ahead. Investigative journalism of this type is worthy, but it comes at a huge cost and does not translate into revenue. In fact it is often quite the reverse -- after the cost of getting the information comes the cost of defending it in long-running multi-million-dollar defamation cases. I doubt that the oil bribery story put on a single extra sale for the SMH or Age print editions, but even if there were a slight lift the income generated would come nowhere near the cost of producing it. "This poses the obvious question: is it worth pursuing this kind of “quality” story when the resources used could have generated dozens of yarns more interesting, more relevant and more satisfying to readers?"
This carefree approach to corporate and political corruption is an insult to the very basics of one of the world’s most noble professions. What next? Calling for police and judges to give up as well? News Corp is certainly doing its darndest to shut down the NSW ICAC, even though it has bipartisan backing in NSW Parliament and widespread community support. Paul Kelly is normally a more measured voice at The Australian, but last December he launched this heavy attack on ICAC, and on March 23 he claimed the idea of a federal ICAC was “unproven, unexplored and highly dubious". Given the problems besetting cabinet secretary Senator Arthur Sinodinos and the NSW Liberals over developer donations, Opposition Leader Bill Shorten has an obvious win to take if he commits to establishing a federal anti-corruption body. He could do worse than appoint Fairfax investigative legend Nick McKenzie as inaugural chair. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull is certainly showing no such inclination. He told Sky News yesterday that the crossbench demand for a federal ICAC was "quite separate and distinct" from the proposed Australian Building and Construction Commission bill: "If they want to have a federal ICAC, they should move a private members' bill in the normal way." Even Gerard Henderson, normally an absolute stickler when it comes to honesty and probity in his weekly media watchdog blog for The Australian, was not backing ICAC when he appeared on Insiders yesterday and declared: "ICAC has been a disaster in NSW, the idea that we have a kind of Commonwealth ICAC ..." I’ve opened an email exchange with Gerard on this matter, which included the following:
Dear Gerard, I was disappointed to see your criticism of ICAC on Insiders today and the ongoing lack of support from a disturbing number of News Corp associated influencers for the idea of a Federal anti-corruption watch dog. As a watchdog yourself, I just don’t understand the objection which you and many other people in close proximity to political power in Australia have to the idea of independent integrity authorities. Integrity bodies are good for democracy, supplement the great work of journalists and hold elected politicians to account. What’s not to like?  I simply ask that you desist from casting aspersions on anti-corruption authorities and instead lend your considerable influence to the cause of establishing an independent Federal integrity commission. If you’d like more information on the case in favour of such a move, can I suggest you read this recent Quentin Dempster feature in The Saturday Paper: Quentin, as you would remember, played an important role in exposing entrenched corruption during the long rule of Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen in Queensland. Best wishes Stephen Mayne
Gerard, normally such a stickler on email correspondence, is yet to reply. We’ll let you know if he does. Meanwhile, if you do believe in the cause of integrity in public office, the rule of law and ethical conduct, don’t miss tonight's Four Corners -- the program has taken part in a global journalistic investigation on the "shadowy world of secret international finance and tax avoidance" that might even outdo last week’s remarkable Unaoil extravaganza from Fairfax. There’s never been a better time for Australian investigative journalism in terms of having a global impact, but don’t expect News Corp to lend a hand. As Mark Scott explained to Paul Barry on Media Watch last week, Rupert Murdoch and his father, Sir Keith Murdoch, have been calling for public broadcasting to be weakened or shut down continuously since the 1930s. Says it all really. When it comes to global corruption, News Corp is part of the problem, not the solution.