Oct 30, 2017

Anonymity is at the heart of Australian journalism

Christopher Warren on the importance of respecting the confidentiality of journalistic sources.

In all the news about who told what to whom in the Australian Federal Police raid on the Australian Workers’ Union, you know who doesn’t have either a legal or ethical obligation to keep his source confidential? Former government staffer David De Garis.

That’s because the obligation to respect confidence is inherent in the principles of journalism, not in act of a tip-off.

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22 thoughts on “Anonymity is at the heart of Australian journalism

  1. lykurgus

    Because source anonymity is always sacrosanct (even if it means committing a crime, even if it means lying to your readers), and must always be defended whenever it suits you to do so, because your real bond of trust is and was always to the MPs and staffers who furnish the goods – not the readers you’re allegedly paid to inform.

    Nothing was ever more “inside” the tent (or more eager to protect their “insider” status) than the press gallery – even Laurie Oakes would struggle to deny that.
    We have Sharri Markson for this wagon-circling – why are we paying YOU for it?

  2. Julie Burns

    ‘who told De Garis?’ His boss of course. Banshee would have choreographed it all.

  3. 124C4U

    Wait ’till the LNP mob get their Bureau Of State Security (BOSS), Stasi, Australian Government Existence Normalisation Tribunal (AGENT), Australian Bureau Of Traitor Terminators (ABOTT), Department of Undercover Traitor and Terrorist Observers and Neutralizers (DUTTON), or whatever they call it, in full operation.
    There is nothing like a couple of thousand volts to the genitals to produce quick information from “journalists” and other undesirables.
    Would have to be battery powered of course due to the intermittent mains supply from NEG.

  4. Jack Robertson

    Yet another journalist telling us how crucial it is to democracy that journalists be allowed to publish information ‘someone’ has told them, yet withhold from us the one crucial thing that would equip us to make some assessment of its credibility and legitimacy for ourselves: who the ‘someone’ is. Anonymity: it’s bullshit, bullshit, epistemological bullshit. In the London Times, or in a Jettsons Fanboy chat room, anonymity = crap, junk, dreck information. White noise. Always, but now so more than ever. Information without an author is not just bad information, it’s anti-information: it makes good information moot, untenable, impossible. The ‘protect your anonymous source’ has always been a convenient vocational fudge, a self-serving ‘ethical’ convention the true purpose of which is pragmatic: to render the daily production of scoops, splashes and grabs easier.

    Watched the Insiders circle jerk on this topic yesterday. Four insular gallery hacks furiously agreeing with each other about their professional obligation to knicker-drop their bylines like dutiful rent boys/girls to every creepy wannabe Machiavel who rams their tongue in their ear over a latte at Aussies. Relentlessly avoided the fact that a journalist who publicises anonymous information isn’t reporting news, they are creating it. Out of nothing but hearsay. Mutual wank session reached its nadir with Mark ‘Shit Happens’ Riley pompously waving his knob about and declaring ‘I’ll never shop a source’, as if he was Luther nailing his scrotum to the church door.

    And they seriously wonder where the now-rampant ‘fake news’ epidemic was incubated?

    1. paddy

      LOL Thank you Jack! Your comment said it so well and far better than I could.

    2. klewso

      Funniest part for me was their omnipotency “Cash wasn’t lying : because we’re journos and we can tell when someone’s lying!”? …. And Cash is only a lawyer : a degree in equivocation?

      1. Jack Robertson

        Yeah. It’s the humunguous arrogance on display, K, ain’t it: yon mighty journalist, only beastie in the ‘farmyard of troof’ smart enough to keep the epistemological gate…

    3. Will

      Seriously? You’re actually arguing the right – nay, the responsibility! – of journalists to keep the promise of confidentiality to their sources, is somehow a bullshit betrayal of democracy? Even for you – who countenances no disagreement whatsoever, except as it comports to your own intolerance – this constitutes an astounding new front! (And quietly, just between us, I don’t think ‘epistemological’ means anything anywhere like what you possibly think it means.)

      1. Jack Robertson

        Epistemology (as I understand/mean it at least) is the theory or philosophy of knowledge, of information, ie what we ‘know’, how we define it, husband it, benchmark it, trade in it… It’s probably a bit more academically specific than I tend to use it, Will? (My degree’s in HPS but …you know…a little knowledge is a etc…) Happy to be harshly corrected if there’s a better word (AR?) …though would hate to have to, it does rather make me sound more cleverer than I yam, which is why I lob it about so much. That and the fact that I think it (the subject if not the label I use anyway) is ‘the’ biggest ishoo of our time…ties into everything from climate change to Meeja to ‘free speech’ to democracy to…everything.

        Anonymity? I just don’t rate it. Think it’s bullshit. For journalists, whistleblowers, pollies…even comment box threads, ‘Will’!

        * ducks, scuttles away*

        Never understand why so many obviously smart cookies with smart and interesting graffiti to daub hereabouts feel the need to hide their authorship behind a street tag…to me it strips intelligence of agency, if concreteness…thus I’d credibility. (It’s false humility, too, of course. And somewhat self-aggrandising…the CIA/MI5/MIC/your bosses don’t give a fuck about our dazzling prose here, Crikerian ‘Deep Froaters…:-)

      2. michael r james

        In reply to (anonymous) Will.
        Seriously? This is the same argument about priests using the confessional to shield other priests who abuse children and continue to do so through their long careers in the Catholic church. It’s a bs argument and at least for a while, politicians are on notice that their bs politically manipulative leaks are no longer perfectly hidden from the public.
        Of course we see the media flunkies closing ranks and no doubt censuring the young & naive BuzzFeed journalist for revealing the ugly truth. Which we all knew anyway. One can only hope that the staffer gets prosecuted pour encourager les autres, then maybe it might even lead to further humiliation for Cash who so richly deserves it. Indeed a stretch of porridge wouldn’t be amiss, this abuse of power is so serious.
        This is not helping democracy and in fact is clearly injurious–perhaps never more so than the KRudd leaks to Oakes (one of the more over-rated insiders in the old media). It destroyed the Gillard government and installed first Abbott then Turnbull for a prolonged period of dysfunctional hyper-partisan “government”.
        What do you think is really lost by this removal of anonymous poisoning of the media?

        1. michael r james

          Incidentally, it appears ok to the journos that Oakes leaked that comment by Turnbull, using the extraordinarily lame excuse that because he (Oakes) was not actually at the dinner he was not covered by the unwritten confidentiality rule. Presumably some other journo who was at the dinner leaked it to him, and with Oakes about to retire he felt inured to any blowback. Wonderfully brave of him, huh?

          1. Jack Robertson

            Bang on both times, Michael R James. Absolutely spot on. How the hell does it ‘benefit’ journalism/democracy for journalism/ democracy to be based upon bullshit, half-truths, rumours, innuendo, chinese whispers, gossip, hearsay, cocked eyebrows, double secret probation codes, insider handshakes, winks n’ nods, grunts, mutters, mumbles and what this mate of a mate heard from this bloke who was rooting the daughter of a Commcar driver’s neighbor. The whole ‘shadowy all-knowing inside source leaker’ thing – spawned by Wattergate, the most over-rated journalistic episode in modern history – has been a net catastrophe for the democratic polity. Whatever we gain from occasional authentic public interest leaked info we lose 10, 20, 30 fold in the infantile schoolyard white anting enabled by this b/s ‘convention’. And as MJR also points, it’s entirely selective. If ‘shopping a source’ gives ‘em an even bigger story, sooner or later of course they will.

  5. Nudiefish

    Whenever you make a secret deal with a political party, you are pushing your readership off a cliff for the sake of your publication and your career.

    Please don’t dress up the dog’s vomit as salad dressing.

  6. AR

    I agree that hacks “protecting their sauce” is bullshit when the whisperer is a political insider – what they are protecting is their own easy life of drops and privilege .
    The only exception is a true, public interest whistleblower – everyone else is compromised and compromising.
    BTW, Cackles has claimed that De Garis received his info re the raid from the meeja so there is no need for the fancy new metadata behemoth to be invoked – just pull his phone records and the identity of this mysterious person will be revealed.
    Unless Cackles was lying…

  7. klewso

    “Cat’s paws accepted”?

  8. Itsarort

    Soooo, who anonymously tipped off the ROC so that they were compelled to tip off the AFP and thus legitimise this stunning waste of taxpayer’s shekels? Was it the same person who tipped off the media? – who may or may not of been De Garis (our little troubadour who was found squished between the double bogies of a bus, long after it was garaged and put to bed). Because, I’m starting to get a bit of a Illuminati, Kabbahla, Knights Templar, Comte de Saint Germain feel about this whole malarkey!

    1. Itsarort

      “…may or may not have been…” iOS predictive text is a real bastard!

    2. michael r james

      Itsarort wrote:

      Soooo, who anonymously tipped off the ROC so that they were compelled to tip off the AFP and thus legitimise this stunning waste of taxpayer’s shekels?

      No anonymous tip needed. It was all official. Here is a description (and this must be the first time I am citing Judith Sloan in a favourable light–shows just how appalling this business has become): (emphasis is mine):

      But last week the ROC was in the news for all the wrong reasons and the principal person to blame for this situation is Employment Minister Michaelia Cash, and a drafting fault in the ROC legislation. Under the act, the minister can give written directions to the ROC but “the direction must be of a general nature only”. This is fair enough. But section 329F of the act provides for the minister directing the ROC “to give specified reports”.
      It was this section of the act that Cash used to direct the ROC to look into the matter of a donation made by the Australian Workers Union to GetUP! more than a decade ago. The donation was made when Bill Shorten was AWU national secretary.
      Either you have an independent regulator or you don’t.

      The only fault I find with Sloane’s words above is that what she calls a “drafting fault” clearly was no fault but deliberate. There was no point setting up the ROC when its main purpose was to pursue the unions, Shorten and GetUp! if they weren’t able to direct it. The ROC, the AFP, the Senate, the media, the Australian public and our very democracy have been traduced by this abuse of power. Yet so far only one hapless staffer has suffered. At the very least Cash has to lose her portfolio.

      1. Jack Robertson

        Yes it’s staggering that such an obvious, egregious, undisguised abuse of Executive power is getting such a free pass from the gallery. The Fourth…sure as shit ain’t, anymore.

  9. [email protected]

    I would be more interested in knowing who told or did not tell Cash, and when, after her Hadgkiss debacle, for which she has yet to be held accountable, the Minister’s competence and liability is still up for grabs. Could she pay Hadgkiss’ legal fees, instead of us?

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