Razer's Class Warfare

Mar 13, 2018

Razing the Barr: self-serving mainstream media unite against ACT leader

Despite the campaign against him, what Andrew Barr said about mainstream media in this country is, unfortunately, true.

Helen Razer — Writer and broadcaster

Helen Razer

Writer and broadcaster

Andrew Barr

ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr

I hate journalists and I’m over the mainstream media”. Declare this to anyone but your best mates only in the case you seek a walloping from mainstream media. Otherwise, those in public life would do far better to sing from the Oprah book of common praise, “I value the press more than ever before as we try to navigate these complicated times”. Big outlets love this stuff. So, provide them with that and perhaps some blandishment about the courage/integrity of high-profile journalists in the face of power/deceit. This will be swallowed very gratefully by the beak of corporate press, then disgorged over all us hatchlings.

Free Trial

You've hit members-only content.

Sign up for a FREE 21-day trial to keep reading and get the best of Crikey straight to your inbox

By starting a free trial, you agree to accept Crikey’s terms and conditions


Leave a comment

39 thoughts on “Razing the Barr: self-serving mainstream media unite against ACT leader

  1. susan winstanley

    yes, all true about the press in general, but shame you picked Andrew Barr to hang your hat on. He is not liked in the supermarket queue in Canberra, where older women will lean in and say, sotto voce, he’s not a very nice person you know, very unpopular at Lyneham High, and now he’s pulling down the public housing complex where he once lived, looks like an act of revenge for an unhappy past .. and what about that smelly CFMEU land deal, and property developers running amok with town planning for their own profit .. they’re all bloody corrupt
    The Canberra Times, for all its faults, has been running a series of exposures, based on reports from the Auditor-General, on his insider dealings. Most of us are grateful for the scribblers in this instance, and that’s why Barr hates them.
    Canberra hardly ever votes for the Liberal Party and he was the last man standing in the ALP after Katy Gallagher left, so won the last election by default, but it is now clear he is totally in thrall to the CFMEU/Property Developer cartel, currently demolishing the city, and his own brutal and delusional vision of a Singapore of the South, with tall towers, already looking shabby and cheaply built, and concrete canyons to carry his $1Billion Old Tech Trams. Not a good fit for the Bush Capital, once with leafy boulevards and low-rise well-designed and constructed buildings nestled in among the trees, the Paris of the South.
    Andrew Barr is no hero, and he will soon be for the dustbin of history.

    1. Helen Razer

      I agree, SW. Not the perfect hook. But, I kind of think a perfect hook is an imperfect test of our hopes and dreams for a “free” press.
      FWIW, I grew up in Canberra, and saw and felt the transition from Federal administration to the local kind. (The schools, which I was attending, seemed to me to deteriorate fast. It was nice to live off the federal fat as a kid.) My family still works and lives in Canberra and I am aware that Barr is generally better regarded by property owners than by those in insecure housing. Not the sort of policy that excites me, particularly in this era.
      But, it’s an important and difficult question (and one I know to be on the minds of Canberrans, some quite frustrated that the Times is so often full of SMH content.) I totally get you, but I also think that the more difficult the question about open communication, the better and more thorough the answer is likely to be. When we’re forced to consider a point made by someone we don’t like, we think harder.
      We must think: What stops mainstream press from delivering as well as we’d like? It’s really not Barr’s refusal to engage with it. As disagreeable as you and I might legitimately feel his leaked statement that he would *not* engage is.
      Thanks, though.

      1. Ruv Draba

        > What stops mainstream press from delivering as well as we’d like?
        The replacement of news with communications — a tension that has always been present, but which snowballed back in the Reagan era, if memory serves, when his veto killed the FCC’s Fairness Doctrine legislation in 1987, laid the foundations for conflating attention with relevance and set a corporate precedent throughout the English-speaking world.

        1. Helen Razer

          I would say that there is more than one answer.

          1. Ruv Draba

            The way communication dominates the modern information economy, attention has more commercial weight than expertise. Journalists with hard-won and proven expertise are increasingly abandoning professional gravitas to snipe because they no longer believe that professional reputation beats attention-seeking. Editors whose ethical oversight should have reminded them otherwise, joined the dung-fight years ago.

            An academic way of saying it is that mainstream news media have slipped from being a value shop (where reputation and expertise matter for a journalist as for a doctor or lawyer) to a value network (all about who you can connect with whom.)

            That’s a retrograde step, reminiscent of the mudfights of Enlightenment pamphleteering. Because advertising is rewarded by reach and attention, I don’t believe market forces can restore it except in niche areas driven by (say) subscription models. Ultimately, mainstream, advertising-funded news is either re-regulated to be fair and relevant again, or it becomes what it’s becoming now: a war of pamphleteering.

          2. Helen Razer

            No one believes that market forces can “restore” (I’d say reshape) media. It’s not “do a good thing and people will pay for it” anymore. Supply and demand went out with culottes.

          3. Ruv Draba

            I agree with you Helen, but the other side of your question above is why the publishing model *ever* grew ethically from ratbag pamphleteering to journalistic accountability, given that newspapers were funded by advertising from the outset, and sold on sensationalism.

            There may be other views, but I think it’s because distribution was expensive, as it presently isn’t. That expense resulted in consolidation and rapid market saturation, which led to competition on expertise and ethics, rather than just attention. We might say something too about the middle classes needing reliable information on which to transact their business.

            A hollowing out of the middle classes may have changed customer-side differentiation at the same time that deregulation replaced news with bread-and-circus entertainment. Couple that with globalised communications and slashing the cost of distribution and you’ve got a perfect storm of lightless heat.

            For myself, I still value the information from which I make decisions. Hence, everything I get now is on a subscription model. Even if it’s free, I’ll pay for it by donation, and I get quite cranky when I think an organ is falling short. I realise I may be in a minority here, but please feel free to mentally dress me in culottes if you like. 😀

      2. DF

        “When we’re forced to consider a point made by someone we don’t like, we think harder.”
        You may think that, Helen, but I certainly don’t. When Morrison spruiks tax cuts for business, I don’t feel obliged to consider his point. His form as Treasurer and Immigration Minister means my first reaction is to disbelieve everything he says and thus reject it outright.
        As a Canberran, I observe what Andrew “King of the Kids” Barr, a self-styled cool dude hipster is doing to the city and despair that the Liberals have been unable to lay a finger on him, and the sole Green, Rattenbury, sold his soul for a Ministry.
        Barr displays no Labor values that I can discern – he is a White Shoe Brigadier in hipster clothing, a three day stubble consorting with the property developer spivs. You do know he is filling in part of Lake Burley Griffin for the building of apartments along its foreshore. Other cities try to link their prime natural attraction with the city – Barr is cutting it off.
        So while the mainstream media is failing in a number of areas (eg Leigh Sales limp lettuce interview with Turnbull last night), in this case if it weren’t for the Canberra Times then we’d have no idea what the megalomaniac Chief Minister was planning to inflict on us next.

        1. Helen Razer

          I haven’t conveyed my meaning clearly in the comments.
          When we are forced to consider a point we had not before seriously considered. The matter of tax cuts for those who have the most is one you have already considered.
          I think a good example of this (for me, anyhow) is when Trump said to Bill O’Reilly, who was asking him about the Russian menace, “You think our country is so innocent?”
          For people who had not considered the past 70 years of US foreign policy, that was a possible “a-ha” moment. This guy we may not like, especially if we are anti-war types of the liberal-left, has said a true thing. He has said a thing that Obama would never have dared.
          It is true that the US has done unspeakable things. That this man who is himself unspeakable (accidentally) revealed this truth is cause for good question.

          1. Helen Razer

            PS I am no longer a Canberra resident. But, I would say that your description of Barr makes him identical with the “Labor values” of the present: look like you care. Don’t actually bother.

          2. DF

            Helen – in full agreement with you re Barr’s Labor values. This was in yesterday’s Crimes. Waiting for Shorten to speak out.

      3. Arky

        Regarding Barr, I don’t personally know much about ACT politics, so the few stories that break into the Victorian bubble stand out. I remember the kerfuffle when he won the most recent ACT election despite the press gallery narrative that Barr was cactus, that the swing was definitely on and the Liberals were going to sweep in and about time too. Our media do like their narratives and greatly dislike it when those narratives are shown to be wrong in a way they cannot dodge- see also the last Federal election, the collapse of the myth of “progressive Malcolm Turnbull”, the collapse of the myth of “changed man Tony Abbott who is fit to be PM” etc etc etc.

        Barr may be the 2nd coming of Sir Joh, I wouldn’t know, but geez if you’d been written off by all these journos right up to polling day and then they continue to act like they are the ones who really know what’s going on and the ones who really speak for the people, you’d be pissed off too.

    2. Lorraine Paul

      What happened to the CFMEU, it has become the lapdog of vested property interests and the mining sector.
      Who remembers the green bans of the old BWIU and the BLF? The projects they stood against would have given their members work but would have destroyed Melbourne and Sydney. I feel like phoning their executive and giving them a piece of my mind! What cringing snivelling pieces of effluent they have become. In the days when Union members and the executive had a social conscience. I remember when they supported the war criminal in the Tasmanian Federal election. Norm Gallagher would be turning in his grave. Not sure if Stan Sharkey is still alive.

      The Union movement has denied its origins within the working class and is now only worried about its Stock Market investments!!!!!!

      1. Lorraine Paul

        Sorry, my indignation and passion outran my logical sentence construction LOL.
        The war criminal, Howard.
        In the days when….had a social conscience we could all sleep peacefully.

  2. Glen Fuller

    Great stuff, Helen.

  3. klewso

    Look at the public regard for how we think our factoid media do their job? Why is mainstream media withering on the vine when “entertainment/opinion = news”?
    The Dum last night “discussing” this – van Onselen and Feathers Fanning going on about how good the press is; and Chung (one of the usual “Liberal/’independent?’ Sydney Councillors” they have on to hold forth in their “impartiality”) :- what a good job the media does on the whole – like he cops the slops that Murdoch hands out to political opponents, like Moore?
    Too many of our media pack are too much like palm civets – they think
    it’s their job to first digest our coffee before they pass it on. The self-indulgent twats think they have every right, to edit/withhold or embellish what we get, according to their political priorities – and the bulk of them are Murdoch’s.
    They don’t “hold political power to account” – they do some (and that’s not always acccurate) and they indulge their Limited News Party. [Jethro was an aberration (held back for weeks) – an example of what the media can do if their government went ahead with laws that didn’t exempt them?]
    They carry on like paid/professional social media – paid and promoted to express their opinions as fact – to nurture and influence a particular way of thinking – while those opinions run in accord with whoever is paying them.
    While much of it will rail against elitism, is there anyone more “elite” than our media – gifted the resources to push their opinions and tailor what we get to see, to frame our news, to their opinions?

    1. AR

      klewi – your agony is clear.
      You haven’t written this many words in the last 12months.
      I gave it to Ruv by several knockouts but MzRaz just won’t stay down. (She thinks the Black Knight was a quitter.)
      I think that it was the early 80s when the number of ‘journalists’ working for gov/corp (in Ike’s sense) exceeded those in news when there were papers which reported… stuff.
      My son wanted to be a journalist as a child in the 80s but by then it was wayyy too late.
      I regret that I have no regret for the passing of the deadtree brigade but they brought it on themselves, after burying us in a shower of shite.
      I do regret not yet finding a trustworthy source of information about our quotidian lives.
      Until it too late, has come to pass or, like neoliberalisticalism, turning into a rotting corpse splattered by the defibrillator.

    2. Lorraine Paul

      Loved the ‘palm civets’ comment. So very, very true. Except that after the civets have expressed their coffee beans it still basically remains coffee.

      Once the Murdoch media mob express their ‘beans’ it could be anything.

  4. Itsarort

    “There is, in my view, but one thing that large and corporate outlets will fearlessly defend: themselves.”
    I kind’ve enjoyed watching a very sheepish Greg Brown get booed at the National Press Gallery. But watching and reading Murdoch’s soldiers launch a counter-offensive was even funnier. All Tom McIlroy seemed to get for his defence was a big, ‘thanks for coming’.

    1. Helen Razer

      Weird, right? I mean. Brown was asking a policy question. And this is seen as (presumably) sexist and demeaning? Asking the shadow deputy about a thing? (Which I think Plibersek later said she was happy to answer, her non-committal answer, typical for a pollie, notwithstanding.)
      I felt like the “feminists” here were themselves a bit, you know, sexist. Like, all a lady can talk about is lady business. Especially on lady day.
      And then, of course, News went for it. And, really. That’s an hour of my life that could have been far better spent. I begin to resent this disorienting inward-looking nonsense, which I am sure many others do.

      1. Lorraine Paul

        In Western countries International Women’s Day was a non-event only celebrated by the left-wing; even though it was first commemorated in the United States.

        Strangely, since the fall of the USSR Capitalism can now pay lip-service on this day. It’s become respectable. Luncheons, carnivals, speeches, yippee! Unfortunately, we women are still waiting for the most important gathering….to announce that we now have a salary/pay packet which gives equal pay for work of equal value.

  5. Angela

    Hi Helen, I often read your Crikey contributions with interest and benefit. However, in this piece, I think you’re addressing two discrete.issues. One is the present state of public print media. The other is the relationship of same to Andrew Barr and vice versa. This involves specific issues in ACT politics, and I think you need to consider these. There are particular reasons for Andrew Barr’s dislike of print media, notably of the Canberra Times: the Canberra Times, imperfect though it may be, is the only public medium holding Barr’s government to account. This on a number of issues, as other comments on your article indicate: 1. an unhealthy relationship between the ACT government and the Treasury, the CFMEU, ACTPLA, builders, developers, and real estate agents 2. the quality of “urban infill” building i.e. serious building defects, inadequate quality control, possibly corrupt land swaps, and inadequate flood mitigation 3. alienating and privatising the foreshore of Lake Burley Griffin at the West Basin 4. a whole series of concerns relating to the construction and viability of the City to Gungahlin Light Rail Network, and 5. inadequate planning for the Ginnindery housing estate, which comprises land in the ACT and NSW, to name just a few. Both Jack Waterford (Canberra Times) and Jon Stanhope (City News) provide incisive commentary on many issues relating to the ACT. I’d like to emphasize that the Canberra Times is the only public medium which offers a forum with information and often thoughtful critique about the national capital.

    1. Helen Razer

      Hi, A. Yes. I do see your point.
      However, as offered to SW above, the comments are worth considering for their truth. He may not have intended them as true in the way we would hope. I always find it makes for more headache-y thinking when this is the case.

    2. Ruv Draba

      Angela, I’d earlier posted a comment on the Canberra Times as an organ of accountability, but it got eaten. The CT has wrapped my fish and chips for the last 25 years, but I don’t remember it ever being strong on investigative journalism in that time. For instance, I can’t recall a lot of breaking issues first reported in the Canberra Times, that ever made their way into the national papers. To me the CT reads like a transplant of some country newspaper where the editor is related to everyone and doesn’t want to rock the boat. My household has never subscribed to it, and only ever bought it once a week for the TV Guide. I think you’re more likely to sharper and more current ACT info from (say) The Riot Act e-zine, where citizens tend to participate more.

      With that said (also in my previous comment) Barr has no place criticising it. As a politician, he has no business making newspapers the subject of his commentary: he’s the story, and has no business making the CT the story. As we know, the ACT has seen a huge explosion of development in recent years, which has been problematic for integrity in many other jurisdictions. It’s a legitimate subject for hard questions, and the only appropriate response is to answer with transparency and demonstrable facts.

      Yet as Helen also points out, his criticisms are valid. Had he only been a citizen, he’d have been right to make them. But as a politician they put him in a conflict of interest.

  6. Letterboxfrog

    Rather than express loathing for the media, Barr should have spoken to Peter Beattie, who I understood regularly held council with Sir Joh, and learned the true art of “Feeding the chooks.”

  7. Arky

    Helen, I usually don’t agree with you much (years ago, any appearance of yours in The Age tended to be met with cries of “bloody Helen Razer!”) but on this occasion I agree with every last word. Bravo, brilliantly expressed.

  8. Damien

    Yeah, let’s overthrow journalism and replace it with public relations spin doctoring (ie: the profession of the audience Barr was addressing).

    Just like we overthrew centrist liberalism and replaced it with Trump’s tax cuts, attacks on reproductive rights and relaxation of rules-of-engagement that make”collateral murder” seem restrained (well done Wikileaks!)

    And the brain dead Marxists keep bleating in their fantasy that somehow “overthrowing” things that are imperfect-but-better-than-nothing will eventually result in some sort of total re-imagining of civilisation to their liking.

    It hasn’t and it won’t. I’m not sure what it will take for them to grasp that their nihilistic fantasies are actually helping things get a whole lot WORSE a whole lot faster.

    Because things can ALWAYS get worse. And they WILL get worse. And there will be no “right side of history” because history is written by the winners (hint: not Marxists).

    So things will keep getting worse, and worse…until all the Marxists have left to cling to is nostalgia for the good ‘ol days of hatin’ Hillary.

    Yes, those days when they rubbed their hands with glee as corrupt hard right neo-feudalism became omnipotent…those days breathlessly awaiting the “revolution” that never came…those days before Google’s self-stomping boots started tirelessly tramping on a human face…forever…

    1. Helen Razer

      Not saying anyone should overthrow anything. Just observing that the thing is in the process of being overthrown.

  9. mikeb

    What Andrew Barr said about mainstream media in this country might be true, but I suspect the real reason for these musings is that he doesn’t like adverse scrutiny. Trump has successfully branded anything he doesn’t like as “fake news”, meanwhile leaving his brain farts in the twittersphere for deplorables to cream over. His flunkeys then spend the next day interpreting what he twittered and spinning the message. Similarly Barr wants to communicate directly to the people (i.e. putting his spin on message before anyone else gets their hands on it).
    The answer to being “unsatisfied by the narrowness of their work” is to read widely from different legitimate sources. Anyone relying solely on the musings from Barr’s twittersphere or pages from the Tele or Guardian is going to be seriously under informed.

    1. Helen Razer

      Hm. This idea that truth lives somewhere in the middle.
      For me, reading accounts of things I know a little about is often an exercise in backwards engineering.
      Oh. I would also say that the finance press generally gets closer to the “truth”, because its future depends on saying things unambiguously. It’s only in the AFR, for example, that you will read CEOs nakedly talk about “diversity” as a marketing strategy or the falling wages of consumers in a particular demographic.

    2. Ruv Draba

      A bit of local context here, Mike: the last ACT election in 2016 was essentially a referendum over the controversial construction of light rail connecting a new suburban development on the north side of Canberra with the Canberra CBD. The construction threatened to (and subsequently has) ensnarled north-side commuting, levelled all the trees on an iconic leafy boulevard, gentrified its social housing and resulted in a surge of commercial construction in some of older northside suburbs like Dickson, while a southside commercial centre like Woden is left vacant and rotting. Northsiders are asking whether there was ever a business case for the development while Southsiders are asking where’s *their* infrastructure renewal, and everyone’s asking where the money’s coming from and how much of it they’ll eventually have to pay to which vested commercial cronies.

      The question has been divisive, and not just on party lines. Although the Liberals were confident of mobilising popular resentment and claiming victory, a Labour government was returned for a fifth term, but Labour-leaning constituencies still aren’t happy with them, and the ACT government isn’t known for its ability to run large infrastructure projects in the first place.

      It’s pretty clear from Barr’s comments that he views mainstream media as a potential channel to ‘communicate with the people of the ACT’ while being blind to its more important democratic role: to offer permanent scrutiny of the public interest. So apparently he’s told the mainstream media he wants to ignore them and use Twitter and blogs to report his announcables instead.

      In saying that, he’s making a serious mistake, placing communications over accountability. His desperation may be half understandable, but it’s a mistake that governments are making all over the English-speaking world just now — I believe in response to the fact that news agencies have for three decades repositioned themselves as communications agencies in the first place.

      It’s hard to conceive that ACT’s stuffy, idealistic and self-satisfied Legislative Assembly has the array of skills needed to oversee development on this scope and scale without screwing up budget, probity or *something*. It needs permanent, independent media scrutiny, and ACT residents know it does. In patronising the media, Barr has inadvertently patronised his constituents too, and they’re a fairly sharp bunch, being most of them involved in white collar public sector operations themselves, and knowing how government projects go from an insider’s perspective.

      So the irony here is that Barr calling out mainstream media for being a bad communications channel is damning himself once, and mainstream media twice.

      Out of the mouths of babes. 🙂

      1. AR

        Ruv – “..news agencies have for three decades repositioned themselves as communications agencies ..” is well nigh perfect, the outsider insidered.
        Damned hostages to Fortune…
        A bad Labor admin will always be bett… err, less worse than tories and still far be from ideal.

        1. Ruv Draba

          It’s scary how much damage a sold-out media can do long-term, AR. Communication has never been more valuable, yet I’m glad your child eschewed journalism and did something else.

          Regarding your other point I don’t want to make ideological statements here, but over the long term I’d rather have an honest, transparent government doing well-meaning things that I don’t always agree with than a corrupt government doing anything. Like old fish and unwelcome house-guests, egregious corruption doesn’t improve with time, and within reason I think there’s a civic duty to put integrity over ideology. For that we need a sharp, diligent, full-time media well-trained in research, investigation and analysis, with solid networks of trusted and trusting sources: weekend bloggers won’t do.

          But when the news media starts playing citizen sentiment instead of serving them, we’re snookered. I note that as of yesterday, Barr has back-pedalled: Good. He should know better: put his words into the mouth of a Myanmar general and they wouldn’t have looked out of place.

          But still, he’s right about the Canberra Times. In a city of 400,000, its quoted circulation is only 15,000 (ref: AMAA). That puts it south of the Rockhampton Morning Bulletin, with more distribution per issue of the Armadale Examiner. CT’s on the slide commercially and has never had much clout intellectually or politically that I’ve seen. So now Barr has apologised and the CT’s downy feathers of monopolistic self-satisfaction are smoothed I’m sure it’ll go back to reporting what “Happy from Yarralumla” thinks of the National Folk Festival. 🙂

          1. AR

            I think it was Jefferson – “government without newspapers or newspapers without government”.

  10. Lorraine Paul

    As usual, Helen I agree with everything you have to say about the ‘women’s movement’! Years ago I read an article from British print media. We women have became hostages to the middle-class. At seventy-one years old I remember 1975. For those who do not it was the United Nations Year of Women (can’t quite remember the exact title). Many good things occurred and we, young women at the time, felt such hope. I am not the least bit interested in the #metoo campaign. A bunch of snivelling entitled women who had the reality of every other woman shoved in their face; excuse the analogy.

    Now nearly six decades later we are still waiting for the basic respect and acknowledgement we demanded then…equal pay for work of equal value. Without that we are still ‘crying in the wilderness’ and 50,000 #metoo’s will not give it to us.

    We have allowed our sisters to be betrayed by middle-class concerns. Which is ironic as it was the women of the middle-class who were the most strident in demanding our rights. The article I referred to above, stated that now women with access to mom are demanding that the nanny, carer, school teacher be available to mind the children (after these women have finished their work day) because ‘mum’ deserves it to help her along in her career.

    Recently Zelda Deprano died. As a woman if you don’t know who she is….I metaphorically tip a bucket of effluent on your head!

    1. AR

      Congratulations, that was so lucid, for a moment I could see those far off days of halcyon hope.

Leave a comment

Share this article with a friend

Just fill out the fields below and we'll send your friend a link to this article along with a message from you.

Your details

Your friend's details