ABC journalist Leigh Sales at Daniel Andrews' press conference on February 15 (Image: Supplied)

PC gone mad The Australian proudly reported this morning that the Press Council had found its notorious “Firebugs fuelling crisis as national arson arrest toll hits 183” headline was, apparently, “accurate and not misleading”.

The report had spread through the mainstream media and was leapt on by such alt-right figures as Donald Trump Jr, neatly shifting the discussion away from the possibility that climate change had played a role in fuelling out-of-control infernos.

As the Oz’s own take concedes, the opening paragraph had to be updated to make clear that the time period was since the beginning of 2019 (not “in the past few months” and “since the start of the bushfire season”). In the case of Victoria, the data concerning stats had nothing to do with the then-current bushfire season.

The figure also included 101 Queenslanders “picked up for setting fires in the bush”. A Queensland police spokeswoman told Guardian Australia at the time the figure not only included a broader range of offences than arson, but was also not a total of arrests but a total of “police enforcement actions”.

Sign up for a FREE 21-day trial and get Crikey straight to your inbox

By submitting this form you are agreeing to Crikey's Terms and Conditions.

The Press Council argued in its decision that it was “difficult” to aggregate all the various state-based definitions of “arson” over that time period. As such, the 183 figure included dropped cigarette butts, failing to comply with total fire bans, and other lesser offences.

Victorian authorities said after the piece that there was no evidence any of the fires were deliberately lit. The New South Wales bushfire inquiry concluded that not a single major fire during the disastrous 2019-20 season was caused by arson.

Without wishing to second-guess the Press Council, we’ll leave you to conclude whether that amounts to a misleading story.

Sky watch Alan Jones, in a not-at-all horrifically offensive bit of overreach, told Peta Credlin on Sky last night: “There is no difference between Myanmar or Hong Kong and Victoria under Daniel Andrews.”

To those who need updating: government figures in Myanmar have been imprisoned after a military coup. In Hong Kong, amid increasing interference from mainland China, the public square is shrinking as a national security law has seen a flurry of journalists and activists arrested. Victoria has … *checks notes* … been locked down for five days.

Wind in the Sales At the other end of the spectrum, there’s little as quakingly pathetic as a certain brand of Andrews fan at the prospect of a journalist asking the premier to explain himself.

Hence the caterwauling that accompanied Leigh Sales’ (always a target of vile misogyny and conspiratorial thinking) attendance at Andrews’ Monday press conference. Why was she in Melbourne? Was she running distraction for the government after reports of its horrifying mishandling of rape allegations? “Why doesn’t she ever ask Coalition politicians questions?” (Which … What?). “She’s friends with a co-worker? No wonder the country’s in the state it is.”

It seems it should be obvious beyond the need to state: journalism involves interrogating powerful people about the decisions they make… even if they happen to be people you voted for.

Readers’ corner A regular Tips and Murmurs reader writes to say that the latest outbreak is undoubtedly due to aerosol transmission: “Some aerosol brought in a nebuliser!” Thank you, dear reader. We think that would give our prime minister, Mr Menzies, a good laugh. Coming up: the introduction of TV in four years’ time.