First they came for journalism educator Julie Posetti, for simply tweeting some critical comments made publicly by a former staffer of The Australian. [That time I did write a commentary in Crikey about why editors shouldn’t sue for defamation.]
Well, this week they came for a good friend and colleague, Penny O’Donnell from the University of Sydney, and I refuse to remain silent. Enough is enough.
She is one of the most committed and respected journalism educators I know – in both research and teaching – and has shown the greatest courage in her personal life in recent years that has elevated my esteem for her even higher.
Sadly, the reputation of The Australian newspaper has followed the opposite trajectory. It is celebrating its 50th birthday this year, and my view is that the first 40 were far better than the last ten.
For many years I’ve been torn between my loyalty to The Australian as my former masthead where I learned a great deal as a young journalist in the early 1980s – and that very newspaper’s antipathy towards journalism education, the career I left it to pursue, and towards the people who do it.
[Note to colleagues: my comments here are about The Australian as a masthead and its leadership and branding – not about the scores of high quality journalists who produce stellar work there in both reporting and production. Similarly, I do not argue that every journalism educator is a saint or that every course is perfect.]
I’ve decided that the problem with The Australian as a masthead is that it is narcissistic and, like the Tin Man in The Wizard of Oz, it lacks a heart. It is dry, unforgiving and remarkably impolite, often downright bitchy, to its media competitors and its enemies of the moment.
Sadly, like a true narcissist, it lets its own interests, agendas and catfights affect the quality of the journalism in its pages.
For a so-called intellectual broadsheet dealing with extremely complex political, scientific and social phenomena, The Australian has a remarkably simple and narrow world view.
As far as The Australian is concerned, it seems to be all about The Australian. And that’s about whether you are on the Left or the Right and whether you fit with its commercial objectives or stand in their way.
It does this blatantly in the media domain.
Like broadcaster Alan Jones it takes a ‘pick and stick’ approach to its friendships – and God help you if you are a perceived enemy.
The Media section is a corporate propaganda sheet. Its stories fit comfortably within the newspaper’s agenda, achievements of any competitors or political enemies are played down or absent, the latest circulation figures are skewed to suit its image, while the corporate and self-marketing line is front and centre.
Just peruse the Media Diary section every Monday and you get a stream of bile against people from the perceived enemy camps of Fairfax, the ABC, Media Watch, the Guardian, journalism education, the Daily Mail and commercial enemies all and sundry.
To use sporting parlance with political currency right now, the newspaper takes a ‘win at all costs’ approach to its market share and issues on its agenda. Alternative voices either don’t get a mention or are derided as ‘strident critics’ or belittled for their political allegiances.
It will jump at a stereotypical jingoistic headline on its front page – ‘We’ll fight Islam 100 years’ [see image] – without considering the potential consequence on sections of the community. Then, rather than apologise, it will blame the person it was quoting.
In its editorial on journalism education this week, the latest in a wave of assaults, The Australian conceded many of its own editors and journalists held a journalism degree. And that they should be critical and independent. But it seems that does not allow for criticism of Murdoch or The Australian.
This week the Media section attacked Penny O’Donnell for being critical of Murdoch and The Australian. We won’t go into the reporter’s misuse of the term “undercover” or the ethical issues associated with such matter if indeed it was one. That’s in JOUR101. I don’t deny The Australian the right to investigate and report upon journalism education. There is undoubtedly much that can be improved. But please do it fairly.
For mine, Penny O’Donnell would have been negligent in her job at the University of Sydney if she had not been critical of the current government’s media policy or of Murdoch and News Corp.
Any journalist that is not critical of any government’s media policy is not worth their salt.
And, as for News Corp, if it was The Australian pursuing a pharmaceutical story, and there was a big pharma company that had been pilloried by the likes of the Leveson Inquiry for criminal wrongdoing with its ensuing trials and jailings of journalists and editors, and such a big pharma had thrown its considerable weight behind a political party at the recent federal election, how could a reporter not be critical of it?
Memo The Australian: It’s not always about you, or about Left or Right or on which side of your so-called ‘culture wars’ someone might sit.
It’s about what some of your top investigative reporters like Tony Koch and Hedley Thomas have revealed in important areas of social injustice and corruption that you allowed them investigate and report upon fairly.
So, The Australian, you’ve won a new critic. You’ve finally managed to alienate a loyal former staffer who has publicly defended you on many occasions.
I usually pick my friends and stick with them too, but you’ve lost me for now.
No, I’m not of the political Left or Right. I see the 21st century world is a tad more complex than that. I’m for a fair, accurate, mindful, independent journalism with a heart that can help change society for the better.
You know, journalism that afflicts the comfortable and comforts the afflicted and all that … fair, accurate and compassionate reportage, without the influence of major political or commercial interests.
The sort you should be doing if you really were what we aspire to as ‘Australian’. The egalitarian little digger, perhaps a little anti-authoritarian, but with a Chesty Bond sized heart.
Instead, your so-called ‘undercover’ operations are really the equivalent of the iconic ‘underarm bowl’ – the sporting moment we would rather forget.
Wake up, Australian. Open up your agenda to other perspectives and go visit the Wizard of Oz and get yourself a heart. You might win some of us back again.
Have your say on social media …
© Mark Pearson 2014
Disclaimer: While I write about media law and ethics, nothing here should be construed as legal advice. I am an academic, not a lawyer. My only advice is that you consult a lawyer before taking any legal risks.