It often takes a crisis for a society to reflect meaningfully on its institutions – their value, purpose, strengths and weaknesses. Do those institutions serve us or do they primarily serve themselves?

The global financial crisis, for instance, exposed how a large swathe of the international banking system had been corrupted by reckless risk-taking and had internalised the view that it could simultaneously privatise its profits and socialise its losses.

The banks, we belatedly discovered, had ceased being mere utilities. They were malevolent credit machines, manufacturing Frankenstinian products, preying on the least fortunate and sending the bill for the resultant mess to taxpayers. Goldman Sachs, said Rolling Stone’s Matt Taibbi, was “a great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity, relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money.”

But the sucking sound doesn’t end with the banks. Much of the commercial media, now drained of any notion of public service, has become a parasitical infection in the body politic, a hookworm that both breeds and feeds on fear, distrust and suspicion in the community and spreads its disease through calculated misinformation and hysteria.

Within hours of the start of the Sydney siege in Martin Place, and with the barest of information, News Corporation’s Daily Telegraph splashed its special afternoon edition with the headline ‘Death Cult CBD Attack’ – the implication being that ISIS-style terrorism had landed in the heart of Australia’s biggest city.

Of course, we now know the perpetrator was a lone-wolf, a sadly deluded and paranoid individual with a long criminal history using the props of Islamist terror to demonstrate his largely personal grievances with the state.

That the Tele rushed to print with the ISIS connection speaks volumes for how deeply invested this despicable publication is in fanning Islamophobia. This, after all, was a newspaper that sent the club mascot of the nutjobs on a daytrip to Lakemba to depict the entire western Sydney suburb as a sort of Kabul on the Cook.

Meanwhile, on Twitter, supposedly professional journalists were shamelessly recycling hearsay, rumour and the half-baked theories of talkback radio blowhards masquerading as public defenders.

Your correspondent himself was holed up in a CBD high-rise during the siege and saw young staff in tears over the reports of bombs all over town. Angry at the half-baked theorising, one high-profile entertainment reporter lashed out at amateur correspondents.

Of course, the problem wasn’t so much the wannabe journos, the problem was the mainstream media itself, ghoulishly exploiting an unfolding human tragedy and urban crisis for cheap ratings and circulation points. The vampire squid again.

And, most tellingly, when the siege ended in gut-churning gunfire and bloodshed in the early hours of the morning, the biggest squid of them all appeared almost immediately on Twitter. In a jaw-dropping display of cynicism, New York-settled Rupert Murdoch used the deaths of young Australians as a cheap advertising opportunity for his media properties and a flippant debating point for his equally crazy ideology.

Yes, but the Tele had got it wrong. Typically, the urge to be first with the news came ahead of getting the story right. Instead, it rushed into print with shameless speculation, innuendo and hysterical headlines calculated to generate fear.

Striking was the contrast between the Murdoch’s shameless exploitation of this event with the understated, intelligent and sensitive rendering on ABC News 24, where veteran journalist John Barron and others did what journalists are supposed to do – report accurately and fairly and with an appreciation of the media’s role as an institution that serves the public, not the other way around.

If ever you want to mount a case for the continued funding of public broadcasting journalism, this siege was it. Journalism, at its best, gives primacy not to advertisers or proprietors or shareholders or ambitious editors, but to the public. Journalists, worthy of the name, serve the public. And they do so by establishing trust, by exercising restraint and, most of all, by respecting the truth.




Andre Poublon · December 16, 2014 at 7:11 pm

Too Right

Mike Steinberg · December 16, 2014 at 8:44 pm

Well, in September ISIS did call for lone wolf attacks in Australia.

One of this man’s demands was for an ISIS flag.

He had been convicted of harassing widows of soldiers killed in Afghanistan.

His actions didn’t occur in a vacuum.

    Andrew · December 20, 2014 at 10:56 am

    Mike, if he’d been truly a rep of IS he’d have organised to bring his own flag, the correct one. This opportunistic fraudster’s actions over a long period seem more motivated by money, sex, power and fame than anything else. You and others pushing this argument are grasping at straws.

jane · December 16, 2014 at 11:49 pm

He was out on bail while awaiting trial for his role in the murder of his wife. He had also committed and been convicted of, numerous rapes.

They were his terrorist acts. How many people are, or have been, in gaol for committing the same offences?

Are you suggesting that every person gaoled for those same offences is acting as an agent for ISIS?

The Cleaning Lady · December 16, 2014 at 11:51 pm

Mike Steinberg, the factors you cite weren’t enough to justify stating that Monis was IS-related. Remember, the media knew that he was an Iranian Shia muslim, which kind of makes it hard to be a member of Islamic State. Journalists are professional fact-checkers. Or should be.

Noel · December 17, 2014 at 10:09 am

Thanks. Well written.

Angela Damis · December 18, 2014 at 12:48 pm

Your website was recommended to me by one of your blog followers after I complained about Melissa Doyle’s coverage this week.
Early afternoon Monday she described the gunman as an Islamist (because of the flags in the windows) who had brought evil to Sydney. Without any official confirmation of the facts at that early stage.
I don’t normally watch commercial tv so this has been off-putting – I cannot look at her the same way anymore. She made the statement in a slow, deliberate way – to please the bosses upstairs, I reckon.
Look forward to more objective, critical analysis from you.

    Chris W · December 21, 2014 at 9:31 am

    Ineed Angela, Channel 7 news is increasingly divorced from reality. Back a few weeks ago as the G20 was starting up we had Sharon Ghidella jump right into the lead ‘Breaking News’ item about Russian Warships ‘heading for Australia’. The manufactured look of worry and concern on her face and breathless seriousness in her voice made me want to evacuate myself from all orifices.

    The Telegraph ?? … you only have to walk past a copy in the newsagent and you’re stupier for having done so.

Weaver · December 18, 2014 at 10:29 pm

“One of this man’s demands was for an ISIS flag.”

I’m not sure I’ll release a hostage if you get me the correct flag demonstrates what you think it demonstrates about the terrorist links of this nutter with a shottie.

Audioio · December 24, 2014 at 8:51 am

“Sharri Markson is Brynne Edelsten without the wit, talent, or news sense.”


VoterBentleigh · December 24, 2014 at 6:35 pm

A good analysis. The MSM appear to regard any bloodshed or violent event as spectator sport and even as a perverse form of entertainment. Increasingly, individuals with warped methods of attracting attention are focussing upon the media and the media are accommodating them. The media never admit fault. What is more disheartening is the way politicians over-react to such incidents to gain attention. There is little indication of more insightful reporting and analysis to alert the public to the trends, actions taken and proposed, and outcomes achieved or desired, and too much emphasis on the trauma, grief and public hysteria.

The Failed Estate: Body of the Host « The Standard · January 2, 2015 at 11:05 am

[…] Jim Parker.  He writes occasional but perceptive posts primarily on media issues.  This current post, reprinted with permission, provides a damning critique of main stream media coverage of the […]

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