Freedom for Whom?

Freedom! Is there any word more abused than this in the debate about politics and media standards? From Rupert Murdoch, his editors and commentators and the ubiquitous IPA, the rhetoric of ‘freedom’ is now ritually used to forestall any examination of media power.

This American style hand-on-heart eulogising of freedom reached a crescendo recently with the failure of the Gillard government’s media reforms. Having gone as far as sending its own representative to make a submission at the Senate hearing into the legislation, the IPA predictably released a statement  welcoming the ditching of the reforms as a “victory for freedom of speech in Australia”. Continue reading


Journalists, even the good ones, are perhaps one of the last groups one should seek the counsel of in the debate over media regulation. It’s like asking a policeman about who should investigate wrongdoing in the law enforcement community.

Indeed, ever since the release in February this year of the independent media inquiry, commissioned by the federal government and headed by former Federal Court Justice Ray Finkelstein, journalists have been running around like headless chooks, doing everything but addressing the real issues. Continue reading

Citizen Kane to Citizen Mayne

Ten years ago, online publisher Crikey under then owner Stephen Mayne fought a fruitless battle with the Howard government to win access to the budget lock-up in Canberra. Despite producing what  was unequivocally journalism, Mayne’s operation was deemed not to be a media outlet. It’s a snub our newly digitising established media companies might want to consider.

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Burying the Lead

Much of the discussion around the future of mainstream media journalism is about money. Who’s going to pay the journos’ salaries? What’s a viable business model? Will the revenue generated by the erection of paywalls be sufficient to make up for the loss of audiences?

ABC Radio’s Saturday Extra took that angle recently, in an item entitled ‘Newspapers and the Media of the Future’. Norman Swan, standing in for regular host Geraldine Doogue, explored the issue with a single guest – Steve Allen of Fusion Strategy, a representative of the advertising buyers. Continue reading

Why Journalists Fear Academics

What’s most likely to keep journalists awake at night? That they will be ‘scooped’? Please. In 2012 in the age of Twitter? Hardly. After all, they all copy and paste the same PR releases and transcripts. Nope, what really gnaws at journalists is the fear that they will be exposed as flakes, dilettantes, copycats and pretenders.

In days gone by, this wasn’t a big risk. After all, academics for the most part were the only likely challengers to the self-appointed authorial voice of journalists. And we knew these sad, bearded trainspotters were locked away in their ivory towers, working on 6-12-monthly publishing cycles. Worse, their ‘copy’ – when it did arrive – was impenetrable, heavily footnoted and full of qualifying subordinate clauses. Seven universes away, in other words, from The Herald Sun.
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Nowhere Man

One of the shorthand criticisms of the internet by the mainstream media is that it is almost wholly populated by paranoiacs, single-issue fanatics, stalkers and sundry geeks. Thank God, they say, for the reasoned professionals in the nation’s newsrooms.

Given what the internet (and bad management) has done to the legacy media business, it’s understandable that some journalists are defensive about ventures outside the mainstream. Continue reading

Freedom from the Press

  • “There is common ground among all those who think seriously about the role of the news media and about journalistic ethics that a free press plays an essential role in a democratic society, and no regulation should endanger that role”: Opening words of the 468-page report of the independent inquiry into the media by former Federal Court Judge Ray Finkelstein. 
  •  Labor Plan to Control the Media: Headline on Australian Financial Review’s front page splash on the Finkelstein report the following day. 

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Market Farces

As with everything in Australian politics these days, debate over the federal government’s media inquiry has become just another coat-hanger on which ideologues of every stripe can drape their off-the-rack worldviews. It’s why we’re hearing market forces are the fix for dodgy journalism.

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The Untouchables

They squibbed it. Given the chance to tackle News Ltd’s stifling  dominance of the metropolitan newspaper market in Australia, the federal government has left ownership issues out of the remit of its independent inquiry into the media.

That was really the only reason for holding an inquiry in the first place. Instead, the inquiry – to be led by former Federal Court judge Ray Finkelstein – will focus on print media regulation, including online publications, and the operation of the Press Council – a body generally considered to be next to useless. This is akin is calling an inquiry into the liquor licensing board in Capone-era Chicago. Until you tackle the gangsters running the show, the Keystone cops appointed to police the precinct are going to prove plod-like in their pursuit of wrong-doing.
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If the Crap Fits…

What recourse have the public when the nation’s major media company wilfully misrepresents a public policy reform? What safeguards are there against blatantly dishonest journalism that presents opinion as fact and a partisan agenda as straight news?

Take a look at the two front covers above – from the nation’s two biggest selling newspapers and ask yourself, as the ABC’s Annabel Crabb has contended, whether this is merely “aggressive” reporting and that the government’s response to it is paranoid and misguided. Continue reading