Enclosing the Commons

iStock_000017089639_LargeThe existential attack on the ABC in Australia is just the latest extension of creeping libertarianism, imported wholesale from the US and promulgated by the Murdoch press and the now dominant right-wing fringe of the Liberal Party.

For these people, there is no legitimate public space, no community, there is only the market. And anything not given a dollar value by the market must, by definition, have no intrinsic value. Continue reading

The Other Side of the Rope


Journalists traditionally pride themselves on being outsiders. They’re not corporate types, they’re not joiners, they’re square pegs. So why are they suddenly dictating the terms in which everyone else can express their displeasure with the government?

The most divisive, contentious federal budget in decades – one that even former Liberal Party leader John Hewson says “screams inequity” – has drawn students into the streets in numbers not seen since the Vietnam war, before the fog of 80s consumerism snuffed out any principle other than the shallowest acquisitive materialism. Continue reading

That’s the Way It Wasn’t

At a Reuters editorial management course in Singapore around 1997, the attendees were being reminded about the principle of objectivity in journalism. To play his or her stated role in a global news organisation, the journalist had to be a perennial outsider with no affiliation.

At that point, the trainer theatrically looked over his shoulder as if to see that no-one else was listening and leaned in toward the class, sotto voce: “Actually, that’s not really true. We aren’t objective at all. Implicit in everything we write is an acceptance of the Washington Consensus.” Continue reading

The God Complex

Once upon a time in politics – not that long ago, at least in human years – the mainstream media audience sat respectfully in the grandstands watching the game. Journalists, on the  other hand, were on first name terms with players and coaches and had a cosy, inside view of the action.

Now, as is increasingly evident, the audience is invading the pitch. The old insiders’ game is breaking up. And the former participants and stenographers are clearly ruing the loss of clubby exclusivity. On Twitter, they can be seen pompously blowing their whistles and citing rules that no longer apply. Continue reading

The Man Behind the Curtain

Being a successful media pundit depends on a couple of core skills – one is a capacity for sounding absolutely confident about your predictions; the other is your ability to seamlessly and plausibly change gear after the fact without denting your public credibility at all.

Traditionally, pundits have gotten away with these 180-degree reversals because of the mainstream media’s monopoly on analysis. Being the sole mediator allowed established outlets to play footsie under the table with the poohbahs who told us what to think about economics, politics and everything else. Each needed the other. Continue reading

Contesting the News

The fierce debate over perceptions of Julia Gillard’s parliamentary speech on sexism – the press gallery take versus the public one – has touched a nerve among journalists for a simple reason. It has created doubt about the craft value journalists hold most dear – their nose for news. Continue reading

Ordinary People?


“Grandma, tell me about the Great Cyber War. What was it like?”

“Well, dear, on top of hill were the well-armed, but rapidly depleting mainstream media corps defending their turf to the death, or at least until deadline.

“Assaulting the outskirts of parliament were we brave bloggers, dressed only in our pyjamas, fuelled on skim lattes and clicking on petitions until our index fingers blistered. It was ugly, dear.”

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A US court’s $2.5 million ruling against a blogger for defaming a businessman has sparked a flurry of new attempts to define journalism in relation to blogging. My view on what constitutes journalism is similar to what someone once said about por**graphy – I know it when I see it.

While this won’t help the judges, you can be certain that earnest attempts to define a journalist in legal terms will lead to nothing but confusion. The Americans, with their black letter law pedantry, just love debates of this kind because it keeps much of the legal profession in business.
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Nowhere Man

Chris Uhlmann wants you to know he’s a non-partisan, straight down the middle journalist. One of the stars of the reinvented post-Kerry O’Brien current affairs show “7.30” (apparently ‘Report’ is superfluous now), Uhlmann represents the new, bland, board-approved face of the public broadcaster’s current affairs coverage – as in whatever you do, don’t upset the Tories because they might be back in government one day and cut our funding.

Covering a public rally, clumsily organised as a marketing tool by right-wing talkback radio shockjocks seeking to import the US Tea Party ‘movement’ to Australia, Mr Uhlmann decided bizarrely that the news angle was the unfair branding of the protesters as extremists, nutters and easily manipulated illiterates.

Wandering among the crowd, Uhlmann sought to render as morally equivalent this artificially orchestrated protest against the Gillard government’s chosen means of dealing with a problem that threatens life on earth with a hundreds of thousands-strong demonstration eight years ago against the then Howard government for joining Australia to an illegal war fought on a false premise in defiance of the United Nations.

But Chris is more sophisticated than that. He covers his tracks by saying how hard it is to tread a sane, sensible middle path between the liberal, tertiary educated, middle class and, oh, the League of Rights and One Nation and the National Civic Council (who were all represented at the Canberra protest).

“According to them I, and the rest of my colleagues, are captured by the Left and don’t even attempt to understand the grievances of that kind of crowd,” Uhlmann wrote. “They believe that we dismiss them as aging nutters, unworthy of our attention, except when we want to sketch a caricature. They believed that we would not report the event, or that we would ridicule it.”

But of course, Chris was not there to ridicule the protesters. He represents the new John Howard-reinvented  ABC, which seeks to legitimise the most fringe right-wing elements of the country as somehow representing the real, salt-of-the-earth “forgotten” Australians who are overlooked in a media crowded by bleeding hearts and cafe-lurking urban sophisticates who know nothing of the concerns of “ordinary people”.

So we see lots of verbal gymnastics from Uhlmann in which he notes that the “vast weight” of scientific opinion is against the protesters, before giving a kind of lawyer’s credence to their incoherent views by saying some in the crowd made “better arguments” by saying the science was “chock full of uncertainties”. Llike the theory of evolution and its disputation by creationists? Or like the tobacco industry’s long campaign to discredit evidence of a link between smoking and lung cancer any conservative attempt to forestall change by insisting on a fake certainty principle?

In Mr Uhlmann’s world, all arguments are valid and his job  as a reporter is to provide an apolitical assessment of it all in a way that in the end merely plays into the hands of the most conservative and reactionary elements of society. It is just another back-and-forth, like a tennis match, and his job is to blandly call the score.

Was there ever a more blatant example in Australia of what New York journalism academic Jay Rosen describes as “the view from nowhere” – the idea of the journalist not as someone who informs people, but as a tightrope walker who seeks to walk a middle way between polar extremes, tiptoeing above politics in a way that tells us nothing except the fact of conflict:

“Journalists position themselves as being above the conflict as the neutral arbiter between the poles,” Rosen says. ” If you want to be in the news, you play the poles. The ‘Real’ is opposed often to the ‘Fake’. So in the case of climate change, the fake is still given legitimacy. So this view of the world as being all about conflict, much of it illegitimate, and all about the extremes on either side of the conflict informs our political process. So our media and our politics tend toward entropy and ritualized conflict.”

So well done Chris. You’ve got all the bases covered. Tony Abbott is happy. And you’ve been invited up to Maurice Newman’s office on Monday for tea and biscuits. How courageous of you.