View from The Hill: The uncivil Mr Jones


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

The row over shock jock Alan Jones and what will be displayed on the Sydney Opera House sails about The Everest horse race involves two sets of issues.

One is around whether it is appropriate to use this Sydney icon as an advertising hoarding.

The other is the appalling, but typical, behaviour of Jones and the weak, but probably not surprising, capitulation of NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian to the pressure of the racing industry, which had its arm strengthened by this bullying presenter from 2GB.

The details of the row are now familiar. Racing NSW wanted a full ad for The Everest’s Tuesday barrier draw on the lit-up sails; the Opera House resisted, saying it would only show the jockeys’ colours; Jones abused Opera House CEO Louise Herron on air on Friday; the Premier later that day overrode Herron and gave Racing NSW and Jones most of what was being demanded.

The broad question of ads on the Opera House seems to me less important than Jones’ behaviour and the state government’s abject falling into line with the demands made by Racing NSW.

Some people have no problem with the Opera House being used for advertising. They don’t subscribe to the view that it’s low rent to turn this World Heritage structure to commercial purposes, nor do they comprehend the fuss about having it as part of the promotion of a particular (mega rich) horse race – as distinct, say, from an Australian national team.

Labor frontbencher Anthony Albanese said on Friday that “people should chill out a bit. The fact is that this race is beamed around the world. People do associate Sydney with the Sydney Opera House”.

On a unity ticket with “Albo”, “ScoMo” doesn’t understand “why people are getting so precious about it”. For the man remembered for the “So where the bloody hell are you?” campaign, this is “just common sense”.

“This is one of the biggest events of the year,” Morrison said on Sunday. “Why not put it on the biggest billboard Sydney has? These events generate massive economic opportunities for the state, for the city.”

There may be room for argument about the promotional issue but not about Jones’ interview.

The full horror of that tirade has to be heard to be believed – with its haranguing, denigration, abuse and threats.

Jones, with close personal connections to the racing industry, injected into it maximum nastiness and minimum civility. Herron probably should have told him to call back when he’d found his manners and hung up. But she didn’t.

It was of course Jones displaying one aspect of his trademark. He and others of his ilk use insult and aggression as part of their “brand”, whether in interviews or in commentary.

Over the years, Jones has got away with an extraordinary amount –
although recently a court caught up with him when he and 2GB lost a
huge defamation case
over claims he made about the Wagner family being responsible for deaths in the 2011 Grantham floods.

Imre Salusinszky, who was press secretary to former NSW premier Mike Baird, has written about how the shock jocks and the tabloid media wield their power at NSW state level.

The Howard government felt it had to manage Jones as best it could (as does the present NSW government). There was a Howard staffer whose remit included dealing with the Jones demands and complaints.

I recall a minister who’d been in that government later telling me how he’d given in to Jones on a certain matter just to get him off his back (after checking with advisers that to do so wouldn’t create any harm).

Jones insulted Malcolm Turnbull when the latter was communication minister, but Turnbull fought back and then refused to go on air with him. Until the 2016 election campaign, that is – when then prime minister Turnbull felt he had to have a brief rapprochement with his bete noire.

By her action on Friday, Berejiklian reinforced the perception that the politicians are scared of a bully who rages from his studio pulpit.

But according to social researcher Rebecca Huntley, they have less to fear than often thought. “15 years of research and I haven’t found Alan Jones to be that much more influential with voters than ABC radio or the SMH. He is only powerful because politicians think he is, ” she tweeted.

Berejiklian on Sunday defended the outcome, saying it was “at the back end of the decision-making process” – Racing NSW had earlier reportedly wanted to drape banners from the Harbour Bridge – and a “good compromise”.

The NSW government claims that Friday’s decision was not a reaction to Jones’ diatribe but the culmination of negotiations that had been underway for some while.

Nevertheless, it represented the premier’s cave-in to Racing NSW and came across as a victory for Jones’ bullying.

Now that a discussion of “bullying” in various situations is the flavour of public debate, isn’t it time that the media who run Jones’ programs (2GB is majority owned by Fairfax) imposed some standards and the politicians who listen to him grew some spine?The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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Why the media needs to be more responsible for how it links Islam and Islamist terrorism



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Muslim protesters in India marching against the Islamic State after the 2015 terror attacks in Paris.
Divyakant Solanki/EPA

Audrey Courty, Griffith University and h.rane@griffith.edu.au, Griffith University

Since the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks in the US, Islam has become central to debates about social cohesion and national security in Australia.

Restrictions on Muslim immigration have been openly discussed – most recently by Senator Fraser Anning in his maiden speech to parliament – and many believe another terrorist attack in the name of “Islam” is inevitable.

Confronted with this reality, the media are playing an essential role in informing us about Islam and influencing how we respond. But, perhaps due to a limited understanding of Islam or a fear of antagonising Muslims, a fundamental point has largely been absent from reporting: the threat of terrorism does not stem from Islam. Rather, it stems from Islamism, a political ideology.

The two terms may sound similar, but Islam and Islamism are not the same thing. Islam is a faith observed by over 1.6 billion people, whereas Islamism is the political ideology of relatively small groups that borrow concepts like shariah and jihad from Islam and reinterpret them to gain legitimacy for their political goals.

How the media legitimises the aims of terrorists

Islamist groups like al Qaida and the Islamic State use violence against non-Muslims with the aim of establishing a political institution (“caliphate”) based on shariah law – neither of which have a basis in the Quran or hadith (Islamic prophetic traditions).

Part of the appeal of the Islamic State comes from its insidious ability to selectively use Islamic teachings and repackage them as legitimate religious obligations.

In particular, Islamists have appropriated the concept of jihad to legitimise an offensive “holy war” against non-Muslims. This interpretation, however, has been rejected by studies that have examined the Quran’s principles concerning war and peace.




Read more:
Defeated in Syria and Iraq, the Islamic State is rebuilding in countries like Indonesia


Islamic teachings, for instance, prohibit terrorism and the use of violence against civilians. Further, Muslim leaders and scholars around the world have repeatedly condemned terrorism, issuing fatwas (Islamic legal rulings).

By reporting on this misleading interpretation of jihad and under-reporting Muslim condemnations, the Western news media reinforce the perceived connection between Islam and terrorism.

In some cases, media pundits explicitly make this link, pointing to the fact terrorists specifically refer to “Islam” as the basis for their actions.

This uncritical acceptance of terrorists’ claims and misrepresenting of Islam legitimises and unwittingly promotes the Islamist agenda.

In other words, the media plays into the hands of terrorists by allowing them to become the representatives for Islam and Muslims in general.

Islamic State recruiting tool

Islamist terrorists have a strategic interest in propagating the belief that Islam and the West are engaged in a civilisational war.

As the Islamic State outlined in its online magazine in February 2015:

Muslims in the West will soon find themselves between one of two choices.

The group explained that, as the threat of further terrorist attacks looms, Western Muslims will be treated with increased suspicion and distrust, forcing them to:

…either apostatize [convert] … or [migrate] to the Islamic State and thereby escape persecution from the crusader governments and citizens.

The Islamic State’s divide-and-conquer strategy is crucial to its ability to replenish its ranks with foreign recruits. The group targets disaffected and marginalised Western Muslims and invokes an Islamist narrative with promises of brotherhood, security and belonging.

In turn, the Western news media indirectly advance the group’s interests by repeatedly linking Muslim communities to terrorism and failing to meaningfully distinguish the Islamic faith from Islamist political ideology.




Read more:
Explainer: ISIS, ISIL, Islamic State or Da’esh?


For example, as the first wave of Syrian refugees arrived in the UK in 2015, The Daily Mail warned of “the deadly threat of Britain’s enemy within” and associated refugees with the threat of “Muslim extremists”.

In the midst of the 2014 Sydney siege, The Daily Telegraph prematurely linked the Muslim hostage-taker with the Islamic State – a claim that was later dispelled by terrorism experts.

The impact of careless reporting

This kind of overly simplistic and sensationalist media coverage serves the Islamic State’s objective to pit Muslims and non-Muslims against one another.

As a study conducted at the University of Vienna in 2017 confirmed, media coverage that does not explicitly distinguish between Muslims and Islamist terrorists fuels hostile attitudes toward the general Muslim population.




Read more:
Islamic State wants Australians to attack Muslims: terror expert


With growing awareness of the impact this kind of reporting, some media outlets like CNN have tried to distinguish between “moderate Islam” and “radical Islam”, “Islam” and “Islamic extremism”. But this, too, is misleading because it focuses on presumed religious motivations and overlooks the central role of Islamist political ideology.

A survey of almost 1,200 foreigner fighters by the Combating Terrorism Center revealed that over 85% had no formal religious education and were not lifelong, strict adherents to Islam. The report suggests the Islamic State may prefer such recruits because they are:

less capable of critically scrutinising the jihadi narrative and ideology.

Islamism masquerades as religion, but is much more a post-colonial expression of political grievances than a manifestation of the Prophet Muhammad’s teachings. While the establishment of a caliphate or shariah-based order is the expressed agenda of Islamist terrorists, this is not a religious obligation for Muslims.

And it is not an assault on Islam for non-Muslims to say so.

Political correctness, or a more nuanced discussion?

In an effort to strip the Islamic State of its legitimacy, some governments have advised news outlets in the UK and France to use the derogatory acronym “Da’esh” to refer to the group, although this is not always practised.

Malcolm Turnbull, also adopted the term “Islamist terrorism” in order to differentiate between those subscribing to the Islamist ideology and Muslim communities.

But many politicians, such as Donald Trump continue to blur the distinction by using rhetoric like “radical Islamic terrorism” instead.

Some argue that our “political correctness” inhibits us from tackling the problem head on.

But those who say the problem stems from Islam are are mistaken. We should be able to have a constructive conversation about the central concepts of Islam, including whether establishing a “caliphate” and committing violence against non-Muslims are indeed religious obligations or have legitimacy in Islam.

Given the extent to which concerns about Islam have impacted on our society, there is an ethical obligation to differentiate between Islam and Islamism – or at least present a counter to the Islamist perspective.The Conversation

Audrey Courty, PhD candidate, School of Humanities, Languages and Social Science, Griffith University and h.rane@griffith.edu.au, , Griffith University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

How ABC chairman Justin Milne compromised the independence of the national broadcaster



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Reports this week revealed that ABC Chairman Justin Milne called for a journalist to be fired after receiving complaints from the government.
Joel Carrett/AAP

Peter Fray, University of Technology Sydney and Derek Wilding, University of Technology Sydney

Update: Justin Milne has now resigned as chair of the ABC board.


Behind the extraordinary events engulfing the national broadcaster lies a rather ordinary and clear statement of principle enshrined in the ABC Act. It clearly stipulates that one of the functions of the board is to maintain the corporation’s independence and integrity.

Has Justin Milne, as chairman of the board, done that?

Reports from Fairfax Media this week revealed email correspondence between Milne and the then managing director, Michelle Guthrie. In the emails, Milne called for chief economics correspondent Emma Alberici to be sacked over a report on government funding for research and innovation.

Then Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull had complained about the article; this followed complaints in February about two other pieces by Alberici on corporate tax, also critical of government policy. The ABC amended and reposted one of these pieces and eight days later republished the other, an analysis.

An internal ABC review found fault with both earlier articles, which had attracted considerable attention.

Another report this week in The Daily Telegraph makes further claims that Milne later demanded the resignation of ABC political editor Andrew Probyn, following anger from Turnbull. “You have to shoot him”, Milne is claimed to have said to Guthrie.




Read more:
ABC Board Chair over-reaches in a bid to appease hostile government


On one view, the performance of a journalist is an operational matter for the MD or other executives, not a strategic matter, and there was no cause for intervention by Milne.

But others might ask, isn’t it the role of the board to intervene if there’s possibly severe reputational damage to the organisation and executives are not acting?

Both points seem reasonable, but this is the ABC, not a commercial operation.

It’s hardly contentious to say that its journalistic role distinguishes a news organisations from other businesses. Watchdog, fourth estate – however we describe it – news media are different. Editorial independence, along with editorial standards, is important.

But this is even more pronounced for public broadcasters. While government funds the ABC and SBS using public money, these are not state broadcasters. Being free from state control is a part of the legislation under which the ABC operates. It’s when we look at the ABC Act that we see the problem for Milne.

Although we often speak of the ABC “charter”, this is really just section 6 of the ABC Act. It sets out the functions of the ABC and it’s where we find reference to the ABC providing “innovative and comprehensive broadcasting services of a high standard”.

But important obligations are found elsewhere. The requirement to provide a news service, for example, is in a later, operational section.

And it’s section 8 where we find the twin requirements of independence and editorial standards. These are worth setting out in full:

  • 8(1)(b) to maintain the independence and integrity of the Corporation

  • 8(1)(c) to ensure that the gathering and presentation by the Corporation of news and information is accurate and impartial according to the recognised standards of objective journalism

The problem for Milne is that these obligations are not imposed on the ABC as an organisation. They are imposed on the board. The lead-in to section 8 is: “It is the duty of the Board…”




Read more:
Media Files: ABC boss Michelle Guthrie sacked, but the board won’t say why


Returning then to the emails, at issue was a report by Alberici on the main 7pm television news bulletin on May 6. According to the Fairfax report, Turnbull sent an email to news director Gaven Morris the next day complaining about the report.

Morris sent it to Guthrie, who contacted Milne. Milne responded, saying “they [the government] hate her” and “get rid of her”.

This apparently is before Communications Minister Mitch Fifield complained about the same report on May 9 and before the ABC’s complaints review unit had a chance to assess the complaint. When it did, it found no problem with the article except for one inaccuracy – certainly nothing that would justify the dismissal of the journalist.

It appears Milne acted to protect the reputation of the ABC. He and the board are required to do that – protecting its “integrity” is a part of their statutory duties. And the board also has a role in upholding standards.

Had the ABC’s complaints unit found there was a serious problem for a second time and executives had failed to act, maybe the board would have been right to intervene. But that step – assessing the validity of the complaint – was skipped, and it seems the main reason for proposing Alberici’s dismissal was to appease the government.

In this case, “independence” should have trumped the reputational aspect of “integrity”, especially when the risk was political. Instead, the chairman of the ABC may have compromised both values.The Conversation

Peter Fray, Professor of Journalism Practice, University of Technology Sydney and Derek Wilding, Co-Director, Centre for Media Transition, University of Technology Sydney

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Accurate. Objective. Transparent. Australians identify what they want in trustworthy media



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Trust in media is low in Australia, which is why traditional news values like accuracy and objectivity matter.
Shutterstock

Sacha Molitorisz, University of Technology Sydney

In an age of social media and smartphones, people are accessing more news than ever. The problem is, they don’t believe much of it.

Three-quarters of Australian news consumers say they have experienced “fake news” and are very concerned by it. In the US, two-thirds of adults get their news from social media, but more than half of people expect this news to be “largely inaccurate”.

This is in stark contrast to public trust in journalism before the rise of the internet. In the 1970s, more than two-thirds of Americans trusted news media. By 2016, that figure had fallen to less than one third.

This question motivated new research at the Centre for Media Transition at UTS, which was funded by Facebook as part of the company’s APAC News Literacy initiative, but conducted independently by my colleagues and me.

Our findings suggest that what Australians want most from their news media is accuracy and objectivity, not necessarily accessibility and friendliness – the hallmarks of social media.

What can be done to restore trust in news media?

In the first stage of our research, we compiled an extensive, annotated bibliography of the academic and non-academic literature focusing on trust and the news media. That bibliography includes more than 200 titles and many more authors.

Among these authors is Rachel Botsman, who argues that institutional trust in the media has largely been replaced by what she calls “distributed trust”. Where people used to trust banks, the church, the government and the news media implicitly, she argues, they now tend to trust their friends, family and even strangers.

This is evident in the success of social media, but more obviously in the rise of companies such as Uber and Airbnb, which exemplify the “gig economy” and “collaborative consumption.”.




Read more:
FactCheck Q&A: Has confidence in the media in Australia dropped lower than in the United States?


Drawing on Botsman and other authors, we postulated that today’s news consumers want a different type of news media: one that is more peer-to-peer and less top-down. And so in the second stage of our research, we held four qualitative workshops in Tamworth and Sydney to ask participants about their relationship with the news media.

In one exercise, we asked participants to design their ideal news source by choosing from a list of 13 characteristics, including “interactive”, “accurate”, “transparent”, “easy to access”, “objective” and “vulnerable” (by admitting and correcting mistakes). We also included “like a friend” and “less ‘voice of god’”. These last two, we suspected, might well be popular, especially among the young. (Of our participants, half were under the age of 35.)

But the results surprised us. Overwhelmingly, participants both young and old did not want their ideal news source to be like a friend or less like the “voice of god”. These two attributes were the least popular. Conversely, top of the list were three highly traditional journalism values: accuracy, objectivity and being in the public interest.

A closer look, however, revealed that participants did value some elements of a peer-to-peer news media – they also wanted their ideal news source to be transparent, easy to access and interactive.

Trust goes deeper than the source

If our participants are typical, these results suggest that Australians want the news media to be aligned foremost with traditional journalistic values, but also enable consumers to be part of the news-sharing, and sometimes even news-making, process.

In other words, Australians seem to want news that blends elements of institutional and distributed trust.

The workshop participants repeatedly expressed grave concerns about trusting news on social media. However, our results also suggest that Australians believe the trust problem is not wholly the fault of social media. According to our participants, part of the problem is that journalists themselves need to be better at accuracy, objectivity and working in the public interest.




Read more:
Outlawing fake news will chill the real news


This corresponds with the results of the Digital News Report: Australia 2018, published earlier this year, which found the most common form of “fake news” encountered by Australians is “poor journalism”.

In another exercise, we asked our participants to rate six trust-enhancing strategies currently being trialled by media outlets in various forms.

Tellingly, the most preferred option was “go behind the story”, which involves informing readers why a story was written and what the journalist was unable to find in his or her reporting, among other details. The second preferred option was a clear labelling of news, comment and advertising.

Clearly, consumers want a higher degree of transparency from their news sources.

People will pay for media they trust

The good news emerging from research globally is that there has been a rebound in trust in journalism. Currently, 50% of Australian news consumers trust the news, up from 42% last year. By contrast, only 24% of people trust the news they find on social media.

In his 1995 book Trust, US political scientist Francis Fukuyama argued that high-trust societies tend to be thriving societies. And this is where the media play a crucial role. As philosopher Onora O’Neill says:

If we can’t trust what the press report, how can we tell whether to trust those on whom they report?

Our workshops suggest that Australians want to trust the media, but are suspicious. This must be addressed, not least because, as the Digital News Report: Australia 2018 found, there is a strong link between trust in news, concern about fake news and people being prepared to pay for their news.

This raises an interesting prospect: if we can successfully address the issue of trust and news media, we might even begin to solve journalism’s revenue crisis.The Conversation

Sacha Molitorisz, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Centre for Media Transition, Faculty of Law, University of Technology Sydney

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

ABC Board Chair over-reaches in a bid to appease hostile government


Andrew Linden, RMIT University

Update: Justin Milne has now resigned as chair of the ABC board.


Reports of the contents of leaked emails written by ABC Board Chair Justin Milne provide a powerful insight into how governments of the day can exert influence over what parliament had intended to be an independent agency.

The emails have emerged in the wake of the ABC board’s termination of ABC managing director, Michelle Guthrie.




Read more:
Government sets up inquiry into embattled ABC chairman’s email


Milne is correct in asserting that the ABC Act requires the board “to independently govern the Corporation, protect its best interests, ensure that it is well funded, well managed and that our content is of the highest standards”.

But it doesn’t operate in exactly the same way as other corporate boards.

The ABC board is different

For example in most corporations, commercial or otherwise, boards exercise control over management by using specific delegations and determining corporate policy.

Boards also appoint the chief executive and in some instances other members of the management group.

However that’s not the case for the ABC.

The ABC Act provides that on advice of the prime minister and communications minister the governor general appoints the chair and other directors with the exception of the managing director and the staff elected director.

Partly non-political

The Act bars former members of parliament and senior political staffers (for a time) from being appointed as the chair or as non-executive directors.

Appointments to all other ABC board positions, including the chair, must follow a merit-based process with candidates interviewed in a process that the government does not control.

But that requirement does not apply to the managing director. This gives the board greater latitude to appointment a candidate that may draw less criticism from the Government of the day.

And partly political

This is highly problematic because of real (but usually latent) potential that a managing director might arrive with an agenda to undermine the board’s statutory role and parliamentary-determined Charter to be an independent public broadcaster.

The potential conflict is more acute because at the ABC the managing director is designated in the Act as the editor-in-chief.

Because the managing director is responsible for content, the reported instances of the Chair pressuring the managing director to remove individual journalists and approaching ABC editorial staff are inappropriate.

Setting the scene for conflict

The Act sets up a potential conflict between most of the ABC directors (who essentially have a trustee role) and the managing director who might be a non-merit based appointee.

The ABC board used to avoid this conflict by sticking to the public service tradition of appointing technocrats to the managing director role.

But over time perceptions about the appointment have become increasingly politicised.



As Marco Bass, ex head of ABC news and current affairs Victoria has written, the temptation to control the news is becoming harder to resist:

What [Guthrie and Shier] shared was an implicit brief to disrupt the ABC, dismantle internal fiefdoms and, importantly, bring the news and current affairs division under control.

Make no mistake, federal governments, regardless of political complexion, don’t care about Peppa Pig. They care about political coverage by the ABC’s journalists and broadcasters.

These idiosyrantic governance rules amplify flaws in the design of boards on which both executives and non executives sit.

Other boards have similar problems

As I and colleagues have written previously, mixing executive and non-executive directors on a single board creates governance problems.

On corporate boards managers who are also directors can (and usually do) position themselves as very powerful gate keepers and dominate both other directors and senior executives.




Read more:
Solving deep problems with corporate governance requires more than rearranging deck chairs


This was a problem at the Commonwealth Bank and from some reports was becoming a problem at the ABC.

If a government can use the idiosyncrasies of the the ABC Act to cower a much-loved and very public institution like the ABC, imagine how pliable agencies like APRA, ASIC and ACCC might be in accommodating the views of a government who might not want to deal with the political fallout of, for example, tough but necessary decisions such as cancelling banking or superannuation licences.


This piece has been edited to remove an earlier incorrect statement that under the ABC Act the managing director is appointed by the governor general on the advice of government ministers. The managing director is appointed by the board, but without the constraints imposed on the government in appointing other board members.The Conversation

Andrew Linden, Sessional Lecturer, PhD (Management) Candidate, School of Management, RMIT University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Media power: why the full story of Murdoch, Stokes and the Liberal leadership spill needs to be told



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Media mogul Rupert Murdoch is notorious for meddling in politics.
AAP/Dan Himbrechts

Denis Muller, University of Melbourne

The first German chancellor, Otto von Bismarck, said there were two sights the public should not see: the making of laws and the making of sausages. To this list of enduringly nauseating spectacles we should add one more: the political machinations of media moguls.

ABC political editor Andrew Probyn has skilfully violated this standard of public taste by laying out what look like very plausible entrails of the evident involvement of Rupert Murdoch and Kerry Stokes in the recent Liberal Party leadership spill.




Read more:
How the right-wing media have given a megaphone to reactionary forces in the Liberal Party


It is impossible to independently verify Probyn’s account because he has been careful to mask his sources. But it is plausible partly because some elements are corroborated by separate reports in the Australian Financial Review and Sydney Morning Herald, partly because Probyn worked for both Murdoch and Stokes for lengthy periods and may be assumed to have good contacts in those places, and partly because there is circumstantial evidence to support some of what he says.

The Australian reports that Stokes has denied having communicated with Murdoch over Turnbull’s leadership. Interestingly, however, the newspaper does not quote its own proprietor on the matter, which is the obvious way to corroborate Stokes’s claim.

Murdoch, of course, is notorious for meddling in politics. In Australia, it can be traced back to his endorsement of Gough Whitlam at the 1972 election, his campaign against Whitlam in 1975, which was so virulent even his own journalists held a strike in protest, his support for John Howard in 1996, his somewhat ambivalent support for Kevin Rudd in 2007 and his full-frontal support for Tony Abbott in 2013.

Front page of the The Sun newspaper, April 11 1992.
Wikicommons

These campaigns were all in support of the winning side, and much the same has been true of his equivalent campaigns in the UK and the US. After John Major led the British Conservative Party to victory in 1992, Murdoch’s London Sun newspaper proclaimed in a front-page banner headline: “It’s the Sun wot won it”.

All this has created a perception of Murdoch as political kingmaker, a perception that frightens the life out of politicians and thus confers great power on Murdoch.

But as two Australian scholars, Rodney Tiffen and David McKnight, have persuasively argued in their separate studies of Murdoch, while his media outlets routinely shred and humiliate their political targets, the evidence is that Murdoch observes which way the wind is blowing and then finds a rationale for endorsing the likely winner.

The Economist’s Bagehot column was on to this 15 years ago, as Tiffen records. Referring to the London Sun’s boasting of its political power, the column observed:

[T]hat probably says more about Mr Murdoch’s readiness to jump ship at the right time than about the Sun’s ability to influence the votes of its readers.

Even so, perceptions can swiftly harden into political reality.

According to Probyn, when Murdoch was seen to turn against Turnbull over the past couple of months, the alarm went off in the prime minister’s office.

This is where Stokes, chairman of Seven West Media, is said to have entered the picture.

He is a friend of Turnbull’s and they are said to have discussed the apparent campaign by the Murdoch media to oust the prime minister.

Stokes and Murdoch have a chequered history, to put it mildly. They have fought long, bitter and costly legal battles, but as Margaret Simons says in her biography of Stokes:

In the cosy club of media, neither love nor hate lasts forever. The only constants are power, money and self-interest.

So, according to accounts by Probyn and the Financial Review, Stokes rang Murdoch to ask what was going on and Murdoch is said to have told him: “Malcolm has got to go.”

But on the question of who should replace him, the moguls were all over the shop.

Murdoch’s Daily Telegraph was touting Peter Dutton. Three days later, when Turnbull spilled the leadership positions, Dutton nominated, lost, but lit the fuse for the ultimate detonation of the Turnbull prime ministership.

Stokes was opposed to Dutton for complex reasons, but didn’t seem to know who to go for instead. On the day before the leadership spill, his newspaper, The West Australian, was promoting Scott Morrison. The next day it was promoting Julie Bishop, a West Australian.

This shambolic confusion among the moguls is comforting in a perverse kind of way, because in the end neither of them was able to dictate the outcome.

Murdoch achieved one objective – the ousting of Turnbull – but Dutton, his preferred pick to replace him, is now clinging to political life by a single vote in the House of Representatives thanks to the hovering spectre of the Constitution’s section 44 (v), not to mention trouble with au pairs.

Stokes? Well, he is new to this kingmaking caper. He clearly did not want his friend Turnbull out, but when that became inevitable, he didn’t know where to turn. As my old editor at The Age, Creighton Burns, was fond of saying, he was caught between a shit and a shiver.

The net effect of their efforts has been to bring the Liberal-National government to the brink of disintegration within months of a general election.

This time, Murdoch may have indeed created a winner – Labor leader Bill Shorten – not by the traditional means of showering support on him, but by destroying his opponents, even though they happen to be Murdoch’s own ideological allies.

It is the latest chapter in a long and discreditable history of media proprietors using their power to advance their political ends, usually for commercial rather than ideological purposes.

Sir Frank and Kerry Packer did it; so did successive generations of Fairfaxes. In 1961 the Fairfaxes went so far as to virtually run Arthur Calwell’s campaign out of the company’s executive offices on the 14th floor of its newspaper mausoleum in Sydney’s Broadway. The Sydney Morning Herald’s journalists renamed it the Labor ward in honour of the exercise.

In Britain, the mould for the politically meddling modern newspaper proprietor was set by Alfred Harmsworth (Lord Northcliffe) in the early 20th century.

He and the other mighty British press baron of the time, Max Aitken (Lord Beaverbrook), were the inspiration, if that is the word, for Rudyard Kipling’s celebrated condemnation:

[The press exercises] power without responsibility: the prerogative of the harlot throughout the ages.

So Probyn has done Australian democracy a service by exposing the entrails of what looks like another abuse of media power, even if it makes for a nauseating public spectacle.

It also raises serious questions about media accountability.

Australia has never had a publicly trusted or effective system of media accountability. All attempts to create one have been howled down, the loudest and crudest voices belonging to Murdoch’s lieutenants.




Read more:
Australian media are playing a dangerous game using racism as currency


There is already a crisis in people’s faith in democratic institutions. A new report by the Australian Museum of Democracy and the University of Canberra shows only 41% of Australians are satisfied with the way democracy is working. That is a dramatic plunge from the 86% recorded in 2007.

In this climate of disenchantment, it is not surprising there are now calls for a public inquiry into the way Murdoch and Stokes have evidently played a manipulative role in changing the prime minister.The Conversation

Denis Muller, Senior Research Fellow in the Centre for Advancing Journalism, University of Melbourne

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Media watchdog’s finding on Sunrise’s Indigenous adoption segment is justified


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Protestors rally outside Channel 7 studios in Sydney following the controversial segment on Aboriginal adoption.
AAP/Crowdspark

Alana Schetzer, University of Melbourne

In March this year, Sunrise aired a panel discussion about the removal of Indigenous children from dangerous or abusive family situations.

It wrongly claimed that Indigenous children could not be fostered by non-Indigenous families and one panellist, commentator Prue MacSween, suggested that the Stolen Generation might need to be repeated in order to save children from physical and sexual abuse.

The reaction was swift and fierce: the segment was condemned as racist and insensitive, with many questioning why the panel featured no experts or Indigenous people. There were protests at the show’s Sydney studio, and multiple complaints were made to the Australian Communications and Media Authority.

This week, ACMA announced that the Channel Seven breakfast show did indeed breach the Commercial Television Industry Code of Practice in airing false claims that Indigenous children could not be placed with white families.

It was also found that the segment provoked “serious contempt on the basis of race in breach of the Code as it contained strong negative generalisations about Indigenous people as a group”.




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Seven has defended their actions, labelling the ACMA’s decision as “censorship” and “a direct assault on the workings of an independent media”. They are also considering seeking a judicial review of the decision.

However, it is not correct to assess ACMA’s decision, nor its role, as censorship. Rather, the ACMA monitors and enforces basic journalistic principles governing ethics and responsibility.

The decision is more symbolic than material – Channel Seven will not be forced to pull the segment from online; indeed, it is widely available. ACMA also has no power to order any compensation to be paid to a wronged party or fine the broadcaster; nor can it force Channel Seven to apologise or correct its error.

This dispute is but one of many examples that raises questions over the power of the media and what happens when media make a mistake, deliberately bend the truth or publish information that may cause harm to people, especially from marginalised groups.

In his research on the media portrayal of Indigenous people and issues, and the difference between sensitivity versus censorship, Michael Meadowsargues the media are resistant to admitting there is a problem with racist or insensitive coverage. He writes:

Aboriginal Australians have had to be content with a portrayal which is mostly stereotypical, sensational, emotional or exotic, with an ignorance of the historical and political context in which these images are situated.

While “censorship” is a label that is often used by the media in response to criticism, actual censorship in Australia by government or media watchdogs is thankfully rare to nonexistent. Other issue such as defamation law are greater sources of censorship.

In a 2018 report released by Reporters Without Borders, a worldwide organisation that advocates for a free press, Australia ranked 19th out of 180 countries on press freedom. This was a fall from ninth in 2017 due to of media restrictions on reporting on asylum seekers and refugees in offshore detention centres, not the role of ACMA. In fact, ACMA and the Australian Press Council were not even mentioned.

Australian journalists are expected, although not obliged, to abide by the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance’s Code of Ethics. This states that journalists should “report and interpret honestly, striving for accuracy, fairness and disclosure of all essential facts” and to “do your utmost to achieve fair correction of errors”.

ACMA’s finding on the Sunrise segment that featured sweeping claims such as “children left in Indigenous families would be abused and neglected”, is simply holding those responsible to the minimum standards expected, not just within the industry, but from the public, too.

In the era of “fake news”, it is not surprising that the public’s trust in journalists is low; a 2018 surveyfound only 20% of Australians deemed newspaper journalists as being “very” honest and ethical, with television reporters fairing even worse, at 17%.




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The ACMA was created in 2005 following the public outcry over the infamous “cash for comment” scandals in 1999 and 2004. At the time, the then-Australian Broadcasting Authority was criticised for being “too soft” and ineffective in response, the ABA was abolished and replaced by the ACMA.

It’s incorrect to label the ACMA’s role as playing “censor” when they do no such thing. In fact, there is criticism that ACMA, like its predecessor, is a “toothless tiger” that lacks any power to actually hold the media to account.

No media can operate without a basic framework that places public interest, a commitment to accuracy and responsibility to the public.

In a statement released on September 4, ACMA chairwoman Nerida O’Loughlin highlighted this important distinction:

Broadcasters can, of course, discuss matters of public interest, including extremely sensitive topics such as child abuse in Indigenous communities. However, such matters should be discussed with care, with editorial framing to ensure compliance with the Code.

With “clickbait” and inflammatory opinion increasingly finding a home in the media, it’s more important than ever that the media respect and abide by their responsibilities to fairness and the truth. And when they cannot or do not do this, regulatory bodies such as the ACMA are essential.The Conversation

Alana Schetzer, Sessional Tutor and Journalist, University of Melbourne

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

How the right-wing media have given a megaphone to reactionary forces in the Liberal Party


Denis Muller, University of Melbourne

The polarisation that is devouring Australia’s politics is reflected in the increasingly stark polarisation of the country’s professional mass media.

In the midst of the leadership crisis engulfing the prime ministership, some journalists have found time to start fighting each other over allegations of partisan political activism. Astonishing.

On Channel Nine’s Today show, the network’s political editor Chris Uhlmann accused elements of the media of “waging a war against the prime minister of Australia”.

For this, he singled out the Rupert Murdoch-owned News Corporation newspapers such as The Australian and The Daily Telegraph, the Murdoch-owned pay TV channel Sky News, and the Fairfax-owned Sydney radio station 2GB.

On the same show, the Telegraph’s national political editor, Sharri Markson, hit back, calling Uhlmann’s remarks “disgusting and outrageous”.

Later, The Australian’s Chris Kenny weighed in, saying Uhlmann was airing gripes from within Malcolm Turnbull’s camp. The clear implication was that Uhlmann was just as much a player in the political game as any other political journalist.




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Kenny argued that the media and politicians have always been locked into a symbiotic relationship, requoting a line from British politics that a politician complaining about the media is like a sailor complaining about the sea.

That’s true, but in assessing the media’s role in the current crisis, it is helpful to think about it in two phases.

The ‘Foxification’ of Australian politics

Phase one, which is what Uhlmann was referring to, is the coverage of national politics over the life of the Turnbull government.

There is overwhelming evidence that the News Corp newspapers, Sky News and the 2GB shock-jocks have given encouragement, legitimacy and a megaphone to the most reactionary elements in the Liberal and National parties.

This coverage has been characterised by climate-change denial, the prominence given to racist sentiments such as Andrew Bolt’s recent assertions that Australia was disintegrating into tribes, and alarmist warnings about immigration, typified by references to African gangs.




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These all play to the audiences of the conservative element of the Liberal Party whose figurehead has been the government’s destabiliser-in-chief, Tony Abbott, and whose frontbench champion has been Peter Dutton.

Sky News, in its night-time panels, is dominated by people promoting extreme views. Earlier this month, it went so far as to invite a neo-Nazi on air, only to apologise when the heat came on the next day.

Also in its evening line-up is Abbott’s former chief of staff, Peta Credlin, who has used her program to promote Abbott’s brand of reactionary politics and attack Turnbull, especially over energy policy.

On 2GB, meanwhile, the likes of Alan Jones and Ray Hadley have given the Abbott camp not just free kicks – Hadley has Abbott on his show regularly – but have created an on-air culture where outrage is encouraged.

Even this week, in covering the political crisis, Jones referred to key Turnbull backer, Mathias Cormann, as a “nigger in the woodpile”, a highly offensive, racist term of abuse. He later apologised for the word, but it’s not the first time he’s used it.

All this amounts to a Foxification of Australian politics.

It follows the template devised by Murdoch and his late lieutenant, Roger Ailes, in creating a highly partisan television channel, Fox News, which has prosecuted a similar ideological agenda to what the extreme right stands for in Australia.

Fox used to promote itself as “fair and balanced”, as gross an example of perverted meaning as anything Donald Trump has devised.

So much for phase one of the media’s coverage of the Turnbull government.

Responsible, up-to-the-minute coverage

Phase two is the coverage of the crisis that has unfolded this week.

In this, the professional mass media have, for the most part, provided a sustained, informative and reliable coverage of the kind that the public is entitled to expect.

The fast-moving developments have been relayed swiftly – often in real time – thanks to the speed and on-the-spot access to events that digital technology provides.




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The stories are piled up in chronological sequence: not just the basic facts but context, explanation and insights into background events, such as the lead-up to Scott Morrison’s decision to stand for party leader if there is a spill.

There is also minute-by-minute Twitter coverage of the uproar and circus in parliament.

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So much is happening that for a blessed moment the media are focusing on reporting rather than fighting among themselves.

Denis Muller, Senior Research Fellow in the Centre for Advancing Journalism, University of Melbourne

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Can Australian streaming survive a fresh onslaught from overseas?



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shutterstock.

Marc C-Scott, Victoria University

Australia’s already punch-drunk streaming sector is set for even more upheaval, as CBS will launch its streaming service in Australia as early as October.

Disney is also set to launch its streaming service in 2019. Based on recent history, Australia will likely be first up when it goes global.

The question is whether Australian streamers can compete locally with the global mammoths. Doing so might require coordination the likes of which we haven’t seen before.

This will impact not just what media Australians have access to, but more than 31,000 people employed by Australian media.




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We have already seen huge upheavals in Australian streaming.

Stan is the last remaining Australian streaming service from 2015, when I wrote about the official launch of Netflix in Australia. At that time there were two Australian-based subscription video-on-demand (SVoD) services, Presto and Stan.

Presto, a joint venture between Seven and Foxtel, was shut down in early 2017.

Foxtel then launched FoxtelNow in June 2017. It is already set for an overhaul later this year, to include 4K streaming, along with sports and entertainment streaming packages.

Aussie streaming services, more than just subscription

In addition to Stan, there are also transactional video-on-demand (TVoD) services in Australia, although these are discussed far less. A TVoD service is based upon a single payment being made to view singular content for a limited time, e.g. you have streaming access to the latest release for 48 hours.

One such Australian service is Quickflix, which launched in 2014. It went into receivership in 2016, before being saved and later relaunched.

Quickflix is still a streaming company, but retains the older disc mail-out service. This mail-out service could help Quickflix survive against global streaming services.

With the closure of video stores and retail stores removing discs from their shelves, a mail-out service still has value for Australians with poor internet speed and access.

The other Australian TVoD service is OzFlix, which some Australians may not be aware of.

Its differentiation is plans to source “Every Aussie Movie. Ever.”. A big task, but its specific niche may help it survive the onslaught of global media streaming services, while also giving local content a dedicated home.

Global media giants set their sights on Australia

Australia has been the first country that many media companies expand to when moving outside their own region. Netflix and YouTube Red (now YouTube Premium) are two examples.

More recently we have seen Amazon Prime Video launch in late 2016, although it is yet to have a major uptake locally.

The arrival of CBS All Access will impact Stan particularly. Stan features a number of CBS programs, so future programming will need to be from other distributors or through greater investment in original content.

Disney is also set to acquire 21st Century Fox. This will expand its catalogue on the new streaming service beyond its already huge catalogue. The Marvel movies look set to remain on current services, for now.

Australians and streaming…. what next?

A recent Roy Morgan report found over 9.8 million Australians had access to Netflix, with Stan at over 2 million. While Stan is clearly behind, it has had a 39.2% increase in the last 12 months.

YouTube premium has over 1 million subscribers, FetchTV 710,000 and Amazon Prime Video last at 273,000 (an 87% increase year on year).

The arrival of CBS All Access and Disney will make an already crowded market only more so. But is more choice a good thing?

A 2014 Nielsen report showed the average channels receivable by US households grew from 129 in 2008 to 189 in 2013. But the average channels tuned in remained at 17.

On top of larger content libraries, the global players also have deeper pockets. Disney looks set to spend US$100 million on a new Star Wars series for its streaming service. Netflix will spend more than US$8 billion on content in 2018 alone, and Amazon last year spent US$4 billion on content.




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Australian services will need to have a point of difference. Quickflix and OzFlix have their points of difference, but what about a larger service like Stan?

Stan can’t compete with the global companies on quantity of content, so it must, like others, have a point of difference.

Stan could become a premium platform for content of which some is broadcast on Nine later. That would be a similar approach to when Australian FTA broadcasters would buy US content months after it was broadcast in the US – to save on costs.

For an Australian service to compete, a better solution would be a combined approach, an all-Australian streaming service that combines the strengths and finances of the Australian media industry.

The Freeview app is an example of how Australian television has tried to work collaboratively but failed. The users can view all the catch-up content from Australian broadcasters, but to view it they are taken from the app to the specific broadcasters’ own catch-up apps.

This requires six apps in total to be installed to view all catch-up content.

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But is the Australian media industry willing to come together to fight against global streaming media companies, or will they continue to battle each other? Failure here could result in a further decline in Australian media.

Marc C-Scott, Lecturer in Screen Media, Victoria University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Australian media are playing a dangerous game using racism as currency



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Wes Mountain/The Conversation, CC BY-ND

Denis Muller, University of Melbourne

It has been quite a week for race-laden discourse in the Australian media.

There was Blair Cottrell, a notorious pro-Hitler extremist, appearing on Sky News and calling for a race-based immigration policy.

There was Andrew Bolt in the Herald Sun sounding the tocsin about how “there is no ‘us’ anymore”, how Australia was being overwhelmed by a “tidal wave of immigration” and ethnic “colonies”: Jews, Indians, Chinese, Muslims, Vietnamese, Cambodians, Italians.

A speech in London last month by Alan Tudge, Australia’s minister for citizenship and multiculturalism, resurfaced in which he said Australia was veering into ethnic separatism on the “European” model.




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The outgoing racial discrimination commissioner, Tim Soutphommasane, used a farewell speech at the Whitlam Institute in Sydney to warn how this could become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Reporting material that risks marginalising or stigmatising groups in the community on grounds of race presents the media with a difficult ethical dilemma, balancing free speech against harm.

Concerning Cottrell, the starting point is to recognise that hate speech and racism are his stock in trade. He is entitled to express his views, but the media are under no obligation to give him a platform to amplify them.

That Sky did so seems to have been a case of what Soutphommasane calls “the monetisation of racism”: that is, using racism as a way to attract interest, increasing ratings and adding advertising value to a program.

However, in this respect it backfired. American Express, Specsavers and the nappy-maker Huggies have suspended advertising on Sky in protest against Cottrell’s appearance. Yesterday, Victorian Transport Minister Jacinta Allan announced she had directed Melbourne’s Metro Trains to remove @skynewsaustralia from all station screens in the CBD.

A further dilemma for the rest of the media, including The Conversation, is that while these events are clearly a matter of public interest and therefore have to be ventilated, we play into the hands of Sky by giving it free publicity.

For an outfit like Sky – as with a fading celebrity – all publicity is good publicity, except if you get their name wrong.

Tudge presents a different problem. While the media are under no obligation to give the likes of Cottrell a platform, when the minister responsible for multiculturalism warns that Australia is veering into ethnic separatism, there is a clear duty to report it.

Tudge was not specific about what “separatist” group he was talking about, but from the context of his speech he seemed to be singling out Muslims, referring to sharia law and female genital mutilation. Inflammatory stuff.

It is a curious fact that while Australia’s immigration intake has been increasing, the minister responsible for citizenship and multicultural policy should be making inflammatory remarks about “ethnic separatism”.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics reports
that net overseas migration reflected an annual gain of 262,500 persons in 2016-17, 27.3% (56,300) more than in 2015-16.

As it happens, Tudge’s London speech came just three months after a debate in Britain over what was referred to as the “weaponising” of racism for political gain.

The debate was provoked by BBC Radio 4’s decision in April to mark the 50th anniversary of Enoch Powell’s infamous “Rivers of Blood” speech by broadcasting it in its entirety, read by an actor.

Powell was a Conservative MP who represented Wolverhampton, a Midlands city with a large population of West Indian and South Asian immigrants.

Speaking to Conservative Party members in Birmingham, Powell referred to an observation by one of his Wolverhampton constituents that “in 15 or 20 years’ time the black man will have the whip hand over the white man”.

Powell, who was a classics scholar, ended his speech with a passage from Virgil’s Aeneid, in which a sybil, or prophetess, warns Aeneas that Italy will be plunged into civil war, and she sees “the River Tiber foaming with much blood”.
Recognising the toxic potential of this analogy, Conservatives leader Edward Heath sacked Powell from his shadow cabinet, effectively ending Powell’s political career.

No such fate seems likely to befall Alan Tudge.

However, on August 6, Soutphommasane sounded a warning of his own, referring explicitly to Tudge’s remarks.

“Race politics is back,” he said. “Right now, it feels like there has never been a more exciting time to be a dog-whistling politician or race-baiting commentator in Australia.

“Five years ago … I wouldn’t have expected that the biggest threats to racial harmony would come from within our parliaments and from sections of our media. Yet here we are.”

Soutphommasane said these developments had made some groups in society feel more vulnerable, sown division in the community and forced the targets of it into retreat. “Where the seeds of racism are planted in political speech, they bear bitter fruit in society.”

In response, Tudge suggested Soutphommasane was avoiding discussing genuine concerns about integration.




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Soutphommasane did not confine his criticism to politicians. He accused sections of the media of responding to the financial pressures induced by the digital revolution by using racism as part of their business model.

“Faced with competition from a proliferation of news and entertainment sources, some media outlets are using racial controversies to grab attention – as a means of clinging on to their audiences.”

He referred specifically to Sky and Bolt.

In covering these stories, journalists have an ethical duty to minimise the risk of harm and act responsibly.

In straight news reportage, they can do this by seeking out and including alternatives to the racist perspective. This may provide at least some antidote to the poison.

They can also seek comment from communities targeted by racist discourse, thus giving them a voice and perhaps helping to mitigate any sense of isolation.

In commentaries, they can frame the article in a way that is explicitly or implicitly disapproving.

The ConversationReporting or commenting on racist discourse is one thing. Creating it is quite another.

Denis Muller, Senior Research Fellow in the Centre for Advancing Journalism, University of Melbourne

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.