Monday, November 29, 2010

The Bunker Mentality

They love a stoush at News Ltd - particularly if it lines them up against those pinko latte-sipping elites who loiter around on social media sites pretending to be journalists.

That's one way to read the latest flare-up of hostilities between Rupert Murdoch's hirelings and a broad cross section of the community who thinks Australia's most powerful media group  systemically ranks reporting the truth a distant second to pushing its various ratbag, ideological barrows.

The last episode - the spiteful unmasking of popular political blogger Grogs Gamut - brought out the vindictive worst in The Australian, a newspaper that these days is almost a parody of itself so little attention does it pay to the normal journalistic principles of balance, accuracy and fairness.

Incidentally, ABC managing director Mark Scott - who originally drew the wider public's attention to Grog's criticism of the media's federal election coverage - made the astute observation in a speech last week that The Australian seemed to be objecting more to Grog's authority than his anonymity

"It was symbolic of a larger unwillingness by The Australian to cede to a civilian journalist the ability to shape the agenda - a role The Australian, and some other mainstream news organisations, have long had to themselves. Grog's Gamut, like so many citizen blogs before it, had sidestepped the gatekeeper," Scott said.

Now, the Murdoch flagship is at it again with editor-in-chief Chris Mitchell saying he will sue journalism academic Julie Posetti for defamation for tweeting reported comments at a conference by a former reporter of the newspaper saying she had been told by Mitchell what to write in the lead-up to the election.

That the powerful editor of a national newspaper should be so thin skinned as to threaten a little known academic and micro-blogger in this way just beggars belief. It goes so much against the essence of good journalism in fostering openness, independence of mind and public debate. And it suggests Mark Scott was right. The Australian, like any bully, is seeking to intimidate its victims into isolation and silence.

As it turned out, Mitchell ended up looking silly when a sound recording of the speech upon which Posetti's tweets were based revealed her reporting to be accurate. This, together with the fact that she was covering a public meeting (which attracts qualified privilege), would seem to undermine Mitchell's case somewhat.

But aside from his bullying behaviour, this case also showed News Ltd's tendency to circle the wagons and use its news pages to push its agenda, even in nominally 'straight' news reports. So, today, we saw the paper have reporter Sally Jackson cobble together a story saying the defamation case was 'unremarkable'.

Jackson finished off her report by giving her boss a free hit at Posetti, quoting Mitchell as saying that it was "very worrying as a parent of university students and a journalist of 37 years that a journalism lecturer and academic does not understand the laws of defamation".

How much more worrying, then, that the editor of our only national broadsheet should have so tenuous a grasp on media law and so low a respect for the standards of his profession? And how much more worrying that a newspaper nominally dedicated to revealing the truth of things should so brazenly seek to silence its critics, suppress dissent and quieten new media voices?

See also:

7 comments:

  1. Excellent comments. Mitchell must be the subject of ridicule around the corridors at News Ltd. He must be able to hear the sniggering behind his back.

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  2. Apart from the silliness of another attack by Mitchell on a minnow, there is this from the recording...

    "The other thing that was happening at The Australian before I left was the editor-in-chief and the edits becoming much more prescriptive and you saw that in the lead-up to the election, where you were actually being told what to write," she said.

    It's now out in the open, with direct evidence from an insider. Rupert is running and allowing a propaganda machine that is a direct threat to democracy in this country.

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  3. what we need is something similar to wikileaks so that disgruntled minions from the depths of the evil empire,and there must be many,can dump on the organisation anonamously."rupertleaks"anyone?

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  4. The huge dinosaur sees a bright gleam in the heavens. It feels anxious and restless. It rears up roaring, showing its might and stepping on a few early sparks.

    The comet comes closer none-the-less.

    Does old king of this land know the world is going to change, and that the only dinosaurs to survive will be smart, nimble and adaptable. Most of these survivors will change their forms to fit into the future.

    The National Broadband Network coment is coming.

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  5. Good article!

    I laughed when re-reading "very worrying as a parent of university students and a journalist of 37 years that a journalism lecturer and academic does not understand the laws of defamation"

    I'd forgotten that particular gem. Someone should collect the 'Best of #twitdef' quotes and publish them as a 2011 wall calendar.

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  6. Any newspaper editor should know defamation damages are linked to, well, the damage done to a reputation.

    Let's put aside for one moment whether allegations of bullying are really likely to damage a newspaper editor's reputation - think about it.

    And we'll also ignore the irony of a partisan newspaper editor suing ANYONE for defamation.

    The question becomes how many people would have read the tweets in question and would those people be influenced to shun and disdain the editor in question?

    Few tweets are read by more than a handful of people. Most just go zooming past into the ether.

    What's more Posetti's audience is self-selected. It's unlikely to be large and many of them might already hold Mitchell in low esteem

    In other words, there's unlikely to be much in the way of damages from a defamation action. Which means bullying is the ONLY possible reason why someone working for a large corporation might want to threaten an academic.

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  7. ***Anonymous said...
    what we need is something similar to wikileaks so that disgruntled minions from the depths of the evil empire,and there must be many,can dump on the organisation anonamously."rupertleaks"anyone?
    November 30, 2010 9:15 AM***

    Here- http://tinyurl.com/365qkg7

    ReplyDelete