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PATHETIC – CENSORSHIP AT THE AUSTRALIAN? July 12, 2007

Posted by wmmbb in Australian Politics.
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The following post which I read this morning appears to have disappeared. While it seems improbable, it may well be a pathetic attempt at censorship, for no other reason than to protect the stupidity of a certain columnist of The Australian.

Here is the post from Blogogracy:

Who says the mainstream media don’t pay attention to the blogosphere? This extraordinary story relates to this week’s Newspoll results and the way The Australian reported it. Peter Brent runs the excellent psephological blog called Mumble. It’s one of a number of blogs that run analysis and commentary of opinion polls, and others include OzPolitics, Possums Pollytics, and Poll Bludger.
Yesterday, Peter Brent noted that he had fallen foul of some of those at The Australian:

A courtesy call from Editor-in-Chief Chris Mitchell this morning informed me that the paper is going to “go” Charles Richardson (from Crikey) and me tomorrow. Chris said by all means criticise the paper, but my “personal” attacks on Dennis had gone too far, and the paper will now go me “personally”.
No, I’m not making this up.
If they only get as personal as I get with Dennis, then it should be tame, as I don’t believe I’ve ever criticised anything other than his writing. And to think I described Dennis, in a chapter in a book being launched this month, as (with no sarcasm) “a fine journalist”.
All very strange. And – I’d be lying if I didn’t admit – a little stomach-churning.

The editorial is up this morning and yes, they do “go” Peter Brent. They defend themselves in the strongest possible terms and attack, specifically and generally, just about anyone who disagrees with them, particularly “Australia’s online news commentariat that has found passing endless comment on other people’s work preferable to breaking real stories and adding to society’s pool of knowledge.”
There are a number of things to say about all of this. The first is that the editorial is as much concerned about charges of bias against The Australian as anything else. This is how it begins:

THE measure of good journalism is objectivity and a fearless regard for truth. Bias, nonetheless, is in the eye of the beholder and some people will always see conspiracy when the facts don’t suit their view of the world. This is the affliction that has gripped, to a large measure, Australia’s online news commentariat that has found passing endless comment on other people’s work preferable to breaking real stories and adding to society’s pool of knowledge.

If bias is in the eye of the beholder, then there are a lot of “beholders” out there who think The Australian is biased, particularly in its coverage of polling data. The evidence for this is not just to found in the blogosphere but on their own pages where their columns and articles often fill up with criticism from their own readers accusing them of spinning information in favour of the Howard Government. In attacking the “online commentariat” they are also attacking a sizeable sampling of their own readership.
The latest bout of charges of bias were prompted by this week’s Newspoll and many people, including me, were struck by the way The Australian chose to cover the story. For instance, Bryan Palmer at OzPolitics wrote:

“When I first glanced at today’s headlines — Howard checks Rudd’s march — Kevin’s sizzle not snag-free — Howard finds fertile ground for support — I was expecting to read about a polling improvement for the Howard Government. What I found was a flat line.”

What’s interesting is that The Australian seems to believe that only they are capable of objectivity and they reject entirely any charge of bias. This is odd given that Chris Mitchell himself has said:

“Can I say something about The Australian’s contribution to the national political debate. It has made, as a newspaper, a remarkable contribution, I think back over the last 10 years that this government has been in office and I think of the positions taken by The Australian newspaper.
“It has been broadly supportive, generously so, of the government’s economic reform agenda. And it has been a strong supporter, consistently… of industrial relations reform. Its only criticism of the government is that it might not have gone far enough.”
…I think editorially and on the Op Ed page, we are right-of-centre. I don’t think it’s particularly far right, I think some people say that, but I think on a world kind of view you’d say we’re probably pretty much where The Wall Street Journal, or The Telegraph in London are. So, you know, centre-right.

It is precisely that “generous” “broadly supportive” “right-of-centre” tilt that people are responding to when they see Newspoll reported the way it was this week. For the editorial to deny that any such tilt exist seems disingenuous.
So I think the editorial is ill-conceived and way off the mark in singling out Peter Brent in the way that it does. His site largely confines itself to interpretation and in doing so, provides a great service. The idea that he can’t comment without the editor of The Australian ringing him up to say they are going to “go” him is disturbing.
Still, I think it is fair to say that News Ltd, including The Australian, has opened itself to comment and criticism from its readership more so than Fairfax, the other major news organisation. They have embraced readers comments and “blogs” more fully, and this site alone is evidence of that. So while most News news stories and columns allow reader comment, the same is not true of Fairfax. You can, for instance, comment on Dennis Shanahan’s and Paul Kelly’s columns, but not Michelle Grattan’s or Gerard Henderson’s.
But having embraced such an approach, they have to accept that not everyone is going to agree with them or buy into their particular take on a given issue or, indeed, their own self-image. The Australian is, of course, completely free to defend themselves, but it might also pay them to reflect on why so many people see them as the “government gazette” rather than just dismiss nearly all such criticism as “a waste of time”.
ELSEWHERE: Mark Bahnisch comments, as does AB at Surfdom. Possum Pollytics provides a detailed analysis of an aspect of Newspoll that argues against the claim, made by the CEO of Newspoll and Dennis Shanahan, about the relationship between primary vote and the preferred PM figure. It’s exactly the sort of analysis that the editorial claims is lacking in the online sites.

Postscript: 13 July 2007

If one of the other Tim’s is to be believed, according to Margo Kingston, The Australian along with the other few major media players will not tolerate internal criticism, and they do not need to. So obviously, the editorial writing at The Australian was not joking or being in any way facetious when he argued it was the responsibility of bloggers to provide analysis and criticism of our political players. The MSM has more important things to do.

Postscript: 14 July 2007

Tim Dunlop returned to Blogocracy yesterday afternoon. Comments can be a mixed blessing.  You exercised editorial control and why?

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Comments»

1. slim - July 12, 2007

Rule number 1: Don’t editorialise on the boss’s editorialising.

Blessed are the bloggers for they are becoming the new commentariat. At least the blogs offer greater insight and perspective than the tired MSM commentators trotting out the same tired old hackery year in year out.

It will interesting to see a changing of the guard if Rudd becomes PM. I suspect many older MSM op-ed writers, most of whom were once decent journalists, will have to move on, having lost any non-partisan credibility.

2. wmmbb - July 13, 2007

We are waiting to see whether there are more posts from Tim tomorrow. I suspect we will be disappointed.

If this turns out to the case it is a very poor reflection on The Australian.

Personally, I doubt there will be a changing of the guard if Rudd becomes PM. I expect that Rudd will be a PM in the Howard mold, but I would hope with very much different policies and attitudes.

3. spin of the week at a roll of the dice - July 19, 2007

[…] relevant News Ltd blog disappears in the night (see “CODA” here, too, for a comment from the original author, who so far hasn’t […]


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