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The Political Media

Don't worry about the features, check the news

12 May 2009 - There's been some speculation in recent weeks over whether or not News Limited tabloids are about to share features between states. What there does not have to be speculation about is the way that papers are already sharing major stories. Sue Dunlevy this morning has written the page one lead previewing the budget for both the Sydney Daily Telegraph and the Melbourne Herald Sun. Steve Lewis has done the same things on many occasions recently. In one sense there's nothing wrong with the practice when the stories are significant, accurate and well written. What the bureau approach to news does do, however, is limit the choice that different political writers bring to the decision as to what constitutes significance.

Pathetic Pettiness over Walkleys

Friday 28 November 2008 - Newspapers blowing their own trumpet is one thing. Excluding the name of journalists who work for rivals from coverage of the Walkley awards for journalism is another altogether. This morning the Australian press displayed all the pathetic pettiness which helps bring the whole profession in to such disrepute. more

The vanquished and the victor

Tuesday, 5 August 2008 - Having struggled along with Maximilian S.Walsh and Robert Haupt for a couple of years doing those Sunday program interviews in the days before Laurie Oakes I hope I will be forgiven for yet another observation on the program's passing. There was only ever one part of the program that actually had an influence on political life and that was not because of that small minority of Australians who sadly found themselves with nothing better to do on a Sunday morning than watch television. It was the coverage given on the television news that night, and in the papers and on radio the next morning, to what the featured politician had said that mattered. more

The Gold Coast lynch mob

Tuesday, 2 July2008 - The law of the lynch mob has come to the Gold Coast and being urged on by the Murdoch tabloid the Gold Coast Bulletin . "EVERYONE should remember this man's face," the paper urged its readers this morning. "Burn it into your memory, because it's up to the public to protect the children of Queensland from pedophile Dennis Ferguson." more

At the risk of being accused of an advertorial

Tuesday, 2 July2008 - I'll take the risk involved in giving a plug to the ABC's news radio (let me declare in true John Laws style that they are a sponsor, if not of me, of my breakfast media watch ) because the station has certainly changed for the better and it is not just the arrival of Jennifer Byrne as the drive time spruiker. more

Searching in vain

Wednesday, 14 May 2008 - I have searched in vain for even a tiny little "we was wrong" from the Sydney Terror duo Malcolm Farr and Sue Dunlevy who predicted so boldly yesterday that the work for the dole scheme was being scrapped in Labor's budget. All I can offer them is the advice given to me by my Sydney Morning Herald competitor Ian Fitchett when I made a similar howler in the same paper under similar circumstances many years ago - the closer it gets to the event the less definite should become your prediction.

A lot about a little

Wednesday, 14 May 2008 - Rarely in the course of Australian journalism has so much been written about so little. If Wayne Swan's budget speech was treated on its news merit there would barely be a line about it in this morning's paper. The only real items not previewed in advance were the predictions about what the end result of all the money raising and money spending will be in 13 months time at the end of June 2009. My vote for the best coverage goes to the Northern Territory News who splashed with the story of the driver who strapped in his beer with a seat belt rather than his five year old passenger.

This morning's mugs?

Tuesday, 13 May 2008 - When as a journalist you make a bold prediction about what will happen on the day of an event you had better get it right or you will look an awful mug. There is no doubt that Malcolm Farr and Sue Dunlevy in this morning's Sydney Daily Telegraph were bold in their story that "the first Rudd Government Budget tonight will dump work for the dole." But will they be right? Well if we can believe Treasurer Wayne Swan at a press conference this morning the odds are against the Telegraph pair. "We're keeping work for the dole," Mr Swan said. Maybe there was a let out in the words added by the Treasurer foreshadowing changes to the scheme, saying there would be more investment in training and an expansion of "programs for the most disadvantaged in the labour market." We shall soon see.

A case of self censorship

Monday, 12 May 2008 - The Victorian political writer for the Melbourne Age, Paul Austin, has had a big morning with coverage of the sacking of the Liberal Party bloggers who were campaigning against State Leader Ted Baillieu while working within the campaign unit at State Party headquarters. In two separate stories Austin details what Mr Baillieu calls the " treachery " of the sacked officers and gives extensive examples of the " vitriol " about Liberal Party people that was posted on a blog and distributed via email. There is no public access to the website itself but some extracts from it are available here. There is, however, one startling omission from this extensive coverage in The Age and that is the commentary made on "He who stands for nothing" about Austin himself. more

A sensible step back

Monday, 12 May 2008 - A report at the weekend that the Rudd minders have taken a sensible step back from their belligerent attitude to the press. Cameramen on Friday were allowed to cover the great man being interviewed in a radio studio.

Not Reading about Burma

Saturday, 10 May 2008 - That there is often a dichotomy between what editors think is important news and what their readers are interested in was shown again on Saturday morning when I surveyed major international internet news sites. In nine English language sites, all of them of a serious kind which publish a list of their most read stories, only at the UK 's The Independent did the tragedy in Burma rate on top as the most read.

Yet three of the newspaper web sites, including that of The Independent, had Burma as the lead story with another three featuring it second so we cannot blame the editors for the apparent lack of interest in the worst natural disaster so far this year. more

A weak excuse

Friday, 9 May 2008 - The minders around Kevin Rudd excelled again yesterday with their bully boy treatment of the press gathered out the front of the new Fairfax headquarters which the PM was opening. more

Moving seamlessly

Monday, 5 May 2008 - Wonderful description of the Rupert Murdoch way of political involvement in the Financial Times of London after The Times (Two terms is enough for Livingstone. Johnson should be allowed his chance), The Sunday Times (It's time for a change) and The Sun (A new and fresh Champion for London )all came out for the Conservatives in the London Mayoral election. It was, wrote the FT columnist about Murdoch, "another example of how seamlessly he moves with the prevailing political winds." The years of supporting Labour apparently have come to an end - at least until the party looks like it might win again.

The Pick of this Morning's Political Coverage

Friday, 2 May 2008 - $17 billion! $21 billion! Any increase on $21 billion? The budget prediction auction is well and truly underway as the political journalists of Canberra endeavour to show how clever they are by telling us now what Treasurer Wayne Swan will reveal on 13 May. This morning we can choose between a budget surplus of $17 billion offered by Dennis Shanahan in The Australian and $21 billion from the Sydney Morning Herald's Peter Hartcher. Seeing who gets closest will add some interest during the hours the journos spend in the budget lock-up. more

Bully boy ways (1)

Friday, 2 May 2008 - Labor Party staffers are gaining quite a reputation for their bully boy ways with John Olenich, who is on the staff of Federal Climate Change and Water Minister Penny Wong, the latest to engage in the game of bludgeoning journalists. more

Bully boy ways (2)

Friday, 2 May 2008 - Punishing the press is not just a Federal Labor phenomenon. They are pretty good at it over in Perth too. more

The power of the press

Wednesday, 23 April 2008 - When you run a pay television network, a little cross promotion from you own newspapers can sometimes be a help. So it was this morning when several of the Murdoch tabloids pretended that the most important story of the day was a decision by the ABC not to allow Sky News and commercial free-to-air competitors to show coverage of the Gallipoli dawn service before it did.

It was a mighty show of strength by the big media bully boy and resulted in a quick cave in by the ABC.

One Murdoch man will be right

Wednesday, 23 April 2008 - Former Treasurer Peter Costello has signalled he is ready to quit Parliament with the announcement he will write his memoirs, Malcolm Farr told his readers in the Sydney Daily Telegraph on Tuesday. Rarely do politicians write their memoirs when they still are an MP, he argued, because if they are frank they are certain to upset some colleagues. Over at the Tele's serious stable mate, The Australian, political correspondent Matthew Franklin this morning takes a different view. Peter Costello has vowed to identify the way forward for the Liberal Party in soon-to-be-published memoirs, writes Franklin, igniting speculation that he will use the book to relaunch his political career and seek the Opposition leadership. Now we know!

The declining internet news sites

Wednesday, 16 April 2008 - As the variety of news and opinion on the internet keeps growing it is probably inevitable that the early starters begin to lose ground to the newcomers but some of the major Australian media sites appear to be doing much worse than others. more

The power of Sky

Wednesday, 16 April 2008 - There's no doubt that Australians will learn more from watching and listening to Government Ministers answer questions at a community Cabinet meeting than they ever will from a telecast of question time in the House of Representatives. Last night Sky News showed again that it is on the way to becoming a competent and serious provider of news when it showed in full the meeting at Jamison High School in Penrith where there were serious attempts to answer questions from some in the audience of 500. more

Talking their own books

Monday, 7 April 2008 - It was amusing, to say the least, that the representative of one of those leveraged buy out groups was taken seriously by Glenn Milne in The Australian this morning as part of what is turning into quite a vicious attack on the Governor of the Reserve Bank Glenn Stevens. Milne quoted a letter written by the executive chairman of department store Myer, Mr Bill Wavish, to Mr Stevens in which he complained about the impact higher interest rates were having on the economy, particularly in Victoria and NSW, and on the retail sector in particular. What was not made clear in the article was the impact higher interest rates are having on the owners of Myer who largely used borrowed money for their takeover of the Myer stores - money that is now far more expensive than it was at purchase time. more

The Daily Reality Check

Monday, 31 March 2008 - One thing about the media coverage of the last election that intrigued me was the way that when The Australian ran one of those polls on the internet asking readers how they intended to vote the proportion supporting Labor was substantially higher than the opinion polls were recording for the nation as a whole. Because of the way which such non-selective polls can be rorted I was not sure whether the figures were a true reflection of the readership of the national daily or not. The evidence from Saturday's list of most read stories on the Oz's internet site leads me to suspect that they were and that the paper most staunchly pro-Coalition in its editorial attitudes in fact relies on lefties for a major proportion of its readership. The story that caught my eye was headlined Media Watch 'recycled PR' and it was the only political item in the top five. What it contained was a lengthy attempt to justify the coverage by the paper earlier in the week of the Aboriginal Affairs Minister Jenny Macklin spending a night aboard a boutique fishing boat rather than slumming it in the local Aurukun community. The Australian's seemingly sensitive Editor-In-Chief Chris Mitchell's was quoted replying to an inquiry from the ABC Media Watch program "I have a question for Media Watch: Why are you recycling false allegations pumped out by Jenny's PR and already published by Chris Graham of the National Indigenous Times and Crikey. Don't you believe in ministerial accountability? We stand by our story." My suspicion is that what elevated this story onto the most read list is the delight that many of Mr Mitchell's readers get whenever his paper is attacked. Instead of being attracted because of agreement with the views expressed, there are many - perhaps even a majority of the readership - who fall into the category of media masochists who cannot wait to be angered six mornings a week. Fortunately for this group, Mr Mitchell's response to Media Watch is clear evidence that he is happy to continue in his role as a sadistic editor.

Body language of significance

Tuesday, 18 March 2008 - Annabel Crabb, my favourite writer on the goings on within the parliamentary chambers, had a wonderful little anecdote this morning about Prime Minister Kevin Rudd's body language when his colleague Wayne Swan the Treasurer is giving an answer to a question without notice. "Every now and again," Ms Crabb wrote , "he will massage his temple lightly and in a circular motion with the forefinger and middle finger of one hand, as if he has the beginnings of a tension headache. This happens quite frequently during answers from Wayne Swan. A Liberal frontbencher - I don't want to embarrass him so let's just call him "Joe Hockey, manager of Opposition business and shadow health minister" - recently sought advice from a body-language expert on the significance of this gesture. Apparently it signifies dissatisfaction."

The Holy grail of politicians

Wednesday, 12 March 2008 - Politicians are no different from many workers who like a refreshing ale after their day is done and the Holy Grail in Kingston is the watering hole of choice. more

Friends in the right papers

Thursday, March 06, 2008 - I  notice that Bob Mansfield, a businessman John Howard was prone to trot out now and again for tasks, got a bit of stick from The Australian for not agreeing to become the long term chairman of the "debt-stricken Allco Finance Group". The story questioned why Mr Mansfield, as the senior independent director, did not take up the chairman's position following the resignation of Allco founder and executive chairman David Coe. "Mr Mansfield's reluctance to take on the chairman's role full-time also belies his strong leadership role in the business previously, making many of its key decisions," the story said. What was not questioned was the role of that other independent director on the Allco board, Sir Rod Eddington, who has become the businessman that Kevin Rudd is prone to trot out now and again for tasks. Could the absence of a mention of Sir Rod have anything to do with him also being an independent director on the News Corporation board? Surely not.

Talk around the tea trolley (2)

Wednesday, 5 March 2008 - Political groupies should put a new program on their must watch list if morning tea time conversations mean anything. Forget about that Four Corners with its boring retrospective on a long dead Queensland Premier. Good News Week on Channel 10 at 8.30pm on Monday is where it's all att. I was alerted to the importance of this satirical chat show's importance as a purveyor of attitudes about politics when I overheard a couple of bright young things earnestly chatting over coffee about the Rudd Labor Government setting up so many inquiries. Their information had come from the first edition of GNW.

Getting with the winner

Tuesday, 26 February 2008 - The fearless columnists of The Australian will have a nice test in coming weeks as they turn their attention to Kevin 08's Australia 2020 summit now that News Limited chairman John Hartigan is heading the panel turning its attention to the "future of Australian governance." more

A serious attempt at internet news

Monday, 25 February 2008 - People can sling off at The Australian as much as they like about the bias and quality of writers on its editorial page but there is no denying that the website of the national daily is leading the way in covering politics between the daily printed editions. more

The new journalist of influence

Wednesday, 20 February 2008 - Michelle Grattan of the Melbourne Age is in danger of losing her title as the workaholic of the Canberra Press Gallery. Chris Uhlmann of the ABC is now bobbing up everywhere as the no-nonsense political correspondent on national television news, where he has replaced Jim Middleton, as well as current affairs radio. more

Dining with journalists

Monday, 18 February 2008 - If Kevin Rudd is to be attacked for anything over his dealings with Brian Burke it should be for his naivety in ever thinking that dining with a collection of Western Australian based journalists might be important in his quest to become Leader of the Labor Party. more

Give the secretaries the sack

Friday, February 15, 2008 - When the press secretary becomes the story, the press secretary can no longer do the required job. The Kevin Rudd team who aided and abetted the crowd in King's Hall turning their backs on Opposition Leader Brendan Nelson are now in that category.more

Stone Walling the Interviewer

Tuesday, February 05, 2008 - The 2008 version of Kevin Rudd retains the ability that Kevin 07 showed of stone walling television interviewers when he had not thought out what the correct answer to a question should be. more

A Risky Business

Friday, January 25, 2008 - Banks are not the only ones with tarnished reputations as the world's financial problems roll on. There are problems for internet publishers as well.

Take the example of and its partner hard copy version Risk Magazine. This self described "unique resource dedicated to anyone who needs to manage risk" makes annual awards which recognize "those institutions that have weathered the storm in the financial markets and have continued to provide liquidity and structuring know-how to clients."

And the 2008 Equity derivatives house of the year on the Risk Honour Roll is? Société Générale.

Perhaps this morning's revelations about the losses of Société Générale at the hands of a relatively low level employee give a new relevance to the piece the Owl wrote on 17 January about banks and risk management.

The Tele Follows in a Great Tradition

Thursday, December 20, 2007 - You furnish the pictures and I'll furnish the war, That instruction to a war correspondent in Cuba attributed to William Randolph Hearst might have been apocryphal but he certainly knew how to make xenophobia sell newspapers. If Hearst did not actually start the Spanish American War over Cuba in 1898, he helped it along a bit with plenty of pictures of Spanish atrocities.

The great tradition of stirring up a dislike of foreigners to sell an extra paper or two lives on with the papers world-wide of Rupert Murdoch at the forefront. Who could forget that wonderful Gotcha headline from the London Sun as the Argentinian battleship Belgrano was sent to the bottom of the Atlantic when nowhere near the Falklands war zone? more

news - Not in the News Business

Thursday, November 29, 2007 - If anyone needs proof that the flagship website of the once great Australian newspaper company News Corp is not interested in the business of news, just have a look at the way it covered today's announcement by Kevin Rudd of his first ministry. more

It's Difference of Opinion that Makes an Opinion Poll Interesting

Saturday, November 03, 2007 - When you buy The Australian like I do every day you pay your money and can take your choice. There's always a variety of opinion and never more so than this morning when there were two very different interpretations of some Newspoll research in to voting intentions in marginal seats.

The paper's political editor, Dennis Shanahan, had the star billing with his optimistic assessment for the Government of what the survey of almost 3500 voters in the most marginal seats in NSW, Victoria , Queensland and South Australia actually meant. In a piece labeled as ANALYSIS, Sol Lebovic, the founder and former chairman of Newspoll acting during this campaign as The Weekend Australian's polling consultant, found little for John Howard and his team to be optimistic about at all.

The views are so startlingly different that a casual reader might mistakenly think they were commenting on completely different polls. more

The Tyranny of Television's 60 Seconds

Wednesday, October 10, 2007 - There is really only one point to all the daily talking and all the travelling of political leaders during an election campaign. The 60 seconds or so of coverage on the nightly television news is what it is all about with the pictures being more important than the words. The campaign planners spend their time trying to manipulate the image so that the message shown is the positive one they think best serves their interest. more

An Unscheduled Release?

Thursday, October 11, 2007 - It seems I might have uncovered another little slip-up in the supposedly well oiled Labor Party campaign machine by suggesting yesterday that the handling of the reaction to the comments of the shadow Foreign Minister Robert McClelland got in the way of the release of "Federal Labor's $42 Billion Minimum Schools Funding Commitment: Giving Schools Financial Certainty" paper. more

A New Journalist of Influence

Friday, September 28, 2007 - Without much fanfare a few weeks ago Steve Lewis moved from being the Chief Political Correspondent of The Australian - a job which was the third rung down in that paper's political writing pecking order after Editor-at-Large Paul Kelly, National Affairs Editor Mike Steketee and Political Editor Dennis Shanahan - and became the national political correspondent appearing in all the Murdoch tabloids. As such he is perhaps now in a position to be the most powerful political journalist in the country. more

Politicians as Quiz Kids

Wednesday, September 19, 2007 - Politicians have considerable vanity. It goes with the personality type of those who believe they know what is best for the rest. Politicians just hate having to admit that they are not know-it-alls. more

Not There is the Best Place for a Real Journalist to Be

Wednesday, 15 August 2007 - That not being there is sometimes the best place for a journalist to be was something I learned early on in my career as a Canberra journalist. more

Advertising to Journalists from the Side of a Bus

Tuesday, 14 August 2007 - Advertising is an expensive commodity for political parties during an election campaign and has the disadvantage that people tend to be skeptical about all those claims and counter claims. Far better to have the message carried on the news pages and in the news bulletins which have the credibility of independence. Thus it is that those playing the political game spend considerable time and some modest expense on advertisements designed for no other reason than prodding journalists in to giving free exposure. more

Leaving a Sinking Ship

Wednesday, 25 July 2007 - Bewilderment is setting in among the chorus of Prime Ministerial supporters. John Howard's friends are starting to desert him. This morning it was the turn of Melbourne Sun Herald Sun columnist Andrew Bolt to leave the ship. more

Secret Polls and Not So Secret Loyalty

Monday, 23 July 2007 - Whatever else people might accuse Glenn Milne of; a lack of loyalty is not one of the things he is guilty of. The giant of the Sunday tabloids has stuck with his man Peter Costello through the thin and thinner moments of recent years. He was at it again at the weekend with a story so fanciful that I wanted to laugh until I realized that tears were a more appropriate way of marking the retreat of standards in the Murdoch press. For this particular attempt to boost the leadership credentials of Peter Costello supposedly was based on "secret Labor Party polling." more

When Minds are Made Up

Tuesday, 19 June 2007 - When minds are made up, just change the author. Dennis Shanahan knows that things are getting better for the Coalition Government. The political editor of The Australian told us so yesterday under a headline "Howard closes gap: Newspoll" all across the top of page one. John Howard and the Coalition have got a polling breather going into the crucial last week of the parliamentary session is how he put it.

Today the evidence from Newspoll of a continuing rally by the Liberal and National Parties was not so clear cut. On the contrary, the pollster reported, voters seem to have made up their minds on how they plan to vote at the elections. So what is a political commentator to do? full story

Supporting World Leaders

Monday, 23 April 2007 - Well, now it's official. The Sunday Tasmanian has told us so. Rupert Murdoch is known to publicly support world leaders, including Britain 's Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair and US President George W Bush.

So consider that when evaluating the Murdoch reply after the proprietor of the Tasmanian Sunday and other newspapers around the world was asked whether Kevin Rudd would be a good Prime Minister. "Oh, I'm sure'' was the encouraging comment. more

Sunrise on a Receding False Dawn

Tuesday, 17 April 2007 - Do you doubt Kevin Rudd's Honesty? That's the question the Sydney Telegraph posed this morning at the end of its story on Opposition Leader Kevin Rudd having told a porky about neither he nor his staff being involved in plans by Channel 7's Sunrise program to stage a "fake" dawn service at Long Tan on Anzac Day. more

Listen Out for Healthy Forests While Fanaticism Spreads

Monday, 2 April 2007 - The influence of that little worm Australians were introduced to when the Nine Network started televising political leadership debates is growing. Measuring the immediate public reaction to words is now beginning to dominate the public debate as our leaders embark on their triennial effort to confuse and obfuscate. We can gauge the findings by listening to the daily grabs on television and for the Liberals the latest in word is fanaticism. more

Gerard Henderson’s Sleazy Tactic

Tuesday 13th February 2007 - In his Sydney Morning Herald column this morning Gerard Henderson came to John Howard’s defence for attacking the “US Democratic Party presidential aspirant Barack Hussein Obama”. Let’s not worry about the Henderson view that Howard was “essentially correct”, if “undiplomatic”, in declaring that Obama was ecouraging those who wanted to destabilise and destroy Iraq when he called for a withdrawal of American troops by March next year. The Sydney think tank man is as entitled as the next person to think what he likes. It is with that “Hussein” word that Henderson has sunk down to the sleazy depths of the very worst of the right wing apologists for the George Bush war machine.

The Washington Post put it rather nicely in its editorial of 26 January this year. “It’s become a fad among some conservatives to refer to the junior senator from Illinois by his full name: Barack Hussein Obama. This would be merely juvenile if it weren't so contemptible.” more

Michelle Gets Passionate

Friday, 2 February 2007 - During the 30 plus years I have known Michelle Grattan I have not found her to be a passionate person. Thorough, measured, controlled and accurate have been the hallmarks of her journalism and partisan politics does not intrude into the thoughtful reflections of her opinion pieces. more

A Long Way from Howard's Battlers

Tuesday, 30 January 2007 - Maxine McKew is a model of educated elegance – well mannered, well spoken and beautifully dressed. An identikit representative if Labor is trying to present itself to the tertiary educated working women and men of the nation's central business districts with a keen interest in political events.

Opposition Leader Kevin Rudd persuaded Ms McKew to join his staff as an adviser and she will surely blend in well with his own intellectual interests. Undoubtedly she will provide a cultured and thoughtful touch to his forthcoming policy pronouncements. Now there is increasing speculation that Ms McKew will graduate from being a mere political consultant to a candidate with Gerard McManus writing in today's Melbourne Herald Sun that Labor insiders say she could be installed in the Sydney outer western suburbs seat of Fowler

Prime Minister John Howard has a different taste in women. His Liberal Party has seen the advantage of having women in vote winning positions but has forsaken elegance for a more down to earth style like that of Jackie Kelly in Lindsay and Joanna Gash in Gilmore. Both have proved considerable assets as Howard has positioned himself to win the support of the aspirational workers.

It makes for an interesting contrast in campaigning styles - Rudd appealing to a different level to Howard's. To me McKew brings a touch of theWhitlamesque to the Rudd machine. It is yet to be seen if it's time to pass beyond the battlers.

With Friends Like Glenn …

Monday 29 January 2007 - Ardent supporters can be a pest at times and this morning Peter Costello probably puts Glenn Milne in that category. Over the years the Treasurer has basked in the praise of the punchy little columnist for The Australian but now that John Howard is not going, reminders of leadership contests to come are not what Mr Costello needs. Milne's column under the headline “Turnbull could sink” will be interpreted in Canberra as reflecting the views of a churlish Costello wishing failure upon his chief potential rival for the Liberal leadership. more

A Message for Kerry

My small band of readers include some hard analysts. Have a look at the comment from one about Kim Beazley in the column on the left. And for a second example consider this email from JP of Queensland in which he starts with an extract from a Kerry O'Brien interview I quoted yesterday:

KERRY O'BRIEN: You recently wrote a long essay in the Monthly magazine on religion and politics in which you identified a little known German theologian named Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

And then gives this comment:

"Little known" clearly means that Kerry hadn't heard of him.  Maybe you had to have attended a Protestant school, but I rather thought that most people who grew up in the years after WW2 and before TV dulled everyone's brains had heard of him.

Put the Editor of the Tele and the Premier in the Dock

Friday, 10th November, 2006 - Years as a youth sitting in courts taught me that there are normally two sides to most crime stories, even the most sordid and sad ones. In that sense covering police rounds for Tassie and Melbourne Truth was a great teacher. I learned the wisdom of keeping “the presumption of innocence” until a verdict was finally delivered. Whether it was the high life or the low life on parade there was rarely a case that turned out as straight forward as a police prosecutor's initial summary.

New South Wales Premier Morris Iemma is not much of a one for believing people are innocent until proven guilty. Mr Iemma was happy that his Aboriginal affairs minister Milton Orkopoulos was arrested, charged, sacked as a Minister and stripped of his ALP membership all on the one morning. The Premier had no time to listen to Mr Orkopoulos' denial of all the allegations and his promise to defend his reputation. There was scarcely time to pretend that he was not prejudging his former colleague before setting about helping to create a climate where it is guilt not innocence that is presumed. more

A Quilp-Like Creature Plays Politics with a Paper

Thursday, 12th October, 2006 - New boy Family First Senator Steve Fielding called for evidence yesterday that when it comes to the media “the key factor that determines ideas is ownership.” The idea was, he argued, a myth because it was individual journalists and editors who determined what was published, not proprietors. more

Sir Warwick Fairfax used his influence and nearly brought down the Menzies Government.

Try the Murdoch Solution

Tuesday, 3rd October 2006 - It is easy to ignore the views of a man who predicted that the wonderful result of the war in Iraq would be oil at $US20 a barrel. Rupert Murdoch got that one wrong but perhaps politicians should heed the sage advice he gave years ago in the United States about political fund raising. more

Telco Chairman Fights Government Over Murdoch

Friday, 6th October, 2006 - What the Prime Minister was told about a meeting on Rupert Murdoch's yacht off the Greek island of Zakynthos is central to the first major challenge to the minority government of Italy’s Prime Minister Romano Prodi. At issue is whether Mr Prodi was aware of a proposal by the privatised national telco Telecom Italia to split its mobile and fixed-line businesses with Murdoch’s News Corp the potential buyer of part of the mobiles. more

Dining With Friends

Thursday, 5th October, 2006 - John Howard was among friends when he went to dinner celebrating the 50th anniversary of the magazine Quadrant so he did not have to explain the change in direction which has come over his talking about Iraq . more

Doing Kim a Favour by Mistake

Friday, 29 September, 2006 - A conspiracy theory is bound to develop soon around the regularity with which The Australian distorts the reporting of its own Newspolls to put Kim Beazley in the worst possible light. Whenever the news is bad for Labor a Shock-! Horror! page one story by political editor Dennis Shanahan is certain. When the pollster has Labor six points in the lead for the second time in a month, as happened this week, the news is relegated to an inside page with some incidental poll finding given the headline treatment. more

Telling Lies that May be True

Thursday, 7th September, 2006 - Labor began the Queensland election campaign trying to claim the underdog status and they are ending it trying, if not pretending to be behind, to act as if their lead is shrinking in what will prove a close run race. The surprise is not that Labor has revealed such internal polling to the Courier Mail but that the paper has published it all over this morning’s front page. more

The Political Importance of Pictures

Wednesday, 2nd August, 2006 - A picture is worth a thousand words. Nowhere is that more true than in politics. Hence the shots of John Howard out and about in north Queensland yesterday inspecting the repair work on the damage wreaked by Cyclone Larry. more

The Media Mix

Friday, 14th July, 2006 - Call me a sceptic but I cannot believe the Coalition Government will end up with a media policy that Rupert Murdoch thinks makes him worse off. Governments just don't antagonise the proprietor of the biggest selling newspaper in every state bar West Australia . more

A Campaign Kind Of Day

Wednesday, 5th July, 2006 - Journalists are suckers for internal party polling. Press gallery members just love to think they know what's happening on the inside. So it should surprise no one that Liberal and Labor apparatchiks alike regularly exploit the vanity. more

Media Thin Skins on Display

Friday, 30th June, 2006 - Two amusing displays this week of the reason that journalists and commentators are on the nose. Channel Nine goes to court to try and prevent details being published by others of its internal workings. Broadcaster Alan Jones threatens legal action to stop publication of a book about him and the ABC caves in to the threats and withdraws as the publisher. more

A Charitable Interpretation

Thursday, 22nd June, 2006 - A cynic might suggest that the News Limited press this morning largely overlooked the resounding humiliation of John Howard in his party room because the visiting Rupert Murdoch wanted to remind the Prime Minister how valuable it is to have him on side. The more charitable would put it down to the journalists being at home putting on their dinner suits to attend the Press Gallery Ball when the statement about the outcome in the joint party meeting was finally made. more

Page One at Last

Friday, 16th June, 2006 - The national daily has at last acknowledged that John Howard's troops are in revolt and has even gone as far as giving comfort and succour to them to continue! more

Beating Up One Story and Ignoring Another

Thursday, 15th June, 2006 - On Monday Kim Beazley was "to axe AWAs in backflip". On Tuesday that had become "Unions push ALP for more". Wednesday saw "Beazley to risk pay cuts." And this morning Beazley had become "another Latham: business." The Opposition Leader's plan to make industrial relations the key election issue was certainly captivating The Australian with four front page leads in a row; every one of them putting a negative slant on Labor's plans. more

The Herd is Changing

Monday, 5th June, 2006 - Less than a month ago the Canberra commentators had Mr Howard invincible and Kim Beazley facing the sack. Today I detect that the herd is changing course. more

Let's Call a Bias a Bias - The Australian is Biased

Tuesday, 30 th May, 2006 - Labor behind, then front page headlines proclaim Beazley's leadership is in bother. Labor leading, then a brief page one pointer to a story inside explaining that tax cuts "do not appear to have translated into an electoral boost for the Coalition." more

A Zoo Where the Biggest Gorilla Rules

Monday, 29th May, 2006

The talking heads on Sunday morning television might get the press coverage but it is 60 Minutes on Sunday night that gets people talking at work on Monday. Which means the biggest political story this morning is not the Australian troops flying in to East Timor but the Asians flying in to jobs in Australia . more

A Reward for Loyalty

Wednesday, 24th May, 2006 - Tony O'Leary has been the consummate press secretary throughout John Howard's term as Prime Minister. He has steered his boss through a decade of inquisitions by the fourth estate and rarely made a mistake. more

A Telegraph Attack

Friday, 19th May, 2006 - The political difficulties of NSW Labor that I wrote about yesterday are growing. This morning's Sydney Daily Telegraph attacks on two fronts. more

Trying to Understand Rupert

Saturday, 13 May, 2006 - There was shock and horror in American Republic ranks when Rupert Murdoch let it be known he was putting on a fund raiser for Hillary Clinton. It even became the lead item on the prominent conservative website Human Events Online. more

Ask a Policeman

Friday, 12th May, 2006 - The Australian keeps plugging away at reporting on the AWB kickbacks even if the masses are not interested. This morning journalist Caroline Overington reports that dozens of senior Australian diplomats have told the Cole inquiry they were aware of allegations that Saddam Hussein had corrupted the UN oil-for-food program but none ordered an investigation. more

Verdict by the Cartoonist

Thursday, 11th May, 2006 - Mr and Mrs Average are walking down the footpath with their new bundles of money saying "Wow. Look at all this. What are we going to do with it?" Lurking around the corner is an evil looking thug with a great big club and old newspaper pages at his feet proclaiming "Petrol Soars", "Prices Jump", "Interest Rates", "GST". And the little dog who is the trade mark of The Advertiser's Atchison answers: "Give and take?"

Political cartoonists have a way of getting to the heart of things that Canberra based journalists don't. more

Is the Bad News Really that Bad?

Thursday, 4th May, 2006 - The nightly news channels. The World Today. PM. The 7.30 Report. Lateline. All filled up on a quarter of a percent interest rate rise. Breathless reports about the dire consequences for ordinary Australians. more

The Mac Attack Continues

 Thursday, 4th May, 2006 - Further to my piece on Tuesday about the attack on the reputation of Macquarie Bank as a result of its involvement with the Beaconsfield gold mine, I notice that The Australian was at it again this morning. more

Power of Cartoons

Tuesday, 18th April, 2006

One of the most depressing times of my life was sitting behind the one way glass observings a skilled researcher talking with swinging voters about their opinions and how they gained them. more

West Australian's Slurs Get Worse

Sunday, 5th March, 2006 - The editor of The West Australian, Paul Armstrong, is clearly not in a mood for mitigating any damages that result from his paper's extraordinary attack on the Police and Justice Minister John D'Orazio. On the contrary, Mr Armstrong seems determined to make the defamation greater and to bring the Corruption and Crime Commission into his imaginary conspiracy. more





Problems with the net

Thursday, 15 May 2008 - Liberal politicians seem to be having more than their fair share of troubles with the internet. In Victoria Opposition Leader Ted Baillieu has been dealing with dissident Liberal Party staffers posting critical comments about him on a blog. Now the West Australian Opposition Leader Troy Buswell finds himself fending off an allegation which appeared on a blog back in January that he played football with a cuddly quokka. This internet scuttlebutt is getting as ridiculous as the weekly women's magazines!

Blurring news and comment on the ABC

Wednesday, 23 April 2008 - It is a rare role for a former tobacco company lobbyist like me to be defending a state premier announcing new anti-smoking measures but the ABC last night showed a real bias against NSW Labor Premier Morris Iemma. more

Reflections on an Ethical Problem for Journalists

Tuesday, 28 August 2007 - As a journalist, when an acquaintance rings you up and says he has heard x,y and z is going to happen, you don't immediately hit the keyboard to report to your readers that x,y and z is, according to your acquaintance, about to happen. You take the information in the spirit it is normally offered to you as a journalist - as something that is worth checking out. What you end up writing depends on your further inquiries and your own judgment of it ending up being true. more

Gerard Henderson’s Sleazy Tactic - Tuesday 13th February 2007 - In his Sydney Morning Herald column this morning Gerard Henderson came to John Howard’s defence for attacking the “US Democratic Party presidential aspirant Barack Hussein Obama”. more

The gullible Courier Mail

Slippery Stunt by Prime Minister

Thursday, 23rd February, 2006 - The Australian is proving relentless in its pursuit of the Howard Government over the AWB bribery scandal. Hardly a day goes by without the paper having another embarrassing twist to the tale. more

Tough Words from Minister; Tougher Still from The Australian

Sunday, 5th February, 2006 - Foreign Minister Alexander Downer on Friday described headlines that Canberra Knew of Kickbacks as "preposterous" and his media adviser Chris Kenny called The Australian's coverage "tendentious and inaccurate". All of which had very little impact on changing things. If anything they made things worse. more

Not Listening to His Master's Voice

Monday, 9th May, 2005 - Less than a month ago Rupert Murdoch gave a speech in which he declared that "too many of us editors and reporters are out of touch with our readers." It was no wonder, the News Corporation boss told the American Society of Newspaper Editors, that people, in particular the young, were ditching their newspapers. Today's teens, twenty- and thirty-somethings "don't want to rely on a god-like figure from above to tell them what's important." So what did I find in this morning's Australian previewing its 2005 Budget Special Edition? more


© Richard Farmer 2008