Home > Media > New media, old media, older media

New media, old media, older media

December 6th, 2010

Much of the discussion of the Australian’s vendetta against Julie Posetti has focused on the novelty of a lawsuit involving Twitter the latest manifestation of new media. But the real story here is about changes in old media, and particularly those media owned by Rupert Murdoch. Murdoch has revived an approach to journalism that flourished in the 19th and early 20th centuries, the newspaper as propaganda sheet.

As others have noted, Chris Mitchell’s bizarre decision to sue an audience member on the basis of a brief but accurate summary of statements made in public by a former employee, and then widely disseminated, has distracted attention from the actual issue raised by those statements. The Australian has ceased to be a newspaper in the widely accepted sense of a publication in which factual reporting is clearly distinguished from statements of opinion based on those facts. Rather the two are inextricably mixed – what is presented as news is politically-driven advocacy, while much of what is presented as opinion consists of unsustainable factual claims.

These developments are most obvious in relation to climate change, the subject at issue in the attack on Julie Posetti, but the same tendency is evident on any topic that presses the political and cultural hot buttons of the right. The same process is at work throughout the Murdoch empire, but most fully developed at Fox News.

Discussions of the media are still dominated by the conventions of the ‘quality’ press in the second half of the 20th century, based on objectivity, balance, and a clear separation between news, opinion and advertising. So, for example, it is considered highly inappropriate for a newspaper to run stories designed to push the commercial interests or political ambitions of its proprietor, let alone to print deliberate lies motivated by such commercial or political goals. These conventions have typically applied with even greater force to broadcast media, which have historically relied on the free grant of access to limited electronic spectrum.

However, for most of their history, newspapers were bound by no such conventions. In large measure, they were either overtly party-political organs or vehicles for the interests of powerful proprietors like Hearst and Pulitzer in the US or Northcliffe and Beaverbrook in the UK. To readers accustomed to the genteel standards of the decades after World War II, it is startling to read, for example, the vitriolic attacks of the anti-Federalist press on George Washington and other Founding Fathers of the US.

The conventions of objectivity and balance achieved their most complete dominance in the United States,and it is there where there overthrow has been most dramatic. The end of the ‘fairness’ doctrine in broadcasting paved the way for the rise of Fox News as an openly partisan broadcaster, in opposition to the ‘balanced’ centrism of its competitors. More recently, Fox has become a centre of political power in itself, playing a dominant role in the working of the Republican Party machine. Fox donates large amounts of money to the party, puts favored politicians on its payroll and acts as an organising centre for supposedly ‘grassroots’ groups like the Tea Party.

There is nothing inherently wrong with this. The problem is that Murdoch wants to have his cake (a media organisation that will push whatever line is required politically and tailor the facts to suit this line) and eat it too (be treated as a reliable and objective source of information, with a place of privilege in the media hierarchy, sitting above bloggers, twitterers, PR agencies and the like).

In a sense, by engaging in action so obviously inconsistent with the role of a newspaper editor as it has been understood, Chris Mitchell is doing us all a favor. The Australian is printed on paper, and contains what it alleges to be news, but it is no longer a newspaper in the late 20th century sense of that term. Rather, it is part of a political machine, using its power and wealth to crush its opponents and critics by whatever means it finds most convenient.

Categories: Media Tags:
  1. December 6th, 2010 at 14:44 | #1

    Posetti should get herself a pepper-corn:

    [DEFAMATION ACT 2005 - SECT 34
    Damages to bear rational relationship to harm

    34 Damages to bear rational relationship to harm

    In determining the amount of damages to be awarded in any defamation proceedings, the court is to ensure that there is an appropriate and rational relationship between the harm sustained by the plaintiff and the amount of damages awarded.]

  2. Fed Up
    December 6th, 2010 at 18:59 | #2

    A lot of generalisations here. Do you include George Megalogenis, Jack the Insider and Stephen Romeii – all respected journalists at the Oz and some of the most engaging and successful bloggers on the Australian media landscape? There is much more bias in the Fairfax papers: just check the comment threads of above-mentioned blogs and you’ll find plenty of participants who have migrated to the Oz, disillusioned and frustrated with Fairfax papers and their blogs but also alternative blogs including those in the Crikey stable.

    Even Eric Beecher, owner of Crikey, has acknowledged the Australian and its salience in contemporary public debate (2009:15). Its position is much more accurately described as contrarian than right-wing, although the group-think in academia is hell-bent on describing it as such.

    And how would Julie Posetti like someone descibing her as an eco-fascist and spreading it through twitterland etc.? Would she repeat such a comment if it had been about someone she liked or respected? Hardly. I can’t believe someone as partisan and biased as her is teaching journalism to students.

  3. Fed Up
    December 6th, 2010 at 19:04 | #3

    Beecher was quoted in David Burchells’ article ‘Best Australian Political Writing’ published the marvelous Review section of The Weekend Australian, (11 April, 2009, p. 15)

  4. gregh
    December 6th, 2010 at 19:35 | #4

    Fed Up :
    although the group-think in academia is hell-bent on describing it as such. .

    This is really funny -exhibiting ‘group-think’ in describing academics as a monolithic entity who engage in ‘group-think’. As far as I know there are at least two different views amongst academics in Australia – both the right one and the wrong one.

  5. frankis
    December 6th, 2010 at 20:46 | #5

    Great article! – I confess to being a little at odds with “Fed Up”s contrarian view of things.

  6. jakerman
    December 6th, 2010 at 20:49 | #6

    JQ writes:

    for most of their history, newspapers were bound by no such conventions. In large measure, they were either overtly party-political organs or vehicles for the interests of powerful proprietors like Hearst and Pulitzer in the US or Northcliffe and Beaverbrook in the UK.

    An excellent book by Robert McChesney and John Nichols (The Death and Life of American Journalism) looks at this issue:
    http://www.nationbooks.org/book/200/The%20Death%20and%20Life%20of%20American%20Journalism

    McChesney and Nichols discuss an important difference between now and in the early life of American journalism, namely a vibrant diversity of news papers supported by public subsidy (via cheap delivery). The barriers to entry for news now are severe and Murdoch fills multiple niche markets (such as the give away metro press) to suppress startups and competition.

    Fora TV has a presentation by Nichols http://fora.tv/2010/08/10/John_Nichols_The_Death_and_Life_of_American_Journalism

    And there are a couple of mp3 interviews:
    http://www.kqed.org/a/forum/R201001220900
    http://www.democracynow.org/2010/2/4/robert_mcchesney_and_john_nichols_on

  7. Alice
    December 6th, 2010 at 20:54 | #7

    U mean fed up Frankis?
    I rather think the Oz engages more in groupthink than academia. Academia more likely to challenge the groupthink political message being paraded as news reporting by the OZ.

  8. jakerman
    December 6th, 2010 at 20:54 | #8

    Fedup writes:

    And how would Julie Posetti like someone descibing her as an eco-fascist

    Like Mitchell, Fedup prefers to slay straw tigers than tackle the actual critique. FU, Posetti didn’t call anyone an eco fascit. I take it that the real critique relayed by Posetti was too tough for you to rebut?

  9. jakerman
    December 6th, 2010 at 20:58 | #9

    Alice writes:

    I rather think the Oz engages more in groupthink than academia.

    Deltoid has a piece on this very topic:

    This story by Lloyd would seem to exactly reflect Mitchell’s views. If he didn’t tell Lloyd what to write, then Lloyd is so well trained that he knows what to write without being told.
    http://scienceblogs.com/deltoid/2010/12/the_australians_war_on_science_54.php

  10. Alice
    December 6th, 2010 at 21:24 | #10

    The Prof mentions “the vitriolic attacks of the anti-Federalist press on George Washington and other Founding Fathers of the US” in the hands of Pullitzer and Hearst who used their media empire to push their own proprietry interests.

    I think the Prof is on to something. The use of sarcasm and vitriol is the hallmark style of the Murdoch Press stable.

    The greater the content of vitriol, the worse and more biased the news?

  11. jquiggin
    December 6th, 2010 at 22:18 | #11

    @Fed Up
    Until just now, I would have listed Caroline Overington with the people you mentioned (at least George M, I don’t pay that much attention to the others). This process doesn’t happen all at once, and there are still good journalists working for the Oz and good stuff being published there. But beyond a certain point, the remaining good stuff only serves to add credibility to the dominant bad stuff (there was a bogus site, Tech Central Station in the early days of blogging that worked on exactly that principle – they hired some good people to hide the fact that the crucial content was PR for their industry clients).

  12. paul walter
    December 7th, 2010 at 02:38 | #12

    Overington?
    Daft as a cut snake, like Miranda Devine and Planet Janet. Drama queens and actresses and they’re not even gay, gah!
    Yeah, I know she wrote a book some time ago, but not really, not on the almost constant stream of nonsense articles and public antics the last few years, tho.
    What people really see, with the undermining of msm is that it is an alibi blaming technology, the effect of the down grading of public broadcasting and the better Fairfax over the last few years applies to the lowering of the bar re content, withbroadsheet. Now even Murdoch looks good in the absence of a once useful comparison.
    The ABC used to hold up the mirror until rightist ideologues blunted it. Now you have to go to the Guardian to see how large the gap really is.

  13. paul walter
    December 7th, 2010 at 02:41 | #13

    And when you look at Sweden, you begin to see the universitality of dumbing down.
    Once the Swedes would have died of shame rather than permit what has gone on there, as to the wikileaks founder.

  14. Donald Oats
    December 7th, 2010 at 05:45 | #14

    Still can’t sleep – sigh. At least the WikiLeaks Diplomatic Incident has provided entertaining reading material.

    Do not understand the Swedes’ attitude with regards to Julian Assange. If he pops back to Sweden to face the local music, will he be knicked by their cops and required to stay in Sweden until the trial has concluded, or will they decide that the US have first dibs on Assange? Even though the original charges in Sweden pre-date any US claims, AFAIK?

    And Australia!! Why are we so sh*t towards a) Overseas Australians In Trouble; and, b) Overseas Australians who haven’t bombed, terrorised, or in any way been associated with terrorism; and, c) Overseas Australians who haven’t murdered anyone, or demanded money with menaces, etc?

    Back to the cr*psheet, aka that newspaper: given its history it is no surprise to me that many excellent journalists, past and present, have worked there. The problem is that instead of providing news in the sections that seem to be News Sections, it has a subversive – in a bad way – behaviour of slipping in ideological dogma instead of data, opinion pieces instead of insightful journalism. I never particularly minded that it had a Liberal slant in its overall culture – this is years and years ago though – so long as the news articles were informative, fact-based, and occasionally interesting. The entire last decade of the Australian has been a disappointment to me though, in spite of the possession of some excellent journalists during that period.

    Finally, I agree with Paul Walter re ABC. Can’t fathom their pushing of the IPA agenda; aren”t there some less radical Liberal supporters (God forbid some progressive Liberals, for instance) who can contribute something more interesting to the Drum and Unleashed? Progressive Liberals, or moderates, don’t seem to get much in the way of media time, AFAICS.

  15. Alice
    December 7th, 2010 at 05:50 | #15

    @paul walter
    says “What people really see, with the undermining of msm is that it is an alibi blaming technology, the effect of the down grading of public broadcasting”

    The entire principles and objectives behind why there was ever a need for public braodcasting, which was intended to present the facts to the people without fear or favour is in a process of being lost to commercial vested interests who are treating the people like fools. Public systems and public braodcasters have been mocked by Murdochs media and the Oz with the same vitriol they display elsewhere for anything that may involve public investment (academia, climate change ..the list goes on).

    This is a loss of freedom of speech. Its a loss of one of our basic rights as citizens – access to honest unbiased information so that we can make informed choices when we vote. Its robs the citizens of their rights to participate in democracy.

    The loss of a genuine public broadcaster in the ABC which has become as slanted as its politically appointed executives is the Australian peoples loss. We have barely acceptable (often harsh and inflammatory, vitriolic and divisive) misinformation in its place.

  16. Andrew c
    December 7th, 2010 at 05:58 | #16

    What I admire about Murdoch is that he has never resorted to defamation suits even when some pretty feral things have been said about him. Mr Mitchell really is a poor copy of his boss.

  17. Fed Up
    December 7th, 2010 at 07:33 | #17

    The sheer arrogance of some people to assume that I (and others) don’t have the intelligence to figure out for myself what a biased article is. The value of the Oz is that it does publish a plurality of views that I can sift through, that I can reject or accept or even change my mind about – heaven forbid.

    How can the ‘good’ stuff serve to add credibility to the dominant ‘bad’ stuff when what is good or bad is highly subjective. What is ‘good’ or ‘bad’? What we agree with? I enjoy being challenged by contrarian views.

    I have even found some articles by that ‘oh so nasty’ and much detested Janet A have been terrific. For example, A Tale of Two Standards (on the stoning of Soraya M) http://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/opinion/a-tale-of-two-standards/story-e6frg6zo-1225877204907.

    I refuse to put people in BOXES. It limits me and limits them.

    Re Julie Posetti of course I know she didn’t call Mitchell an eco-fascist but she didn’t hesitate to repeat someone else’s slander. Why didn’t she contact him and get his views like a ‘real’ journalist would, and even go to speak with him.

  18. Andrew c
    December 7th, 2010 at 08:02 | #18

    Contact and get views like The Australian did to Greg Jericho?
    The Janet a articles are not truthful or fair, but they are simply opinion pieces. The climate change FUD is actually dangerous to us all.
    As I read somewhere on CT, we can more easily contemplate the end of the world than a minor change in our economic systems – presuming that, somehow, capitalism will survive the death of the huuman race.

  19. Donald Oats
    December 7th, 2010 at 08:02 | #19

    @Fed Up
    I certainly agree that bias can be in the eye of the beholder, in some cases. However, a bias that sticks to facts and legitimate quotes is hardly the problem. The damage is done by using quotes in ways that are contrary to the original meaning imparted by the source and without supporting facts. Implying that the original source has provided those supporting facts is often tacit but not always.

    Then there are the fibs that permeate far too many articles. The most extensively used trick seems to be one in which an initially plausible, indeed credible, statement is made, and then that statement is echoed throughout the MSM – usually the Murdoch subset – until it takes on the demeanour of a fact. I call this kind of statement a fictfn1; they are usually short and pithy, or at least short word-wise and stated with a certainty that projects “this is a fact”, when they are nothing but fiction.

    As an example of how this laundering of a fict begins; and, at the end of the spin-cycle, out pops a nicely presented fict disguised as fact.

    fn1: I don’t usually get to invent something, but in this instance I claim priority on “fict”. Who knows, maybe it’ll catch on :-P

  20. jakerman
    December 7th, 2010 at 09:19 | #20

    Re Julie Posetti of course I know she didn’t call Mitchell an eco-fascist but she didn’t hesitate to repeat someone else’s slander.

    Give us an example FU, or are you just repeating empty slander. Posetti made a substantically acurate retelling of Asa Wahlquist’s complaint against Mitchell. And Mitchell has not attacked Asa views a slander. Instead Mitchell is attacking straw tigers to try and muddy the water.

    Why didn’t she contact him and get his views like a ‘real’ journalist would, and even go to speak with him.

    Because she was reporting from a conference, on what was said at the conference. And she was tweeting, not writing an article.

  21. Fred Argy
    December 7th, 2010 at 09:21 | #21

    John, I share your concerns about Murdoch. But I am not all sure there is “BALANCED centralism” in Fairfax. Just look at their recent front page news, including today’s SMH headline. It has become a new feature of all newspapers.

  22. jakerman
    December 7th, 2010 at 10:10 | #22

    The value of the Oz is that it does publish a plurality of views that I can sift through, that I can reject or accept or even change my mind about – heaven forbid.

    All pre-packaged and framed in a manner that suits you. The value of media diversity is that if adequately diverse really does give a genuine plurality of views. We don’t get that with Murdoch and oligarchies. Instead we get Murdoch’s world view framing.

    The most effective propaganda relies on framing rather than on falsehood. By bending the truth rather than breaking it, using emphasis and other auxiliary embellishments, communicators can create a desired impression without resorting to explicit advocacy and without departing too far from the appearance of objectivity.

    http://www.michaelparenti.org/MonopolyMedia.html

    We also get problem of relying on too few sources to determine what the issue of concern are. Global warming gets questioned, by risks of genetically modified bovine hormone in milk gets suppressed.
    How do you know which plurality of views you don’t get in the Oz?

  23. December 7th, 2010 at 11:28 | #23

    It’s fascinating that the closest anyone ever comes to pretending to defend the Murdoch press is either
    (a) argue that sometimes they print a good piece or
    (b) Something like: “I’m smart enough to sort out the outright lies from the good stuff, you are a stalinist if you criticise my team’s favourite paper”.

    I’ve never read a defence that tries to deny the fact that much of what gets written in that rag is pure rubbish.

    This nails it: “…the remaining good stuff only serves to add credibility to the dominant bad stuff”.

    That’s why so many people deplore the incessant bobbing-up of Murdoch staff on the ABC. They are credibility thieves and Aunty does it on purpose.

  24. James Haughton
    December 7th, 2010 at 12:27 | #24

    Today’s example of ridiculous political barrow-pushing in the OO: Des Moore of the IPA has a column saying that Professor John Pethica, vice-president of the Royal Society and chair of the committee that recently produced a Royal Society report on climate change, doesn’t understand his own report. He also accuses various scientists of falsifying research into the bargain.

  25. may
    December 7th, 2010 at 12:40 | #25

    @Andrew c

    maybe could it be that the pretty feral things said were true
    and could be proven to be true?

  26. may
    December 7th, 2010 at 12:46 | #26

    Megan you’ve got it

    “the remaining good stuff only serves to add credibility to the dominant bad stuff”

    ficts are used to position facts to validate ficts (thank you Donald)

  27. Peter T
    December 7th, 2010 at 16:33 | #27

    Twenty-odd years ago I had a job where I read most of the overseas wire reports (Reuters, AAP) on various topics, as well as the most of the press. While the SMH and the Age almost always just carried the content of the wire reports edited for space, or a summary of a few reports, the Australian very often edited the original language to match their prejudices. For instance, when it was people they did not like doing the killing, it was murder; when it was ones they liked, it was “x people died”. The change in tone was evident and constant.

    So it’s been going on for a while.

  28. Andrew c
    December 7th, 2010 at 16:50 | #28

    @may
    Well, I’m pretty sure he is not really the Spawn of Satan .
    I’m not reallly convinced that truth is a defence under Australian defamation law either. With his resources he would win more often than not, so it is good that he doesn’t. However, he may at anytime, so that is a good reason to stay an anonymous commenter : /

  29. Alice
    December 7th, 2010 at 17:38 | #29

    @Fed Up
    too little too late from fed up.

    “I refuse to put people in BOXES. It limits me and limits them.
    Re Julie Posetti of course I know she didn’t call Mitchell an eco-fascist but she didn’t hesitate to repeat someone else’s slander.”

    Ahhh ahem – from your own post at 2.

    “And how would Julie Posetti like someone descibing her as an eco-fascist and spreading it through twitterland etc.?”

    yeah right…

  30. Alice
    December 7th, 2010 at 17:42 | #30

    Murdoch is not the spawn of Satan..Murdoch is the spawn of his own extreme greed. Probably the same thing. Afflicted badly by one of the seven deadly sins – if you believed in it all you know where he is destined to go.

    A reason to believe?

  31. Ken Fabos
    December 7th, 2010 at 18:43 | #31

    It’s a widespread phenomena and hardly new. Newpapers still pick pleasant and flattering photo’s for those they favour and unflattering ones for those they don’t.

  32. December 7th, 2010 at 21:14 | #32

    Andrew C:

    “I’m not reallly convinced that truth is a defence under Australian defamation law either”

    Perhaps you mean you’re not convinced that it SHOULD BE? Because it IS a defence:

    “DEFAMATION ACT 2005 – SECT 25
    Defence of justification
    25 Defence of justification

    It is a defence to the publication of defamatory matter if the defendant proves that the defamatory imputations carried by the matter of which the plaintiff complains are substantially true. ”

    Of course there are all sorts of other defences which would cover Posetti in the Mitchell case, but “truth” is a defence.

    The funny thing is, the old defence was usually (in many states) “Truth AND public benefit”, but the Howard Government gave News Ltd the gift of removing “public benefit”, so that News could go about defaming people regardless of whether to do so was in the public interest or just their own.

    Bum, meet bite!

  33. Donald Oats
    December 7th, 2010 at 22:05 | #33

    From @Megan’s post:

    It is a defence to the publication of defamatory matter if the defendant proves that the defamatory imputations carried by the matter of which the plaintiff complains are substantially true.

    …and this is why I don’t fear a defamation suit from CM. Plus I spent all me money so if I lose there is nothing in the coffers for Mr. Mitchell. Ho hum.

Comments are closed.