New media, old media, older media

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.

33 thoughts on “New media, old media, older media

  1. 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)

  2. 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.

  3. @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 : /

  4. @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…

  5. 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?

  6. 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.

  7. 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!

  8. 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.

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