June 21, 2014

Horse 1698 - The Anonymous Australian

THE ABC’s Media Watch program has been so excited about attacking two of its obsessions — News Corp Australia and big tobacco — that it forgot some obvious guiding principles, such as reliance on the facts and objective reporting.
Then again, this program seems to have lost touch with those principles long ago, focusing instead on activism for its chosen causes, such as carbon pricing and open borders. Quick to suggest conspiratorial motives for others rather than address empirical evidence, Media Watch seems shy of identifying the possible motivation of its own sources. Eager to debunk our report about early statistics showing the possible failure of plain-packaging laws to further reduce tobacco consumption, Media Watch turned to the blogosphere musings of a man who provided policy advice to Julia Gillard at the time she was prime minister and introducing those laws. The ABC failed to disclose this fact, so viewers were not to know the person defending the effectiveness of the laws, economist Stephen Koukoulas, had a stake in their introduction. This is deceptive.
- The Australian, 19th Jun 2014

Yet again I make mention of that famous defamation case heard before Justice Frederick "Fatty" Bacon in 1823 of Pot vs Kettle, in which Pot made accusations as to the nature of Kettle's colour; and which the court held that Pot was precisely the same colour.
Admittedly this is just the latest shot fired in a series of volleys which the Australian has directed against the ABC, in what amounts to what is basically an 80 year turf war between clan Murdoch and the ABC. Sir Keith was getting up to this sort of rubbish in the 1930s with the Herald-Sun.
However, whilst this sort of thing is of itself hardly remarkable, there's something sort of sinister and insidious which this illustrates.

As an independent blogger, I can pretty well much write whatever I like provided that it doesn't defame anyone, doesn't incite violence and isn't racial discriminatory or otherwise discriminatory. I am not bound by an overarching editorial team, nor by keepers who ensure that my copy follows some party line which the organisation chooses to run.
I imagine that for proper paid journalists, that should they choose to publish something which their employers don't particularly approve of, they'd probably need to publish under a pseudonym or anonymously, or even through a leak.
Likewise when an organisation wishes to publish something which it knows is likely to cause public ire, it can in fact do so with almost impunity under the masthead of the organisation via an uncredited editorial.

I completely understand the right of a media organisation to write an editorial in which they do not disclose details as to who the writer was. Doing so under the veil of the masthead, provides a newspaper in particular to challenge the national discussion and put forward ideas which would otherwise be seen as dangerous and or difficult.
However, for a media outlet like the Australian which is part of a very big news empire, to specifically attack an entity for failing to identify "the possible motivation of its own sources" when it itself does so on a regular basis, is just as deceptive.

The net effect of all of this is that a news organisation which chooses not disclose details as to who the writer was, also by default, protects the actual writer who wrote the piece under the cloak of virtual anonymity.

The piece above for instance, doesn't credit who actually wrote the piece at all. For all we know, it could have even been someone from "big tobacco" (not that the issue matters for the purposes of this blog post), who wrote the copy because the editors or writers of The Australia were either too understaffed or too dog lazy to write it themselves - we just don't know.
This is different to say the "Bolt Case" in which Herald-Sun and Daily Telegraph columnist Andrew Bolt was found to have breached section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975. Had the newspaper chosen to have published this as an uncredited editorial, it would have been quite impossible to find out who wrote the piece and probably no charge would have even been brought before the courts.
It is difficult and expensive to being charges against a large organisation, where you're not sure who was directly at fault and when that large organisation employs a large legal team to protect itself. Such a thing would be beyond the monetary means of most normal people. Certainly the Australian isn't afraid of exerting its legal muscles whenever it gets the chance; it even admits so:
"We will begin by taking this latest piece of tendentious campaigning to the ABC and ACMA complaints processes."
Obviously they don't mind the fact that as taxpayers, we have to fund the legal team to defend the ABC; nor do they mind the fact that we as taxpayers, we have to fund the expense of running the courts with pointless and frivolous lawsuits either.
The ACMA launched 29 formal investigations in 2014, following viewer complaints; 12 of which were about programs aired on the ABC - 0 complaints were upheld. I wouldn't be surprised if all 12 came from people either employed at The Australian or News Corp in general but I can't prove that and they won't officially admit it.

One criticism of bloggers in particular is that we supposedly operate under a veil of anonymity. If I were to write a defamatory or discriminatory piece though, I'm pretty sure that I could very easily be sued; however, if an organisation like The Australian were to actively try to defame me, I very much doubt that I'd be able to fight back.
The Australian on the other hand... doesn't publish the names of who writes their editorials and probably because it knows it can get away with writing whatever it likes in them.

No comments: