The Australian rages against the changing tide

“Little men tapping things out – points of view
Remember their views are not the gospel truth” The Jam

The insufferable arrogance of the Murdoch press in Australia knows no bounds. While News International reels from one disaster to another, with government inquiries subpoenaing both Murdochs, Rebekah Brooks hung out to dry and Andy Coulson facing criminal proceedings, the local organisation acts as if they are the ones wronged. A siege mentality has descended upon News Ltd as the certainties of its untrammelled power begin to crumble. Politicians throughout the world are finally using Murdoch’s difficulty as their opportunity to develop a backbone. Yesterday The Australian lashed out against The Age for its own dodgy behaviour in accessing ALP records, though The Age has a legitimate defence of public interest, so conspicuously lacking in the Murdoch hacking cases. The passive voice of “Age accused of hacking hypocrisy” hides the fact it is News Ltd who are making the accusations.

Also in yesterday’s Australian, the news Prime Minister Julia Gillard was thinking of launching her own inquiry was treated with the fatuous headline “this is no time for the PM to bow to Brown”. The paper’s political reporter Dennis Shanahan called the inquiry an “incendiary into already febrile political debate” and a “distraction”. The report also fed into the long-running campaign the newspaper has against the Greens with increasingly deranged editor Chris Mitchell openly calling for the party to be obliterated at the polls: “We believe [Senator Bob Brown] and his Green colleagues are hypocrites; that they are bad for the nation; and that they should be destroyed at the ballot box.”

The Australian follows the party line laid down by News Ltd CEO John Hartigan. For Hartigan, the News of the World hacking affair was “rotten applies”, an isolated affair in one small infected branch of the company. It was, said Hartigan, “an affront to all of us who value the integrity and credibility of good journalism, the reputation of the company and our own reputations as professionals.” Perhaps Hartigan did not see the joke in his words or perhaps he did. The credibility and reputation of News Ltd in Australia was poor before the hacking scandal. Its metro tabloids are on the nose and suffering declining circulation. Its flagship broadsheet is an advertisement for the Liberal Party and despite its own hypocritical bleating pushes a dangerous climate change scepticism that inhibits government leadership, delays effective policy action, and allows clowns like Tony Abbott a free run to destroy the long-term future of this nation.

There are good journalists aplenty at the Oz and when it gets its hands out of Abbott’s pockets it is capable of great journalism. But as George Monbiot points out, the purpose of The Australian and all of Murdoch’s 300 or so publications across the globe is to “ventriloquise the concern of multi-millionaires”. Monbiot says corporate media is a gigantic astroturfing operation: “a fake grassroots crusade serving elite interests”. This is true everywhere but the Murdoch empire has it encoded into institutional memory.

I don’t agree with Monbiot a Hippocratic oath is needed. Journalists and their editors need to follow their existing code of ethics and stand up to internal pressures. The biggest threat to the media industry is not declining circulations but spineless leaders in the industry responsible for a deepening lack of trust and a cancerous cynicism in the audience. It is time for that cancer to be cut out. It is also time to move on from Murdoch’s reign of terror. Bring on Gillard’s inquiry.

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