Quick Post: On @antloewenstein’s wishlist for journalism #auspol

English: Rupert Murdoch at the Vanity Fair par...

Over on The Guardian, Antony Loewenstein has written a wishlist for journalism in 2014.  Without gazumping it too much (it’s a good read), Loewenstein has four items on his list: reduced reliance on anonymous sources, a ban on politicians penning opinion pieces, greater investment in the ‘Snowden effect’, and increased lauding of public broadcasting.

Although the piece is interesting and fun, it’s also an example of the sort of thing that I don’t want to see in 2014.

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I wrote some songs; they’re all for you… Why @ShoebridgeMLC is wrong about shield laws #auspol #auslaw

In New Matilda, David Shoebridge (Greens member of the NSW Member of the Legislative Council) argued that shield laws for journalists need to be more robust.

As a motherhood statement all political parties say they accept that the media have a legitimate role in uncovering often difficult evidence and then using that to hold the powerful to account. But the real test of their commitment to this principle will be if they support the extension of shield laws beyond just sources and beyond the Courts.

It is time for all governments to urgently reform shield laws so that they protect journalists from revealing their sources and from betraying their confidences and to extend these protections to other coercive public inquiries. For all those politicians who say they believe in the principle of a free press, the time has come to put up the laws. [Source: Shoebridge, ‘Why Journalists Need Shield Laws’, New Matilda]

Shoebridge gives examples of cases where the wealthy and the powerful used the courts to chase after journalists.  Mining heiress Gina Rineheart is currently chasing a journalist in the WA courts over claims she believes are defamatory.  Rineheart wants the details of correspondence between the journalist and the source so that she can then sue the source for those comments.  And so on and so forth.

The argument relies on the audience having fairly similar reactions to the examples cited: journalists are the brave, courageous truth-seekers who need protection from the rich and the powerful.

But Shoebridge isn’t arguing for shield laws to protect the brave, courageous truth-seeking journalists from the rich and the powerful; Shoebridge is arguing for shield laws to protect all journalists from everybody else.

I think I’m entitled to a certain level of privacy and a fair reputation.  One day, I become a little bit famous and a local journalist decides that publishing sordid details about me would sell more papers.  They find a secret source who’s willing to divulge all kinds of strange stories about me.

Due to our legal system, I’m unlikely to be able to afford the same level of legal representation as the newspaper.  I could probably afford to sue the source of the information, but Shoebridge’s proposed shield laws prevent me from discovering who that person is.  So what are my options?  What protects me from the tabloid journalist? Why don’t I have a right to face my accusers?

Journalists are not on the side of the public.  For example, it was clearly in the interests of democracy that voters knew which politicians were leaking information to the media, but the media decided not to tell us.  This problem is reflected in the level of trust the public has for journalists: it’s extremely low.

So if we don’t trust journalists, and if we can clearly see that journalists are not acting in the interests of the public, why would we confer upon them greater protections from public accountability?

The city breathing, the people churning… Copy-pasta manifestos

Quite a lot is being made in the Australian media of the Oslo bomber’s manifesto and its mentions of Australian conservatives.

The story seemed almost too delicious to be true.  Even though I’m a conservative, it wouldn’t shock me in the slightest if racists looked to Howard as one of their own.  Alas, the journalists didn’t bother to dig much deeper, favouring the obvious linkbait: ‘Howard praised by bomber manifesto’.

The manifesto, ‘A European Declaration of Independence’ is 1,492 pages long as an Adobe file.  The writing style varies rapidly: neither tone nor content is consistent.  This shouldn’t surprise us: it’s not a manifesto.  The author — ‘Andrew Berwick’ — states that it is a ‘compendium’.

There are two passages relating to John Howard.  The first begins on page 519:

Federal Treasurer Peter Costello[28] said Australian Muslim leaders need to stand up and publicly denounce terrorism in all its forms. Mr. Costello has also backed calls by Prime Minister John Howard for Islamic migrants to adopt Australian values. Mr. Howard caused outrage in Australia’s Islamic community when he said Muslims needed to speak English and show respect to women.

A tiny amount of Google-fu makes it clear that this passage comes from a 2006 article published to News.com.au.

The second is on page 675:

Luckily, not all Christian leaders are appeasers of Islam. One of the intelligent ones comes from Australia, a country that has been fairly resistant to Political Correctness. They have taken serious steps towards actually enforcing their own borders, despite the
predictable outcries from various NGOs and anti-racists, and Prime Minister John Howard has repeatedly proven to be one of the most sensible leaders in the Western world.

George Cardinal Pell[30], Archbishop of Sydney, tells of how September 11 was a wakeup call for him personally[31]:
“I recognised that I had to know more about Islam.” “In my own reading of the Koran, I began to note down invocations to violence. There are so many of them, however, that I abandoned this exercise after 50 or 60 or 70 pages.” “The predominant grammatical form in which jihad is used in the Koran carries the sense of fighting or waging war.” “Considered strictly on its own terms, Islam is not a tolerant religion and its capacity for fear-reaching renovation is severely limited.” “I’d also say that Islam is a much more war-like culture than Christianity.” “I’ve had it asserted to me is that in the relationship between the Islamic
and non-Islamic world, the normal thing is a situation of tension if not war, or outright hostility.”

This comes, word for word, from a 2007 article published by the Assyrian International News Agency.

The ‘manifesto’ reads like chainmail.  The penultimate section is about the best producers of sugar beets.  The final section is a series of weird, weird pictures…

The question here is what is the relationship between the writer of the manifesto/compendium/copypasta and Howard?  There doesn’t appear to be one.  There’s no admiration expressed by the compiler because in compiling a document, you don’t express your own opinion.

Does the compiler agree with Howard’s position?  It’s also hard to tell.  Although they were distasteful and repugnant, almost none of Howard’s ‘multicultural’ policies are expressed in the collated news clippings.

If the media were being honest and balanced, the story would be: ‘Oslo bomber copy and pasted news clippings which praised Howard’s policies.’

But that story wouldn’t manufacture outrage or sell adverts, so we didn’t get to read it.

Staring at the sea, staring at the sand… #lolbolt and the right-wing freak show

Andrew Bolt has a new television show, courtesy of a certain mining magnate.

In the course of 30 minutes, he managed to grovel to Tony Abbott, savage an Afghan Refugee, subject the audience to Latham and Kroger’s furious agreement about how terrible Julia Gillard is, and then a very confused rant about the killing of Osama bin Laden.

Even Abbott seemed uncomfortable about the whole thing.  Bolt is a known climate-change denier.  Abbott has been at pains to show voters that he doesn’t ignore reality.

So there was a miniature trainwreck coming when Bolt asked Abbott: ‘Why didn’t you ask my favourite question?  How long would it take the government to reduce the temperature of the Earth?’

Of course, the question is nonsensical.  Action on climate change is designed to slow the rate of temperature increase; not reduce the current temperature.

Smelling a trap, Abbott avoided the problem by evading the topic.  You know a show’s in trouble when even Abbott thinks the host is a crazy.

Not that other conservatives on Twitter seemed to mind.  Summing up most of the Tweets, @VikingQuester wrote: ‘#BoltReport is filling a massive void in the left, politically correct world of TV.

As a conservative, I was really hoping that Bolt would manage to get on a few conservative guests who could discuss and analyse issues.  Instead, we were treated to a confused rush of nonsense.

For the sake of clarity, I’ll be more precise with my terms.  The sort of ‘conservativism’ on display during the Bolt Report and most of the Tweets is that malevolent neo-conservatism that’s drowned out most of the right.

If there’s one things neo-cons hate, it’s political correctness.  They hate it so much that they’re willing to sacrifice correctness altogether.  There was no substance to the Bolt Report.  It was content to make inflammatory assertions about people, most of whom were unable to fight back.  Admittedly, it fell into the same void as Insiders – in an attempt to make journalists seem knowledgeable, they skirt across issues so quickly to avoid anybody making any substantial comment.  The key difference between Bolt Report and Insiders was BR‘s rapid cycling through issues, rather than moving into new territory.

So the opening monologue was about ‘boat people’ and how dreadful they were.  He moved quickly on to a different topic.  He then returned to ‘boat people’ for a quick chat with Latham and Kroger before moving on quickly again.  He then interviewed an Afghan refugee, asking a string unrelated questions as if to bait the poor guy, then closed down the interview.  I forget if ‘boat people’ returned in the closing section (I was stunned by the last section: it was an unrelenting attack on the senses).

The media has a right-wing bias.  The default reporting of events is written from a right-wing perspective (even on the ABC): Coalition talking points are normalised, even when they’re batshit insane; Greens are considered left extremists (I’m no fan of the Greens — I think they’re tricky and deceptive — but I wouldn’t call their position extreme).  Opinion writing is overwhelmingly left-wing, with most of our highest profile writers being ‘progressives’.  If Bolt was to fill a gap, he’d be filling the ‘Analytical and critical right-wing opinion’ gap which we conservatives have left seeping.

Unfortunately, it seems far too much to expect from Bolt, who seems far too content trolling public debate rather than contributing to it.

I brought you all here to discuss, as I must, how grateful I am…

The judgment for the Assange extradition case has been posted online and it makes for interesting reading.

It is shocking and — to be perfectly frank — more than slightly embarrassing that there has not been more analysis of the judgement in the media.  Instead, there is quite a lot from the defence.  The verdict is ‘unfair’, says his mother.  Boohoo, says Robertson.

This is ‘infotainment’ as its worst.  Holy shit: my spellcheck thinks that ‘infotainment’ is a word but not ‘spellcheck’.  What the shit is this shit?

The judgment is a brilliant piece of legal reasoning.  It carefully and — in my biased opinion — magnificently deconstructs the defence case against extradition.  Having read through some absolute dogs of judgements, it’s nice to get one that’s straightforward and clear.  Basically, everything that the defence put up as an argument was bunkum.

This is one of my favourite passages of the judgment:

The lawyer also complained that it is now difficult for his client to receive a fair trial as he had not been provided with all the evidence against him, including important exculpatory evidence.  He gives as an example the witness Goran Rudling, from whom the  court had heard the previous day.  He only knows this evidence because Mr Rudling has contacted the defence. [Source: Sweden v Assange (2011)]

There are two problems with the defence — in the broadest, non-technical sense.  The first is the utter disregard for the alleged rape victims.  This will, no doubt, be played out in greater detail in the media.  B-list celebrities and journalists have been jumping over themselves to denounce the case as a conspiracy against Assange.  This is despite a crapload of evidence suggesting that Assange might not be entirely kosher when it comes to respecting women.  Hell, one might go so far as to suspect that he has some downright obnoxious views regarding women, based on several of his statements and actions.  Does that prove that he raped the women?  No.  But should it cause us to have second thoughts regarding his (and his representatives’) claims that he should be exonerated without trial?  Damn straight it does.

The second is more interesting and it regards Geoffrey Robertson.  Fun fact: when I was, like, twelve, I wanted to be Geoffrey Robertson.  The guy was a hero.  Lately, I’m left wondering if the guy has completely lost his cracker.  He’s writing specious arguments against the Pope and, now, he’s attention-seeking with extremely sub-par arguments in high profile cases.  When your best witnesses outright admit that they received the facts of the case from the defence lawyers, things have gone very, very wrong for your case.  When one of them also goes on to admit that a lot of their opinions come from the media and that their opinions are considered controversial, what was the point of going to court?  Robertson trying this case was like David knocking out Goliath, reaching old age, and then punching 16-year olds just to show that he still has what it takes to be king.  What the hell has happened to Robertson?  Is he that starved of attention?

But don’t expect the media to analyse any of this.  No, no.  Heterodoxy is still saying that Assange is a media hero, revealing the hidden secrets of the bureaucracy and dressing up as a woman to avoid unseen and unprovable government spies. Cough. Cough…

Fun story.  Bearnard Keane writes for Crikey, right?  It can hardly be considered the zenith of journalism in Australia but even he takes the cake when he writes several lengthy uncritical articles about the glory and brilliance of 4Chan while, simultaneously, a large number of 4Chan’s netizens harass a 12-year old girl with sexually explicit messages.  But, no.  Anonymous (/4Chan) supports Assange, so 4Chan must be ‘good guys’ while the governments trying to stop their bullshit are the ‘bad guys’.  It’s so obvious now.

Oh, wait.  It isn’t.  The media is still too keen to write ‘good guy/bad guy’ pieces in order to make their articles more accessible to readers.  For shame.