Pennies drop and the balance shifts
By Barry Tucker December 29, 2012
From about the time of the Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s now famous “misogyny speech” the negative attack campaign of the Liberal (LNP) Opposition has been faltering. Elements of the mainstream news media (MSM) have been reflecting this during the past several weeks.
It is now conceded by the Parliamentary Press Gallery that Ms Gillard’s “speech” was a watershed moment — for women, for Australian politics, for her government and for the Opposition. It was a response (an unexpected response) to an Opposition motion to dismiss the then Speaker, Peter Slipper, who was embroiled with a male staff member in a sexual harassment case and was the author of some nasty text messages.
The Opposition thought it had neatly “wedged” the government because, under the circumstances, it couldn’t possibly defend the Speaker. It didn’t. It defended instead the principle of the Separation of Powers and argued against setting the dangerous precedent of dismissing a Speaker.
Once again (as with misinterpreting or misquoting electricity bills), the Opposition was caught in a disaster of its own making. Once again, the bulk of the MSM chose to support the Opposition. It was up to the fast and (in this case) furious social media, the tweeters and bloggers, to give the speech its real context.
I believe the contrast between the way social media saw the speech and the way the MSM handled it caused the MSM to pause and take a look at itself, for the first time in a long time.
The sexist, misogynist, misandrist, gender debate (debacle) has been running concurrently with the Opposition’s attempt to cast aspersions on the PM in relation to her role (as a Slater & Gordon lawyer) in setting up the AWU Workplace Reform Association (WRA) and whether or not she benefited from the subsequent fraudulent operation of its bank account (the slush fund). In reality, the Opposition leadership has been casting nothing more than mud, following the principle that some of it always sticks.
That campaign culminated on the last sitting day of parliament last Thursday in allegations (in the Senate, and outside of parliamentary privilege on channel Nine’s Today) that the Prime Minister had misled the Western Australian Corporate Affairs Commission about the purpose of the WRA and in so doing had committed a crime.
In another unexpected move, the Prime Minister outflanked Opposition Leader Tony Abbott by using his favourite tactic of moving for a Suspension of Standing Orders so that Mr Abbott could provide the evidence for his allegation of criminality and, if he couldn’t, to apologise.
Mr Abbott rehashed some old matters but failed to provide any new evidence. In fact, he backed down from “criminality” to “conduct unbecoming”. Ms Gillard pointed out that Mr Abbott could not back his claim of criminality because it had been based on a false report in The Sydney Morning Herald published earlier in the day and corrected (twice, I believe) on the Herald’s website before parliament began sitting.
The fact that Mr Abbott could make such a blunder, and could be so ready to use the Herald report to make an extremely serious allegation against the Prime Minister, must cause the government’s harshest MSM critics to again question the validity of the Opposition’s campaign. Perhaps not. But some sections of the MSM, some web news media, bloggers and tweeters have done, as I show below (more to come).
The Opposition’s negative attack campaign (directed principally and personally against the Prime Minister) is supported mainly by the News Limited newspaper group, some journalists in the Fairfax group, a few former MSM journalists who are now “independent” bloggers, the blatantly biased Andrew Bolt, presenter of channel Ten’s The Bolt Report, and (most disturbingly) some journalists and hosts of various ABC television programs.
The bias of the hopelessly committed and compromised News Limited is understandable and will not change until the board wrestles control from the Murdoch family, or the organisation is broken up by government decree as one of the steps towards creating decent and honest democracies around the world. Perceived bias by ABC News and Current Affairs is neither understandable nor acceptable, and much information about that is provided elsewhere on this site.
Some journalists, independent or employed, and some news media outlets always will be biased. I am a fence-sitting Labor supporter, but not a party member. I was thoroughly trained in being objective and balanced and had no difficulty in abiding by the rules, which I agreed with anyway. But in relation to the federal Opposition’s relentless campaign of negativity, personal attack, unsubstantiated allegations of criminal conduct by the PM and support for that campaign by certain parts of the news media I find it difficult to be calm, fair, balanced and objective. The simple reason for my anger is that I see the campaign, and support for it, as treating the parliament with contempt, potentially undermining our democracy.
The Liberal Opposition campaign (the Nationals seem to have little to do with it) has damaged the Opposition Leader because as it fails he fails; it has damaged his Deputy (Julie Bishop) who devotes more time to it than to her shadow portfolio and who has blundered in a similar way to Mr Abbott; the reins have been taken up by the shadow Attorney-General Senator George Brandis and I believe it will damage him too because there is nothing to the Opposition’s allegations. It is obvious from polling that the Opposition leadership’s negativity, innuendo and smear is having an effect on how voters perceive the parliamentary process. It must not be allowed to take down the parliament any further, and the only way to prevent that is to change the Liberal Opposition leadership.
The campaign has also damaged some journalists, caught up in its lies. Whether or not it will harm the MSM in the long-term I cannot tell, but the print news media is in its death throes anyway. Withdrawing support for Mr Abbott’s smear campaign might not extend the life of some newspapers, but it would be the decent thing to do.
Something that could save some of the print media and restore respect to it and to the ABC is a return to some old-fashioned principles of journalism, like fairness, balance and objectivity. There are many readers and ex-readers who would appreciate the difference and respond positively.
Another outcome of the failure of the Opposition to land a knock-out punch has been a shift in focus by some in the MSM and elsewhere. They are distancing themselves from failure by beginning to look more closely at some of the architects of the Liberal attack campaign and by re-visiting their past. We have been through an examination of Mr Abbott’s alleged misogynist days at university (and since); some are hunting through the details of a slush fund he set up to underwrite expenses of a challenge to Pauline Hanson and her One Nation party; we are being reminded of his statement that “misleading the ABC is not quite the same as misleading the parliament”, along with him telling ABC 7.30 Report’s Kerry O’Brien that the only statements that are gospel truth are his “carefully prepared and scripted remarks”. Julie Bishop’s role as the Clayton Utz lawyer handling the claims of asbestos victims is being questioned (incidentally, Clayton Utz lost spectacularly to the claiments’ law firm Slater & Gordon). People who run such personal and persistent campaigns of negativity and smear need to be careful because skeletons have a nasty habit of getting out of the closet.
The following is a list of articles, and the latest Morgan Research poll, which show how the political mood, and reaction to it, is shifting.
Abbott has his own slushy history
Michelle Grattan, The Age Political Editor, December 2, 2012
Now it’s Abbott with questions to answer
Jenny Hocking, The Drum Opinion, November 30, 2012
Verdict’s in, and … PM not guilty
Peter Hartcher, SMH Political Editor, November 30, 2012
Video and article, the four-day “parliamentary trial” of the PM ends in not guilty verdict.
Tony Abbott is blowing up our national consensus
Wayne Swan, The Punch, December 2, 2012
From the inside, Deputy Prime Minister and Federal Treasurer Wayne Swan expresses a reasonably calm view of the dangers inherent in Mr Abbott’s campaign.
This parliament put the Christmas grinch out of work
Laurie Oakes, The Punch, December 1, 2012
It would be fair if I could find an article from Mr Abbott to balance Mr Swan’s comments. I haven’t found one, but here is Laurie Oakes, having two bob each way.
Gillard winged but still flying
Michelle Grattan, National Times, November 30, 2012
Accusations of criminality are over the top but the PM should have been upfront about her misjudgments.
Ms Grattan continues to reflect on the damage the Opposition’s attack campaign is having on both sides of parliament.
Social media bloggers and Tweeters are also fed up with the Opposition’s smear campaign and are poking around in the past. There are skeletons in the closet.
the political sword: a hub for the fifth estate
The media still has questions to answer
Ad astra, November 30, 2012
The writer speculates on the reasons for the MSM’s long-running coverage of the fruitless Opposition campaign.
Café Whispers, The political word
Mr Abbott’s witch hunt
@MigloCW, December 3, 2012
Following Mr Abbott’s promise to set up an inquiry into alleged union corruption if he wins government, the blog refers (ironically) to some alternative scandals Mr Abbott could investigate.
Sleaze, smear and social media: how citizen journalists drove the AWU story
Alan Knight, head of the graduate School of Journalism, University of Technology, Sydney, writes about the principle unelected characters who are feeding into the Opposition’s smear campaign.
Fear of being beaten to the shadow of a story
Jonathan Green, The Drum, November 29, 2012
The motivations that drive the Parliamentary Press Gallery, in particular, in its pursuit of a non-event at the expense of the policy debate.
The joke that’s journalism
Mark Latham, Financial Review, December 6, 2012
The former federal Parliamentary Labor Leader, now a political commentator, details the professional incompetence of Australia’s news media.
Majority still disapprove of both leaders
Morgan Research poll, November 30, 2012
Interesting for the comments of those polled.