Thursday, April 30

Time to say adieu to The Australian

Perhaps it's a pity The Australian chose last Monday to run a column by Giles Auty, its former art critic. It was the last day of my cut-price subscription to the Oz, and I was still tossing up whether to renew for another six months.

I never really enjoyed Auty's art criticism – it sometimes seemed a touch supercilious – but I hadn't realised he also claimed economic expertise.

Well, actually, he doesn't. In the column titled, “Neo-liberal greed did not cause recession” [1] he jeered at Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and praised former conservative British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.

From there, he merely downloaded the groupthink conservative line that blames the recession on the US Democrats for having forced banks to lend to home-buyers who would not repay the loans [read, feckless blacks].

Nothing new in that claim – the Oz's hard-right columnist Janet Albrechtsen plucked the same claim from the internet and ran it in her column last October 8 [2] (and she was a bit slow – other right-wing commentators had run it a few weeks earlier).

Still, The Australian's editors decided to run all this stale old stuff again last Monday. Why – because they wanted to ram home, once again, the conservative point of view?


On March 4, in a piece titled, “Hold the presses . . . Janet Albrechtsen comes to my rescue” [3] , I noted the Oz's bias.

. . . I only wanted to suggest that the Oz – which is, I believe, already Australia's best newspaper – would be a better newspaper if it reported differing points of view in its news stories.

The Oz editors do not see themselves as biased. The first sentence of [their earlier anti-blogger editorial], “The measure of good journalism is objectivity and a fearless regard for truth”, would, I believe, describe the way those editors see their performance.

So when the Oz reports only one side of an argument, it's not because the editors are biased. The editors know children should learn to read by phonics alone – they know every other approach is discredited. Me? I'd like to make up my own mind by evaluating the differing arguments. I'd like the news reports to lay out those arguments, even briefly.

Similarly, the Oz's editors know Keynesian-style counter-cyclical government investment is wrong. They know fiscal stimulus will not help ease a recession. They know the Federal Government's stimulus package will not save jobs, so why waste money?

They know man-made climate change is bullshit . . .

Why read The Australian, then? Because its reporting remains strong. You won't find “churnalism” – the soft, unquestioning repetition of material, often supplied by self-interested sources, misrepresented as news. The Oz deserved the praise it won for its coverage of the Haneef affair, for example, and of the Northern Territory Intervention.

And as a conservative newspaper, it's entitled to present conservative points of view in its opinion pages. As a moderate but left-of-centre writer, I do check out conservative ideas – but not when they become tiresomely repetitious, or merely regurgitate groupthink. Such as Giles Auty's piece.


As it happened, I'd already signed up to Fairfax's subscription offer – a dollar a day for the Sydney Morning Herald six days a week and the Sun-Herald on Sundays. That's $28 debited against my credit card every 28 days.

The first SMH lobbed on my front lawn on Tuesday, the day after the Oz subscription ended. But right to the end, I still considered also continuing the Oz subscription. It's great value at $128.70 for the Oz and the Weekend Oz, home delivered six days a week for 26 weeks, although you do have to pay the $128.70 in one hit.

This week there's been a more harmonious mood at the breakfast table – Merry does prefer the SMH.


Giles Auty's column, along with the newspaper's general conservative bias, weren't the only reasons I turned against The Australian.

On March 30, in a post titled “New face delivers the Strewth!” [4], I noted the Oz's weekly Media section had failed to mention the brutal retrenchment of long-time Oz columnist D.D. McNicoll.
In my previous post [I wrote], I said that if Media did not publish something about McNicoll's sacking, it would damage the reputation of the newspaper and of the section.

I have no doubt that if McNicoll had worked for the Sydney Morning Herald or The Age, and his employer “disappeared” him as The Australian did, the Oz would have reported it with relish.

With relish? Yes indeed. The Australian keeps up a regular sneering and jeering at its rivals, to a level which seems just plain childish. It does more to diminish its own standing than it does damage to the SMH and The Age.

Think about it. It's hard to avoid the conclusion that Media's staff complied with an explicit, or an implied but clearly understood, direction from management or a senior editor not to publish anything about McNicoll.

News Limited, publisher of The Australian, also controls most of the nation's capital city newspapers, as well as many suburban and provincial titles. Does the McNicoll censorship mean News Limited management also censors Media's coverage of what's happening in more than half of Australia's press?

So I've let my Oz subscription lapse. But I must confess – I won't stop reading the Oz. The Australian has a well-laid-out online edition, while the SMH's website is a bit messy, and often it's dumbed down. So we're better off getting the printed SMH thrown into the flowerbed each morning.


This has become a long post, longer than I like. I'd assembled much more material, but it might be better to skip across the other points.

Giles Auty's column went on to praise an article, “George Bush and History's Croakers” [5] , by Claudio Veliz [6] in the April Quadrant. The article peddles an anti-Democrat line which has become biblical truth to US conservatives. However, it's disputed by moderate commentators and has been the subject of serious debate in the US press and among bloggers. Here's an Australian reply from [7] . And in the US, a commentator spreads the blame to Wall St [8] .

Auty said Veliz's article “should be made available to every household in Australia so that a gross distortion of history is prevented from forming.”

Giles, old chap, stick to art criticism. As a journalist, I can assure you it's not worth wasting trees to reprint Veliz's Quadrant article for distribution to the hoi polloi. Fewer than one in a thousand would read past the first few pars, where they'd still be bogged down in analysis of British attitudes to the future Lord Wellington in the Peninsular War, wondering where it's all leading to.

(Veliz is trying to say that all great leaders, such as George W. Bush, are howled down by “croakers” – the word Wellington used to describe "the despondent, defeatist grumbling, moaning, rumour-mongering enmity of too many of the island's intelligentsia.” Veliz likens Dubya to the Iron Duke!)

Still, if you really want to read his piece, click on link [5] above.

1 comment:

  1. Excellent work Ian. Australia needs more intelligent and aware commentators like yourself, my friend. There is far too much “churnalism” around, and few people seem to be taking the time to seriously consider facts before they jump on the band wagon. This is great stuff. Please keep it up.