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November 03rd 2009 print

David Flint

Goodbye doctors’ wives

Unless Mr. Turnbull turns his back on the doctors’ wives of Wentworth, he will remain Mr. Rudd’s principal defence.   

Malcolm Turnbull must abandon the doctors’ wives

It is only a few years ago that a major concern of the left was the power of the media moguls. Manifested in the rules which limited cross media ownership, it lingered until Kerry Packer left this world.

The fear was that the moguls would so manipulate the news that the facts would be kept from the people. To be effective, this of course would have required the moguls to act together – with the ABC – and keep the news from the people. It never happened.

It occurred once in the UK when the press lords and the BBC delayed telling the people about the abdication crisis in the thirties. The crisis created headlines in France and the US – in those days you could seal off a whole country. The British were kept in ignorance- for a time.

Today there are few moguls left, at least in the sense of owners personally involved in the news process. Fairfax is mogul free, as are Channels Nine, Ten and of course the ABC and SBS.

Instead we have a press corps less subject to editorial direction than before and now often autonomous. Research frequently indicates they are more to the left on social issues than the general public.

That in itself should not matter – but only if the ethical principles which the media espouse prevail. The exercise of power needs always to be controlled by checks and balances if we are to prevent abuse. The fact is that with the demise of the mogul, the media now operate without one of their considerable checks and balances. 

The result has been some truly glaring deviations from standards. We are now at the tenth anniversary of the 1999 referendum where the media were subject to the scathing judgement of a visiting expert in the media, Lord Deedes.  He wrote in the London Daily Telegraph on 8 November, 1999:

I have rarely attended elections in any country, certainly not a democratic one, in which the newspapers have displayed more shameless bias. One and all, they determined that Australians should have a republic and they used every device towards that end.

His conclusion was supported by Dr Nancy Stone’s exhaustive survey for the Samuel Griffith Society about two representative serious media outlets.

In fact in the mainstream media it was mainly talkback radio, and especially Alan Jones who stood out against the almost unanimous support for the republican model on offer. What was more worrying was the use of the news columns and broadcasts to advance one side.

This lack of checks and balances on the media has been manifested again today in the debate over anthropogenic global warming and its consequences. As an example, take the video of the ABC journalist, Virginai Trioli which can be seen on the Australian Conservative site. Not knowing the camera was on her, she indicated by a gesture that   Senator Barnaby’s Joyce sanity was in doubt after his comment on the debate.

This is consistent with the media line; climate change “deniers” are not to be taken seriously.

Tom Switzer in Spectator Australia (34/10) develops this. He points out that the Australian media treatment of the proposed US legislative response to climate change is almost non- existent. Only The Australian, and some other isolated commentators dare go into areas proscribed by the mainstream media.

A significant development in the Australian media has been the return of Alan Jones to Sydney radio. It is extraordinary that few in the media touch  such matters as feature so often on his programme – water harvesting, the grocery duopoly, and of course, challenges to the theory of anthropogenic global warming.

His interview with Malcolm Turnbull is a classic. Of Turnbull, whom he condemns as Rudd lite, he says “Every time he sees a fork in the road, he turns left.”

In the meantime, the determination of the mainstream media to restrict themselves to politically correct centre- left themes probably explains Kevin Rudd’s honeymoon, which has lasted longer than President Obama, a substantially more charismatic figure.

This honeymoon is now receding, even if the mainstream media have played down the failure of Mr.Rudd’s border protection policy. Once they realise what a fraud and hoax the ETS  (which some call the Energy Tax Swindle) is, the people will put the government  on the defensive.  Mr. Rudd is given to panic, and the result will not be pretty.

But unless Mr. Turnbull turns his back on the doctors’ wives of Wentworth, he will remain Mr. Rudd’s principal defence.