How to get published in The Age

holden eats crowNot so long ago, The Age made a rather costly mistake by identifying an entirely innocent Muslim lad as the teen terrorist who attacked two policemen in Melbourne, very nearly killing one of them. This sort of error is apt to happen when competent sub-editors are shown the door, replaced by cheap-to-hire, hip-dude children working under the supervision of the few older hands not quite sharp enough to have read the signs of a newspaper in terminal decline and landed jobs at the ABC.

Fairfax Media dug deep, slung the slandered kid a sum variously reported to be as much as $500,000 and even sent editor-in-chief Andrew Holden (that’s him, above on the far right, wearing the constipated grimace) to make an act of abject contrition at an outer-suburban mosque. Holden, whose employer is a member of Australia’s Right to Know coalition, which advocates free and unfettered reporting, also sought to have representatives of other media organisations banned from covering his meal of crow, no doubt the halal-approved variety. He is the editor of The Age after all.

All of the above is by way of background to a curious epistle in today’s Opinion section. It appears under the byline of Abu Bakar Alam (that’s him, above, on the left), and it intrigues because there seems no rhyme or reason for publishing a piece of extended boilerplate on the pleasant nature of Islam, the author’s delight in having attended an Islamic school and why it is incumbent on followers of other religions or none to banish the unfortunate notion that Islamic terrorism has anything to do with, well, Islam. The Age has not yet published similar pleas for greater understanding and acceptance of Buddhists, but then that creed’s more ardent adherents don’t seem to have the same animus for coffee shops, passenger planes, female equality, monogamy, alcohol or dogs. Perhaps the paper’s Opinion page will be placed at their disposal after Scientologists have had a turn.

So who is Abu Bakar Alam, whom The Age describes only as “living in Melbourne’s south-east”? If that is his only credential, several million additional residents of the Garden State will be awaiting the call to hold forth about their love of the Collingwood Football Club, make earnest defences of possums in the ceiling and explain why mothers-in-law don’t deserve their bad rap. Even more curious is the further notation at the foot of Abu Bakar Alam’s column that it was penned with the aid and counsel of Age associate editor Shane Green. Can all those other residents of the south-eastern suburbs count on the same lofty guidance and mentoring when their turns on the op-ed page are due?

Probably not, because a quick google of “Abu Bakar Alam” turns up the interesting fact, mentioned nowhere in the column, that he is the young fellow identified as knife-wielding suburban terrorist Numan Haider, believed by some to be cavorting with his 72 virgins, for whom he was so lucratively mistaken?

So, armed with that omitted information, what is the reader to conclude?

Could it be, as part of that reportedly whopping settlement, The Age also tossed in a slather of guaranteed column inches on its Opinion page? It is a question the ABC’s Media Watch might want to ask (but probably won’t), the only caution being that the query should be sent promptly. With Age Monday-to-Friday circulation barely more than 100,000 in a city of 4.5 million, according to the latest audit, that once-sane and rigorous newspaper cannot be long for this world.

As deathbed watchers are wont to say of the dying, it will be a merciful release.

Alam’s addition to the sum of human knowledge can be read in full via the link below.

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