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Saturday, 3 December 2011

Journos self-censor to get ahead at News Ltd

So now we have two studies available to read that show that News Ltd print media outlets campaign on specific issues and thus relegate to the dustbin their own codes of conduct that require impartiality and fairness in reporting. First there was Robert Manne's year-long examination of the products published under the masthead of The Australian, which I wrote about three months ago. That was bad enough, and elicited strong rebuttals from a plethora of News Ltd journalists, none of which was particularly enlightening. Now we've got Wendy Bacon's examination of the handling of the issue of climate change by Australian newspapers generally. The link goes to the website of The Conversation, a not-for-profit aggregator of academics' views and research that was established this year, and which is headed by Andrew Jaspan, a former editor at The Age.

No surprises for those who watch the news media, in Bacon's findings. They show that News Ltd newspapers overwhelmingly take a negative line when reporting on climate change. It's denialism writ large, in fact. Editors at The Conversation went the next step, however, by soliciting the views of an academic who has written for both of the major news media companies in Australia, choosing Dr Andrew Dodd, Senior Lecturer in Journalism, Swinburne University of Technology. Then they gave the floor to Greg Baxter, Director of Corporate Affairs, News Ltd, who says "Wendy Bacon has absolutely no credibility with this company" and adds that claims that Rupert Murdoch controls the editorial line at News Ltd newspapers are "total bullshit". 

Dodd disagrees. He says:
The editor’s ideological line will tend to refelct [sic] that of the proprietor. It works like this: the proprietor picks the editor, and at that point the proprietor generally lets the editor do the job that they’ve been appointed to do – which often just happens to reflect the ideological agenda of the proprietor.
Proprietors aren’t hands-on pulling the strings. They set a tone. The tone is known to the editor. The tone is set at News Ltd through various statements by the proprietor, by Rupert [Murdoch]; the tone tends to be disseminated through things like annual conferences where the News Ltd editors come together and a kind of group-speak develops. But on a day-to-day basis, it’s not the case that the proprietor tells the editors or the reporters what to put in the papers – generally.
Editors can tell reporters what to put in the paper. Even then they know that they can have a hands-off approach and the general line that has been communicated will tend to be written anyway. In a sense, that’s the newspaper working efficiently. So at a paper like the Australian or the Daily Telegraph, the position is well known and journos tend to write in a way which reflects the line as they perceive it to be.
You [the journalist] will rail against it for so long, [during which time] you’ll find your stories aren’t published. Over time you’ll tend to mollify and modify your views enough so they fit within the paradigm of the paper. You might find ingenious ways to get around it. For example, when I was at News Ltd and I wanted to write things that questioned News Ltd’s ownership and concentration of the Australian media, I found that I had to frame it in the form of questions rather than bold statements if I had any chance of getting it through the various tiers of editorial control. Journos get good at that.
But generally an ethos is set and everyone tends to work to it. There is such a thing as a culture within a newspaper and it does pretty much drive the content, and the content reflects it. [- Emphasis added, ed.]
Journalists at News Ltd newspapers are self-censoring to get ahead. They see who gets promoted. They see whose stories get better placement. They learn by making mistakes that if you take an alternative line you'll be ignored and be given crappy jobs. They do this because there are editors up the line who make sure that the stories that are published reflect the corporate line. If they don't do this then they get pushed out of the way. Everyone's working with one ear bent upward, to catch the pronouncements of the Great Man.

Denials by News Ltd representatives, such as Baxter's, are starting to wear pretty thin. The Bacon study is the second this year alone that proves beyond doubt that News Ltd campaigns in a way that makes a mockery of its own codes of conduct. Meanwhile you've got a vocal minority following proceedings of the Independent Media Inquiry, that is being headed by Ray Finkelstein, who chant, in unison, about "free speech". There's nothing free about a journalist forced by need to follow a line set down by people more powerful than him or her in the organisation. It's a sham and we're being fed a doctored concoction aimed at securing the privileges of a powerful man. It's time we woke up and stopped consuming this stuff.

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