The author has been described by News Ltd as an "iconoclast", "Svengali", a pollie's "economist muse", and "pungently accurate". Fairfax says he is a "Renaissance man" and "one of Australia’s most respected analysts." Stephen Koukoulas concludes that he is "85% right", and "would make a great Opposition leader." Terry McCrann claims the author thinks "‘nuance’ is a trendy village in the south of France", but can be "scintillating" when he thinks "clearly". The ACTU reckons he’s "an enigma wrapped in a Bloomberg terminal, wrapped in some apparently well-honed abs."

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

News Ltd's McCrann on "editorial independence"

News Limited's long-time senior columnist, Terry McCrann, is one of the few journalists offering the "other side" of the editorial independence story. Most prefer to focus on Mrs Braveheart. You can read Terry's full column, which I have excerpted extensively below (I hope that is okay!), by clicking here. And if you want to help out our private media companies, you can subscribe to the Herald Sun here, or The Australian here. (I've already plugged the AFR in a previous post.) On to the always caustic Mr McCrann...

The media: The gift that keeps on giving, deliciously

A COLUMN by our new colleague Alan Kohler on his - our - online website Business Spectator deliciously captured the unknowing self-absorption of the modern journalist.

''Last week Fairfax announced 1900 redundancies, including around 400 journalists, and while News Ltd did not reveal any numbers, its head count reduction is widely expected to be more than 1000. Of those I'd guess that at least 200 would be journalists.

''So it's probably a neat comparison: 600 aluminium smelter workers; 600 journalists. One group gets frantic government support to keep their jobs; the others are abandoned to their fate.''

Something, so to speak, has gone missing between those two consecutive paragraphs from Kohler's piece.

Actually, 2300 'somethings' - the non-journalists at Fairfax and News who are also, to use Kohler's words even though he didn't include them, being "abandoned to their fate."

But apparently in the Kohler view of things - and trust me, on this he ain't Robinson Crusoe - those unidentified 2300 are not only non-journalists but non-persons.

Apart from filling in the big number, they simply don't exist. Anywhere in his piece. Indeed, he even repeated later: "the journalists are on their own." Only the journalists, Alan...

While on the subject of Kohler, it is completely unacceptable for him to be the driver and the face of ABC-TV's business coverage.

It's always been unacceptable, just increasingly more so in his peregrinations from Fairfax columnist to Spectator proprietor and columnist, to now part of News Ltd.

First, two points. Having a News Ltd/Australian columnist as the central figure in the ABC's coverage of business is just great for us in the News Ltd family.

Talk about free advertising on your ABC. Here's the ABC effectively telling its viewers to go to The Australian and its online Spectator website for more of what is the best the ABC can present to them.

Secondly, if I was picking who I wanted to do the ABC job, it is Kohler, by a Frankel not a Black Caviar margin over the rest of the field.

He does the main business news spot brilliantly - projecting substantive information snappily yet authoritatively. I can't imagine anyone doing it as well.

But that's simply not the point. It's the fundamental inappropriateness of the publicly-funded ABC ''outsourcing'' one of its core news coverage sectors to someone who continues to work for a directly competing private sector media group, along with the inevitable if unstated promotion of that competing group...

You really couldn't make this stuff up. The media is the gift that keeps on giving. Even more deliciously.

Yesterday we had the coincidence - and dramatic contrast - of the appointment of former Woodside CEO Don Voelte as CEO of Kerry Stokes' Seven West Media and that of Andrew Holden as editor-in-chief of Fairfax's Age newspaper.

Talk about capturing the continuing deep unknowingness of Fairfax - this time, not so much the journalists but the board led by Roger Corbett and CEO Greg Hywood.

To many - most? - Fairfax journalists, Voelte would be the CEO from hell. Or exactly what they might get from a Gina Rinehart-controlled Fairfax wanting to turn it into, as they see it, a mouthpiece for resources development and hydro-carbons.

Heck, that's exactly what Voelte has done all his life. And trust me, he's not about to do a, ahem, volte face.

The very different appointment of Holden provided a delicious intersection with a letter to that paper from a few dozen 'right-thinking' Melburnians, defending the Age's - their word - integrity to report without fear or favour.

The letter was another example of very clever people saying very stupid things.

They opened by saying the Age's charter of editorial independence defined the culture of Fairfax journalism and was recognised by the Fairfax board as "critical to the value of the company".

That's a cack-handed bank-hander if ever there was one, considering the 90 per cent recent drop in the "value of the company".

More pointedly, my colleague Andrew Bolt has identified one of the new editor's proudest achievements as editor of Fairfax's The Press newspaper in Christchurch across the ditch. Bringing Earth Hour to that city and promoting it.

Ah, 'promoting Earth Hour.' I wonder how the 'useful idiots' who wrote to The Age rationalise The Age's massive promotion of Earth Hour with their motherhood statements about "public trust in The Age's journalism."

In 2008 then Age CEO Don Churchill wrote to staff thanking "everyone who has been involved in organising, promoting and writing about tomorrow night's big event, Earth Hour."

Hmm. Editorial independence anyone?

His boss, the overall Fairfax CEO, David Kirk showed his fine appreciation of independent journalism, when he declaimed, "Our publications and websites have done an outstanding job in promoting Earth Hour." Both CEOs 'invited' staff to 'participate in Earth Hour and 'volunteer' to work at the Earth Hour concert.

Then we had The Age's 'partner' in Earth Hour, the activist World Wildlife Fund, 'suggesting' all sorts of Earth Hour story ideas to then editor Andrew Jaspan.

Thanks to the ABC's Media Watch, we know that Jaspan took good dictation, as the 'suggestions' all made it into The Age's 'independent' coverage of Earth Hour.

Interesting word 'partner' from Jaspan. What he didn't say and nor did The Age in all its voluminous 'without fear or favour, independent' coverage of Earth Hour, was that Fairfax was actually a part owner of Earth Hour.

Indeed, as former Media Watch executive producer and now proprietor of The Week, David Salter, wrote: Earth Hour began in 2007 as a "promotional campaign for Fairfax dreamed up by an advertising agency, Leo Burnett".

Salter posed the ethical issue: a purportedly independent media organisation adopting and endorsing a partisan, activist position. "If The Age and SMH continue to devote so much unquestioning time, effort and newsprint to the nonsense of Earth Hour, can we assume their general reporting on climate change is impartial?"

Of course you can David. We have the word of those dozens of useful idi..., er, upright, informed citizens.

As they concluded their letter, the proof of The Age's independent journalism is the way it "underpins the commercial value" of the masthead. The proof of that quality journalism is on display every day, in the Fairfax share price.

Why, who knows what Gina would do. Probably partner The Age with Ian Plimer and start promoting the not-Earth Hour. That of course would be an outrageous breach of The Age's journalistic integrity.