Tuesday, 27 April 2010

News Ltd Hypocrisy & The Culture of Nasty, Aggressive, Unethical Media

I have read quite a few articles by David Penberthy and although I mightn’t agree with him all the time, he is certainly a classy, seasoned writer. His many years experience has graced him with the ability to break down important issues into readable chump for the masses. But like many social commentators, his views can become clouded in the murky atmosphere of his employer. Maybe his long history in the Murdoch stable of junk media has something to do with it, including 4 years as editor of that putrid swamp called The Daily Telegraph?

Interestingly, David started out in adelaide as a ‘real’ journalist reporting on education, industrial affairs and politics before going to Canberra to head up The Adelaide Advertiser’s parliamentary bureau. He finally settled in at The Daily Telegraph as state parliament bureau chief. Sometime after this he had to make a decision to move to a more reputable media group or become one of Murdoch’s highly paid stooges. He chose the latter. 

David might be a top bloke and an excellent writer but a few days ago, he produced what must surely be the most hypocritical article of his career. In an attempt to highlight inappropriate comments in the media, he wrote an article in The Punch titled, Our Only Regret Is We Didn’'t Get To Murder Carl Williams. Although his intentions might have been noble, there was no avoiding that this was coming from the ex editor of The Daily Telegraph on a Murdoch owned website. 

How anyone can get off on this is beyond me. But a lot of people are. You get the sense reading much of the online commentary, almost all of it anonymous, that the one regret some people have is that they didn’t get to kill Carl Williams themselves.
-- Our Only Regret Is We Didn’T Get To Murder Carl Williams - The Punch.

The hypocrisy is mind bending considering that most Murdoch newspapers in Australia are notorious for their nasty, dog whistle journalism. And their misleading, derogatory articles. And their expertise at attracting a range of socially unacceptable rednecks. And of course, the venomous, vile, mostly anonymous comments that would even make the writers of Saw, cringe. 

Here's a few examples I have previously provided:

I agree,they should all be locked away.Destroyed if you like.They are nothing but filthy,dirty drug addicts full of disease.
--Posted by Holly - The Daily Telegraph 

...Now I suggest you go have a big hit and crawl into some dirty alley and die...
Posted by Aaron - HeraldSun

Easy way to deal with drugs addicts is for the government to give free 100% pure crap away and let them all die. No hassles, no worries ...
--Posted by millsy of perth - PerthNow

Hahaha, if idiots are stupid enough to pop pills in the first place let them all overdose and die for their own stupid mistakes and stop wasting tax payers money on police squads trying to stop them!
--Posted by chris2pher of Adelaide - PerthNow
Get tough on medical practitioners who deal. Give the drug addicts one chance to get off it or execute them. End of story.
--Posted by Louise of Sydney - The Daily Telegraph 

Heres an idea, don't let ambulance officers or doctors treat drug takers (illegal ones, not those that take drugs for pain), if they overdose, they die.
--Posted by locky of sydney - The Daily Telegraph 

I have written many articles about Murdoch’s trash media in Australia and it’s no secret I despise them. And it’s not just the sensationalist, apocryphal garbage they produce each day but also the readers who spew out their redneck, right wing, vile comments. It’s probably not surprising that News Ltd websites have been targeted many times for their lack of comment moderation including an almost permanent spot on ABC’s Media Watch. And just to round up Murdoch’s swamp are the prize “opinion writers” such as Piers Akerman, Andrew Bolt, Timmeh Blair, Janet Albrechtsen, Neil Mitchell, Steve Price etc.

Internal Evil
There’s more to this story than just nasty comments by readers. There are some News Ltd writers who did exactly what David Penberthy is complaining about? Is it right to point out the "bloodlust" of the readers when the writers display the same behaviour? News Ltd writers are well known for many things. Some are evil, satanic columists who lurk around in dark offices, punching out hidden messages night after night, trying to awake Rupert’s army of Orcs. Some are part of the fringe, anti-science brigade. There's those who are lovingly referred to as “ambulance chasers of the media world” and some are just lousy writers. What they seem to have in common is a lack of respect for the truth and a habit of being as crass as possible.

Jason Moran would have done the world a favour if he had plugged Williams between the eyes several times.
--Keith Moor: Don't Cry For The Fat Boy - The Herald Sun

and this... 

And so fat Carl is dead. Boo hoo
--Paul Kent - Daily Telegraph

Where’s the restraint from News Ltd staff? And why wasn't this picked up by the writer, the editor, the sub editor, the typesetter, the gimp, the web moderators or others.

An exercise bike ends the life of Underbelly overbelly Carl Williams, leading to this complaint about prison conditions:
UPDATE. A prisoner has been charged with the exercide of Williams.
UPDATE II. Does the Herald Sun deserve credit for Williams’s shortened sentence? If so, well done

--Tim Blair - The Daily Telegraph


Let’s see his ‘baby face’ now. Let’s see what Carl Williams looks like after being bashed to death. Show the body, as we used to do when a killer was finally dead and we needed to kill his legend, too.
--Andrew Bolt - The Herald Sun

When I first read the Punch article, I was not only flabbergasted by the hypocrisy but also delighted by a wonderful comment that summed up how I felt. Feeling energised by this comment, I replied to it and added my 2¢ worth. To my amazement, it was never published. I had always considered The Punch to have very good moderators compared to other News Ltd websites and I had only ever been knocked back once (from memory). Unlike other News Ltd websites, you expected every comment you post to be approved as long as they were sensible. I assumed it was rejected because of the link I provided which pointed to a damning article about The Daily Telegraph and the bogan comments made about Schapelle Corby. I tried to repost a few times but I soon noticed that the original comment I was replying to had been deleted. There was still a reference to it but it had disappeared along with other associated replies.

BTS says: 11:53am | 22/04/10
Excellent point Craig, my post at 10.17am refers.

But there is no longer a comment from BTS at 10.17am. Why was it removed?

This just makes the David Penberthy’s article even more hypocritical although there are still other comments that highlight the same point - just not as brutal. Unfortunately I don’t have the original comment so I can’t reproduce it here. If “BTS” ever reads this, please let us see your comment.

Our Only Regret Is We Didn’T Get To Murder Carl Williams

By David Penberthy
April 2010
(Also appeared in the The Advertiser)

Carl Williams was a human being. But he was a human being in the physiological sense of the word. He breathed oxygen, had two arms and two legs, he had all the defining physical characteristics which qualified him for inclusion in the homo sapiens species.

But he was shorn of the emotional characteristics which define humanity – empathy, compassion and kindness, remorse, guilt and shame. He murdered three people - one of them a father in front of his children at a school football game – and sold drugs on such a massive scale that one can only speculate as to how many people were poisoned or even killed by using his products.

It’s been said this week by Victorian Police Commissioner Simon Overland and others that any death is a tragedy. But some deaths are more tragic than others, and like most people I struggle to feel any sense of sorrow at Williams’ death.

My first reaction was a callous and instinctive journalist’s reaction – what a story. And aside from feeling a kind of detached sadness for his children - even though he had conspired to deprive three other children of their own father - the fact that Williams met his end the way he did seemed both inevitable and unsurprising.

If one word can summarise the feeling at his passing, it is ambivalence. But while it’s perfectly understandable that we are not inclined to commiserate over William’s death, it’s sickening that so many of us have chosen to celebrate it. Rather than remaining ambivalent, people have opted instead for glee.

This overwhelmingly jubilant reaction to his death has been like a medieval ritual where a witch or a thief is killed and then trussed up and pelted in the town square. Talking at the start about Williams’ own lack of humanity, many of those who have inserted themselves in the public debate have damaged their own humanity by succumbing to this alarming form of bloodlust.

Those people should stop and reflect on the manner of Williams’ death and ask whether anyone ever deserves to go out the way he did. Two of the best Australian films, Ghosts of the Civil Dead, based on the Jika Jika lockdown where a prison guard was stabbed to death, and the Mark Read biopic Chopper, brutally document prison violence. One of the most bracing scenes in any film is surely the moment where Chopper turns on a fellow inmate in the exercise yard and slides a Phillips head screwdriver into the side of his neck. As the prisoner collapses Chopper stands back and hides the screwdriver, and says to one of the guards while laughing: “Look sir, I think Keithy’s done himself a mischief.” It is almost unwatchable, and from what we know, not a world away from the lethal jumping Williams’ faced in his final moments on Monday.

How anyone can get off on this is beyond me. But a lot of people are. You get the sense reading much of the online commentary, almost all of it anonymous, that the one regret some people have is that they didn’t get to kill Carl Williams themselves.

Some readers of websites such as the heraldsun.com.au have joked that Williams’ bashing with the metal stem from an exercise bike would help end the cycle of violence in Melbourne, boom boom.
Others just went straight into Old Testament mode.

“Bye bye Carl, now you’re Satan’s bitch” wrote Ginni of Melbourne. “Throw the fat bastard in an unmarked hole and bury him forever,” said Adam of Ringwood. Rohan of Dogville wrote: “Ashes to ashes, scum to scum”. Sleeping Easier wrote: “The killer deserves nothing less than a reduction in sentence and the keys to the city for saving tax payers the burden of feeding this filth for 35 years. Well done.” Showing a rare interest in the policy ramifications of Williams’ death, Matthew of Melbourne said: “Why waste taxpayers money for a royal commission. What do you expect, you’re in a room full of murderers, killers and what not.”

Many were overjoyed at the apparent cash bonanza to taxpayers brought by Williams’ death, with the windfall savings of a couple of hundred bucks a day from no longer having to house him at Barwon prison.

“What great news,” wrote Jesse of Bendigo, “…we can only hope they’re all down in hell shooting each other up again, at least there’s no kids down there, lowlife scum all of them are they got what they deserve, why waste taxpayers money keeping scum alive.”

Some readers even regarded Williams’ death as more a problem of TV scheduling, complaining that Nine had cancelled Top Gear to show a documentary about the gangster.

It’s demeaning that people will even take the trouble to write down this sort of rubbish.

As a social trend, it feels like the inverse of the modern-day phenomena of public displays of mourning over the death of a celebrity or star. It’s been described as stadium grief, where people try to outdo each other in their hysterical reaction to the death of someone they have never met.

The journalist and British Labour politician Roy Hattersley was one of the first writers to chronicle this trend in an excellent series of newspaper columns after Princess Diana’s death. Writing in the Guardian in 1998, Hattersley examined the role of Diana’s brother Earl Spencer in turning her burial place at the Althorp mausoleum into a “funereal theme park”. Hattersely described the site as less a testament to Spencer’s dead sister than “a commemoration of the defining vulgarities of the 20th century’s closing years.” More broadly he questioned the motives of those who would choose to mourn there.

“It has always seemed to me that ostentatious grief and conspicuous mourning is less a tribute to the dear departed than a cry for recognition from the bereaved,” he wrote.

Just as Diana’s demise invited an impromptu global contest to see who could cry the longest, Williams’ death has spawned the most repellent displays of one upmanship to see who can be the hardest, the most macho, the most unwavering in their support for violence and vigilantism.

There might be a special place in hell for Carl Williams but there is a long wait in purgatory for those who this week have found themselves cheering a murder.

Aggression, Ethics and Honesty
This culture of making aggressive, vile comments has also been noticed in parliament.

Another area I am very alarmed about is the level of anger and aggressivity that we are seeing on websites that probably many members in this chamber read, like the PerthNow and inMyCommunity websites. I am sure that when members check articles in their local newspapers they look at sites like PerthNow and see anonymously written, very aggressive and often factually wrong and grammatically incorrect statements. Why should people get away with making these sorts of statements without putting their real name to them? Would they make such statements if they had to put their name and address to them?
--Chris Tallentire MLA  (ALP) WA Parliament Assembly- Extract from Hansard - February 2010

Is a new trend in Australia? Is is because of the internet? Is it the media who allow such comments to flourish or maybe they are responsible through their own articles. I don't know the answer to this but I do know that we, as a society respect the media much less than we once did - especially newspaper journalists.

Newspaper journalists are given only a 10% rating for their honesty and ethical standards – compared, for example, with doctors (81%) and police (57%).

Any media outlet that constantly produces trumped up, sensationalist articles are eventually going to be recognised as trash media.

The outlets most often identified by consumers as “not accurately and fairly” reporting the news are the Herald Sun (Melbourne), The Daily Telegraph (Sydney), Woman’s Day, Channel Nine, Channel Seven, and John Laws. 

In the end, it all comes back to Rupert Murdoch and the influence his media has on society. Take a look at Fox News in the US. Surely, one of the most biased, dangerous news outlets on the planet. And incredibly with the slogan, "fair and balanced". Look at the British tabloids - famous the world over for almost surrealistic headlines and stories. And gaining rapidly in reputation is the Australian trash media. What amazes me most is that we still invite Murdoch to speak about media in Australia. We don't treat him as the greedy, entrepreneur that he is but as some media oracle who is just and fair. It might be one thing admiring his financial success but when it comes to ethics, that's an entirely different matter.

Influence in Australia
Murdoch's desire for dominant cross-media ownership manifested early—in 1961 he bought an ailing Australian record label, Festival Records, and within a few years it had become the leading local recording company. He also bought a television station in Wollongong, New South Wales, hoping to use it to break into the Sydney television market, but found himself frustrated by Australia's cross-media ownership laws, which prevented him from owning both a major newspaper and television station in the same city. Since then he has consistently lobbied, both personally and through his papers, to have these laws changed in his favour. This occurred in 2006 when the Liberal-National Coalition Government, having gained control of both houses of the Australian Parliament, introduced reforms to cross-media ownership and foreign media ownership laws. The laws came into effect in early 2007.

News Limited has nearly three-quarters of daily metropolitan newspaper circulation and so maintains great influence in Australia. Internal News Limited documents reveal a brazen offer during the 2001 Federal election campaign to promote the policies of a major party in its best-selling newspapers nation-wide for almost $500,000. Other documents include a marginal seats guide written by a senior business manager for internal use. It evidences a corporate strategy to target marginal seats at the 2004 election. Some of the documents appeared on Media Watch but received very little coverage.

Rupert Murdoch has announced that News Ltd websites will become a paid subscription services very soon. His reasoning being that we should pay for quality journalism. I'll leave you to ponder that cracker!


Jason said...

Another great post Terry.

The standard of journalism in Australia at the moment is a disgrace. With the possible exception of The Age, the printed media in this country is absolute rubbish and full of right wing propaganda.

Murdoch is the most dangerous and reprehensible man on the planet and his reach is seemingly unending. Media ownership laws in Australia are a farce.

I also just discovered that his son and heir apparent, James Murdoch, is one of the directors of GlaxoSmithKline. Great, just what the world needs. From one sleezy, filth ridden business to the next I guess!

Gledwood said...

Someone wants to tell Nobody of Perth or whoever it was... I know somebody personally who got 100% pure heroin off the British government for over 20 years... and he didn't die, he LIVED and is still ALIVE NOW ~ that is the ****ing point!!

Terry Wright said...

You tell 'em Gleds!!!

Terry Wright said...

Thanks Jason

If you and I can clearly see how Murdoch media is just right wing trash then how about the millions who read it every day? Are they just thick or maybe it suits their ideology?

That's scary news about James Murdoch. The quest to run the world without officially entering politics?