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2015 was another year of profound shame for Australia’s mainstream media. Alan Austin reports.

THE FEAR-MONGERING, distortions, omissions and outright lies which characterised news reporting through the Labor years have continued. Now they serve to protect a corrupt and incompetent administration rather than destroy a sound one.

Consider this: right now a former state director of a political party is in prison awaiting trial. How much money is he alleged to have stolen? How much of this did he spend on fine wines, restaurants and luxuries? Holidays and travel? Was any spent on sex services? What was the political party? Who appointed him to the top job? Who are his accomplices in senior party ranks? What is his name? Who is his wife?

Hardly anybody knows. The media have agreed to suppress this matter. Compare this with the hounding of Craig Thomson with screaming headlines for more than five years relating to his theft from a trade union. Blow by blow details of police investigations, page after page of tawdry allegations of sexual services, accusations relating to family members, insulting headlines demanding he be gaoled, humiliating front page caricatures, prominent photos of him in distress, a media camp outside his home and countless attacks on his hapless colleagues.

So what are the differences between Damien (what’s his name again?) Mantach (yes, that’s it!) and Craig Thomson? There are three. One was the state director of the political party governing Victoria for most of his period of tenure; the other was a lowly backbencher – one of 72 – from a regional electorate serving his first term in the federal parliament. One is charged with embezzling $1.53 million; the other was eventually found guilty of stealing $5,650.

But, of course, one was Liberal and the other was Labor. All mainstream media joined the sustained, frenzied five-year vilification of Thomson. And all agreed to conceal Mantach’s misdeeds apart from brief reports of the scant facts.

Media fabrications abounded in 2015, mostly to denigrate the Coalition’s opponents. Murdoch’s News Corp made a tawdry attempt to deflect attention from proven Liberal Party rorts by concocting allegations against Labor’s Tony Burke. Burke succeeded with a retraction and apology. 

Race relations were exacerbated throughout 2015, with a steady stream of lies about the races or faiths the media want Australians to hate.

Murdoch’s Daily Telegraph falsely claimed in May that

‘Almost all of the wannabe terrorists who have snuck out of Australia to join jihadist armies in Iraq and Syria were on the dole or some form of welfare payment.'

This was a complete concoction as Senate hearings soon confirmed. But not before then Prime Minister Tony Abbott declared he was “appalled” that Australian terrorists had received payments.

On Indigenous relations, attacks on Aboriginal campaigner and champion AFL footballer Adam Goodes continued apace. Despite being the only AFL player ever to win two Brownlow medals, two premierships and be named Australian of the Year, Goodes’ career ended under a cloud one entirely created by Australia’s racist media.

Crucial issues emerged in 2015 which the mainstream media simply ignored. Many relate to Australia’s teetering economy.

This started with the breathtaking lie by foreign minister Julie Bishop in February that

"We inherited the very worst set of financial accounts in Australia's political history."

To its credit, the ABC’s fact checkers explored this and found:

'... the Abbott government did not inherit the worst set of financial accounts … Ms Bishop is wrong.'

But the rest of the media failed to debunk the constant Coalition talking points that:

  • it had inherited a deteriorating economy;
  • it was now managing the economy better than Labor had;
  • Labor’s spending has been curbed;
  • Labor’s deficits are being reduced;
  • Labor’s debt is now lower;
  • global headwinds are adding to the challenge; and
  • continuing problems are all Labor’s fault.

All these blatant falsehoods were diligently relayed by most Murdoch newspapers, several Fairfax outlets, Sky News, The Conversation, right wing think tanks, ABC’s Insiders and SBS News.

ABC’s Lateline attempted to resist this stream of denial in May, when one of the Coalition’s most persistent fabricators, Finance Minister Mathias Cormann, was actually challenged. As far as we know, only one journal reported government gross debt smashing the $400 billion barrier in November. That’s up 48.3 per cent since the last election.

Turnbull Government Minister Peter Dutton misled Parliament over the matter of Abyan, the 23-year old Somali refugee who was sexually assaulted on Nauru. Silence from the news media on this and many other issues.

The Murdochisation of Fairfax advanced significantly in 2015, following the principle that character assassination, telling blatant porkies and fomenting fear and hatred sell newspapers in Australia.

In November, The Age published an opinion piece by the Institute of Public Affairs’ Chris Berg, the master defender of the broken political promise. In July, The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald lost a defamation case brought by Joe Hockey.

Fairfax newspapers actually managed to beat News Corp on adverse adjudications from the Australian Press Council. In 2015, Fairfax newspapers – The Age, The Sydney Morning Herald, The Australian Financial Review, WA Today, The Brisbane Times, The Newcastle Herald and others – copped 12 spankings to News Corp’s eight. Most of these were for major distortions to significant events and, occasionally, outright falsehoods.

Among the few bright spots in the dismal year was Leigh Sales early last month refusing to allow new PM Malcolm Turnbull – at the height of his passionate love affair with the press gallery – to set the 7.30 interview agenda.

The other highlight – also thanks to a tenacious woman – was the Senate inquiry eliciting an admission that the Murdoch camp is not primarily in the news business.

Greens leader Senator Christine Milne asked News Corp Australia CEO Julian Clarke why he ran The Australian

“... as a business when it is not profitable?”

Clarke’s reply included:

“We think that Australia, this nation of ours, needs a very strong national newspaper like The Australian to do exactly what it is doing.”

Milne:

“And what is it doing?”

Clarke:

“It is absolutely involved in policy — in understanding the parties that are operating and the policies that they bring to the fore.”

Milne:

“That is absolutely correct.”

Hilarious! Watch Senator Christine Milne's takedown of News Corp's Julian Clarke at Senate inquiry on tax avoidance

Clearly, its main task is to shape government policy to its owners’ advantage, not report what is actually happening. No-one was surprised, of course. But it was neat work getting it on the record.

Will 2016 be any better? It may be different with Chris Mitchell finishing as editor of The Australian, seriously declining support for the old media and the ascendancy of independent online outlets.

More than ever, the presence and vitality of the alternative media – Independent Australia, The Guardian, Crikey, New Matilda, the New Daily and others – are essential for Australia’s democracy.

You can follow Alan Austin on Twitter @AlanTheAmazing.

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