Media Opinion

Keating's skewering of mainstream media spot on

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Paul Keating appeared at the National Press Club this week to discuss AUKUS deals (Screenshot via YouTube)

During his recent National Press Club appearance, former PM Paul Keating scolded mainstream media journalists — who deserved every stinging syllable of his pinpoint-accurate words, writes Belinda Jones.

WELL, DIDN'T Paul Keating stir up a hornet’s nest this week?

The 79-year-old former Prime Minister, at his National Press Club of Australia (NPC) appearance on Wednesday, discussed at length the $368 billion AUKUS submarines deal and why he doesn’t support it.

In conversation with NPC president Laura Tingle, Keating explained the clear geo-strategic reasons that form the basis of his opinion and proved, beyond doubt, that age has not dimmed his renowned acerbic wit and intellect — if anything, it has improved them.

Keating saved his sharpest words for the mainstream media Canberra Press Gallery journalists during the second half of his address — and they have not taken it well

To our current mainstream media, Keating’s audacity and refusal to mince words would come as a shock, given they’re often short on dealing with honesty, authenticity and audacity. 

During Keating’s prime ministership, this sort of rhetoric was an everyday thing. It kept journalists and politicians alike on their toes. These days, press gallery journalists don’t often encounter such wit and superior intellect in their workplace anymore, so it came as an affront to them. 

Canberra has become vanilla in many respects — very predictable and controlled, with politicians choosing their words carefully around political journalists for fear they’ll be taken out of context or misconstrued. 

In terms of Canberra power games, at the moment, the media has the edge over the politicians: it was the opposite in Keating’s day. Today, most politicians live their lives in the fear of the diminishing power of the press. They act accordingly so as not to upset the media, which still wields the power to end their political careers prematurely. 

It's a game the media and politicians play constantly but Keating refuses to play that game. He doesn’t have to; he has nothing to lose.

Serving politicians rarely speak frankly to journalists now; they just recite that day’s carefully crafted talking points. It’s all very controlled and organised — risk-averse.  Spontaneity and authenticity are perceived as too risky; the party machine decides the dialogue through talking points – not individual party politicians – and a handful of conservative media moguls and their underlings cherry-pick those talking points to decide the narrative that defines our lives. 

If anyone bucks that system or exposes the inner machinations of the press and politics, be it social media or Paul Keating, mainstream media circles the wagons. The truth should be at the forefront of everything the media does, including self-analysis. Such journalists don’t want their game exposed to the public.

The mainstream media in the Canberra Press Gallery, generally, has a heightened sense of its own self-importance, with some notable exceptions. It is a gathering of egos who say they hold the powerful 'to account, ostensibly upholding the fundamental tenets of journalistic integrity on a daily basis. 

As a cohort, they throw balls and awards ceremonies to celebrate themselves, judge their own awards, appear on each other’s shows and podcasts, enjoy drinks with politicians, and ignore any criticism levelled at them from any quarter of society, particularly social media. It’s all very incestuous and self-destructive for the profession.

The behaviour of our mainstream media does not bode well for Australia. Journalists do play an important role in society; they are supposed to hold the powerful accountable and when they fail, Australians pay a price.

Robodebt did not happen due to a failure of the mainstream media, it was a failure of public policy but the media’s incompetence in not pursuing the story earlier exacerbated the tragic consequences. Australians died. The media largely failed to hold the powerful to account for their deaths.

Though, no amount of incompetence stops the media self-celebration season: the Mid-Winter Ball that year and every year of Robodebt and the Walkleys, and the Kennedy Awards.

News Corp journalists Simon Benson and Geoff Chambers knew about Morrison’s secret ministries but decided to keep it quiet until their book launch. It was hardly honourable or appropriate, but they were nominated for a Walkley for it anyway by their peers. 

Thankfully, they did not win the award — that obscene level of deception should not be rewarded. The fact that they were even nominated is illustrative of the perverse state of the mainstream media industry after years of conservative coercive control and dominance. It is a world within a world that in no way resembles reality.

Just this week, while the media has been busy validating their Canberra colleagues’ bruised egos, journalists simultaneously failed to report on corruption exposed by YouTuber Friendlyjordies.

Also in the same week, the mainstream media largely failed to report that Scott Morrison had Governor-General David Hurley swear in Ben Morton to administer Home Affairs on the same day Karen Andrews was sworn in as Home Affairs Minister. *Although this did appear in the Government Gazette at the time, it appears Ms Andrews was unaware of his appointment.

These are incredibly important public interest stories, particularly on the eve of the NSW Election, yet the mainstream media – including our public broadcaster the ABC – failed to report on them, again proving how incompetent they are by completely missing these stories. Or alternatively, if they were deliberate omissions, it illustrates how mainstream media manipulates the narrative through omission, imperilling our democracy to the detriment of all Australians.

Mainstream media editors and journalists have a lot of gall to whinge about the well-deserved serve they copped from Keating. However, despite their incompetence, their egos will likely remain unaffected because a handful of conservative media moguls monopolise the Australian market (Rupert Murdoch, Kerry Stokes and Peter Costello).  

It appears the editors and journalists employed by these moguls don’t so much have to be competent, just compliant. The problem is the market doesn’t want mere compliance — and certainly not incompetence. The legacy mainstream media industry is dying: we don’t buy their newspapers much anymore; many Australians don’t watch mainstream news these days. News is largely consumed via social media. 

Discerning Australians are sick of the rubbish being served by these inflated egos in the mainstream media – particularly those in the Canberra Press Gallery – and simply refuse to buy it. Mainstream news publications are haemorrhaging subscribers while independent media is growing exponentially.

Many mainstream journalists (with some notable exceptions) are their own worst enemies and architects of their own demise. They deserved every stinging syllable of Keating’s pinpoint-accurate words.

*This article has been amended on 17 March to add that Ben Morton's appointment was noted in the Government Gazette.

You can follow Belinda Jones on Twitter @belindajones68.

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