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Paying people smugglers: News Corp covers up for Abbott on story of the year

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How to pretend a story ain't important — bury it on page 9

Last week, we saw one of the biggest political stories of the year has broken, but The Weekend Australian has buried it on page 9.

This is not even original reporting. It’s a cobbled together story based on cribbing quotes from other news outlets.

It’s only in the paper because the editors know that if The Weekend Australian ignored it completely, its credibility would suffer even more.

It is an astounding example of skewed editorial judgement.

Why?

Because, the story is highly damaging to the Abbott Government and the News Corp leadership has firmly nailed its flag to the mast of what is more and more looking like a pirate ship of fools.

The framing of the story – carried in the headline and lead par – set the tone: The Weekend Australian is right behind Abbott on his denials.

The Weekend Australian won’t criticise Abbott

Denialist–in-chief, Chris Kenny is leading the head-in-sand brigade on this issue.

Now, The Australian is scrambling to regain some initiative on this story.

Today, Greg Sheridan has come out with a big frontpage splash quoting Foreign Minister Julie Bishop effectively accusing Indonesia of promoting the people smugglers. 

Sheridan, in an accompanying opinion piece, all but admits to the payments. Together, all this suggests the paper has received a quiet background briefing from the Government confirming that the payments had, despite earlier denials, in fact been made.

This story is not going to die off any time soon.

Indonesian officials are saying they’ve seen the wads of cash in U.S. notes, and the people smuggler allegedly at the centre of the pay-to-return deal has been located and named.

Even the United Nations has weighed in.

Now Indonesia has launched its own investigation into the affair and has asked Australia's ambassador to Indonesia to provide answers. Meanwhile, Tony Abbott continues to dodge questions and the rest of the Government fudges and prevaricates.

The latest story from Simon Benson in News Corp's Sydney rag quotes an unnamed 'senior intelligence source' as saying that the people smugglers were paid by ASIS, suggesting it was a deep covert spy operation. The point here is that Abbott could not possibly comment on the payments, under longstanding security protocols, as they are intelligence matters. How very convenient...

There is much more to go in this story, but don’t rely on News Corp for the facts.

Read more by Martin Hirst on his blog Ethical Martini and follow him on Twitter @ethicalmartini.

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