Big money versus good government

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Australia’s September election is more important than any in the nation’s history, writes Rodney E. Lever, as big money tries to strangle a good government.

WHEN I WAS a young reporter working under the greatest newspaper editor Australia has ever produced, it was drummed into my thick adolescent skull that I must only write stories that the readers wanted to read: not views forced upon them by editors or proprietors.

The leader (editorial) page ‒ always inside ‒ was the only space where the management had a right to express its own views.

Now newspapers are dying. Propaganda rules our lives. Good honest journalists are losing their jobs. Editorials expressing proprietorial views are on the front page.

Sketch of Brian Penton (Image courtesy cookshillgalleries.com.au).

In those days, the Sydney Daily Telegraph was the biggest selling newspaper anywhere in Australia and the most profitable. It may still be so under Murdoch, but today’s Telegraph is just a shadow of its earlier self in the war and post-war years of 1939-50.

My first editor, Brian Con Penton, whose Archibald-winning portrait I last saw in Sydney’s Mitchell Library, was a fearsome, perpetually angry, red-faced little man already dying of cancer.

He was the only person who could terrify the paper’s owner, Douglas Frank Hewson Packer — a huge tyrant, built like a wrestler and a multi-millionaire who was seriously planning to build a racing yacht with a gold keel to compete in the America’s Cup. “When you work for me, boy,” he said to me once, “you’re always in a hurry.”

Packer paid for Brian Penton’s treatment in what was then the world’s most famous cancer clinic in the United States, but even there it was too late to halt the cruel enemy that was destroying the greatest talent that Australian journalism has ever enjoyed.

Penton came back to Sydney to die and I was there when he entered the subs room one day to shake hands with the brilliant journalists and sub-editors who had worked for him and whose terror of his displeasure had haunted their nightly sleep.

Praise for good work was always grudging, but when it came, the recipient was walking on air for days afterwards. The Telegraph was never again to reach the heights of readership that it had enjoyed under Penton.

In the past few decades, Australia’s newspapers have gradually been taken over by ignorant multi-millionaire proprietors with other interests, and now journalists are ordered to write stories to political requirements.

Rupert Murdoch ‒ who claims to be a journalist ‒ is a fraud. He has never written anything, except on Twitter, reads little more than balance sheets and dictates terse letters. He shows up in the working areas of his newspapers only when cameras are around.

This is why Australian politics is in turmoil. People think they are being informed by what were once called “the mirrors of the world”.  They are, in fact, reading manufactured pages of  falsehoods and duplicity.  On top of that, we are bombarded by mentally-deficient radio shock-jocks and screwed by much of the electronic media.

Australia’s current political turmoil coincides with frightening developments throughout the world. Several nations, in the Middle East, Africa, Europe, South America are erupting. Afghanistan remains unsettled as foreign troops leave and may continue as unsettled forever.

Angry frightened and exploited citizens are engaged in endless insurrection.  Sanguinary mass murder has erupted in religious wars, leaving hundreds of people killed and mountains of murdered children waiting to be buried.

This is our world. Today.

Australia will soon be faced with more important decisions than we have ever encountered before. Our alliances may need to be reviewed. Informed honest and accurate journalism is urgently needed to be discussed by all — voters and politicians. From where will the best information and advice come?

One issue is our attitude to Julian Assange and Edward Snowden, both now being hunted by the US simply because they have revealed to the world how fragile is the internet and all modern communications.  They are not criminals. They are heroes.  They are, in fact, a pair who ‒ instead of life imprisonment ‒ could be vital in waterproofing the internet.

I have seen recent Australian experiments demonstrating that we are on the verge of a breakthrough system that will allow secret transmissions to be instantly and automatically erased if invaded by any third party. It is very impressive.

If the current systems in the United States are not secure, then surely it is the U.S. Government that is to blame — not the individuals who have drawn it to the attention of the world. It is a world-wide issue. If the Chinese can enter Australia’s systems, then this is our fault.

But Australia doesn’t want to know. It is hiding under the bed. We refuse to act in the defence of one of our own citizens for fear of upsetting America. We don’t want to upset China either, so we tippy toe around it. It is our own fault and it is not a hanging offence. We are working on fixing it ourselves, already.

IA managing editor David Donovan

It will take courage to respond to all the challenges looming ahead, and courage is lacking in many of our politicians.

Our future now depends on news online, as provided by Independent Australia and similar sources. The people who write for David Donovan and his team have a good understanding of what journalism is all about.

There are many online sources now, with well informed, talented writers, undisturbed by others telling them what to write. Many of them work without payment.

The real, untarnished news is getting through to a greater number of people after decades of being deliberately distorted or discarded by the power of money. Mobile phones have worked communication miracles in many countries.

The importance of Australia’s September election is beyond any in the nation’s history. The power of money has strangled good national government before. It can also deny us the full power of the NBN at the very time when we will most need its maximum capabilities.

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