How Jacksonville junked mainstream media credibility

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It takes a very special talent to studiously ignore 20 investigative stories replete with primary documentary evidence strongly suggesting corruption and wrongdoing. Vince O’Grady discusses the mainstream media’s epic failure to properly report on the Craig Thomson / HSU / Jacksonville affair.

I USED TO BE a police constable. Contrary to popular belief, the first duty of a police officer was the protection of life and property. The second was prosecution of offenders against the Crown.

The requirements to prove people guilty were onerous. There were solid sets of laws which contained precise definitions of crimes. To prove that a person or people had contravened that definition, we had to present a brief of evidence which consisted of solid and provable facts; in other words, evidence of the offence.

That was in the 1970’s in the United Kingdom, before I emigrated to Australia. The press in Britain was, and still is, red hot on finding and prosecuting a story. However, the Victorian and Australian press are less so. There used to be a bias away from sex and scandal — a much gentler approach to that of Fleet Street.

What changed was the advent of the mega media tycoon — firstly, in the guise of Kerry Packer and later, sadly, through the inexorable domination of the Murdoch empire.

Kerry Packer was a hard man, who was really interested in a solid press and television empire. He mentored good journalism in such programs as 60 Minutes, which dissected the intricacies of News stories. They were hosted by a group of talented and principled journalists, like Ray Martin, George Negus, Ian Leslie and Jana Wendt.

Packer had the courage to invest in the people and the producers to make award winning current affairs stories and news programmes.

This was a show in accord with my training in the police.  It investigated, reported and told the truth.   Any story which didn’t match its high levels of interest didn’t make it to air — just like any police investigation of wrong doing which didn’t match an offence didn’t make it into court.

60 Minutes was a success because it was credible. It told a set of hard won facts and reported them. It didn’t make anything up. It was solid and believable.

Since coming to Australia in 1978, I have noticed that the bar has been lowered considerably in much of our public life.

Politicians have embraced the craft, which used to be one of genuine belief, to now a sad parody of conviction.

Along with this decline, the print media and television journalists have sunk to lower and lower depth to procure their stories.

The noble profession of press photographer once held by such public spirited souls as ‘spider man’, have turned into paparazzi, who hound celebrities daily to make their living. And the reporter has now turned into the story teller — telling stories which are closer to fiction than truth.

We all know that ‘good’ newspapers used to attract the advertising dollars and that was the measure of their success.  Everyone used to buy the paper to read the news of the day for local happenings as well as those of the world.

For the titillation there was the Truth or, in England, the News of the World. Page three was a must for the smutty and scandal was the byword.

The status quo was blown away by the advent, in the last 25 years, of the internet. I well remember its coming in the nineties through the use of dial up modems.

When I bought my first computer in 1981, I remember someone asking me in a disbelieving fashion: ‘What can you do with that?’ Now, in 2012, we can better say: ‘What can’t you do with it?’

The Internet has morphed into an information explosion. All sorts of information is online and available. The old newspaper companies all have an online versions and advertising has moved online. Everything is instant.

This is good and bad. Good, because the flow of information has increased — and bad, because there is no check on the truth of that information. Wikipedia, for example, can be edited by anyone and anyone can plant their version of an event or history for a wide range of people to read and potentially believe.

So, the exponential increase in the availability of Information technological systems has changed our world.

Has this been good or bad? Do the media serve us any better than they did in the past, or has the standard slipped?

In this article, I contend that the use of the internet and the new media has corrupted the purveyors of information and their previously upright morality. To this end, I will look at an issue which goes to the government of Australia and the way that issues are reported and the diminution of the previously high journalistic standards of the Australian mainstream press.

In August 2010, there was a Federal Election. The result was close. Negotiations were entered into and a Government was formed. It was formed by written agreement with three Independents and a Green member of the House of Representatives, although the Green Party agreed as a whole to support the Labor Party. A Labor Party minority government was formed with the support of three Independents and a Green member from the House of Representatives.

That is the truth of the matter. However, unhappy that they had not been chosen to form Government, the Liberal/National Coalition immediately commenced a campaign to unseat this Government.

Time has shown them to have been unsuccessful, but no less vociferous in their continuing condemnation of the Australian Labor Party.  They have, it appears, influenced the electorate in the polls by their continuing campaign and have tried, again unsuccessfully, to oust the sitting Government by the tactics of condemnation of two members of Parliament who support Labor.

I intend to concentrate on one of these and look at the influence the media have had on the two issues. The two issues are the Thomson affair and the Slipper affair.

As readers will know, the Sydney Morning Herald published the so-called details of Craig Thomson’s alleged wrong doings as the secretary of the HSU No. 3 Branch before he became an MP. They showed apparent evidence that Thomson had misappropriated Union funds and had also used them for sexual favours from prostitutes.

The person who "blew the whistle" on Craig Thomson was Kathy Jackson. The Liberal party machine went into overdrive and the full majesty of this machine was arrayed against him and the Labor Government.

Luminaries such as Christopher Pyne, George Brandis and Eric Abetz were the willing lieutenants of the chief attack dog, Tony Abbott. Victory was nigh. The Government was about to fall.

The intricacies of the scandal also allowed the Liberals to attack a Labor creation called Fair Work Australia, which was dragging its feet doing a three year investigation of Craig Thomson and his alleged misdemeanours.

On the sidelines, the mainstream media were impatient for the report to tell the public the details of the 1,000 pages of scandal allegedly done in a Union by a sitting Labor MP. Great copy that; the 24 hour media cycle was clamouring for the details.

As a judicial body, the Fair Work Australia organisation was reluctant to release the report because they feared an action for defamation, and so Eric Abetz, that doyen of propriety and goodness, arranged for it to be released under Parliamentary privilege through the Senate Estimates Committee, believing this would be the ideal means to sink Craig Thomson and, hence, the Labor Government.

Meanwhile, Independent Australia and their investigative contributor, Peter Wicks, were doing some real investigation — worthy of the type of police work that I had been privy to in the UK in the seventies.

This work, the first article of which was published on 16th May, 2012, was an eye opener. Wicks and IA have, with last night’s offering, now completed 20 instalments, and have called the investigation ‘Jacksonville’.

Peter had a source in the HSU which didn’t tell him bits and pieces — he or she told him everything they could. In short, Wicks was told him the truth. And Peter Wicks, with zero police training, broke a story which the mainstream media should have jumped on.

With his attention to detail, Peter looked at the documents that were used by the Sydney Morning Herald’s reporter as justification of Craig Thomson’s guilt, and noticed that the name on the credit card was spelt with the addition of a ‘p’; he also noticed that the credit card slip had a code 211 on it, which suggested that the transaction had been declined.

So much for due diligence.

Craig ThomPson?

To prove fraud, you have to prove that a Victoria law has been transgressed. The law in question is the Crimes Act, and the section which deals with Fraud is under section 81 of this Act (Victoria) 1958, as amended on 1 Jan 2012.

A person who by any deception dishonestly obtains property belonging to another, with the intention of permanently depriving the other of it, is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to level 5 imprisonment (10 years maximum).

As there were no rules for the use of Craig Thomson’s Union credit card, there can be no deception. So no wonder he has never been charged.   However, this did not stop Christopher Pyne, a lawyer; George Brandis SC, a lawyer and barrister; and  Eric Abetz, also a barrister, from telling the world at large that Craig Thomson was a cheat, a liar and a criminal.

What they conveniently forgot was the evidence. If you read the Fair Work Australia report, there is little evidence for the crime above and that is borne out by the fact that Craig Thomson has not been charged with this offence. And, by the way, if he was, I doubt whether he would be prosecuted because the DPP in Victoria would look at the evidence and probably decide that the evidence was so thin, there was no prospect of a conviction. Why else was the report was released under the protection of parliamentary privilege rather than openly to the public?

Meanwhile, back in the editorial rooms of the mainstream media, the action was fast and loose.   They also hadn’t looked at the facts of the case and had been really slack in looking at whether Craig Thomson had, in fact, done the things they said he had. I wonder if he is sitting at home contemplating a couple of actions for libel. There must be some nervous editors out there.

Now that we have looked at what the mainstream Media did — let’s examine what they didn’t do.

When I read Peter Wicks’ original report on the Independent Australia website, I was excited, because such a revelation would show up the Opposition and the mainstream media for the fools that they clearly were.

I emailed Peter to congratulate him on his diligence in actually looking at the motivations of Kathy Jackson in dobbing Craig Thomson in. Subsequent discussions on the phone assured me that the ‘other’ side of the story would come out. The other side being the relationship between Kathy Jackson and Michael Lawler from Fair Work Australia, and a swag of dubious transactions she had entered into as Secretary of the branch. In other words — the whole story.  At no time did Peter plead Craig Thomson’s innocence — he just wanted the whole facts known.

Now isn’t it strange, in the helter skelter of the 24 hour media cycle, with such a story about Jackson and Lawler, his association with Tony Abbott, and the alleged evidence of wrongdoing by their whistleblower, all of which was given holus bolus to the ABC’s PM programme, 7.30 Report, Lateline and Channel Nine’s A Current Affair and 60 Minutes, as well as numerous other news outlets, that none of these those programs reported the revelations.

Strange that none of these twenty factual articles written since the 16 May 2012, which contain filing cabinets full of source documents, have been published or even discussed in the mainstream media — apart from one dismissive article by The Australian, a better article by ABC Online and one by AAP, which was syndicated throughout Australian newspapers. Still, this coverage was a drop in the ocean and the vast majority of Australians remain completely unaware of the serious allegations against Jackson, Lawler and others.

When all of this happened, and before I knew that Peter was in contact with media organisations, I wrote to Media Watch, The 7.30 Report and Lateline with a link to his articles. I received one reply from Media Watch which was a quick ‘thank you’.

However, no information was forthcoming about the revelations in the story.

This issue is on a par with ‘The Dismissal’.  Perhaps we should remember Gough’s words:

‘Well may we say god save the Queen because nothing will save the Governor General.’

It was as if the media was intent on toppling the Government and no alternative narrative was to be allowed to interfere with this goal.

Perhaps in parody of Gough, we could say:

‘Well may we say, Australians all let us rejoice, because no one rejoices in the ABC anymore.

There is no doubt in my mind whatsoever that the ABC is compromised as a purveyor of the truth with respect to the affairs of the Australian Parliament and their reporting of events surrounding Craig Thomson and his alleged wrongdoing. And their silence on Jacksonville confirms this bias. They have a Charter to inform the Australian public in a balanced way — they have breached this promise.

One might expect the commercial free to air channels, who are often the purveyors of journalistic rubbish, may be inclined to ignore the truth — but it is the treatment of this issue by the ABC that is most disturbing.

Jacksonville shows that the Australian people are not being given the whole truth by our media — and this is a grave danger to our democracy.

We ignore it at our peril.

(Read the full story of Jacksonville at IA's dedicated page.)

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