The Joyce affair reveals the media-run Coalition protection racket

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Front page of the Daily Telegraph, today, 7 February 2017

The cover-up of the Barnaby Joyce staffer affair reveals the extent to which the Australia media act to protect the Coalition from scrutiny, writes Dr Jennifer Wilson.

IF YOU DOUBTED the bias of mainstream media towards the federal government, their handling of Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce’s romantic entanglements, at last revealed by the Daily Telegraph today, ought to go some way to convincing you that we have a media-run protection racket for LNP MPs.

Stories of Joyce’s marital catastrophes and his affair with one of his staffers, with whom he is expecting a child, began circulating on social media in October 2017. Joyce was facing a by-election in his seat of New England and the media closed ranks around him. When pressed by an increase in public interest to say something – anything! – about the situation, the media collectively maintained that, in 1. There's something of a convention in Aus politics: unless there's criminality, coercion or abuse involved, private lives are private.

Murdoch hack Sharri Markson claimed in the Telegraph on 20 October that there was a “dirty war” being waged against Joyce and that he was 'battling vicious innuendo'.

We now learn that Joyce’s affair with his staffer was an “open secret” in Canberra circles, including the Press Gallery.

If this doesn’t smack of collusion, I don’t know what does.

In October and November, three articles appeared in Independent Australia, raising the very serious public interest issues surrounding the Deputy Prime Minister’s illicit affair. Noely Neate asked 'Who is waging the dirty war on Barnaby?'.

I argued that Joyce’s private life is indeed a 'matter of public interest'.

And in November, Ross Jones made a visit to Tamworth in a effort to 'peel back the rumours' swirling around Barnaby.

The mainstream remained silent.

There were – and continue to be – several reasons why knowledge of Joyce’s activities is in the public interest.

1. Joyce, at the time he was engaged in betraying his wife and four daughters, took a very vocal public stance against marriage equality on the grounds that the institution of heterosexual marriage is sacred, and would be threatened by legalized same-sex unions.

He said of his four children: 

"We know that the best protection for those girls is that they get themselves into a secure relationship with a loving husband, and I want that to happen for them. I don't want any legislator to take that right away from me."

Joyce had no compunction about appropriating the private lives of LGBTQI Australians for political gain. He had no qualms about exploiting his marital and family status, even though he was in the process of destroying both, while secretly beginning a second family unit. The media remained silent.

2. On 2 December 2017, Joyce was due to face a by-election in New England. Voters had every right to know that their candidate was engaging in deceitful and hypocritical behavior, lying not only to his family but also to his electorate, on the matter of the family values on which he campaigned. The media remained silent.

3. Any sexual affair between an employer and employee creates an unsafe workplace. It also raises serious questions about power and equality. These concerns are intensified when the employer is the Deputy Prime Minister of the country and the staffer is carrying his child. The public has the right to know such a situation is occurring between politicians and staffers, both of whom we employ. Nevertheless, the media remained silent.

We may well ask: why did the Daily Telegraph baulk at invading Joyce’s privacy prior to the by-election, only to reveal afterwards that Joyce has embarked on a new life with his former staffer, they are “madly in love” and shortly will welcome their first child? This has suddenly become a matter of public interest, but it wasn’t in October?

On the ABC's The World Today radio program this afternoon, veteran journalists Quentin Dempster and Mark Day agreed that the Telegraph did the right thing, and publishing the story is in the public interest.

Why, we may well ask, wasn’t the story in the public interest prior to the New England by-election?

Journalists who repeatedly ask for our support against government efforts to silence them might care to consider acting more in the public’s interest than in the Government’s. There obviously is a convention in Australia that politicians’ private lives are sacrosanct, as Murphy argued, however, because something has always been done is no assurance whatsoever of its usefulness or its morality.

Unless, of course, you are a journalist who doesn’t want to cross a politician, or a politician who wants to hoodwink the electorate.

There have long been grumblings about the allegedly incestuous relationships between the Press Gallery and the political class. The Joyce scandal serves to bring these grumblings into the spotlight, where unfortunately, they appear all too credible.

You can follow Jennifer Wilson on her blog No Place for Sheep or on Twitter @NoPlaceForSheep.

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