Why people gave $50,000 for Ashbygate investigation

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The Ashbygate Trust started as a result of one man's frustration with a "corrupt", self interested mainstream media, the founder Brock Turner (AKA Geezelouise) explains what's at stake.
The LNP Ashbygate conspirators. (Image courtesy nofibs.com.au)

SO HOW DO YOU get complete strangers to commit more than $50,000 in two weeks, and what would prompt you to even ask?

What makes someone think that you can take on a country’s mainstream media and show that they are a bunch of hacks and delinquently corrupt?

How do you go about exposing the dirty underbelly of a national political machine?

Why would you even try?

I am not a conspiracy theorist. I believe that Neil Armstrong walked on the Moon. I believe that fluoride helps prevent tooth decay and is not a sinister mind control strategy. I believe that vaccinations are an eminently sensible public health initiative and are not the cause of autism. I believe that thousands of prominent scientists from all over the world are legitimately concerned by evidence proving the reality of anthropogenic global warming and are not secretly meeting to hatch a dastardly plan to take civilisation back to the medieval period.

So I am not one given to seeing a monster in every shadow. It took more than reading George Orwell’s 1984 to come to the realisation that the media in this country is corrupt.

The journey proper started about a year and a half ago, when I had intimate firsthand knowledge of an issue that became something of a media plaything. I got to see how truth and balance were not just sacrificed but deliberately ignored to give preference to a narrative and agenda that suited preconceived prejudice and vested interests. This stark demonstration of how deliberately wrong and how mendacious the media can be forced me to a realisation that has subsequently caused me to interpret everything I see, read and hear through a new prism of skepticism.

Not that I wasn’t already skeptical. TV journalism only rarely rises above advertorial, radio journalism is a cesspit of filth and paranoia and print journalism suffers, as everything inevitably does, from the corrupting influence of monopoly ownership.
We should all be well aware by now that this man actively controls the biased editorial line at all his news organizations. (Image courtesy cnn.com)

But I was always inclined to my father’s words that given a choice between incompetence and a conspiracy, incompetence will be the explanation 99% of the time. My direct and lived experience however showed me that, in at least one episode, incompetence was not the explanation. No matter how self evident the injustice there is precious little you can do about it when you try and tackle the might of the mainstream media on your own.

Having had this firsthand experience, and understanding that this particular issue was not an exceptional circumstance – that my family, the business and I were not so special as to receive an extraordinary treatment – I concluded that this kind of thing must be happening to others.

Hitherto I had been comfortable ignoring the majority of the mainstream media. Once you become familiar with the Internet and have access to the source of a news story, no longer having to rely on an agent for its transmission, you realise that everything you read in the paper or see on the TV is really just a stale homogenisation of an issue whose facts have been sacrificed on the altar of expediency. It is forced through the machinery of the delivery system to arrive on your doorstep conveniently pre-digested, allowing your mind to absorb it without any effort. This leaves the audience docile and receptive to the real point of the whole exercise, persuading you to purchase things you do not need with money you don’t have to impress people you don’t know.

If you really want to know what is happening the mainstream media is the channel of last resort. It is where people who are the last to know find out what is happening.

I am no activist; I have never carried a banner in my life. However, when you become aware of a situation that is so irretrievably broken and causing such corrosive damage to the society in which you live it takes a kind of a morally corrupt and selfishly mercenary personality, the type I unfortunately do not have, to sit idly by and watch it affecting everybody around you.

Like many others, the Peter Slipper/James Ashby issue brought me to my feet. After months of hyperbolic front page scandal and salacious gossip masquerading as national crisis I was literally astonished when the undeniable truth, as articulated by Federal Court Justice Steven Rare’s, that the whole episode had indeed been a conspiracy, sank like a stone with the previously slavering media.

I have no great compassion for Peter Slipper. I have never met the man or corresponded with him. I can however, through my own experience, empathise with what he has been through.
The coverage of the rise and fall of Peter Slipper, as well as Ashbygate is the starkest recent example of the media failing in their basic duty to the public. (Image courtesy heraldsun.com.au)

My overriding concern was the deliberately abject failure of the media to concern itself with the facts. There had been an attempted, albeit bloodless, coup on the parliament of our country. It patently involved senior members of one of this country’s main political parties – yet the media was not interested.

The Federal Court of Australia had exposed not just the passive corruption of inherent bias and professional incompetence, but the more sinister explicit corruption forcing the country’s media to act against every convention and historical pattern of behaviour formally taken as standard.

I would much rather spend my days in ignorant bliss sitting in the sunshine on my back verandah watching mother nature quietly ply her humble trade, but at some point in everyone’s life you come to that moment when you realise your choice is to become part of the problem or part of the solution. With a weary and cynical heart I found myself unable to continue sitting idly by.

As I said, I have no great compassion for Peter slipper, indeed if he is to receive any benefit from the activity of the Ashbygate Trust it is only as a consequence, not as an objective.

What is really at stake is the nation’s right to be able to rely on the most fundamental tenet of any democracy, that being the right to something that at least approximates a free and honest press. If the population of this democracy is being deliberately deceived then it can only be to our detriment.

The complication in addressing this problem is that the medium you would normally use to bring people’s attention to the problem is in fact the problem. Thank science for the Internet.

Certain of my own ordinariness I had to assume there were others out there who were equally concerned with what can only be described as an existential threat to our democracy.

There must be other people who were equally fed up with justice and equity being afterthoughts that get squeezed into the nooks and crannies left over after the serious business of building structure and fortification around the coordinating principles of greed and power is completed to the satisfaction of the maniacally insatiable.

There must be other people who believe that we simply cannot let those currently in charge continue to be responsible for the lifeblood of our democracy – Information.

From here it was a straightforward proposition. With naive arrogance and an anxious hope in the existence of community-minded citizens I believed this was an issue of such importance to our rights to a fair go society that all I need do was let people know I was taking a stand and support would come.
The Ashbygate Trust was established to undertake the job the mainstream media seem reluctant to do.

And it did. From everywhere. From across the country and around the world. From Paris, from London, from Hanoi, from Toorak to Tenterfield, from Peppermint Grove to Paddington. From $20 to $2000.

And always the accompanying message was the same. Corruption of the media had gone too far and we could only rely on ourselves to fix it.

So how do you fix it? Pleas to reason were impotent – no amount of pointing to the obvious was acknowledged by the mainstream media, let alone addressed.

In Australia we are lucky to have a vibrant, if nascent, 5th Estate. Independent Australia is arguably the most genuinely independent investigative outfit currently going around. David Donovan and sub-editors are a tenacious crew, but with limited resources you can only do so much. Independent Australia had a comprehensive background on the story and the intent to follow it but they lacked the capacity to really go after a story of this magnitude.

If the players behind the issue had managed to effectively muzzle the entire nation’s mainstream media, including its public broadcaster, then you are going to need some decent firepower to even make a start. Journalists, investigators, lawyers, support staff, expenses, it takes a lot to cover a story like this. How much? Let’s say $50,000, just to give ourselves a half decent chance.

Why would people, in this era of compassion fatigue, put their hands in their pockets to the tune of $50,000? What could be done differently to the mainstream media that would give people faith that the outcome would be any different?

What would give people hope that their hard earned and scarce resources would not be deployed in another sanctimonious exercise of arrogant journalism where the audience is presented with the story the journalist sees fit with no correspondence entered into, where questions and alternative views shall only be treated with condescension and derision?

You know, the old journalist knows everything, audience knows nothing paradigm.

For a start there was Independent Australia’s track record of covering stories that the old media tried to ignore and uncovering information the old media had missed. Independent Australia had led the field in giving balanced reporting on the Craig Thompson imbroglio and was virtually alone in carrying the candle on the Ashbygate scandal. It also had a proven commitment to sourcing news and information from outside the echo chamber of the “professional” journalist industry., a commitment to giving a platform to raw information from real people. So Independent Australia was a great place to start.

Secondly, we wanted to pursue a different model. Currently the mainstream media thinks that first you should give them your money and then they will decide what is important for you to know. Through establishing a trust in which contributors are part owners, we encourage the audience to be part of the story, to assist in directing what they are happy to pay to know. Through the use of polls we actively seek the input of those paying for the information. This is about citizen journalism from the ground up, not institutional journalism from the elites down.
Greg Barns
Respected Barrister Greg Barns recently called out the mainstream media's coverage of Ashbygate and Justice Rares's judgement. (Image courtesy screenshot from ABC's The Drum)

It’s an experiment we don’t know the outcome of yet but one thing is for sure, it can’t be any worse than what passes for journalism these days – and if we don’t try and get to the bottom of this disgraceful episode no one else will.

The consequences of a group of people being able to hatch a conspiracy to overturn a democratically and legally constituted government, and get away with it by virtue of the protection they receive from the monied elites portends a future that does not bear thinking about, let alone living in.

Did not some old guy once say something about liberty and vigilance?

This article was originally published on nofibs.com.au. For more information about the Ashygate Trust please click here.

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