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ACM Home arrow Media and monarchy

Media and monarchy

Media and Monarchy


 
Comment is free, but facts are sacred


The  media play a crucial role in a modern democracy in informing the people. To do this they must be free. The media agree that there is an ethical requirement that  fact and comment should be distinguishable, and that the news should be as truthful as is reasonably possible.

As the editor of the Manchester Guardian famously declared in 1921, " Comment is free, but facts are sacred"

But while the private media are entitled to editorialise, this is not a luxury which the taxpayer funded public media, the ABC and SBS, can properly have.

In the 1999 referendum, the media were mainly and strongly in favour of change.  What became clear was that this seriously affected the presentation of the news.

As the international authority, and in his earlier career a highly respected editor, Lord  Deedes, wrote in the London Daily Telegraph :

"I have rarely attended elections in any country, certainly not a democratic one, in which the newspapers have displayed more shameless bias. One and all, they determined that Australians should have a republic and they used every device towards that end."

Dr Nancy Stone undertook a survey for The Samuel Griffith Society of two outlets at the time, The Age and The Australian.  Her research confirms Lord Deedes’ conclusion.



The media's role



"Our great misfortune, as we continue to consider the possibility of constitutional change,” observes Sir David Smith, an authority on the role and function of the Governor-General,” is that most Australians do not know enough about our present Constitution to be able to understand any proposals for change." 

To make matters worse, there are those who ought to know better yet would ignore or misrepresent its current provisions in order to advance their case for change.

“The media, who might have been expected to take a role in informing the electorate during the 1999 constitutional referendum campaign, behaved disgracefully, and no doubt would do so again in future. “Instead of reporting, the media were active partisans and conducted their own campaign for the republic.“

For example, when former Governor-General Sir Zelman Cowen and former Chief Justice Sir Anthony Mason signed an open letter for the republic, it was published on page 1 of The Australian.

“The open letter in reply, signed by, amongst others, former Governor-General Bill Hayden and former Chief Justice Sir Harry Gibbs, was published on page 10 of The Australian.

“Support for the present constitutional arrangements was equated with disloyalty to Australia, and there were some particularly nasty and offensive examples, such as The Daily Telegraph’s “Queen or Country” masthead; and The Australian’s “scales of justice” motif featuring a crown versus a slouch hat.

“Writing just after the referendum, Tony Abbott, himself a former journalist at The Australian, noted that ‘the reputation of the media can hardly be enhanced by so consistently misreading the public mood, so unrelentingly barracking for the losing side – and by subsequently insisting that voters got it wrong. ... But if the media’s job is to reflect (as well as to lead) a pluralist society, journalists as a class should be embarrassed at the way they have allowed ideological enthusiasm to get the better of professional detachment.’ "

Even the editor of The West Australian, himself a direct electionist republican, had this to say about The Australian’s coverage of the referendum debate:

“’I think it’s one of the lowest ebbs in Australian journalism because The Australian’s become totally partisan. It’s boosterism at its worst and it’s propaganda that goes beyond the rights of a newspaper to have a point of view. It was semi-hysterical most days and as it became apparent that the yes case was in trouble, it got more hysterical.”

“Even one year after the referendum, the ABC could not restrain itself. In a television news item about separate functions held in Sydney by Australians for Constitutional Monarchy and the Australian Republican Movement in November 2000 to mark the first anniversary of the referendum, the voice-over commentary by the ABC news reader told viewers that the republic would continue to be an issue 'because most Australians still wanted independence.'

Sir David adds "What was that about ABC bias?” 



The media in any future campaign
 

So how will the media behave in any future plebiscite or referendum? Will they behave ethically?

Sir David Smith doubts that they will lift their performance. If they do not, they will serioulsy risk the one valuable possession they have - their credibility.

There is a concern among journalists as to the future of quality journalism, and that is justified. The closing of The Bulletin and the running down of current affairs progammes on the Nine network  reminded journlists that these had existed only because of the indulgence of the late Kerry Packer.

The Australian only exists because its creator, Rupert Murdoch was - and perhaps still is - willing to subsidise it. The last thing journalist and editors should do is to jeopardise the standing of their outlets by indulging in shame faced bias in something as important as a proposal to change the bases of our constitutional system.

And journalists and editors must understand that the power of the mainline media has been diluted.Well before the mainline media were already losing their monopoly with the advent of talk back radio, which they had seriously underrated.

Since the 1999 campaign, the internet provides a way in which a voice minimised and suppressed by the mainline media can go behind the media filters and reach a large and increasing audience. 

Another factor will be the model presented in any future referendum.

If it involves a general election of the president, the united front among the mainstream media will fracture.  Most are opposed to this model. T

In 1999, a united mainstram  media were unable to ensure a victory for the politicians' republic in 1999.

But there can be no doubt that their long campaign for change had some effect, increasing to some extent  the "yes" vote.

Should they behave as badly as they did in 1999, they will only reinforce the lack of confidence people already show about the media in survey after survey.
 

Monarchy and the media Print E-mail
Written by Professor David Flint AM   
Monday, 14 January 2008

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Sir Donald Bradman
 

...a knighthood: how else could they be honoured?

There has been some interest these last few weeks in media circles in issues about the constitution and the flag. The Sunday Times asked for an opinion piece on The Queen having become our oldest monarch, and the Herald Sun published a comment on reforms to the Order of Australia. (This followed a piece which misrepresented this proposal.)

Then there was a piece in the Daily Telegraph on 4 January, 2007 by constitutional monarchist, Carolyn Cash on the fiftieth anniversary of Sir Edmund Hillary’s second great conquest, the South Pole. His was the first overland expedition since that of Captain Scott in 1912.  Sir Edmund passed away on 10 January, 2008.

The papers also reported that in the centenary of the birth of the great Sir Donald Bradman, General Cosgrove would be delivering the Bradman Oration before the start of the Test against India in Perth.

Both of these great men, Sir Edmund and Sir Donald, had been  honoured by The Queen with knighthoods in orders of chivalry.

Is there any other honour which could be more appropriate?

 

...former politicians as G-G’s...

I was asked recently by one reporter about a recent story in the Financial Review that the PM would recommend the Hon Kim Beazley as Governor General after Major General Jeffery’s term ends in August.

I pointed out that former politicians have performed very well - Sir William McKell, Lord Casey, Sir Paul Hasluck, the Hon Bill Hayden. The opposition leaders of the day, Mr RG Menzies, as he then was, and Mr John Howard criticised the decision to appoint the former Labor politicians, but both properly ceased all criticism  immediately the appointment was made.

They changed their minds about the appointment  when they saw how the former Labor politicians  exercised their high office. For all of the former politicians accepted that their loyalty was to the Sovereign, not to the party which appointed them, and that they had to be above politics in the exercise of their office.

I told the journalist I saw no reason why Mr Beazley, who is an honourable man, would not also do this.

I would expect him to put aside and certainly not talk about his interest in republicanism, as this is political.  Other sources are the armed services and the judiciary, with several recent departures and those about to retire providing a rich source.

 

...the Flag, awards to the former PM, reforming the Order of Australia, Royalty rates on TV, Auld Lang Syne...

Read more...
 
Obsessed with republicanism, most of the media still missed the story Print E-mail
Written by Professor David Flint AM   
Saturday, 08 December 2007

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Rejoicing in the change of oath at the swearing in at Government House on 3 December, 2007, Alan Ramsey says ( The Sydney Morning Herald,8-9 December,2007) that when Monday night’s news broadcasts went to air, and in the following morning's “breathless newspaper accounts,” they all   missed  the  real story –the reversion to the Keating oath which pointlessly removes, without any effect whatsoever, any reference to the Sovereign.

“Well, almost all,” he writes. “The lone newspaper to twig was the national capital's only daily, The Canberra Times, whose reporter Megan Doherty scooped her colleagues blind with her front-page exclusive "Queen goes missing from family affair".

Actually the story first broke on this website  and was relayed to subscribers well before the Canberra Times hit the streets. It was accompanied with an explanation of how the Governor-General must have been advised to change this by the Prime Minister who had moments before been sworn in as an executive councillor.  Ramsey is right on one point.  It is extraordinary that the vast number of journalists involved missed the story, particularly given the media's unhealthy obsession with republicanism.

Ramsey gratuitously refers to The  Queen’s age, but he is no spring chicken. It’s obviously hard work for this curmudgeon to produce one column a week. He typically soaks up much of the extraordinarily vast space allocated to him in Saturday’s Herald with slabs and slabs of quotations.  True to form, he included on this occasion a predictably flawed editorial reviving many of the same  tired old republican arguments exhaustively, endlessly and robotically recited in the nineties.

This gem was a plaintive plea in the Canberra Times "Let's revive the republic debate," by  editor-in-chief Jack Waterford. To signal his imprimatur, Ramsey embellished Waterford’s position with the words “award winning,” referring no doubt to the series of awards journalists regularly give one another. We know about them because journalists report them as if they were more newsworthy than say, awards about life saving achievements in the sciences. If there is something journalists are passionately interested in, it’s themselves.

Anyway, this was the extract: "Republican sentiment remains strong in Australia, despite the efforts of monarchists to argue the case is now closed. The departure of Howard and the return to power of Labor is an opportunity to bring the issue back onto the public agenda …

"It is a sign of our growing maturity as a nation that we should want to discuss such issues. Indeed, many of our neighbours wonder why we keep putting it off. That debate will not be about rejecting a Queen for whom many Australians have high regard but about the appropriateness of a foreign-born hereditary monarch continuing to be our head of state. For Australia to at last carve out a fully independent and mature role for itself on the world stage, that debate needs to happen sooner rather than later."

So being born in another country should be a barrier to holding office in Australia, should it? That would have excluded many great Australians from holding office.  I wonder what immigrant Australians would think if they were told that’s the republican position.

As in 1999, the editorial would have us believe that the streets of Jakarta, Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur are filled with their citizens demanding to know why Australia hasn’t become a republic. And apparently our constitution is a barrier to our full independence. Tell that to the Canadians and the New Zealanders.

The people’s 1999 decision on the model and question freely chosen by republicans, and supported by a political, media and celebrity juggernaut, could not have been clearer.

    

 

 
Republicans in the media Print E-mail
Written by Professor David Flint AM   
Sunday, 14 October 2007

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Just as the favourite in the World Rugby Cup semi final was defeated by England, 14:9, the Sun Herald was being delivered to homes across Australia.  Peter FitzSimons, who devised the Mate for Head of State campaign, had this message: “ barrack for the French on the principal grounds that they aren’t English.”  In the  Sydney Morning Herald  on the day before, 13 October, 2007, he had quoted Sir Ian Botham who had just been  knighted by The Queen: "The monarchy stands for everything that makes me proud to be English. I'm a massive royalist. I listen to all these republicans … If it was down to me I'd hang 'em! I honestly would. It's a traitor's game for me."  FitzSimons’ comment was “How surprisingly "Little Englander" of him.”FitzSimons has not had a good time at the Rugby. He announced in the Herald on 6 October, just before the French and English wins - that the lesson was that the Southern hemisphere was now the  elephant in world rugby and the north an “emaciated chicken.” He also told Jonny Wilkinson to”lose with dignity.”    Alan Jones, who has the track record of being a successful rugby coach, offers a more realistic analysis. The lesson is that whether in rugby, or indeed elections, the favourite doesn’t necessarily win. 

Fitzsimons and the acerbic Mike Carlton constitute  one of the last bulwarks in the media of that dated phenomenon,  aggressive, passionate republicanism.  FitzSimons was called in to buttress  Carlton in Sydney radio 2UE’s breakfast programme, which when it was compered by Alan Jones led  the ratings. An expensive advertising campaign followed, but the shots of the two jaded republican enfants terribles at play failed spectacularly to attract a new audience. Now both Carlton’s and FitzSimons’ exceedingly generous contracts are up for renewal. According to Sue Javes  in the Sydney Morning Herald on 8 October 2007, 2UE program director Graham Mott has made it clear he'd like Carlton and Price to take “serious cuts in their million-dollar-plus deals” because of their low ratings. The owners of 2UE have sold the network to Fairfax who own the Sydney Morning Herald , where Carlton has a weekly column. According to Sue Javes, Carlton said he likes doing the show “but I don't want to do it if there is going to be massive cost cuttings and the whole thing is going to be run on the smell of an oily rag." He was reported as being tempted  to retire because he has two television projects in the pipeline next year, as well as plans to write a book. Mrs Carlton, as Morag Ramsey, works at the ABC. Without mentioning her relationship with Alan Jones’ direct commercial competitor, she produced a Four Corners programme highly critical of him, resulting in a book which the ABC was to publish, but finally did not.

 
 
The media: not just reporting, but active players in the nation's politics Print E-mail
Written by Professor David Flint AM   
Tuesday, 21 August 2007

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Tributes are flowing in to London, from all sides of politics and outside politics, for Lord Deedes, who has died aged 94. He was a Cabinet minister from 1962 to 1964, and editor of The Daily Telegraph from 1974 to 1986. ( The accompanying picture was taken before he left for Normandy in 1944.)
His assessment of the behaviour of the Australian press in the referendum campaign in 1999 could not have been more embarrassing to the Australian journalist corps.  He wrote in the London Daily Telegraph on 8 November, 1999:  “I have rarely attended elections in any country, certainly not a democratic one, in which the newspapers have displayed more shameless bias. One and all, they determined that Australians should have a republic and they used every device towards that end.” ( An obituary was published in The Daily Telegraph on 17 August, 2007.)

In the meantime the role of the media in political life encouraged Sir David Smith to send the following  revealing letter to The Australian. The letter has not yet been published.

“Media reports of an alleged lunch-time conversation between Peter Costello and journalists two and a half years ago set me wondering why the alleged conversation, if it took place, had been regarded by the journalists as off the record for two and a half years, but had suddenly, now, become on the record.  Readers will have their own answers to that question.

Read more...
 
Media diversity Print E-mail
Written by Professor David Flint AM   
Saturday, 28 July 2007

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Alan Jones “is considering becoming a commentator for [Channel] 7 Seven, appearing across Sunrise, news and any other show” reported Amanda Meade in The Australian’s media column, THE DIARY, on 26 July, 2007.
As we mentioned in this column on 6 June 2007, and again on 21 June 2007, during the 1999 republic referendum, Alan Jones was one of the few media commentators who recommended a No vote. He sometimes told callers: “If you don’t know, vote No.” The recent decision of the new owners of Channel 9 to drop the high rating broadcaster’s daily editorial was a serious error.

 That highly regarded scribe, Errol Simper wrote in The Australian that Nine’s breakfast programme was thus shorn of “its main intellectual component.” No doubt sensing this categorisation of Alan Jones editorial as “intellectual’ would give rise to an outbreak of apoplexy in the salons of the inner city elites, Mr. Simper wrote” Well, you may not always agree with Jones, but even his most ferocious critics would have to concede he has a formidable brain in his forehead.”


But worse for the owners, ratings are likely to be affected, especially if he appears on another channel.A very large number of viewers from all over the country used to tune in just to hear him.In our earlier columns we said the decision might please the elites. But talk about shooting yourself in the foot -  Alan Jones was the reason so many stayed with or switched over to Channel 9.We suggested that another network will see an opportunity there and the new owners of Channel 9 will then wonder what is going on. It seems this may well happen.

 

 
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