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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.
 

The governor-General and the media...continued Print E-mail
Written by Professor David Flint AM   
Monday, 04 September 2006
 Ideology in the media takes second place to the natural dislike one newspaper will usually display for one from a rival stable, it seems. How else can we explain the defence of the Governor- General by the nation’s ultra republican newspaper, The Age? As we mentioned in this column of 27 August, 2006, a clutch of Rupert Murdoch’s News Limited papers recently published a “national survey” alleging the Governor-General was unknown and virtually invisible.

They also claimed that a prime ministerial advisor, Mr. Tony O’Leary, had told the Governor-General's staff in May 2005 “ to keep the GG out of the public eye.”  The report said the PM’s office was angry because  the GG had appeared on Ten's Meet the Press. Since then, they claimed, the PM had since assumed many of what are normally  vice-regal duties. But  Mr. O’Leary says this is "complete nonsense", according to a report by Lawrence Money and Suzanne Carbone  in The Age on 30 August, 2006.(We almost missed this but for the eagle eyes of a Canadian reader, whom we thank) 

The Age suggests  News Limited  should have checked with the other major media group, which is putting out a five-page colour spread. Under the headline "The halls of power",  the September Women's Weekly  tells of the "steadiness and certainty" that Michael and Marlena Jeffery have brought to Yarralumla.

As to being invisible, the Weekly notes "their punishing schedule” which keeps them busy 6 ½ days a week, with an average of 200 functions a year. "Their diary is booked five months in advance". The Age says that while Mr.O'Leary was "promised a denial" by the journalists concerned, he is  still waiting.

 

 

 
The Governor-General and the media Print E-mail
Written by Professor David Flint AM   
Saturday, 26 August 2006

Governor-General

 

When it comes to surveys, it all depends on the question, who asks it and how it is asked.  The Daily Telegraph recently bailed up one hundred people in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Adelaide. They were shown a photo of the Governor-General and asked if they knew who was. Ian Mc Phedran in the The Daily Telegraph on 24 August 2006 then declared this a ‘national survey’ and concluded that Major-General Jeffery was virtually unknown to almost four out of five Australians. The expert in such matters would point out that this conclusion is untenable, both because the sample was inadequate, and whether not recognizing a photograph means that the subject is unknown. If this were so, many radio personalities, writers, journalists and editors would be unknown-which is untrue.  

 

Prominent people are recognized today because they are seen on television. This can cause some confusion. Not long after the 2004 referendum in a new Indian restaurant the owner and head waiter said they knew me, and insisted that they indicate who I was. My name was on the tip of their tongues. The head waiter was extremely embarrassed by the laughter from my table when he said that my name was…. Malcolm Turnbull. ( The restaurant is in Mr. Turnbull’s electorate.)

 

Being newsworthy requires excellence in popular sports or entertainment, political leadership or, more often than not, notoriety. The commentariat decided that as Governor-General, Sir William Dean was  campaigning against the Howard government on certain issues, and decided to canonize him. Unable to bring down the prime minister, they decided that undermining  Dr Hollingworth would weaken the Prime Minister, so they manufactured attacks on him.  So both became well known.  The fact is that the media takes the view that good news is not news.  If the media don’t report, or minimally report,  the work of the Governor-General then they can hardly say he is unknown. There is a spectacular and unusual photograph from his major outback visit this year. it tells an important story (It is on our site. )Why hasn’t it been widely seen in our media?

 

 

 

There was one additional aspect of the report which is worth noting, which appeared in the Melbourne Herald Sun on 24 August, 2006 :” Despite Maj-Gen Jeffery's lack of profile, monarchist sentiment appears to be strong with 56 per cent of those surveyed in Melbourne supporting the office and 51 per cent of Sydney residents saying that Australia needed a governor-general”

 

 

 
The Princes and the media Print E-mail
Written by Professor David Flint AM   
Saturday, 26 August 2006
The PrincesSo two young men went out to dance and be with friends. What is newsworthy about that, even if they are princes? So why were the media in such frenzy? And did you notice the carefully chosen photographs to fit the allegedly “worse for wear” story? What a beat-up. At least this time, they did not pretend three year old photographs had been taken last night.

On one evening two or so years ago, photographers and journalists blocked my car from leaving a car park. I was concerned that while they were photographing me, the timed boom gate would crash down on their heads. As a result they got the “worried chairman “photograph to complement their story. I wasn’t worried about that particular storm in a teacup, just about their skulls. During the Constitutional Convention the journalists waited until the PM was sitting alone on the front bench in Old Parliament House. This was used to illustrate the story that he was completely isolated on the issue of Australia becoming a republic. This is nether neither honest nor objective. No wonder so many people have stopped reading newspapers.

 
Republican media score own goal Print E-mail
Written by Professor David Flint AM   
Sunday, 13 August 2006

The PrincesIt seems it did not take long for the tabloids to take revenge for the arrest of a News of The World editor and journalists, suggests the editor of a British website, The Royalist . The editor and the journalists were charged with the criminal offence of hacking private message banks of the Royal Family, politicians and celebrities. Apparently the hacking was suspected and reported by Clarence House staff. The website editor was referring to three year old photographs of Prince Harry and Prince William published as if they were recent by the London tabloid, The Sun , which, like the News of the World is part of the Murdoch owned News group.

Although the story was almost immediately picked up around the world, few reports mentioned the fact that the photographs were old. Certainly not The Sun, which put one photo on page one with a story and without any explanation whatsoever that it was old, in news terms, very old. This embarrassing fact was conceded later by The Sun reporter, Lindsay Hayward. When she was asked to explain the delay, she gave the lame excuse that the newspaper was running "a feature." The Sun initially refused to apologise, saying the photos were”authentic” but not explaining its gross deceit in trying to pass them off as recent.

 

Media outlets which should have known better fell into the trap. When it comes to the Royal Family, the rules don’t apply. For example, there is no need to check facts. The journalist and the editor abandon their usual scepticism. But a cadet journalist would have smelt a rat - the stench had settled all over Fleet Street. Members of the public saw that they were old-and said so on websites.

 

An Australian example of media gullibility was The Age. This newspaper is still published under a version of the Royal Coat of Arms, but in recent times has become obsessively republican. “ Dirty Harry caught on film”, its tabloid style headline screamed .The story was in the same style. “Party boy Prince Harry has hit the headlines again, this time for being sprung engaging in a drunken grope with a girl at a London nightclub.The pictures may leave Harry with some explaining to do, as his girlfriend Chelsy Davy was abroad at the time.”The explaining will have to be provided by The Age, and other dummies in the silly republican media who fell into The Sun’s carefully designed  trap. The Ottawa Citizen of 14 August 2006 reported that the editor of The Royalist did not fall for The Sun’s trap. She  believes the timing might be related to the arrests of the News of The World journalists. Now the tabloids would surely not do that sort of thing, would they? Of course they would . Was this an act of revenge, or a warning of the power of the press, or both?

 

As such does it constitute contempt of a criminal prosecution?  Have the media, including the dummies who fell for the trap, scored yet another own goal?  

 
Republican media: “ridiculous and ineffectual.” Print E-mail
Written by Professor David Flint AM   
Tuesday, 01 August 2006

AEC Badge, 1999 referendumPP McGuinness, one of the nation’s most distinguished journalists, was a republican before being one was a fashion imperative in the inner city salons of Sydney and Melbourne. Even as a schoolboy, he would cause outrage by not standing for the playing of God Save The Queen in cinemas. Later as a journalist, he astounded readers by the quality and quantity of the well researched commentaries he delivered, sometimes on a daily basis. Contrast that with those who receive an income many who work forty, fifty   or more hours per week can only dream of, to produce one or two columns each week, consisting mainly of gossip and tedious repetition. One weekly column in The Sydney Morning Herald is a half page made up of little more than bile and slabs of quotations.  Once banned from The Age because of the threat of action by fellow journalists, Mr. McGuinness is now the editor of Quadrant, one of the nation’s most influential journals.

He has written a piece for The Australian of 1`August, 2006. It is on how out of touch the press gallery has been over the decision of the Prime Minister to stay on and lead the Coalition to the next election.

He questions the gallery’s “alleged expertise” in the nation’s politics. He criticises their obsession with such trivia as leadership challenges. He ridicules the way they seek to entrap the Prime Minister into making ambiguous statements about his own plans, about marginal and soon-to-be reversed opinion poll changes, and, no doubt soon to come, the incessant speculation about the date of the next election. What they fail to do is seriously discuss policy formulation, let alone deal with “real policy issues.”Mr. McGuinness says that merely because the commentariat thinks something is an issue, some policy they do not like it is “neither here nor there.”  He declares that the media have no influence on the electorate, “no matter how hard they beat up stories or express their own prejudices or hopes”.In two sentences, he delivers the coup de grâce which should finally deflate the ultra republican commentariat : “One would have thought that the press gallery would have learned this lesson long ago, especially since the republic referendum in 1999 when the combined campaigning of all the media had not the slightest success in producing the outcome they wished for. All that happened is the media made themselves look collectively ridiculous and ineffectual.” So next time a gaggle of media personalities decides on something as foolish as this year’s “mate for head of state” campaign, they should remember this assessment from an expert: “ridiculous and ineffectual.” Oh and by the way, Paddy McGuinness remains a republican. And not, it should be said, because of some passing foolish fashion.

 

 

 

 
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