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ACM Home arrow Media and monarchy arrow The Governor-General and the media

The Governor-General and the media Print E-mail
Written by Professor David Flint AM   
Sunday, 26 November 2006
ImageLike wild animals, once those rabid republicans had tasted the blood of the  former Governor-General , they became addicted to the vice regal hunt . They are now ready to try it again, and on the slightest pretext. Remember, the campaign against Dr Hollingworth, a noble man whom the media once anointed, abandoning him only when they saw him as a surrogate target for John Howard. The campaign against him ultimately depended on just one answer in just one ABC media interview. The fact that this was not the answer Dr Hollingworth actually gave to the question broadcast doesn’t of course interest our investigative journalists, nor was it reported on the ABC’s Media Watch, which is more interested in lapses in grammar in the Woop Woop Examiner than egregious ethical transgressions on the national broadcaster.  No wonder there is a view among politicians that it is always wise to insist on a live appearance which cannot be edited.

 

 

One otherwise unknown MP has kept the campaign against the office of the Governor-General alive by a series of pointless questions about the Governor –General and the Sovereign. More recently he has tried, unsuccessfully, to disguise these by surrounding them with questions about the cost of the visit of every foreign head of state. This harassment is complemented by the most inane and tedious questioning in Senate Estimates, all part of a transparent and rather infantile taxpayer funded republican campaign to denigrate the office of Governor General. These politicians are indifferent to the fact that they are seen to be attempting to imposing collateral damage on the Governor- General, Major General Jeffery, who served his country in the SAS and holds the Military Cross, and his gracious wife. Perhaps they intend this.

 

 

Now elements in the media have decided to join in. The journalists’ ethical codes do allow the use of anonymous sources when speaking out would be dangerous in cases of great moment, but certainly not for mere gossip, which is what  this campaign is about. In reputable American journals, sources are only used for truly important stories, not gossip,  and when the journal is satisfied the facts cannot be obtained in some other more legitimate way. Even then the sources names are shared with the editor, so at least a second opinion can be made about their value. None of these high standards are being observed in this vindictive campaign. As the online column Crikey observed on 27 November, 2006, the “innuendo campaign” against the Governor-General is “hotting up.” Crikey reports that a “string of largely negative stories”   about the Governor-General have appeared recently “for no apparent reason.”

 

 

Crikey gives four examples.  The first was by Glenn Milne, whose major activity this year seems to have been as the messenger for Mr. Peter Costello in his failed campaign to make John Howard resign. He reported in the Sunday Telegraph, 19 November, 2006 that the Governor-General and his wife had become the victims of “a vicious whispering campaign”. Having declared that, Milne goes into the excruciating detail of that same vicious whispering campaign. He says it is driven by claims that Government House has become “pompous and self-important.” Of course all the sources were unnamed, although those mentioned had no apparent reason to seek anonymity, save of course, their miserable cowardice.

 

Then there was a survey which claimed that only one in seven Australians can correctly name the Governor-General, Major General Michael Jeffery: The Weekend Australian, 25-26 November 2006. It seems some of our journalists like to contrast subsequent Governors- General with Sir Williams Deane. They don’t mention that the media deliberately promoted and almost canonised Sir William,  not because they cared about him, but because they so transparently saw him as a foil to the Prime Minster who was overwhelmingly detested by the journalistic corps.

 

 Then we were told by Glenn Milne ( again)  that the Governor-General  has been “dragged” into another controversy, with claims he is “pushing for an old military mate” to become the next governor of South Australia: Sunday Telegraph, 26 November, 2006. Of course not one of the “sources”, including the inevitable “sources close to” the government, is named , all being too cowardly to expose themselves to legitimate questioning. The value of such a “report” is obvious.   Frankly, you might as well read graffiti on a lavatory wall.

 

Finally the Sunday Age  of 26 November, 2006 curiously dedicated a whole editorial to the subject of the Governor-General’s anonymity, but soon showed its hand. The solution was….. to get rid of the Crown. Republicans can be so obvious.

 

Major-General Jeffery was reported in The Weekend Australian of 25-26 November , 2006 as saying :"I think it's a media problem, not me or my personality. I've thought about it a lot, believe you me. I don't want to be up there competing with the Prime Minister. The intention is not for self-aggrandisement, the intention is to show the Australian people that their G-G is out there doing a job of worth."

 

The Governor-General is of course absolutely right, and no one in the media would seriously doubt this. The fact is that unless the media see him as a rival to the Prime minister, and can cast him as that, or unless he says something controversial, they are just not interested.

 

In the meantime, these miserable , petty , and cowardly attacks on the Governor-General and his wife reflect more on those who are making them, and “reporting” them.

 

Jason Koutsoukis of The Age telephoned me recently about the related issue of the Prime Minister allegedly taking over much of the functions of the Governor-General. This was for a piece, “Ladies and gentlemen, President Howard” published in The Sunday Age on 26 November, 2006. Now the demarcation of ceremonial functions between the Governor-General and the Prime Minister is a legitimate matter of public interest. I find that many constitutional monarchists are concerned about this.

 

Mr.Koutsoukis told me that my colleague, Professor George Winterton had said that the only way such a thing could change would be if Australia were to become a republic. I was not surprised, but did laugh. I read later that Professor Winterton  was referring to a directly elected president and head of state...someone  “with an actual mandate to put some pressure on the prime minister and force himself or herself to play that role properly…But because the Governor-General has no mandate and serves essentially at the pleasure of the Prime Minister, he has no power to force his hand."

 

 

My reply was that if there is a problem of demarcation, a grey area, it certainly won’t be solved in a republic. “You simply cannot write a constitution that says who can and who can't present the rugby cup, or can go to a funeral or who can farewell the troops."

 

 There were certain things which should be only done by the Governor-General, conferring honours, and receiving visiting Heads of State. I said Mr. Keating should not have taken the Governor-General’s place in receiving The Pope. I don’t remember a storm over this. I also don’t remember a storm when he insisted the State Opening of Parliament not take place in the Senate. Nor was there a storm when Malcolm Fraser appropriated the Governor-General’s place at the opening of the High Court building, a matter which is discussed by Sir David Smith in his book, Head of State.  Whatever ceremonies John Howard has presided over, he has not gone to the length of some of his predecessors.  

 

"While it is true that Prime Minister Howard has been seen at some of those more high-profile events, he hasn't politicised them because he has always invited the Leader of the Opposition to accompany him."  I contrasted this with Mr Keating’s refusal to find room for the then Leader of the Opposition, John Howard, on his plane to attend the Israeli Prime Minister’s funeral.

 

 

"And let's face it this sort of thing about who appears where and when will always be a grey area where you have a separate head of state and a separate head of government. It's a grey area and it has (always) been so and while I respect Professor Winterton immensely, I don't think you solve this problem by becoming a republic."

 

 

As for that prospect, Mr. Koutsoukis quoted me as saying that a republic is now the remotest of possibilities. "Support for a republic is going down, not up. The republicans are in disarray. And barring any calamity, I think we shall always remain a constitutional monarchy."

 

 

 
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