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SydWalker.Info is a personal website. I live in tropical Australia near Cairns. I oppose war, plutocracy, injustice, sectarian supremacism and apartheid. I support urgent action to achieve genuine sustainability and a fair and prosperous society for all. I rely upon - and support - free speech as defined in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (see below).

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December 2010
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Comments on The Drum: Cablegate, TwitDef & OzRot
December 1st, 2010 by Syd Walker

Australia’s mass media – rotten to the core?

The New York Times on 'Cablegate'

The New York Times spins Cablegate like a top: would you believe it - the whole world is distressed about Iran!

Yesterday The Drum published WikiLeaks: catalyst for transparency or lockdown?

Written by Craig McMurtrie, a journalist based at the Washington bureau of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, it gave an account of the latest Wikileaks story for Australian readers. This is a story about the third major release of ‘secret’ documents by Wikileaks – the most publicized so far, which has attracted the unimaginative title ‘Cablegate’.

The Drum is the ABC’s contribution to the blogosphere. Comments from the general public are encouraged. Mostly, in my experience, comments do get published. But not always…

Below is my (unpublished) comment to McMurtrie’s summary of the latest Wikileaks data-dump.

I kept it brief:

It’s amazing how Wikileaks’ revelations are always chock-full of embarrassments for Israel.

Oh wait – they’re not!

It’s amazing how one country seems rather pleased with the latest ‘Cablegate’ revelations…

It’s all quite amazing really. Too amazing by half, IMO.

130 comments were published in total beneath McMurtrie’s article, but for reasons best known to themselves, the ABC staff decided the opinion I expressed should not be shared with the public. Perhaps they’re right?

I could have made a different comment. I suspect my focus on the Israeli / Zionist angle was the deletable offense. I’ll never know if a comment would have been published had I focused instead on rebutting MacMurtrie’s laughable assertion that (my emphasis)”

“(Assange’s) main target so far has been the pluralist though, of course, flawed US democracy. Is he so naive to hold Washington to a transparency standard unmatched anywhere else? Does that really make our world safer?”

Hello Craig?

Mate, the USA is a country that can’t even investigate the murder of its own President in cold blood with anything remotely resembling honesty. It can’t even deliver anything resembling transparency when nearly 3,000 of its own citizens are slaughtered in plain view on a sunny morning. It has the largest network of spooks in world history. It spends as much on its military as the rest of the world put together and can’t even account for trillions of missing ‘defense’ expenditure. There are so many overseas US bases an accurate count seems to be difficult… I could continue, Craig, but really… are you SURE unmatched transparency is the term you want to use?!!

Does Mr MacMurtrie really believe piffle like this? Or does he have an agenda – an agenda matched, I suspect, by a disturbing preponderence of mainstream ‘journalists’ throughout the Anglospere?

Leaving that as an open question, I’ll turn to another debate in the Australian media that’s currently running hot.

Yesterday The Drum also published an interesting article yesterday on the #twitdef furore – a topic which I wrote about a few days ago: Murdoch editor threatens to sue tweeter for defamation.

The Drum’s article – 140 characters of legal nightmare – was contributed by Media Watch presenter Jonathan Holmes who has been the presenter of the ABC’s Media Watch since 2008. Although on holiday, he was good enough to share his thoughts with us.

Holmes’ article was generally well-received, as indicated by the published comments beneath and twitter commentary using the #twitdef hashtag. Personally, I found his analysis betrayed a rather patronising attitude to the public – and delivered a somewhat oppressive take-home message. Here’s how he began:

It’s been one of those issues the Twitterati love – because it’s all about them and their beloved medium.

But the story the Twitterverse has dubbed #twitdef and #posettigate raises a host of fascinating issues – ethical, legal and practical – as the most combative of Australia’s old media outlets takes on one of the most fervent advocates of the new.

Patronizing? Just a tad, I think. But his scary take-home message is more significant. Holmes wrote: “live tweeting is such a dangerous journalistic endeavour…“That phrase was retweeted often. Admittedly, the repetition of his views wasn’t Holmes’ responsibility. But I do think his remark gave unmerited encouragement to The Australian’s editor Chris Mitchell following his surreal dummy-spit.

Of course Mr Holmes is right, in a sense. A clever barrister can construe the current defamation laws in Australia to make a case for damn near anything being defamatory. But in this instance, in my opinion at least, editor Chris Mitchell chose a most unwise target on a most unwise occasion and a court case – if he does choose to proceed with defamation action – is very likely be most embassassing for him and his newspaper. If he sues – in the opinion of many – Mitchell would make himself and The Australian a laughing stock, worldwide  – even in the unlikely event that he wins in court. If Mitchell can’t see that, surely he answers to people who can?

Consequently I’m more in sympathy with other #twitdef commentators who tended to dwell on the silliness exhibited by Mitchell and some of his staff, who wrote a succession of supporting articles but don’t seem able to maintain a consistent line. For instance, The Australian’s media writer Sally Jackson reported the view that planned defamation action by The Australian’s editor-in-chief, Chris Mitchell over posts on Twitter is unremarkable; on the other hand, The Australian’s media diarist Caroline Overington reported it’s the “Australia’s first high-profile Twitter defamation case“. Confused? They seem to be :-)

Personally, I think the correct response to a tantrum by a powerful boss who has grossly over-reached is something less legalistic and less likely to play on his turf. Ridicule is a good start. Much #twitdef tweeting has been along those lines. Some comments make me uncomfortable. They’re not all brilliant. But I’d be a lot more uncomfortable if most people felt too scared to chip in at all.

After reading Holmes’ article, I was moved to tweet:

Reasonable free speech is not the gift of barristers, barons or bullies. It’s an inherent right for the populace to seize & use #twitdef

A little strident, perhaps. But I do believe it. Needless to say, an oddball almost immediately chimed in on the #twitdef hashtag with imputations about the sexual orientation of various contributors. I guess it helped emphasise why I expended ten precious characters on the word ‘reasonable‘.

Then I posted a comment to Holmes’ article on The Drum. I wondered if this would make it past the moderators, who as we’ve seen can be cautious souls. As it turned out, no problems. Here’s my comment, as reproduced on The Drum:

Tweeting need not be a “dangerous journalistic endeavour” and the flow of information will be much the poorer if this kind of nonsensical case – threatened by a man with an almost unique ability to ensure records are corrected and his viewpoint is not overlooked – is not laughed out of court (ideally long before it gets there).

If Mr Mitchell felt he was misrepresnted, his first recourse should have been to approach the key players to (a) a request a transcript/recording/clarification and (b) seek an explanation or apology if he thought it merited. That’s what fair-minded people do in such circumstances.

To threaten legal proceedings, before such basic process had been followed, seems to me akin to throwing a childish temper tantrum. I think that’s how most folk following this issue see it too.

Not a pretty sight.

In a contest between Twitter and The Australian, the latter is likely to be the fly, not the windscreen. A lot of people such as myself, infuriated with a ‘news’ organsiation that has systematically purveyed falsehoods to massage public opinion in favour of sectarian wars, believe The Australian long since forfeited any right to public credibility. Controversies such as #twitdef are useful aids to help convert more people to the rather obvious need to break the power of the world’s most odious ‘news corporation’.

So there we have it…

On the publicly-owned ABC blog, Australians can apparently much say pretty what they like about this nation’s largest private media empire. Fancy expressing the view that News Corp has systematically purveyed falsehoods to massage public opinion in favour of sectarian wars? No worries! Want to call for News Corp’s power to be broken? That’s OK too.

Oh, the joy of free speech!

But… to even suggest that Wikileaks might be not quite the full quid after all – and that the world’s most duplicitous and murderous intelligence agencies might have a hand in this collosal global media spectacle…

Press TV on Wikileaks

Press TV on #Cablegate: Iranian media just being 'paranoid'?

No, no, no, no no NO! That is SHOCKING and cannot be said in polite company!!! Certainly not on The Drum! A bridge too far for the delicate Australian public! How disgraceful to even murmur scepticism about Wikileaks!

Judging by comments that were published, it’s OK to say Wikileaks is very, very good. It’s fine as well to say Wikileaks is very very bad. But to imply that Wikileaks might not be 100% genuine…

That’s HERESY!

Well, excuse me. I beg to differ.

I don’t claim certainty that President Ahmadinejad is correct in claims he made yesterday that elements within the US administration had “released” the material intentionally to create mischief and bolster the pro-Zionist agenda. I’m not sure if Cablegate is truly an exercise in “psychological warfare“.

But I can see why the Iranians might view it that way – and I do consider the issue very much open for debate. There’s nothing inherently implausible about the idea that Wikileaks is essentially a black op. Stranger things have happened… There’s also the possibility that Mr Assange and his colleagues are being ‘played’, even without their knowledge. I think that’s conceivable, although unlikely. Outsiders – including self-styled ‘insiders’ such as ABC journalists – can’t really know for sure without a lot more information.

World Trade Center Building 7, just before it collapsed

WTC Building 7 just before it collapsed at near free-fall acceleration, supposedly due to fire; in nine years, ABC TV hasn't got round to reporting on this unprecedented mystery!

I’d like to hear more of the sceptics perspective. I’d like more informed dialogue about the whole issue of Wikileaks and what’s really going on here. I’d like sufficient open debate between contrasting views to make a more informed decision about the facts.

Apparently the Australian Broadcasting Corporation does not.

Like the Australian, the ABC has a public face and a private face, a ‘open to all views’ rhetoric and a ‘some opinions not welcome’ reality. In Australia, News Corp and the ABC are like peas in a pod really. There’s a revolving door between them, with staff moving from one to the other and invitations extended for interviews, commentaries and the rest almost daily. If the ABC ever cancelled all News Corp appearances on its panels of talking heads, it would result in measurably less publicly-sponsored waffle.

There is, however, one quite crucial difference between them.

Like the BBC on which it was modelled, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation is signficantly more credible than the widely-reviled Murdoch media – especially for the nation’s intelligensia.

In my books, that makes the ABC somewhat more dangerous.

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