Look at this photo of Julia Gillard. Does this look like an innocent person – someone who has just been vindicated by a Judge as having played no part in any criminality in relation to a union slush fund 20 years ago? Or does it look like someone guilty, with questions to answer, being rushed away from cameras, refusing to make eye contact with her accusers? This is the image that the Sydney Morning Herald used to accompany a headline which you would think would be good news for Julia Gillard, and bad news for the media who relentlessly pursed this story to no end:
Royal commission on union corruption told Julia Gillard should be cleared of any crime
The article moved quickly from reporting that The Royal Commission into Union Governance and Corruption found Gillard innocent, to report that her ex-boyfriend, Bruce Wilson, and his colleague Ralph Blewitt should face criminal charges. Kathy Jackson is also recommended for criminal charges. Remember Blewitt and Jackson and their work to bring down the previous Labor government? No? Don’t remember these links? Why am I not surprised?
To the average media consumer, who doesn’t follow independent journalism, who relies on their news from mainstream journalists such as those at Fairfax, you would never know that Ralph Blewitt’s accusations towards Julia Gillard were used relentlessly by right-wing-nut-job-chief Larry Pickering (you know the guy – he likes to draw politicians with huge penises) to push the media to keep saying that Gillard had ‘questions to answer’. You might wonder why the media would follow the lead of the un-hinged Pickering and the word of Blewitt, who was blaming Gillard for something he himself was being accused of doing in a bid for immunity. You might also not realise that Kathy Jackson was the very same Kathy Jackson who ‘blew the whistle’ on Craig Thomson’s misuse of union funds, who is also partner of Tony Abbott’s good friend Michael Lawler and a favourite guest of the right wing extremist HR Nicholls Society, and was misusing union funds herself at many tens of times worse than Craig Thomson. This article quotes the misuse for personal expenses at $660,000. But this link between right wingers and criminality in unions is never mentioned is it? This link to a 2012 article where Tony Abbott is praising Kathy Jackson as heroic is never mentioned. These people with vested interest in bringing down Labor politicians, who are accused of doing the exact same things as they are accusing Labor politicians of doing, who have links to right wing politicians and media identities are never properly investigated because no journalist wants to make the link between stories they’ve been writing, and the obvious campaign by Abbott to not just destabilise Gillard’s minority government, but to smash unions and workers’ rights with them. Remember Ashby versus Slipper, another campaign orchestrated by Abbott’s Opposition to try to bring down the Gillard government? Remember how Michelle Grattan used Craig Thomson and Peter Slipper as reasoning as to why Julia Gillard should resign?
You’ll notice that most of the stories that I’ve linked to in the above paragraph were written by journalists at Fairfax. I use Fairfax in this case purposely. I could have used News Ltd, but no one takes News Ltd seriously as they don’t actually employ journalists and prefer to work at being grubby partisan hacks so there’s no point reminding everyone why we don’t read News Ltd. I could have used the ABC, who went with this very ABC-like headline to report the news of Gillard’s vindication in the slush fund affair:
Trade union royal commission submissions question Julia Gillard’s professional conduct but clears her of any crime
Of course the ‘questions’ had to be right up there front and centre, and the vindication the afterthought, added later. The ABC is terrified of Abbott and people like Chris Kenny who accuse them of left-wing bias so they prefer to let Murdoch set the agenda than to actually do any journalistic work themselves for the good of the public who fund them.
I actually used Fairfax not because they are the worst case of bad, on non-existent journalism in Australia. There is some investigative journalism happening at Fairfax, which the stories about Jackson, and Ashby and Michael Smith prove. But what frustrates me, and should frustrate the public at large, is the apparent inability for these journalists to pull bit-piece stories together to tell a wider story, which no media outlet in the county has had the courage to tell. Simply, the media went after Prime Minister Gillard ferociously over Thomson, Slipper and the AWU slush fund affair. The media mauled Gillard’s leadership over these ‘scandals’, running with a fixed narrative of Labor chaos, Labor dysfunction, Labor failure, Labor leadership tensions. This fixed narrative refused to join the dots between the Thomson, Slipper and AWU affair and the Liberal Opposition – who through Jackson, through Blewitt, through Larry Pickering, through Pyne’s deep involvement in the Ashby plot, were the ones goading the media on to destroy their political opponents. This fixed narrative also seemingly didn’t notice, or chose not to see, that the Gillard government was the most productive government this country has ever had. Where are the facts Fairfax? Buried in a political smear campaign?
But as journalists we should have the courage to act for more than the lofty notion of freedom of speech. We have a duty to be the voice of the powerless in our society, to stand up for them.
Were Fairfax Media journalists standing up for the powerless in our society when they were complicit in a campaign to wrongly accuse Julia Gillard of criminality in relation to the AWU slush fund affair? It’s too late to go back and apologise for this error – the damage to Gillard’s political career and her progressive policy platform is already done. But what about Jackson and Ashby? Are Fairfax journalists standing up for truth, for the powerless voters who knew nothing of what was happening in the Thomson and Slipper affairs when Fairfax journalists refused to join the dots between these Labor ‘scandals’ and a campaign by Abbott’s opposition to destabilise the Labor government? And what about union members, whose working conditions, wages and rights will be damaged by Abbott’s campaign to destroy unions? Where are the journalists speaking truth to power on behalf of the Australian public, instead of on behalf of the Abbott opposition, and now Abbott government?
I note that Fairfax reported, but never mounted media campaigns that culminated in suggesting the Prime Minister resign, stories about Abbott’s rorting of tax-payers funds for private travel, his daughter’s secret $60,000 scholarship, his own involvement in a slush fund to destroy Pauline Hanson’s electoral fortunes (this was much more recent than 20 years ago). Is Fairfax saying that they’re only interested in following stories that can damage Labor governments? And if so, can they please explain how this represents their role of standing up for the powerless in society? I think it’s time that journalists realise that they have their own questions to answer. And until they satisfactorily answer them, the powerless in society should continue to distrust them.