February 10th 2001

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Articles from this issue:

Cover Story: US power crisis - is this where we're heading?

Editorial: Why family farms are at risk

Western Australia: Much at stake in WA poll

Queensland: Election outcome difficult to forecast

Agriculture: Inquiries to look at AQIS apple decision

Canberra Observed: Family trusts - will government bite bullet?

Straws in the Wind

The Media

Letter: Manifesto important

History: The real Frank Hardy?

Comment: Pollies protest too much Comment: Pollies protest too much

Victoria: Bracks' new social engineering Bills criticised

United States: Bush moves promptly on abortion funding

Books promotion page

The Media

by John Styles

News Weekly, February 10, 2001
Media hound savages Borbidge

"Isn't it the Teflon kid versus Fred Bassett?" a Townsville disc jockey was reported to have asked Queensland Opposition Leader Rob Borbidge during a recent election interview.

The Weekend Australian's Geoffrey Newman seized on the exchange and built a story around it ("Bassett Borb vs Teflon Beattie", January 27-28). According to Newman, the DJ's comparison between Premier Peter Beattie and Mr Borbidge was "a neat if banal description of their different styles".

The story amounted to a celebration of the Beattie personality: Mr Gregarious vs Mr Serious.

"Even compare the two campaign websites: colour pictures and videos of Mr Beattie with barely a mention of the Labor Party versus black-and-white pictures of Mr Borbidge in a functional, rather pedestrian design. Fred Bassett would approve," Newman opined.

Maybe. But there is no doubting who would have approved of the Geoffrey Newman article. Peter Beattie would have loved it.

The "Today's agenda" item in a small panel on the far side of the page may have raised an ironic smile or two. The paper reported that Mr Borbidge was that day launching the Coalition's families policy in Ipswich. Peter Beattie? Oh, the "Teflon" Premier was playing golf with Greg Norman. Which story do you think would have run first on Brisbane news services that evening?

With a headline like this, who needs advertising?

"'Borbidge a whinger ... fact not a slur'" declared the page-wide headline in The Weekend Australian (Jan 27-28). That piece of ALP propaganda posing as a news headline repeated and defended a claim made in a Labor Party election radio commercial. It was part of the campaign that Peter Beattie had promised would be free from personal denigration.

The newspaper no doubt would try to excuse the headline by pointing to the presence of quotation marks. But if the headline was a direct quote, suitable attribution should have been included. Interestingly, nowhere in the copy did the phrases used in the headline actually appear as direct quotes. So the headline was really a distortion and the use of the quotation marks questionable.

Sycophantic journalism

"Carr is simply streets ahead of all other MPs" - so ran the headline in The Australian Financial Review, 19 January.

Politicians, as we know, enjoy shameless media praise. But should journalists encourage them?

In the report, Lisa Allen wrote: "There is little for Carr to do at the State economics level ... The State's fiscal position is fundamentally secure." Ms Allen quoted an unnamed former Labor MP who told her that the NSW Premier "so totally dominates his job he is getting on with his writings, speaking out more, reading widely, keeping abreast of historical writing and studying the German language". He even finds time to study during Question Time.

What that situation says about the calibre of the NSW Opposition Liberal and National Parties is one thing. How it squares with the idea of a vigorous, questioning fourth estate is something else.

Easily impressed

While in the shameless praise for politicians department, consider this from an easily impressed Steve Lewis of The Australian Financial Review.

In an interview (AFR, 9 January), ALP industry spokesperson Carmen Lawrence told Lewis that Labor's "knowledge nation" was about "the intellectual resources we need for the next 20 to 50 years, and we have to be flexible enough to keep changing as we go".

Now, this affected the AFR journalist in a profound way. "Whew!" he wrote, "For those who cynically argue that a political visionary is someone who thinks beyond the next election, the idea of conceiving of ideas for the next half a century is, well, mind-blowing."

The details of those ideas? Well, all that the mind-blown Steve Lewis could tell us is that, well, err, umm, it is a "broad brush approach".

No honeymoon for George W. Bush

The double standards of the US media were apparent when President Bush recently re-instituted the ban on the funding of overseas groups promoting abortion.

The US Media Research Center monitored US media reaction. It found that networks were quick to characterise Bush's move as "controversial" and "designed to appeal to ... conservatives" and something that would "quickly please the right flank in his party".

Yet eight years ago, when President Clinton lifted the ban on that funding, the same networks had praised the president for having "delivered on his campaign promise" by taking a non-ideological action which showed how he "keeps his word".

Eight years ago on CBS Evening News, Dan Rather announced at the top of the program: "On the anniversary of Roe v. Wade President Clinton fulfills a promise, supporting abortion rights."

On 22 January this year, Rather reported, "This was President Bush's first day at the office and he did something to quickly please the right flank in his party: He re-instituted an anti-abortion policy that had been in place during his father's term and the Reagan presidency but was lifted during the Clinton years."

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