What happens when the media attacks?

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26 March 2012

Wendy Bacon of the New Matilda, has more media knowledge than most - but it didn't help when she was recently savaged by News Ltd. Do errors of fact mark the limits of free speech?

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On Saturday 10 March, I was startled to see my photo on the Weekend Australian’s front page, beside the words: "What is wrong with Journalism?"

This drew my attention to a story by Cameron Stewart, titled Finkelstein Report: Media’s Great Divide. This was the lead story in the Inquirer, the paper’s feature section. I was even more surprised when I found the editorial mentioned me as well, providing an inaccurate version of an old 1971 obscenity case and accusing me of now supporting government censorship. All this was on top of a Cut and Paste feature earlier in the week, which had published what appeared to be "facts" from a 1981 judgement to suggest that Finkelstein should not have relied on my media research in his report.

I was left with no doubt that the editor-in-chief of The Australian was angry with me and some other journalism academics, several of whom either assisted with the Finkelstein inquiry, gave tentative support to its recommendations or otherwise dared to suggest its 400-page report should be seriously considered. News Ltd and much of the rest of the media were exercising their freedom of speech to campaign to sideline the report, portraying it as an outrageous attack on free speech. There is nothing, of course, wrong with campaigning journalism, so long as it doesn’t overwhelm reporting the truth and fair and accurate reporting.

My own involvement was to write a story for New Matilda outlining the findings of the Finkelstein report in an effort to overcome the misleading media hysteria that had enveloped it. I had written two submissions for the report which can be found here and here. My submission suggested a self-regulatory Media Council across all media, independent of government and industry. In my model, small news media operators could join the Council voluntarily as a means of providing a complaints mechanism for their audience and as evidence that they could be held accountable to basic standards of reporting.

 

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Photo: Flickr / Alex Dram

 

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