Poor little Murdoch hacks don’t like being challenged

Get used to it.

Wendy Bacon, professor of journalism at the Australian Centre for Independent Journalism at the University of Technology, Sydney, writes today that the empire is feeling real pressure for the first time in living memory:

On Thursday, with News Corporation awash in allegations of criminality and failed corporate governance, I sent an email to John Hartigan, the chief executive of its Australian arm, News Limited.

Hartigan was in damage control. He had hastened to reassure local audiences that illegal practices such as phone hacking were not used in Australia and, in order to make sure of this, that he would carry out an independent internal audit of editorial spending.

But that missed a vital point. While no one was suggesting that phone hacking was occurring in our far-from-competitive media scene, News is a vertically and horizontally global media company.

This means that even if you were not a News of the World reader, if you bought News Ltd papers here, you could still read News of the World ”scoops” about, say, the sexual activities of Jude Law, who is now suing The Sun and News of the World for hacking his phone.

News Ltd papers in Australia had continued to draw on News of the World stories even after the phone hacking scandal became a serious issue.

This was just one issue I had in mind when I emailed Hartigan some questions. They included: Do you consider that bias by newspapers in cities where only one company owns a newspaper could ever be an issue? How do you monitor whether fair means of reporting the news are being applied across the company? What auditing or monitoring mechanisms do you apply? Are there occasions when you do take up matters of bias with editors? Do you think that it would be a good idea if the Australian Press Council became an independent body with funding from both media and other sources, including government?

I received this reply:

”Your bias against our organisation over many years and the errors and omissions in your recent New Matilda piece renders your right to answers from me completely redundant. It is deeply troubling to me and to all of our editors that someone like you has any role in teaching young journalists in Australia.”

Hartigan did not elaborate on my errors or omissions. Nor, to my knowledge, has he pointed these out to online magazine New Matilda (which has a policy of publishing corrections).

But it seems an extraordinary and evasive response from a media organisation which daily seeks answers and information from people big and small, powerful and powerless, in the name of the public’s ”right to know”. Some might also say that it illustrates a bullying mindset that has grown in a too-powerful media organisation that owns more than 70 per cent of this country’s newspapers.

Text and images ©2023 Antony Loewenstein. All rights reserved.

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