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All-time low for Australia’s press

By Alan Austin - posted Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Was last week the worst ever for false political reporting in Australia? Can anyone recall when the Canberra media pack has been more united, more vicious – and more comprehensively wrong?

And this just as the Finkelstein inquiry has released its recommendations on governing journalistic standards. Nice timing.

As if last week in Canberra wasn’t exciting enough, The Australian ran a front page story on Wednesday with several unverified claims. It asserted that a deal Prime Minister Julia Gillard had made with former NSW Premier Bob Carr for him to become Foreign Minister was thwarted by the PM’s colleagues.


The headline to the report by political editor Dennis Shanahan and Matthew Franklin was: ‘Mutiny kills PM's Bob Carr plan.’

Wrong. The captain had not been overthrown overboard. And wrong. The Bob Carr plan was alive and well.

The opening paragraph reads: ‘Julia Gillard was forced to withdraw an offer to make former NSW premier Bob Carr her foreign affairs minister after senior ministers rebelled and demanded Kevin Rudd's vacancy be filled by one of her supporters, Stephen Smith or Simon Crean.’

Untrue. Some ministers probably argued against the Carr appointment. And Carr, we know, said the day before he was ‘not pursuing the vacant NSW Senate seat’. But is there evidence that Gillard ever withdrew her offer?

Paragraph two was also wrong: ‘In a breakdown of Labor stability and the Prime Minister's authority, Ms Gillard was told she could not appoint Mr Carr as foreign minister and parachute him into the Senate to fill the vacancies left by Mr Rudd and NSW right-wing powerbroker Mark Arbib ...’

No evidence of any lessening of either Labor stability or the PM’s authority. The reverse seems true. Carr’s ascension disproves the claim that Gillard was told she could not appoint him. She could.


Some background details in the story were accurate: Yes, Mr Rudd resigned. True, Senator Arbib quit the Senate. And yes, Ms Gillard wanted Bob Carr in foreign affairs and had phoned him about this on Monday.

But the essential story was clearly false.

With so much recent proof of shonky political reporting from Murdoch employees it seems extraordinary that virtually all Canberra journalists accepted the Shanahan and Franklin fabrications and repeated them in a raucous pack.

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About the Author

Alan Austin is an Australian freelance journalist currently based in Nîmes in the South of France. His special interests are overseas development, Indigenous affairs and the interface between the religious communities and secular government. As a freelance writer, Alan has worked for many media outlets over the years and been published in most Australian newspapers. He worked for eight years with ABC Radio and Television’s religious broadcasts unit and seven years with World Vision. His most recent part-time appointment was with the Uniting Church magazine Crosslight.

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