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First Murdoch, now Fairfax

By Alan Austin - posted Friday, 20 September 2013


A critical assessment of the ethics of Fairfax Media by the Australian Press Council confirms Fairfax's decision to follow the lead of Murdoch's News Corp in distorting 'news' for political ends.

The Council this week upheld complaints by law firm Slater & Gordon about reports by The Age's editor-at-large Mark Baker.

The adverse findings relate to two of Baker's many articles on the matter of former PM Julia Gillard's legal work for a trade union in the early 1990s. His stories have peddled innuendo, half truths and falsehoods for nearly a year now.

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These two were the short news item, "Gillard gave support for union group's registration" and a longer analysis piece, "Parting company: Brothers no more". Both ran in The Age, The Sydney Morning Herald and The Canberra Times last October.

The Council identified several deficiencies. There are others it didn't.

The first statement in the brief news item was that another law firm had been "pressing Slater & Gordon for more than a month" to give former union member and self-proclaimed whistleblower Ralph Blewitt "access to the association incorporation file".

The second was that a former lawyer had "accused the firm of stalling" in handing over the file.

"The file is believed to contain a copy of the letter Ms Gillard sent to the Corporate Affairs Commission affirming the association would be devoted to workplace safety," Baker wrote.

The law firm has consistently said there was no file. The Press Council now confirms Baker's claims were erroneous.

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Problematic assertions in the longer story were, firstly, a quote from former Slater & Gordon partner Nick Styant-Brown claiming "[Slater and Gordon], in my view, have this sort of untrammelled objective of protection and hiding adverse material at all costs".

Secondly, Baker described a draft by senior partner Peter Gordon as "a document that made a mockery of [a] media statement" issued by the firm.

The Council determined that Slater & Gordon should have been asked to respond before publication. Had this happened these falsehoods would have been exposed.

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About the Author

Alan Austin is an Australian freelance journalist currently based in Nīmes 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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