Monday, July 06, 2009

Glen Milne - Coalition Mouthpiece?

Well, well, well. Glen Milne doesn't like it when a politician, in this case, Kevin Rudd, decides he wants to hold the media to account. I guess in the Milne universe the media can hold politicians to account, but the media is only accountable to...Rupert? That has to be the case at the Australian as it wasn't accountable to readers (that is generating enough of them) nor to advertisers in all the years it made a loss.

I make the charge about Milne above based on one particular paragraph;

The alleged existence of the email rested on two substantial pillars. First the sworn testimony of a senior Treasury official, Godwin Grech, earlier that afternoon before a Senate committee. Grech swore, on balance, that an email existed.

As I've previously noted the reference to the Senate evidence as "sworn" evidence is a Turnbullism. The evidence isn't sworn. Turnbull could be excused for not knowing Senate procedure...but Milne?

Milne is at least good enough to note that when Rudd criticeses News Ltd he is going the whole lot, not just The Oz, but also the set of daily tabloids, unlike Andrew Bolt who claimed on Insiders that Rudd was only going the Oz. Milne defends the Steve Lewis story on the e-mails on tightness of deadlines.

As I have noted elsewhere (Crikey comments) Lewis was acting on the leak of a fraudulent e-mail. One hopes and expects that before this is all over he tells us who told him of the e-mail. We know he spoke to Grech a number of times, but the suspicion exists he was tipped off first. As it stands now it seems the e-mail was concocted to support the theory the coalition was running that Rudd's office intervened directly with Treasury officials on behalf of Mr Grant. The issue to be resolved is why and how. Lewis may be able to shed light on that.

Yes Lewis was duped. But at least News as an organisation could come out, take it on the chin and say, "You are right, we were duped. We are going to introduce new editorial procedures to guard against being duped."

As for the claim by Milne that what Rudd is asserting is almost censorship as in;

The new Rudd rules are these: if the Prime Minister declares something to be false then his denials are not simply to be recorded as part of a balanced story. The story itself is to be airbrushed out of history. The media must now take Rudd at his word. And act on that word.

Milne might like to consult his colleagues in the defamation space. It is one thing to publish something without a denial, it is another to publish something one day and the denial the next, it is a completely different activity to publish something that has already been denied. And it doesn't help to rely upon a defence that the issue was raised in the Senate Committee - the transcript clearly shows that Abetz was fishing and that the Treasury official was highly equivocal in his answer.

Milne concludes by stating;

The first principle of the journalists' code of ethics states: "Report and interpret honestly, striving for accuracy, fairness and disclosure of all essential facts. Do not suppress relevant available facts, or give distorting emphasis. Do your utmost to give a fair opportunity for reply." There was nothing in the reporting of the fake email affair that contravened that principle. Indeed the fact it's routinely referred to as the fake email affair makes that self-evident.

Except there was something wrong. The e-mail did NOT exist, there was suficient basis for believing it did not (would the PM really double down the bet of misleading by claiming there was no e-mail when others claimed to have it?). There were alternative ways to report the story - including leading with the denial.

As for my bigger claim about Milne, well I've blogged about him before. It is about time he did some real political reporting rather than just being the victim of those using him as a mouthpiece for their spin.

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