10 Mar 2012.
Mayne On Industry Culture.
730reportland: We return to Melbourne as, retired judge Ray Finkelstein `hosts` the Australian Media Inquiry, with his `lovely assistant`, journalism academic, Matthew Ricketson.
Their `guest` today is Crikey Founder and a media mover and shaker. Welcome back to the `show`, Stephen Mayne.
MR FINKELSTEIN: There are ways of dealing with personality-driven consequences that don`t necessarily have to bring about structural changes,
or at least doesn`t have to bring about significant structural changes. Is that fair?
MR MAYNE: If I look at the Murdoch culture,
Rupert has a culture of loving people who will shake up the establishment and will shake up the town,
and he likes to gloat about the fact that he`s one of the few owners who is happy to go to the country club and cop the grief from people who are giving him stick.
I think he`s rewarded several of those types of characters who have had no respect whatsoever for the various ethical codes that run within the newspapers and with the MEAA and within the Press Council.
MR FINKELSTEIN: What is wrong with a proprietor of a newspaper or online news outlet, I don`t care which, taking a particular stand on a whole range of issues?
If I owned a media outlet, let`s say I owned an internet site,
and I decided that I was going to be
anti government no matter what the government was
that was in power, what`s wrong with me doing that?
730reportland: This part of the question is loaded.
Limited News spins everything Labor, Green or Independant as negative. Everything Liberal as good, or if too bad does damage control.
Limited News is just `Anti Government`? __ Pigs Arse.
Better questions here would be,
How much lobbying should a so-called news company do before it is classified as a political advertiser?
Are the rules for political advertising being met?
And, Why should a political advertiser or mere lobbying firm be entitled to any `Press Shield Laws` or `Secret Sources` or `Access` or other `Press` benefits?
MR MAYNE: There is nothing wrong with doing that, but if it`s apparent that your operation`s been involved in fairly wide-scale phone hacking, you wouldn`t make the woman involved chief executive of the company.
MR FINKELSTEIN: That might be just a one-off.
730reportland: Just a one-off? Bullcrap.
Florida 2000, UK phones and MET, Flannery, Posetti, Manne and `white` Aboriginals. From tram drivers to public servants and cities across at least 3 countries. The way Limited News treats people and distorts information, this can only be `their` corporate culture.
MR MAYNE: I`ve worked for the tabloids.
I`ve seen some very colourful characters being continually rewarded and promoted and celebrated. When I look back at their records and their approaches and the court findings and the defamation losses and the embarrassments, I`d say, "What does it take to actually be booted out of that company?" That is what I find quite amazing about the culture.
MR FINKELSTEIN: But would you accept this as a proposition, that unless there is a degree of widespread improper activity,
you can`t really think that you are going to make significant cultural behavioural changes in the proposed way to deal with the odd colourful character.
MR MAYNE: When you say the "odd colourful character"_
MR FINKELSTEIN: "Colourful character" are your words.
MR MAYNE: I don`t want to turn this into a long shopping list of "this editor is a cowboy" or that.
If you look at, for instance, News Limited, we had the whole James Hardie scandal, and one of the key executives involved was appointed general manager of public relations and is now the principal arguer for the company`s position in Australia, with a pretty big black cloud over the previous record.
If I were that proprietor, I would say, "I want someone with a pristine ethical corporate record being my spokesperson in the Australian market."
MR FINKELSTEIN: What I`m looking at is the whole industry and what I`m looking at is to see whether or not the whole industry ought to be forced to change in some particular respects.
I don`t know that I would be helped in looking at what should happen in the media for the next 10, 15 or 20 years by making assumptions or drawing general conclusions from what might be one-off episodes.
I`m more interested in seeing whether the press either works or doesn`t work, with the way that the press regulates itself works or doesn`t work- identify some systemic and real problem that needs change, but part of my remit is to work out whether newspapers are dead because of the internet and whether the government should be able to do anything about it and, if so, what.
It is probably a bit narrow, isn`t it, to approach it on the basis of what a particular editor did last year when I`m working out whether there is a problem that needs remedying?
MR MAYNE: This was started by phone hacking, which was company wide- it wasn`t just one particular editor.
I don`t want to get into a shopping list about it, but I think over a long period there`s been a lot of material that`s come out which has said sometimes there is a bit of a cultural issue there with abuse of power and poor practices and you do see a lot of bullying and people being done over, and you don`t see a lot of rights of reply and people getting their time to make a considered response.
You do get the treatment that Robert Manne received. You see a whole range of those practices- basically bullying behaviour against people who take a contrary view.
I`ve certainly experienced that directly for a number of years and I know many, many other people as well have, and I think that has been a bit of a problem for our democracy in terms of the independent umpire that`s meant to be informing the community in a democracy becoming the dominant power player in the community.
MR FINKELSTEIN: But you don`t expect a media outlet to play the role of an independent umpire, do you?
MR MAYNE: I think there is an element of that, particularly if you are a one-paper town. You need to strive to be quite neutral, given you have that extra responsibility of monopoly on newspaper sales.
I think absolutely in the press- all the codes of conduct talked about rights of reply and other people`s opinion. That`s very much embedded in many of the codes.
So whilst I have absolutely no problems with very strong partisan campaigns being run, it needs those checks and balances of alternative views and rights of reply and they are not just gratuitous campaigns being run.
In my view the Greens have suffered an incredible campaign, and you will have seen that submission from Bob Brown.
MR FINKELSTEIN: I have. What you seem to be raising, if I can put it this way, is you don`t mind partisan journalists or partisan ownership or partisan press, as long as there is some opportunity for the other side or the other view to be presented.
MR MAYNE: I am probably one of the most aggressive journalists around,
and I have a philosophy of taking on all comers. I just wish that the mainstream media outlets had the same approach, that they didn`t protect a particular interest or take a particular side; that they vigorously took on all comers and hold them to the basic principles of accountability, transparency, giving accurate information,
"if you stuff up, you`re out"- the role of the press to be fearless, to shake everybody up and take them all on, but that needs to be applied across the board and not just on particular targeted segments which is what seems to happen over time.
730reportland: I couldn`t agree more with Mayne and his philosophy. If this philosophy had been the standard practice, the current decaying news environment may not exist as it does today and, the distrusted status of Journalists and Media Companies may not have plummeted to the depths they have.
MR MAYNE: In the case of Fox News, it`s been a brilliant business decision. As a shareholder activist, I don`t criticise Fox News for a moment. It`s been an inspired business decision,
but don`t try and call it "fair and balanced". Just say it`s great propaganda and make a lot of money.
MR FINKELSTEIN: What`s the matter with having an outlet which is there as a propaganda piece_
MR MAYNE: That`s fine with me, as Fox News is, but it`s not 70 percent of the market. It`s not one voice; it`s a myriad of voices. In the US, there are dozens of newspaper proprietors, there are hundreds of channels, no issues with Fox News in my mind at all, except for the claim of
fair and balanced. I think it`s a blatant lie.
MR FINKELSTEIN: Is that to say that what you think is necessary by one method or another is that there is somewhere to be found the alternative view?
MR MAYNE: Yes.
MR FINKELSTEIN: So that people like me who don`t produce the news but consume it are at least exposed to the proposition that this particular news outlet has a particular bias, but it is a view, not the view, and I go to another news outlet and get the other view.
MR MAYNE: Yes. It does go a bit too far when most of the Republican presidential nominees are current or former employees of News Corp. It gets too far to the extreme when that happens. Strictly speaking, Fox should get Democrats on.
730reportland: Mayne is incorrect here. Democrats refuse to go on Fox. They treat Fox for what it is. A lobbying outfit. Obama has even made wisecracks along the lines of_ If Obama said the sky is blue, the folks at Fox would find ways to argue Obama is wrong.
MR FINKELSTEIN: Why should they?
MR MAYNE: They say they will. They say they are fair and balanced. Say you are the official propaganda vehicle of the Republican Party. Just say that and be honest about it. Be honest, tell the truth, be upfront about what you are doing,
but to do that would then question the social licence around many of the other journalistic operations around the world which are presented as being more neutral, fair and balanced- and many of them are.
Sky News in the UK is a magnificent quality, neutral, professional service. It`s been a tremendous addition to the British democracy. It is amazing that the same company produces it, but they are the facts of the situation.
730reportland: The corrosive corporate culture of the global monster is raised here by Mayne. The carnivorous capitalism peddled by Fox is regurgitated in text by the-Australian. The irony that the-Australian is a welfare case within its own profit making group seems to show that `their` corrosive culture meddles with `their` sound business decisions.
The fully FOXified the-Australian actually has a choice within the Limited News empire from where to source some of `their` off-shore content. Their own corrosive corporate culture may be why the Fox donkey data is regularly regurgitated and Sky stuff is not.
This also applies to_ blogs.very.limited.news/fully-foxified-too
MR FINKELSTEIN: But provided there is diversity so that different available views are aired, isn`t that sufficient for our democratic society_
MR MAYNE: It is, but where is the diversity in Adelaide?
MR FINKELSTEIN: I said "provided". I am not saying_
MR MAYNE: But it`s not the case.
MR FINKELSTEIN: No, but if there were that.
MR MAYNE: Hypothetically, it would be fantastic, but we`re the most concentrated market in the world.
MR FINKELSTEIN: So what you see as the underlying problem is lack of diversity of views.
MR MAYNE: I think there are two problems. One is the concentration of power. The other is the culture and the ethical record within that particular company. When you put those two things together, you get quite a toxic mix, which I think is quite damaging to a democracy like Australia.
730reportland: Mayne has really nicely identified the `toxic-mix` here. I hope this sinks in with our `host`. This toxic mix is not only damaging to democracy but to quite a range of people and other topics as well. The toxic culture shows itself in so-called reporting of `environmental` issues relayed by the Green Party or Tim Flannery.
MR MAYNE: The company has done a lot of great things. The Manningham Leader in Manningham has been a really good local paper and owned by News Ltd, and there are absolutely no issues with that. So this is not a company-wide thing, but I just say that at the moment, looking at the way it operates, I`m very concerned that there is a proposal for News Limited to go to majority control of a monopoly pay TV operation in Australia. They are trying to buy it. AUSTAR is seeking FIRB approval and ACCC approval.
This inquiry, when it hears from as many different parties as possible, should make representations to the ACCC and to FIRB about whether it is appropriate for the 70 percent newspaper company to move to management control of pay TV monopoly in Australia- unprecedented anywhere in the world, and a very important issue for our democracy.
As a small, small anecdote of that, when Sky News operated out of Channel Nine in Melbourne, I used to go on once a month. When Sky News moved into the Herald Sun building, I`m banned, because I`m a voice not allowed to be heard out of the Herald Sun building. So for me to fulfil my contract with Sky, I have to fly to Sydney to appear, and that is an abuse of power by the dominant 70 percent newspaper company, which in my mind is indefensible.
730reportland: Oh dear. Their own corporate slogan of `Fair-and-Balanced` has not made it to this side of the Pacific, even though the donkey data has. Their corrosive culture has produced an unfair abuse of power toward Mayne here. It has also shredded their own corporate slogan.
MR FINKELSTEIN: When you started up Crikey, and for the period of time that you owned Crikey, I assume you expressed rather strong views on a variety of issues.
MR MAYNE: I certainly did, and I have a plan or a goal of "the bigger they are, the harder you go ". So whether it is Kerry Packer, Alan Jones, the Prime Minister, the Premier, I had an approach, which basically is a club busting approach, which is a take-on-power approach.
MR FINKELSTEIN: Did you leave out Federal Court judges?
MR MAYNE: Yes. I`m married to a barrister, so I learned that one very early.
730reportland: I smell chicken.
MR FINKELSTEIN: Thank goodness.
MR MAYNE: The relationship with News Limited is quite interesting to track in relation to that. I left on good terms, despite what The Australian editorial today says about me being a disgruntled former employee_
730reportland: Outstanding! The Limited News fact free corrosive culture can`t even be set aside today. They don`t even have the brains to not try and intimidate a witness or bad mouth Mayne on the day he is speaking to the Inquiry.
MR FINKELSTEIN: Never read the newspapers!
When you were running Crikey, you, I think, no doubt with justification, are quite proud that you took on those people who you wanted to take on. Would it be fair to say that there was very little that was even-handed or balanced to an outside viewer, like if I were to read all that stuff?
MR MAYNE: No, I would disagree with that. I think we pioneered the right of reply and the corrections approach to journalism unlike any other outlet had done.
MR FINKELSTEIN: What did you do?
MR MAYNE: I basically ran into a little bit of trouble early on with some defamation, and_
MR FINKELSTEIN: Do you mean as a defendant?
MR MAYNE: As a defendant. We lost our family home. It was an action that was tacitly supported by News Limited, which was an interesting element to our relationship. I basically worked out that it was an ethical approach to journalism that, if you are going to go someone, you absolutely have to give them a right of reply.
With the email delivery mechanism you can hit every single person you hit with the first one, and then get the right of reply exactly the same. At one point I published a 5,000-word attack by Terry McCrann, which was an amazing attack.
MR MAYNE: Yes, on me. I found that an amazing contrast where every time I put in a letter or tried to put comments in on Andrew Bolt`s blog or a letter to The Australian today, which I did, banned.
It shows total suppression of an alternative view.
DR RICKETSON: "Banned" meaning?
MR MAYNE: It was not mentioned, or not run. Herald Sun, banned for 12 years because I criticised them on jeffed.com in 1999. It is an amazing long-term grudge, but my approach always was that if anyone ever puts in a reply or had a whack back, absolutely give it a run because it is fair and mitigation of litigation. If you are given the right of reply, it`s much harder to prosecute a defamation case and it is also a reasonable thing to do and it is also good content.
I used to joke about: "we`ll host your fight". We`re Las Vegas. Come and have a fight. We`ll give everybody a say, and it is good viewing.
730reportland: Our `lovely-assistant` has just chipped in twice with perfect timing and lead-in query. Great job by Ricketson.
It is very interesting to compare the culture and ethics that Mayne tries to operate by and, the culture and non-ethics that seem to operate within the global dinosaur.
MR FINKELSTEIN: Although you personally, and maybe for a good business reason, think that encouraging debate in a single outlet is a good thing- and no doubt it is- would you go so far as to say that it ought to be compulsory?
MR MAYNE: No, it ought not be compulsory, but the internet opens up unlimited amounts of volume, so I think it is unreasonable that the Herald Sun has an operating guide for their moderators that says don`t publish criticisms of the Herald Sun, the Murdochs, or News Limited.
DR RICKETSON: Sorry, how do you know that?
730reportland: Ricketson kicks another goal. Excellent!
MR MAYNE: One of their moderators told me.
I was complaining about every time the Herald Sun does its predictable six-month attack on council CEO pay, I, as an elected councillor who respects management of councils, dutifully do my letter, which says that $300,000 doesn`t sound much,
but Rupert Murdoch earns more than all 89 council CEOs combined, and I think that the Herald Sun should point that out. Every time it doesn`t run.
So you get a front-page attack on fat cat bureaucrat council CEOs, a councillor tends to respond, no reply online, censored, no reply in the paper- a policy which says to do that,
I think that is unethical and inappropriate if you have launched an attack on certain people`s pay and you refuse to run a right of reply by a player in that space. As a councillor, I thought it might change. When I started writing in as a councillor, no change, still censored.
730reportland: Mayne has done a great service to the Aussie public, with his appearance at the Aussie Media Inquiry. It is excellent that Mayne, who has worked within the Limited News toxic culture, has spoken openly and frankly about his experience with the global monster and, the treatment he has received from them since they parted ways.
It is great to have this on the public record.
The Limited News corrosive culture has often been self-evident in the output produced on certain topics such as, pro-business, pro-Noalition, pro-Mr-Rabbit, anti-environment, anti-Labor and anti-Joolya. This list is much bigger and, Politicians and politics are fair game.
What I have suspected, and Mayne seems to confirm, is that local operations of the global monster maintain `hit-lists` of people, who are `selected` for special attention.
The Inquiry has previously heard that Robert Manne and Tim Flannery have been targeted by Limited News and, it seems spiteful. But if we zoom in on Mayne`s home town, Melbourne, we can find that Simon Overland seemed to be targeted, resulting in his resignation from the Police. Add in, the treatment of Christine Nixon, because she ate dinner. The hounding of Mayne and Manne, also of Melbourne, shows their local monster is highly toxic.
Much of this is not fair game.
I suspect the industry culture will get way more corrosive before it gets any better, if ever. Gina Rinehart has bought up a chunk of Fairfax. The chunk is large enough for Rinehart to demand a seat in the boardroom for herself, or her agent.
This will not result in Fairfaxtopia.
More likely, this will be the start of the foxification of Fairfax. As billionaires rarely disagree on many topics, the public will receive lobbying, dressed up as news items from both outlets, like,
Don`t tax Billionaires because [insert no valid reason here]
We can already see Limited News, Network Ten, Rinehart and Boltreportland as an established connection.
With similar donkey data and, via major share-holdings and boardroom seats, the adoption or transfer of industry culture flows.
The above is a word for word extract from Page 102 to Page 109 of this transcript, with my comments added in color. We will return to the `show` after these sponsor `messages`.