The International Journalists’ Network published an article by David Brewer entitled ‘Impartiality in journalism’. It begins with: “being impartial means not being prejudiced towards or against any particular side, and to be fair and balanced. This is a tough one. All journalists have their own views, and yet, to deliver comprehensive and authoritative coverage of news and current affairs they must rise above their own personal perspective. Only by reflecting the diversity of opinion fairly and accurately can we hope to offer a true picture of what is really happening.”1 It is often difficult to suppress one’s own beliefs in the interests of doing one’s job properly, and I suspect that journalists suffer from this difficulty as much as anyone else. However, it is much more important for them to do so, because it is a free media on which our democracy largely depends. Without a free media, you cannot have a democracy. Impartiality requires journalists to treat everyone with fairness such that if one interviews the Prime Minister Scott Morrison or the Opposition Leader Bill Shorten, each is given the same opportunity to put their case and the interviewer treats them similarly and, if necessary, calls them out equally if they start telling porkies. This has not always been the case in recent months, with Morrison being given an easier ride in some television programs. This was called out on social media and seems to have improved. To some degree the impartiality seems to have been restored.
I have documented so many of the recent travesties that pass for journalism in the Murdoch media, that I often lose count2,3,4,5,6. Nobody in their right mind could accuse the Murdoch media of being impartial. In addition to this, some months ago, I wrote an essay around all journalists needing to do better7. This was written when the dissatisfaction with journalists (even those on the ABC), on Twitter and other social media platforms was at its peak. In that essay, I noted that journalists often seem to be “unprepared, underprepared or somewhat derelict” and allowing politicians to get away with bald-faced lies. However, I did list a couple of recent instances of journalists not being afraid, and being prepared to call out such lies. One of the best was Rick Morton, who was prepared with the relevant figures on aged care funding, when querying the Prime Minister about cuts to that funding. Morrison simply lied in response. The unfortunate thing is that this sort of preparation seems to be fairly rare among journalists.
Now this calling out of the disgraceful behaviour of the Murdoch media has hit the media, rather than just being the province of Twitter or places like this blog. Five time Walkley award winning, former NewsCorp journalist, Tony Koch has excoriated the NewsCorp papers, in the Guardian, stating that “No editor I worked for would have put up with the biased anti-Labor rubbish that, shamefully, the papers now produce on a daily basis. If it is not anti-Labor, it is anti-Green or, quite ridiculously, anti-ABC. Anything except a story negative to the Liberal or National parties”8. Some NewsCorp editors have tried to portray this as the ramblings of an incompetent former employee (5 Walkleys?). However, now Rick Morton, who, at the time of writing was still employed by NewsCorp, has come out and said something similar (see, I told you he was a decent journalist), and that NewsCorp journalists are “more uncomfortable certainly now than at any time I’ve been there in the past seven years…there is a real mood that something has gone wrong.”9
In 1975, News Limited (precursor to NewsCorp) newspaper The Australian took a very partisan line in that year’s federal election, after the dismissal of the Whitlam government. The editorial line against the Labor Party was so one-sided, that 109 journalists were so incensed, they went on strike during the election campaign. They sent a letter to the management, which included the following: “…the deliberate and careless slanting of headlines, seemingly blatant imbalance in news presentation, political censorship and, more occasionally, distortion of copy from senior specialist journalists, the political management of news and features, the stifling of dissident and even palatably impartial opinion in the papers’ columns”10. The article quoted here is from 2013, when the Murdoch press was mercilessly and vitriolically pursuing then Prime Minister Julia Gillard. It seems nothing has changed in Murdoch’s media, except that fewer of the News Corp journalists have the integrity of Rick Morton or those of 1975.