After the media were shocked by the Australian Federal Police (AFP) raids on the Sydney offices of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) and the Canberra home of NewsCorp journalist Annika Smethurst1, they began the ‘Your right to know’ campaign, which began in earnest with a coordinated campaign of heavily ‘redacted’ front pages of major newspapers and some of the Murdoch rags (I hesitate to call them newspapers). The evening before these hit the newsstands, Australian broadcasters, including the ABC, the Special Broadcasting Service (SBS), Channel Seven, Nine, and Ten all ran advertisements criticising government secrecy2. This campaign was enthusiastically supported by the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA), the union (they’d hate that term; they prefer association) that covers journalists.
As everybody now knows, Prime Minister Scott Morrison took a secret holiday to Hawaii with his family, presumably to get away from the smoke blanketing Sydney, Canberra and various other parts of the country. Prior to Morrison and his family leaving, the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) obtained agreement from the major news organisations, and NewsCorp, to keep the fact that Morrison would be leaving, and his destination, secret. So, how did this item of news get out if the media were sworn to secrecy? Social media, that’s how. Again, as with the Barnaby Joyce horizontal folk-dancing scandal, and the assorted Angus Taylor scandals, it was social media (mostly Twitter, as far as I can determine) which started the hashtag #WhereTheBloodyHellAreYou when Morrison disappeared from view, and it was apparently social media that found out Morrison was is Hawaii5. It was only when the hashtag started to trend on Twitter, that the major media organisations started to run the story.
There are three aspects to this story which are worthy of comment. Firstly, if Morrison had been up-front about his desire for a family holiday and made an announcement to that effect, and that the idiot McCormack was to be acting Prime Minister, there would have been some opprobrium directed at him, but that would have most likely blown over relatively quickly. Whether it was Morrison or some halfwit in his office who decided to keep it secret will probably never be known (I bet it was Morrison). Whoever it was, their judgement was poor at best, and much worse than Christine Nixon’s during the Black Saturday fires of 20095. Disappearing on the quiet when the nation is facing one of its greatest bushfire crises was an appalling misjudgement. This lack of judgement is best demonstrated by a cartoon by Glen Le Lievre which comprises two frames; one with an exhausted fire-fighter lying flat out in a blackened landscape with staring catatonic eyes directed upwards; the other with Morrison flat out, snoozing on a beach towel with a book and a cocktail alongside him6. Maybe the government needs to rehire its empathy consultant. Secondly, again it is social media which is setting the agenda, and the major news organisations which are dragging the chain. Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, this is another demonstration of the capture of the ‘mainstream media’ by the political class. It was the PMO who slithered up to the press gallery and put their eight arms around the respective shoulders of their pet journalists and asked them to keep the story quiet. And what did the press gallery do? They acquiesced. They need to pick their game up. After all, it is our right to know, isn’t it MEAA?