Saturday, July 23, 2011

Media Inquiry and Privacy

The actions in Britain involving News Corp, News International, its newspapers and journalists are mind-boggling in their alleged criminality. Phone hacking allegations already total in the thousands. Indeed, it has been reported that more than 4000 people have had their phones hacked to obtain private messages. Already several former editors have contradicted James Murdoch’s testimony to the British Parliamentary committee, and Rebekah Brooks, in her statement to News Of The World journalists said there were worse things to be revealed. Rupert Murdoch, in his testimony to the British Parliament, said that he could not know everything, and blamed those he trusted. He did not name them.

In Australia, The Greens have called for a Parliamentary Inquiry in to Australian media. the Prime Minister, Julia Gillard has said that Murdoch’s News Ltd has some “hard questions to answer”.1 News Ltd Chairman and Chief Executive, John Hartigan, responded, saying that     
“The Prime Minister’s comments seek to draw a link between News Corporation operations in the UK and those here in Australia.
"The comments were unjustified and regrettable.
“There is absolutely no connection between events in the UK and our business in Australia
. ” 2
There is certainly an attempt by Mr Hartigan to distance himself from Rupert Murdoch’s British operations, but he does admit that he talks to (Rupert) Murdoch often.3  It has also been reported that Rupert Murdoch does travel to Britain to meet with his executives frequently. Those executives would have included his son James, Rebekah Brooks, and editors of his newspapers.
In Britain, the New Statesman has reported on the meetings of new British PM, David Cameron, and media editors and executives. It notes that Rupert Murdoch was the first media executive Cameron met, and that he met not one BBC (equivalent to our ABC) executive. 4
Meanwhile News Ltd and Fairfax media have indicated their opposition to proposed legislation to protect the privacy of individuals in Australia. As reported in The Australian 5, it has a heavy emphasis on News Ltd’s position/advice. (The Australian is a News Ltd / Murdoch-owned publisher) There are 3 references to News Ltd, 2 to Fairfax media and 1 to the ABC. Sandip Mukerjea, in the Sydney Morning Herald 5 gives a more balanced, but still opposing view.
John Hartigan: News Ltd does not want an inquiry Roger Corbett: Fairfax does not want an inquiry

So, are there hard questions for Australia’s media, including, but not limited to, News Ltd? Yes, and I believe it should encompass print, TV, radio, Internet, and social media used by media organisations.
Questions should include:
  1. To what extent does any media organisation make, or attempt to make, the news? That is, not just report news, but actively try to create it. For example, what role have media organisations and/or their employees and/or their associates played in organising protests. Anti carbon tax rallies and the Cronulla riots 8  spring to mind.
  2. What is the political agenda that drives the reporting of mainstream media?
  3. To what extent have media misrepresented facts to suit their political agenda?
  4. With which politicians, when, and how often have media executives, editors and/or staff met in the last 2 years, including social functions?
  5. Should ‘news’ stories based on a politician’s press release be labelled as such?  eg ‘the following story is based on (or is) a press release from XYZ Politician. It might, or might not contain accurate information’
  6. How do media organisations’ Codes of Conduct compare? What are their shortcomings?
  7. Which private investigators have been used by Australian media, and for which of their investigations?
  8. Since 2002, were any of Australia’s Privacy Principles 6 violated by either the media, their staff, their private detectives or other associates? The Media were issued with a press release from the Privacy Commissioner in 2001.
  9. Does Australia need to amend the Constitution to provide protected freedom of speech, and protected privacy?

In preparing this post, I looked at:


Saturday, July 16, 2011

Lord Abbotmort’s Horcruxes

In the Harry Potter series, Lord Valdemort is the anti-hero. In his quest is to conquer two worlds: the Wizarding one, and eliminate any muggle heritage in the wizard world; and the muggle world. The Harry Potter series has multiple storylines, with multiple themes around good-evil; growing up; relationships; friendships.

Lord Voldemort, also known as “the Dark Lord” has 7 horcruxes: dark, magical objects that hold a portion of a soul. Harry Potter is believed to have the power to kill him for good. The horcruxes retain parts of a soul, and provide life-force for Voldemort.

In Australian politics, Tony Abbott is Leader of the Opposition. He desperately wants to be Prime Minister, and is reported to have told Independent MP’s after the last election that he would “do anything” to be Prime Minister.

To that end, he has set about an endless “election campaign”, most recently centred on his opposition to the introduction of an interim carbon tax, designed to reduce Australia’s greenhouse carbon emissions, before it progresses to an Emissions trading Scheme. Like Lord Voldemort, ‘Lord Abbotmort’ has assembled a number of political horcruxes, to help him in his quest for all-consuming political power.

Horcrux 1: News Ltd Media. They not only give him favourable coverage, but actively try to manipulate public opinion in favour of Tony Abbott. For its part, News Ltd will have helped secure a right-wing government, for the favour of Rupert Murdoch, and his family. It also shows all the maleficence towards public opinion as the Hound of the Baskervilles. (yes, I know that's a different story, but it it is an apt description)
Horcrux 2: Radio Shock jocks - they breathe with the spirit of the right wing of the Liberal Party
Horcrux 3: WorkChoices. While he tries to hide this one, and says it is dead, WorkChoices, or Industrial Relations power for employers, is deeply ingrained in every Federal Liberal & National Party MP and Senator. With it, Lord Abbormort has secured the backing of the right wing of the Liberal Party for his own position of power.
Horcrux 4: Simple mantras, which are appealing, but when examined are found to be hollow, and devoid of policy. News Ltd and radio shock-jocks are active in repeating the mantras, extolling their virtues, while never examining their shallowness.
Horcrux 5: Immigration, which is wrapped up as ‘security’, but which plays upon, and encourages xenophobia, even racism, among otherwise normal voters.
Horcrux 6: Greed, so often appealed to by the former Liberal-National Government with its personal income taxes, and redistribution of wealth to those with more.
Horcrux 7: The last, and unintentional horcrux, is the Australian Labor Party, and in particular the NSW Branch. It has just lost government in NSW, and its internal power-broking, machinations with developers, and partial privatisation of hitherto state-owned electricity assets made the Labor Party poisonous to voters in NSW.

Many adults have read the Harry Potter books. I hope they, too, can recognise the villains in Australian politics.

It is good, and right, to subject to scrutiny the Government's carbon tax policy, and treasury modelling. But we voters must be very mindful of Mr Abbott's assertions, and the personal greed, and political agendas of those who oppose the government's plan,  including those of business and the media itself.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Politicians And The Media

Tony Abbott’s higher standing in the polls is a reflection of a number of things.
  1. The messages are simplistic slogans, repeated often. When he allows his Shadow Ministers to be interviewed, they are given simple answers to questions, and, almost regardless of the question, trot out the answer robotically.
  2. If asked an uncomfortable question, he will stop the journalist, and pick a more “friendly” journalist; or he avoids as much as possible the more probing current affairs programs, opting for the cream-puff shows that ask only soft questions. A straw poll of appearances, taken and reported  by Bruce Hawker in both the Courier-Mail1 and The National Times2  shows how Tony Abbott has avoided the inquisitorial current affairs shows, and headed for the conservative shock-jocks.  It also shows how Julia Gillard has largely avoided the conservative shock-jocks. (it should be noted that Bruce Hawker is a campaign adviser the Labor Party). The figures show the differences for a range of media up to May 2011:
Julia GillardTony Abbott
Inquisitorial Current Affairs
Conservative Shock Jocks
While these figures are not definitive, they are probably indicative.

Radio Shock-Jocks:
Alan Jones is a Liberal Party supporter, and 3-time candidate at NSW and Federal elections for the Liberal Party. 3 
Other conservative shock-jocks used by Tony Abbott include Ray Hadley, Andrew Bolt, Howard Sattler, Steve Price.

“Current Affairs” shows generally fall into 2 categories: populist, shallow pulp; and inquisitorial. My own classification of some of them is below. The list is not comprehensive.
Shallow PulpInquisitorial
A Current Affair
60 Minutes
Today Tonight
The 7:30 Report
Q and A
Meet the Press

Media Donations:
Lawrence Bull, writing for New Matilda, trawled through the Australian Electoral Commission, and wrote on 1-February this year 4
“Six-figure donations (from media companies) are common, and the relationships don’t end there - Labor has several major investments in media companies and the close relationship between former Fairfax CEO Ron Walker and the Liberals is well known.”
A Summary of his findings is below:
Donations 2000 - 2007
Media Group / Significant Person
Donations to  Liberal
Donations to Labor
News Corp (Murdoch)
Dame Elizabeth Murdoch
Fairfax Media
PBL Entities (Packer)
TEN Network
(2007 Election, as advertising)
(2007 Election, as advertising)
Paul Ramsey Holdings (Prime TV & Private Hospitals)
Seven Network

With the exception of Austereo and the Seven Network, the other media have significantly favoured the Liberal Party. I would expect a rigorous investigation to show that the funding bias reflects their editorial policies.

Summary and  Conclusion:
In short, there would appear to be a financial & editorial bias from many media organisations towards the Liberal Party. Furthermore, Tony Abbott’s use of soft, populist media, and supportive shock-jocks, is effective use of the media from a politician reported to to have said to the Independent MP’s that he’d “do anything” to be Prime Minister. He remains, however, evasive of more discerning questions, especially about his lack of policy detail.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s poor polling results reflect her lack of attendance on the shallow, populist current affairs shows, and the aggressive pro-Liberal stance taken by popular shock-jocks. She is lighter on simplistic slogans, being more inclined to rational explanations.

In preparing this post, I looked at:


Sunday, July 10, 2011

Carbon Tax An Incremental Step

The (Labor) Federal Government’s Carbon Tax Policy has been released today. Some details were provided by the print media, but the main show began at the midday press conference. The main speakers were Julia Gillard, Greg Combet & Wayne Swan.

  1. A flat-rate carbon tax begins 1-July-2012. It changes to an Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) in 2015.
  2. Carbon tax price is $23 per tonne of Carbon Dioxide (CO2).
  3. Approximately 500 companies will pay the tax. (those producing more than 25,000 tonnes of CO2)
  4. Household fuels are exempt.
  5. Significant changes to the tax system accompany the introduction of the carbon tax. Most taxpayers, and pensioners and self-funded retirees will be compensated.

Comparison with the GST:
Carbon Tax
(Labor Government – to start July 2012)
(Coalition Government – July 2000)
Inflation Effect (CPI) 1
  • 0.7% (Treasury-Predicted)
  • 2.75% (Treasury-Predicted)
  • 3.0% (Measured)
  • Big polluters – those that produce more than 25000 Tonnes of CO2 per year.
  • End-Consumers
Exemptions 2
  • Facilities that produce less than 25000 Tonnes of CO2 per year.
  • Small Businesses
  • Forestry, Land, Agriculture
  • Fresh Food
  • Health and Medical Care
  • Health Insurance
  • Educational Supplies and Childcare
  • ”Specified Items”
Compensations 3
(reduce by 1.3% per year from 2013)
  • Income tax Cuts:
    Households, amount dependent on income
  • 94.5% Compensation:
    High-polluting trade-exposed industries (eg steel-making, cement) are more than 90% compensated
  • 66% Compensation:
    Lower-level polluting trade-exposed industries
  • 50% Compensation:
    Liquefied Natural gas producers
  • Income tax Cuts:
    Households, amount dependent on income

The Politics:
Politically, the government has tied tax reform to the carbon tax. This makes it harder for a future Coalition government to undo. It cannot undo the Carbon Tax / ETS without undoing the tax cuts, increasing rates of tax, or introducing new taxes to replace it.

Meanwhile, News Ltd papers and websites continue their pro-Coalition, anti-climate change, campaign to influence public opinion, possibly with the lack of ethics his media have shown in Britain. Consider the following “Polls” 4 :
  1. ”Will the carbon tax change your energy consumption?”
    It’s a good question, and targets one reason for the carbon tax. (the other reason is as a transition mechanism to a market-based ETS)
    A reasonable person, and a person constructing a survey would expect a Yes/No answer only.
    Not so, Rupert Murdoch’s media: there are 4 options, the 4th one exists to further their agenda to create public opinion. The 4th option is “No,climate change is a myth”
    From a closed question requiring a Yes/No answer, News Ltd has managed to include an option to manipulate public opinion.
  2. “How would you describe the compensation measures”
    Again, a fair question, and you would expect responses like: Excellent, Good, Fair, Bad.
    Again, the long arm of Murdoch’s political agenda has intervened: the 4th option is “Disgraceful, we shouldn't have this tax at all anyway”.

News Ltd polls are not used to gauge public opinion. Their existence is to help manipulate public opinion in favour of the Coalition.

The Greens, Bob Brown and Christine Milne in particular, have been spruiking their contribution. 5 They have talked about “no new coal-fired power stations” being built. This is a possibility, but equivalent gas-fired power stations will be needed.  Hazelwood Power Station in the La Trobe Valley of Victoria uses brown coal and 6 x 200 MW generators to create 1200 MW (1.2 GW) of electricity. Brown coal is a very ‘dirty’ form of coal, and there are significant mines in Victoria. Since its electricity assets were privatised, I understand there has been little investment in power stations.

The Effects:
The intended effects of the carbon tax include: to promote investment in renewable energy sources,  to reduce carbon emissions, to move towards an ETS. The initial target is 5% reduction in CO2. This is a small, but achievable, target.

For all the conservative and (some) media furore over the ‘great big new tax’, the bottom line is if you want to reduce your carbon tax, reduce your use of carbon-based energy. Heat your house to 18-20 degrees in winter, and cool to 24-25 degrees in summer. More tips to reduce energy use can be found at: and

The carbon tax is an incremental change towards changing our environment for the better. The inclusion of tax reform as part of the package is politically smart, making it harder for a future government to undo, and makes the package more significant and palatable.


In researching this post, I also looked at:

Friday, July 08, 2011

End Of The World – To Save Money

Rupert Murdoch’s son, James, has announced that this Sunday, 10-July-2011, will be last edition of The News of the World (NOTW). NOTW is a British tabloid newspaper which has a prior history of making up the news, and most recently, allegedly hacking phones of up to 4000 people, including: public identities (‘celebrities’ and politicians), actors & actresses, families of men and women killed while serving in the military forces, and murder victims. James Murdoch indicated that closing NOTW was ‘the right thing to do’.

Murdoch is staying loyal to Rebekah Brooks, the Editor of NOTW at the time of many of the alleged phone hacks. She has reportedly said she was “sickened” when told of the phone hack of a young murdered girls phone, including the deletion of voice mail messages so more could be left for the paper to report. As Editor, you would expect that she would have known what her journalists were doing (criminal), or incompetent, if she did not know. Rupert and James Murdoch must believe they have much to lose if she were to lose her job in their empire. Her inside knowledge would be priceless to another media organisation, and invaluable to police or a public inquiry.

But, why close the paper? There are a number of possible explanations:
  1. public anger, which might lead to a drop in sales revenue
  2. loss of advertising revenue, as companies express their anger
  3. Murdoch is ruthless in his business, and his use of journalism. In 2007, Bill Moyers, writing on  wrote:
    (Murdoch’s) accustomed to using journalism as a personal spittoon. In the months leading up to the invasion of Iraq, he turned the dogs of war loose in the newsrooms of his empire and they howled for blood. … he’s not the first to use journalism to promote his own interests.  …  His tabloids sell babes and breasts, gossip and celebrities.”
  4. closing the paper, and transferring as many assets as possible from News International (the publishing company) to other parts of News Corp, so that any more people who sue NOTW, will be suing a company with insufficient assets to pay. With up to 4000 people/families who might sue, for say, £500,000 it would face a bill of hundreds of millions of ponds, even if News ‘settled’ out of court.
Given Rupert Murdoch’s ruthless business acumen, my money is on option 4.
I believe that closing NOTW is a business decision only, driven by money considerations and the desire to remove a problem. That is, the closure is designed to limit exposure to compensation and punitive damages claims. I believe it has nothing to do with “the right thing”, as James Murdoch expressed it.


In researching this article, I also looked at:

Sunday, July 03, 2011

Abbott vs Economists

Tony Abbott has continued his politically-motivated aggression against any price on carbon pollution. This time he has attacked Australian, and international, economists. They are in general agreement that a carbon tax is a good, simple, short term measure to reduce carbon pollution, before an ETS is introduced. Speaking at The Australian-Melbourne Institute Growth Challenge conference (of economists) in Melbourne, he said:
“It may well be, as you say, that most Australian economists think that the carbon tax or emissions trading scheme is the way to go. Maybe that’s a comment on the quality of our economists.”
It is classic political “shoot-the-messenger” response. He tried it, with only mixed success, on Ross Garnaut.  Of course, it does nothing for public debate, and is merely an assertion to be reported in the media. I’m not aware of any research on Australian media, but with Rupert Murdoch having significant interests in the UK, the USA and Australia, I’d hypothesise that the figures in the chart below would not be too different for the media & public opinion. (the chart also links to the original site)

His figures for climate scientists consensus are supported by Anderegg, W. et al. in  Proceedings of the National academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS) (Link 5, below)

The Productivity Commission Report ( ) made the following points in its conclusion:
“The cost effectiveness of these actions (carbon emissions reductions policies) in achieving abatement, and the amount of abatement actually achieved, also varies widely, both across programs within each country and in aggregate across countries.
–  Explicit carbon pricing in the United Kingdom appears to have been a cost-effective way of achieving considerable abatement.
–  At the other end of the scale, policies to encourage small-scale renewable generation are substantially less cost effective and have led to relatively little abatement.

The relative cost effectiveness of a price-based approach is illustrated for Australia by stylised modelling that suggests that the abatement from existing policies could have been achieved at a fraction of the cost.”
That is, a carbon tax or emissions trading scheme is a more cost-efficient way to use the tax system to reduce emissions than subsidies for small-scale projects, such as household solar panels, for example.


In researching this article, I also looked at: