The Australian and the contest of ideas
Posted by John, January 5th, 2015 - under Fairfax, Free speech, Media, Media diversity, Murdoch, News Corp, News Ltd, The Australian.
I read Rupert Murdoch’s The Australian every day. I want to know
what the fruitcake faction of capital is up to. That includes not just
Murdoch’s journalists and his major ‘serious’ newspaper outlet in
Australia but the Abbott government they serve and influence and the
Liberal base they feed and incite.
However even Rupert and his minions seem to realise that Tony Abbott
and/or his government are on the nose. Poll after published poll in The
Australian shows Labor easily winning the next election. That has been
the case almost since the day Abbott and co were elected. Australians
voted Labor out and almost straight away twigged that the incoming lot
were just another pack of rotten neoliberal politicans caught between
the desires of business and the needs and wants of ordinary working
At the moment, with The Australian’s promotion of Julie Bishop, it
looks to me as if they see the problem as Abbott rather than his
Government and its neoliberal policies like the GP co-payment,
increasing the pension access age, cutting university funding and
freeing up their fee setting, to name a few.
These are policies which over time are designed to benefit capital
as a class and individual capitalists, assuming they can be carried out
against a reluctant working class. They benefit capital by reducing
government expenditure, at least on welfare and the working class, and
this over time can be redistributed to capital in the form of company
tax cuts, once the Budget deficit bogey is addressed. Indeed, the
Budget deficit becomes an excuse for cutting state payments to the
So far the Senate, reflecting popular discontent, has held up
a number of unpopular Budget measures, although Labor did agree to pass
$20 billion worth of cuts before Christmas. Abbott and co also managed
to introduce a number of cuts, such as the GP co-payment in another
guise, administratively rather than legislatively.
The other day The Australian published an article by former Labor Party Keating Government Minister Gary Johns called No contraception, no dole.
It basically argued that contraception should be compulsory for those
on welfare. Evidently the poor, especially poor Aborigines, breed too
much and shouldn’t be allowed to. Now where have I heard this sort of
social engineering before? Anyone want to remind me?
The Australian received a lot of bad press for publishing this
tripe, tripe aimed at blaming the victims of capitalism, in particular
Aboriginal Australians, for their plight. This, and the response to
another disingenuous piece asking Is science showing there really is a god? prompted an editorial in The Australian in defence of … you guessed it, The Australian.
Two arguments in the editorial stood out. One was that ‘a serious
newspaper should present a variety of opinions.’ The other was that ‘we
love a contest of ideas.’
On both counts The Australian fails. Let’s personalise this first.
Since I got my new computer in late August I have sent 7 letters to the
editor to the Australian and one article for consideration. None have
been published. However to give the opinion editor her due, she at
least, unlike the Fairfax newspapers, had the decency to respond, saying
she didn’t have room for one. An earlier one was rejected by another
editor who said:
Thanks for your contribution, which I enjoyed. Your call for an
overthrow of capitalism, however, runs counter to the ethos of the
paper. It would be odd to publish it.
At one stage the national politics editor, David Crowe, shouted me a
modest late breakfast in Manuka (his timetable was full, not mine,
hence the early morning get together) to discuss if he could run some
tax ideas past me and quote me. He did, for one article.
Then he stopped, presumably because he discovered quoting a socialist
on tax matters probably wasn’t helpful to him, his boss or his audience.
Of course none of this proves my case that The Australian is part of
the fruitcake faction (i.e. the extreme neoliberal wing) of capital in
Indeed my strike rate with the Fairfax papers, in particular the
Canberra Times, is even worse when it comes to articles being rejected.
None out of eight in four months is my Fairfax strike rate. They are
happy to quote me on tax matters in staff articles (see this and this and this for example) but not to publish me in their pages.
My home town newspaper, the Canberra Times, part of the Fairfax
stable, used to publish my letters regularly but no longer does. I have
had only 2 of my 23 submitted letters published in the last 4 months.
Maybe I am just not that publishable. Anymore. I suppose it could be
that my writing style and topic choice condemn me to the editors’
dustbins. I suspect however that my politics is the determining factor.
What mainstream media newspaper regularly publishes a socialist?
What mainstream media newspaper ever publishes a socialist? By socialist
I don’t mean some warmed over social democrat who has made his or her
peace with capitalism and who now writes acceptable puff pieces for
Fairfax or Murdoch. I mean a socialist, one of those people who wants
the working class to overthrow capitalism and spread democracy into the
economic area so that production is organised democratically to satisfy
human needs and wants.
Nick Cater, formerly a journalist with The Australian but now the
Executive Director of the Menzies Research Centre, and a weekly
columnist with The Australian, had this to say about my writing
ability in an article in The Australian.
In today’s world of eff-you politics, Passant is an anachronism,
and not because he wants to see the overthrow of capitalism. He is an
oddity because he insists on articulating his case.
As I pointed out in a blog article at the time,
The Australian hadn’t published one of my 30 submitted letters in the
previous year. So if my writing is well argued, as Cater believes, why
wasn’t even one of them published?
It gets worse. I have in the last week made two comments online on The Australian. Neither have been published.
The answer to the question why I am not published is pretty simple.
Let me republish again the comment by one of the editors to The
Australian. “Thanks for your contribution, which I enjoyed. Your call
for an overthrow of capitalism, however, runs counter to the ethos of
the paper. It would be odd to publish it.”
That is it. The ethos of the paper isn’t about presenting a variety
of opinions or a contest of ideas. It is about capitalism and its
defence. It is about legitimising the current structures of society and
power relations; it is about ensuring legitimacy in a time of austerity.
As one of my friends remarked: ‘Like the rural bar in The Blues
Brothers that played both kinds of music, “country and western” the
Australian is open to discussion that is both neo and liberal.’
[As an aside that is why I think Abbott will resign or be knifed.
His leadership undermines the legitimacy of neoliberalism in a way
Hawke, Keating, Howard, Rudd and Gillard never did. However those Labor
leaders in the list alienated their supporters with their neoliberal
policies and in power have laid the carpet out for the election of
Howard and then Abbott. The number of rusted on Labor voters and members
has fallen markedly since Hawke came to power as disillusioned voters
and former members look for electoral alternatives.]
This process of legitimation requires some differences of opinion.
In the Australian this swings between unapologetic and enthusiastic
Abbott government supporters to more reluctant supporters to right wing
Labor Party hacks. Even the occasional left ALP writer is a prisoner of
the times – a mixture of neoliberalism and Keynesianism with a dose of
pretend social empathy that wends its way into a broad based Keynesian
neoliberalism and zombie social democracy.
In the Fairfax papers it means some of the neoliberal Keynesians get
a run. I merely note that John Quiggin, a respected Keynesian academic,
lost his regular gig at the bosses’ newsletter, the Australian
Financial Review, after a former Australian manager and journalist took
over the editorship. Richard Denniss, from the Australia Institute, a
centre-left group, now seems the Fairfax Keynesian of choice. But their
columns hardly challenge the status quo that is capitalism. Certainly
they challenge some neoliberal ideas and some vested capitalist
interests but not capitalism itself.
It makes some business sense to publish these writers because their
social democratic ideas actually represent or resonate with a majority
of the Australian population. [As a left field thought I was going to
suggest that this might see The Australian try to broaden its appeal by
employing a regular centre left writer, but maybe some things are a step
too far. As John Quiggin noted, while the Australian editorialised against him it did not publish him.
Online media is somewhat different. For example the Guardian runs
more radical left-wing and socialist writers. It is trying for a niche
that attracts the social democrat majority.
What is not acceptable to the doyens of the mainstream capitalist
media of course is a writer of calibre who is a socialist. Neither
Fairfax nor Murdoch would regularly publish one. Indeed as far as I know
they have not published a revolutionary or radical political article in
decades. (Go on, show I am wrong. But be warned. The one case that
disproves my case will prove it.)
For me a famous Noam Chomsky meme captures brilliantly the narrow range of debates allowed within the capitalist media.
A variety of opinions? A contest of ideas? Only those writers imbued
with the capitalist ethos are published in the mainstream media.