Tuesday, 9 June 2020

This Is Not Journalism or How A 165 Year Old Australian Masthead Finally Lost Its Good Name

The Age newspaper has been read in Melbourne since October 1854.

Over the years it grew in circulation until it was read across the state of Victoria and elsewhere in Australia.

It has survived the vagaries of the print newspaper business, until the Fairfax-Nine Entertainment merger when it became part of a media group whose chairman was a former Liberal MP and onetime Australian federal treasurer Peter Costello and its CEO began courting the Liberal Party by hosting a $10,000 dollar a head party fundraiser at its headquarters in 2019 raising at least $700,000 for the party.

It is no secret that the current Federal Liberal-Nationals Coalition Government dislikes the Victorian Labor Government and is out to criticize and undermine it at every opportunity.

So when this front page headline appeared in The Age on 5 June 2020, "Activists 'planning trouble' at protest: Exclusive", under the bylines of the newspaper's State Political Editor and a general news journalist, it came as no surprise.

The opening paragraphs ran thus:

Activists have threatened police with spitting, inflammatory chanting and other forms of physical abuse during tomorrow's "Black Lives Matter" protest in Melbourne in an attempt to provoke use-of-force responses from officers. 

A senior government source told The Age police were preparing for tactics from some protesters tomorrow designed to provoke physical confrontation and produce images of police brutality. [my yellow highlighting]

The newspaper amplified this message on social media:

The online copy of the original article in question has since been removed. With the current online article now having a different headline and and text much altered from the original.

The apology issued by The Age and published on 6 June on the second page of the print newspaper, contains a meas culpa for its lapse in "editorial standards and values". However, this creates another issue surrounding these values.

It completely omitted mention of the "senior government source". Instead the apology states "one unnamed source".

The Age, 6 June 2020, p.2:


On June 5, The Age published a story headlined: "Activists 'planning trouble' at Protest". 

This story reported concerns within the Victorian government about the potential for physical confrontation during planned protests. 

The story fell short of The Age's editorial values and standards and caused understandable offence to many members of the community. 

The claim that activists had threatened police with spitting and abuse was not backed up beyond one unnamed source

The story put undue emphasis on these claims. The main organisers of the rally, the Warriors of the Aboriginal Resistance, clearly stated that they had no knowledge of any threats to police. The Age apologises. [my yellow highlighting]

It certainly differed from the "clarification" displayed under the current online article posted at 11:45pm the night before:

One has to wonder if, between the publication of that original inflammatory article and the final print apology, management began to hedge its bets because the "source" cited appeared highly suspect and may not have been a source in government or even close to government and that there was a possibility that The Age's journalists had been played.

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