You do have to wonder. In a recent edition of The Australian (October 21, 2005), its New York correspondent David Nason reported that the newspaper’s owner, “media mogul” Rupert Murdoch, “has taken his late blooming embrace of the Internet to new heights”.
Murdoch described the Internet “as the ultimate expression of News Corporation’s 40-year corporate philosophy of offering media consumers more choice” and went on to claim:
... (t)he more we think about it, the more the Internet fits into our whole “modus vivendi" (way of living) - our philosophy for the last 40 years, which is more choice. The Internet is almost the ultimate way of giving people choice. Young people use it more. Before, we were pushing media at them. Now, the new generation and the generations to follow, are going to be pulling out of the universe what media they want to feel relevant.
I concede that the words “Murdoch” and “choice” do not sit easily in the same sentence, but let’s overlook that for the moment.
Murdoch’s enthusiastic embrace of the Internet and the choice it offers has yet to filter down to the hack he employs to write the editorials in The Australian. The front page of the edition that contained the story from New York (lifted, with attribution, from an interview in Fortune magazine) carried an article headlined “ATSIC website in exam ‘an insult’”.The story explained that the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission’s (ATSIC) website was taking its place alongside Shakespeare’s King Lear and W.B. Yeats’s poetry as an examination topic for the New South Wales Higher School Certificate.
Students taking their final Advanced English exam were offered a choice of texts to analyse, including the ATSIC site. Senior lecturer in English at the University of Sydney Barry Spurr was not impressed. He told the newspaper there was an argument for studying the ATSIC website in history or cultural studies but it was not appropriate for students of English. “The fact that it’s in (an exam) with texts that are well established classics of English literature suggests that it is of similar standing - this is a willful devaluing of the classics,” he told the newspaper.
Dr Spurr said he felt the creators of the ATSIC website would be as “surprised as anyone” to find their work as an English set text. Their purpose presumably was to promote the Indigenous cause, not produce literature, he said: “Put it in history, put it in cultural studies.” At no stage is anyone in the article quoted as saying the inclusion of the ATSIC website in the exam is “an insult”, as retailed in the headline.
On the same day, The Sydney Morning Herald (SMH) ran an interview with a couple of HSC students, Montana Linkio and Danielle Cavasini, from Tara Anglican School for Girls at North Parramatta, who studied six episodes of the current affairs spoof Frontline for their Advanced English exam, which they had sat the day before. Montana told the newspaper the media were not to be trusted. “No offence, seriously - but I’m quite cynical about the media now,” she said, “whenever I see that woman on Today Tonight all I can think of is Brooke Vandenberg from Frontline.” Danielle agreed. “The media lies. It’s everywhere in the media: selection and emphasis,” she said.
Paranoia was running thick and fast back at The Australian. The SMH article provoked an editorial in The Australian the following day headed, “Sticking to The Book: Books are better for student study than digital detritus”. It began, “Yesterday The Sydney Morning Herald quoted HSC students denouncing critics of Year 12 English courses - we think they meant us. Apparently because ‘the media lies’ it is important for young people to know what the reptiles of the press are up to, the students said.”
The editorial promoted the virtue of a good book against blogs or “digital ephemera”. It continued, “Reading a whole book takes time and discipline, and is about the best way imaginable to learn how to analyse authorial intent and interpret their arguments. All that examining the ATSIC site will do is expose students to propaganda from an organisation that in the end represented only itself.”
Obviously this editorial hack has never taken the time or been disciplined enough to analyse the content of the ATSIC website. There is no evidence to support the claim that the website contains propaganda or that the organisation “in the end represented only itself”. Quite the contrary. But it’s about all you can expect from the delinquent reporting that has become a hallmark of The Australian’s coverage of ATSIC. The newspaper has never taken the time nor exercised the discipline to analyse the work of the now defunct commission in its general reportage or editorial columns. If Danielle ever wanted to confirm her worst suspicions about media selection and emphasis she ought to have a close look at The Australian’s coverage of ATSIC over the past ten years.
Just for the record, I was one of the creators of the ATSIC website, along with a dedicated bunch of Aboriginal public servants (largely lost to the Australian Public Service since the demise of ATSIC) and a wizard web developer, Matt Bullock, who also created the National Indigenous Times (NIT) website.