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Paddy Manning pays the whistleblower’s price

In Journalism, Margo Kingston, Media on April 9, 2013 at 4:32 PM

BusinessDay-620x280

By Margo Kingston,

April 9,  2013

I know from experience that sometimes when the death of something you believe in stares you in the face you lose your judgement. It seems that this happened to business journalist Paddy Manning  yesterday morning. By 6pm last night he’d been sacked. by editorial chief Garry Linnell.

Like many journos, I thought @gpaddymanning must have another job to go to when I saw his piece in Crikey. Apparently he hasn’t, and that hurts him and his wife and children.

Today, the consensus of a meeting of Fairfax business journos was that management’s decision was correct and that they could take no action to support their colleague. What Paddy did was to write a critical piece about his employer in a rival publication, and that’s a cardinal sin.

Apparently he thought he’d be reprimanded and sent to Siberia for a long time when he wrote his piece for Crikey. He must have thought the principles he was fighting for were worth that sacrifice. I agree with him, and I hope for his sake his stunning protest about what is becoming deeply compromised business reporting at Fairfax will trigger reflection and action.

Some background. Fairfax has been repositioning itself to be more pro-business, a move given added impetus by its decision last week to end the separation between the Australian Financial Review and the metro dailies’ business coverage. Now, after merging the SMH and The Age business bureaus, all three are now in one division, meaning it is likely they will not compete for stories. The Australian Financial Review’s new editor Michael Stutchbury has been noticeably anti-union, pro-business and anti-government since he moved from The Australian.

Ian Verrender, the business editor of the SMH for eight years, took redundancy last year and used his final column, ‘A business reporter’s greatest value lies in asking hard questions’ to warn of what was to come at Fairfax:

A menacing danger quietly lurks behind the technological changes within the media, one that has the potential to debase one of the foundations necessary for a healthy democracy. Nowhere is that more apparent than in the way in which business news is presented, where the interests of a free press and commercial imperatives collide, often with devastating effects.

The more vulnerable media companies become, the less capable they are of withstanding the pressure of vested interests and the more susceptible they will be to attack. Many will adopt the easy way out, that it is best to simply not cause trouble…

Unlike politics or sport, those running big business have a great deal of power. Veer too far from the press release, question a little too aggressively and the mighty weight of a corporation suddenly is hovering above, threatening litigation, demanding your dismissal. The chief executive probably knows a few people on the newspaper company’s board.

Little wonder then that most business reporters default to the easy option. And many begin to believe they are part of the business world, that the reason they are being squired to upmarket restaurants, to corporate boxes and offered trips to exotic places is that they are part of the team.

…This is the final column I’ll pen for BusinessDay. It is an emotional parting but after 25 years, it is time to move on. There have been good times. There have been great times. And the ethos that was drilled into us all those years ago – that we work for the readers, for you – is something that remains true today and hopefully in the future, in whatever form The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald take.

So this is it. Time to clean up the desk. Then again, there is so much clutter and rubbish here, maybe I’ll leave it for whoever comes next. You need a legacy, after all.

Verrender’s column details the terrible toll on ordinary people of big business scams and bad practice due to soft pro-business reporting and spruiking by finance journalists and editors. Thanks to Paddy’s dummy spit, we know that the lessons of cosying up to big business have not been learned, and that compromised ethics are on the rise and getting worse.

The back story from what I’ve gathered today – and I would appreciate input from people in the know – is that there is a process of creeping advertorials in Fairfax business coverage. There have been protests by journos, but apparently management has reassured staff that there is no influence by advertisers (sponsors) on content. The idea is that journalists are commissioned to write for these special sections in the normal way, and write their stories untouched by the advertising sponsorship. However tensions are apparent, as sponsors have begun complaining about what is being written. Read the rest of this entry »

Howard’s blueprint for Abbott to stifle dissent

In Brandis Remember This Freedom, Freedom of Speech, IPA, JWH & NGOs, Margo Kingston on March 12, 2013 at 2:19 PM
Artist Martin Davies.  More works and info on Martin at: www.daviesart.com

Artist Martin Davies.

By Margo Kingston
March 12, 2013

This chapter from Still Not Happy, John! (Pengiun, 2007) is required reading for activists and people in non-government organisations which advocate for change. John Howard’s government systematically sought to stifle democratic dissent with the help of the Institute of Public Affairs (IPA).

Believe it or not, the Howard government funded the secretly funded IPA to produce a report saying groups who did not reveal their funding should not get government funding. Pressed to justify this hypocrisy, the IPA promised to disclose its donors but it never did.

As the likelihood of a government led by Howard’s political son grows, I feel citizens need to ask detailed questions of the Coalition on their intentions this time round. None of the dissent stifling measures discussed here were ever revealed prior to election.

I commissioned journalist Paddy Manning (@gpaddymanning) to write this chapter and he did a fine job.



‘Still Not Happy, John!’ is published by Penguin. You can download it as an ebook here:

Still Not Happy, John!

Manifesto for @NoFibs

In AFHP, Fairfax, Journalism, Margo Kingston on March 1, 2013 at 11:12 PM
Margo Kingston

Margo Kingston – Photo credit Sarah Gross Fife

By Margo Kingston
March 1, 2013

It’s a funny feeling to be writing an introduction to the ebook of Still Not Happy, John!’, because after so many years in retirement I’m now back doing what I love – writing for and editing a citizen journalism website.

Back then it was with the Sydney Morning Herald’s Webdiary, created in 2000 and the inspiration for my 2004 book, Not Happy, John!. The book saw Fairfax turn its back on my work, and after a gruelling struggle to save Webdiary, I retired hurt in December 2005. A community-supported Webdiary finally closed last July.

Its successor, thanks to Twitter, is Australians for Honest Politics, created in December 2012 by former Webdiarist Tony Yegles, my AFHP co-publisher.

After seven years as an internet refugee, I’m now a Twitter obsessive, and surprised I’m still up for it. For me it’s ground hog day, but with the bells and whistles of technology making the process easier and more fun. And I’ve been given an armchair ride on Twitter due to the support of many former Webdiarists who’ve since become internet writers and activists.

What brought me back was a compulsion borne of amazement that the media had let Tony Abbott get away with claiming the AWU slush fund saga was a question of character for the PM (‘Australians for Honest Politics’ is the name Tony Abbott gave his own slush fund, detailed at length in the book).

My first piece back in action – which only Independent Australia would publish – was about Tony Abbott and his slushy character question.

Only Michelle Grattan, now a fellow escapee to online new media heaven, had the class to acknowledge a collective lapse in memory in the Press Gallery. No one took up my challenge to push Abbott on his unanswered slush questions, despite their ferocious pursuit of Julia Gillard on hers.

Having put history as completely back on the record as I could thanks to The King’s Tribune and New Matilda, I was set to resume my new life until I noted with alarm the extraordinary lack of mainstream media interest in the implications of the Ashby judgement. I wrote of the resonance between the old Abbott slush story and the Ashby scandal, then howled with dismay at the lack of Ashby follow-up.

Now, damn it, I’m hooked on journalism again.

Several tweeps asked for an ebook of Still Not Happy, John!, and Penguin has kindly obliged. I feel it’s worth a read, or a re-read. Here’s why. Read the rest of this entry »