Thursday 19th of May 2022

a fraud on the people….

What does a democracy do when a dominant news media organisation goes rogue during an election campaign?

In 2022, News Corporation is confronting Australia with this question once again, as it did in 2019, 2016 and 2013, and as it did in the United States in 2016 and 2020.

“Going rogue” here means abandoning any attempt at fulfilling one of the media’s primary obligations to a democratic society — the provision of truthful news coverage — and instead becoming a truth-distorting propagandist for one side.




The evidence that News Corp has gone rogue during the current federal election is plentiful. It can be seen every morning in its newspapers across the country, and every evening on Sky News after dark.

A sample of its election coverage over the period April 27 to May 2 makes the case.

On May 2, the Daily Telegraph in Sydney devoted its front page to a publicity puff for Katherine Deves, the Liberal candidate for Tony Abbott’s old seat of Warringah.

Deves is campaigning to have transgender women banned from sport, but has had to apologise twice as statements by her have emerged claiming “half of all males with trans identities are sex offenders”, and likening her view on the issue to standing up to Nazis.

The Telegraph splashed the headline “They are all with me”, alongside a photo of a smiling Deves, pushing the argument that “the silent majority” supported her position. Rowan Dean on Sky went so far as to say this could win the election for the government.

On May 1, the Herald Sun in Melbourne turned its front page into a campaign poster for Josh Frydenberg. According to the headline, Frydenberg was in the “fight of his life” to retain Robert Menzies’ old seat of Kooyong against a “teal” independent, Monique Ryan.

Inside, the paper produced a double-page spread promoting Frydenberg with the banner headline, “Why you need to vote for me”, reportedly lifted straight from a Liberal campaign advertisement.

Pictures of his wife and children featured prominently in this piece of rank propaganda.

Meanwhile, on Sky after dark, the big guns Andrew Bolt, Peta Credlin and Paul Murray kept up a relentless barrage of pro-Liberal, anti-Labor and anti-teal propaganda.

Bolt picked up on a Scott Morrison jibe about Labor’s policy on the Solomon Islands, saying it involved sending the ABC to head off China in the south Pacific.

Over the week it was part of an eclectic contribution from Bolt, touching on Hong Kong, border protection, male birth control and a new twist on the concept of climate denialism. On Bolt’s planet, increasing power prices are the result of “being in denial” by thinking coal-fired power stations can be replaced by wind and solar energy.

Credlin also spent a lot of time on climate but had a quite different take. Having re-run a Liberal attack ad saying Labor is proposing a carbon tax, she went on to say the Coalition is divided more fundamentally than Labor on climate.

To her obvious chagrin, the Liberal Party had allowed itself to be distracted by this and by identity wars, a clear reference to the Deves problem, and she conceded the government was “a little bit shop-soiled”.

But Credlin’s main targets were the teal independents – women candidates standing on a platform of climate action, integrity and gender equality against Liberal incumbents in seats such as Goldstein and Kooyong in Melbourne, and Wentworth and North Sydney in Sydney.

Their sheer impertinence made her cross.


It meant, she said, the “hard heads” at Liberal campaign headquarters were having to spend time and money defending Liberal seats that “by right” they should not have to defend. In other words, the Liberal Party was entitled to occupy these seats without serious challenge.

Then there was Murray, presenting himself as “the last line of defence for common sense”.

In this role he was running a countdown: by the evening of May 2, there were only 19 days left to “save the country from the mad left”.

When a Labor figure, Nicholas Reece, tried to argue the cost of Labor’s election promises was dwarfed by the debt run up by the present government, Murray shouted him down, saying, “I’m not interested.”

Murray also asserted, without a shred of evidence, that Labor and the Greens had struck a power-sharing deal, so in the event of a hung parliament Labor would govern with the Greens’ support. This added up to the fact that “Labor and the Greens are the same thing”.

The lesser lights on Sky, such as Chris Smith, Chris Kenny and others, made their own toxic contributions, using words such as “fraud”, “sewer” and “spewing” in crude attacks on the teal independents.

And so it went for the whole week: propaganda, distortions, crudity and pro-Liberal apologia.

A fraud on the people

This abandonment of a fundamental news media obligation to truth-telling is by definition harmful to a democratic society. Not only does it rob the population of a bedrock of reliable news, it debases the entire discourse. It is also a fraud on the people by misrepresenting propaganda as news.

The dilemma facing a democracy is that measures needed to counter these harms would violate free-speech principles to a degree that would harm democracy in a different way.

Any abridgement of free speech must be proportional to the harm that is sought to be avoided. How that balance might be struck in a case like this is highly contestable on political as well as ethical grounds.

Yet existing measures are clearly ineffectual. The broadcast industry’s codes of practice for television and radio require news programs to be accurate and fair – but give no guidance on what this consists of. Current affairs programs are exempt even from this requirement.

The broadcast regulator, the Australian Communication and Media Authority, is a “co-regulator” that has shown itself to be utterly captured by the industry it is meant to hold to account.

Read more: 10 years after Finkelstein, media accountability has gone backwards

Newspapers are accountable to the Australian Press Council, but it has proved just as ineffectual as the ACMA. In any case, it is fatally compromised by being reliant on funding from the newspaper companies, among which the largest contributor is News Corporation.

All efforts to establish an effective independent media accountability body have foundered on the rock of implacable opposition from the commercial media organisations.

Yet, even if one were to be established, the dilemma would remain: what standards would strike the right balance, and how would they be enforced during an election campaign in ways that did not unreasonably burden free speech?

In the end, democracies are thrown back on conventions, which provide the boundaries within which politics operates in ways conducive to the public good.

The conventions depend on people in power, including those running media organisations, living up to the responsibilities that their role in a democracy imposes on them.

By convention, those responsibilities include prioritising the public interest over the private interests of media organisations and their owners, and providing news content calculated to inform, not repel, the voting public.

News Corporation fails on both counts.

It prioritises the understood financial and ideological interests of one man, Rupert Murdoch, over the public interest, and its toxic news content is calculated to reinforce the worldview of its target audiences.

If News Corp were merely an online echo chamber, this would be bad enough, but it is not.

The ready availability of its newspapers to the population as a whole, and the spread of its Sky after dark content beyond the confines of pay television into regional free-to-air services, make it a far more damaging influence than any online filter bubble.

WIN and Southern Cross Austereo, the companies that carry the Sky content on free-to-air TV into regional Australia, are complicit in inflicting this damage on the Australian polity. They too have abandoned their conventional responsibilities.

In an age where communications businesses are enjoined to “move fast and break things”, breaking these conventions risks breaking democracy itself. Events in the United States since 2016 provide a stark example of what this looks like when it happens.






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if scomo gives you colics……….

How often should we poo? If you Google this question, you’re likely to find an answer along the lines of three times a day to once every three days. But this leaves room for substantial variation. The true answer is: when you feel the urge.

In fact, habitually putting off the urge to poo and slowing the bowel “transit time” may be associated with a higher risk of problems such as bowel cancerdiverticulosis (small pouches of the bowel lining protruding through the bowel wall), haemorrhoids and anal tears, and prolapse. 

That’s why the golden rule of gastroenterology is to always heed the “call to stool” when the urge strikes.

Eating often triggers the urge

Back in the early 20th century, physiologists determined that a powerful stimulus to open your bowels was eating food and they referred to this this as the gastro-colic reflex. It’s often most potent after a fast and, thus, after breakfast.

Babies generally void their bowels when the need presents itself. However, as soon as we can make decisions for ourselves – around the same age we start to walk – we learn to suppress this “call to stool”.

Learning to control one’s bowels is an important developmental step, but some of us take it too far; we discover we can sometimes make this urge go away temporarily if we ignore it for a while, because now doesn’t seem like a convenient time.

But habitually suppressing this urge can be associated with symptoms including:

  • constipation

  • abdominal pain

  • variable and unpredictable bowel habits

  • bloating

  • wind

  • slower transit of matter through our intestines.



Read from top.



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A strong, independent public broadcaster, with its governing board appointed at arms-length from executive government, and funded by and accountable to a healthily functioning parliament, is a gift to democracy.


By Kerry O'Brien



When Australia achieved nationhood in 1901 it had already become a land of newspapers and has retained a ubiquitous mainstream presence ever since. But for all our boasts of having a free press and freedom of speech, the inarguable fact is that most of this country’s mainstream media proprietors have traditionally had the profit motive and political influence as their primary driving imperatives, and Australia has the most egregious concentration of ownership in the democratic world.

Public broadcasting as exemplified in countries like Britain, Canada, Australia and for a time, New Zealand, evolved as a trusted source of news with a rich vein of cultural exposure, complementing and enhancing commercial media coverage, and reflecting a nation honestly to itself. The ABC has particularly been a vital source of news into Australia from the rest of the world, interpreted through Australian eyes, and an important conduit for the flow of information between the bush and our cities.

So where do we find ourselves today? Our parliament is failing us. Both our major parties in a two-party system have strayed from their roots and appear to have lost their way. Political leadership is in drought. Our mainstream commercial media is struggling under the impact of digital disruption and a deliberately manipulated onslaught of false information across social media. Our public broadcaster is under sustained attack. And our democracy is in trouble.

I have spent the bulk of my life reporting on this country and have had the opportunity and privilege to report on many other countries and political systems as well, both democratic and authoritarian. I have seen the outcomes of both. I have always understood that to respect democracy is to respect the outcomes of elections, whether my vote was on the winning side or not, and that has also governed my work.

But, to borrow from Shakespeare, there is something rotten in the state of Denmark. I have never seen Australian politics closer to a state of moral decay. I have never seen Australia so rudderless, or with less capacity or commitment to meet the challenge of crucial policies that are politically difficult and require courage and moral fibre to implement.

I have not seen an Australia before whose capacity for public service has been so hollowed out across the board.

I have never before seen such a concentration of royal commissions reflecting manifest failures at the very heart of our society; royal commissions forced on reluctant governments—mostly by superb and courageous ABC investigations—to expose inconvenient truths about the exploitation of vulnerable customers by greedy financial institutions, or the appalling treatment of our vulnerable aged, or the equally appalling injustice and racism reflected in our juvenile justice system, or the callous neglect and abuse of the disabled.

I have not seen an Australia so bereft of trust in its politicians, so cynical of their motives and their promises as it is today.

And I have not seen an Australia before whose cherished public broadcaster has been so devalued and subjected to such sustained attack from those who would seek to neuter it, or worse, destroy it. And yet, in these complex, challenging times, the ABC has never been more important in my lifetime.

I’ve often wondered, as I ‘ve watched America—the world’s once-great bastion of democracy, lurch further and further away from the spirit of its constitution, and further down the treacherous road of greater inequity and division towards authoritarianism, how different America’s story might be today if it had had a strong public broadcasting culture to reflect and enhance and inspire its beating heart.

The Irish journalist Fintan O’Toole, one of the most erudite commentators on the state of the democratic world today, has a very clear idea of where we’re headed. He says: Fascism doesn’t arise suddenly in an existing democracy. It is not easy to get people to give up their ideas of freedom and civility. You have to do trial runs that, if they are well done, serve two purposes. They get people used to something they may initially recoil from; and they allow you to refine and recalibrate. This is what is happening now and we would be fools not to see it.”

One of the trial runs in America O’Toole refers to, is reflected in the boast four years ago by former Donald Trump adviser and arch conservative, Steve Bannon, that the way to nobble the mainstream media is to: “flood the zone with shit”; to unleash so much misinformation, so much fake news across the internet and its social media platforms so that the reputable voices of journalism like the New York Times, the Washington Post and others would drown in a sea of misinformation and fake news, leaving the public disoriented and confused as to where the truth stops and the lie begins.

In Australia we would be fools not to see the fraying edges of our own democracy.

To me, it is reasonable conjecture that when Clive Palmer, a single individual who made a fortune from fossil fuel, spends a massively obscene amount of money in this election campaign—as he did in the last–he is looking to orchestrate an outcome that will facilitate his efforts to maintain and build his fortune further from fossil fuel. Regardless of his motive, the notion that a single individual could influence the outcome of a national election by sheer weight of money is fundamentally anti-democratic.

And when two former prime ministers acknowledge publicly that in government they lived in fear of the power and muscle of another individual—Rupert Murdoch—and when the media organs of that individual have the scope to shut down or subvert valid and important public debate, we should also recognise that level of media ownership and that kind of power as fundamentally anti-democratic, as a point of principle as well as in practice.

For instance, what chance is there of a genuinely fair election in Queensland against the accumulated influence of two men, Rupert Murdoch and Clive Palmer.

When I was in the chair at 7.30 in the Howard years, John Howard’s office used to refer to the ABC’s relationship with regional and rural Australia as “Our enemy talking to our friends”. Maybe by that they meant that the ABC was poisoning conservative voters in the bush with its mythical left-wing slant on news. What I suspect it really reflected was a frustration that the ABC was harder to manipulate than much of the rest of the media and was less inclined to be compliant, in its coverage to the bush and everywhere else.

I also think it goes some way to understanding the mentality within conservative ranks that has driven the sense of hostility and desire to punish, reflected in the Howard years, and over this last nine years of the Abbott, Turnbull and Morrison governments. The recurring pattern is bizarre. The big black and white pre-election promise not to cut the ABC’s money, followed closely and shamelessly in the immediate post-election budget by a significant cut to the ABC’s budget. Howard did it. Abbott did it. Turnbull and Morrison continued it.

Since Abbott the ABC has lost 10.6 percent of its budget in real terms. That is hundreds of millions of dollars. And now, in the shadow of another election, suddenly the Minister for the ABC, who declined the Friends’ invitation to front you here today, scrambles to undo the freeze imposed by the Turnbull government on the automatic annual adjustments for inflation which effectively amounted to cutting another $40 million a year. For a start the government’s formula for indexation does not reflect the true measure of inflation, but even if it did, why would we trust this promise, given the track record of broken promises in the past.

The ABC has so far resisted both the public attacks and the depleted budgets but anyone who has followed dear old Auntie for any length of time knows that damage has been done. Damage that is hard to define and hard to measure, but real, engrained damage to the psyche of the place as well as its programs that will be hard to undo.

Dare I say it, Labor Governments have shown their frustrations, even outright anger with ABC coverage that has stung them too, but at least Labor has had a long-term philosophical commitment to the principle of public broadcasting. But if Labor does win this election it has serious ground to make up to demonstrate its adherence to that principle and restore the ABC to a state of reasonable health. That means going beyond what it’s committed to so far.

I don’t claim some hallowed status for the ABC. It’s had its stumbles and its imperfections too. And, given the level of trust invested in it by its audience, and given the investment of public funds as well, it should never resent a strong, sensible, justifiable level of public scrutiny—but I have to say from my decades of experience in the place, I cannot think of another institution more scrutinised than the ABC, short of the parliament itself. And the irony there, of course, is that the workings of government in Australia are becoming more and more opaque, more and more resistant to scrutiny—another symptom of our fraying democracy.

So, for all the concerns I’ve outlined, I have been accepting invitations on behalf of ABC Alumni, from independent candidates in various electorates—taking the opportunity to air the same concerns I’ve been expressing today—not to endorse any individual candidate, and certainly not to try to instruct people how to vote, but to challenge them to think carefully about how precious their vote is, and how they can make it speak for their values and their most important needs.

But I have to say I couldn’t help but be impressed, not just by the quality of the candidates themselves but the small armies of highly motivated, highly articulate volunteers who have emerged from within their communities determined to have their voices heard, protesting what they clearly see as a decline in the quality of their traditional representation.

I could not believe it when I heard John Howard referring to these women so disparagingly as anti-Liberal groupies. Unusually clumsy for one of the wiliest politicians in Australia’s post-war era. I checked the Oxford Dictionary definition of a groupie: It’s “a young woman who regularly follows a pop group or other celebrity, especially in the hope of having a sexual relationship with them.”

What an appallingly sexist putdown to the Zoe Daniels, the Zali Steggalls, the Allegra Spenders, the Monique Ryans, the Kate Hooks and all the other fiercely intelligent and independent women who have stood up to be counted because their communities are losing faith in mainstream politics.

I’d like to finish with a message to all Australians as they cast their vote. To think. To think about your vote and why you have it. To think about how you can really make it count. I’ve had so many, many people over the years, people frustrated over something that’s just not right in the way the system has let them down, or over the breakdown of civil society in their community, who have said to me, “What can I do?”

Well this is what you can do. Use your vote to speak for you. Really speak for you. Our vote is one of the most precious things we have. And so is our ABC.