February 12

G-G stories: two newspapers flout press code

 

… two newspapers flout press code…

An extraordinary attack by a journalist on the Governor-General has led to his newspaper, the Brisbane Courier Mail, running the risk of being found to be in breach of the newspapers’ code.   And a campaign against the Governor General run by its stable mate, the Sydney Daily Telegraph, has led to that newspaper being in danger of also being found to have committed a serious and continuing breach of the code.

A finding of a breach of this magnitude would reflect poorly on the judgement of the persons in charge of a newspaper. Confidence in the system of self regulation of the press can be easily undermined if newspapers do not behave responsibly.

Fortunately in both cases, it is not too late even now for the editors to mitigate the damage by doing what good sense and fairness indicate – allowing the Governor-General’s staff to respond.

It is difficult to understand this unworthy campaign. The Governor-General and Mrs Jeffery could not have been more dedicated.

 

…pure invention… …"lecturing"  the Australian cricket team…

 

 “There is nothing quite like the prospect of joining the ranks of the unemployed to galvanise a body into action,” wrote Mike O'Connor in the Courier Mail 3 February, 2008. 

He then made the extraordinary claim that the Governor-General’s perfectly proper call for a return to civility and good manners in sport, and in particular cricket, was actually an attempt to ensure he would be re-appointed.

But it is common knowledge, even to critics of the Governor-General, that he wants to retire at the end of his term in August. This claim by O’ Connor is without foundation.O’Connor also accused Major General Jeffery of lecturing the Australian cricket team, giving Ricky Ponting the Australian captain a lesson in history.

It was he said, “It was a cynical ploy to take advantage of the friction that exists between the Australian and Indian teams and grab a headline.” 

We believe that this is also untrue, a point we have previously made in this column[*] 

In fact, any reasonable person  reading the Governor-General’s speech would, we think,  wonder whether those journalists had actually read it. 

 …the plan: don’t mention the G-G… 


  Now we’re well used to a section of the media complaining that the Governor-General is invisible.

Recently another journalist, Alison Rehn, wrote a piece, Who to choose as the next G-G?, syndicated in the Murdoch News Limited group and posted to the News site on 1 February, 2008.

She  announced triumphantly that when she contacted a university lecturer, presumably one teaching in politics and government, the lecturer “didn't even know who Michael Jeffery was.”

Apparently the obvious  conclusion, that this tells us more about that particular university department  than the visibility of the office of Governor-General, did not dawn on her.

There has been of course a conscious policy on part of the media not to report Major-General Jeffery, unless of course they were able to get something on him.

As a military hero, getting something on him was always going to be difficult.

The media’s approach to this Governor-General may be readily contrasted with their policy towards his two predecessors.  This involved the near secular beatification of one and hostility for the other.

…a transparent political campaign…


The fact  is that in recent years, some in the media have decided to use the office of Governor-General as a pawn in a transparent and broader political campaign.

Those sections of the media think the people are is too stupid to notice this. The people are not, and their conclusions may be seen in the annual surveys of the public’s assessment of the honesty and ethics of different professions, however unfair these broad-brush conclusions are to the diligent and ethical.

In any event O’Connor grossly exaggerates the effect of this media campaign when he says the Governor-General “would easily head any list of least-known Australian public figures.”

Many ministers of the Crown, judges, senior public servants, vice chancellors, and editors and broadcast producers would be less well known, even without the sort of conscious boycott some have imposed on the Governor-General.

O’Connor’s worst offence remains of course his ridiculous claim  that the Governor-General gave the speech in Canberra to secure reappointment. This is an invention. It has long been know that the Major General Jeffery wishes to retire. Ms. Rehn, for example, mentions this.


Richard Farmer, writing in Crikey on 11 February 2008, admitted he is “a bit of an admirer” of the Governor General “with his dignified style” and his “lack of desire to use his office to try and kid Australians.”   

“Not for him,” he says, the tactic of using  the Sir William Deane approach in trying to influence the public debate.

This very attractive and restrained approach to being Australia's head of state, Mr. Farmer says, occasionally brings commentators to criticise General Jeffery. 

But he says, O’Connor’s claim  that General Jeffery was seeking re-appointment is just “untrue.”  

…flouting the rules…


 When Lord Hunt was appointed by Tony Blair to investigate the suicide of Dr David Kelly, his principal conclusion was for the media, on this occasion for the BBC. 

This was that a story impugning the integrity of anybody, from Tony Blair down, should not be broadcast or indeed published without proper editorial supervision.

Newspapers” declare the Press Council Principles “should not publish what they know or could reasonably be expected to know is false, or fail to take reasonable steps to check the accuracy of what they report.”  

It is hard to see how this story was published. It was so obviously untrue.

But there is worse. If a newspaper publishes something which is totally wrong, it should try to make amends.

The Press Council principles make this very clear.

Under this, newspapers promise to “make amends” for publishing information that is found to be harmfully inaccurate by printing, promptly and with appropriate prominence, such retraction, correction, explanation or apology as will neutralise the damage so far as possible.”

This, at the very minimum, means publishing the arguments for the innocent person damaged by such a story.

 …the newspapers compound their breaches of the code….

We found the following letters are on the vice regal site. Unless we have missed it, The Courier Mail has not published theirs.

Nor has the Daily Telegraph, as far as we can see. 

Yet on any reading of the press code, this is the very minimum action they should take.

 

LETTER TO THE EDITOR OF THE COURIER-MAIL CONCERNING CLAIMS MADE IN THE MONDAY VIEW COLUMN OF 4 FEBRUARY 2008

4 February 2008

I wonder whether Mike O'Connor, in researching his Monday View column about the Governor-General, spoke to any of the 180 or so voluntary and service organisations for which the Governor-General and Mrs Jeffery are patron? Or the farmers, miners, teachers, emergency service workers, indigenous leaders and nurses across Australia who have been visited by the Governor-General and Mrs Jeffery and thanked for their efforts on behalf of the community.

 

Or perhaps any of the 40,000 people who have received awards under our honours system – each delighted in the fact that Governor-General has taken the time to memorise their biographies and to make a personal comment about their achievements.

 

Did he talk to any of our military personnel who have received the Governor-General at bases across Australia and overseas? To any of the veterans at ANZAC Day and other commemorative services who served with General Jeffery in Vietnam, Borneo, Papua New Guinea and Malaysia?

 

Did he speak to anyone in Western Australia where General Jeffery served with distinction for 7 years as State Governor?

 

Did he speak to any of the 4,000 special needs children and their carers who have been to Government House as a Christmas treat?

 

Or any of the thousands of children who visit Government House during the year?

 

Mr O'Connor's purported knowledge about the Governor-General’s future intentions are wrong. Instead of "aiming to secure another term", General Jeffery is on the public record indicating his intention to relinquish office at the end of the year. Certainly Mr O’Connor did not read the Governor-General’s 2008 Australia Day Address. Nor any of the other 800 or so speeches on our website at www.gg.gov.au. 

 

Mr O'Connor asks whether the community gets their money’s worth?

 

You be the judge.

 

Since his appointment, General Jeffery has:

• Delivered over 850 speeches;

• Attended some 1100 separate events throughout Australia;

• Hosted over 750 official functions;

• Received the credentials of over 130 Ambassadors and High Commissioners;

• Presided over 121 meetings of the Federal Executive Council, which has considered some 2,540 agenda items;

• Assented to over 760 pieces of legislation;

• Received over 500 callers, many of whom were representatives of the approximately 180 organisations for which the Governor-General and Mrs Jeffery are Patrons; and

• Represented the Government and people of Australia in Belgium, China, Denmark, East Timor, Egypt, Germany, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, Rome, Saudi Arabia, The Netherlands, the Solomon Islands, the United Kingdom, the United States of America, Samoa and Singapore.

 

The portrait offered by Mr O'Connor, of a man who has served his country for over 50 years as a decorated soldier, Governor and Governor-General, is disingenuous in the extreme.

 

Malcolm Hazell

  

LETTER TO THE EDITOR OF THE DAILY TELEGRAPH IN RESPONSE TO AN EDITORIAL ON 31 JANUARY 2008

31 January 2008

 

Your editorial “Vice-Regal duty” claims, falsely, that the Governor-General was at the Adelaide Test. This is incorrect and email advice to that effect was provided to both your journalist and the news desk.

 

The editorial also claims that the Vice-Regal schedule kept the Governor-General from travelling to Queensland.

 

This is also incorrect. The timing of any visit to flood affected areas will be based on the advice of local authorities to ensure that such a visit does not get in the way of the critically important work of emergency workers in dealing with the floods. This was also pointed out to your journalist and your news desk via email.

 

The headline on the story by Joe Hildebrand on page 3 “He couldn’t get to the floods, but made it to the cricket and tennis” further misrepresents the Governor-General in relation to the reason he hasn’t visited flood affected areas.

 

Malcolm Hazell

Official Secretary to the Governor-General

 


[*] Column, “The Governor-General and the media,” 31 January 2008 

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