The Sydney Morning Herald is a sad case. Once the great journal of record of the City of Sydney, it has fallen on hard times. It is no longer the same newspaper which was founded and run by the Fairfax family, who ensured that it would always observe the highest standards. In recent years it has become the voice of the inner city elites, and that is reflected in its letters columns.
It is sometimes said around Sydney that the letters column is the final straw for those who decide to stop buying the Herald. While they are not happy with what they perceive as bias, it is the bias in the selection of the letters for publication which seems to offend them most.
This sort of disaffection with the Herald is reflected in the significant decline in the Herald’s circulation in a city which has grown remarkably and is bursting at the seams with potential newspaper readers. In the meantime, those fabled rivers of gold, classified advertising, are drying up as advertisers move to that more efficient, cheaper, and in many ways superior form of advertising, the internet. The captive market of readers of the classified columns who are not at all interested in the opinions of the left is collapsing.
The Sydney Morning Herald more and more demonstrates that it now exists not to provide its readers with objective news and balance opinion; it is there to give comfort to that minority, the inner city left wing elites. Not so long ago it had an editor who insisted he would not become a citizen until the constitution were changed to his liking. Dominated by a journalist collective, the Herald has for years been rudderless- and it shows.
Not so many years ago, the Herald was extraordinarily insensitive, indeed provocative, to the great majority of its readers. At the very time of the celebration in honour of Australia Day, the Herald filled its front page with colour photographs of new flags, any one of which it seemed to want so desperately as a replacement for our Australian flag.
The editorial for 26 January, 2006, Australia Day, “The Australian republic must rise again” is a successor to this: http://www.smh.com.au/editorial/index.html
It is on a subject of little interest to the vast majority. The editorial is flanked by an opinion piece, which by its curious title, “If the people want their independence, it’s their move”, seems to be saying that Australia, Canada and New Zealand are not independent because they are constitutional monarchies.
Now it is true that the Herald is entitled to its opinion. It is the lack of intellectual rigour in that editorial, and the relevance of the subject to its readers which is in issue. And even more importantly, it is the way in which the newspaper has failed to correct a serious error which falsely supports and lends credence to one of the principal arguments in the editorial.
For most of its long life, the Herald supported the constitutional monarchy. That has changed. It supported the 1999 model. Now the editor endorses the model which Malcolm Turnbull himself says would, if put to a referendum, be assured of a bigger defeat than in 1999. This involves the direct election of the president, which, according to republican experts, without codification, would be a disaster.
The problem is that, as the Keating government determined after a careful examination, codification is impossible.
This model, endorsed not only by the Herald, but also by Mark Latham, would ensure long periods of governmental paralysis in the nation as the two top politicians, president and prime minister slug it out. Of course the Australian people would not fall for that.
Because a referendum would be doomed to failure, the Herald endorses the republican movement’s expensive and dangerous plan to force Australians to keep on voting until they get it right. The Herald actually argues for the irresponsible use of the constitutional plebiscite, which is against the spirit if not the letter of the constitution.
The first plebiscite will be deliberately designed with one end in view, to obtain a vote of no confidence in one of the world’s most successful constitutions without replacing it with anything else.
What the Herald is in effect saying is that they want a republic-any republic, no matter how bad it is, and no matter how irresponsible expensive and distracting the process.
The Herald’s greatest failure is not to correct a monumental error which lends credence to one of their key arguments.
The Herald editorial predicts that republicanism will triumph once John Howard and The Queen are no longer there.
A reader of the editorial could well have agreed, however reluctantly, that the succession of Prince Charles , would bring on the republic if he had read Gerard Henderson’s opinion piece on Tuesday, 24 January 2006. This was “Sorry, mate, but Her Maj’s got that gig”: http://www.smh.com.au/news/opinion/sorry-mate-but-her-majs-got-that-gig/2006/01/23/1137864866329.html?page=2.
(Can you imagine what Sir Warwick Fairfax would have thought of that headline?)
The reader would probably not have known that Dr Henderson‘s argument that were Prince Charles to become King, a republic would be assured, was based on an error of truly monumental proportions.
Dr Henderson claimed that Prince Charles was “the monarchists’ long-term problem”.
The proof he tendered was in the most recent Newspoll, published by News Limited. While this finds that the present support for Australia becoming a republic has fallen to 46 per cent, he says. if finds that if Prince Charles were to become King, support for a republic rises to 66%.
This is wrong, and it is highly misleading.
In fact the correct figure is 52%. That is significantly different from 66%, and down from a Morgan Poll last year at the height of the furious republican campaign against Prince Charles after he announced his marriage.
Experience in Australia indicates that such a level of support in an opinion poll, 52%, means certain defeat in a subsequent referendum.
That error is damaging to Prince Charles personally, and it is damaging to the case of those who support the constitutional monarchy. Worse it is damaging to all those who have read either the opinion piece or the editorial. They have been misled seriously and, it seems the Herald couldn’t care less about that.
That error, which explodes both Dr Henderson’s argument and that of the editor’s on Australia Day, should have been corrected immediately. The error is still current as truth in the minds of those who read the column, and it has been transmitted around the world through the internet. I have already written to a Canadian outlet which has misreported the Newspoll.
It is wrong for the Herald to leave it to Dr Henderson to correct in his column next Tuesday. It is not as if the herald is not aware of the error. I told the Herald so on the day of the error and the day following. Apparently Newspoll told Dr Henderson.
The Herald would not publish either of my my letters, but informed me by email on Wednesday, 25 January, 2006 that a correction would be made. I though they would do it on the following day, Australia Day. They did not. Instead they published an editorial which gained credence from that monumental error.
Apparently they are leaving it for Dr Henderson to explain this next week. That is just not acceptable This is against the Principles of the Press Council, to .which the Herald subscribes. Under these, the Herald is required to correct harmfully inaccurate material promptly to neutralise the damage so far as possible. Under those Principles, entitled to editorialise, but not by suppressing relevant facts.
Meanwhile the internet has carried the error around the world, made believable because of the reputation for accuracy built up by the Fairfax family, its editors and journalists over past years.
The behaviour of the Herald repeats the excesses of many in the media during the referendum At that time, the distinguished former British editor, Lord Deedes, wrote that he had rarely attended elections in a democratic country where the newspapers displayed such “shameless bias”
John Stone, referring to the increasingly obsessive and erratic behaviour of another newspaper in the last week of the referendum, described it as appearing to be almost demented.
We are not even near a referendum, so has the Herald contracted some form of dementia?
Dementia republicana, perhaps?