Sunday, March 11, 2012

Australian Finkelstein Media Inquiry, Levenson Inquiry, News Corporation, Academics

Sometimes it helps to wait. A week. In this case the Finkelstein Australian media inquiry analysis that was prompted by the UK phone hacking scandal got the full treatment in The Weekend Australian, the flagship publication of News Corporation on Saturday March 10-11, 2012. It was a long week in some ways - kind of like waiting for the weekend so that there's enough time and energy for quality sex.

In this case there was a lot of sex but the quality left a lot to be desired. Furthermore, the sex was a little rough, but that's the Australian way. (Cultural Studies scholar John Frow has referred to the entire nation as one defined by "rape culture.") The sex was all about making a play for quality journalism, based on the idea that consenting adults know exactly what to do and when and the state has no place in the bedroom of media production. This fanciful suggestion struggles to make sense of the human condition, namely that people try to get it however they can, but they are frequently motivated by ignorance, stupidity and prejudice. This is where the state steps in. Some things cannot be handled by anything but the combined knowledge and analytical power of the state and it's bureaucracy. (Michel Foucault called this 'governmentality.')

The statist perspective (or pro-state line) drove the News Corporation mavens into paroxysms of fear, anger, anxiety and paranoia. The Finkelstein media inquiry in Australia proposed a News Media Council that to quote the Murdoch press would "sit in judgment of media reporting." Apocalyptic imagery aside, this from an organization that is fighting for it's survival in the UK, has a reputation as a "family business" run on questionable ethical and business lines (Class B shares anyone?) - the old trope of "it's just business" - and a commitment to elitism that means that it's standard operating procedure is almost always against labour and Labour Parties, progressive politics and forward thinking. (Supporting Tony Blair was not an act of support for Labor or working people.)

Some of The Australian's commentary last weekend about Finkelstein's report read like a poorly researched undergraduate essay. It wasn't just the anti-state tone, it was knowing the history of the organization making the anti-state claims. The commentary by News journalists as well as the comments by journalists who support their party line offer an insight into the challenge faced by the public in the face of domination of News International and News Corporation.

The Australian newspaper's Associate Editor Cameron Stewart drew attention to "a widening rift in Australia between those who practice journalism and those who teach it." For academics this is a red rag to a bull - unless you live in Australia, then it's just more of the anti-intellectual, bash-an-academic lifestyle. The article, given major exposure on the front of the Inquirer section of the paper paraded itself like a virtuous child in front of the village parson. In making the case for real journalism, Stewart merely asserted the old line conservative conspiracy approach, which is that education is dangerous. Real knowledge can only be found in hard work and experience and only we know. ("We" being working journalists).

More disturbing were the quotes from various Australian journalists. The editor-in-chief of The Australian, Chris Mitchell (being quoted by the Associate Editor) made the following claim: "The media studies academic class is far removed from the concerns of viewers and readers and is engaged in a sociological project to change the world in its image. That is, to infect people with progressive left ideology."

The agenda here is two fold: one is to get me and others like me to blog about News Corporation and News International, thereby taking up valuable space; the second its to argue that the academy is irrelevant to the media because of the politics of those attracted to universities.

At another level News Corporation adopts an anti-regulation pitch in relation to news and social issues. The libertarian approach is great for News because it offers a way of constructing a free-for-all from which they as the dominant player have most to gain. Darwinian ideology is always a winner when you are a winner yourself. Of course, having no regulations about digital media got them into this hole in the first place, but News journalists are not intellectuals. They do not make logical and creative connections between various phenomena. They make assertions aimed at upholding the status quo which is this case is the supremacy of their employer.

Another News Corporation commentator last weekend was Brendan O'Neill. His argument was not about "bad" academics in media studies, but the end of press freedom! No really... He used terms like "witch hunt" and "vengence against the media." Reading this guy you'd think brown shirts just dragged him out of his bed. He was apparently writing about a recommendation from a public inquiry for a News Media Council in Australia. His article bore the headline of, on second thoughts, forget it.

The point is monopoly powers do not seem to have any trouble finding people to promote their monopoly practices. It's disappointing and shameful that journalists working for an organization like News Corporation that is in all sorts of hot water about its behaviour in the UK and possibly the US, is able to run pages of commentary attacking academics and public recommendations for regulation. Their behavior and those of their colleagues might be a whole lot more dignified if they actually had university educations and were not merely products of the old school tie set. 

It might be of interest for readers to know that News Corporation's biggest opponent and the Melbourne liberal and publisher Eric Beacher was pleased with the Finkelstein media inquiry recommendations.