Alex Mitchell’s Notebook

In this issue: 1) The ABC and SBS as public assets; 2) Bushfires expose Murdoch’s climate change denialism; 3) Resistance at News Corp; 4) Aborigines in the culture wars; 5) Boris Johnson’s lemmings land; 6) the post-Brexit nightmare; 6) Boris’s favourite newspaper; 7) The Tories’ bloated election campaign; 8) The Windsors’ family fortune; 9) Cricket lessons from Keith Miller; and a couple of predictions

Keeping the ABC and SBS as public assets

I’ve been advised by senior figures in the Australian media to stop criticising the ABC. Their argument is not without merit. “The ABC is all we’ve got. It should be supported and not criticised.”

They have a point. The ABC and SBS are Australia’s only publicly-funded broadcasters. They set the highest standards of integrity in journalism and for decades they have been scooping the pool of awards for radio and television.

On the other hand, it is my experience that ABC management and programme-makers have always welcomed criticism. It keeps them on their toes and inspires higher quality programmes. Can you imagine the founders of public broadcasting trying to silence their critics? They didn’t ask in the past and they shouldn’t start now. Just imagine ABC broadcasters like James Dibble, Michael Charlton, Bob Raymond, Allan Ashbolt, John Penlington, Caroline Jones, Mike Willesee, Chris Masters, Peter Manning, Marian Wilkinson, Andrew Olle, Tim Bowden or Kerry O’Brien telling reporters not to criticise ABC personalities or programmes. It just wouldn’t happen!

Rupert Murdoch’s media empire conducts a sustained campaign of deplorable lies and disinformation against the ABC. It is part of Murdoch’s corporate strategy to destroy public broadcasting and create a wholly privatised media industry.

My criticism of the ABC is completely different. It is because I am a huge supporter of public broadcasting that I choose to make criticisms of the ABC and SBS. My motive is to make them better still. Those who say there is no place for criticism of the ABC are yielding to Murdoch and his destructive intentions. The real test of one’s commitment to press freedom is to support the dissemination of opposing views, providing that don’t incite racial and religious hatred. Only people who really care about “their” ABC and SBS will maintain the fight for quality, independence and editorial courage. Or perhaps we’ll next be asked to suspend criticism of certain newspapers, TV networks and radio stations. Are there any takers for that development?

Bushfires expose Murdoch’s climate change denialism

Damien Cave, New York Times bureau chief in Australia, has blasted the coverage of the bushfire disaster by Rupert Murdoch’s media empire.

In a widely read opinion piece in the NYT, Cave accused the Aussie-born media mogul of lying about the bushfires and promoting a bias towards the far-right opinions of coal mining companies and the influential oil and gas lobby.

Cave argued that News Corp was spreading “disinformation” and that its climate change denialism was leading Australia towards a perilous future. “A search for ‘climate change’ in the main Murdoch outlets mostly yields stories condemning protesters who demand more aggressive action from the government; editorials against ‘radical climate change policy’; and opinion columns emphasizing the need for more backburning to control fires – if only the left-wing greenies would allow it to happen. The Australians Greens Party has made clear that it supports such hazard-reduction burns, issuing a statement online saying so.”

But Murdoch’s main mouthpiece on climate denialism, The Australian, has continued to resist. With a rising death toll and the destruction of hundreds of homes and thousands of square miles of farmland and bush, The Australian pressed on: “On a dry continent prone to deadly bushfires for centuries, fuel reduction through controlled burning is vital”, adding, “Changes to climate change policy, however, would have no immediate impact on bushfires.” This piece of bogus sophistry fits perfectly with the oft-stated references of Prime Minister Morrison’s Coalition to the “bogey man of climate change”.

By employing scores of bots and trolls, many originating in Donald Trump’s America, the Murdoch media is the chief propagandist for the notion that Australia’s devastating fires are not a “climate emergency” but an “arson emergency”.

Resistance at Murdoch’s News Corp

Emily Townsend, a commercial finance manager at Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp in Australia, has quit with a blistering email accusing the company of climate “misinformation” in its coverage of the bushfire tragedy.

She singled out Murdoch’s flagship, The Australian, the Sydney Daily Telegraph and Melbourne’s Herald-Sun, for misrepresenting facts and spreading disinformation to focus on arson as the cause of the bushfires, rather than climate change.

“I have been severely impacted by the coverage of News Corp publications in relation to the fires, in particular the misinformation campaign that has tried to divert attention away from the real issue with is climate change to focus on arson (including misrepresenting facts). I find it unconscionable to continue working for this company, knowing I am contributing to the spread of climate change denial and lies. The reporting I have witnesses in The Australian, the Daily Telegraph and the Herald-Sun is not only irresponsible, but dangerous and damaging to our communities and beautiful planet that needs us more than ever now to acknowledge the destruction we have caused and start doing something about it.”

In the 1980s another female journalist Gwen Harwood quit the Packer-owned Bulletin leaving a message buried in the magazine’s crossword which spelled “SOLONG BULLETIN” and “FUCKALLEDITORS”. I can’t imagine Miranda Devine or Janet Albrechtsen following the example of Ms Townsend or Ms Harwood. Can you?

Aborigines in the culture wars

I am tempted to say that it’s SNAFU time again among Aboriginal Australians. That stands for Situation Normal All Fucked Up, a wartime expression used by bomber pilots to describe some of the crazed flying instructions of their senior officers.

In today’s shouting match, battle lines are drawn between Liberal Party-minded Aborigines and Labor, Green or Independent-minded Aborigines. The overwhelming majority of indigenous Australians are not interested.

The origin of this affair dates back to the Prime Ministership of Tony Abbott. One of his very first decisions in office was to appoint Josephine Cashman to his Aboriginal Advisory Council. Ms Cashman, described as a Worimi businesswoman, showed her thanks by making a series of gushing speeches praising Abbott to the high heavens.

In 2014 Australian writer and historian Bruce Pascoe launched his highly-acclaimed book entitled Dark Emu. Produced by the Broome-based Aboriginal publishing house Magabala Books, it went on to win the 2016 Book of the Year in the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards and carried off other awards across Australia for its ground-breaking research of Aboriginal agriculture and civilisation before European settlement began in 1788.

Pascoe’s book was republished in other languages and found an audience in countries around the world.  By 2019 it had sold more than 100,000 copies. A children’s version, Young Dark Emu, was published, and school teachers recommended the book for study. A two-part TV series was being planned by the prestigious production company Blackfella Films. After five years, the story was entering the mainstream of Australian culture.

The white pro-British lobby erupted: if Aborigines were cultivating land and growing food before the white man arrived, what of the Foreign Office line that Australia was uninhabited, aka terra nullius, before the white invasion of 1788?

Enter a band of fiercely pro-Abbott white commentators on Rupert Murdoch’s payroll – notably Andrew Bolt and Chris Kenny – with a diabolical character assassination of Pascoe. Following them, most recently, comes Ms Cashman, with a complaint against Pascoe which right-wing Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton has referred for an Australian Federal Police (AFP) inquiry into Pascoe on the grounds that he had benefitted financially for falsely claiming he was indigenous.

Ms Cashman is now receiving maximum coverage on all Murdoch media platforms. The Liberal Party/Murdoch assault on the author is a total disgrace. New voices with new opinions are always welcome in Australia’s indigenous community but not those who belong to the Liberal Party’s Black Arm Band brigade whose sole purpose is to protect the colonial lobby.

Boris Johnson leads Brits to lemming land

Grab an armchair, turn on the telly and watch in “live” time as the English commit mass suicide. It’s a unique opportunity to witness the final demise of a once-great empire that ruled half the world’s population with a mixture of savagery and charm. You wouldn’t want to miss it for quids.

It will be like watching a BBC Bristol natural history programme in which lemmings wilfully hurl themselves over the cliffs to a certain death. The worldwide ratings will be stupendous, particularly in places where British colonialism ruthlessly stole, pillaged, raped and exploited colonial peoples, their land, communities and treasures.

By electing Boris Johnson as Prime Minister and adopting Brexit, i.e. walking out of the European Union (EU), the British ruling class has convinced itself that it has been “liberated” to build “the greatest trading nation the world has ever seen”. Just read the London press – it is churning out jingoism and Little Englandism every day of the week, evoking absurd references to The Battle of Britain during WW2.

Great Britain has been air-brushed away. Great Britain is flat broke so Borisland is taking its place. Borisland is a dystopian world of mythology and amnesia. For the time being, Boris’s offshore island is living on borrowed time and borrowed money scrounged from Wall Street, reactionary Arab regimes and global tax-dodgers. His centralised executive administration in No 10 is building a 24/7 casino economy where the top 10% of rich bastards get a tax-free ride while the other 90% are trapped in poverty, lower wages, part-time jobs, unemployment and recession. As the ship sinks beneath the waves, Rule Britannia is sung and the Union Jack hoisted. Can class consciousness be revived in the country that created the world’s first working class in the furnace of the Industrial Revolution? Can the “workshop of the world” throw off the corrupt and demeaning ideology of selfies and me-too individualism? It will better than watching The Crown or Downton Abbey.

Poverty in England

Britain’s post-Brexit nightmare

Am I alone in this bleak view? No, I’m not. Diplomatic cables in and out of London embassies talk of Borisland fast-becoming an economic wasteland. At the recent Australia v New Zealand Test matches, the xenophobic “barmy army” found common cause with Kiwi racists to sing God Save the Queen and hurl racist abuse at Australian players and spectators. There was no good humour any more, just angry white blokes spouting hate: an awful combination of English Thatcherites and Kiwi royalists. Mostly blokes stripped to the waist with hateful military tattoos; there were very few women and a handful of bewildered children. Some spectators told me they had never heard anything like it. They wouldn’t be going again, especially with former Prime Minister John Howard grinning from ear-to-ear in the Members’ Stand.

Paul Hayward, chief sports writer of the London Telegraph, has accused Cabinet Ministers of “choreographed lying” about the consequences of Brexit. “One day, history will open a Stewards’ Enquiry into this mass dishonesty in public office – and why we allowed ourselves to be conned and lied to. However you are going to vote, do you want to live in a country of institutionalised lying?”

Boris’s favourite newspaper

Hayward is out of step with his paper’s editorial line. Following Boris Johnson’s election victory, London’s Telegraph, aka The Torygraph, launched a circulation blitz. “There really has never been a better time to become a Telegraph subscriber. With Boris Johnson leading the Convervative (sic) party to the best election result in over 30 years, you’ll be able to follow his progress with the team who knows him best.” Janet Daley, the paper’s political correspondent, immediately fell into line writing: “Politics is still about life as it is actually lived, about things that grown-ups know matter: family and community, civil behaviour, rational public debate and – as Boris Johnson suggested in his speech after winning a stupendous victory – generosity and conciliation in the conduct of government.” (London Telegraph, 14 December 2019).

Another “star” political columnist Allison Pearson wrote that on the eve of voting she became “sore afraid” for Britain’s Jews in the event of a Labour victory. She imagined them packing their bags “ready to flee”.

“It was awful, awful. As the Chief Rabbi warned, ‘The very soul of the nation is at risk’.” Having filed this diatribe of misinformation for the Telegraph, Ms Pearson told her IT followers after the result: “So now all the Jews are staying who do we nominate to leave?” Rod Liddle of the ultra-conservative London Spectator and a regular Telegraph contributor was more direct: “Yyyyyyyyyyyyyyeeeeeeesssssssssssssssssssss! Fuck off Grandpa!”

But not all Telegraph columnists were so impressed by Johnson’s election victory with one arguing at a press inquiry that Johnson was prone to “sweeping generalisations based on his opinions” and that everything the Prime Minister says is “clearly comically polemical and could not be reasonably read as a serious, empirical, in-depth analysis of hard factual matters”. Another Donald Trump?

When the Telegraph backed Boris Johnson against Theresa May

The Tories’ bloated election campaign

British voters were baffled by the mighty volume of cash that the Tory Party threw into the election of Boris Johnson as Prime Minister.

They need look no further than the decision by the 2011 Tory Government – then in coalition with the Lib Dems – to allow foreign nationals with at least £10 million sterling to acquire “settled status” in the UK. Filthy rich Russians, Ukrainians, Hungarians, Bulgarians, Indians and Gulf Arabs seized the opportunity to become UK citizens … and they thank the Tory Party with very large campaign donations. The Tory Party’s Central Office had been generously supplied with a complete list of foreign “settlers” with bags of cash, but the source of the leak, the Home Office or Treasury, has never been investigated.

In December 2019, on the eve of Boris Johnson’s sweeping victory, Tory Security Minister and former Tory Party chairman Brandon Lewis denied there was any Russian money in Tory coffers “because Russian billionaires are British citizens”. As William Shakespeare wrote, “All’s Well That Ends Well”!

The Windsor family’s fortune

I didn’t know whether to laugh, cry or reach for the remote when a television guest said she was upset that the English royal family may not have enough money to carry out their duties.

She was so saddened by the family’s current raft of problems and wondered whether public opinion would demand a reduction in the annual budget they receive.

Maybe some facts can clear away the tears. The English royal family is collectively worth $US88 billion ($AUS126 billion). Queen Elizabeth’s fortune is more than one billion dollars though her jewellery, crowns, paintings, tapestries, gifts, furniture and gold; an immense stamp collection and shares are worth further billions. She also has an inestimable fortune tied up in inherited real estate (including Sandringham, Windsor and Balmoral Castles) throughout Britain and around the world. After Windsor Castle went up in flames in 1992 it prompted Parliament to force the Queen to start paying taxes on her income. This decision was taken after QE2 asked the Tory Government to foot the bill for fire damage.

The Windsors: not short of a quid

British taxpayers do their bit by giving a tax-free “sovereign grant” to the family in each year’s Budget.  In the 2019 Budget the “sovereign grant” was almost $AUS200 million which was enough to keep the wolf from the door. The people’s gift was so large that it came under government review in 2015 “because she’s making too much money”, according to Business Insider. Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, plan to “work to become financially independent”. However, they will keep their personal fortune of $AUS50 million, the expensively renovated London residence, limousines, drivers, butlers, chefs and security guards. Will they manage? Just.
So can we have no more tears for one of the world’s richest families and their tax-dodging factotums with tax havens in Panama. Roll on the republic and give the royals a chance to come off the dole and work for a living.

Cricket lessons from Keith Miller

Keith Miller, Australian cricket’s greatest all-rounder, and R.S. Whitington, first-class cricketer and writer, co-authored Cricket Typhoon in 1955 blasting cricket administrators and giving some lessons which are highly relevant today.

In December 1953 when they returned home from England – without The Ashes – they were alarmed to discover newspapers giving a death sentence to the game of cricket. The headlines read: “Cricket is dying. Cricket is dead. Tennis has beaten cricket in straight sets. Next summer will see the last MCC tour of Australia.”

Keith Miller: the cricketer as hero

“There were too many arguments supporting the pessimists,” wrote Miller and Whitington. “One of us began to make plans to learn the hotel trade. The other began studying the history and laws of American baseball. Cricket’s greatest appeal and strength, we knew, had always resided in national hero-worship of great players. In December 1954, and for many months afterwards, Australia’s national sporting heroes were Lewis Hoad, Ken Rosewell and a mostly aptly named New Zealand racehorse, Rising Fast, a Caulfield and Melbourne Cup winner. Even our own sons were beseeching us to buy them tennis racquets.”

The two cricketers brushed aside their pessimisms because their belief in the game because it “still set the highest standards of sportsmanship”.

They took aim and blasted cricket administrators: “Australian cricket officialdom has frowned upon public hero-worship of the individual cricketer and has gone out of its way to keep down and antagonise players who have shown promise of becoming the Victor Trumpers and Don Bradmans of modern times. So long as that attitude persists, there can be no real grounds for believing that cricket will hold its old place in the hearts of the Australian people. Who do officials imagine gave cricket another lease of life in Australia last summer? Do they imagine it was their administration?”

Warming to their theme of cultivating great cricketers, the authors wrote: “It is the great players that have made cricket mean what it has in the past to Britishers. And only if officials will stop begrudging the great player his glory can we hope for another Golden Age. Far greater men than Australia’s cricket administrators have not minded taking a back seat when the time has come for them to take it. Far greater men have taken pleasure in the prowess of the great sporting fixtures of their era.

“People like to think well of their heroes. And if cricket is to enjoy another Golden Age, cricket’s administrators must encourage those who love cricket to hold in the highest possible regard the outstanding exponents of the game in the years that lie ahead. They must boost the modern champion, not belittle him. The first Golden Age of cricket, as nobody now can deny, was built by Victor Trumper and Ranjitsinhji, by Darling Maclaren and Noble, by Charles Fry and Warwick Armstrong, by Barnes and Foster, by Trumple and Macartney. Who remembers the names of the administrators of that age?”

Cricket Typhoon is a book for and from another era. It is replete with casual misogyny and all-male sporting history with long-forgotten names and arguments.

But its decency, rectitude and honour cannot be faulted. Cricket Australia has been taken over by “influencers”, public relations consultants and smart young go-getters who have never, if ever, played the game. They created the legend of outstanding batsman Steve Smith and now they are tearing him down. Their efforts are now directed at creating a new “legend”, Marnus Labuschagne, who has not yet understood that he too will be torn to shreds when his time comes.

There are lessons here for Tennis Australia, Rugby Australia, the AFL, NRL and Swimming Australia. The administrators, most of them old stagers in blazers and corporate hacks, want to run the sport and treat the athletes as no more than their employees. That is why Cricket Typhoon deserves another edition with copies sent to all sporting codes, schools and high schools.

How good is Tracey?

There has been a TV series in prime time about Tracey Spicer, leader of the Australian branch of the #MeToo movement. I’m tipping Tracey to be News Ltd’s Australian of the Year when the announcement is made in Canberra on Australia Day by Prime Minister Scott Morrison.

With the women’s media lobby backing her candidacy, I’m also tipping that no one at News Ltd will be “outed” for being a sexual predator. They’re waiting until the offenders die.

US predictions too

The Republican ticket for this year’s US presidential election will be Vice President Mike Pence and running mate Mike Pompeo, former CIA director and Secretary of State.

The Democratic ticket will be a total mess between Vice President Joe Biden, Senator Bernie Sanders and a white or black female.

Donald Trump will give himself, his family, Cabinet and White House staff lifetime amnesty from prosecution. But he will have to wear the opprobrium of being the third US president to have been impeached by Congress.

 

One comment

  1. Of course, Alex, we gotta ‘roll ON the Oz Republic’…I loved your item in the latest Notebook on the Windsor family’s “fortune”. Hey, Good Man, don’t be so hard on the Murdoch Press’s journalists…Tim Blair – who obviously loathes Fitzy – came out on his Daily Telegraph blog today advocating an Oz Republic! Just NOT an ARM republic! We gotta encourage more conservative republicans to ‘come out’, YES?! Conservative Republcans are more likely to be (pragmatically) pro-Direct Election of the Oz Presidency. Wanna quibble with my surmise?

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