This week’s special reports: 1) ABC spotlight on racehorse cruelty; 2) Behind Hong Kong’s protest movement; 3) Boaty McBoatface shakes The Establishment; 4) Vatican engulfed in scandal – again!; 5) George Pell remains a player; 6) John le Carré monsters Boris Johnson; 7) Tosser of the Year award; 8) Lowy Institute’s prize of shame.
The ABC at war – with itself!
What’s gone wrong at the ABC? Two major current news and current affairs programmes, 4 Corners and 7.30, are at war with each other.
Take this week. Multi-award-winning reporter Caro Meldrum-Hanna presented a 45-minute length programme to perfectly fit the 4 Corners format. But it was shown on 7.30.
Didn’t 4 Corners want it and, if not, why not?
Having savaged Tasmania’s fishing industry and the shocking cruelty of the greyhound racing industry, Ms Meldrum-Hanna turned her attention to the sickening shenanigans of the horse-racing industry.
Her timing was perfect. The Final Race was broadcast in the days before Sydney’s six-furlong sprint classic, The Everest, at “Royal” Randwick and the Melbourne Cup for stayers at Flemington on the first Tuesday in November, November 5.
Bloodcurdling scenes of thoroughbreds being butchered made stomach-turning stuff. The complacency of racing’s overlords exposed self-regulation and government rules as cynical shams.
Most racing administrators, owners, trainers, jockeys and stable hands know precisely what is going on behind the scenes but choose to say nothing. In other words, they are complicit.
But so was the ABC. In the days after Ms Meldrum-Hanna’s report went to air, the public broadcaster lent a willing ear to the racing industry’s apologists who were hard at work rubbishing her 7.30 scoop.
I concede that chasing a “follow-up” story to give “the other side of the argument” is long-standing journalistic practice. But giving industry apologists equal time and treating racing industry public relations as a trustworthy source of information – no way!
Thoroughbred horse-racing and the trots, aka the “red hots”, have a public following but claims that they are the biggest employer in Australia and inject billions of dollars into the economy need to be taken with a very large pinch of salt.
They would not exist without the support of the gambling industry, the media and government grants i.e. the taxpayers to build race tracks, betting rings, stables and grandstands all over the country.
Most Australians are not anti-racing and don’t want it banned. At the same time, they object to wilful animal cruelty and want it stopped.
Can they have both? Of course, but it must be a level playing field.
That is to say, horse racing must be regulated by the Commonwealth and inspected by a properly funded inspectorate with power to search stud farms and stables, enter premises, take photographs and inspect records.
The industry itself should pay for the inspectorate with a donation of 1% from all prizemoney.
Animal liberationists should be allowed to express their views with the understanding that horse racing and trotting are legitimate and legal sports if properly regulated. One area to which the animal liberationists can usefully direct their attention is a total ban on “jumps” to prevent the death of jockeys and horses.
Someone should tell the ABC that internal bureaucratic warfare between prima donnas at 4 Corners and 7.30 won’t help to elevate Australia’s cultural maturity but adopting some guidelines for covering the “Sport of Kings and Queens” just might.
Behind Hong Kong’s race for democracy
Hong Kong’s population in 2019 is about 7.5 million. It has increased by 2 million since the island colony was restored to mainland China under an agreement made in the 19th century. The handover took place on 1 July 1997, ending 156 years of direct rule from London.
The majority of newcomers since the end of colonial rule are wealthy Chinese mainlanders. They quit cities like Beijing and Shanghai to gamble their immense wealth on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange, in property speculation and at the casinos of Macao.
In the past three months, Hong Kong has been rocked by pro-democracy demonstrations which have received worldwide media coverage. They followed Beijing’s ham-fisted arrest of crooked billionaires and their extraction to mainland China to face the mercy of the country’s kangaroo court system which is on a par with Bulgaria’s.
Some of the weekend protests have attracted one million demonstrators – which begs the question, why did Hong Kong’s other 6.5 million residents stay at home? Don’t they want freedom and democracy too?
The South China Morning Post, the traditional voice of London’s Foreign Office, reported the other day that some readers had contacted the paper, in most cases anonymously, saying “they want to speak out but feel intimidated because of the dominant pro-protest narrative on the streets”.
I have little sympathy for the “silent majority”. In most cases, they represent conformity, status quo and toeing the party line. The minority, even if some of their aims and methods are fuzzy or objectionable, are courageously trying to change things.
When faced with a choice between the “silent majority” and the “protesting minority”, I will always support the protesters.
This won’t stop me from questioning the Hong Kong protest movement whose unspoken aims have attracted far right supporters from the United States and Taiwan. They share a common ideology – pro-Trump and anti-China.
“I sense some kind of fascism is in formation thanks to the great efforts of our freedom fighters,” one reader wrote to the South China Morning Post. “I secretly call many of the pro-democracy protesters Black Guards because their rampages remind me of the Red Guards of the Cultural Revolution. Where will our city go? I am truly worried.”
Edwin Choy, vice chairman of the Hong Kong Bar Association, has resigned over the failure of the legal community to condemn the violence of the protesters, their methods of intimidation and the wrecking of public property and private businesses.
Choy’s resignation has received no coverage in Australia where the media and legal profession has obediently fallen in line with the anti-China focus of the protests.
Is there a HK solution?
The dilemma for many Hong Kongers was captured by a Post reader: “I think most people are still trying to decide which is worse – anarchy that has a slim chance of effecting change or the status quo that has proven to be a disaster for everyone but the richest 0.5% of the population. Is it better to watch the leadership bury the city into permanent oblivion, or is it better to hope that the city might rise like a phoenix from the ashes of anarchy?”
When I asked a friend about the situation in Hong Kong, he replied: “Christmas sales are being advertised and Christmas decorations are going up everywhere. Things will get back to normal if Donald Trump and President Xi reach a trade and tariff agreement.”
There is no “normality” in either China or Hong Kong. The turmoil created by the protesters has reverberations which will continue well into the future.
It may sound bizarre (and it probably is) but China’s leadership should offer to hand Hong Kong back to Britain. The UK could then take responsibility for developing the former colony’s economy and democracy which it neglected for 156 years during its illegal and anti-democratic rule.
Lessons from Boaty McBoatFace
What a delight to see Sir David Attenborough, the world’s leading naturalist, smash a bottle of champers on the bow of the new vessel leading scientific research in Antarctica. On 26 September 2019, surrounded by hundreds of scientists and other well-wishers at Cammel Laird’s shipyard on Merseyside, Attenborough named the £200 million ($AU380 million) vessel after himself.
In a classic piece of British fudging, one of its robotic submarines – buried deep inside the vessel’s huge hull – was simultaneously named Boaty McBoatface.
When a public poll first suggested the ship should be named Boaty McBoatface there was a furious backlash from The Establishment and sections of middle England where people take themselves far too seriously.
The response from English migrants in Australia was incandescent. They wrote angry letters, signed petitions and gave irate interviews to the media expressing their fury. A common theme was: “The title of Boaty McBoatface makes us look ridiculous. If this is allowed, we’ll become a laughing stock. Surely the ship should be given a respectable name. Perhaps Antarctic Explorer, South Polar Investigator or The Shackleton.”
On and on it went with the mindless morons from “social media” chiming in. Apparently, they were offended too. This is not surprising; most of them are in a permanent state of being offended by something or other, or nothing in particular.
It all began in March 2016 with the self-important directors of the Natural Environment Research Council decided on the “revolutionary” idea of asking the general public to help choose a name for the polar research ship.
The runaway winner was Boaty McBoatface (33.16%), Poppy-Mai, a toddler who died of incurable cancer (10.66%), Henry Worsley, a British army officer and polar explorer who died in 2016 (4.21%), David Attenborough (2.95%) and It’s Bloody Cold Here (2.85%).
Uproar ensued. Lord West of Spithead, a Labour Party peer, snorted that the public had “gone mad” and called for an immediate name-change to something “sensible”.
Then Science Minister Jo Johnson, brother of Boris Johnson, said the public’s name was “not appropriate”. The aforesaid Research Council had been looking for a name “that would fit the mission and be in keeping with the tradition of the royal research vessel and scientific endeavour.”
Johnson scuttled the name Boaty McBoatface, inflaming even greater public fury. His message was clear enough: he knew best and the general public were idiots.
In an attempt to cool the damaging situation, it was announced the ship would be called Sir David Attenborough in the belief no one in the United Kingdom would dare to criticise the BBC’s finest asset.
Three weeks ago, Attenborough gave the launching ceremony the blessing of The Establishment and the scientific community. Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, formerly Kate Middleton, attended the event to give it the stamp of royal approval.
The polar survey ship was launched with two names – Sir David Attenborough on the ship itself and Boaty McBoatface in much smaller letters on one of the robotic submarines hidden below deck. It was meant to please everybody: the toffs and the toilers.
But when the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee reviewed the naming process, the rotten compromise fell apart as Professor James Wilsdon (sic), an eminent academic from Sheffield University, told their lordships he had voted for Boaty McBoatface.
For a country that worships compromise, it was an object lesson. But was anyone paying attention?
Compromise is a tactical question: elevating it to the status of principle can be a dire mistake.
Scandal hits the Vatican
The Catholic Herald, Britain’s organ of Roman Catholicism since 1888, has become a bed of nails due to the unpredictable yet exciting pronouncements by Pope Francis, the Jesuit Pope from Argentina.
The paper’s Editor-in-Chief Damian Thompson, formerly of the London Daily Telegraph, has resigned in high dudgeon and moved to the right-wing magazine, The Spectator.
In a farewell message, Thompson declared that “Big Frank” was “deeply implicated in terrible scandals … A corrupt pope, something I never expected to see in my lifetime.”
At a stroke, Thompson demonstrated he knows very little about the history of the Vatican. There are books galore showing that Popes have been utterly corrupt for hundreds of years. It is a fact of life which is accepted by most believers. They keep the faith IN SPITE of Papal corruption. They remain loyally in their pews because they are wedded to the church’s teachings and not to the Popes.
It is a form of clerical Stalinism, Maoism or Social Democracy. Followers detest the crimes of the leadership but they continue to belong to the party and work for its success. It’s weird, but it’s true.
In 1949 the Vatican declared Catholics who professed Communist doctrine (Marxism or socialism) to be excommunicated. It followed the success of the communist-socialist ticket in the April 1948 election when the joint platform captured 31% of the vote.
Vatican’s top cop resigns
The Catholic Herald, now jointly owned by London hotel czar, Rocco Forte, and former newspaper tycoon, Conrad Black, former proprietor of The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, has published a compelling account of the recent resignation of the Vatican’s police chief.
Domenico Giani, 57-year-old commander of the Vatican police force since 2006, resigned on October 14 sparking a new scandal about major corruption by the Vatican. An exposé written by seasoned Vatican correspondent Christopher Altieri began: “It has become apparent over the past couple of weeks that there is a major power struggle under way in the Vatican.”
During a private meeting with the Vatican’s top cop, Pope Francis “thanked him for the extreme competence shown in the performance of his many sensitive tasks, also at international level, (my emphasis) and for the undisputed professionalism he has brought to the Vatican Gendarmerie”.
Giani’s abrupt resignation followed the suspension of five Vatican officials pending an investigation into a €200 million ($AU 326 million) real estate deal involving a commercial property in Sloane Street, London. Four of the men have been banned from entering Vatican City, thereby losing their diplomatic protection.
Commander Giani, cleared of any involvement in the erupting scandal, issued a statement saying he had always been ready to “sacrifice my life to defend that of the Pope”.
He continued: “With this same spirit I made the decision to resign my commission, so as not to damage the image and activity of the Holy Father in any way. Assuming that ‘objective responsibility’ is something which only a commander can feel.”
After graduating with honours in social psychology, Giani began working for Italy’s treasury police and then joined the secret service to concentrate on domestic intelligence.
He joined the Vatican police force, the Corps of Gendarmes, in 1999 and became its commander in 2006.
At the centre of the real estate investigation is Cardinal Giovanni Angelo Becciu, Prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints. Now suspended but not charged with any wrongdoing, Cardinal Becciu told an interviewer last weekend: “Unfortunately, inside the Vatican the sense of loyalty and fidelity to institutions is failing. If we tear ourselves apart and attack each other, we will lose the sense of being the Church amid hatred and power struggles.”
Cardinal Becciu is “old school”. A bone-dry traditionalist, he is an inflexible Vatican veteran who wants the Eternal City to live up to its name.
Correspondent Christopher Altieri concluded his report: “Intended or not, Cardinal Becciu’s statement was as close to a frank admission of something that has become apparent over the past couple of weeks: there is a major power struggle under way in the Vatican, symptomatic of dysfunction more gravely and deeply entrenched than even the actors in the drama previously realised.”
Cardinal in the Shadows
Keen observers are now asking who conducted the top secret investigation into corruption among top level bureaucrats in the Vatican?
This is when the name of Australia’s Cardinal George Pell emerged.
In 2014 Pope Francis was in need of allies among the Vatican’s cardinals. He chose Australia’s leading Roman Catholic and appointed him Prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy.
Pell effectively became the Vatican’s Treasurer and Finance Minister and, on Pope Francis’s orders, he began a private investigation into the crooked Cardinals who were using their positions to avoid tax, launder money and make dubious investments.
After he was convicted of child sex abuse in 2018 and defrocked, Pell is said to have decided to settle accounts with the “mafia” of Vatican “red hats” who had blocked his Treasury inquiries at every turn.
What’s happening behind the walls of the Eternal City is a full-scale war between reformers, led by Pope Francis, and hardliners from the Holy See’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF).
Founded in 1542 by Pope Paul III, the congregation’s founding objective was to “spread sound Catholic doctrine and defend these points of Christian tradition which seem in danger because of new and unacceptable doctrines” i.e. Protestantism.
CDF gave birth to an Inquisition which brought terror to Protestants as well as Catholics, followers of Martin Luther, Turks and Jews. The purpose of the Vatican’s terror campaign was to “re-catholicise Europe” and stop the spread of the Luther’s Reformation.
Pope Paul III built grand estates, castles, cathedrals and statues and is considered a reforming giant when compared to his immediate successor Pope Julius III (1550-5). Infatuated by a 17-year-old street urchin named Innocenzo whom he picked up in Parma two years earlier, Pope Julius made him a cardinal as soon as he took office.
Pell, an Oxford University PhD graduate served as a chaplain to Catholic students at Eton before returning to Victoria in 1971 to earn an MA at Monash. While awaiting his appeal in the High Court of Australia which will be heard in 2020, Pell has been politically active. His dossier on the corrupt cardinals is locked in Pope Francis’s safe ticking like a time bomb. When and how will “Big Frank” weaponise it to defeat his opponents?
John le Carré monsters Boris Johnson
In a very rare interview, espionage novelist John le Carré told fellow novelist John Banville why he loathed Boris Johnson and Brexit.
“Mob orators of the sort we have, the Boris Johnson sort, do not speak reason. When you get into that category, your task is to fire up the people with nostalgia and anger. It’s almost unbelievable that these people of the Establishment – Farage, for instance – are speaking of betrayal: ‘I’m betrayed by parliament, betrayed by the government, I’m speaking to you as a betrayed person, and I’m a man of the people like you’. And absolutely the most terrifying thing that could happen is that the EU could cave in, Johnson blows the dust off Mrs May’s withdrawal agreement, adds his own spin, claims a great victory, gets it through parliament and rules for eight years.”
Quoting from his latest book, Agent Running in the Field, the main character Nat declares: “For Britain and Europe, and for liberal democracy across the entire world as a whole, Britain’s departure from the European Union in the time of Donald Trump, and Britain’s consequent unqualified dependence on the United States in an era when the US is heading straight down the road to institutional racism and neo-fascism, is an unmitigated clusterfuck bar none.”
Le Carré, a former teacher at Eton, added: “I think Brexit is totally irrational, that it’s evidence of dismal statesmanship on our part and lousy diplomatic performances. Things that go wrong with Europe could be changed from inside Europe. I think my own ties to England were hugely loosened over the last few years. And it’s a kind of liberation, if a sad kind.”
Footnote: No, Mr Cornwell, we’re witnessing the movement of hundreds of millions of working people attempting to throw off the old order. If you think better statesmanship and diplomacy can stop the movement of history, you’re wrong.
Your late father, George Cornwell, a crime figure who served jail time, would laugh at your appeal for better behaviour by statesmen and diplomats. He might even call it an “unmitigated clusterfuck”.
Media owners’ hypocrisy
After a 60-year career as a reporter I naturally welcomed last Monday’s media war on the Morrison Government’s attack on press freedom. All the dailies in Australia took the unprecedented decision to publish identical front pages of totally redacted official documents.
It was a graphic way of showing citizens what a government-censored newspaper would look like.
But I found the whole exercise coated with hypocrisy with a capital “H”. Newspapers in this country are NOT censored; they are self-censored by snivelling proprietors and editors and spineless journalists.
With a handful of notable exceptions the media avoids upsetting the military, the cops. the intelligence services, the banks, the big mining houses and a few others. Subjects which threaten to “rock the boat” are avoided at all costs.
So you won’t see the name of Julian Assange, the Australian journalist and co-founder of WikiLeaks, who is in jail in London pending his rendition to London by the CIA and Pentagon. If found guilty of “treason”, he faces a couple of hundred years’ jail which is the equivalent of a death sentence.
Again, a handful of journalists support Assange’s case, but the proprietors wouldn’t have his name anywhere near last Monday’s campaign. They were grateful to use his courageous exposes of US war crimes in Afghanistan in Iraq, but they won’t publicly support him.
PS: Professor Wendy Bacon, a barrister and former journalist, reported this week that Australian Amnesty International had taken up Mr Assange’s case. But a thorough search of its current website shows no such commitment. Why not? Where’s the press release and where’s a reportable declaration?
Tosser of the Year
Squillionaire Jeff Bezos, founder and owner of the AUS$1,000 billion empire Amazon, the world’s largest retailer, has joined forces with the CIA, Pentagon and war contractors to re-launch America’s space programme. His moon probe has been welcomed by President Donald Trump and the entire US media and he’s started selling tickets at between $US200,000 and $US300,000 each.
Vermont’s socialist senator Bernie Sanders has provoked fury by criticising Bezos’s space probe, suggesting his priority should be to pay his workers a living wage. Instead, many of them rely on government food stamps because they don’t have enough money to feed themselves.
In September 2018 Sanders introduced the Stop Bad Employers by Zeroing out Subsidies (Stop BEZOS) Act. He accused Congress of paying Amazon “corporate welfare”, mainly tax breaks and government grants, instead of supporting public welfare for the poverty-stricken, homeless, unemployed and single parents.
In Australia, the non-Murdoch media desperately want to attract Bezos’s unlimited wealth to buy into Fairfax, the Oz Guardian, independent media and public broadcasting. Bezos already owns The Washington Post which gives him open-door treatment on Capitol Hill and Australian media folk are offering him the same red carpet treatment here. Predictably, there was much gnashing of teeth when Bezos’s moon spending was announced. He obviously sees little advantage in having a piece of the Oz media action and is signalling that his head is in the stars. One US newspaper suggested Bezos’s childhood dream was to claim the moon as US real estate and sell allotments to investors who wanted to move there.
Meanwhile, the majority of people can’t afford real estate on earth and are living in refugee camps or in Bulgarian-registered truck containers.
Prize of Shame
“The winners of the 2019 Lowy Institute Media Award for ‘Interference’, the story of Chinese Govt political interference in Australia. Bravo team!”
- Message sent by 4 Corners executive producer Sally Neighbour in support of Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s anti-China policy.