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June 21 2010

08:53

Mumbrella: ‘The Australian shows it’s easy for a paper to go overboard’

Down under, a fascinating media battle continues to play out: between News Corp’s Australian newspaper, the newspapers’ critics and the Victorian Office of Police Integrity (OPI).

In fact, via regular Crikey updates I’m truly hooked, but every time I come to summarise the plot for a UK audience I get put off by its numerous layers. However, I think it’s worth attempting, and directing you to more thorough pieces on Australian media sites.

I’ve previously written about the so-called ‘OzLeak’ case, which Margaret Simons has been steadily reporting for some months on politics site Crikey.

It involves a journalist’s source, an award-winning scoop about a police terror raid by the Australian, an inquiry by the Victorian Office of Police Integrity (OPI) and the attention of the Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity (ACLEI). Eventually the Australian prevented publication of the OPI/ACLEI report on its scoop with a court order.

Since my last update, the situation has got even more tricky. The Australian has published more attacks on the OPI and Victoria Police’s chief commissioner Simon Overland. The Murdoch-owned Australian newspaper has also turned its attention to Simons’ journalistic activity, accusing her of receiving “inaccurate leaks” from Victoria Police and the OPI that discredit the Australian and its reporter Cameron Stewart; a charge she denies.

Fortunately for us observers, trying to make sense of all this, another independent Australian media site, Mumbrella, steps in to provide a little more commentary and summary:

“This appears to be a story that is of more interest to journalists than the public, and it feels a little like whoever writes about the issue ends up being sucked into it,” writes Tim Burrowes. “Certainly Simons is now involved in her own tussle with The Australian.”

Drawing on his own journalistic experience, he says the newspaper has got caught up and gone “overboard” in its coverage of the OPI.

So far, those outside the story probably see one of two sides. Either, the paper is cynically pursuing its own agenda to prosecute a private war. Or it is subjecting a powerful figure to long overdue scrutiny. It is, I suspect, neither of those two things, and both of those two things.

Once you’ve got something, it’s hard to let go. Particularly when you take it personally. That’s the nature of  investigative journalism.

But I don’t think this is a story that would have got anything like the column inches if The Australian wasn’t directly involved, and the senior editorial staff were not heavily invested in it.

Is there a story there? Yes. But has The Australian gone overboard in telling it? Yes.

I’ll try and update when there are further developments. In the meantime, I’ll be following Australian media news with interest.

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May 06 2010

14:13

Australian newspaper prevents publication of police leak report

The Murdoch-owned newspaper, the Australian, last month secured a order to prevent the publication of a report about its police scoop in summer 2009.

As we’ve previously reported on this blog, on 4 August 2009 Australian police arrested four people in terror raids – a planned operation reported exclusively by the Australian newspaper, part of the News Ltd group. But the police claimed copies of the newspaper were available in Melbourne before the operation had taken place, citing that an “unacceptable risk”.

It was an enviable scoop and won journalist Cameron Stewart the ‘Gold Quill’ in the Melbourne Press Club awards. But the Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity (ACLEI) and the and the The Victorian Office of Police Integrity (OPI) produced a report, examining the source of the leak.

The Australian newspaper subsequently acquired a Federal Court order prohibiting publication of the report. The OPI then sought to overturn the order. But on 23 April, the Australian won the right to keep the document private. Crikey.com.au journalist Margaret Simons has been reporting – and tweeting – the case.

Simons last reported:

Justice Michelle Gordon said that continued suppression of the Victorian Office of Police Integrity’s report on the matter is necessary because The Australian is arguing that the whole investigation was invalid, and the evidence gathered “tainted”.

But the case isn’t completely over yet. Simons continued:

Justice Gordon’s decision means that it will be at least another three weeks, and probably much longer, before we know the full story of what occurred between Stewart, his source and the OPI. News Ltd has made it clear it will appeal against any judgement that would allow the OPI report to be released.

Last week, I asked Margaret Simons, who is a freelancer for Crikey – an independent online news and comment site – about her own views of this complicated case. She says she doesn’t know why the Australian is so keen to suppress the document.

Does Simons think the report should be released? “Without knowing all the facts, it is hard to say. The Australian claims the OPI’s investigation was very flawed. Maybe so. The OPI has a chequered record.

“There is an irony, though, in The Australian’s leading role in the Right to Know Coalition, pressing governments for more openness, and its contesting of suppression orders in other matters … and its active suppression in this case.

“It would be nice to think that the rights and wrongs of this matter could be fought out in open. However, without knowing all the facts of what is contained in the report, it is genuinely hard to judge and I do not have a strong point of view at present.

Simons says that Crikey’s editorial position is not so much a matter of opinion, but an attempt to raise awareness. “[I]n a country where the print media is dominated by just two publishers, with News Ltd being overwhelmingly dominant, there is a particular role for an independent outlet such as ours in covering the media’s own story,” she said.

Neither News Ltd or Fairfax – Australia’s other main newspaper publisher – are giving this case “the weight it deserves,” she said. “We are doing our best. Keep in mind that our audience includes most of the country’s journalists!”

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April 15 2010

08:50

November 06 2009

11:46

What’s Murdoch’s ‘cool new toy’ for accessing media content?

Australian media is busy speculating over Rupert Murdoch’s new idea for content access.

Margaret Simons of the Content Makers, reports how Caroline Overington, senior writer and columnist with The Australian (part of Mudoch’s News Limited) let slip that Rupert Murdoch’s pay wall plans might include a ‘cool new toy’ for accessing media content.

Simons reports from the Media140 conference:

“Overington said that News Limited had many wonderful plans of which they were very proud, and they could not be unveiled yet, but she believed they would lead people to pay for content.

“Then in the closing stages of the session, she referred to iTunes, and how people had turned to paying for music that they could get elsewhere for free because of the entry of a ‘cool new toy’ in the iPhone.

“She added: ‘That’s kind of what we are thinking about.’

“So what is it, I wonder? Some kind of deal with Apple, soon to release its new electronic reader? A competing product? Very intriguing.”

An update, pointing to coverage of the Apple Tablet negotiations, with more speculation on the ‘iRupert’ at this link.

And Overington at Media140 courtesy of SlowTV.

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