Media beat up, part I

December 8, 2009

I recently had a debate with a friend about new media versus old media. One of the points I made was that journalists at major newspapers and TV stations are just as likely as PR spin doctors and politicians to be pushing a line. Furthermore, I argued that journalists “beat up” stories to get copy into the paper, emphasising minor differences and turning them into major divisions.

This was on show during the recent Federal Liberal Party leadership crisis and the dumping of Nathan Rees as NSW premier. The Press Gallery in Canberra was willingly a part of the Minchin/Abetz machine that ruthlessly white-anted Turnbull. What was even more telling was that the “insider” journalists were often no more informed than observers on Twitter.

A case in point that is particularly close to my heart at the moment is a recent story in The Australian: Union revolts over ETS.

The story is about the union I work for, the NTEU, which at its recent National Council, passed a motion calling for a minimum 40% cuts to carbon emissions in Australia, and for the “abandonment” of the CPRS. The motion ends announcing that the NTEU will work with the ACTU and others to promote this position. There is a separate motion that says the NTEU will work with the ACTU and ACF’s Climate Connector campaign.

Somehow, this simple motion (which was passed in early November without comment by the media) has turned into “breaking ranks” with the ACTU.

Now, perhaps I’ve got rosy-coloured glasses on, but my understanding was that the ACTU didn’t support the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme, but rather saw it (like the Fair Work Act) as the “only option on the table” and thus better than nothing.

“The settlement between the Rudd Government and the opposition has sadly been driven by business self-interest in many areas, however the basic architecture to drive carbon abatement remains intact,” said ACTU President Sharan Burrow.

Now, of course, the NTEU has proposed development of carbon pollution reduction policies that do not “primarily rely on market mechanisms”. This does seem to me to be “breaking ranks” or a “revolt”.

It does however come at a time when the Rudd Government is being heavily criticised by the Opposition over its CPRS. It comes at a time when emissions trading has been put under sustained pressure and attack by climate change denialists.

The Australian is an avowed “campaigning” newspaper. The article’s author, Ewin Hannan has long experience (at The Age and then The Australian) covering politics and industrial relations. I can only assume he gets the ACTU media releases. I can only assume he read the NTEU’s policy motion. I can only assume he has an understanding of how unions, union conferences, and union policy motions work.

I cannot see how the NTEU’s motion turns into a “revolt”. Except of course, if there was a “line” being pushed.

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