From Margo Kingston's Webdiary
23 September 2005
23 September 2005: The WA launch of Margo Kingston's Webdiary - In Fremantle Film and TV Institute's cinema, Web Diary's website will open. With high-profile speakers, politicians and Webdiarists, all applauding Margo's "divorce" from Fairfax.
22 August 2005: Margo Kingston's Webdiary goes independent - Creating and building an independent, credible alternative media - a vital task in my view - will depend in part on citizen journalists. This media will need to revolutionise the standard reporting style to counter its co-option by the powerful.
by Jack H Smit
23 September 2005
First of all, our warmest thanks for making things possible today should go to the Fremantle Film and Television Institute in Fremantle, who provided for us the equipment and facilities and access to the lovely Cinema where we'll be gathering today - recently refurbished - for such a nominal fee that it's come our way as good as gratis. Thank you, FTI, and I say that, knowing that Project SafeCom has a long-standing relationship with FTI - we were right here for our first public event almost three years ago, and FTI has been supporting us ever since.
Special thanks should go to the work by Marketing Manager Jon Cope and FTI's facilities' expert Adam Ferronato. You and many other staff have been personal supporters of us - and today you're acknowledging the link between the need for independence in Australian visual media - the reason for FTI's existence - and the need for independent news and current affairs media, as exemplified by Margo Kingston's Webdiary.
The Tampa incident in August 2001 and the invasion by the US, the UK and Australia in Iraq following September 11 could easily go into the history books as a time of the start of a new unprecedented low in Australian journalism standards.
Just think of it in this way: if we would throw journalists in prison if in their reports and writings they fail to measure and mirror statements by politicians and government ministers against the various International Conventions such as the Geneva Convention, the Refugee Convention, the International Declaration of Human Rights or the Convention for the Rights of the Child - then we would have a lot of Australian journalists in jail right now.
Since Tampa Australian journalism as a whole has failed abysmally in its duty of informing Australians about the rightful status of uninvited refugees - and this failure can also be seen as complicity with the falsities peddled to the Australian electorate since Tampa and during the election campaign of 2001 by MPs seeking re-election, following in the footsteps of the Prime Minister. It took almost an entire year of electronic activism, initiated in my role as the operator of Project SafeCom before we got a sustained change to the standard of journalism around one tiny but essential aspect of reporting.
Our project, started on the back of an idea by Perth refugee advocate Ross Copeland, was an e-activism campaign in which hundreds of people around the country participated. People would send complaints to a newspaper editor-in-chief if a reporter pandered to and happily joined in with the chorus of the Prime Minister and most of the MP's in the Coalition, calling boatpeople's status "illegal" or calling them "illegal arrivals". Every time people sent a complaint to the newspapers, they would send a copy of the complaint to the Australian Press Council at the same time.
It was not before one of those hundreds of Australians working on this project remained dissatisfied by the response to her complaint against the Sydney Morning Herald and took The Sydney Morning Herald Fairfax outlet to the Press Council tribunal, that we got a result.
The Australian Press Council as a result of this action then finally issued an adjudication and ruled that the "illegal" label of refugees arriving by boat and unannounced on our shores constitutes "incorrect reporting". A few weeks ago I heard that the emails are still coming in to the Press Council offices in Sydney, and that the Press Council Secretary Jack Herman keeps mentioning this issue, apparently with fondness. Good for him - after all, it is likely that he's had more emails about this single issue than about any other issue in the course of his career.
But while it was a success in its own right, our action did not change the wholesale sell-out of investigative reporting and its replacement by quick-grab info-tainment stories we find every morning in the Murdoch press. As David Marr shows in Do Not Disturb, a reader edited by Robert Manne on the failure of journalism in Australia (for sale on the table today), almost all of the Australian newspapers failed to grasp the essence of the massive implications of the Al-Kateb High Court case - the fact that Australia became the only democratic country where people who have committed no crime at all can be jailed indefinitely, until they die, at the behest of one single politician - the Immigration Minister - without the say-so or intervention of any court.
In Western Australia we live in a media desert: the Canberra Press Gallery reporter for the West Australian tells me when I pop in to her office in Parliament House in August last year, "Sorry, we have a new editor, and we don't do refugee stories is basically the line now"; and generally speaking, our other daily, The Australian, phones me when they discover my press release has resulted in stories on CNN or the BBC.
On 25 April 2004 Julian Burnside QC and Eric Vardalis were stopped from boarding their aircraft to Nauru. They had booked to fly over to attend the court in Nauru and bring their case against the holding of asylum seekers who were smuggled to Nauru out of Australian waters in 2001 - out of the reach of Australian legislation and our UN obligations.
At the same time, a number of other lawyers on that Anzac Day flight, those acting for the Commonwealth, as well as the Australian Judge, presiding at the Nauruan court, were flying off to Nauru without Burnside. The Australian did not run a single report on it, and as a result I called on the refugee channels for a new slogan for our national newspaper The Un-Australian: "keeping you uninformed about the Un-Australians".
On 19 February 2004 Burnside claims that Ruddock, Vanstone and Howard are guilty of crimes against humanity under Australian legislation at a Melbourne Rotary breakfast. He goes on to accuse Senator Vanstone, sitting three meters away, of crimes against humanity. Over the next few months he repeats his legal argument on three more occasions. No reports in any major newspaper, while a major newspaper tells Burnside that his story is not interesting.
On July 21 this year, The Governor-General signs off with Vanstone on the excision of 4600 islands from the Australian migration zone. Only limited reporting follows a press release from me, when 14 days later, I discover this extraordinary exclusion of future refugees from Australia's obligations under the UN Convention.
So when the mainstream media are failing to such an extend that they are no longer reporting the thinking and truths behind the facts behind the events, and when they on many occasions choose to completely ignore the reporting of even the events themselves, the landscape of reporting changes and the nature of journalism shifts as dramatically as it shifted when newspapers first came into circulation.
When Margo five years ago received the offer from the Sydney Morning Herald to write whenever and whatever she wanted at Webdiary, I imagine someone on the Fairfax board may well have thought to end any controversy by giving Margo her own playpen or sandpit in a quiet corner of the Herald's website. After all, Margo is not at all conforming to the image of the professional female journalist. I've seen Margo more often in bare feet with a sloppy t-shirt than in a slick 2-piece black outfit that says: I am female, a corporate professional to be reckoned with, and if my dress code is not convincing go take a look at my heels and the pointy end of my shoes. Margo is mainly, um, Margo - and I say that in admiration and respect.
Margo's move to Webdiary was in itself already something to take note of, and her separation and independence of Fairfax is something which I imagine will still be discussed in journalism courses in 50 years time, if we still run them in Australia.
Let's fast forward to that time, 50 years from now.
A child asks: "Dad, what is a newspaper?" Dad obligingly answers, and says: "Well, you remember the trees that were chopped up for paper long ago as you learnt at school? When that still happened, many of the beautiful Australian trees were chopped up to make real cheap paper, and every day all the news that now comes in on your school palm top and on mummy's laptop, was printed on fat bundles of that cheap paper. That's what newspapers were until the government stopped doing that and gave people big fines for wasting paper."
The child then asks: "When did that paper wasting stop?" And Dad goes: "Well, there was this woman journalist, and she started the first newspaper without using paper in Australia. And soon every person who had a computer got the summary of the articles on their PC every morning in their newsreader program, while the sales of printed newspapers kept going down and down until all the big fat companies around the world went broke. Remember the little photo you can click on to read all the news on your school palmtop? That's the picture of the woman who started all this. She was called Margo Kingston."
My warmest congratulations to you Margo with the launch of this very unique platform in the Australian landscape. Remember, Webdiary does not grow from sales of print copy, but from the number of website hits and from the ranking when someone googles you up. That will increase organically, and all you can do to make that happen, is work to the best of your ability, applying the highest standard of journalism. And while democracy is so under threat, keep the platform functioning as an online form of democracy in action, as you already do. If you build that, then indeed "the people will come".
by Dr Carmen Lawrence MP
Dr Carmen Lawrence's parliamentary career began in State politics in 1986 when she won for the Australian Labor Party the Western Australian Legislative Assembly seat of Subiaco, held by the Liberal Party for the previous 27 years. She was promoted to the State Government Ministry in 1988, as Minister for Education. She was re-elected to Parliament in 1989, representing the seat of Glendalough. Following the State Labor government's re-election her responsibilities were increased with the addition of the Aboriginal Affairs portfolio. In a leadership change on 12 February 1990, Dr Lawrence made history by becoming Premier of Western Australia and Australia's first woman Premier. ... On November 14, 2003, Dr Lawrence was elected by the first popular ballot of ALP members as President of the Australian Labor Party. Read more on Dr Carmen Lawrence MP here.
I welcome this venture - the new and independent Webdiary - as the latest example of Margo Kingston's commitment to the ideal of quality journalism, a vital component of healthy democracy. It's also an example of her personal courage. The Webdiary is the pursuit of a dream; a dream, to some extent, of flying free - and that means without a safety net.
Margo's pioneering work in on-line political commentary and journalism has inspired a growing band of Webdiarists with a passion for improving the Australian body politic. Under her editorship the SMH Webdiary fast became one of a small group of online political staples. It was a place where the orthodox media hierarchy, the orthodox one-way flow of media commentary was replaced by an egalitarian and interactive political discussion. We need more of it. Now Margo has taken the next step, by moving Webdiary out from under the Fairfax wing and into a position of full independence. From here she will no doubt continue to push the boundaries, set the standards, and promote the important cause of citizen journalism in this country.
by Christabel Chamarette
Christabel Chamarette is the Clinical Director of Safe Care, Western Australia; a Principal Member Parole Board of Western Australia; a Consultant to Department of Justice; and, a Clinical Supervisor at the YMCA. Christabel is also a member Anglican Church Of Australia Professional Standards Committee for Western Australia . From 1972 to 1985 , Christabel worked as clinical Psychologist in male maximum security prisons, and she later went on to work with adult (mainly women) survivors of sexual abuse. She was formerly a Greens Senator for Western Australia 1992-96 and is now also in private practice as a psychologist.
Margo Kingston first won my respect and admiration as a brilliant and intrepid investigatory journalist in 1992. As a member of the Senate Joint Standing Committee on Migration which was addressing the issue of the mandatory detention of asylum seekers, I was a minority dissenting voice and gained much comfort in her efforts to bring the injustices of the situation into the light. Having retired from politics since my stint in the Senate (1992-1996) I have followed her movements and writings with appreciation. The Webdiary is a wonderful innovation which provides an avenue of expression for people who want to challenge the way things are and bringing greater community access into the public arena. The wider debate is important to increase scrutiny and accountability of the policies of government and politicians of all persuasions.
I congratulate Margo on her valiant and tireless efforts and wish the Webdiary the success it deserves and wishes for.
By CATHARINE LUMBY
October 3, 2005
ROBERT MANNE is consistently hailed as one of Australia's most important commentators. In a recent Sydney Morning Herald poll of opinion makers which resulted in a list of Australia's top 100 public intellectuals, Manne came in at No.1.
But when it comes to blogs, Manne gets precisely the same kind of schizophrenic treatment as any other public figure. As with Kate Moss, who was both pilloried and canonised by online commentators across the globe following more allegations of cocaine use, Manne is a screen for other people's hopes, fears, furies and insecurities.
If you use a blog tracker like Technorati to pull up recent mentions of the political scientist, you will find the following recent post from a 32-year-old woman named "laura" who runs a blog called Sorrow at Sills Bend. It's unclear from a quick visit to her site what she does but I'm guessing she's a junior lecturer or perhaps a PhD student at La Trobe university.
She wrote recently that Manne "may frequently be observed having his hair cut in the university hairdressers, buying a sandwich, examining library books, and generally pacing the corridors and pathways" but that "I've never observed him betray a glimmer of recognition towards another person".
From this she drew some unkind and unfair conclusions about Manne's personality.
What she seems to be saying, of course, is that when she sees Manne walking around he fails to recognise and greet her. Perhaps he doesn't know who she is.
Clearly she's in no position to know how many other people he greets in the course of his ordinary life.
On the face of it, this posting about Manne is so trivial and so ad hominem that it isn't worthy of mention. And yet it's precisely these characteristics which mark it out as iconic of so much online commentary.
The personal attack, the seemingly projected insecurity, the insult posing as argument, a tone of barely suppressed shouting - these are the hallmarks of too much commentary online and even of some commentary posted on professional sites such as www.Crikey.com.au and Webdiary.
One response - and one I'm sympathetic to - is to say that public figures with good profiles and a large podium should take pretty much what anyone dishes out to them. And that if that means putting up with other people projecting their anger or angst into the public sphere, it's a small price to pay for the democratisation of debate.
But even if we leave individual sensitivities out of it, the ad hominem character of so much online debate and commentary does raise a set of key ethical questions about the character and quality of debate in our media. Because the fusion of blogging and conventional journalism is arguably where a significant portion of our media is headed.
The online environment is the next phase in the democratisation of the media, and one in which the distinctions between the media producer and consumer, the professional and the amateur, and the public and the private conversation will increasingly disappear.
A pressing question is how to maintain a level of civility in debate without crushing it or imposing ideological barriers.
Margo Kingston is one of the few Australian editors of an online media site who has given serious and sustained thought to this issue. Webdiary abides by a detailed set of ethical house rules.
A senior media professional with almost two decades of experience under her belt, Kingston works in an interactive way with her contributors to both re-examine conventional journalistic ethics and to educate them about why there is a need to think carefully about their ethics of engagement with others.
Not that Webdiary's house rules stopped a regular flaming for my first contribution recently in the following terms: "Can anybody explain to me what Catherine (sic) Lumby actually stands for? How on Earth is she a 'Professor' for goodness sakes." Kingston put a rider on this comment asking the contributor to refrain from personal insult and to go and read other stuff I'd written.
She needn't have. I often ask myself the same question - albeit in a slightly less hostile way. I think anyone who engages in any kind of public forum regularly needs to continually question the value of what they're contributing and their reasons for doing it.
Speaking intelligently always involves a measure of listening intelligently. It involves the capacity for empathy. As Manne once argued, the best metaphor for public intellectual life is not the lecture but the conversation.