Andrew Bolt has received a rap over the knuckles from the Australian Press Council for attributing the spread of the coronavirus in Melbourne to multiculturalism. Two columns were found to have breached two press council rules: one for ensuring that factual material is balanced and fair and one for not causing substantial offence, distress or prejudice.
In June last year the Herald Sun columnist wrote: “Victoria’s coronavirus outbreak exposes the stupidity of that multicultural slogan ‘diversity makes us stronger’. Oh, really? It’s exactly that diversity – taken to extremes – that’s helped to create this fear of a second wave.”
He said Australia had a “lethal” problem in an emergency like the coronavirus because we were was becoming “a nation of tribes” with no common language.
The News Corp journalist, who has a platform on Sky News’ After Dark, as well as in the Murdoch tabloids around the country, blamed six “poor, outer-suburban areas in Melbourne’s north and south-east where more than a third of residents were born overseas, in countries such as India, Sri Lanka, Iraq, China and Vietnam” and said “many of the sick are probably from immigrant families”.
“Just what kind of families are involved, neither the government nor the Ethnic Communities Council will say,” he wrote.
In June he followed it up with more on the theme in pieces headlined “Multiculturalism made Victoria vulnerable to coronavirus” and “Virus thrives in multiculturalism” – which some readers complained were not only inaccurate and unfair, but offensive and prejudicial to those who are from diverse backgrounds, the press council adjudication said.
Bolt pointed the finger at immigrants in the housing towers who were “often from Africa” and the Cedar Meats hotspot which “employs many immigrants”.
The council said members of the immigrant communities were involved in the transmission of the virus but Bolt unfairly suggested they were collectively responsible.
“In the absence of presenting a more balanced range of reasons behind the transmission, such as population density and insecure employment, the council considers the publication failed to take reasonable steps to ensure factual material was presented with reasonable fairness and balance,” the council said.
“In attributing the second outbreak to immigrants without any qualification the publication failed to take reasonable steps to avoid substantial offence and prejudice.”
Small publishers sign with Facebook
The news media bargaining code was passed in parliament on Thursday, Australian news pages came back to Facebook on Friday morning and within hours Facebook announced it had signed letters of intent with three small independent publishers: Private Media, Schwartz Media and Solstice Media.
The agreements will see articles from publications including Crikey, the Saturday Paper, the Monthly, InDaily and the New Daily published on Facebook without a paywall.
Without mentioning the way it suddenly stripped news from Facebook for an entire week, Facebook talked up its commitment to the Australian news community.
“For the past three years, Facebook has worked on creating a sustainable path for the news industry – from reaching commercial agreements with publishers, funding accelerators and grants to reach regional newsrooms affected by Covid-19 pandemic,” the Australian arm of the social network said on Friday morning.
‘Politicians should be very worried’, says Daily Mail
One media company which has not made a deal with Google or Facebook in Australia yet is the Daily Mail and General Trust, which publishes the popular celebrity-heavy Daily Mail Australia website.
The chairman of the Daily Mail, Lord Rothermere, said on Thursday that Australia had surrendered to the tech giants when it amended the news media bargaining code and this watering down was bad for democracy.
“Politicians should be very worried about events in Australia,” Rothemere said in a letter published in the UK’s Financial Times. “Reporting news costs money; but for years Google and Facebook have plundered news content without paying for it, while at the same time extracting ever greater profits from advertising markets they dominate.”
The line about not paying for content in the thundering letter raised more than a few wry smiles. The Daily Mail is well known for repackaging the work of others on its website with just a link for credit.
The masthead also apparently failed to see the irony in its headline reference to Facebook avoiding paying for content: “Facebook is set to restore Australian news pages ‘within the coming days’ after its ‘disgraceful’ blackout to try and avoid paying for content”.
Rothermere criticised Google for signing a deal with one of its most vociferous critics, News Corp, asking “are two of the world’s most ruthless companies now locked in an unholy alliance, giving rise to unfair competition unless its terms are made public?”
Behind the Sussan Ley Daily Tele ‘exclusive’
How do you turn a scandal into a positive story for a minister? Pick the publication you give the follow up story to.
In 2018 Guardian Australia’s environment reporter Lisa Cox revealed the Australian government has permitted the export of hundreds of rare and endangered parrots to a German organisation headed by a fraudster despite concerns the birds could be sold at a huge profit. The six-month Guardian investigation led to an independent report being commissioned from KPMG, and Cox was instrumental in providing the report’s authors with information and contacts.
When KPMG delivered the report to environment minister Sussan Ley she chose not to give it to Cox or release it to the media generally but to give an exclusive drop to the Daily Telegraph.
The resulting story was a win for Ley who looked like she had taken decisive action against the nefarious practice.
“Federal Environment Minister Sussan Ley ordered a review of export wildlife licences to ensure enough protections are in place to thwart dodgy dealers and exporters profiting from the trade in native species both here and overseas,” the Daily Telegraph reported.
“The growing involvement of organised crime in the trade, sophisticated international trading operations and the soaring value of Australian wildlife on black markets, some of which can sell for tens of thousands of dollars, underline the need to send the strongest possible deterrent,” Ley was reported saying.
When Cox got her hands on the report she wrote a different story, saying the federal environment department had failed to investigate allegations the birds were being sold in Europe and continued issuing permits.
Star Observer backlash
One news publisher which may have welcomed the temporary news blackout on Facebook this week was the Sydney Star Observer, an LGBTQ newspaper published since 1979.
The paper posted a callout on its Facebook page last Wednesday for volunteers for its float in Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras next weekend.
“Would you like to participate in the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras march at the SCG this year?
“Star Observer is looking for 12 buff volunteers to join us on our float. If you fit the bill and would like to participate please call XXX.”
But the post had an immediate backlash as readers accused the publication of ageism, sexual objectification, lack of inclusivity and body shaming.
“Exactly the reason why I avoid these events,” said on Facebook commenter. “Which I hate but I refuse to be made [to] feel bad about myself.”
“Oh look, non-inclusivity … groundbreaking,” said another. “Not surprised though – which is kinda sad.”
The Sydney Star Observer dragged out that old excuse “the intern did it” and deleted the post.
Another community publication, The Sydney Sentinel, reported the publication told them the Facebook post was “a mistake” and that “an intern did it, not a paid employee”.
Weekly Beast has asked the paper for comment.
Oops, Prince Philip is alive after all
An article headlined “Prince Philip Through the Years” was published in the Sydney Morning Herald’s obituary section on Monday before being taken down just hours later. The 99-year-old Duke of Edinburgh has been in hospital where he is being treated for an infection.
The piece would have been one of many newspapers around the world have prepared for when the duke dies.
Burrowes on Media Unmade
If there is one person who’s had a ringside seat to the disruption of the media industry in Australia between 2010 and 2020 it’s Tim Burrowes, the founder of Mumbrella, the media and marketing website he set up in 2008.
Burrowes, who sold Mumbrella in 2018, but remains editor-at-large and has a weekly column, has just finished writing a book on the decade, Media Unmade, to be published by Hardie Grant in July.
Burrowes told Weekly Beast he managed to squeeze the news media bargaining code drama with Facebook into the final pages at the 11th hour, which makes a neat bookend to the period of extraordinary change.
Media Unmade will examine how the newspaper “rivers of gold” which funded the great Fairfax newspaper empire evaporated, how TV viewers turned away from free-to-air to Netflix and how the ABC came under sustained attack from News Corp.