Former staffers and 'wronged' firefighters tell of media's 'toxic culture'

Mar 11, 2021 at 10:50 pm by Staff

More enlightenment about how big publishers and our legislators work - and are seen to work - when Australia's Senate inquiry into media diversity resumed this morning.

The big ticket might have been former News Corp Australia photographer Anna Rogers' insights into culture at the Cairns Post and other mastheads for which she worked in a 25-year career.

And yes, she noted a difference in attitude between News and the former Fairfax business now part of Nine, with a situation at News in which journalists "either accept what they were offered or leave the industry".

Forget the occasions when women "had use toilet paper to dry their hands" and make use during bushfires of gear designed for men, signing off that they had had received training when they hadn't.

Not that it wasn't hard for more senior staff as well, a managing editor emailing her who claimed to have been "forensically analised (not a spelling mistake)" over attitudes to an increasingly subscription-based culture.

Chairman Sarah Hanson-Young returned to a directive mentioned in Rogers' submission, to take only pictures of attractive women, even on weather and budget shots, avoiding "pigs in lipstick". Male journalists would "ogle pictures of women with large breasts" and Rogers was "derided" for taking pictures of men. There "wasn't a mechanism where you could complain", she said. By the time that Rogers (pictured) was the only female photographer - there had been five when she started - she concluded "you can't keep whingeing about stuff".

That included subscription targets, a 'Hunger Games' environment in which journalists were "pitted against each other", political interventions, and a contract clause in which she had to agree to her phone conversations being listened-in to.

Earlier, awarded former News Corp journalist Tony Koch told how the publisher had taken "a huge right turn, to favour the LNP, kick to death anybody else, and ignore serious stories about the LNP".

At the wrong end of the power of the press, Peter Marshall told how News Corp's Herald Sun had taken sides in a 2015 campaign which "vilified" professional firefighters. The national and Victorian secretary of United Firefighters told the inquiry the Melbourne tabloid had published 113 articles over a period, "totally misrepresenting the case" - distributing thousands of stickers through newsagents - and leading to firefighters and their families being the subject of abuse.

But Marshall said they had no recourse, with legal action prohibitively expensive and the Press Council - to which the union made "numerous complaints - doing nothing. After being told the council "didn't have the resources" to deal with the complaints submitted over a 13-month period, these were withdrawn.

"It's a toothless body, with absolutely no accountability, no enforceability," he said.

An investigative journalist says he left News Corp's The Australian after the latest in a series of articles he had written about "gouging" retail superannuation funds was spiked following a meeting with editors which included a link-up with representatives of a bank implicated in the story, which was also a significant advertiser.

Anthony Klan told of the "number of front page stories" published before "lobbyist forces got involved, and I was shut down".

"They didn't want to know," he said, adding that the facts of the report - which had been legalled, ready for publication - were still there, "if you join the dots."

He agreed with inquiry chairman Sarah Hanson-Young that it was an "inconvenient story".

A recurring theme was the failure of the Australian Press Council to act on complaints, and the contempt in which it appeared to be held by editors.

MEAA media federal president Marcus Strom told senators journalists feared the ABC's Media Watch programme more than the Press Council.

Denis Muller, a senior research fellow at the Centre for Advancing Journalism, agreed with Senator Kim Carr that the council was a "paper tiger".

"It's true and a tragedy," he said, "because funding is proportionate, News Corp is dominant," arguing that a better solution might be a statute-based self-regulator, if adequate parameters could be set, "including the funding".

The hearings have adjourned until April 12.


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