Tim Blair


New Criterion



Thursday, May 15, 2003
SPEAKING OF GRATUITOUS ADVICE, this time of the less welcome kind, Uncle has no intention of adding "Governor-General of Australia" to the options available in the deliberative poll on the side-bar.

While the prospect of a bullet in the nape of the neck may well encourage our Prime Minister to do his best, I fear what might happen to those bouncy marsupials who infest the extravagantly broad acres of Government House.

The present administration will likely confine itself to de-knackering the male beasts, which merely helps them hop higher and box less frequently, while preserving the azalea beds from the hoplets that never shall be. What do you think Saddam would do? I would rather not think about it.

BLOGGERED? WHAT'S BLOGGERED? Uncle didn't know what it is, and that he was, until tropical Ken Parish, the blog-jewel of the Arafura Sea, pointed it out.

No sooner had I established the accuracy of Ken's advice, and that all past wisdom was lost to the casual reader of the current blog, than reader Bruce R said 're-publish your archives you old dill!" or words to that effect. It seems to have worked. For any blogger who hasn't worked it out yet, you select "Archive" on the tool-bar and the "re-publish all" button thereunder.

Wednesday, May 14, 2003
WHAT A GIFT Richard Alston has given to Ron Brunton and any other ABC Board members who believe in quality public broadcasting.

He's put Biffer and the boys and girls of the commune on a hiding to nothing. They've got to claw their way up hill against the weight of the $25 mill cut that no-one has even noticed, and Alston will, of course, deny.

If that doesn't create a climate of sweet reason, nothing will. Short of sending a very large bulldozer to Harris Street.

ANOTHER CONSPIRACY has been detected by reader Bernard M, who got it from Pastor Terry Lane last Sunday.

It seems John Howard has a plan to separate Australia from that source of all security and hope, the UN.

That's a bit of a worry. Without the UN to connect us to the world, Australia, weighed down as ever by Melbourne, will slip inexorably down the globe and bang up against Antarctica. Which is where we started anyway.

On the other hand, there'll be plenty of ice for the whisky, and those junketing overseas relatives will need an ice-breaker to disturb our peace.

Thanks for telling me anyway.

MORE ON DEFAMATION before old Biffer pulls the financial plug on that unnecessary irritation to the body politic, Media Watch.

Apart from claiming victory over Richard Carleton, Marr and the crew claimed that the law's vindication of Joe Gutnick's belief that he had been defamed was a dreadful threat to freedom of speech.

On the contrary, says reader Douglas:

No, Marr, the Gutnick ruling does not constitute overturning the presses freedom to publish and be dammned. It served another liberty, and a solid principle in common law, the freedom of one's name and reputation from those who capriciously seek to ruin it. One might contrast, to illustrate , the outrageous effort to permanently damage Hollingworth by, above all, the ALP, Tanner exploiting parlaimentary privilege to do so, and holding the [Victorian] Supreme Court in contempt in the process.

Quite so. The best interests of journalists and their employers are not the law's only concern.

We shouldn't expect that every citizen who is drawn into the public gaze should be as thick-skinned as a professional politician. Like Lindsay Tanner, for example.

HERE IS AN EGREGIOUSLY long blog, justified only because Uncle is so pleased to find he has a reader who also reads the full text of the reports of the ACT Supreme Court, and because reader James shows that the gruesome crew at Media Watch are deeper-dyed lying hounds than he had ever supposed.

He is referring to Uncle's recent review of Media Watch's exculpation of Media Watch last Monday night.

Actually the judge found that both the plagiarism and "lazy
journalism" comments were false and defamatory:

"144. In truth, the effort put into and the preparation for
all of the programs referred to, including "The Evil that Men Do"
bespeaks the opposite. The real criticism is that, in the instances
chosen, including the present, 60 Minutes was retelling a story
previously told, usually in greater depth and to a different audience
served by a different outlet. That different outlet was, almost
invariably, catering to a much lesser audience in terms of numbers.
60 Minutes adopts a "popular press" rather than a "quality press"
approach. Indeed, the Media Watch approach simplistically focussing
on similarities in the retelling of stories is no more valid a
criticism as a complaint that the Telegraph Herald had told a similar
story, though more succinctly, to an in-depth article in the Sydney
Morning Herald. It is an elitist view that ignores the fact that the
audiences for the stories in question are different. As already
noted, it is not plagiarism, nor is it "lazy", to take inspiration
from a previous story and to re-tell it as 60 Minutes did in each
case in their own style.
145. The imputation of lazy journalism is also false and
defamatory. The defence of truth fails."

However, the judge upheld the defence of "fair comment", because he
felt that MW honestly believed their claims, and they were not
motivated by malice:

"252. In my view, the production of a program designed to
imitate or copy a previous program could honestly be believed to be
plagiarism assuming, of course, lack of attribution. It is not, in
my opinion, a fair or reasonable opinion, but it is one an honest
commentator could honestly hold. In that sense the Media Watch
broadcasts do not go beyond the protection of fair comment.
Consistently with that view, the characterisation of past programs
exhibiting similar characteristics could be so characterised by an
honest, though wrong-headed or ill-informed, commentator. It is,
therefore, unnecessary to determine whether honesty alone is
253. A fortiori, to comment upon the production of such a
program that it bespeaks "lazy journalism", though, in my view, it
sets the bar for diligent journalism unreasonably high, is not an
opinion an honest commentator could not honestly hold.
254. It follows that the defence of fair comment succeeds
unless the plaintiffs can show that it is defeated by malice or lack
of bona fides (the same thing)."

In my view Carleton was entitled to be "elated" (the court found he
was neither lazy not a plagiarist), and Marr's "spin" on the outcome
of the case gives no credit to Media Watch. Marr claims that the
judge found that Media Watch exercised "reasonable care". He did no
such thing. Let's hear from the judge once more:

"198. That leaves the question of the logic, fairness and,
hence, the reasonableness of the Media Watch conclusions. It is at
this point, in my view, that the defences of qualified
privilege/protection fail.
199. Whilst I cannot conclude, and do not conclude, that Mr
Barry or Mr McEvoy, and, hence, the ABC, were expressing their
opinions of the 60 Minutes program dishonestly, their conclusions
were illogical, unfair and unreasonable."

You can read the full judgement here:




How would you like Biffer and his Board to save about $25 mill from programming?

Biffer has suggested Kids TV and Fly TV (both for children; in the latter case for the somewhat retarded). Uncle agrees to that.

Any other possibilities?

Write to Biffer and offer your help. Let Uncle see a copy too. Please.

This funding outcome is all the more disappointing in light of the anticipated budget surplus, and the ABC's recent outstanding efforts in the coverage of the war in Iraq.

CAN THIS BE TRUE? Henny Herald, aka Auntie in print, hasn't even noticed the nicks taken out of the ABC and National Museum budgets?

According to Henny, Biffer has only missed out on his extra money. They fail to see the cut in funds for existing programming, made necessary by Auntie's more imperial ambitions in digital.

With journalists that lazy, Treasurers don't need to be clever.

BIFFER BALDING SHOULD BE DELIGHTED. Auntie's budget has been maintained in real terms for the next triennium.

That extra $250 mill Biffer wanted is still under negotiation. As it should be.

At the time of preparing this document, the ABC had not been advised of the Government’s response to the Corporation’s 2003-06 Triennial Funding Submission. Therefore the ABC Board has still to fully assess the Government's response and the impact it will have on the Corporation's activities and confirm specific
outcome/output allocations

Looking at the figures that follow it seems to me that the Government is expecting you to take about $25 mill out of programming to cover the next tranche of your digital ambitions.

It seems Biffer agrees with Uncle. This is his statement:

The ABC is very disappointed with its funding outcome as outlined in the Federal Budget this evening.

The ABC must now assess its position. Hard decisions must be made so that we can maintain core services and continue to be relevant to the Australian public. Some decisions about programming will be made within the next few weeks.

Listen out for the shrieking. Are Biffer and the communards game to cut out quality education and information programming to save the preachers?

Here's a suggestion for Biffer and the Board.

There's nothing in your Act about providing pulpits for opinionated half-wits. Stop doing it. Governments love it when their pensioners show their willing to re-direct their own funds before putting the plate out for even more tax-payer largesse.

I know, I know. The Act doesn't require you to be even-handed in presenting opinions. In fact the Act doesn't seem to intend you to be preaching at all.

And if you're feeling hard done by, just take a look at the National Museum's begging bowl. They've lost about the same amount from their money for programmes, but taken from a much smaller total.

It occurs to Uncle there may be scope here for some development of policy, procedure and practice. Isn't that what Boards and their Biffers are for?

Tuesday, May 13, 2003
UNCLE IS BY NATURE a dismal old snot, and doesn' t expect the world often to overturn its well-established ways of doing evil.

Like Media Watch discovering objectivity, the Gastropod integrity or intelligence, Pastor Lane the twentieth Century or Max-weird McCutcheon planet Earth.

So you can imagine my delight, or perhaps you'd better just let me tell you about it, when I picked up the Weekend Aus and, rushing past Christopher Pearson before he could remind me that I had failed to get him appointed to the ABC Board, I came across Bernard Lane's piece on history teachers and how they're dealing with the Windschuttle revelations. (Inquirer, page 24, and not, so far as I can see, on the website)

It seems that someone has arranged a confrontation between Windschuttle and two of the historians whose evidence on Aboriginal history in Tasmania evaporated in front of our eyes when the deep-delving Windschuttle checked the sources. That is, Henry Reynolds and Lyndall Ryan. The event is to take place at the Tramshed in Launceston this coming Friday.

Perhaps, after eighteen months the two disgraced historians will take the opportunity to explain themselves. Or perhaps they'll just hide behind philosophical obscurantism and personal attacks, like their historian colleagues.

I have no doubt that's what Robert Cudgels Manne will be doing in the book he's currently editing. It's title: Whitewash, on the fabrication of Aboriginal history. He doesn't pretend that his goal is to get Tasmanian history right.

"The purpose of the book is to show in how many areas Windschuttle is out of his depth". I hope his authors (he's just the editor) are clear that's their job. To challenge Windschuttle on the substance would take some real historical research. So far Geoffrey Blainey is the only one to have attempted that.

Now here's the cheery bit. Of the history teachers (school, not university) that Lane quotes, none seems interested in the intellectual gang warfare that Manne is so keen to lead.

Esther Davies, a history teacher in Canberra, dislikes Windschuttle's manner. But it does seem to her that teachers "take what Henry Reynolds says as gospel."

... other high school teachers willing to go on the record are by and large adherents of the revisionist history pionered by Reynolds. Unlike some academics, however, they welcome the Windschuttle debate and put their faith in the self-correcting function of historical argument.

The Left [has] perhaps run away to some textent with our history and the pendulum is swinging back for a touch and they don't want to let it go," says Sydney teacher Paul Kiem".

Kiem is among those enthusiastic teachers thinking about informal ways to introduce the Windschuttle debate into the classroom. Formal incorporation into the curriculum would take longer, as it would require elaborate preparation and approval by education authorities.

... Lynden Leppard, principal of Clarence High School in Hobart, is among thsoe teachers who will encourage students to seek inspiration in the Windschuttle debate... "This is a matter of trust and faith in the story we call hsitory, which is different to the story we call fiction," he says. When he finished Windschuttle's book, he was left with a troubling question: "Have I been screwed by historians - people I trusted? I felt cheated. I believed facts that are not substantiated [on Tasmanian history]."

It seems that history teachers throughout Australia are enthusiastically making use of Windschuttle to get a debate going.

While their "professional" colleagues are busily trying to suppress it, or cravenly keeping their heads down.

As Uncle has said before; give it time, give it time.

BEING MONDAY NIGHT it was Uncle's duty last night to don the saliva shield, swallow the barf-protector and wriggle into the asbestos-kevlar flak-projection-rejector jacket.

Yes, Media Watch was in town again, careering about on its slick of righteous hypocrisy and spitting every which way but towards Auntie. And, or course, itself.

You'll be pleased to hear I retained my composure and can report with objectivity and equanimity on the latest from the gruesome crew.

Topic: plagiarism and defamation. What is the former, and how much of the latter is a fair thing.

Obervers of Media Watch will know that it always strives for originality except in its slavish imitation of its own lack of objectivity.

There was its recent spat with Tim Blair over the origin of that US flag that found its way onto Saddam's bronze head shortly before it came crashing down. Did it, or did it not come from the Pentagon. It seems that it didn't, a factoid that Media Watch scored to its own credit.

The crew neglected to remind us that on their first coverage of the matter they were content to damn the soruce of the story, and Blair, on the basis of a single phone call to a bemused military spokesperson in the Gulf, who opined without the benefit of research, in order to dispose of a trivial issue. The people Media Watch criticised had more substantial sources; erroneous as it turned out.

When tackled on the matter by a viewer, Media Watch first confined its self-defense to the correspondence pages of its website, and relied on bluster.

Finally, when something like hard evidence seemed to appear, they trumpeted it on-air. As if they had known it all along.

All a lie.

Yesterday night's story also concerned their own credibility.

They had accused Richard Carleton of 60 Minutes of plagiarism. Carleton had done his own version of a story on the Srebrenice massacres, following closely the pattern established by an earlier program from the BBC. 60 Minutes re-shot some of the footage, re-interviewed some of the talent, and used some of the same bought-in footage. Without acknowledgment, but without denying it.

Is that plagiarism?

Well, it clearly isn't the same as cut and paste. It certainly is pinching an idea, but there's no copyright in ideas, and shouldn't be. Any public debate involves people pinching other people's ideas for their own purposes. To require acknowledgment in all cases would be absurd.

Meda Watch wasn't too sure itself, but it wasn't going to forgo the opportunity to accuse:

Paul Barry: Now I don't know quite what you call this - plagiarism perhaps. But whatever the name it fits a pattern. 60 minutes has been caught at this by Media Watch several times before. It's depressing to know we have so little effect.

No it's not, Paul. You enjoyed it.

The point of our report was that they failed to acknowledge their debt. As I said last week I'm not sure what you call it, perhaps it's plagiarism, certainly it's lazy journalism.

So, it's shifty practice, according to Media Watch, although they're not sure what to call it. But happy to leave us with "plagiarism" ringing in our ears.

And then to Court, before Chief Justice Higgins of the ACT Supreme Court, who had given a couple of earlier litigants a good run on a defamation matter, against that paragon of veracity, Bob Ellis.

Higgins J. decides that it's not plagiarism, but Media Watch's comments are not defamation either. Solomonaic wisdom. Carleton claims he's vindicated. Good move. Let's cop it sweet fellers, and have a beer. Or, in the case of Richard Carleton, a Chivas.

Not on your life. The gruesome crew have to try the matter again in the higher court of Auntie's television studio before David Marr, QC and bar.

That's right; he ruled that Higgins J. was only half right. Right to excuse Media Watch from the accusation of defamation, wrong in excusing 60 Minutes from the accusation of plagiarism.

Who appeared for the other side in this appeal to a higher court? You must be kidding.

This is Other-People's-Media Watch.