In her address to the Lowy Institute last week, when addressing the issue of asylum seekers, Julia Gillard talked about: “...building a regional approach to the processing of asylum seekers, with the involvement of the UNHCR, which effectively eliminates the on shore processing of unauthorised arrivals and ensures that anyone seeking asylum is subject to a consistent process of assessment in the same place.” Later in that address she referred to how much effort had been put into regional cooperation in recent years via the Bali Process and then went on to say: “Building on the work already underway through the Bali Process, today I announce that we will begin a new initiative. In recent days I have discussed with President Ramos Horta of East Timor the possibility of establishing a regional processing centre for the purpose of receiving and processing of the irregular entrants to the region.” Note the words ‘begin a new initiative’ and ‘the possibility of establishing’.
The media jumped to the conclusion that the centre WOULD be in East Timor and immediately began talking about ‘The East Timor Solution’, likening it to John Howard’s ‘Pacific Solution’; the Greens said ‘same Pacific Solution, new postcode’. This was slipshod thinking, sloppy talk. Every sceptic and knocker soon had their criticisms aired in all forms of the media with typical journalistic relish.
An additional object of criticism was Gillard’s approach to the East Timorese President rather than the PM. Just about every journalist leapt on what they saw as the inappropriateness of that move, likening President Ramos Horta to our Governor General, apparently not knowing that the comparison is invalid. On Lateline Tony Jones was at his arrogant schoolmasterly worst, dressing down schoolgirl Julia for making such an elementary error. As Stephen Smith has since twice explained, this criticism was not justified; Gillard’s actions were entirely appropriate. Smith’s assertion is backed up by the fact that the East Timorese PM has assigned the President the task of carrying this matter forward, something our GG would never be asked to do. Despite the media’s mistake, has anyone heard any retraction? And we know we never will.
After a couple of days, with the media going feral over the ‘East Timor Solution’, sending journalists to that country to solicit reaction and seek out contrary views, always there if you look for them, Gillard sought to correct the media’s assumption that East Timor WOULD BE the place for the processing centre, by pointing out that this proposition was only at an exploratory stage, that much discussion was needed, and that East Timor was not the only possible venue. The media leapt on this as a Gillard ‘retreat’, a headline used in both The Age and The Australian. But when journalists were confronted with Gillard’s actual words and presumably recognized that they had got their stories wrong, to a person they resorted to: ‘she gave the impression the centre would be in East Timor, and over the next couple of days neither she nor her office sought to correct that impression.’ In other words, don’t blame us for getting it wrong or for jumping to conclusions – presumably they expected Gillard to put them straight sooner.
More recently some journalists, and certainly Tony Abbott, have declared the East Timor initiative dead as the East Timor parliament had voted unanimously against the idea. But as only about a half of the 65 parliamentarians were present and none of the government ministers, and since, unlike Australia, the government is different from the parliament in that country, this unanimous vote has little significance and has not affected the ongoing discussions between Australian Government officials and the East Timor Government, which continue satisfactorily despite Julie Bishop declaring today that Gillard’s plan was an example of incompetence. Today the media is focussed on Nauru since it has offered its facilities and a newfound willingness to sign the UN Refugee Convention. Journalists, such as the ABC’s Fran Kelly, are hammering Government ministers with ‘why not Nauru?’ It seems to have escaped them that the Government is already in discussions with East Timor, and that an entrepreneur there spoke today of benefits for East Timor in the plan.
Another furphy is the media line that rich Australia should not expect poor East Timor to carry Australia’s asylum-seeker burden. It isn’t and it won’t. Do journalists really believe Australia would not cover the financial burden?
Yet again we see poor journalism obscuring reality and commonsense.
This episode shows how incompetent and arrogant our MSM has become. It decides what the real story is, never mind the facts, pursues it relentlessly even if it has got the story wrong, and even when that becomes apparent, set out, in chorus, to lay the blame elsewhere, anywhere but where it belongs. And since the pen is mightier than the sword they can say what they like, make it up if necessary, and use language that slants the story towards their point of view or their preferred position.
Blog site after blog site records comments about the perpetual bias exhibited by the ABC, nowhere more flagrantly illustrated than by the ABC’s coverage of the asylum seeker issue. Some recent news items on ABC radio illustrate this. Let’s take just a couple of stories to argue this point. To demonstrate how different the story might have been, I have suggested alternatives to some of the words used. In the original transcript, the pejorative words that I believe portray bias are in bold italics in brackets; the alternative more neutral wording is in bold. What follows is rather lengthy, but is easy reading. It is reproduced in full to illustrate my point.
First, let’s examine Emily Bourke’s report on Saturday, July 10 on the ABC’s AM, headed Gillard's approach to asylum seekers (attacked) questioned.
ELIZABETH JACKSON: After (much confusion) the uncertainty over Prime Minister Julia Gillard's (on again/off again) plan for an East Timor processing centre for asylum seekers the chief executive of the Australian Industry Group Heather Ridout has (warned) advised Julia Gillard to slow down her plans to roll out her new climate change policy.
Ms Ridout has told The Australian newspaper it would be "over-reaching" for the Government to roll out a replacement for the emissions trading scheme ahead of the election.
The Prime Minister (has come under sustained attack) has been criticized in some quarters this week over her handling of the asylum seeker issue and her plans for a regional processing centre.
Julia Gillard's consultations with East Timor have been (fiercely) criticised with the Opposition claiming that amateurs are running the Australian government.
While the Prime Minister and her ministers have denied they've (bungled) mismanaged the deal, the policy has also attracted (scorn) criticism from the union movement.
Emily Bourke reports.
EMILY BOURKE: While Kevin Rudd was expert in international diplomacy, Julia Gillard's foray into foreign affairs hasn't been a smooth one.
The Opposition has accused the Government of incompetence and deception over plans for a regional processing centre for asylum seekers.
But the Government has also drawn criticism from an unlikely source - Paul Howes from the Australian Workers Union on Sky News. (No mention that Howes also criticized the Opposition’s approach)
PAUL HOWES: I am not happy with the Government's response to this. I'm not happy with what the Coalition's doing on this. I accept that you know, we have largely lost the debate.
EMILY BOURKE: Michael Wesley is an expert in international affairs and the executive director of the Lowy Institute.
MICHAEL WESLEY: The concentration on East Timor has really overshadowed other parts of the Prime Minister's speech and I think probably in retrospect it may not have been such a good idea to name specific countries' leaders that she had talked to.
EMILY BOURKE: In that sense has she (faulted) made an error? Has she (bungled) slipped up in making this announcement?
MICHAEL WESLEY: I don't think she's bungled it but in some ways it would have been more useful to have been closer to agreement than she was if she was to name the country itself.
I have no doubt that there has been more than a conversation between the Prime Minister and Jose Ramos-Horta. I am sure there have been all sorts of back channel conversations between Australia and East Timor.
EMILY BOURKE: While the Government has stressed that it is in dialogue with East Timor, (Dr Wesley says it's clear the Government hasn't done crucial groundwork) Dr Wesley says that the Prime Minister didn’t have the time needed for the careful negotiations required for this diplomacy.
MICHAEL WESLEY: Diplomacy of this sort works when it’s preceded by months and months and months of careful negotiation. Now obviously the Prime Minister didn't have that sort of time. She wanted to come out and make a statement on this issue that seems to be showing up in the polls as fairly damaging to the Government.
So she wanted to come out and say something strong on this. She'd only been in the job a few weeks and obviously there hadn't been the chance to do that sort of careful preparation.
EMILY BOURKE: Dr Wesley says this week's events are unlikely to be a sign of things to come.
MICHAEL WESLEY: I don't think we can judge Prime Minister Gillard on this particular episode. I think Julia Gillard is in kind with a very long line of Prime Ministers. People like Malcolm Fraser, Bob Hawke, Paul Keating and John Howard really had no experience of foreign affairs when they became Prime Minister.
I think in a lot of ways Kevin Rudd was a rarity. He will stand out as a rarity in Australian political history, in a Prime Minister with significant diplomatic experience and background on coming to office.
I think Julia Gillard is much more in the mould of Prime Ministers who haven't really focused on foreign affairs before they've reached office but then become quite adept at it once they get a feel for it in office.
EMILY BOURKE: With the emissions trading scheme on ice, next week the Prime Minister is expected to announce more detail on the government's climate change policy. Renewable energy schemes on the domestic front (might prove safer and familiar turf) will be familiar territory for the new Prime Minister.
ELIZABETH JACKSON: Emily Bourke with that report.
To access the story click here.
Now Lyndal Curtis
Here’s another example of ABC hype: Mark Colvin introduced a Lyndal Curtis’ segment on PM on Friday 9 July that was headed: Asylum seeker policy (confusion leaves egg on PM's face) continues to cause concern. (Of course Mark was trying to be clever with the egg reference)
MARK COLVIN: It appears you can’t become Prime Minister without breaking eggs. Something about Julia Gillard had annoyed one middle aged man in Perth today enough to provoke him into throwing an egg at her.
The egg missed but it was another indication that the new Prime Minister wasn’t getting the continuing dream run that her backers had hoped for. (What a gratuitous backhander.)
Her plan for a regional processing centre for asylum seekers is struggling for traction and (credibility) acceptability.
And while East Timorese politicians have had at best a lukewarm response to the idea of hosting the centre, the Prime Minister’s real trouble has come from her own words.
Chief political correspondent Lyndal Curtis reports.
LYNDAL CURTIS: On Tuesday Julia Gillard announced she’d be pursuing a regional processing centre, leaving the clear impression she wanted it to be in East Timor. (Here we go again ‘leaving the clear impression’)
JULIA GILLARD: In recent days I have discussed with president Ramos-Horta of East Timor the possibility of establishing a regional processing centre for the purpose of receiving and processing irregular entrants to the region.
LYNDAL CURTIS: It was an impression the Immigration Minister Chris Evans got as well that night he spoke to the 7:30 Report.
HEATHER EWART: How are you going to be divert boats to East Timor?
CHRIS EVANS: Well it’s not about diverting boats. People, if they arrive in Australia, as unauthorised boat arrivals will be returned to East Timor, will be taken to the centre. (What else did she expect him to say?)
LYNDAL CURTIS: Although by the next morning he was canvassing the possibility of other locations.
CHRIS EVANS: It’s certainly the starting point for a discussion, East Timor. But obviously it’s about a regional solution and there may well be other alternatives.
LYNDAL CURTIS: The Government did nothing in the days between the announcement and yesterday to dissuade people from thinking that East Timor was the Government’s preferred location for the regional processing centre. Although by yesterday, with the reception in East Timor to her idea looking less than overwhelmingly supportive, Julia Gillard seemed to be backtracking. (Here’s the same media theme ‘…did nothing…to dissuade…’, ‘backtracking’)
JULIA GILLARD: I’m not, I’m not going to leave undisturbed the impression that I made an announcement about a specific location…
MICHAEL SMITH: Where will it be then?
JULIA GILLARD: … which is how you’ve phrased your question.
MICHAEL SMITH: Where will it be?
JULIA GILLARD: Well, we will have the discussions I’ve just outlined and they have started already. In addition in that …
MICHAEL SMITH: Yeah, yeah but where will it be?
JULIA GILLARD: Well this will have to emerge from the work with our regional neighbours.
MICHAEL SMITH: Do you know where your regional processing centre will be? (How many times does Julia have to put up with this persistent rudeness?)
JULIA GILLARD: What I’ve said, no, what I’ve said is this, a consensus about a regional processing centre, where it would be, how it would work, all of those things would need to come out of the regional dialogue.
LYNDAL CURTIS: She didn’t mention the possibility of East Timor being the location for the centre during that exchange.
This morning the Home Affairs Minister Brendan O’Connor was on board.
BRENDAN O’CONNER: It was on Tuesday the Prime Minister made clear she would be discussing this matter and had discussed the matter with the president of East Timor about the possibility of a regional processing centre. There’d been no reference to where and indeed there was certainly no, there was no point made about exactly how this was to be done.
LYNDAL CURTIS: And Chris Evans was again canvassing alternatives.
CHRIS EVANS: There seems to be some surprise that alternatives were possible and as I say both Stephen Smith and I have in numerous interviews made it clear that there are alternatives but that discussions had started with East Timor.
LYNDAL CURTIS: But by morning in Perth today, Julia Gillard was addressing a business breakfast where she was back to talking about East Timor.
JULIA GILLARD: Earlier this week I made the case that regional processing needs to be part of our long term solution to unauthorised arrivals. I said in my speech that one possibility was a centre in East Timor.
LYNDAL CURTIS: And at a later doorstop she wasn’t willing to canvas any other alternatives.
JOURNALIST: And Manus Island and PNG (Papua New Guinea) are they in the offshore mix?
JULIA GILLARD: Well our focus here is on the dialogue with East Timor. I couldn’t be clearer about that.
LYNDAL CURTIS: The Opposition Leader Tony Abbott says Julia Gillard has bungled.
TONY ABBOTT: What we’re seeing from this Prime Minister, as from her predecessor, is incompetence, deception and ideology. It’s just not good enough.
LYNDAL CURTIS: The Prime Minister’s office is explaining the confusion by saying that nothing has changed. And when her wording is looked at closely it’s all been consistent. A spokesman says all Ms Gillard was pointing out yesterday was that there had been no announcement, that she can’t make a decision on behalf of another country.
A point Senator Evans was making this morning.
CHRIS EVANS: Well, what the Prime Minister did is she indicated who she’d spoken to but she also made it clear it was a decision for their national government. You can’t go around speaking on behalf of other national governments.
LYNDAL CURTIS: The need for diplomatic niceties does seem to have driven Ms Gillard yesterday pointing out that she hadn’t announced a centre would be in East Timor. And while her offer says her language has been consistent, the problem is that she looked like she was backing away from the idea of having the processing centre in East Timor at a time when the East Timorese were sending lukewarm signals and she was under fire for having bungled the diplomacy.
And it looks like Ms Gillard, who narrowly missed being hit with an egg thrown at her in Perth today, had scrambled the message and has been rapidly trying to unscramble it today. The perception that’s left is one of confusion from a Prime Minister and a ministry rapidly trying to keep up with a changing situation - all in a policy Labor was trying to neutralise and get off the agenda as a potential electoral disadvantage. (That might be the media’s impression Lyndal, but that doesn’t mean the media is correct.)
Australia’s seventh prime minister, Billy Hughes, established the Commonwealth police after being struck with an egg in 1917. If he was around he might have some advice for Australia’s 27th PM. (That, I suppose, is meant to be funny!)
MARK COLVIN: Lyndal Curtis.
To access the segment click here.
Lyndal Curtis again, this time with Stephen Smith
On PM Friday 9 July Mark Colvin introduced: Australia's Government defends asking Horta about asylum centre
MARK COLVIN: So first the Prime Minister mentioned East Timor as a possible site and said she’d begun talking to the Government in Dili. Then she rowed back on that and said she’d never said it would be in East Timor.
So is anything about the Government’s regional processing centre plan getting any clearer? The Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Stephen Smith, is speaking to Lyndal Curtis.
LYNDAL CURTIS: Stephen Smith if we could just clear up any remaining confusion, is it the Government’s preferred position or starting point to have the regional processing centre in East Timor if East Timor says yes?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well we started a dialogue with East Timor. I think people should frankly, you know, just take a cold shower and calmly go through where we’re at. The Prime Minister, the first leader in our region to do so, has indicated that we should have, for very good policy reasons, a regional processing centre.
She approached president Ramos-Horta and despite some commentary to the contrary that was an entirely appropriate response as has been indicated by the prime minister of East Timor saying that he wants the president, president Horta to be responsible for discussions from East Timor’s point of view.
We’ve made it clear we’re in dialogue and discussion with East Timor. But at the same time we are taking our suggestion to the region because we need this suggestion, if is to go anywhere, to have regional support and also to have United Nations High Commissioner for Refugee support.
So, we’re pursuing this with East Timor and we’re pursuing it seriously. Now other countries in the region may indicate an interest, may indicate that they want to be considered for a possible regional processing centre as part of a regional framework, you know, as Chris Evans has made clear, as I’ve made clear. That would be entirely a matter for them.
But so far as we’re concerned, we are in a dialogue with East Timor and we’re proposing to pursue that.
LYNDAL CURTIS: Did you advise the Prime Minister that it was okay to speak to the president?
STEPHEN SMITH: Look, I see Tony Abbott is out there making, you know, a range of outrageous comments about, you know, a quiet invasion of Australia by asylum seekers. Also asserting, without any evidence whatsoever or any basis whatsoever that the Prime Minster and I hadn’t had a conversation about this matter.
There was a full Cabinet discussion about all of the aspects of this matter that are now out there in the public arena. There was also a conversation amongst national security committee reasons. So I’ve previously made the point that in national security and national interest areas you have to be very careful about how you proceed and Tony Abbott making outrageous comments with no basis, no evidence, no foundation, doesn’t do anything other than add to the risk which he poses to these sorts of issues.
LYNDAL CURTIS: But aren’t the usual protocols when a matter’s being raised with a foreign government to speak to the head of that government? Did you advise the Prime Minister it was okay to speak to president Ramos-Horta?
STEPHEN SMITH: Anyone in Australia who has taken a passing interest in East Timorese matters; in its independence, in its close relationship with Australia, knows that president Ramos Horta is more than just a head of state.
That’s reflected by the fact that the Prime Minister has asked him to be responsible for the discussions with Australia on this matter. He’s not just a titular head of state. He is a person who is integral to East Timorese life, East Timorese society and anyone with a passing interest in Australia’s relationship with East Timor knows that.
It was entirely appropriate for Prime Minister Gillard to start a conversation with East Timor by having a conversation with the president.
LYNDAL CURTIS: Why not start with the prime minister? (Lyndal is not going to be satisfied because she didn’t get the answer she wanted.)
STEPHEN SMITH: Also crystal clear from president Horta’s remark that the starting point of president Horta’s deliberations would be a conversation with prime minister Gusmao which they both regarded as entirely appropriate.
It is a complete furphy. Where have we ended up? We’ve ended up with Australia and East Timor in a serious dialogue for the first occasion about trying to find a long-term sustainable regional solution to a significant problem of people movement, people smuggling and human trafficking.
The interview is too long for this piece, but if you want to read the full transcript or listen to it, click here.
A beat-up ABC style
This has been one of the more flagrant examples of journalistic ignorance and incompetence, and it’s OUR ABC that is as guilty as the rest of the MSM for this beat-up. If only journalists, especially very experienced ones like Tony Jones, had taken the trouble to research the subject even superficially, they would have read Gillard’ speech more carefully and avoided jumping to unwarranted conclusions; would have known that East Timor has different arrangements for governance from Australia and thereby avoid making fundamental mistakes about who should have been contacted first; would have understood better the past negotiations that have taken place under the Bali Process; would have seen clearly the difference between the proposed regional processing centre and John Howard’s Pacific Solution which Australia alone controlled and which used countries not signatory to the UNHCR Convention on Refugees. But no, sloppy journalism dictated that such investigative probing was too difficult and what’s more might get in the way of the ‘good story’ they already had in the can. Finally having stuffed up badly they sought to lay the blame for their incompetence and laziness at Julia Gillard’s and the Government’s door. And to this day they continue the beat-up with Fran Kelly jumping on the Nauru option and pushing the line ‘why not?’
We are entitled to have better than this from OUR ABC.
What do you think?