If you doubt if there is a war, look at the News Limited papers over the last few days.
First, look at Rudd stimulus drove up rates by David Uren in Friday’s Australian which begins “The rapid jobs growth of the past five months has come to a halt, with new figures showing it was driven more by the government's stimulus programs than by underlying strength in the economy, as the Reserve Bank believed.” So far so good – isn’t that what the stimulus was supposed to do? Uren then goes on to say “The RBA has relied on the apparent strength of the labour market to justify its rapid run of interest rate rises.” He then says “The latest figures suggest the RBA has been raising rates in response to stimulus, rather than real underlying growth in the economy. The RBA has made it clear it has relied more on the jobs number as a guide to the strength of the economy than the national accounts.” Note the word ‘suggest’. No certainty there, but the headline says unequivocally Rudd stimulus drove up rates. No ifs or buts – the conclusion is definite.
If you have the inclination, read the rest of the article and see if you can find evidence to clinch, even merely support, Uren’s assertion. I looked several times but could find none. Tell me if you can. There’s lots of other data, but none that proves Uren’s point – it’s all supposition, all suggestion. But that’s good enough for the unambiguous headline. So why is it there? Is it just another salvo in the undeclared war?
Then look at Dennis Shanahan’s Pension rise hit by rate gouge in The Weekend Australian of 13-14 March that begins “Hundreds of thousands of pensioners expecting a pension rise of up to $29 a fortnight next week may instead face a cut because of the Rudd government's belief in the strength of the economic recovery.” Note that if it’s bad for pensioners, it’s the Rudd Government’s fault. So what’s this story about? You’ll have to read Shanahan’s article carefully to find out, but what it’s about is, as Jenny Macklin says, "As the economy recovers from the global economic crisis, rates of return on investments are also beginning to increase...As a result, the deeming rates, which are used to assess income from a range of financial investments held by pensioners and other income-support recipients, will also increase on March 20 from the record low levels during the global financial crisis." Deeming goes back to the Hawke-Keating era and was applied during the Howard era. It is simply a way of adjusting pensions for pensioners whose income is derived partly from investments or bank interest. As interest rates go down and pensioner income falls the deeming rate compensates for this by increasing the part pension, and when they rise, vice versa. So as interest rates are now rising, pensioner income from that source should also be rising.
But here’s the catch. Some banks have not fully passed on the rises in Reserve Bank rates to depositors, and so they have been caught short. The villains are the banks, not the Government as Shanahan’s article subtly implies. Well into the article you will read “Kevin Rudd said yesterday the banks were ‘gouging’ customers over rate rises and urged people to shift accounts to other banks if they were being unfairly treated. Asked if the Reserve Bank was right in saying banks were gouging customers over interest rates rises, the Prime Minister said the RBA was ‘absolutely right’.” So the PM condemns the bank’s gouging, yet the thrust of the article is that the pensioners’ dilemma ought to be laid at the Government’s feet, which Shanahan does with his first paragraph “Hundreds of thousands of pensioners expecting a pension rise...may instead face a cut because of the Rudd government's belief in the strength of the economic recovery.” This is disingenuous reporting. Shanahan knows few will read and digest the full article so he uses a heading that raises hackles, writes an initial paragraph that accuses the Government, and I suppose hopes few will read the whole piece and realize that what the Government is doing is routine for all governments and that the real culprits are the banks over which the Government has no control. Another shot in the undeclared war?
Other headlines in the 12 and 13/14 March issues of The Australian read Combet can’t quantify stuff-up; Tax review gets airing as PM caves in; Remote housing initiative at crisis point; Consumers foiled by deathly debacle; Labor locks in negative message; Abbott told to get ‘out of the road’; Housing plan ire may evict (Maxine) McKew; PM moves on health roadblock; Reserve tipped to keep rising rates; and Curt Rudd spoils for a health fight, a reference to the snub Rudd is accused of giving Kristina Keneally at the beginning of their talks on Friday which Imre Salusinszky describes in his opening paragraph thus: “It was a moment which in the annals of political incivility, will rank alongside Mark Latham’s power handshake on John Howard in 2004.” Keneally denies the snub, as does Rudd.
Then in the op-ed section there is Peter van Onselen’s Abbott’s scheme is perfectly Liberal, a piece where his tortured logic ‘proves’ beyond doubt that Abbott’s PPL is patently in line with Liberal principles going as far back as Menzies, and the Editorial, titled Softly-softly the right line on stimulus spending, a line pursued relentlessly by News Limited journalists particularly economics editor Michael Stutchbury. The Cut & Paste section begins A billion here, a billion there, and pretty soon even Chris Uhlmann starts to believe you – Kevin Rudd spins a ripping yarn on health funding, which canvasses Abbott’s ‘ripping of $1 billion out of the health care system’.
It’s a sad chronicle that leaves one wondering if the Rudd Government has done anything right at all, whether it has any runs on the board, whether it has any worthwhile accomplishments such as shielding this country from the worst effects of the GFC, whether it is, as the Opposition says and many in the media parrot, ‘all talk and no action’, whether it has any worthwhile plans, indeed any plans at all. Looking for a positive note is tedious, time consuming and unfruitful.
When just one paper, day after day, is so universally negative to the Government, it make one wonder what it’s about. This piece asserts that it’s about being at war with the Rudd Government. So was the award this January to Rudd of The Australian’s ‘Australian of the year’ just window dressing to allow the paper to attack him relentlessly thereafter, but still claim a positive line: ‘we gave him the award’. What do you think?
But it’s not just one paper – it’s the whole stable of News Limited papers. Just another example – Melbourne’s Herald Sun of March 11 bore a strident front page headline Your money down the drain with a photo of four footballers clad in towels after a shower Its sub-head was REVEALED: Rudd in more hot water over waste. It began “This is the photo that damns the Rudd Government’s reckless spending on stimulating the economy. Tiny Koondrook Barham Football Club on the Murray River has been handed 17 new hot water systems, almost one for every player in the team.” On ABC 774 radio the same day, the President of the Club explained to Jon Faine that there were several football teams, not one, and netball teams as well, all serviced by the showers and that they often required showers at the same time. He did not give the impression that the showers were excessive. The Herald Sun article left the feeling that there was only one team using the showers, which was its intention as it was aimed at painting the Rudd Government in the worst light. Again disingenuous journalism aimed at damaging the Government.
Today, 15 March, in The Australian the online headlines are Abbott accuses PM of bullying states over health. It is not until the fourth paragraph that one reads a positive statement “Mr Rudd today pledged to double the available places for medical students to become GPs.” But the following paragraph quotes Tony Abbott’s derision of the announcement. Then there is a piece by Tom Dusevic John Howard tips 'authentic' Tony Abbott for election battle, which allowed John Howard to vent his angry feelings about the Rudd Government. Another piece features headlines Tony Abbott reopens culture wars over nods to Aborigines. Kim comments on TPS that the headline that topped the printed version of The Australian, which I haven’t seen, was more on the insulation saga. I couldn’t find it online. I looked for pieces positive for the Government, but could not find any. Could you?
There’s no point in giving more examples; just open any News Limited paper any day and there they are.
Argue as much as you might that this is just normal behaviour for News Limited outlets no matter who is in government and that no ill intent is intended. But it’s drawing a very long bow to deny that this is not an all out assault on the Rudd Government with the intent of bringing it down and replacing it with the natural party to govern, the Liberal Party.
If you need evidence about how this is possible in a democratic society where the people are the ones who evaluate and select the government, not the media, read the 14 March piece in The Washington Post by Howell Raines Why don't honest journalists take on Roger Ailes and Fox News? Roger Ailes, chief of Fox News in the US, is accused of “...using the network to conduct a propaganda campaign against the Obama administration – a campaign without precedent in our modern political history.” It also attests to how much influence Rupert Murdoch exerts over his outlets and laments: “Why can't American journalists steeped in the traditional values of their profession be loud and candid about the fact that Murdoch does not belong to our team? His importation of the loose rules of British tabloid journalism, including blatant political alliances, started our slide to quasi-news. His British papers famously promoted Margaret Thatcher's political career, with the expectation that she would open the nation's airwaves to Murdoch's cable channels. Ed Koch once told me he could not have been elected mayor of New York without the boosterism of the New York Post.” If that’s Murdoch’s style elsewhere, why should we expect it to be different here?
It really does look as if Murdoch’s News Limited is waging a similar war here, an undeclared war on the Rudd Government.
What do you think? Persuade me otherwise.
POSTSCRIPT: Readers interested in media manipulation will enjoy reading a series begun by Crikey today Spinning the Media. The first in the series is Over half your news is spin. It concludes "Our investigation strongly confirms that journalism in Australia today is heavily influenced by commercial interests selling a product, and constrained and blocked by politicians, police and others who control the media message."
PPS :You may also be interested to read Welcome to the world’s first murdochracy by John Pilger published in On Line opinion today.
We are not imagining it.