Ingeborg van Teeseling

The lesson from the ABC? Don’t mess with journalists

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This week’s drama with the ABC illuminates the power that journalists still hold, and how they will continue to hold power over the politicians who look to seek influence over them.

 

 

OK, so here we are. The top of the ABC is cutting each other’s heads off, while apparently threatening to “shoot” or sack the people they employ. I don’t want to say “I told you so”, but I told you so, last year when this whole thing started. It took a while for the whole building to come tumbling down, but in the end it has, as I hoped then it would. So this is what we can learn from this debacle. Number one: do not mess with journalists.

The Fourth Estate has a vital role in democracy and it takes that role very seriously. Journalists get really annoyed when they are censored or feel that they are forced to become His Master’s Voice. And other journalists, who write about this, feel the same. So in the end, it is a conflict that bosses, and politicians, can never win. Ergo: smarter not to start at all. Especially because, number two, it makes them look like dictators in the eyes of an Australian (and international) citizenry that isn’t too enamoured with its statesmen and women at the moment anyway.

Lesson number three: journalists are very good at doing research, and when they focus the mind they can find out anything very fast. And they never, ever, let go. Look at the sublime documentary The Fourth Estate, at the moment on SBS’s On Demand. It meticulously documents the stubborn attempts of the New York Times to let Donald Trump pay for his attacks on the paper and American democracy. Its reporters suspend family life, forget about friendships and health and buckle down. “Until this is over,” one of them says. However long that takes. Board members and politicians, on the other hand, come and go. They are short-term commanders, who also don’t write their own political obituaries. Journalists do. So lesson number three is like lesson number one: don’t mess with journalists. Also, lesson number four: journalists determine the public discussion in a country. Not just what appears in (online) newspapers, but also what is trending on Twitter and what we watch on the sofa at night. So when you start something, like Milne did by sacking Guthrie, it never, ever goes away unless journalists want it to. And they don’t want it to if you have just violated the reason they are alive. Which means you will get hounded until you resign, as has just happened. So in conclusion: – did I already tell you this? – morons, don’t mess with journalists!

Oh, by the way: something positive in the world of media: Anton Enus is back on SBS World News. What lovely news.

 

Ingeborg van Teeseling

After migrating from Holland ten years ago and being warned by the Immigration Department against doing her job as a journalist, Ingeborg van Teeseling became a historian instead. She endeavours to explain Australia to migrants new and old at her website www.australia-explained.com.au, and runs www.lifebooks.com.au, telling people's life stories.

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