From this episode of ‘Q and A’ (12 Sept 2011), veteran, award-winning journalist, Paul Barry spoke on the issue of media ownership. These are some of the highlights.
PAUL BARRY: I think 70% of newspaper’s owned by one man is too much, particularly when it’s Rupert Murdoch and particularly when he owns a newspaper like The Australian, which chooses to run campaigns against those people he doesn’t like and chooses to intimidate those people that disagree with it. So, yes, absolutely, I do think that.
TONY JONES: So you don’t believe that campaigning newspapers are healthy for democracy?
PAUL BARRY: I believe campaigning newspapers are fine but I think what you need is for the campaign to be run by lots of different newspapers and to have some plurality. The problem we have in this country is that because newspapers are essentially campaigning…
TONY JONES: Well, you do get campaigns run by lots of different News Limited newspapers.
[that is diversity?]
PAUL BARRY: Yeah, well, you don’t actually. I don’t have a problem with the rest of the News Limited stable… It’s specifically The Australian that I think goes beyond what is – I wouldn’t say permissible but beyond what I personally find acceptable and it’s a problem because The Australian, although it’s a small newspaper, is backed by the great might of Rupert Murdoch and so, look, let me give you an example. This is a purely personal example, but I was asked to write a profile of the editor, Chris Mitchell, for The Monthly. Now, I look at this as a career proposition. I have written about Packer in the past and so I’m not, you know, too worried about writing about people I might offend, but if I write about Chris Mitchell and I say what ought to be said about Chris Mitchell, I’m never going to get a job with News Limited. Now, that’s going to wipe me out from 70% of the newspapers in this country. Now, Sally Neighbour, to her credit, did do that thing, but I’m freelance, I can’t afford to do that. I don’t think that is right when one person owns that much of the papers.
TONY JONES: It strikes me that you’ve just done it.
PAUL BARRY: No. Well, okay.
TONY JONES: So what are the things that you would have written?
PAUL BARRY: Well, what would I write? I think they go over the top. They go too far. They have – they run campaigns against people. They’re relentless in their opposition to particular people.
JOE HILDEBRAND: They’ve never run a campaign against me.
BARNABY JOYCE: We all like the people who agree with us.
PAUL BARRY: No, it’s not the same degree. It’s not the same degree.
JOE HILDEBRAND: I think I feel I’ll just have to fly the company flag. I will have to fly the company flag… A newspaper has a prerogative to take a position on something. A newspaper has a right to take a position on certain issues and it has a right to campaign for those issues. yes, there’s no question that The Aus is right of centre.
PAUL BARRY: I thought a newspaper has a duty to be objective actually, at least in its news columns.
JOE HILDEBRAND: No, I think there’s a difference…
BARNABY JOYCE: What you should be terribly upset about it that people are buying all this and agreeing with it.
PAUL BARRY: Sixty per cent of Americans believe in aliens.
BARNABY JOYCE: I mean if there was a real protest against it, you would see it in their circulation. You can’t complain because people exercise their free right to buy a paper they agree with.
PAUL BARRY: I’m not complaining about that. People can buy The Australian if they want to and I don’t complain at all about it being in the editorial columns. If they want to run editorials, they can have whatever point of view the like. It’s when it leaks over into the news columns and when they run campaigns against people where the facts are not allowed to get in the way of their opinions, that is when it gets out of control.
JOE HILDEBRAND: I think there’s a very few – there’s a handful of, perhaps, occasions where that might have happened. I’m not sure but…
PAUL BARRY: Well, that’s more than you’re admitting a moment ago.
GERMAINE GREER:… So the papers always editorialise. They don’t ever give us the news anymore. We never get the complete objective account of the sequence of events. There is always a spin. Always.