Glenn Milne, regularly published pontificating about his numerous anonymous sources, lowered the bar of journalistic standards yet again yesterday when he filed An ALP insider’s open letter to Julia Gillard at ABC’s Drum. The piece consists of an introduction by Milne, followed by an unsigned open letter to Julia Gillard from an anonymous Labor party member – ‘one of the best Labor thinkers going around’, according to Milne.
There is so much wrong with this piece, from its origins to its argument, it’s hard to know where to begin. With the misuse of anonymous sources, political manipulation of the media and sexism, it kind of epitomises the state of journalism today.
‘Samizdat was a key form of dissident activity across the Soviet bloc in which individuals reproduced censored publications by hand and passed the documents from reader to reader,’ Milne begins – with an unattributed quote taken, unchanged, from the introduction to the samizdat page on Wikipedia. As is his next sentence.
The samizdat comparison is outrageous to all those who have been or are being silenced because of political dissent. Should we conclude that Milne is unable to distinguish between the police state climate that gave birth to samizdat and contemporary Australia?
Then there’s the unsigned letter itself, which begins with the unambiguously sexist and dismissive, ‘Dear Julia’. Sorry, shouldn’t that read ‘Dear Prime Minister Julia Gillard’? Surely a current, ‘progressive’ Labor party insider who supports the Australian parliamentary system would also support the position of Prime Minister, and address the current holder as such. Perhaps this is simply too challenging when the prime minister’s a woman. But don’t simply take my accusations of sexism for it; read the following paragraph instead:
Worthy and, dare I say it, a more specific, focused and meaningful “vision” than that recently given by PM Gillard when she settled for “motherhood” by claiming she would be comfortable and relaxed by delivering a ‘strong economy and opportunity for all’. Her pulse must run at lizard’s pace if this excites Julia, and it was reflected by all the (lack of) excitement and passion her “vision” engendered. It was about as “cut through” as her increasingly soporific speaking style, and robotic hand movements.
The unnamed source goes on to list all the great Labor male leaders who went before Gillard – Whitlam to Keating – singing their allegedly progressive achievements; Keating’s were equality for Indigenous Australians and ‘a shot at [our] own identity and nationhood via the Republic’, in case you were wondering.
This anonymous letter exemplifies what everyone detests about the Labor party. Faceless men, what’s more faceless than an unsigned letter denouncing the direction of the party by a Labor insider? Recent election results show a lack of trust in government, and, specifically, the Labor party, which is what comes from stunts like these.
Anonymity has a vital place in journalism. But this letter is an appalling use of it, and one that has become all too commonplace. Meanwhile, those outside of media-accommodating departments in government, military and corporations face actual persecution for leaking organisational information to induce change.
According to Crikey’s Spinning the Media investigation, 55% of Australian stories were driven by public relations. The anonymity frequently bestowed by today’s journalists is not the kind of anonymity the AMA envisioned when they penned their Code of Ethics, in which they advised that journalists should only agree to anonymity after ‘first considering the source’s motives and any alternative attributable source’.
What were the source’s motives here? Politics, presumably. And Milne’s motives in publishing an unsigned open letter? Journalists and, indeed, editors need to be able to distinguish between whistleblowers and propaganda.
Lastly, in this particular instance, there’s no way to even verify that someone other than Milne even wrote this open letter.
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