Image for High moral ground indeed

But the piece has a context.  It would not have been written, at least at this time, without the preceding events of the last two weeks or so.  So it needs to be read within that context of events and how the Examiner has reported them.

On Sunday, October 11 the Launceston Examiner ran a front-page story, “Gay’s home smoke-bombed”, under the byline “breaking news” ( Here ).  No reporter named.

In that short story the reporter deliberately linked the vandalism to “a radical anti-pulp mill element in the community”, and for good measure stated that “the attacks coincide with a fiery community cabinet meeting at Beaconsfield… where 21 anti-pulp mill protesters were arrested”.  Two points can be made about this report.  There was, and still is, no evidence at all of any such “radical” element.  This is unprofessional journalism.  Secondly, there was no “fiery” cabinet meeting.  That is absolute and complete nonsense.  Most of the “demonstrators” were over 50 – perhaps even over 55.  As for those arrested, they just stood there, and stood there, until they were arrested.  If they hadn’t been arrested they would have just stood there.  Just stood there.  There was no need to arrest them.  You know why?  They were just standing there!

The following day (Monday October 12), the vandalism story filled the Examiner’s first two pages (except for a report on Prince William of England, heaven help us – but that says something in itself), in addition to an editorial over Fiona Reynolds’ name.

Again, for those who don’t know – and again I only learned this today – the Examiner invited its readers to be judge and jury about who was responsible for the vandalism, a crime by this stage under police investigation.  “Who do you think was responsible?”, asked the Examiner, in full respect of all the legal niceties of giving all and sundry the opportunity to accuse whoever they felt like.  “Have your say online”.  Set up your own kangaroo court.  Why not.

This is not just extraordinary, is it?  Is it merely breathtaking?  Tell us all who you think committed the crime.  We want your “opinion”.  The Examiner actually asked people to accuse others. 

Is this happening in Tasmania?  Well yes, and are you surprised, and do you take it in your stride, and is it acceptable behaviour by any standards of civil rights as we understand them under statutary law, common law, natural justice, and just pure and simple human decency?

The Examiner editorial on October 12 made the angle clear in the first sentence – “It’s hard to find words to describe the campaign of intimidation mounted against Gunns chairman John Gay and his family”.  The rest was all about the anti-pulp mill groups and whether, in the editor’s opinion, they could be responsible. 

Everyone got a mention, in a ranking list from the Wilderness Society and the Greens at the top (the clean end), through TAP and PTM in the middle to a “radical fringe element with no formal affiliation”, and right at the bottom no-one associated with the mill at all.  Doctor Reynolds sure likes the scatter-gun approach to editorialism.  They’re all diseased. Let’s hit the lot.  Wipe them all out.  Why waste time on waiting for a police investigation?  Carpet bomb them all.  Collateral damage?  Who cares.

The next day (Tuesday, October 13) a double-page spread had the pulp mill front and centre, one page giving focus to Lucy Langdon-Lane (PTM) and the other to Paul Lennon’s direct accusations of “orchestrated” vandalism by anti-pulp mill campaigners, as well as other unsubstantiated accusations.  TAP had been invited to participate in the garbage circus, but declined, knowing full well that their participation would only add credence to the Examiner’s trial without evidence.

This is the background context to Fiona Reynolds’ extraordinary splenetic outburst on October 18 against people who oppose the pulp mill in the Tamar Valley.  The Examiner chose to make the vandalism of Gay’s home a “cause celebre” about opposition to the pulp mill.  It amounted to the most extensive media coverage the Examiner has given to pulp mill opposition on a single occasion in the last five years – and designed, as always, to support Gunns as the primary objective.

Then suddenly, out of the blue, an arrest is made.  How inconvenient.  No more double-page spreads.  Not even single-page coverage.  “Who do you think was responsible?” is no longer the question of the week.  Accuse whoever you like has suddenly become a less attractive avenue of respectable journalism.  Let alone the basic principles of journalistic professionalism and the natural justice.

It was only at this point that the shutters of the sub judice clamps came thundering down.  But I would suggest that the horse had already bolted and that Fiona Reynolds needs to answer questions in relation to that.  If that does not occur there will have been a miscarriage of justice into how the Examiner conducts its affairs, to say the least, and there will have been another hole torn in the fabric of democracy in the Tasmanian polity.

But one thing is sure, and it is this.  What Fiona Reynolds has written on October 18 2009 is further confirmation that the Launceston Examiner is not a responsible, nor independent, nor professional, nor reliable source of accurate and fair minded “journalism”.  I have given “journalism” parantheses in this case because I believe the Examiner does not conform to standards normally applied to that word, however loosely they can be applied.

Perhaps – no, that is too loose as well – so let us say that the Examiner should consider returning to its origins prior to the 1850s, returning to the period before John West became editor. In that period, even before it acquired its misnomer as the Examiner, it had begun life as an advertiser, without pretensions to report news or even attempt to report it.  Shipping timetables, advertising house and land sales, stock sales, the price of rabbits and rabbit skins, where to buy and sell, meat and wool auctions, births, deaths, marriages, arrivals and departures, social comings and goings, royal tours and so on, were the staple fare.

The only real departure from the 1850s fare for the current Examiner would need to be sport.  It already occupies about half the space, so it may as well stay.  But instead of subjecting us all to the endlessly inane stories about Gunns, repeated ad nauseum every week, the Examiner could just fill their columns with Gunns advertisements, without comment.  The reporters who currently focus all their attention on servicing Gunns’ interests could be deployed to advertising golf or bowls or the latest in comfortable footwear. 

And just think of all the time and energy they wouldn’t have to devote to stories about Prince William of England, or Paris Hilton, or the editorials of Fiona Reynolds, for that matter.     

The only reason that I make this suggestion is that the piece ( Here ) is so illuminating about the nature and standards of the main daily newspaper “serving” the greater northern region of Tasmania.  It presents a useful insight into how the paper truly sees its role, at least from the editor’s chair, and how the editor demonstrates a capacity to articulate that role.

The piece, headlined “Some pulp protesters shredding credibility”, has an associated message in bold at centre page – “our reporters put their names to stories and are continuously attacked by people too gutless to identify themselves”.  In short, “anonymous and gutless anti-pulp mill protesters” is the angle, so you should now know what to expect when you read it.