Reckless vanity is not press freedom, Mr O’Brien

KERRY O’Brien – Paul Keating’s reminiscence man and Gough Whitlam’s former press secretary – told the audience at last night’s Walkley Awards that the polarisation of journalists as left or right-leaning was a trend that “has to be resisted”. O’Brien – the current Walkley Foundation chairman – said that if unchecked by legislative reform the kind of Federal Police raids that gave rise to the recent Journalism Is Not a Crime campaign could be authoritarian harbingers of a descent into “fascism.” The very opposite, one supposes, to “the little burst of sunlight” that warmed O’Brien’s heart when Malcolm Turnbull overthrew a democratically elected leader in 2015. Those June raids came about because of the ABC’s use in 2017 of the so-called Afghan Files for a series of stories about alleged crimes, up to and including murder, committed by Australian special forces on operation. These documents – classified AUSTEO (Australian Eyes Only) – were handed over by a party or parties so far unidentified. “Hundreds of pages of secret defence force documents leaked to the ABC,” was how the national broadcaster itself described them. Attempts by authorities to apprehend the dishonest criminals responsible bear no resemblance to authoritarianism or fascism. If a burglar stole O’Brien’s Gold Walkley and sold it to a pawn-broker for $20, police would investigate and visit the store. They’d seize the statuette, fingerprint the counter and take the CCTV footage. Touché, Duce? Hardly.


“For journalists to call out the powerful of any political colour for their abuses of power is not about ideology. It is simply journalists doing their job, practising their craft.”

– Kerry O’Brien’s speech in full: This government must be held to account on press freedom.


But we’re not talking about a spray-painted trophy. Nor, for that matter, are we even talking about a cover-up by the government. The Afghan Files reportage concedes that accusations of unlawful killings in Afghanistan were already being investigated. I use concedes advisedly because the ABC surely hoped the real story out of the leaked documents would be that a scandal-wary ADF was taking no action. Or even that defence officials had concluded such crimes had been committed but would not be publicised or prosecuted. Neither version was so. That left reporters Dan Oakes and Sam Clark with nothing but the documents themselves and the unproven claims at issue. There is no “whistleblower”. This distinction hasn’t been made in discussion of the raids or of the ABC’s supposed public interest right to receive and use stolen information. Regarding the source, his or her motivations – even possible loyalties to other countries – are unknown. How do security agencies know the same person won’t pass on material again – leverageable information – to, say, China? They don’t. In this case, then, the state’s right to catch the offender trumps the right to report perfectly legal protocols being followed by the ADF. In different circumstances, the ABC might have a stronger claim (like Annika Smethurst’s). With the Afghan Files, however, they gorged themselves like choc-a-holics in a Tim Tam factory. Not because there was anything the public needed to know but just because they could. Well they can’t.

UPDATE: ABC launches SecureDrop for whistleblowers to securely and anonymously contact journalists.

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22 Responses to Reckless vanity is not press freedom, Mr O’Brien

  1. JC

    Funny that, but I don’t recall O’Brien that perturbed when the Lying slapper tried to muzzle the press and freedom of discussion with the phony woyal commishion. Where was he then? The leftist arsewipe.

  2. Squirrel

    The enthusiasm of the ABC for attacking the ADF is infuriating, coming as it does from an organisation which ostentatiously wraps itself in the flag every Anzac Day – coverage of which should be taken from the ABC and given to a less conflicted broadcaster.

  3. C.L.

    Yeah, I don’t recall any speeches about Bolt and Leak either.

  4. Bruce of Newcastle

    KERRY O’Brien … told the audience at last night’s Walkley Awards that the polarisation of journalists as left or right-leaning was a trend that “has to be resisted”.

    D’ya reckon he might have a word to his colleagues at the ABC about this issue?
    The ABC hasn’t had a conservative presenter for about half a century.
    My taxes scream in agony whenever they are reluctantly dragged into the ABC’s all consuming maw.

  5. duncanm

    Don’t hear Kerry defending Assange, either.

    ‘securedrop’? A government sponsored Wikileaks?

  6. Rockdoctor

    ‘securedrop’? A government sponsored Wikileaks?

    Be interesting to see whether a wikileaks type goes after it. Nothing is unhackable in this day & age…

  7. Mark M

    I quietly lol when I see the ‘right to know’ campaign ads on TV asking what they are trying to hide.

    Where are the same journalists like Red Kerry offering all views on UN doomsday global warming?

    What is he trying to hide?

  8. Des Deskperson

    I’m watching Kerry interview Clive James.

    Apart from his scrawny neck and bloated gut – which make him look like ventriloquist’s dummy – Kerrry comes across as a fatuous sycophant with a third rate mind.

    But he’s apparently the ‘thinking woman’s crumpet’.

  9. herodotus

    The mainly left-leaning media make decisions every day on what to report, how to spin it, and what to hide entirely from the public. They are, unless they do their job properly, corrupt.

  10. Roger

    “For journalists to call out the powerful of any political colour for their abuses of power is not about ideology. It is simply journalists doing their job, practising their craft.”

    Craft?

    It’s a long time since journalists were apprenticed.

    And just when was the last time an Australian journalist called out a UN official for calling for draconian lifestyle changes from ordinary people in order to combat climate change whilst they compuslively jet about the planet regardless (and please don’t mention spurious “offsets” like elephant conservation or solar panels to provide meagre electric lighting for Indian villagers)?

    Yes, I can’t remember either.

  11. Des Deskperson

    Kerry is making me hate Clive James!!

  12. Lee

    Yeah, I don’t recall any speeches about Bolt and Leak either.

    Especially when the Greens (di Natale) were openly threatening to use or change the laws to shut up conservative or right wing media types like Bolt, just before the last election.

    The media in this country is shamefully partisan in who’ll they defend in this country.

    It’s an institution I have very little respect for these days.

  13. Old Lefty

    Nor does the ABC’s determination investigate abuses of power extend the NSW DoCS and its senior officer Frank Valentine, sent down for a Ridsdale-scale record of abuse, or the activities of the Stalinst comrades from the public-sector teachers’ unions on the northern beaches etc etc.
    Northern beaches etc

  14. Old Lefty

    If we and the US are ever in a hot war, the disclosure of technical capabilities will certainly cost lives – which the ABC would, of course, cheer.

  15. areff

    Any word from the ABC yet on Bruce “Black as I wanna be” Pascoe? No, didn’t think so.

    Meanwhile, he’s a song for the Shape Shifter of Gypsy Point:

  16. Candy

    I don’t mind the ABC being a left wing outfit. The 10% who watch are mostly of the same cut.
    Not sure if their left wing push changes anything. You know, if you never watched the ABC again you would probably miss nothing important or relevant to your life anyway.

  17. Crossie

    How do security agencies know the same person won’t pass on material again – leverageable information – to, say, China?

    How do we know the intent of making this information public is not to help China? At this point I am convinced that our entire media is against the national interest and most of the bureaucracy is as well.

  18. BorisG

    I don’t mind the ABC being a left wing outfit. The 10% who watch are mostly of the same cut.
    Not sure if their left wing push changes anything. You know, if you never watched the ABC again you would probably miss nothing important or relevant to your life anyway.

    I wouldn’t mind either if I didn’t have to pay for it.

  19. Shy Ted

    Time to send a few JoNova posts to Secure Drop.

  20. Tom

    For journalists to call out the powerful of any political colour for their abuses of power is not about ideology. It is simply journalists doing their job, practising their craft

    Except it IS about ideology and attempts by leftwing extremists at the ABC to do as much damage as possible to the ADF/SAS’s war-fighting capability. That was the motivation for their work and it would not have been written otherwise.

    Ideology that has nothing to do with the public interest drives the reporting at the ABC/SBS, Nein-Fairfax (except at the excellent A Current Affair) and The Guardian website, which together employ more than half of the journalists in Australia.

    Only the morning tabloids still practice public interest journalism that’s untainted by political ideology.

  21. Gowest

    Red Kerry keeps promoting the ABC’s Cesspool journalism as if its a badge of honour. Yes we know Kerry really stinky sewerage annoys and that’s your game! He loves watching the steam come out of taxpayers ears.
    I see the regime change in the NT is going well, just like all the others the ABC have promoted.
    As for the “dramatic news” adverts – what a joke the ABC has become! No accurate info on the ABC – lots of “dramatic exaggeration” instead

  22. Who is Michael Smith? former PM Gillard said in parliament; the ABC never bothered to find out either.

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