16/10/2007 - 22:00

Papers play at cherry picking

16/10/2007 - 22:00


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The Corruption and Crime Commission released its report on the controversial Canal Rocks development near Yallingup last week.

While the report came to some conclusions about the various people involved in this scandal, it was really just the end of a long process that had shed some much-needed light on what was going on behind the scenes in the murky world of influence peddling.

Perhaps more interesting last week was how various major media outlets handled the story, notably local daily newspaper The West Australian and national daily The Australian.

The newspapers presented a polarised view of the findings, especially when it came to the activities of former premier Brian Burke and his cohort, Julian Grill.

The CCC hearings over the past year have destroyed the pair’s lucrative lobbying business, made them political pariahs for the second time this century and raised the very real likelihood that they face further investigation, which could ultimately lead to legal action.

Somehow, in a bizarre twist on the events of the past year, The West labelled Mr Burke and Mr Grill as winners from this affair.

I found it extraordinary that the newspaper focused on the actual findings as a measure of win or loss.

The newspaper took the remarkable line that, since Mr Burke and Mr Grill were not found to be doing anything illegal, they were somehow exonerated by the report.

It was a very strange position to take, especially from a newspaper that seems to portray, at times, that it alone occupies the high moral ground.

To somehow extrapolate that Mr Burke and Mr Grill are winners because their grubby manipulation of weak-willed elected representatives and public servants was not actually against the law is missing the point – by a very, very long way.

This type of activity is simply not in the public interest, as a couple of former politicians would know full well.

The law is not the final arbiter of what is right or wrong. Ask yourself whether you would want to be associated with this kind of activity. Most members of the public would say no.

Can you imagine a child proudly proclaiming at school: “My daddy gets politicians to do things for property developers”. I doubt it.

Of course, Mr Burke and Mr Grill are especially good at turning arguments around, as was the case when I heard the former on radio the day after the report’s release, bleating about unfairness and trying to turn the attack on the state’s attorney-general, Jim McGinty.

Of course, if The West Australian’s cover was sympathetic to the Burke/Grill position then The Australian was the opposite.

Under the heading ‘Stain of Burke, WA Inc returns’, the newspaper led the possibility that Mr Burke could face his third set of criminal charges since leaving office, pointing out that the CCC was looking into the possibility of whether the star witness had perjured himself.

While this is all conjecture at this stage, it sure doesn’t sound like the winner’s corner to me.

The story in The Australian is a reminder that, for more than 20 years, Mr Burke has left a wake of disasters and ruined reputations – including his own – as he led the state down the worst possible of dead ends, engaged in all sorts of tawdry activities, and then became a parasite on the parliamentary process.

Clearly a charismatic leader, Mr Burke could be forgiven for making naïve errors of judgement in the 1980s. He was a relatively young man when he became premier and, perhaps, did not have the experience to thwart the strength of our flawed entrepreneurs of the day.

But it became evident that he lacked more than just experience. So many things he did, while not illegal, were beneath what any of us would expect from a leader in a privileged position.

The law did, of course, catch up with him on one occasion.

Mr Burke and his friends have always claimed his jailing over travel rorts was cooked up and politically motivated. All the more reason why he could have shown contrition, and moved on; to use his political prowess and new experiences for good. Instead he became a gun for hire, and then went further than, in my opinion, anyone ought to go when it comes to lobbying for clients.

Perhaps the most fun from the media coverage came the day after the initial reports.

The West’s Inside Cover took a shot at The Australian’s coverage the previous day, taking the trouble to note that one of the News Corp Ltd journalists involved, Amanda O’Brien, used to work for Mr Burke’s Labor enemy, Mr McGinty.

If the former career of political reporters is such news, perhaps The West should mention that its very able state political editor used to work for the National Party – just to clear the air.

On the same day as The West was attacking its national rival, The Australian’s Media and Marketing section headed its lead item ‘West’s Burke coverage astounds’, digging up academic Peter van Onselen to critique The West’s reporting. The Australian went one better the next day, getting conservative thinker and newly signed-up West columnist Mike Nahan to be equally critical of the way Mr Burke was being favoured by local media.

If nothing else, at least this issue shows we can get some debate in the media – even if it’s still a bit lop-sided.


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