News Corp’s “The Australian”. Think. Again. – Round Two!

By Kate Doak.

9th December 2010

As if Grogs-gate wasn’t enough, it appears as if News Corporation’s Oceanic flagship paper “The Australian”, is lobbing yet another salvo of fire towards Australia’s bloggers and media academics.

During a conference for media academics at the University of Technology in Sydney on Thursday the 25th of November, Julie Posetti tweeted a comment on climate change that was made by Asa Wahlquist, who was a member of one of the panels that were interviewed throughout the day. Wahlquist, who is a former rural reporter for “The Australian” was alleged by Posetti to have said “in the lead up to the election, the Ed(itor) in Chief was increasingly telling me what to write”.

Low and behold a short time later, The Australian‘s Editor-in-Chief Chris Mitchell announced that he was going to pursue legal action against Posetti, who is a highly respected academic at the University of Canberra and journalist.

Now while Chris Mitchell may claim that he’s suing Julie Posetti for defamation against both himself and his paper, this case isn’t as clear-cut as what it may seem. Mitchel’s actions reek of the stench of revenge, which isn’t surprising given the bloody nose that Posetti gave The Australian during the “Grogs-gate” affair back in early October. This occurred after The Australian’s James Massola decided to “out” the identity of popular Australian blogger, Grogs Gamut after both individuals had been invited to a Media140 Conference organised by Julie Posetti on the 23rd of September, 2010.

During the conference, Massola was on a panel that debated the status of the media as the gatekeepers of democracy. On the other hand, Gamut had been invited on the provision that Julie Posetti would do her best to protect his identity as an anonymous, non-leaking public servant.

Within days of the event, Massola and The Australian‘s media editor Geoff Elliot leaked Gamut’s identity, while ridiculing various critics of their story via both Twitter, columns in “The Australian” and via podcast.Not to be left out, they were soon joined by a few other predominantly male News Ltd journalists via Twitter, who are members of the Canberra Press Gallery.

Not surprisingly, this culminated in people being threatened both publicly and privately via a sustained campaign of tweets, sarcasm and invasions of privacy, after a journalist from The Australian uncovered the contact details of the employers of some of the paper’s most vocal critics over this story. As a result of her prominent stature within the media industry, Posetti was awarded the further “honour” of being targeted with a series of vicious tweets and emails, as well as an editorial within The Australian.

In response to this, Posetti published the following via The Drum on the 5th of October:

After the editorial was published, I received many messages from people concerned for me and describing the piece as a shameless act of bullying in the #groggate tradition. Perhaps, but all it ultimately achieved was a further undermining of The Australian’s editorial credibility and a determination on my part not to be cowed out of expressing a professional opinion about that newspaper’s journalistic standards.”

There is no doubt that this article would have been considered a massive professional slap-in-the-face to many of The Australian’s political reporters and editors in Canberra, particularly given the influence that Mitchell enjoys exerting over Australian political discourse. Furthermore, it raises questions over how the media executives at The Australian view the place of bloggers, academics and part-time journalists, given their predominantly conservative contingent within the Canberra Press Gallery.

With the release of audio from the UTS conference by the ABC, it is evident that Posetti was directly quoting Whalquist in her tweets. As a result of this, it is surprising that Mitchell hasn’t retracted his claims of discrimination against Posetti and instead focused them upon Whalquist. Instead in an attempt to save face, Mitchell has attempted to force Posetti to concede and apologise to The Australian via written legal correspondence, while also publicly criticising her via his publication and sub-editors.

This in turn raises an extremely poignant question:

If a conservative, male journalist had tweeted the comments that Julie Posetti supposedly relayed, would Chris Mitchell have still instantly started legal proceedings, or is this a witch-hunt with the sole intention of weeding out critics and competitors that The Australian finds undesirable?

Only Chris Mitchell can provide these answers.


Kate Doak is the Operations Manager of TuneFM at the University of New England, Australia. Since 2004 she’s changed career paths twice, genders once and has developed a major interest in radio. These days, Kate mostly focuses on Modern History and International Politics. Kate tweets regularly on Twitter via @katedoak

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