Getting #leardblockade arrested, WTF is journalism and who’s the extremist: @margokingston1 interview with @dailytelegraph



Margo Kingston arrested on March 31 at Whitehaven Coal mine site, arresting officer at right. (Photo: Georgina Woods @georgefwoods).

Margo Kingston arrested on March 31 at Whitehaven Coal mine site, arresting officer at right. (Photo: Georgina Woods @georgefwoods).

My third trip to #leardblockade last week helped me clarify my vision for No Fibs (see Mass arrests at #leardblockade: @margokingston1 Twitter report and Picnic at boundary of Whitehaven State Forest: @margokingston1 April Fools Day Twitter report). I’m happy to answer your question in comments.

I’ve never been an ‘embedded journalist’ before, and it’s testing. I was allowed inside the #leardblockade camp and was privy to its plans and problems, most of which I could not report as it would tip off the other side. The journalistic upside was being able to report and photograph the camp and the people who had come along to help. Since no-one else was reporting them, this was fresh and interesting colour.

But my main job was to live-tweet actions and arrests. This ensured that the actions and words of Australians prepared to be arrested for a cause were documented for a wider audience. I also reported the police arrivals, actions and arrests.

It is highly unusual for a civil disobedience movement to be reported from the inside, and this in itself is informative for the wider debate on climate change and protecting what’s left of our natural environment. Luckily for me I was trusted by the group due to being vouched for by trusted members who are friends of mine.

Why was I the only professional journalist present?

Several journalists have the trust of the environment movement, but there is simply not the money to send them on location way out west for a day, let alone a week. My Twitter reporting allowed the MSM to get the facts virtually live.

In an interview two days after my arrest for trespass on March 31 at the Whitehaven Coal mine site, The Daily Telegraph’s Geoff Chalmers remarked that the mainstream media could not afford to send to send anyone to the area. True, I replied, and that’s why I see the future as a collaboration between professional and citizen journalists. My Tweet information and photos were available free to the MSM with credit, and were used by The Guardian and the Tele.

So here’s the vision. No Fibs will be a respected, well read Twitter-based hub of citizen journalism run and written for by a bunch of dedicated volunteers, including me. People who write for No Fibs will strive to comply with the Media Alliance code of professional ethics and will have their work looked after by sub-editors. As editor, I am accountable for what is published.

The idea is that mainstream media will come to trust the work of No Fibs contributors and the honesty of my editorship and that of everyone who gives time to her success.

One way or another, citizen journalism is being merged into professional reporting, and I want to encourage citizens to write for the public in the best journalistic traditions.

I have to admit it – I do see No Fibs as Webdiary reincarnated. The motto for my Independent Webdiary, from which I retired in late 2005 but which survived as a volunteer-run website until July 2012 was ‘Patron Power: Independent, Ethical, Accountable and Transparent’. Nothing has changed.

Geoff kindly gave me the transcript of my answers in our interview, which ranged over my arrest, my journalism philosophy and my views on climate change and Coal Seam Gas. I publish it below, along with my recollection of the questions asked.

INTERVIEW APRIL 2 on the road from #leardblockade to #Pilliga

Q: Geoff advised that the Police brass had blasted me for breaching the ‘rule’ that junior officers should not be named or photographed and asked for my response

Is this some sort of protocol that I don’t know of? Or are they arguing that I breached some guideline? I guess what’s happening on the site is that protestors are photographing police and security. Security are photographing protestors, police are photographing protestors. Everyone is photographing each other, everyone wants this to be on the record.

Q: Geoff asked if I had been underhand in any way

Absolutely not – and none of it was surreptitious and completely out in the open and as they gave me their names I typed it into my tweet. There is no subterfuge at all – to me they are in a public role, performing a public act.

We are all photographing each other. There’s no mainstream media there to report the facts. I’m recording the facts, the police are recording the facts, and security are recording the facts. We’re all trying to get the facts right. I have no qualms about that at all.

I did name and photograph at least two officers, maybe another one yesterday. That’s my job as a reporter to name and to photograph and in the two cases that I recall Inspector Adam Bartlett and a leading constable Noal from memory. In both cases they knew I was photographing them and I asked them for their name and title and they freely gave it to me knowing that was going on Twitter. It was done with the consent of the officers concerned.

Q: Geoff asked me about the circumstance of my arrest

I believed from previous history on protests that police usually come in and say we’d like you to leave and if you don’t you’ll be arrested and that’s what I expected to do and that’s what I would’ve done. Obviously it’s a unique opportunity to record and report an action from the inside, I knew there was a risk but I thought it was a small risk. As it happened I was arrested (see my interview with Carol Duncan on the day of my arrest). I’m not happy about that at all but of course I accept it and I’ll take the consequences. There’s no way I’m going to lock-on or do  anything major at all – I risked the risk of trespass because I wanted to report the news on the ground.

Q: Geoff said the NSW Energy Minister had called the protesters and me extremist and asked for my response

It’s a fundamental disagreement in society. There are people who have come from all over Australia for the blockade. I believe that the extremist position is to not accept that climate change is real and of imminent danger to our civilization and our children and to keep pumping out greenhouse into the atmosphere.

On one side the miners and some in the government say that these people are extremists but on the side of the fence I’m reporting on they believe it is the government and the mining companies in this case who are extremists for wanting to fell an endangered forest for a coal mine. So there is a gaping hole in people’s understanding.

There is no doubt what the activists are doing here – what the farmers, the environmentalists and some Aboriginal people are doing here – they are engaging in civil disobedience. They are saying I don’t believe this law is right. So they are deliberately putting themselves in a position where they can be arrested, fined, put into jail.

The methodology they use is Non-Violent Direct Action. That means there is total non-violence, respect for everyone’s role in this including the police. There is not any form of physical violence.

Geoff asked if I was at #leardblockade as a journalist or an activist

As a journalist working for my site. Obviously this is a huge debate in the world of journalism. Glen Greenwald, the guy who broke the NSA stuff, believed that all journalism is a form of activism and he’s in a great debate with the establishment journos from The New York Times.

I guess I have believed – since I covered Pauline Hanson in 1998 – that there is no such thing as a journalist standing back and watching dispassionately at what’s going on around them because the media is enmeshed in the whole process. The main players are staging a show for media.

So from my perspective I find it better now to write in the first person and to fully disclose my beliefs and my opinions on the matter at hand. What I’m hoping is to establish a relationship with the reader where they know me and what I believe and that makes it easier for them to trust my work as a journalist.

I understand that this is a position that is not widely held in my profession however it has got respectable minority opinion.

For me, I went to the blockade in early January when I was on holidays. A friend asked me to go and I had no knowledge of this action or anything really, but when I got there I just took to Twitter and thought this is the most amazing opportunity to Twitter report. You know how we are live tweeting court cases now and live events, but those are staged, these are volatile unstable events – an exercise in civil disobedience.

It was very exciting for me to report that and I believe it is an interesting new development in journalism that Twitter is allowing us to explore. And this is what my vision has been for many many years since I did Webdiary for The Sydney Morning Herald – I believe that the future of journalism, given the collapse in the business model and terrible strain that mainstream media is under financially, is a collaboration of citizen journalism and mainstream media.

Q; Geoff asked about being a Twitter reporter on the ground 

As this develops there will be someone who doesn’t share my opinion who will be there as well – a Twitter reporter. The bottom line is the reporters we need on the ground are reporters you can trust with the facts. I do my very best to get the right arrest numbers, to get the name and ages of people.

So in many cases I’m doing photo, name. All my photos are available to the mainstream media – The Guardian has given me a credit that’s fine with me. If The Daily Telegraph wanted to run any picture of mine they give me credit that’s fine. I haven’t got any desire to hold what I am doing to myself, I feel like what I’m doing is in the best interest of journalism.

Q: Geoff asked where I was going, and when I said I was on my way to #Pilliga, he asked for my position on CSG

My position is that it is such a huge consequence if the Great Artesian Basin water is contaminated or poisoned that we have to be extremely careful before we can proceed. What the Lock The Gate movement has shown is that the NSW Government and other state governments have rushed into this without knowing what the risks are and it’s a community protest and outrage that has forced them to have a good look at it and put some precautions in place. I feel that my position is that at last we’re getting to a situation where the risks and the science is being acknowledged and that everyone is taking very very special care before approving a CSG project.


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  1. Joy Cooper says

    As an admirer of your journalism back in the old SMH days, Margo, it was wonderful to see you emerge on Twitter. You are doing a wonderful job here at No Fibs. Thank you for that.

    With regard to the present NSW CSG situation, last week we attended a local ALP forum to discuss suggestions to be passed on to the NSW ALP re formulating its CSG policy. A very interesting exercise indeed. Beef farmers are terrified about heavy metals, released by the extraction process, possibly leaking into water used for stock thereby contaminating the meat. If this happens a whole beef export trade for the area would be destroyed even if it only affected a small number of cattle. The entire industry would be gone. They would also have almost zero chance of getting any compensation from the CSG companies such as Metgasco as it would be well near impossible to prove they were the ones at fault ending up costing the beef farmers millions in court costs. To my mind this is bullying of the worst kind so it is better to try to prevent this situation from occurring in the first place.

  2. Thank you I believe you are right, with what is happening with the MSM and Governments in power, I smell a rat.
    The lack of MSM coverage on the MARCH IN MARCH is a good example, but with your initiative and social media etc. a new force is developing. All we have to do now is use it and use it well. Great work.

  3. Twenty-five years ago, Canberra press gallery TV coverage of the Coronation Hill uranium mine debate was spectacularly compromised by vision of Yellow Waters at Kakadu – supplied by ACF. The wind has a habit of blowing both ways.

  4. Getting #leardblockade arrested, WTF is journalism & who’s the extremist? @margokingston1 interview.