Laura Tingle reveals why some policies don’t get covered any more


Laura Tingle

By Jane Cattermole
February 23, 2013

On Friday I attended a forum at the Perth Writers Festival titled Refugees; where do they come from. The speakers were Robin de Crespigny, author of  ‘The People Smuggler’, Kooshyar Karimi, refugee and author of ‘I Confess: Revelations in Exile’ and Carina Hoang, author of ‘Boat People: Personal Stories from the Vietnamese Exodus’. The forum was convened by Laura Tingle from the Australian Financial Review. After the presentations and discussion there was time for a couple of questions. Here’s one asked of Laura, and her reply.
Don’t you feel that the media has a much greater responsibility to act rather than to simply mouth what is the party line? You’re in a privileged position where you can speak with a far greater volume than most of us, so I would like to ask you, why doesn’t that happen? Who’s stopping you from speaking out? Why won’t more journalists have the courage of our convictions?

Laura Tingle answer:


This is a complex question which I’m trying to answer very seriously and successfully, and we’ll also be having a discussion about media tomorrow.

A few things have happened. One of them is the way the political debate in Australia is reported has changed dramatically over the last ten or fifteen years in particular. We used to have people who wrote about immigration and refugees and asylum seeker policy. We used to have people who were health policy experts.

I work in Canberra and this is what I can tell you about best. The change in the economics of the media and the change in the way the media works means that we no longer have specialists in those areas anymore. Now that sounds like a really small thing but it means that when a story is reported it’s reported by generalist reporters.

In Canberra we’re political reporters and we tend to report it, and I’m using the Royal We here. I’ll take responsibility for the sins that are mine and that aren’t. We report it as a political story, as a matter of political controversy. There aren’t people in the key offices of the newspapers who would have written really detailed, well informed pieces backgrounding these issues, but that’s a sweeping generalisation. The guy who won the Gold Walkley in December was Steve Penros from The West Australian and he wrote about the Christmas Island tragedy – but it is now a rare thing that it happens.

Now the Financial Review, which isn’t your mainstream Refugee policy paper I fairly concede, but we actually had a period, and this shows you how these things happen, where there are a whole heap of issues which the editor, the previous editor, there were a range of issues that business was just not interested in.

Refugees was certainly one of them. Climate change was another, and we literally couldn’t get them into the paper. That extended to immigration generally, which was I thought was, well, a bit stupid because, you know, it’s the labour market.

So there are a range of issues and, yes you could say the same about Indigenous affairs. Indigenous affairs used to be a huge story. Ten years ago there was Mabo, Wik, and now it’s just not there because there isn’t the focus. There aren’t people there who’ve got their own interest in getting those stories into the paper. It’s as brutal and basic as that.

You’ve asked, so from the top of my head that gives you a bit of that picture.

Jane with the PM

Jane with the PM

Jane Cattermole
is a Yorkshire coalminer’s daughter, schooled by life to know that the Conservative ideology is pretence for social and economic control. I use wit, history and reason to puncture the bluster of those who think they are born-to-rule.

Jane tweets under the handle @janecat60

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  1. I’m a big fan of Laura Tingle & really appreciate her candid answer to this question. The idea that the true perspective on matters such as asylum seekers goes unreported by the MSM while the dog-whistle politics gets headline treatment only reveals the extent of lazy journalism we are expected to swallow.

  2. Artspeak Central says

    The bottom line here is that Media bosses are hiring B grade journalists. If they want better they would hire better. The media is feeding the public exactly what it wants it to consume = a diet of prejudices in a bid to see the LNP win government. Tis what Murdoch and Gina want.

  3. I think it’s all too easy to blame the business model. If Laura had any belief in the ‘profession’ she (and other senior journos) would be doing something about it. As it stands ALL journalists are being tarred by the same brush. None of the MSM journalists seem to care about anything other than their pay packet by appeasing their management with absolute drivel. It’s time they stood up for what they believe in (if it is anything) and attempt to clear their name. Maybe this way they may be regarded better than used car salesmen.

  4. Laura Tingle’s response didn’t really address the question which was why does the media mouth the party line? This is an issue we are all very interested in. Why, indeed, does the media, print & electronic slavishly, (with some very worthy exceptions) spout what is fed them by the conservative side of politics? It does seem, at times, as though many of the press are cosying up to the LNP. The complete lack of respect shown to the PM is disgraceful. Is it because she treats them as adults & doesn’t massage their egos?

    We really want to know the answers to the question asked as the slide to the conservative side of politics has become an avalanche especially now, as is so recently noticeable with the ABC.

    Why are they all so frightened by a Julia Gillard-led government that they are prepared to do anything to install Tony Abbott & his coterie into government? Doesn’t bear thinking about.

  5. Sandra Searle (@SandraSearle) says

    Could not have said it better myself Woodypear, except perhaps for the remark about the used car salesmen. I think used carsalesmen might have a higher standing than msm journos at present.
    Laura is right in respect that there really aren’t any specialist journalists like there used to be.
    Perhaps the journalists who really do value their professions will find refuge here in the 5th estate. At least here you can find a more balanced reporting. We need to have both sides of the ledger represented in a clear and unbiased manner.

  6. Lorraine Hyde says

    I found Laura’s response to the question quite disappointing. Yes, I understand that the environment has changed but people like Laura who are admired by the public should have enough clout with editors to demand to be heard. They should be taking a principled stand but sadly seem to think it is someone else’s responsibility. Where are the role models we have had in the past. The Andrew Ollie’s for instances? Thank heavens for the few, like Margo Kingston, who believe that truth and fairness are worth pursuing.

  7. margokingston says

    The AFR editor who kept climate change, refugees, immigraition and indigenous affairs was Glenn Burge. He is now a Fairfax executive –

    Burge, like the editor who hounded me out of the SMH Robert Whitehead, is another failed Fairfax editor kicked upstairs.

  8. Oh dear, Margo. Not much hope is there unless there was a massive new broom. Can’t see that happening any time soon, either. Too much entrenchment amongst the mainstream news media I fear.

  9. Reblogged this on The Kettle Press and commented:
    It’s important to know this. The stories we get in mainstream media are not indepth, specialist nor researched. They are surface, controlled and far too often truncated to fit a theme.

  10. Reblogged this on lmrh5.

  11. @afwdrs, read @latingle on the number crunch in PG – I’d prefer fewer political generalists, more policy specialists

  12. Labor Tingle oops I mean Laura says it all.