Aussie PM Julia Gillard Versus Freedom of the Press

by Gramfan on August 31, 2011

in Australia, censorship, Gramfan (team member), mainstream media, UK

The British Government phone-hacking investigation of Rupert Murdoch’s News of the World has opened the way for more threats against freedom of the press, and not only in the UK. Julia Gillard should be far more ashamed of her attempt to shut down freedom of the press in Australia than she is of her past relationship with an embezzling union boss.

Andrew Bolt

Andrew Bolt: How Gillard tried to kill a story

…Yesterday morning I was considering resigning as a News Limited columnist.

I thought this company that I love, that I have long admired for its defence of free speech, had caved in to pressure from a Prime Minister to close down reporting of a matter of public interest.

That matter was Gillard’s former relationship, professional and romantic, with union official Bruce Wilson who, unknown to her, was ripping off employers and members of the Australian Workers Union, of which he was state secretary.

I was under instructions not to comment on this myself, after I wrote about it on my blog on Saturday, until further legal advice was received.

Posts from my blog were pulled on Monday, although I believe they were fair, accurate and in the public interest.

Worse, The Australian newspaper, also part of News Limited, on Monday removed from its website a column by Glenn Milne – also referring to Gillard’s past relationship – that had appeared in the morning paper.

In its place, the paper ran an apology for Milne’s “assertions about the conduct of the Prime Minister” and said they were “untrue”. Nor did this silencing of debate affect only News Limited. Presenter Michael Smith, of Sydney’s 2UE, owned by Fairfax Media, was also silenced.

Smith had received a statutory declaration from Bob Kernohan, a former AWU state president, detailing Wilson’s frauds from 1992 to 1995.

But again questions are raised about Gillard’s judgment in having had this relationship, and Smith last weekend pre-recorded a half-hour interview to explore them. He had lawyers clear it to avoid any risk of defamation.

But on Monday, while Smith was on air, his radio station cancelled the interview. It banned him from running it on Tuesday, too.

Here’s how all this came about. Smith on Friday aired some of Kernohan’s statutory declaration, and I then published extracts on my blog, predicting what Kernohan would say to Smith on air on Monday.

As I made clear, the issue was not that Gillard had done anything improper.

There is no evidence of that.

The issue was her judgment in having a professional and romantic relationship with a man now exposed as a conman – and whether Gillard could afford scrutiny like this when she was already hopelessly tangled in defending backbencher Craig Thomson from allegations that, while he was the Health Services Union’s secretary, his union credit card was used to withdraw $100,000 and pay for prostitutes.

Gillard’s office hit the panic button. Gillard herself rang Hartigan on Saturday to check whether I or another News Limited journalist would be pursuing the story.

After calls were made to me and papers I write for, she was assured I was not.

But I don’t write for The Australian, which on Monday ran Milne’s column.

Gillard, I’m told, went “ballistic” and “nuclear”. She made “multiple” calls to Hartigan and also to The Australian’s editor-in-chief Chris Mitchell, demanding an immediate retraction.

Normally, someone aggrieved would not be able to call the CEO of a newspaper and normally a newspaper would, on being alerted to an error, correct or remove only those parts of its report that were false or defamatory.

In this case, The Australian removed the whole column, on Gillard’s insistence.

I think this was an overreaction. It was also an overreaction to remove my own blog postings, and to request that I not write anything further on this matter until further discussion.

You may blame News Limited for being weak, but never has it felt so politically vulnerable. Gillard had for weeks exploited Britain’s News of the World phone hacking scandal to threaten News Limited with inquiries that might force it to sell some of its papers or address what the Greens called its “bias”.

Like the News of the World, News Limited is part of the Rupert Murdoch empire, and Prime Minister Gillard, long seething at the critical coverage of her performance by The Australian and The Daily Telegraph, now claimed the Australian papers also had “serious questions to answer”.

I have not the slightest doubt that Gillard’s suggestions of an inquiry greatly worried News Limited, and influenced its overreaction to the Prime Minister’s fury these past days.

Whether Gillard specifically mentioned the threat of an inquiry in her “multiple” calls to News Limited executives I do not know.

But I do know that she should have been aware of its potential impact.

This, then, is how news can be kept from the public.

Not being able to report on what I consider improper pressure by a desperate Prime Minister to kill a story meant I could not report fairly on the political scene as I saw it.

I could not do my job, and I consulted friends about resigning. I am now told that News Limited was just being cautious while it checked its legal position. Hartigan told me: “At no stage is my job to stop stories getting into papers.”

No, it was the Australian Prime Minister who, in my opinion, tried to do that.
I thank News Limited for defying the Prime Minister and letting me write as I have above.

I apologise for doubting its commitment to free speech.

But be aware how endangered is our freedom to speak as we find, especially of this Prime Minister.
Read it all.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Annoyed Australian September 8, 2011 at 9:50 pm

Interesting…very interesting!!! It begs a lot of questions as to what else they are trying to hide. I would be interested in you do a story on “Emily’s List, which i believe too has some information that the prime minister could be hiding from the Australian voters e.g. approval for late stage abortion in pregnancy???

2 Gramfan September 8, 2011 at 10:05 pm

Annoyed Aussie:

I don’t know a lot about Emily’s List other than you have to approve of abortions to be part of it. (I think Catholic women are exempt from this – but am not sure).

I can’t remember where I saw/heard it but I think late stage abortions are already ok here. I may try to do some checking when I have the time.

Great piece on Andrew Bolt here:

3 1389 September 8, 2011 at 10:18 pm

Emily’s List is a fund-raising organization to support women candidates who are pro-abortion. That might not be what they SAY, but that’s what they ARE.

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