Pots and Kettles: A Core Economics Editorial

[Mostly based on this editorial in The Age]

It is time for Andrew Holden to stand aside as editor of The Saturday Age, so that vigorous, policy-driven democratic debate can flourish once again. Mr Holden should do so in the interests of the Fairfax organisation, in the interests of the nation and, most importantly, in the interests of democracy. Core Economics’ overriding concern is that, under Mr Holden’s leadership, The Age‘s message about its future policies and vision for Australia is not getting through to the electorate. Our fear is that if there is no change in Labor leadership before the September 14 election, voters will be denied a proper contest of ideas and policies – and that would be a travesty for the democratic process.

Core Economics does not advocate this lightly. We do so with all respect to Mr Holden, recognising that in the years he has occupied the office of editor – most of it under the vexing circumstances of a hung Parliament – the newspaper has implemented policies, which we hope will allow it to remain. We are not saying Mr Holden should stand aside because of policy decisions, but because he has been unable to lift the newspaper out of a desperately difficult commercial position.

A big majority of the electorate appears to have stopped listening to The Age. Voters have been so distracted by internal and external speculation about Labor’s leadership that efforts by the Prime Minister and her ministers to enunciate a narrative, a strategic vision, for the nation’s future beyond this year have failed. If our national political discourse continues in this way, the outcome is writ large: Labor would face a devastating loss in September. Outright control of both houses may be delivered to the Coalition and, more importantly for our democracy, the opportunity for Labor to present a vigorous opposition in Parliament would be diminished.

Ms Gillard came to the office of Prime Minister three years ago, in bitter circumstances, after deposing Kevin Rudd in a caucus challenge, which he did not contest. The polls in mid-2010 had indicated Labor was in danger of losing an election under Mr Rudd, and inside the party there was concern about his increasingly autocratic style. Ms Gillard said she challenged ”because I believed that a good government was losing its way … I love this country, and I was not going to sit idly by and watch an incoming opposition cut education, cut health and smash rights at work”. The Age at the time interpreted her to mean that the Rudd government ”had struggled to explain and justify its policies to voters, and to remind them of its achievements”. The situation is eerily similar today. Unfortunately, the newspaper under Mr Holden has lost its way. And despite her entreaties to the Fairfax board to stick fast, nothing appears to be changing. No one at Fairfax has stepped onto the front foot with confidence to reinvigorate the divided and demoralised newspaper team. The onus falls on Mr Holden to break the impasse.

The electorate is despairing of the uncertainty and the petty back-biting reported by newspapers. Core Economics is more despairing of the vacuum in policy debate. Past editors have been flawed, but each new one claims to have learned much from past loss in confidence. Core Economics is not entirely convinced about that, but we cannot ignore the clear and consistent evidence of the new stands that a change in leadership would lift Fairfax’s stocks and enhance its prospects of participating in a genuine contest.

Australians deserve a newspaper industry of diverse ideas. They deserve authoritative and inspiring journalists, who command with compassion and respect for all. They deserve a media that can clearly describe a future Australia of which we can all be proud – not one that will divide, marginalise or exclude. They deserve more than to be thrown scraps of policies couched in negative terms, or policies that are not properly scrutinised and debated. As it stands, The Australian is being given a free run by an Age which is tormented by its own frailties; too many of the The Australian‘s proposed policies, some little more than slogans, are sliding through.

The Australian advocates contentious policies on the carbon tax, the mining tax and schools funding; these are just the start of it. Yet The Age under Mr Holden has been unable to step up to the contest. The Murdoch press is being allowed to run almost entirely unchallenged with their preposterous calls for the government to ”stop the boats”, in part by turning back the pathetic trail of rickety vessels laden with asylum seekers. This is a potentially dangerous and deeply dispiriting approach. The Age’s inability to unscramble this sloganeering is damning.

Time is running out. The Age needs to refresh its public face and present a compelling, united and inspiring voice. It is capable of doing so. Now it must find the will. There may only be one chance to minimise the damage that appears inevitable in September. To do nothing would implicitly weaken the democratic choice. If it is to be done, it is best done now. But it must be an unequivocal and energising change for the better.

17 thoughts on “Pots and Kettles: A Core Economics Editorial”

  1. no the polls in 2010 did not indicate the ALP would lose indeed quite the opposite.
    They indicated a reasonably easy win. Just go back and read either Mumble or Possum at the time!!


  2. Very droll Joshua, but your point is very well made. It’s bad enough that politicians are so poll driven, but now to have the Age, supposedly a newspaper of standing, to advocate a leadership change on the basis of public opinion… So much for principals and conviction. Just a weather vane… Why bother. It’s no wonder blogs are becoming the place to find content.


  3. Yes I agree, it’s terribly unfair that the Australian only has to compete against the lefties of the Age, AFR, ABC, SMH and now the Guardian Australia, not to mention the vast majority of blogs and the “establishment” across universities, government departments and so on. Totally one sided.


  4. Fairfax will not forgive Gillard for having the impertinence to propose media reform. In the SMH , at least, it has been wall-to-wall “Rudd must return” op-eds ever since.


  5. sorry Andreas,

    Opinion pieces do not prove a thing. People who write about opinion polls and what they are saying are a much better guide. both Mumble and Possum ( whoopsy I forgot the Piping Shrike) said at the time the ALP was heading towards a comfortable win. The last newspoll was for example 52/48. That is very comfortable!

    Rudd was gotten rid of by the Faction heavyweights because he was making factions irrelevent

    No wonder no-one could ever explain why Rudd was sacked!


    1. How about reading the articles first, nottrampis:

      “The speed of the collapse in Labor’s support suggests not a drift but a rupture – Rudd’s popularity has collapsed from 59 per cent to 41 per cent in two months.
      And the government’s standing has suffered accordingly. “This is a big protest against the government,” said the Herald’s pollster, Nielsen’s John Stirton. ”It looks like a protest against Kevin Rudd.””

      As to the factional heavyweights, yes, that is a real issue (as the NSW Obeid – SirLunchALot has demonstrated) but they couldn’t have cared less had Rudd provided the numbers.

      Read more: http://www.smh.com.au/opinion/politics/rudds-showdown-at-the-last-chance-saloon-20100606-xn7x.html#ixzz2X6lyShT1

      Incidentally, I despise people who hide behind monikers; if you have something to say, put your name to it.


  6. Surely, we should continue to value a contest of ideas as the way to inform the electorate. One sided reporting of a party’s media releases without any attempt at analysis treats us, the voters, like idiots. We are supposed to just swallow what the current media tells us even though the message is so skewed. This is not the way forward in a modern society. It is a rush to the past. Policies implemented that will only ensure that education and health, to take just two areas, will once again be the right of those that can afford it! We cannot afford to undo the Carbon Pricing system, we cannot afford to have 50% of our children with less than adequate education, we cannot afford to have our elderly, our, sick, our disabled, our injured, without adequate health care, we cannot afford to have our retired without adequate superannuation, we cannot afford to have less than the best communications’ technology…… and the list goes on. We need to be able to decide which party will meet the needs we consider important in 21st century, not the 20th or even the 19th. For us to be able to make these important decisions we need a vibrant, impartial, informative media. We don’t have one at the moment!


  7. Joshua,
    On my first read of your editorial I see, The Age is not sufficiently committed to promoting ALP policy? Really?

    Wow, this is hilarious, Joshua is a totally funny guy.

    But, oh, then I started to worry.

    We know from his statements in previous blogs that Joshua is at least spiritually aligned to the ALP. And that’s fine. We all have political preferences.

    Maybe Joshua is being serious about The Age. Can’t be. Please Joshua, tell us that ain’t so.


  8. You know I am now starting to wonder. You know I just made a couple of changes to The Age editorial, right? This is a commentary on that and the media and not about the details. It is really hard to tell whether that message got through from some of these comments.


  9. I guess many people aren’t reading the link. Also, many people aren’t as cynical of the media as they probably should be, and points that you might think would be obvious just don’t come to mind.

    The media hypocrisy is amazing – first focus reporting on leadership speculation, and then complain that there’s too much reporting on leadership speculation and the nation is at peril from it and it’s all due to whoever the reporting is about.

    Selling papers does not require consistency, nor insight, nor accuracy – it requires drama and rationalisations of whatever prejudices are out there even when those prejudices are caused by bad reporting in the first place.


  10. Joshua, Your suggested course of action would be ineffective as, given Mr Holden’s C.V. he would be very likely to assume a similarly senior role at another left-leaning media organisation. Merely shifting the problem. With due respect, I suggest to ensure an effective displacement the Commonwealth should simultaneously sell/close the ABC.


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