Diarist-at-large Richard Ackland flys about the nation. By Richard Ackland.

The ugly Truth

In the USSR the official organ of the Soviet Communist party was Pravda, which means Truth, a fantastic tease on its readers.

Whatever the party wanted published or, just as importantly, didn’t want published, was conveyed to the editors who obediently did their duty. Pravda reporters were more like stenographers than journalists.

Circulation soared because subscriptions were compulsory for state-run corporations, the armed services and party officials.

Pravda was also used as leverage in Kremlin power struggles. For instance, it sided with Nikita Khrushchev in his battle for supremacy with Georgy Malenkov after the death of Stalin.

So what’s with all the Pravda stuff? It’s just that there seems to be a Pravda-like relationship between Coalition party people and Lord Moloch’s fish-wrappers.

Day after day thought bubbles, policy announcements and good news biscuits are distributed through the national edition of Truth and various satellite Truths. Great eye-glazing wads of copy on the twists and turns with superannuation, pensions, the Intergenerational Report or the Morrison pension peace plan are announced first in the government’s official outlet.

Malcolm Turnbull’s scheme to allow more media mergers and further concentration of the mainstream news business first got a run in News Corpse organs, which allowed Lord Moloch an early start to ramp up his displeasure that Foxtel was not getting more gravy from this train.

There was an inspired front page this week in The Hun, about the Abbott government reversing evil Labor’s policy of grabbing money from bank accounts and life insurance policies after they’d been dormant for three years.

The kindly Abbott people now will allow this money to lie fallow for seven years before it’s confiscated. And, as The Hun reported: “Children’s accounts will be exempted, ensuring money parents set aside for their kids’ futures will never be raided.”

This humanity is enough to make you weep. The fact that such a good-news leak happened on the day Poodles Pyne’s education bill bombed (again) in the senate is typical of the cynical observation you’d expect from Gadfly.

Governments have long had their favourite lapdogs in the gallery, but the current Pravda-isation from Canberra is being done on a scale that would make the Soviets blush.

1 . Malcolm maintains his modesty

It was great to see a snatch of Malcolm on the telly the other night. He’s been out of the spotlight the past couple of weeks, so just a glimpse of him on Marian Wilkinson’s Four Corners about the Liberals spillage was a treat for a Malcolm-starved nation.

There he was on the NSW mid-north coast beaming as he schmoozed heaps of well-wishers. How he keeps up this routine of loyal restraint and contained emotion is a marvel. Seasoned Malcolm watchers are predicting that unless he’s taking some powerful potions, the containment will be too much and he’ll burst a phuffy-valve.

2 . Border Mail patrol

Back to the newspaper business, where we find ink-stained blood has been running in the streets of Albury.

Cause of the grief is Greg (Maserati) Hywood’s defenestration of a once fine paper, The Border Mail. Out went the chief of staff and sports editor, a total of 20 from the newsroom, including all sub-editors and the keeper of online archives. Two photographers survived.

The subbing will be done in Ballarat, which is where the subediting of organs such as The Advocate of central Victoria is carried out. That paper recently repeated pages four and five, reported that someone had “crossed the tees and dotted the eyes” and in a story about a cemetery there was reference to being buried “under a public secretary”.

Albury–Wodonga readers can look out for more fun with The Border Mail once it is fused in the regional hub strategy.

The Mott family owned the Mail pre-Fairfax and fostered careers of the likes of Bob Cronin, group editor-in-chief at West Australian Newspapers; Barrie (Butch) Cassidy of ABC TV’s Insiders; John Bruce, executive producer of Lateline; Tony Wright, national affairs editor at The Age; and Geoff Walsh, former global public affairs director at BHP Billiton and ex-shitkicker for PMs Hawke and Keating.

Mike Cahill, co-founder of Sydney marketing group Digital Farm TV, recalls: “I was a 26-year-old news editor at The Border Mail in 1976. It was the golden
age of a truly great newspaper that was
a credit to its founders, the Mott family.”

Melbourne Mott was chairman and Tennyson Mott a director. More from Cahill: “I heard Greg Hywood talk about the future of regional and rural newspapers at a lunch in Sydney a couple of years ago. He was underwhelming, delivering a speech that might have sounded okay to gormless shareholders but made no sense to anyone who knew media, particularly regional and rural media.”

Hywood may well save the company by burning the newspapers.

3 . Teaching old hacks new tricks

Gadfly was ensconced for a whole day at a special masterclass for the master race.

It was conducted by the brilliant young Paul Farrell at Guardian Australia, who took a room full of enrollees through what’s happening with surveillance and encryption – the sort of stuff required of tomorrow’s journalists.

We grappled with anonymisation tools and how to use them: Tor, PGP/GPG email, OTR chat, TrueCrypt and LUKS, file-sharing through OnionShare and password management.

This is the brave new world foisted on us by Bookshelves Brandis’s surveillance state. It’s going to take a while for Gadfly to get what’s left of his head around these tools, which reptiles will need to do their jobs and protect their sauce bottles.

It took me back to when I was six years old, or maybe it was 26, when I’d write letters to people in invisible ink, only readable after application of
a Sunbeam iron.

What warrants such intrusions?

Journalists have kicked up enough fuss for the government to go with the idea that contestable warrants from judges should be required before authorities access reptiles’ stored data.

It’s one thing protecting whistleblowers and snouts in the name of that great instrument of democracy – a free press. But what about all the other secrecy-dependent relationships that make society work: lawyer–client privilege, doctor–patient confidentiality, commercial confidences, priests and penitents?

No judicial warrants for them, apparently – contestable or otherwise. The pollies know on which side their bread is buttered. Not that a judicial warrant is necessarily going to save anyone’s bacon, given the way they have been handed out like confetti to police surveillance units in NSW.

Hence Gadfly’s encryption lessons.

The pressing issue is how “journalist” will be defined in Bookshelves’ bill. Maybe, to simplify things, the definition should be restricted to Lord Moloch’s stenographers.

4 . High court disorder

The serenity of the High Court’s special leave process was shattered the other day with the arrival of what the transcript describes as “an unidentified man”.

As Chief Justice Robert French, Justice Ken Hayne and barristers Bret Walker and Dr Andrew Bell wrestled the contortions presented by PT Bayan Resources TBK v BCBC Singapore Pte Ltd & Ors, this is what the transcript said:

MR WALKER: … the next reason why, in our submission, this is ripe for special leave and would, regardless of the outcome, most usefully inform not only the application of but perhaps the reframing of court rules is, of course, that it relates to matters which are right at the heart of international commerce which itself is right at the heart of the economic life with which the court systems of this country –

I have been refused access to the court.
I have been refused access to court.

FRENCH CJ: Now you –

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: What the hell is going on?

FRENCH CJ: You will have to be –

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: I am a strong Australian.

FRENCH CJ: You will have to be quiet.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: I want access to court. They will not allow me to take an action in court.

FRENCH CJ: The court will now adjourn. This person must be removed from the court.

10.17am: Short adjournment.  


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This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on March 21, 2015 as "Gadfly: The ugly Truth".

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Richard Ackland is The Saturday Paper’s legal affairs editor. He publishes

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