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

Bronnie round the bends

The member for Mackellar, B. Bishop, is still running determinedly with her message that she needs to stay on in the seat to fight Daesh. Preselectors are examining this commitment in a little more detail than originally assumed.

In the same way, Tony Abbott, from the vantage point of the Ukraine and London, where he has been doing another lap of honour, has been steadfastly applying his promise of better transport solutions for Sydney’s northern suburbs.

People who know the Sydney peninsula will be familiar with the “Bilgola bends”, which serve as a kind of analogue social media billboard, announcing people’s weddings and 21st birthdays with hokey homemade signs.

The scrawled messages on pieces of cardboard through this escarpment on the edge of the rainforest are unmissable, mainly because the speed limit is one kilometre an hour.

I’m told that very shortly we’ll be seeing signage along this stretch of road nailed to poles and trees simply saying, with a beehive-type illustration, “Bye Bye Bronnie”.

1 . Oz journos wipe feet on APC’s Matt

The latest piñata selected by the hacks at The Catholic Boys Daily is Professor Matthew Ricketson.

He is being birched by leading thinkers and opinion formers, Chris Merritt, Hedley Thomas and Tony Koch, for taking up the position as the journalists’ union representative on the Press Council of Australia.

In 2011 Ricketson was appointed to assist former federal judge Ray Finkelstein in the preparation of the post-hacking scandal report into accountability of the Australian news media.

The Fink-Ricketson recommendations were for an independent News Media Council, with the only appreciable difference from the existing industry-funded Press Council watchdog being that the NMC would be funded by the parliament.

In this sense, the regulator would be no different from the Australian Communications and Media Authority’s funding model for broadcast regulation.

This didn’t stop the hacks and press barons having a major meltdown, with dire warnings about Stalin’s Russia and Hitler’s Reich Press Chamber.

Now with Ricketson’s appointment as the union rep on the APC, the hysteria continues and is a great illustration of how some in the industry demand that regulators be nothing more than docile watch-poodles.

Sticking with the dog theme, Chris Merritt tore himself away from his ponderous pursuit of ICAC and told the Daily’s readers last week:

“Matthew Ricketson deserves no blame for his appointment to the Press Council. To criticise him would be as senseless as blaming a rabid dog for having rabies. The blame rests with those who have overlooked his innate nature.”

Merritt continued that this appointment “was a decision worthy of those who would avert their eyes from the true nature of a mad dog and hand it to a child as a playmate”.

Eat your heart out, Victor Hugo.

This week Headless Thomas and Tony Cosh were on the case. Headless wanted the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance to withdraw Ricketson’s appointment, while Cosh chimed in that the new appointee can’t be taken seriously by serious journalists because “he’s never walked in their shoes”.

That’s a funny thing to say about Ricketson, a former journalist with The Australian and a senior editor and reporter with The Age. In true Niki Savva style, according to Ricketson, Thomas and Koch didn’t contact him for his views.

2 . Joe strikes blow for self-interest

Which takes us to the word “scab”. To the relief of many, it was significantly redefined on Monday by Australian Financial Review columnist Joe Aston, who worked throughout the recent Fairfax journalists’ strike.

According to his analysis, he was not a “scab”, because (a) he is not a private contractor; (b) he had not been flown in from Dubai by Chris Corrigan; (c) he is performing his contractual duties; (d) the strike is illegal; and (e) he is not a member of the journalists’ union.

This completely shreds the old meaning of scab, admittedly one of the scariest words in the English language.

The traditional understanding was that a scab is a “person or thing regarded with contempt … a person who refuses to strike or join a trade union or who takes the place of a striking worker”.

In other words, a person who takes the employer’s shilling while starving colleagues are on the streets protesting against another destructive and cack-handed piece of executive decision-making.

Lexicographers trace the word in the sense of meaning a “contemptible person” to 16th-century Middle Dutch, where we find “schabbe” or “slut”.

Maybe, Dr Bolt (BA, interrupted) could help us with some of these ancient meanings.

What is interesting is that the new refined interpretation of scab, advanced by Mr Aston, takes the word closer to its other meaning as nature’s way of healing a wound.

An evolving language is a thing of beauty. 

3 . SMH baits readers

And there’s dear old Granny Herald advertising for its subscribers to take part in a video to mark the 185th year of the paper’s publication.

“We are looking for subscribers to feature in a video, marking this significant occasion. If you’d like to share your experience of subscribing to the Herald, we want to hear from you … Thank you for being part of the Herald journey!”

Presumably, the video people don’t want to hear from some of the subscribers – those who are up in arms about online click bait.

Media Watch did a piece on Monday, pointing to local subscribers who are bailing out because the online content has been too dumbed down.

This strategy was perfected by US gossip site Gawker, which at one point paid its journalists according to the number of page-views their stories attracted.

It then switched to payments based on unique visitors and then in another iteration it began to measure writers’ costs compared to their “uniques”.

Inevitably, this led to the publication of something beyond trashy – the Hulk Hogan sex video and a verdict of $US115 million against the publisher this week, plus another $US25 million in punitive damages. To try to ring fence the business against complete financial disaster, the Gawker owners sold a slab of their shares to a Russian oligarch.

Welcome to modern journalism, where the management consultants ask, “Why have staff reporters when wire services will do the job?”

4 . Price of Freedom

While the rest of the nation was clutching for some anti-nausea remedies, Planet Janet in The Australian was gushing about the selection of a couple of Institute of Public Affairs dears as Liberal Party parliamentarians – James Paterson and Freedom Boy Wilson.

Both have been advocates for some of the most half-baked ideas ever to escape from badly written school essays: privatise the ABC and other government-financed businesses; a free-market approach to the environment; scrapping Indigenous welfare programs; letting tobacco companies off the leash; giving IPA donors whatever they want, namely more tax breaks.

Senator Paterson and Freedom Boy are spear carriers for a nasty, regressive idea of freedom and democracy, whereby those with the loudest voices and the fattest pockets take all.

Planet would not hear a bad word about the Bobbsey Twins, and why should she: as she proudly says, she’s an IPA director. “Refreshingly, two new arrivals will inject real intellectual and political firepower into Canberra … They will lift the quality of debate, not just within the Liberal Party but within federal politics and beyond.”

There must be some mistake, surely. Paterson, in blue neckwear from the Tony Abbott tie rack, made a charmer of a maiden speech. Earlier he carried off the Cory Bernardi essay-writing prize, conducted under the auspices of the Conservative Leadership Foundation. Talk about intellectual firepower.

As for Freedom Boy: I never understood the gibberish he spouted as a $400,000-a-year human rights commissioner. It was as though he was making up his freedom dialogue as he went along – conflating freedom with property ownership.

After the Boy was subjected to some nasty homophobic smears from Liberals in the seat of Goldstein, one tweeter made a salutary point: “Offering people freedom to be bigots seems like a good idea until the day the bigots come for you.” •


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This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on March 26, 2016 as "Gadfly: Bronnie round the bends".

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

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