Diary

Gadfly
The Fletcher, Christian show

There has been altogether too much tedious communication from Communications Minister Paul Fletcher, the man with a permanent hangdog expression.

Drawing from the playbook of Richard Alston, a Howard-era Communications minister obsessed that Aunty was not 195 per cent behind the glorious battle for Iraq, Fletcher is stamping his foot and demanding answers from the ABC board to 15 silly questions about Four Corners’ “Canberra bubble” show.

Why is it appropriate that the privacy of The Christian and The Tudge be “compromised”? Why weren’t denials from the woman who was the focus of The Christian’s attentions reported? Why was Senator Hanson-Young wheeled on to corroborate allegations? Are the personal lives of politicians newsworthy? Why weren’t the sex lives of Laborites turned over? Why wasn’t it reported that The Christian and The Tudge are the most brilliant ministers since Federation? Blah, blah, blah.

At the centre of this Nasty Party ferment is the story about Attorney-General Porter snogging a young lady in public at the appropriately named Public Bar.

It was so engrossing that the moment was captured on a journalist’s phone. Rachelle Miller, The Tudge’s squeeze at the time, saw what was going on: “When we were at the bar I noticed that Minister Porter was with someone in the corner and they were clearly very intimate, they were cuddling and they were kissing … It was quite confronting, given that we were in such a public place … it was definitely a step too far.”

Half-a-dozen people saw it, but they must all have had problems with their eyes. It didn’t happen, Porter insisted, and he was considering legal action. “Baseless claims … categorically rejected,” he said. The young woman who was the subject of the AG’s alleged attentions apparently denied she was getting intimate with the first law officer.

Yet, the curious thing is that The Tudge “angrily pressured” the journalist to delete the photo from his phone. He made the demand on the night in question and the next day. We’re told that the wretched hack complied.

Tudge has never denied his hand in the deletion of vital evidence – but the question lingers, why was he insistent on expunging a photograph if the AG was not involved in public hanky-panky?

A photo of Porter doing nothing interesting would hardly be surprising.

ABCs of News Corp handouts

This leaden pile of questions to the ABC will supposedly keep the public broadcaster busy so that Minister Fletcher can get on with the important task of shovelling taxpayers’ money to Moloch-controlled businesses.

In recent years $40 million has been handed to Foxtel, without public tendering or adequate transparency. We’re not sure yet how much Moloch’s country papers will scoop up of the $50 million regional media bailout.

At the same time, Fletcher keeps up the delusion that the ABC’s funding is actually increasing, whereas Blind Freddy can see that its operating budget is in the ditch thanks to the Nasties.

Meanwhile, Sharri Markson, the “investigations” scribbler at The Catholic Boys Daily, is on the case. She reports that whistleblowers have told the government that Four Corners hired a gumshoe to put Porter and Tudge under surveillance.

Maybe this is up there with Sharri’s Sky News exclusive on the secret Wuhan lab manufacturing Covid-19.

Sally Neighbour, Four Corners’ executive producer, denies the use of private investigators, but Markson has been in touch with Benito Dutton, who apparently warned Porter that he was being followed.

An anonymous minister was reported as saying that, if this is true, “heads should roll”. All very well coming from a media corporation responsible for industrial-scale surveillance, stalking, blagging, phone-hacking, silencing victims with payoffs, spying and lying.

Insights and learnings

Not to be deflected from the real world, the ABC email machine continues to spit out gems to the rank’n’file.

Rarely is the talk from the wheelhouse about increasing the depth and quality of programming, or “content” as it’s called, while, for good measure, on-air presenters are referred to as “visible content makers”.

The technology people on Monday released information that the digital content management system used by Aunty will be upgraded from CoreMedia to CoreMedia 10.

A three-month pilot is under way, which will allow teams from ABC Life and ABC Homepage “to gain key insights and learnings”.

“This critical program future-proofs the ABC to deliver top-class digital experiences as media consumption shifts from linear to on-demand…”

Next to try the new system will be the good people from Entertainment and Specialist, followed by Regional and Local.

There’s a big focus on servicing the regions, so as to keep Cockies Corner onside. From next year we know that Bega will host the leading current affairs program PM, while AM will come to you from Hobart.

There’s also a 50:50 project where the number of times women are quoted or featured is totted up – it has some of the tired males keeping one eye open during their afternoon nanna naps.

The Trial and tribulations

Gadfly on Tuesday headed to New South Wales Parliament House in Macquarie Street for the launch of Emeritus Professor Stuart Rees’s latest book, Cruelty or Humanity.

This is not Stuart Rees of Austrade who has been dispatched to Bengaluru, but Stuart Rees, the founder of the Sydney Peace Foundation, and an advocate in many corners of the human rights biosphere. If ever there was a collection of the city’s worthiest citizens in the Strangers’ Room, this was it.

The host for the occasion was Shaoquett Moselmane, the NSW upper house member whose home and office had been raided by the Australian Federal Police as part of the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation’s suspicions that his office had been infiltrated by Chinese agents.

The legislative councillor was never charged and nor was his staffer John Zhang, who apparently remains “under investigation”.

Dr Peter Slezak, from the school of humanities and languages at the University of NSW, said a few words – drawing on Franz Kafka’s The Trial in reference to Moselmane’s circumstances.

In Kafka’s story, one morning Josef K. is unexpectedly visited by two unidentified agents from an unspecified agency in regard to an unspecified crime. Josef is not imprisoned, however, but left “free” and told to await instructions from the Committee of Affairs.

He can get no information about what he is supposed to have done and is never formally charged, but is harassed by the authorities. Kafka writes:

“What sort of people were they? What were they talking about? To which authority did they belong? After all, K. lived in a country which enjoyed law and order; there was universal peace; all the laws were upheld; so, who dared pounce on him in his own home?”

Who can forget Orson Welles’ 1962 version of The Trial, with Anthony Perkins (freshly unnerving from Psycho), Jeanne Moreau, Elsa Martinelli, Romy Schneider, and all?

Dr Slezak made the point: “Like Josef K., after all, Shaoquett lives in a country which enjoys law and order, where there is universal peace and all the laws are upheld. ‘So who dared to pounce on him in his own home?’ ”

Drawn and quotaed

Deeper in the bowels of NSW politics, a tremendous tussle is taking place over the redistribution of state electorates – an arcane and obscure process.

Draft boundaries have been released by the Electoral Commission and the public and political parties have made comments. The Nasty Party says electoral districts should secure the principle of one vote, one value, and its submissions would only see variations from the quota of plus or minus 2.5 per cent.

It claims that Labor’s proposal would leave western NSW almost 10 per cent over quota, while the Nationals want Western Sydney almost 20 per cent under quota.

It has emerged that Labor’s brilliant right-wing head office has made a blunder, using the wrong numbers and supplying the wrong maps. An embarrassing correction was called for:

“When submitting our suggestion, the ALP incorrectly and inadvertently put in the wrong draft for the districts of Goulburn, Cootamundra and Monaro in one instance and in the other, for the districts of Bankstown and Lakemba.”

Labor members found it hard to know whether to laugh or cry.

Fox in the White House

As the curtain closes on Bone Spurs’ presidency, it’s timely to remind ourselves of the influence wrought by the forces of darkness at Fox News.

We like to think that Moloch’s broadcasting network is in thrall to the great charlatan. Yet, that’s not the whole picture, according to a new book, Hoax: Donald Trump, Fox News, and the Dangerous Distortion of Truth ($US28), by Brian Stelter, host of CNN’s Reliable Sources.

Stelter’s work was mentioned last month in the London Review of Books. He says Trump learnt to be a Fox News president: “People think that he’s calling Fox & Friends and telling us what to say,” according to a former producer. “Hell no. It’s the opposite. We tell him what to say.”

And on race, immigration, healthcare, climate change, China and Israel, he has never disappointed the bosses at the network.

Trump watches Fox News for up to seven hours a day – it’s coded in as “executive time” and may explain something of his child-like responses on world affairs.

The network is so formidable that advertisers seeking concessions from the government have created commercials, just for Trump.

The mind boggles. 

Tips and tattle: [email protected]

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Dec 5, 2020 as "Gadfly: The Fletcher, Christian show".

A free press is one you pay for. In the short term, the economic fallout from coronavirus has taken about a third of our revenue. We will survive this crisis, but we need the support of readers. Now is the time to subscribe.

Richard Ackland is the publisher of Justinian. He is The Saturday Paper’s diarist-at-large and legal affairs editor.