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Sep 14, 2012

Government department tells editors to lie

Stephen ‘Integrity’ Conroy Is the Federal Minister for Broadband, Communications, and the ‘Digital Economy’ who, among other things tends to rail over the media reporting matters that cast the Gillard government in a bad light. In Steve’s eyes, the government is not unpopular for being incompetent, profligate, control freaks, but because the media reports their actions.

Steve is the minister trusted to root out all of those (according to Gillard) ‘misogynists and nut jobs on the internet’ such as News Ltd, Andrew Bolt, and Real World Libertarian and make the media more responsible, truthful, and compliant. As such, he will be responsible for following up on the Convergence Review for a public interest test for media proprietors and the call from Justice Finkelstein for a new statutory super-regulator that would cover radio, television, newspapers and the web, including blogs receiving as few as 43 hits a day.

The current problem for Steve though, is that his Broadband Department has been caught out, not only ghost writing articles for the press, but suggesting that editors deceive the public by printing them under the bylines of genuine reporters if they have any:

PUBLIC relations staff from the Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy are hawking articles praising the NBN to publications, telling editors they are free to run the stories under the names of their own journalists.

James Paterson, editor of the Institute of Public Affairs Review, which has been fiercely critical of the NBN, was startled to receive an offer of an article from an adviser at DBCDE on Friday offering a “meticulously researched” article on the NBN and women “quite gratis”. A follow-up email explained “the article is overly long — but deliberately so, to give you more choice if you cut”, while asking Mr Paterson to retain references in it to the Broadband Champions program launched last year by Communications Minister Stephen Conroy.

A third told Mr Paterson: “I have no problems with you by-lining it from your team.” …

… It’s disturbing enough that taxpayers are employing public servants to write pro-government spin (which has sadly been going on for a long time). Next time the CPSU or one of their state-based equivalents says we can’t possibly cut the public service without hurting hospitals and schools, remember this.

But it’s even more disturbing that at least one government department thinks it is ok to ghost-write articles praising government policy and then encourages editors to pretend it was written by independent journalists. That’s government-directed plagiarism, and it is coming from the department of a minister who thinks that journalists can’t be trusted to behave ethically.
Conroy has stated that he will be taking steps to ensure that this doesn’t happen again, which probably means he will restrict the Emails to the ABC and Fairfax, who are in the bag for the government and unlikely to do anything to embarrass him.

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