What am I offered for this job lot of columnists?

Newspapers have a responsibility to provide ‘all the news that is fit to print’ and they do this to the best of their abilities. Or to the best of their internal agenda, anyway. I’m not as concerned as some people are about bias in the media in so far as news reporting is concerned (although a biased slant can affect what news stories are covered.) because in straight news reporting, the reader can pick up what the bias is, and adjust accordingly.
I know, for example, that in the British media, the BBC will cover a story in a different way to the Daily Telegraph.
However, the Op/Ed part of the paper is more problematic. While the reader can figure out what the news means in and of itself, a newspaper has a responsibility to ‘put the pieces together’ and explain the bigger picture. This is a very important part of the role of an Op/Ed section.
Given all that, I would like to think that an editor would guard his/her Op/Ed section of a newspaper rather closely, to ensure that only the ‘best and the brightest’ get their hands on some of the most valuable journalistic real estate going.
Alas, it is not as easy as that, in Australia, anyway. Two Op/Ed articles this long weekend have emerged that make it clear that it just about anyone with the editor’s ear can print whatever drivel they care to. After all the reputation of the Australian media is such that it is not like it could get any worse.

Exhibit ‘A’ is from the Melbourne ‘Age’, and it isn’t even a local production. The editor of the paper actually commissioned this from someone outside the newspaper. It is a pretty average commentary on the domestic political impact of the Iraqi conflict.
But what got my eye was the details about the contributor:

Albert Langer has supported “regime change” or “revolution” since Vietnam in the 1960s, and was imprisoned for encouraging votes against both major parties in Australia in the 1990s. He writes for http://www.lastsuperpower.net

You might not be aware that you can be imprisoned for encouraging votes against both major parties in Australia. I must admit that I’m not aware of it either. I suspect that we are not being told the full story about Mr Langer.
Thanks to Google, though, I find he’s “one of Australia’s most unorthodox Marxists“, which I suspect means he never did get tenure, and his site is a total crankfest where he writes inspiring prose like

Either our enemies will succeed in establishing photos of American and British oppressors taking over Saddam’s torture chambers as the iconic image for the war.
We will swiftly replace those images, not with mealy mouthed apologies or token sackings but something more vivid that can really capture the imagination of the Iraqi people and others long oppressed by tyrants.
Only one image can turn this around.
Senior US military officers responsible for this treacherous undermining of the war effort must be put on trial for their lives and given a free fair and public trial by general Court Martial.
Then those found guilty must be lined up against the wall and shot.

I wish I was kidding, but I’m not- an Australian newspaper which is celebrating its 150th year is happy to hand over valuable Op/Ed space to a complete crank.
Maybe it is just following in the tradition of its older Sydney stablemate, the Sydney Morning Herald, which has been printing the ravings of Margo Kingston and her friends for a long time.
Margo has been in fine form lately which is making her fodder for bloggers. Who can blame them when we are asked to take seriously a journalist who does not even have a basic command of the English language?
Given media standards such as this, it is no wonder that the quality of Australia’s public life is in the state that it is.



  1. Scott Wickstein

    Cranky indeed.
    Despite all that, I’d defend Mr Langer’s right to make a dill of himself all he wants, and as for the Hawke govt’s move to make it illegal.. tells you all you need to know about how petty the later years of the Hawke govt were.

  2. Robert

    That’s a bit unfair. Langer might be strange, but that’s the point: he’s reasonably well known as an unorthodox Marxist, and supported the war in Iraq. Surely that’s what we need — an op-ed policy that tries to dig up the unusual opinions instead of the weekly Gerard Henderson drivel.
    Langer was made very famous when he went to jail for advocating an informal vote. I’m pretty sure the wording (“advocating a vote against the two major parties”) was an attempt to tip-toe around the law, but I’m surprised you hadn’t heard of him before.
    (In fact, Langer is a very important case because it limited the implied freedom of political communication…)