Rupert Murdoch’s Hartigan forgot about self-censorship

One of Rupert Murdoch’s chief execs, John Hartigan, spoke well at The National Press Club (covered by ABC television on Sunday night)and fooled most people into thinking his boss never interferred with editorial direction. He outlined how he had never been given editorial direction and therefore it didn’t exist. He hasn’t understood the concept of self-censorship. Having worked with most news organisations in Australia, except Murdoch, I know that even ABC television lets you know the attitude you should take to a story or a personality. I remember overstepping the mark on asking Premier Bolte whether he would have a royal commission into a train wreck on the Sydney line. From memory half a dozen people were killed but the shots were spectacular and if it hadn’t been for a crop duster pilot who ran along the length of the train smashing windows with an axe there would have been many more deaths. I was reprimanded for chasing that , and for being insolent to the Premier. Another journo asked me what in the hell did I think I was doing? There was to be no criticism of the incumbent government in News. I left the ABC newsroom soon after. So, if you don’t adhere to the subtle messages you are given a lecture on how to approach a certain kind of story.

In my day on The Age and GTV news we knew that we were not to cover anti-Vietnam demonstrations more than a few pars, and would have been quite within the right attitude if they weren’t covered at all. Jim Cairns was a total no no for Graham Perkin on The Age and if he was forced to use a story that emanated from Jim he would use an old photograph taken when Jim had severe hayfever. There were other shots of Jim but the photo ed knew the one Perkin liked. When I became Jim’s press secretary during his time as deputy prime minister I asked an Age journalist to destroy the photograph. Subsequently it went missing.

My own experience with Murdoch and his culture was when I was replaced at the Review by Richard Walsh (he halved the circulation in three weeks) and it was suggested I ring The Australian for a job.I did and it was suggested that they needed a senior journalist to investigate Victorian politicians. They flew me to Sydney for an interview. I understood I had the senior position and was to start on Monday. Turning up at The Australian officers in Melbourne I discovered I had been alloted a dog show to cover. I queried the assignment. No, that was my task that day. I was told I had a junior grading, less than I had had several jobs before working for Gordon Barton. I left and flew to Canada the following week. I started at The Tortonto Telegram at a respectable salary.

I really dislike having to explain mysef with too many personal experiences but I have to add that The Sunday Observer knocked the Melbourne circulation of Murdoch’s Mirror, and The Sunday Telegraph, for six. I guess that’s the reason I was treated like that. I know when I left The Age’s pathetic Newsday for The Sunday Observer I was told by Newsday’s deputy editor, John Stevens that If I went I’d never get another job in Australian journalism (it was a friendly warning not a threat) so he knew there was a proprietors’ attitude with which you had to contend.

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One Response

  1. […] Murdoch’s Hartigan forgot about self-censorship One of Murdoch s chief execs, John Hartigan, spoke well at The National Press Club and fooled most people into thinking his boss never interferred with editorial direction. He outlined how he had never been given editorial direction and therefore it didn t exist. He hasn t understood the concept of self-censorship. Having worked with most news organisations in Australia, except Murdoch, I know that even ABC television lets you know the attitude you should take to a story or a personality. I […]

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