25 Jul 2011

The Questions Harto Won't Answer

By Wendy Bacon
News Ltd boss John Hartigan has assured the punters that all's well at Holt St. So why won't he answer Wendy Bacon's questions about how journalism gets done at his papers?
"Your bias against our organisation over many years and the errors and omissions in your recent New Matilda piece renders your right to answers from me completely redundant. It is deeply troubling to me and to all of our editors that someone like you has any role in teaching young journalists in Australia.'"

This is how John Hartigan responded to journalist Wendy Bacon when she wrote asking him questions about journalistic practices at News Ltd papers. Read the original New Matilda article that he mentions in his response here. Wendy Bacon elaborates on why she wanted to interview Hartigan — and what questions she wanted to ask him.

There are number of aspects of The Australian's coverage of the phone hacking story last week that worry me. The response to News Ltd CEO John Hartigan's decision to carry out an editorial expenses audit of the Australian branch of News Corporation did not seem to take on board the sharing of resources that goes along with being an "integrated" global company.

Characteristically global companies adapt their products to local situations. So it seems relevant for Australian journalists to be exploring ethical developments at Australian News Ltd papers, relationships between media executives and politicians, relationships between News editors and journalists and the impact of the high concentration of Australia's media on journalism. In this context I wanted to interview John Hartigan. Knowing chances of this were slim, his assistant and I agreed sending questions was the best course of action.

I included a question about payment for information and articles which was endemic at News of the World in the UK. Cheque book journalism was a hot ethics topic in Australian journalism until it more or less became accepted that commercial television and magazines often pay for stories. There are problems with this as it can provide a financial incentive which affects the tone and content of information supplied.

I was a little surprised to see that the News code of conduct does allow newspaper editors to approve payment. So I wanted to know more about how this has been applied.

There have long been concerns about the influence that media bosses, particularly those at News Ltd, wield over the Australian political process. Now Conservative and Labour politicians in the UK have admitted that they were afraid of News International and therefore did not press the phone hacking investigation and other matters. I therefore wanted to know how Hartigan views this matter.

I informed Hartigan that I had a deadline but wrote: "Even if John cannot meet my deadline would appreciate answers as soon as he is able".

Below are my questions in full.

Attention: Mr John Hartigan

Dear John,

1. I notice that News Ltd papers continued to report stories from News of the World well after phone hacking scandal broke — was this practice discussed by you with editors or other executives in the company? In retrospect, do you have any concerns about this? Why or why not?

2. I note that editors of at least some News Ltd publications including newspapers can give permission for payment for information or articles. Is this a matter that is being included in your editorial audit? Wh[y] or why not? How many occasions has News Ltd paid for information or stories over the last two years? Are there different rules for different publications? if so, what are they?

3. I notice from reports from Australian News Ltd journalists who have spent time working at News of the World (one of them being Rosie Squires) that payment for information and stories was endemic at News of the World. What is your opinion about this? Did you ever raise any concerns about this within wider international circles of News Ltd? Was this discussed at international News Ltd meetings?

4. Are there any circumstances in which you believe it would be acceptable for journalists or papers to hire private inquiry agents to assist with stories — what would these be?

5. Do you consider that bias by newspapers in cities where only one company owns a newspaper could ever be an issue? How do you monitor whether fair means of reporting the news are being applied across the company? What auditing or monitoring mechanisms do you apply? Are there occasions when you do take up matters of bias with editors?

6. Do you think that it would be a good idea if the Australian Press Council became an independent body with funding from both media and other sources including government?

7. Do you think it is appropriate for politicians and media owners or senior executives to meet privately? What would be the purpose of such meetings?

I know you are busy but would appreciate answers to these questions or the opportunity to interview you.


Wendy Bacon

See also: New Matilda's discussion of questions for a media inquiry in Australia here.

Read our timeline of media regulation in Australia here.

Read an opinion piece by Wendy Bacon on John Hartigan's response in The Sunday Age here.


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Joe Politico
Posted Monday, July 25, 2011 - 11:57

With just a few subtle omissions, Hartigans statement is rather priceless:

"Bias over many years and the errors and omissions renders your right to answers completely redundant."

Sounds like a mission statement.

"It is deeply troubling to me and to all of our editors that someone like you has any role in teaching young journalists in Australia.’"

Now who could that statement be applied to?

He has only to look in the mirror....

Posted Monday, July 25, 2011 - 12:06

It must be a crap time to work at News Ltd. The siege mentality is amazing - just look at what it's done to Overington! BRAIN EXPLOSION

David Grayling
Posted Monday, July 25, 2011 - 12:18

News Ltd. answer questions? It's like demanding answers from God!

All organizations reflect the personality of their leader. Murdoch is the King and Hartigan is one of the Princes (as is James). Murdoch sets the rules and the Princes jump.

At the farce that was the British Parliamentary Inquiry, the King was questioned by amateurs, mere politicians. His answers went along the lines of: "I know nothing, I have seen nothing, I have heard nothing."

James went further. He signed a cheque for an astronomical amount of money and said, "I didn't know what it was for."

The Murdochs are manipulators of whole societies. They push the barrow for endless war, for the rise and rise of capitalism, and for the spread of right-wing governments.

They are driven by greed rather than any search for truth. The world would be better off without them!


Bill Laing
Posted Monday, July 25, 2011 - 13:53

It's good to see NM cutting through the crap on Murdoch. There's lots more butchering to do.....

I see his press (including Wall Street journal) attempting (very obviously!!!) to say nothing about it, or divert attention to other media....

Can someone setup a Rupert Surveillance File, to monitor, record and later publish, his own papers' responses to his crisis? Start now because it's going to be a long campaign .....

I suggest the following fields in this file, for each paper:

Number of articles, Number of column inches
Number of Editorials
Number of Letters to the Editor on it
Number of Letters to the Editor on it: For Rupert
Number of Letters to the Editor on it: Against Rupert
Number of articles which actually introduce new material, or actually discuss the issue, rather than all the peripheral stuff like other media "hate campaigns" etc
Number of Cartoons

And all the quantitative fields could be time-normalised eg "per day" or "per week"

The file could be named the "Heat in the Kitchen" file??.....Bill Laing

Alan Austin
Posted Monday, July 25, 2011 - 14:41

Hartigan lied to the court in the Guthrie matter, as the judge clearly stated. So why would anyone believe anything he says anyway?
If the Murdochs ever get really serious about cleaning up their organisation, Hartigan will be one of the first to go.
But they are not serious. They lied to the UK inquiry and now they are laughing at us all.
So it is up to consumers to see they go out of business.

Posted Monday, July 25, 2011 - 14:49

(This comment has been deleted)

Posted Monday, July 25, 2011 - 15:44

Good on you Wendy! My feeling is that he couldn't sleep straight in bed.

Posted Monday, July 25, 2011 - 19:01

What arrogance!
Hartigan thinks it a News Ltd. exclusive to apply bias - eve extreme bias - and that it's an outrage that mere journalist should question him about issues that reflect the ethics of his company in its public dealings.

I'm reminded of the occasion when Bob Hawke delivered what he thought was the death blow to John Pilger's career bu refusing to be interviewed by him as a political journalist. Bad luch Bob, history has done its job. The world knows you're a sordid self-aggrandising turd and the world celebrates the quality of John Pilger's journalism. You lose Bob.

My own first encounter with News Ltd. is an interesting icon for the organisation. It was 1963 and the occasion of Queen Elizabeth's visit to Adelaide, Australia. I was 12 and was employed selling papers by "The News". At the end of a 10 hour day selling papers I had a large leather News Ltd bag containing all my takings and tips. At day's end we were all collected in a van and taken back to The News office. My bag was taken despite protest that it contained all my tips. The voice of authority asserted to a naiive 12-year-old. "we'll calculate for the papers you sold and return the difference". But the next day The Mews disavowed any knowledge of having any dealings with me and I was not even paid. Some things we never forget - but we learn and we know where the arse end of the world is.

Frank from Frankston
Posted Tuesday, July 26, 2011 - 13:23

Wendy, all good stuff but:
Although not many NM reader's will find argument with your line here, for credibility you need to expose and examine bias at the other great media monopoly in Australia - The Australian Broadcasting Commission.
In anticipation of the usual comebacks: Bias at one monopoly does not balance or justify bias at the other.
ABC group think relies on taxpayer funding to the tune of a billion dollars a year.
That's a lot of iron ore that cannot be dug up twice.
We need real reporters like Sally Sara and less of ideological warriors like T.Jones and K.Obrien.
Sally gets the odd minute here and there, whilst the IW's get hours.
Can someone explain why L.Sayles didn't get the whole 7:30 job? Not demonstrably lefty enough for management?