There is a rule that journalists can’t reveal their sources, but there is no rule that says that journalists making enquiries can’t be named and shamed. So when Jennifer Marohasy asked my advice as to what she should do when she appeared to be targeted by the ABC’s Media Watch I suggested she put her response to their questions up on her blog before their program went to air. You can see the result here.
This approach has at least two effects. It makes the exchange between the media organisation and the respondent transparent right from the beginning, making it harder for the media organisation to ambush and misrepresent. It also takes the potential sting out of the segment by exposing elements of it early.
This reverses the power in the narrative, which normally lies with the media organisation because they are the initiator. But in this case initiation leads to premature exposure.
The program was to run tonight, but has been either deferred, or canned.
Marohasy has been campaigning to have the barrages – a form of dam – removed from what most of us would think of as the mouth of the River Murray. While much has been made of the fact that the Murray often doesn’t run into the sea, hardly anyone is aware that it is stopped from doing that by a series of dams.
During the Federation plus 100 drought that we have just experienced, water was being siphoned off from higher up the Murray and Darling to keep the lakes at the mouth of the Murray full. If they had been in their natural state the tide would have done that for free, and saved a considerable amount of water for upstream communities.
On Line Opinion first published Jennifer’s controversial views on the lower lakes in August 2008. We did that because they made sense. The current arrangements with the lakes are obviously artificial, and their listing as a RAMSAR wetland is just as obviously mistaken.
Media Watch contacted Marohasy on Friday seeking answers to a list of questions with the intention of going to air tonight. If another program behaved like this they would run the risk of making a star appearance on Media Watch. Marohasy formed the opinion that the story had already been written. That seems a reasonable point of view.
Certainly the questions that Media Watch put to Marohasy indicated that they either had done no independent research about the lakes, or were incapable of understanding simple physical concepts. The questions about her sources of income were bizarre and mostly irrelevant, but obviously intended to frame her as a stooge for some group or another.
While the target of the program will presumably, assuming it does eventually air, be The Land where Marohasy writes a column, it is hard to escape the conclusion that Media Watch’s interest in this story is to do with an environmental, rather than media, agenda.
Columnists are paid to express their own opinions and by necessity generally have full-time jobs. So I’m not sure what the fact that Marohasy has opinions and is sometimes paid by others, has to do with anything that Media Watch could be interested in.
But what interests me most is the change in the media environment where, courtesy of the Internet, the prey can actually get some purchase and come back at the predator.
Will we see journalists in the future contacting politicians and other public figures and first demanding that their identity be kept secret and discussion be “off the record”, a position which is now normally that of the informant? I guess we will. But will Media Watch deem that proper?