On Dumping “The Australian”

I have had an experience that I think is probably a big part of growing up and maturing as a person. It is the experience of looking back on a past relationship that you ended hesitantly but which, in hindsight, you are glad to be done with. It’s funny to look back and think about how you second-guessed your action, how you doubted whether it would work out for the best, and then to compare it with the present. You might recall witnessing your former lover tell a politically incorrect and offensive joke, or perhaps hear about something horrible they did to a friend of yours, and wonder how you ever could have been so blind as to been in a relationship with them. This is pretty much exactly how I feel about the newspaper The Australian.

Our relationship began, I think, when I was in Year 12. My family got the cheap thing because a sibling was at uni – every weekend it arrived. I was young and didn’t know better – I read it. I realised pretty early on that it represented a biased point of view, but I thought I was able to overcome it. After all, I said to myself, it’s good to read a diversity of viewpoints.

The Oz’s coverage of climate change was always a sore point in our relationship. They just seemed ignorant of the value of honest, factual journalism. I never said that it had to be important to them, but I at least wanted them to appreciate what it meant to me – to make at least a token effort to show that they cared. But, from printing factually-vacuous extracts from shallow, intellectually-dishonest books, to dedicating entire issues to Ian Plimer’s repetitively debunked howler, it was as if they were going out of their way to spite me. But I didn’t want to let this one issue get in the way.

I guess things really got tough going during the 2010 election campaign. As I said, I always knew and accepted the bias…but during the campaign I saw The Oz’s true side. What was on display wasn’t the happy-go-lucky bias born out of a perhaps misguided but ultimately defensible appreciation for small government and de-regulation, but an insidious partisanship, a malicious will-to-power. I began trying to slow things down – I read it less, and made excuses to see other papers. But things dragged on.

It ended with a bang. Just when I thought things could improve, when we could, after the election, work on patching over our differences, The Oz went further and worse than it had ever before. The Greens and I had been friends for a long time, but it wasn’t just that. That any partner of mine would exploit their position and behave in that way was unforgivable. I knew it had to end. I guess Bob Brown really nailed it with what he said: that The Australian had “stepped out of the fourth estate”, and saw itself as a “determinant of democracy in Australia.”

Since then I’ve been seeing other news sources. Crikey’s alright, and sometimes I hang out with the ABC. Also, an old flame, New Matilda, has come back on to the scene. I haven’t made a new commitment but I don’t feel a need to – I feel like leaving The Australian behind has opened my eyes to the plurality of independent media available, and that I ought to treasure that.

Sometimes something happens like the other day – I glance at The Oz, wondering whether perhaps there is a column by Mike Steketee or some other skerrick of worthwhile reporting. But almost every time – as with their outrageous cover regarding the budget – I’m reminded of why we broke up. Maybe The Oz was right for me for a time, and I wouldn’t be who I am today if not for it. But there’s only so far that you can go with vitriolically partisan reporting and a commitment to ideology that overrides an interest in conveying the truth. Let’s face it, The Australian: it’s not me, it’s you.

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