Early this morning while lying in bed and reading the news on my phone, I came across a story about Nationals MP Tony Crook deciding to sit as an independent. This led to actually getting up and turning on my computer to see if I could find out more about this. Maybe I didn't look hard enough on The Age or SMH as I didn't find anything about Crook on there, so I went over to news.com.au. Not finding anything on the front page, I scrolled down to the bottom of it, thinking at least a link to The Australian might give me something about it.
Instead, on the top five news stories for The Australian, I see "Controversial political blogger unmasked."
Totally forgetting about finding news about Crook, I click the link and discover that James Massola had decided to out the writer of Grog's Gamut, which has been my favourite political blog since discovering it just before the election in August. The commentary provided on Grog's Gamut about the election, policies and so on was excellent. It was a nice change to be able to read incisive coverage of politics that actually explored issues, rather than Julia Gillard's earlobe size, whether or not she was married or Tony Abbott's budgie smugglers.
Grog's criticism of the mainstream media for their lack of quality coverage during the election was something that resounded with many readers and was an issue a number of other bloggers had also written about from a variety of angles (Possum's Pollytics for example has had some great coverage of the poor mainstream media coverage of the NBN, and Possum's Let the Great Unhinging begin is particularly interesting - although also worryingly likely).
But back to the #groggate issue.
Grog has written a response to the outing, titled Spartacus no more. There's been a lot of outrage about it on Twitter under both #groggate and #jamesmassola. Interestingly, Jack The Insider outed himself in response to this all as well.
There are lots of other bloggers writing about this issue today (you can see more at Pure Poison, Gutter Trash, B Sides and mUmBRELLA for a start, plus Conscience Vote's Who has the right to speak? is interesting).
The whole outing thing has concerned me, not just because it seems unnecessary. When considered in the light of Grog's posts about the lack of quality political coverage in the Australian media currently, it could be taken as being vindictive, particularly due to bringing his employment details into the matter. Massola writes in the article:
'The prolific blogger shows a strong preference for the ALP, despite the Public Service code of conduct stating that "the APS is apolitical, performing its functions in an impartial and professional manner".'
Which Grog responds to in his entry about the matter (read it here if you haven't already). If Grog has kept the two issues of work and home life separate, then why should there be punishment for it? Whether or not he leans towards the ALP really shouldn't matter. There are loads of other public servants who have political leanings - some are even members of political parties. I can't help but wonder whether he ever would have been outed if he had LNP leanings.
A wee while ago John Hewson wrote Fourth Estate corrupting the political system for Unleashed, which contains this:
"I most vividly remember an early meeting with Paul Kelly, then editor of The Australian. Kelly stated quite emphatically that The Oz had a specific policy agenda, and if I said the right things, consistent with that agenda, I would "get a run". If I erred, I could expect to get a drubbing."
And that incident was back in the 90s!
It bothers me that there are news organisations out there who seem to think they are the ones to set policy agendas and make or break politicians and parties. And anyone who holds opinions on the political issues they "cover" that are different need to be exposed, "punished," made unelectable if they're a politician, etc. Opinion masquerading as news is also bothersome, particularly when combined with an apparent agenda.
There's also the issue of double standards. If they're going to expose an anonymous blogger, why not expose whoever wrote that piece in The Australian that said: "We believe he and his Green colleagues are hypocrites; that they are bad for the nation; and that they should be destroyed at the ballot box" (found here). I mean, that's definitely trying to influence/drive political opinion. And what about all of the stories with "A Liberal source says..." or "A Labor source says..." stuff? Additionally, what about all the stories that bang on about Labor's "faceless men" - such a furphy - and never unmask them, so why a blogger who's done nothing more than write in their personal time about things that are going on in the world of Australian politics?
Instead of encouraging debate about the issues of political coverage in the mainstream media in Australia, journalists have seemed to be terrified of it. This is disappointing, even though the ABC's managing director Mark Scott said in his Melbourne Writers Festival speech that the criticism of news coverage had been raised at a meeting because "dynamic political news was crowding out proper reporting of policy initiatives in some news bulletins . . . We adjusted our strategy as we listened to critics, our audiences - and critiqued our own coverage."
If the ABC is brave enough to do this, then why not other media sources?
Another thing that worries me is which Australian political bloggers are next? It seems almost like a threat in some ways aimed at individuals who have taken the time to explore political matters and may or may not have come to a different conclusion about matters to those The Australian draws.
Extra linky update stuff:
> The whys and wherefores of bureaucratic blogging by Bernard Keane on Crikey.
> Grog-gate: outing as bullying by An Onymous Lefty.