The Australian’s Media Editor Goes To Uni “Undercover”; Is Outraged That Media Degrees Are Teaching Media Students About The Media

Sharri, stahp.

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Open today’s copy of The Australian, and you will find on page 27 an article by Sharri Markson — the paper’s new-ish Media Editor — lamenting the state of the tertiary education system, which is apparently breeding left-wing and anti-Murdoch bias among the nation’s journalists.

At 1500 words, ‘Uni Degrees In Indoctrination‘ is the result of five weeks Markson spent undercover at University of Technology Sydney (UTS) and the University of Sydney (USYD). She sat in on some lectures, obtained recordings of others, pored over first-year course material, and probably used some kool slang words around the bubblers at some point.

At the end of the stint, Markson was outraged by what journalism students were being taught: that unbiased media plays a crucial role in the healthy functioning of democracy; that the government’s media policy occasionally favours corporate interests; that media ownership can affect the bias of the newspapers; and that News Corp — her employer — was a powerful company with interests in and an impact on how the government is run.

“On slides before the students, the concepts discussed include political pressure, fear-mongering, scandals and regulating media influence,” Markson writes, scandalised. “A lecture slide asks students to discuss how power is exercised through newspaper owners and ‘what measures, if any, should be taken to control press power’.”

In short, she was being taught — apparently for the first time — some fairly basic things about how the Australian media works.

She found that USYD in particular was “leading students to form a critical view of News Corp”, calling it “indoctrination” as though leading students to think critically about the largest media empire in Australia was necessarily a bad thing. (I should disclose at this point that I studied journalism at USYD, have probably been indoctrinated, and this entire article is invalid as a result.)

“She’s concerned about those degrees in which students are taught to question power,” Jenna Price, a senior lecturer of journalism at UTS, said in an interview with Junkee this morning. “But that’s what it always should be about; the idea of speaking truth to power is the reason I do this.”

After all, thinking critically about mainstream media makes up most of the first year of any communications degree, regardless of which party is in government. Studying Media at Sydney University between 2004 and 2009, we were taught — by way of current examples — to question the bias and impact both Fairfax and News Limited had in the lead-up to Rudd’s election, the same way we were taught to question how the media reported on Howard’s years.

The lectures Markson attended, meanwhile, came in the aftermath of a federal election in which News Limited’s endorsement of Tony Abbott played a demonstrably major role. It should come as no surprise to anyone who has studied journalism that lecturers would choose to draw from that example — and yet, Markson is surprised. And appalled. She quotes from a variety of lecturers at both universities, who encouraged students to think about the bias of Australia’s newspaper industry. “The Murdoch way is political pressure,” said Dr O’Donnell at the University of Sydney. “Naked political pressure. Nothing subtle. Get them Out. Australia Needs Tony. This is the way Rupert exercises power.”

“What they’re teaching students is quite frankly a load of bloody garbage,” Markson said in an interview with Miranda Devine on 2GB last night.

Which, okay, but I’ll just leave this here.


Markson also complained that the universities were indoctrinating a left-wing view of climate change. “In another lecture, students were advised not to present both sides of the argument on climate change because, similar to the old tobacco debate of the past, there only was one side,” she laments. She quotes one lecturer who argued global warming was an issue for scientists, not politicians — in the analysis that follows, however, she completely omits the fact that global warming is an issue for scientists, not politicians.

“They are literally being brainwashed,” she said to Devine on 2GB, down-playing the critical capacity of every single person she set out to protect, and up-playing the ability of a brain to be literally washed.

In the radio interview, both conservative columnists argued that only established left-wing journalists get asked to give guest talks at major tertiary institutions. “The most left-wing of them end up being lecturers: Wendy Bacon, for instance, and Jenna Price — who was the Letters Editor when I was there,” Devine says, in a belittling aside. “These are people who don’t necessarily have great runs on the board in terms of great journalism, but they satisfy the criteria — which is the ideological criteria.”

(Jenna Price has been nominated for a Walkley Award, and Wendy Bacon — an investigative journalist — has won one. “If  I was ever Letters Editor it must have been for a few weeks while someone was on leave,” Price told Junkee. “I was the Features Editor of the SMH for years.“)

“I’m utterly thrilled when my students get jobs at News Limited, Daily Telegraph, the Australian — because having a job in journalism is important,” Price clarifies. “I can show you an unbroken line of UTS students that are now at News Limited, including Mark Coultan and Rosie Lewis and Natasha Robinson. We had Luke McIlveen come to guest lecture, a senior News Limited journalist who has gone on to edit Daily Mail. He was absolutely fantastic. We had Phil Gardner talk to the students too, who was the editor-in-chief of the Herald Sun — and he was brilliant.

“You know what a serious threat is, when it comes to the education of journalism students? The state of higher education fees,” Price says. “A person who doesn’t understand that media ownership plays a part [in the functioning of Australian democracy] is a person who has become so indentured to their jobs that they’ve lost all ability to be critical.”

Another irony in all of this? If Markson had stolen a few more lectures, she would have learnt about the MEAA code of ethics that she may have been in breach of. “Use fair, responsible and honest means to obtain material,” reads section 8. “Identify yourself and your employer before obtaining any interview for publication or broadcast.”

To read her article, head here. Listen to her chat with Miranda Devine below.