Hello darkness, my old friend
I’ve come to talk with you again
Because a vision softly creeping
Left its seeds while I was sleeping
And the vision that was planted in my brain
Within the sound of silence,
Simon & Garfunkel
Two days on, deafening silence. Not a word from the corporate media and the national broadcasters. Despite the creeping visions now planted in so many brains, despite the high public interest in this story.
Allegations of senior Liberal party figures cavorting in the Parliament prayer room with sex workers. Allegations sourced directly from a document, an investigation by the government-aligned law firm Sparke Helmore.
Yet another raid by the police on a whistleblower. Still silence.
The document from the law firm Sparke Helmore was leaked to YouTube investigator Jordan Shanks, aka FriendlyJordies, who published it and produced a compelling Youtube video on the scandal which had clearly been vetted by lawyers.
This was no whisper from an anonymous source, no dodgy “drop” by a politician’s media adviser, this was a verifiable document. None of the parties implicated: MP Tim Wilson, former defence minister Christopher Pyne and others, or for that matter the investigating law firm Sparke Helmore, have rebutted the story.
Questions had been put by Shanks to the Department of Finance and the various players involved. Proper media and legal protocols had been followed.
Although the social media furore which sent #prayerroom rocketing to trend number one Twitter focused on the prurient aspects of the story, the alleged cavorting in the prayer room – indeed the gross hypocrisy of a government which claimed “family values” as its moral turf, indeed Christian values – the politically weighty elements of Shanks’ investigation are perhaps more important to the public interest.
That is, the independence of government agencies. Again, the AFP features. This time it was in raiding the house of whistleblower “Tom”. Tom was the source behind the story about Liberal staffers masturbating on the desk of a female staffer. He subsequently agreed to cooperate with the Sparke Helmore investigation.
Media pile off
The allegations into desk masturbating brought by Tom had sparked a media pile-on and forced PM Scott Morrison to launch an inquiry. Why then the silence now, silence in the face of far more salacious and far more nationally important claims, claims which go to the heart of this government’s moral degradation and its manipulation of Australia’s public agencies for political purposes?
According to the Shanks video, it was only a few days after the whistleblower Tom agreed to sign a secret court order “agreeing to shut up about the desk wanker”, says the video, the AFP raided Tom’s offices in Canberra and Queensland and seized his electronic devices on the pretext he was engaged in “revenge porn”. Doing the right thing apparently now deemed to be revenge porn.
Yet another persecution of a whistleblower, another attempted cover-up. It was only last year that Jordan Shanks’ producer Kristo Langker had been wrongfully, embarrassingly arrested and prosecuted for stalking NSW Deputy Premier John Barilaro. Barilaro subsequently dropped his defamation case against Shanks and the AFP dropped their prosecution of Kristo Langker.
But at what cost all this police-state skulduggery? A cost to public confidence in our institutions. Only this week, a further stacking of the public service with highly paid jobs for the Liberal boys and girls. Again, the AAT.
There is no doubt that the credibility of government and our public institutions has crumbled over the past nine years of this government; meddling, peddling, bullying and hiding things from its electors.
Why the silence?
It’s speculation really but the government does impose an enormous influence on the media in Australia. Most of the media is either in cahoots (the Murdoch press) with the government, or intimidated by the government and conflicted by the lure of its subsidies and advertising revenues.
This is quintessential self-censorship and the answer would lie with the media executives and editorial directors at the top of these government subsidised media organisations. Did they get a phone call? Probably. Do they ignore independent media because it is a threat? Almost certainly.
While this story is regrettably dreadful for those involved and their families, and some aspects are hard to stomach on the grounds of taste, the media is not so squeamish when it comes to accusing politicians of manslaughter as they did so avidly and unreasonably in the case of their relentless Mean Girls coverage.
So “taste” does not stack up as an excuse for failure either. The media in Australia has flipped. Although the corporate media no doubt comforts themselves with the view that they are the real journalists and independent media can safely, superciliously, be ignored, the reality is that they are the sycophants. Not the journalists, but the management, the leadership.
Prime Minister, over to you.
Michael West established michaelwest.com.au to focus on journalism of high public interest, particularly the rising power of corporations over democracy. Formerly a journalist and editor at Fairfax newspapers and a columnist at News Corp, West was appointed Adjunct Associate Professor at the University of Sydney’s School of Social and Political Sciences.