The Commissioner overseeing the Robodebt Royal Commission has attacked coverage of the inquiry by the traditional media as “patchy” and stated the “importance of social media” in connecting with the public.
Wrapping up the last of the public hearings — which have exposed vast wrongdoing by the former Coalition Government against thousands of vulnerable Australians — Commissioner Catherine Holmes SC raised serious concerns about the coverage by “traditional media”.
“The interest of what I’ll call the traditional media, to distinguish it from social media, in these hearings has, with some honourable exceptions, been patchy,” Commissioner Holmes said this evening.
“There may be sound commercial reasons for that, the subject matter doesn’t concern the demographic which they cater to, or the issues are too many and the evidence too extensive and complicated for their form of coverage.
“But as a result I have come to appreciate the importance of social media in this context,” she said.
The Robodebt Royal Commission has heard the Coalition Government hounded thousands of welfare recipients for debts they never owed, with those actions causing, or directly contributing to, hundreds of suicides.
The explosive comments follow widespread concerns of bias by Australia’s commercial media outlets, in favour of the conservative Coalition.
They also highlight some problems that may come with informing the public about its proceedings, should a royal commission be held into Australia’s media, for which there is strong support.
Commissioner Holmes lavished praised on the coverage of the hearings by users of social media, particularly Twitter.
“I’m not now and will never be on Twitter,” she said.
“But the Commission’s media officer has drawn my attention to some of the Twitter commentary and I’ve been struck by how committed and serious some of the people tweeting are.
“They provide an almost full-time running summary of the evidence with occasional comment”.
“I’ve been struck by how committed and serious some of the people tweeting are” – Commissioner Holmes
One of the Twitter users to have delivered high-quality coverage of the Robodebt hearings reports the Commisioner’s comments this evening. Source: Twitter
The Commissioner’s comments are particularly noteworthy given many traditional media outlets regularly heavily criticise social media, and “Twitter” in particular.
The popularity of social media has wrested some of the long-standing control that major media outlets have over public discourse.
Australia has one of the most highly concentrated media sectors in the world.
News Corporation – currently under fire for lying to its US audiences by promoting false claims the last US election was rigged – controls about 70 per cent of the nation’s newspapers by circulation, including The Australian and tabloids The Daily Telegraph, The Herald Sun, The Courier Mail and the Adelaide Advertiser.
It also owns broadcaster Sky News, which was last year found to be Australia’s least trusted news source by pollsters Roy Morgan.
Nine Entertainment, the second biggest commercial media company, is chaired by prominent Liberal Party member, and former Coalition Federal Treasurer, Peter Costello.
In 2018, Nine took over Fairfax Media, the long-time publisher of The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age and The Australian Financial Review.
Long praised for strong and independent coverage, the Fairfax titles have in recent years attracted criticism for a perceived loss of quality and for bias in favour of the Coalition parties.
Former veteran reporter with News Corporation papers Tony Koch, who was in 2018 inducted into the Australian Media Hall of Fame, yesterday described the media group’s Robodebt coverage as “shameful”.
“The refusal by Newscorp papers to give even a moderate coverage to Robodet is the most shameful effort I have ever seen by media,” Koch posted to Twitter yesterday.
“It speaks volumes of the respective editors.
“They are a disgrace to the profession through this cowardice. Just disgraceful,” said Koch, who has been awarded five Walkley awards.
“A disgrace to the profession through this cowardice” – Tony Koch
Veteran journalist Tony Koch expresses displeasure with News Corporation’s coverage of the Robodebt Royal Commision. Source: Twitter.
Commissioner Holmes said the coverage of the hearings by traditional media, “with some honourable exceptions”, “tends to flare” when an ex-MP appeared but was “patchy”.
“This Commission has to inquire and report, and an important part of the inquiry component is these public hearings, because its job is to explore evidence in a public forum,” she said.
“I want to acknowlege that the Twitter coverage of these hearings has performed a remarkably useful and important public service” – Commissioner Holmes
“But not many people have the practical ability, or the time, or perhaps the will to sit through day after day of hearings”.
Commissioner Holmes called out journalist and prolific tweeter Rick Morton, who writes for the Saturday Paper, as well as Guardian Australia journalist Luke Henriques-Gomes and Dr Darren O’Donovan, a human rights lawyer and senior lecturer at La Trobe University, who has also extensively covered the hearings on Twitter
“I hasten to say I don’t agree with every…characterisation of the evidence that I’ve seen,” Commissioner Holmes said.
“But I want to acknowledge that the Twitter coverage of these hearings has performed a remarkably useful and important public service, in giving people access to the evidence.”
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