JERAA Executive Statements 2014

By JERAA

 

Statement on Charlie Hedbo Masscare 8 January 2014

The JERAA expresses deep concern at the murder of 12 people and injury of 11 others in a massacre at the Charlie Hedbo satirical newspaper in Paris.

We extend condolences and solidarity to the friends, family and colleagues of those affected.

We continue to support freedom of expression and the right to express dissenting views about religious leaders and social matters.

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Opinion article: Journalism schools: swaddled in theory, industry providers or loyal critics?* 25 October 2014

What is the best preparation for journalistic work? It is a question thousands of school leavers and their parents ask.

If you read any of the articles published recently in The Australian your answer might be: anywhere but a journalism school.

“Uni degrees in indoctrination” ran the headline and the precede read “Uni media students are getting an anti-Murdoch   message” (13 October). You didn’t need a degree of any kind to work out that the media editor, News Corporation Australia’s group editorial director, Campbell Reid, and an unnamed student thought that what was being taught at Sydney University and the University of Technology, Sydney, was not enough practical skills, too much theory and way too much emphasis on the failings of News Corporation, owner of this newspaper, especially when News is one of the biggest employers of journalists in the country.

Taking these issues one by one, first, there remains a misunderstanding abroad about the respective strengths and weaknesses of universities and newsrooms.

Editors may lament journalism schools as impractical, saying core skills can only be learnt on the job, but isn’t that self-evident? No university course can prepare students for every eventuality or require them to be mature beyond their tender years.

Doctors learn bedside manner with patients and lawyers learn the nuances of jury selection in courtrooms. Universities can only partially replicate skills learnt over time in situ.

Journalism courses can – and should – provide a grounding in core professional skills and methods. They do. Most Australian journalism degrees contain as many practice-based subjects as theoretical ones. And most offer industry internships.

It is smarter, though, for universities and newsrooms to play to their strengths. Universities are great places to study and debate the history, literature, politics, sociology and culture of journalism; to think about the news media’s role now and into the future as new communication technologies continue to disrupt the media’s longstanding business models.

The unceasing crush of deadlines, which now happen by the minute rather than daily, make newsrooms a poor environment for this kind of reflective, contextualising work, as even the  The Australian’s editorial acknowledged on 14 October: “We expect that journalism academics will….identify issues that those of us in the trenches every day cannot see”.

Second, many misunderstand the difference between journalism degrees and communication degrees. Overwhelmingly, the former aim to prepare students to work in the news media industry, whether in big companies or in start-ups.

Some communications degrees include journalism subjects but some do not; some include public relations or advertising or media production but many are mainly and openly teaching students to critique the media.

Communications graduates may want to work in the news media and may come to it with a well-developed view of its flaws but little idea how to actually do journalism but really so what? If they are actually offered a cadetship, these graduates will either learn quickly on the job or they won’t.

Third, implicit in The Australian lamenting a perceived anti-Murdoch message while reminding everyone that News Corporation is a major employer of journalists is the suggestion that either the company only wants to hire people who believe in it unreservedly or that those teaching journalism should think twice before criticising News.

This is a weird and disturbing idea. Imagine what would happen if a government told a news organisation that because it spent thousands of dollars advertising in its pages the newspaper should report its policies favourably.

Actually, you don’t need to imagine it; the prospect of government intervention in the freedom of the press was what this newspaper and others vigorously campaigned against when the Labor government introduced its media reform bills in 2013.

It is true any journalism school should maintain a good working relationship with industry; it is equally true they will sometimes challenge the industry they serve. This is especially important in a field as central to democracy as journalism.

Employers are understandably irritated when graduates are either ill-prepared or unwilling to adapt to the workforce. If all universities did, however, was provide workforce fodder they call into question their own existence.

What about educating reflective practitioners who are not only ready to work but geared to becoming innovators? That has never been more necessary than now.

What about universities doing research that questions received wisdom and challenges industry to improve? Largely unknown in newsrooms and infrequently reported in their outlets is the amount of good research done by journalism and communications scholars.

Without this growing body of research, the coming Companion to the Australian Media – a 415,000 word work with nearly 500 entries – would not have been possible.

Journalism schools can and should be what Columbia University president Lee Bollinger has called “loyal critics” of their industry.

It is difficult for news organisation to report its critics fairly.  I am not the first to say this newspaper tends to either attack its critics, often at great length and in personal terms, or ignore them.

One ignored critic is Rodney Tiffen, whose Rupert Murdoch: a reassessment has not been mentioned in this newspaper to the best of my knowledge until the 13 October article.

An eminent political scientist, Tiffen concludes his lengthy study by saying the phone hacking and bribery scandal that engulfed News in 2011 has been “the biggest media-related scandal in the history of English-speaking democracies”.

The scandal shows us, he writes, “that media power corrupts as much as any other power. It is an ingrained habit of mind for us to think of the press as a protector of democracy rather than a threat to it. It is just as much a part of making democracy work better to make media power accountable as it is to make government power accountable”.

Students should be exposed to many perspectives on journalism. They should read The Australian, they should read Tiffen and they should make up their own minds.

* This is the full version of the article written by JERAA president Matthew Ricketson in The Australian newspaper: Media students gain critical skills at unis such as Sydney and UTS

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Statement in Support of Journalism Educators 13 October 2014

JERAA strongly supports the rights of journalism educators to academic independence when they engage in teaching, research and community service. JERAA trusts in the professionalism of journalism academics in educating students and society about journalism.

Journalism education prepares people to work in the news media and related industries, including mainstream, alternative and emerging media. Another core role is to prepare people to think critically about society in general, which includes media industries.

The principles of both higher education and journalism involve questioning, scrutinising and criticising the activities of major social institutions, which again include media industries.

Links: The Australian Uni Degrees in Indoctrination

Links:  Students Aren’t Passive Sponges

Link: Honi Soit Bit Rich for the Oz to Cry Indoctrination

Link: Student indoctrination claim ‘unethical and untrue’, say media lecturers

Link: The Oz needn’t beat up media lecturers – but thanks anyway

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Statement regarding Deakin University 29 July 2014

Martin Hirst will continue his role as Associate Professor at Deakin University after discussions with university management about contentious comments that he made via his personal twitter account, Ethical Martini.

The JERAA Executive has not commented on this issue in recent days, at Martin’s request, while he undertook negotiations with Deakin University’s management.

We are pleased that Martin rapidly apologised for the tone and content of his tweeted remarks, and he will note Deakin University’s admonishment of his conduct on his blog page.

A core goal of the JERAA is to promote freedom of expression and communication. We also recognise that the nature and tone of public comments can affect audiences and wider communities. We are pleased that Deakin University’s management has taken an appropriate response with an admonishment that is proportionate to the nature of the initial behaviour.

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Free Peter Greste and AJ Staff 24 June 2014

The JERAA condemns in the strongest possible terms the sentences handed down to Al Jazeera journalists Peter Greste, Mohammed Fahmy and Baher Mohamed.

The Egyptian government should immediately intervene, and demonstrate that journalism should not be considered a crime in its country.

The three journalists have been condemned to lengthy terms in jail, just for doing the job of reporting on events in Cairo.

During a chaotic and farcical trial no evidence has been presented to back up the claims of the prosecution that the journalists either defamed Egypt or backed the Muslim Brotherhood.

The JERAA is made up of members who are educating the future generation of journalists in this country. These young journalists are being taught to report fearlessly, ethically and without favour.

Egypt should set an example and immediately release the Al-Jazeera reporters from jail.

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Statement in Support of Greste and Morison 16 February 2014

Two Australian journalists working overseas are being held in detention or face imprisonment simply for doing their job of reporting on the activities of those in positions of power and authority. They are Peter Greste of al Jazeera English and Alan Morison, editor of a small website in Thailand, phuketwan.com.

Freedom of the news media is almost universally understood to be a core value in democratic societies or in those that aspire to be democratic. In some countries, such as Egypt and Thailand, we are seeing threats to media freedom that are urgent and visceral. In other countries such as Australia we all too often take for granted the ability of journalists to report critically on those in positions of power and authority; threats to media freedom here rarely involve arbitrary detention.

Peter Greste is a graduate of the Queensland University of Technology’s journalism program, in 1986, and has enjoyed a lengthy career as a journalist working for reputable news organisations such as the BBC and CNN. Alan Morison began in journalism two decades earlier, in 1966, when most did a cadetship after school (as he did, at the Herald and Weekly Times Ltd). He went on to hold senior editorial positions at The Age and in recent years at phuketwan.com, which provides news, views and reviews about life and tourism on the island of Phuket.

Greste, along with an Egyptian and a Canadian-Egyptian colleague, was arrested on 29 December and is being held in solitary confinement in a maximum security prison in Cairo. He has been charged with spreading false news to aid the Muslim Brotherhood which has been recently outlawed in Egypt by the military-backed government.

In a letter sent from his prison cell, and broadcast on ABC television’s Media Watch on 3 February, Greste steadfastly maintains his innocence: “We had been doing as any responsible, professional journalist would – recording and trying to make sense of the unfolding events with all the accuracy, fairness and balance that our imperfect trade demands”.

The political situation in Egypt is complicated and highly contested, as is the current government’s relationship with the al Jazeera network, as Fairfax Media’s Middle East correspondent, Ruth Pollard, outlined in two pieces published on 1 February in The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age:   “The media have always had a difficult relationship with the powerful in Egypt. Repression was rife during [former] president Hosni Mubarak’s three-decade rule and the Muslim Brotherhood-backed government of [President] Mohamed Mursi sought to quash criticism of his short-lived, dysfunctional administration. But the targeting of journalists from al-Jazeera English over the network’s alleged pro-Brotherhood stance – a charge denied by al-Jazeera executives – has spilt over to encompass all foreign media”.

The constantly threatening environment in Egypt makes even straightforward reporting tasks so dangerous, according to Pollard, that she and other colleagues are reluctant to go out into the streets at all. Already, many have been beaten or detained. Risk-taking is in the DNA of most foreign correspondents; when they decide they cannot do their work, how will citizens around the world, let alone in Egypt, learn what is happening? The undeniable benefits to the free flow of information afforded by digital technologies and social media still need what Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel term the discipline of verification in their book The Elements of Journalism; that is, there remains a need to strip away misinformation from information which is all the more important – and more difficult – when the stakes are at their highest, as they are in Egypt.

Where the threat to Greste and his colleagues is immediate, with no sign of bail being granted pending trial, Alan Morison and his main associate, Thai journalist, Chutima Sidasathian, have been issued with lawsuits that allege criminal defamation, and, strangely, breach of Thailand’s Computer Crimes Act, that if successful could see them jailed for up to seven years.

For several years, Morison and his colleague have been reporting about a largely unknown scandal concerning the Rohingya Muslim people who have been fleeing persecution in Myanmar. As boat people they have been abused while trying to escape to Malaysia. Often they have become prey to traffickers and slave-dealers according to Kevin Childs, a former Age colleague of Morison, who has begun a petition via Change.org protesting against the lawsuit. Where the Royal Thai Navy comes in to the picture is that it has sometimes helped the boat people with food, water and fuel – as long as they don’t come to Thailand.

Childs writes that Morison and Sidasathian were the first to call global public attention to the Rohingya boat people’s problems. On 16 December a Royal Thai Navy officer, acting on behalf of the Navy, issued the lawsuits against them. The ostensible reason is that one article published on their website quoted a paragraph from a Reuters report about the Navy’s role in the Rohingya boat people issue. Reuters stands by its report, but it has not been sued even while Morison and Sidasathian have. Morison told me by email that all they have done is: “Merely republished word for word a contentious paragraph among excerpts from the Reuters news agency. That deed has left us facing charges under criminal defamation and the Computer Crimes Act amounting to a maximum penalty of seven years in jail, which seems extreme and unreasonable”.

Nevertheless, the two journalists are prepared to go to jail rather than surrender the principle of freedom of the media.

Many individual citizens as well as several organisations committed to freedom of speech or representing journalists have already expressed their concern and outrage about the treatment of these two Australian journalists. The Journalism Education and Research Association of Australia, which represents those preparing the next generation of young people entering the news media and related fields, has as one of its core beliefs promoting “freedom of expression and communication”, and adds its voice to this issue. The association’s executive is alarmed by these recent, serious threats to freedom of expression, and is committed to speaking out in support of journalists whose sole crime appears to be doing the job of journalism

Matthew Ricketson

JERAA president

August Newsletter
This is the semi-regular news update from the JERAA executive. Submissions should be sent to alex.wake@rmit.edu.au

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