Saturday, April 12, 2008


JOURNALISTS at The Age yesterday condemned management for undermining the Melbourne newspaper's editorial independence, claiming reporters were pressured not to write negative stories about Earth Hour and sports coverage was in danger of being compromised by commercial considerations. During what reporters called a "volatile" and "hostile" staff meeting on the editorial floor with the paper's editor-in-chief, Andrew Jaspan [wee Andy, the Scottish socialist], journalists also criticised his decision to attend the 2020 summit and attacked the publication in February of a letter by Fairfax chairman Ron Walker about the Liberal Party.

Mr Walker, a former Liberal Party treasurer, was identified only as "R.Walker, Melbourne" and, staff said, the letter was run unedited at Jaspan's instruction. Staff said the form of the letter "went against all normal practice, where the paper insists letters include full identification and affiliation or position of the writer".

During the meeting, Jaspan defended the letter's publication saying "that was what he (Mr Walker) had asked for". Some staff were openly hostile towards Jaspan, and at times interjected as he spoke. At a subsequent stop-work meeting, staff passed a resolution saying recent developments had undermined the separation between commercial considerations and editorial independence.

In a statement accompanying the resolution, staff said the Earth Hour partnership placed basic journalistic principles in jeopardy: "Reporters were pressured not to write negative stories and story topics followed a schedule drafted by Earth Hour organisers."

Staff said Jaspan's decision to participate in the 2020 summit, along with a senior deputy editor, breached the journalistic principle that the reporter and observer cannot be a participant without affecting objectivity. And the paper's sports coverage was being potentially compromised by an increasingly commercial emphasis on special relationships. "We have felt under increasing pressure to colour our reporting on organisations with whom the newspaper has struck commercial or sponsorship arrangements," the statement said. "Reporters are being encouraged to attend marketing meetings and under pressure not to write 'negative' stories."

Staff demanded management consult with them to draft a protocol that explicitly stated the deals would not entail any suggestion or implication of favourable editorial coverage.



By Andrew Bolt

I've said before that The Age will not report both sides of the debate on global warming. Now The Age's staff confirm they are not allowed to: "In a statement accompanying the resolution, staff said the Earth Hour partnership placed basic journalistic principles in jeopardy: "Reporters were pressured not to write negative stories and story topics followed a schedule drafted by Earth Hour organisers." The Age is not reporting, but propagandising. What else is it refusing to tell its readers about global warming - or anything else?


That Age reporters are encouraged not to tell the full truth about Earth Hour - or, indeed, global warming - can also be deduced by these emails from Fairfax bosses, congratulating staff for "promoting" Earth Hour and asking them to "participate (in) and observe" it.

And the fix is in, as you can tell by a green group directing the Age editor-in-chief on the placement of stories, evidence of Earth Hour's "success" being grossly exaggerated or invented, and inconvenient truths being left unreported.

The conclusion isn't just that the Age readers cannot trust their paper to inform them of the relevant facts about global warming. It's also that all Age reporters writing about global warming must - fairly or unfairly - be considered propagandists until there is evidence that they are free to report all sides of this debate.


David Henderson, in a presentation to the IMF, says this kind of reporting on global warming is only too common:
Across the world, the treatment of these issues by environmental and scientific journalists and commentators is overwhelmingly one-sided and sensationalist: studies and results that are unalarming are typically played down or disregarded, while the gaps in knowledge and the huge uncertainties which still loom large in climate science are passed over. This pervasive one-sidedness on the part of so many commentators and media outlets is in itself worrying; but even more so, to my mind, is the fact that leading figures and organisations connected with the IPCC process, including government departments and international agencies, do little to ensure that a more balanced picture is presented.


Public hospital doctor kills because he failed to recognize or consider a fully symptomatic meningococcal case

A doctor made a serious error of judgment in ordering a lumbar puncture for a boy, 11, infected with meningococcal disease, a coroner has found. Coroner Dyson Hore-Lacy yesterday recommended that all hospitals review their guidelines in the light of Ryan Fitch's tragic death. And he expressed concern that the Frankston Hospital had not been prepared to admit a mistake was made.

Ryan, of Chelsea, died on August 5, 2005, from respiratory arrest as a result of a lumbar puncture. The sports-mad boy told his mum he loved her shortly before having a seizure at Frankston Hospital. He was put in an induced coma and flown to the Royal Children's Hospital, where he was declared brain-dead.

Ryan's devastated parents said yesterday they were pleased with the coroner's recommendations. "If it helps the next person, then that has to be a good thing," mum Robyn Fitch said. "There's comfort in the fact that if they adopt the recommendations, at least someone else will have the benefit of having antibiotics before they have a lumbar puncture." She said the family were yet to decide if they would take further action.

Dad Ron Fitch said he'd the highest respect for the doctor who performed the lumbar puncture, Dr Ted Lowther. "He was man enough to get up (at the inquest) and say 'I'm sorry for what I've done'." Mrs Fitch said Ryan's death must have affected Dr Lowther as well. "I know it wasn't his intention to come to work and have something like this happen. Unfortunately, it did happen. "And there are consequences, and we live with those consequences every day," Mrs Fitch said.

She said the family were upset with the way the hospital had handled the matter. At the inquest, Dr James Tibballs, of the RCH, took issue with the decision to perform the spinal tap. He said a patient suspected of having meningococcal should be given antibiotics, and doctors should then await the results of blood tests.

Mrs Fitch rushed Ryan to the Frankston Hospital's emergency department when she found him sick, vomiting and writhing with back pain. In the hours after he was admitted on August 3, staff investigated whether he was suffering pneumonia, a kidney infection and gastro. Mr Hore-Lacy said every one of Ryan's symptoms was consistent with meningococcal disease, and he was concerned that no one suspected it for 13 hours. By that stage, Ryan had developed a rash on his legs and one of his eyes.

The hospital's guidelines recommend that meningococcal disease be treated with antibiotics as soon as it is suspected, and that a lumbar puncture is usually not necessary and involves an increased risk in some patients. It can be performed when the patient is stable, but the coroner said Ryan shouldn't have been considered stable. "No doctor could give a (substantial) reason why a lumbar puncture had to be performed, let alone conducted before antibiotics had a chance to take effect. "This may bring back to clinicians the danger of lumbar puncture where there is so little to gain and so much to lose," Mr Hore-Lacy said. He said Dr Lowther now waited until the day after administering antibiotics to perform any lumbar puncture, which was a recognition that he'd made a mistake.

Frankston Hospital, part of Peninsula Health, said it would not comment until it had reviewed the findings.


Schools to get report card, too

The Howard agenda lives on

The Federal Government will push the states to give parents unprecedented information on how schools perform, renewing fears about "league tables" that would name and shame schools. The Deputy Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, will use her first education ministers' meeting in Melbourne next week to discuss plans for a more comprehensive reporting system.

Ms Gillard said she wanted all schools to be accountable for their results, and raised concerns parents were not getting enough reliable information on how their schools perform. "I think we need to understand in a much more sophisticated way what's going on in schools," Ms Gillard said. "And I think the more information that enables people to understand it in a sophisticated way, the better."

The Government plans to publish the annual results of individual primary and secondary schools on national literacy and numeracy tests, which begin next month, for students in years 3, 5, 7, and 9. It will also talk to the states about measuring how schools "add value" to students, and is keen for a reporting system that reflects the challenges faced by each school, for instance through socio-economic data, or trends between "like" schools (schools with similar groups of students).

But principals and teachers are worried that giving parents more information could result in controversial league tables - comparative data that could be used to name and shame the underperformers. The federal president of the Australian Education Union, Angelo Gavrielatos, yesterday said league tables were a "political construct that served no educational value", while the president of the Victorian Primary Principals Association, Fred Ackerman, said he would oppose any system that "unfairly stigmatises schools".

Asked if the reporting could lead to league tables, Ms Gillard said: "I don't think that's what's being discussed. What is being discussed is people getting appropriate and reliable information about the education system."


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