Australian journalists should give up and let someone competent have a go

Father Chris Riley, founder of charity Youth Off the Streets, drew some flak yesterday for appearing in a Clubs Australia flyer endorsing the clubs industry’s opposition to the Government’s proposed poker machine regulations.

Riley has been an enthusiastic supporter of the clubs industry for many years, and works in partnership with them to do good charitable work. The clubs, in return, have been enthusiastic supporters of Youth Off the Streets. But just how enthusiastic have they been?

To counter the criticism that Riley is a shill for the clubs, he came prepared with a statistic to show how minimal their involvement was. Clubs’ donations to the charity were variously reported as 0.5% of total donations or 0.2% of the total budget. Insignificant, right? In a radio interview with Adam Spencer, he said the figure was 2%. Funny that it’s not the same figure, but it’s still no big deal.

In his submission to the Productivity Commission’s gambling inquiry, Riley proudly revealed his charity had received more than $3.5 million in funding from the clubs industry in the eight years from its inception to the submission in March 2009. That’s about $435,000 a year. Suddenly it’s not such small change.

For this figure to be 0.5% of total donations, Youth Off the Streets would have to be pulling in around $87.5 million a year. Sounds like a lot. And it is. In the 2009 financial year Youth Off the Streets received $8.3 million in donations and $6.8 million in 2008. One assumes they were lower in previous years, rather than higher.

It took me about five minutes of Google and high-school maths to discover, by its own figures, Youth Off the Streets did not receive 0.5% of total donations from the clubs industry. In fact, it was more than 5%. (I’m indebted to blogger cyenne for the link to the Productivity Commission submission.) If someone threatened to take away more than 5% of your income, you’d think twice, wouldn’t you?

So let’s be clear. Riley is spruiking for the clubs industry and lying about the extent to which said industry bankrolls the charity he runs. The information that proves he is lying is publicly available and easy to find. Does any of this get a run in the Australian media? Of course not.

Meanwhile, Opposition Leader Tony Abbott has used the Big Four banks’ current (at time of writing) silence about cutting interest rates in line with the Reserve Bank’s cash rate as an excuse to beat up the government.

“(The banks) should be passing on rate cuts in full,” he said. “That’s what happened under the former government.”

Is that right? Not according to George Megalogenis, who wrote in today’s Australian:

The banks have consistently short-changed home borrowers over the past decade. The pattern of meanness repeats whether the Reserve Bank is easing or tightening monetary policy – some of the cuts are held back, while the increases are passed on with a premium.

One of them has to be wrong. Who do you believe?

Aside from George Megalogenis’s very roundabout criticism of Tony Abbott’s statement, no one in the media appears to have questioned it. They all quoted what Abbott said, because he said it, and that’s news. But is it true? Not my department, say the journalists.

And here’s the point, Australian journalists. If your entire intellectual value is being able to cut and paste from press releases and prepared statements in an interesting order, you’re doing a bang-up job. But if your job includes things like checking facts and doing research, even to a small degree, you should all be sacked, because you’re really shit at it.

9 Comments Add yours

  1. Darren Horrigan says:

    Go get ‘ em Josh!

    When newspapers used to be The Fourth Estate’s sharpest sword in the battle against what Randle McMurphy in “One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest” called The Combine, people like Riley, Abbot, Twiggy, et al had nowhere to hide. Not even in a cocoon spun for them by the likes of Jones, Hadley or Bolt.

    Fact was fact; vested interest was vested interest; and many emperors were found to have no clothes.

    And here’s a thought: whether Riley takes $1 or $1 million from Big Gambling doesn’t matter. It’s all filthy lucre. The money does not for one minute degrade the work his charity does, but it obliterates him as an impartial voice on the social effects of problem gambling.

  2. SueP says:

    You’re 100% correct about journalists these days. They don’t challenge, they don’t question assumptions and they think it’s not their job to find out whether what they are reporting is actully true. Something some politicians are exploiting to the max.

  3. Stuart Ridley says:

    Some journos still give a damn… though they’re not getting much of a run. Or, reporting on these things isn’t their job spec (a lot of journos I know are very specialised).
    The online versions of the ‘news’ papers seem to be all about link baiting and trolling… while the print versions seem to be feeding and responding to rant-radio.

  4. @franmolloy says:

    Actually, SueP, I’m not sure he’s 100% correct, more like about 87%, still crunching the numbers … nope, they still don’t add up. Shame we’ve sacked all the subs.

  5. JEQP says:

    In a similar vein the newspapers all reported the politician’s criticism of NAB not passing on the cut a while back, without bothering to note that even with the smaller cut it still had the lowest rate of the Big Four.

    Anyway, wasn’t the former government Rudd?

  6. Matthew of Canberra says:

    Yep. Pretty much what that guy just said.

  7. JV says:

    You should do next season’s Media Watch – but I doubt the ABC would pay you enough…

  8. Jo @Mediamum says:

    Thank you, Josh. I absolutely, unequivocally agree. Now, here’s another interesting thing to consider – how do employed for $$ journalists make it happen in the current business model?

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