Barr’s attack on the media will come back to haunt him

Ian Bushnell 1 May 2018 44
Andrew Barr at Canberra Station this morning. Photo: Charlotte Harper

Andrew Barr at Canberra Station. He expects the media to get on board. Photo: File photo.

Was it just a brain snap from the Chief Minister? An expression of his increasing frustration with some sections of the Canberra community to accept his vision for the national capital?

Or was he just grabbing the attention of his audience with an ‘outrageous’ opening gambit?

Andrew Barr is an accomplished communicator, deliberate and strategic in all that he does. He would have known, given his communications professionals audience, that his now notorious ‘I hate journalists’ comments and loathing of The Canberra Times in particular, would have been leaked immediately.

The Chief Minister not only put more than a few shots across the bows of mainstream media, but flagged an intensified effort by his Government to connect with Canberrans directly without going through the ‘negative’ filter of journalists. He challenged his audience, as he said he had done with his own media staff, to be innovative and come up with exciting new ways to go over the heads of journalists to a public presumably eager to get the real news.

I don’t want to mention names but doesn’t this sound familiar?

Andrew Barr is obviously proud of the fact that he has gone to two elections with big issues such as tax reform and light rail, and won. In his mind, Canberrans have given him a mandate to get on with the job and any complaints from the usual suspects, including journalists, is just so much carping.

He has a point. How long must the light rail debate go on? How long must densification be challenged? How long must the Government’s long-term tax reform process, accepted by most economists as fair, efficient and equitable, be questioned?

Mr Barr’s Government is providing the infrastructure and services that Canberrans need and want. He may well view the ongoing criticism through the prism of the memorable scene from The Life of Brian where the revolutionaries ask the rhetorical question, “What have the Romans ever done for us?”

The answer was quite a lot actually.

In Mr Barr’s mind he doesn’t deserve the negative depiction or reception he receives from mainstream media and in a changed media landscape, the means are now there to take his case directly to the people.

According to Assistant Professor in journalism at the University of Canberra, Dr Caroline Fisher, he has every right to do that and should be doing it but his attack on journalists was intemperate, foolish and showed a lack of respect for journalism’s democratic role.

“He may regret that because if he doesn’t like the coverage that he is getting at the moment, I can’t imagine that it’s going to become more positive or less critical,” Fisher said.

She said the Chief Minister would be a fool not to take advantage of the new communications platforms but mainstream media was still part of the suite of communication tools.

Calling it a flashpoint in the relationship between the Canberra news media and the Government, Fisher hoped Mr Barr’s speech galvanised media companies to increase resources to boost coverage of the Legislative Assembly and social issues generally in Canberra.

She said the media and the Chief Minister needed to find a way forward where they could treat each other with mutual respect.

A statement from Mr Barr and his ministers, saying they respected the role journalists play and weren’t seeking to subvert that, may go some way to mending fences.

But they also said where there was “concentrated media ownership, such as in Canberra, it is beholden on media outlets to accurately and fairly report, without prosecuting their own agendas”.

Dr Fisher also described Mr Barr as being a bit precious. One can only imagine how the Chief Minister would handle a Daily Telegraph in this town.

While some may prefer to get their news and information straight from the horse’s mouth, Governments and bureaucracies are not in the business of being willingly open and transparent. Despite Freedom of Information legislation and commitments to community engagement, they tend to obscure real intentions, hide mistakes and omit unfavourable facts.

Agencies set up virtually impenetrable walls to public access – there is even an Access Canberra that can be anything but. One only has to look at Centrelink, the federal Department of Human Services or Immigration/Border Force. Police now retain such a grip on information, ostensibly for operational reasons, that obtaining even the most basic information about a road accident or for example the recent fatal Bonner house fire is like getting blood out of a stone. Sometimes I am almost waiting to hear that insidious phrase ‘on-water matters’.

In a free and democratic society, one that has enabled Andrew Barr to become Chief Minister, the role of journalists, imperfect as the rest of us, to uncover the truth and shine a light on the unpalatable is crucial. Their job is not to climb on board the Government bus, or light rail vehicle for that matter.

To suggest they are the preserve of print, a dying medium, is mischievous. As I said when I left the Canberra Times in 2012, the platform may change but the work we do doesn’t. The Chief Minister and those like him, hopefully, are always going to bump up against journalists asking the difficult questions no matter what the tools are.

And for all Andrew Barr’s embrace of things digital, his response to a standing invitation at The RiotACT, definitely a ‘new media’ company, to present his case direct to our readers has been lukewarm.

The RiotACT welcomes as many people as possible to the great conversation about where we live and work but we also reserve the right to advocate for the community, question those in authority and hold them to account.

The Chief Minister has an undeniable passion and vision for this city and the region, but he is not the Messiah, and in relation to how he treats the media, just a very naughty boy.

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44 Responses to Barr’s attack on the media will come back to haunt him
Robert of Braddon Robert of Braddon 10:48 pm 16 Mar 18

I can understand why journalists have concentrated on the ‘I hate journalists’ comment; but as a community we should all be horrified by his none too latent disparaging and discounting of older people whose taxes have bank rolled his pet projects. What was he thinking?

Dory Johns Dory Johns 2:38 pm 16 Mar 18

He doesn't have a 'vision'. The light rail was to secure Green support and hence power. The 'densification' is seen by many as ad hoc and driven by developers. 'Consultation' is seen as nothing more than lip service. Mr Fluffy debacle of blocks that are still contaminated but are the new owners' problem. His response to anyone questioning his approach that they are still living 'in the 1940s'. The potential for conflict of interest of him being both Chief Minister and Treasurer. All this leads to perception that he and his cronies are only looking out for themselves.

Bob Bz Bob Bz 10:01 am 16 Mar 18

Barr is getting a reputation for thinking autocracy; it's a pity that the Libral party is so crippled by the CONSERVATIVE ajenda and links to the builders that it has ceased to be a credible alternative.

Paul Thomas Paul Thomas 7:53 am 16 Mar 18

It's a Mid life Chrisis. Maybe he should see his Doc for a checkup, he could have high BP and other medical problems

Susan Salvi Susan Salvi 10:17 pm 15 Mar 18

We all have days when we do something or say something stupid. Give the guy a break. Nobody is perfect. Be kind

Jason Preston Jason Preston 7:48 pm 15 Mar 18

Well it i think was deliberate and he got heaps of great publicity

jrsubs jrsubs 7:20 pm 15 Mar 18

Barr’s assertion that he has a mandate is wrong, and his belief that light rail, densification, poor municipal services, Mr Fluffy and other policies are ‘mandated’ and therefore beyond criticism is infantile. The simple fact is that at the last election we had no alternative to vote for (PLEASE Liberals give us some worthwhile candidates). Barr had NO mandate, and the above policies and many others are either wrong at the outset or have been implemented badly.

Light rail is financially and efficiency-wise a loser. While the proposed secondary densification resulting from it is good in theory, poor building design, poor construction and poor town planning all mean we are not getting what we are pay for and we’ll end up with a second-rate urban landscape that we’ll be stuck with for a very long time.

Barr’s endless war with motorists is a completely unjustified mission to make driving in Canberra a miserable experience. Insufficient parking, poor roads, proliferating speed bumps, ridiculously restrictive road rules and enforcement, favoritism to tiny numbers of cyclists (and comparatively tiny public transport), poor speed limit signage at schools and overemphasis on speeding (seemingly the only crime for which you can get caught in Canberra) … it’s an ideological war with no winners. Apparently this is part of Barr’s obsession with making Canberra a ‘real city’ by importing every problem of big cities but none of the advantages, and in the process destroying the previous advantages that our small city status provided. Graffiti, cavernous concrete cityscapes, poorly designed poor quality apartments and traffic jams are not what we want. The government deserves every bit of stick the Canberra Times dishes out. The only thing we know is that he takes enough notice of the Crimes to hate it, but not enough to listen.

    Capital Retro Capital Retro 10:14 pm 15 Mar 18

    I was planning to add to that but on review, you have said it all.

Toby Toby 7:15 pm 15 Mar 18

Apparently, Mr Barr has stated he never listens to anyone over 40. He has also said anyone complaining about the future proposed heights of the buildings in Northbourne Avenue is out of the 40’s and against development.
Mr Barr is certainly ageist and is also showing his intolerance to any form of discussion. He seems to be setting up his own dictatorship

    Capital Retro Capital Retro 7:37 am 16 Mar 18

    Only he will be able to get the trams to run on time.

Richard Willcoxson Richard Willcoxson 5:10 pm 15 Mar 18

Hates being held accountable for all his parties dodgy deals. He only has himself to blame for bad press

Belconandonandon Belconandonandon 3:18 pm 15 Mar 18

Barr chose his words very poorly but I think we should be able to have open discussions about media bias and sensationalism. The media is an important part of our democratic system and it’s for that very reason it should not be immune from criticism. And let’s not be naïve about this – Fairfax is not a charity, it’s a profit driven company that has plenty of political connections and its own editorial agenda. This is particularly significant in a place like Canberra where there’s only one major newspaper – not to mention how concentrated media ownership is in Australia generally (almost every Australian newspaper is owned by Fairfax or News Ltd).

Robert Verdon Robert Verdon 2:36 pm 15 Mar 18

Definitely had a point!

Tim Cole Tim Cole 11:56 am 15 Mar 18

The CFMEU told him to say it?

Wes Dempsey Wes Dempsey 7:38 am 15 Mar 18

I don’t like the man but he has a point. The Australian media is absolutely pathetic. All it is is bias opinions, political slant and flat out lies. And thats from all outlets! Well the major ones anyways.

    Wes Dempsey Wes Dempsey 7:42 am 16 Mar 18

    Thats the problem. We only hear what we want to hear. That way we are not challenged in our points of view. A balanced media is what we need, yet sadly does not exist.

Stan Vizovitis Stan Vizovitis 10:01 pm 14 Mar 18

Barr,s vision for canberra

James Daniels James Daniels 10:36 am 14 Mar 18

It would have been fine for Barr to say that traditional media doesn't effectively connect with a large number of people in the community and that alternative pathways needed to be designed so as to facilitate those connections. But he didn't. He said he hates journalists and is over traditional media, forcefully attacking one of the fundamental pillars of democracy. The only politicians who should be afraid of the media are those with something to hide.

Capital Retro Capital Retro 8:34 am 14 Mar 18

With Katy Gallagher about to depart The Senate, there is a great opportunity for Andrew Barr to “do a Katie” and step down from the position of CM ACT and become Senator for the ACT.

He could still live in his “greatest little capital in the world” and who knows, he may become the new Minister for Urban Renewal in the next Shorten Labor Government.

Kent Street Kent Street 8:24 am 14 Mar 18

and if someone publicly voiced their opinion that they ‘hated’ SSM . . . . . .

Pandy Pandy 7:02 am 14 Mar 18

If he is afraid of the left leaning Fairfax paper not reflecting his vision, I reckon there are many skeletons in the closet that will come out in the end that he will be afraid off.

“All glory is fleeting” is what was whispered into the Cesears ears as they rode their chariot back into Rome.

    Capital Retro Capital Retro 8:37 am 14 Mar 18

    Did they use the Appian way or Northbourne Avenue?

Lynne Audsley Lynne Audsley 11:32 pm 13 Mar 18

All very well to want to shake the status quo and use social media, but Mr Barr has not only alienated journalists and belittled what they do, he has also alienated a very large proportion of the ACT population with his childish comments about older Canberrans. Over 60s are not yet ready to give up the Canberra we began building in the 80s. We are intelligent, well read users of all media. We have time on our hands and are fast becoming he largest demographic in Canberra...

    Diane Asenoguan Diane Asenoguan 5:34 pm 15 Mar 18

    Exactly my thoughts

    I went to see Andrew Leigh about older issues and he just bragged about The Labor party being the first to introduce minimum pensions. My response was to ask him if it was ok to keep them in poverty. We must stand up to these bullies who have no respect

Rob Sanders Rob Sanders 11:30 pm 13 Mar 18

If only the Liberals would dump Coe and build some actual legitimate political viability. An inanimate carbon rod would have a better shot, I reckon.

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