Racked by public distrust, cowed by government surveillance and powerful corporations, the mainstream media is in crisis. Newspapers which flourished for centuries and TV networks that once ruled the world are failing. Andrew Fowler’s The War on Journalism tells how the media helped write its own epitaph. Drawing on personal interviews and his background in investigative journalism, Ander Fowler traces the decline of the culture of truth bringing in his new book The War on Journalism: Media Moguls, Whistleblowers and the Price of Freedom. It’s a tale of sackings, cutbacks and self-censoring editors, deals, threats and government standover tactics. Alongside tabloids like the News of the World, notorious for phone hacking, giants like the BBC, Australia’s ABC, The Washington Post and The New York Times, The Guardian and Le Monde come under fire.
When first WikiLeaks and then Edward Snowden blew the whistle, they did more than reveal explosive secrets: they undermined establishment, or insider, media – where governments ‘leaked’ information to favoured reporters in return for sympathetic coverage. Along with lawyer-turned-gonzo-journalist Glenn Greenwald, these outsiders challenged everyone from The Guardian on the left to Rupert Murdoch’s global media empire on the right.
The establishment fought back with draconian laws to silence the new journalism. From the UK to the US to Australia, governments harass journalists, threatening to jail both whistleblowers and those who publish their leaks. Staying one move ahead of post-9/11 intelligence agencies is fraught. Every cell phone is a mobile tracking device.
The public’s right to know is a battleground. At stake are the kind of journalism that survives and the kind of world in which we will live: democratic or dominated by executive government, unchallenged and unaccountable, spying on its own citizens and producing fraudulent arguments to fight horrific wars.
The internet – which promised people easy access to information and each other – is now being used to produce a dark future. This is a defining moment, not just for journalism but for us all.
Andrew Fowler is an award-winning investigative journalist and a contributing reporter for ABC’s Foreign Correspondent and Four Corners programs. He has been chief of staff and acting foreign editor of The Australian newspaper and a reporter with SBS Dateline and Channel 7, as well as heading up the ABC’s Investigative Unit. Andrew began his journalism career in the early 1970s covering the IRA bombing campaign for the London Evening News. He first interviewed Julian Assange for Foreign Correspondent in early 2010 and went on to write the bestselling book, The Most Dangerous Man in the World, which has been translated and published in countries as diverse as China, South Korea, USA, Russia, Indonesia, Romania and Taiwan. The Most Dangerous Man in the World was described by Daniel Ellsberg (whistle-blower of the Pentagon Papers) as ‘A gripping thriller. By far the best account of Julian Assange’s motives and the talents that make him so dangerous’ and by Geoffrey Robertson QC as ‘the most balanced, fair and factual account yet published of a saga much misrepresented in the media’. Andrew’s original ABC program about Assange and WikiLeaks won the New York Festival Gold Medal and he has subsequently interviewed Assange in October 2011 and July 2012. Andrew Fowler currently spends his time between Paris and Sydney.
Here is an extract from the upcoming book Hideout in the Apocalypse by John Stapleton, due out in October, which references The War in Terror:
One could only ask why Australia so slavishly followed America into wars which were so clearly counterproductive, raising tensions at home, thereby endangering the civilian population, and raising tensions abroad.
One explanation was the so-called Five Eyes agreement.
And it all came back, that trail so full of potholes and diversions, highways and byways lined with the Servants of God, with fundamentalist Christians and fundamentalist Muslims, all worshiping their same Abrahamic God, to whistle blowers. Edward Snowden, before he joined US intelligence, joined the US military to fight for what he saw as freedom in Iraq, and became angered by what discovered.
What Snowden unearthed was not deceptive US conduct in some far-flung corner of the world; he stumbled across a war against the American people: a surveillance state where no one could have a private life. It was the ultimate betrayal of what he believed he was working for: a more just world, where tyrants were brought to account. What he discovered was deception, lying and cheating on a grand scale, all carried out by the US government. But it wasn’t just the US government that was culpable. It had supplicant supporters.”
The five Anglo-Saxon nations that shared in the National Security Agency’s spying — the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, New Zealand and Australia — were known as the Five Eyes. As senior journalist Andrew Fowler wrote in his book published that same year, The War on Journalism: Media Moguls, Whistle blowers and the Price of Freedom, these nations saw the world in a similar way.
“Though the United States provides a large amount of the technical hardware the other four countries do their own spying too, much of it on behalf of the NSA. It’s their way of paying back the United States for access to its global spy network. But there is a bigger price the United States charges: obedience to its foreign policy.”
There had been a deliberate dumbing down of the Australian population, and when it came to matters of defence, warfare and international conflict, never more so. While millions around the world took to the streets in 2003 to protest the Iraq War, their voices were ignored. Both the ABC in Australia and the BBC in Britain were heavily criticised by their governments. In Britain defence reporter Andrew Gilligan reported that Blair had sexed up the dossier justifying the invasion of Iraq. In Australia then Communications Minister Richard Alston sent a much publicised and blistering complaint alleging 68 separate incidents of bias in the national broadcaster’s coverage of the war. Gilligan was ultimately forced to resign. But by 2016, the critics of the war were vindicated.
The collapse in quality journalism wrought by the internet and a shifting in journalistic culture, along with the conduct of media moguls, most particularly Rupert Murdoch, had occurred in a kind of deadly dalliance.
As Fowler records, the primary role of journalism in disclosing inconvenient truths and acting as a counterweight to the excesses of executive government had all but been abandoned. In wartime newspapers have nearly always toed the government line by not reporting sensitive information that might be against what is generally known as the national interest. But in refusing to confront the growing list of misdemeanours of the Iraq and Syrian Wars, by regurgitating government spin rather than questioning it, journalism was paying for slavishly adhering to the argument that the world was engaged in a never-ending War on Terror.
While every military action backfired, and risks to domestic populations steadily grew, nobody questioned the gathering disaster.
The result in Australia was an increasingly disengaged public which knew almost nothing about how the $31.9 billion Defence budget was being spent.
Most Australians had no idea that their country was actively involved in dropping bombs on Iraq and Syria.