Saturday, September 03, 2005

Penberthy Is Innocent

David Penberthy represents the new generation of Australian journalism. He actively encourages and involves communities that have been traditionally marginalised and maligned in the press. He wants to turn the Daily Telegraph into a paper young people will feel comfortable reading. He wants to improve the quality of writing and the overall look of the paper.

Am I being sarcastic? No. I am serious. Am I saying this because I sometimes write for the DT? No.

In April 2005, I saw a certain Liverpool Sheik on TV saying that women who dress a certain way are eligible for rape. I put pen to paper and rang a friend in Melbourne who put me onto the opinion editor of the Sydney Morning Herald. Within 48 hours, I had my first op-ed piece published.

Within 72 hours, I was being "head-hunted"by an editor of the DT.

“David asked me to phone you. He was upset that you do not write for us. We are quite serious about it. We want new and different voices to be heard.”

To accuse David and the DT of being anti-Liberal is a joke. After all, I have not been able to publish anything in a News Limited paper critical of Mr Howard’s industrial reforms. Neither the Australian not the DT will touch it. Their policy is to support the Libs on this one.

Further, one of the DT’s star columnists is Piers Akerman. Now anyone who knows Piers will testify to the fact that he is NOT anti-Liberal. If anything, he is accused of being so pro-Liberal that most people take for granted that he will never praise an ALP government.

Akerman has in the past spoken at Liberal functions and gatherings. Prior to the Talibanisation of the non-Group forces, Akerman spoke at a non-Group factional dinner organised by a prominent Eastern Suburbs Liberal.

Akerman has been a fierce supporter of the conservative Liberal cause. Who could forget the column he published about Ron Phillips signing up members and paying their fees using a single personal cheque? Or the classic articles in which he hacked into Jason Falinsky and other hard-core Liberal lefties?

On the other hand, Penberthy also ensures ALP hacks like Stephen Loosely also have a say. And Anita Quigley is no raving right-wing nutter.
Compare the Opinion pages of the DT to that of, say, the Sydney Morning Herald. I often find SMH opinion pages so boring and predictable. Generally just pieces by the usual suspects – Gerard Henderson, the token conservative bimbo Ms Devine, the latest splash from anti-Semite Daniel Pipes. And if we are lucky, some soft lifestyle piece by the opinion editor herself Julia Baird.

From time to time, there is a decent article by a Herald journo or an independent expert like Professor Amin Saikal or even a new face (such as the recent piece on the head scarf issue by young Muslim lawyer Amal Awad). But these are exceptions, not rules.

The DT may be seen as a tabloid. But the SMH is not far behind. Which probably explains the mass-exodus of Herald journos southward to join the Age. I give the DT another 12 months before the quality of its news surpasses that of the SMH. Perhaps then, the two papers could swap names.

I can just see it now. The Sydney Morning Telegraph. And the Daily Herald!

The SMH is still my favourite paper. Well, until recently, when I discovered how my views sharpened after religiously reading the Australian Financial Review. And the best Opinion pages in Australasia have to be those of the Canberra Times and the New Zealand Herald.

Yet the Telegraph has its place. It has the biggest readership. It cannot be ignored. Certainly Liberals don’t ignore it. Which explains why so many members of the Group used to take David Penberthy out to lunch so often. When Penberthy was writing pieces praising Group Young Liberal presidents, he was a good bloke. Why is he suddenly being treated as the devil incarnate by certain Liberals?

No DT columnist or journo puts a gun to a Liberal Party person and forces then to speak. If scandals about Liberal leaders reach the hallowed pages of the DT, it is less a reflection on the paper and its editor. It is, rather, more a reflection on the factional rivalries and nastiness within the Party itself.

© Irfan Yusuf