The Australian reports this morning on a very strange email we received last week ($):
PUBLIC relations staff from the Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy are hawking articles praising the NBN to publications, telling editors they are free to run the stories under the names of their own journalists.
James Paterson, editor of the Institute of Public Affairs Review, which has been fiercely critical of the NBN, was startled to receive an offer of an article from an adviser at DBCDE on Friday offering a “meticulously researched” article on the NBN and women “quite gratis”. A follow-up email explained “the article is overly long — but deliberately so, to give you more choice if you cut”, while asking Mr Paterson to retain references in it to the Broadband Champions program launched last year by Communications Minister Stephen Conroy.
A third told Mr Paterson: “I have no problems with you by-lining it from your team.”
Where to begin?
It’s disturbing enough that taxpayers are employing public servants to write pro-government spin (which has sadly been going on for a long time). Next time the CPSU or one of their state-based equivalents says we can’t possibly cut the public service without hurting hospitals and schools, remember this.
But it’s even more disturbing that at least one government department thinks it is ok to ghost-write articles praising government policy and then encourages editors to pretend it was written by independent journalists. That’s government-directed plagiarism, and it is coming from the department of a minister who thinks that journalists can’t be trusted to behave ethically.
This episode shows we certainly can’t trust the government to behave ethically when it comes to the media. It is yet another reason why we should oppose the recommendations of the Finkelstein review to give the government more power over the press.
UPDATE: If you are not a subscriber to The Australian, you can read this report on the incident.