Herald Sun lies strike again

Once again lies have dominated the Herald Sun’s coverage of the latest chapter in Victoria’s fire services saga.

Image: Wikipedia/Richmeister

On the 7th of July a parliamentary select committee began investigating the government’s bill to restructure Victoria’s fire services and provide easier access to compensation for occupational cancer. Evidence heard by the committee so far — including over 1,000 submissions, and statements made in hearings — has provided a compelling case for reform, but as far as I have noticed, the metropolitan media have ignored this entirely.

Instead, all coverage has focussed on a question of process: did the United Firefighters Union have more input into the formulation of the restructure than did the fire agencies themselves?

The reason this question was asked is because the Liberals, the Nationals, and Liberal-National-aligned Volunteer Fire Brigades Victoria have for weeks asserted that the reform proposal was nothing more than the Andrews Government doing the bidding of the UFU. For that reason, when representatives of the Department of Premier and Cabinet appeared before the committee on the 7th of July, this question was pursued by Liberal members present.

The clear answer they received was ‘no’. The first to ask was the Chair, Gordon Rich-Phillips:

Not satisfied with having their conspiracy theory debunked just the once, the next player was Wendy Lovell:

Like most people, I wasn’t present at the hearing, so I’m only learning about this today (18th July), now that the transcript has been published. However, journalists were present to hear this evidence.

An ethical journalist would have heard this evidence and reported what was actually said. In contrast, Herald Sun reporters are in the habit of misreporting in order to serve their employer’s partisan bias. Alex White’s article misrepresented the evidence thusly:

The clear implication here is that the government and the UFU were discussing the restructure at these meetings, even though this was clearly not the case. True to form, the Herald Sun has avoided the possibility of being sued by couching its lie in the form of implication. There is nothing untrue about what is written in a literal sense, because the presumptive cancer legislation is incorporated in the same bill as the restructure. However, the clear intent is to deceive the reader into believing the government was in cahoots with the UFU in drafting the (contentious) restructure legislation, not simply consulting about the (uncontentious) presumptive legislation.

With the resignation of MFB CEO Jim Higgins later the same day, the Herald Sun could not resist running with the fiction it had created, making an unsourced assertion that Higgins was upset that the MFB was not involved in developing the legislation:

The story closed by repeating the misleading message of the earlier article: ‘the government consulted with the UFU months ahead of the MFB’.

In this instance, to their credit, The Age and the ABC reported more accurately. Both stories explained that consultation with the UFU focussed on the presumptive legislation, not the restructure, and both reported the statement of MFB Chair Andi Diamond that Higgins ‘genuinely wanted to see service reform’.

But the question remains, where is the rest of the coverage?

The committee has received mountains of compelling evidence, some of which have all the hallmarks of juicy scandal that media outlets usually find irresistible. Among them are hair-raising reports of systematic failure that place firefighters and the public at great peril. To pick just one of hundreds of eye-opening submissions, consider that of CFA Operations Officer Pat Geary. Ops Officer Geary listed four examples of system failure from his recent experience:

The public deserves to know about serious, systematic safety failures like these. And politicians need the public to know, to ensure they are not punished at the ballot box if they support this crucial public interest reform.