Guardian editor takes aim at The Australian accusing the newspaper of a ‘misuse of power’

The OzKatharine Viner, editor-in-chief of The Guardian Australia, has taken aim at News Corp Australia and in particular, its national broadsheet, The Australian accusing the company of  “skewing” the national political discussion and of a “misuse of power” in pursuing those might disagree with it.

In an interview with Mumbrella to coincide with the one year anniversary of the launch of The Guardian’s Australian digital operation, Viner chose to take aim at Australia’s largest newspaper publisher, whose election coverage during last year’s federal poll became a election issue in its own right.

I think the way The Australian goes after people they don’t like is a misuse of power, and the extent to which News Corp has been able to skew the political discourse in this country is startling — though that influence appears to be waning,” Viner told Mumbrella, just days before she flies out to take up the role of editor-in-chief of The Guardian America. “Otherwise, they have some impressive journalists and I always enjoy the Saturday arts section in The Oz.”


Katharine Viner

Viner made the comments in a discussion around the media controversy surrounding joint Guardian / ABC story which revealed that Australia has been spying on high level Indonesian officials including President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

The story saw both the ABC and The Guardian criticised over the story which saw a major downturn in diplomatic relations between Australia and Indonesia with Viner herself become a target of criticism with News Corp even trying to take paparazzi-style photos of the Guardian boss, during a visit to Parliament House, at the height of the scandal.

Asked about the incident and whether it would have occurred amid the fierce competition of the British newspapers in London, Viner responded:  “I wouldn’t say it wouldn’t happen in the UK but it certainly hasn’t happened to me before.

“I was surprised because I clearly wasn’t the story but I guess if you don’t want people talking about the story which was Edward Snowden’s revelations then you might want to get them talking about something else.”

The Australian has published more than 20 articles, opinion pieces and editorials critical of the coverage of the Snowden Indonesian spying revelations and in particular the ABC’s role in bringing the story to light.

Viner said the ABC role in the coverage in providing an Indonesian perspective.

“The ABC were great to work with I really enjoyed collaborating with them as it meant we had two sets of eyes, experience in Indonesia — which we don’t have — and it was just a great collaboration,” she said.

Chris Mitchell

Chris Mitchell

Chris Mitchell editor-in-chief of The Australian said he understood why The Guardian had brought the ABC onboard but said the taxpayer funded news organisation had made an error in doing “marketing” for a rival news organisation.

“I would not criticize the Guardian for the ABC deal on Snowden. It was smart of the Guardian but silly of the ABC to allow itself to be criticized for marketing another new organisation’s story,” said Mitchell.

ABC managing director Mark Scott rejected Mitchell’s suggestion that the public broadcaster has been “marketing” a Guardian story.

“It is simply not true to suggest the ABC’s role was simply to promote the story,” Scott told Mumbrella. “We partner with a number of major media organisations from time-to-time and the Guardian has partnered with numerous media partners around the NSA stories, who like us, bring local expertise.

“I have no regrets about partnering with the Guardian and broadcasting the story. As I said last year, around the world in this era – the kind of electronic intelligence information collected, who it is shared with and how it is secured – has become one of the most important issues of our time.”

Mitchell did not directly address Viner’s accusation that The Australian misused its power but Mitchell did note that: “I don’t know Kath Viner, but consider (The Guardian’s political journalists) Lenore Taylor and Katherine Murphy long term friends who I respect.” 

News Corp Australia management declined to comment on Viner’s remarks.

Viner is not the only senior foreign media executive to critique News Corp’s editorial approach. Last year Martin Clarke, publisher of the biggest English-language news website in the world, the Mail Online, said News Corp’s election coverage would have made UK papers “blush”.

Read the full profile of The Guardian Australia here. 

Nic Christensen


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