Custom normally dictates you're not rude to your host. But the federal government's climate change adviser, Professor Ross Garnaut, is sufficiently hot under the collar about media coverage that he abandoned that principle yesterday.
Speaking at a conference sponsored by The Australian, the broadsheet owned by Rupert Murdoch's News Limited, the professor hit out at ''crude'' and ''distorted'' reporting of plans for a carbon tax.
And the worst culprit, according to Professor Garnaut? The very same News Limited.
He constrasted coverage of the carbon debate with ''the positive role played by a highly professional, conscientious, committed Australian media'' during earlier reforms.
''Reflect on the media treatment - I don't want to be too pointed but I would say especially the News Limited group - reflect on the media treatment of this complex issue of immense importance for long-term Australian prosperity, and I don't think many people would say we have had a media presentation of the issues as thorough, as reliable, as informed, as we had as a basis for the reform era of Australia in the last century,'' he said.
"I know from my close friends among the senior journalists at The Australian that there is disquiet about that.''
He singled out a front-page story he said implied electricity prices would rise 11 per cent as a result of renewable energy schemes, but said they were actually responsible for 11 per cent of a 30 per cent increase - that is, closer to 3 per cent.
''I could give you dozens of examples... Facts are ignored, the rules of logic violated, and it is rare for people professing strong opinions to go back and actually look at the documents on which they have commented.''
Surveying an audience of 200 economists and academics at the Melbourne Institute-Australian conference, he said he knew of only two who had read his climate report in full. One was Malcolm Turnbull.
The former Hawke government economic adviser cited ''great figures'' in the media such as Peter Robinson, Max Walsh, Max Suich who helped build a platform for reform on issues such as tariffs.
''In the '80s and '90s we had a high-quality media. Paul Kelly, Alan Wood, Michelle Grattan and others were able to explain complex ideas that the community never felt really comfortable with, but which would provide a basis for political action.''
The Australian's economics editor Michael Stutchbury said it was wrong to compare the battles over tariff reform and a carbon tax. ''There is a lot more contested ground, even among people such as myself who support putting a market price on carbon,'' he told The Age.
Treasurer Wayne Swan - introduced by Stutchbury - backed up Professor Garnaut, telling the conference ''sometimes it seems like the main criteria our opponents in the Parliament and sections of the media use to evaluate policies is not what's good for Australia but what's bad for the Australian Labor Party''.
Published in today's SMH and Age
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