This narrative traces over a two year period how News Ltd’s Peter van Onselen uses many of the same tactics used by the Fox News Channel in the USA in his weekly programme The Contrarians on Sky News. Week after week the host leads carefully chosen panels to beat up on the government of Australia and the PM and anyone who challenges the dominant narratives and concerted campaigns the News Corporation is running against that the government. Over the two years there has been an unrelenting campaign to delegitimize the Prime Minister and have her replaced.
As early as April 2011, concern for patterns emerging on The Contrarians was such that a closer look was being taken at the style and content of the journalism and punditry being employed. Others who had been at first amused, later perplexed and eventually horrified by the offerings of the Fox News Channel were seeing similar patterns emerging on The Contrarians. There was a suggestion that Peter Van Onselen was using the strategies that made FNC a financial success but a disaster for ethical journalism and informed citizenry.
The first three chapters look at programs from April/May 2011 and identify tactics which might make good television, promote the media baron's agenda but diminish the quality of civil discourse and rational debate. They feature stacked panels, disrespect for other views, selected narratives, silenced opposition, exaggerated language, emotionally charged claims and disrespect for Australians who don't support the political agenda of those who control the media assets.
The second part of this narrative responds to programs separated by 12 months and covers a grieving process that travels through sadness, disappointment, pleading, anger and then despair. This takes the form of letters which contain what others may have said to Peter Van Onselen who in their view appears to be placing loyalty to his employer and the primacy of the bottom line of the corporation over loyalty to journalism and the valuable service it can provide a democratic society.
Part three looks at programs from August 2011 through to February 2012. The language becomes more extreme, the obsession to get rid of the Prime Minister becomes more irrational and less based on facts and evidence, and the disrespect for opposing views becomes more pronounced.
Part 4 pushes the boundaries to more unsavoury levels where a senior News Limited journalist can say to the Prime Minister in her absence and broadcasting to the world, "You lie" and can describe the treasurer of Australia as a parody of a human being. At one stage Van Onselen even disavows his profession and claims to be a commentator rather than a journalist. He's even starting to play the games that his colleagues at the Fox News Channel play about who is an opinion person and who is a hard news guy. In fact, others might say they are all projections of their Master's voice.
The Contrarians appears to be emulating its stable mate in the USA in bringing the worst of talk back radio and hate media, the art of replacing civil discussion of issues with personal attacks without any opportunity for the attacked victim to offer any defense, into the main stream.