Sunday, May 26, 2013

The Age digs its grave, not a tunnel

THOSE who reside in less fortunate parts of our great nation, which is to say everyone who does not live in Melbourne, may not be terribly interested in this post, which concerns one of those parish-pump issues whose ability to raise hackles diminishes in direct relation to observers’ distance from the epicentre of fuss. That said, quite a few universal truths are crystallising in the darkening blue over the Napthine government’s plans for an inner city East-West road tunnel, insights directly relevant to all who must live with the consequences of what the project’s opponents like to present as enlightened urban planning. This involves more bicycles and buses, needless to say.

The first insight to be gained from the current flap is the need to revamp the social sciences’ hierarchy of rubbish disciplines. Formerly, it could be assumed that the prime purpose of social work, at the very bottom of the heap, was to calm the career anxieties of those too dim to become teachers. The escalating tunnel spat has now demonstrated that town planners occupy an even lower rung, and a more political one, than both of those tax-gobbling sources of excuses for failure and diminishing returns.

The second – and this does not need to be mentioned, come to think of it – is that the Fairfax press will always allow its writers to filter and distort their reporting in accordance with personal prejudice and preconception. Let us take today’s reporting by Age state political editor Josh Gordon as an example. Notice the ellipses he has inserted in the passage below:

In its November 2011 submission to Infrastructure Australia, the government suggested that the road link would significantly benefit motorists using Hoddle Street, allowing traffic banked up along the Eastern Freeway to flow more freely.

''The east-west link … is aimed at … reducing traffic on Melbourne's inner urban arterial roads, especially at the Hoddle Street exit on the Eastern Freeway,'' the submission said.
Well here, in full, is what the report actually says. The bits in bold represent the few words Gordon chose to use:

The East West Link, in combination with other transport network initiatives, will support the longterm sustainable growth and development of Melbourne, and have state-wide benefits. The project is aimed at:

  • providing an alternative to the M1 corridor (Monash Freeway – CityLink Tunnels – West Gate Bridge – West Gate Freeway);
  • reducing traffic on Melbourne's inner urban arterial roads, especially at the Hoddle Street exit on the Eastern Freeway;
  • linking industry in Melbourne's north, east and west with national and international markets via the Port of Melbourne, and Tullamarine and Avalon Airports; and
  • enhancing urban renewal and commercial development opportunities to the north and west of the CBD.
Contrary to the impression the Age’s account seems determined to create, that document does not pitch the East-West tunnel as the solution to Hoddle Street’s woes, which can be very woeful indeed at peak traffic periods, but as a remedy for the bottleneck that develops every morning when five lanes of vehicles from Eastern Freeway pour into the narrow, cyclist-infested streets of North Fitzroy.  The picture below represents any typical morning on Alexandra Parade, into which the Eastern Freeway empties.

 Gordon does note that, even so, a study supervised by Sir Rod Eddington estimated that the East-West tunnel would reduce Hoddle Street congestion by as much as 20 per cent, some 18,0000 vehicles a day, which might strike the unbiased eye as a worthwhile improvement. To Gordon, however, it is “only” 20 per cent and to be mentioned merely in passing.

Some time ago, a professional journalist dropped a line to the Billabong to note that space is an issue on the published page and that telling details sometimes fail to make to the cut for no reason more sinister than a lack of space. Point taken! But surely, as he selectively assembled his case against the sensible proposal to link one freeway, the Eastern, with another, the Westgate, Gordon could have noted the existence of those other arguments for a tunnel, even if he lacked the space to describe them in full. It would have required only a few words, something like "...while other arguments for the tunnel have been advanced...."

Instead, readers were treated to a double helping of ellipses and another example of why, in tabloid form or broadsheet, The Age cannot be trusted to report the truth.



  1. Elizabeth (Lizzie) B.May 26, 2013 at 2:24 PM

    More selective reporting from Fairfax, and yes, Prof, you are right to highlight the extent to which many professions, not just the 'helping' ones, now take their intellectual lead from the left.

    Melbourne, Melbourne, a nice enough place to visit and stay for a while, but I do miss Sydney, where making a right-hand turn does not defeat me and cause me to plan very circuitous journeys to avoid that imperilling prospect.

    I do give Melbourne a bonus for trees though. Not the silly sort of bushes that impede the beautiful views that may otherwise be available to cheer and comfort the spirits of bay side drivers and assist the financial burden of loss thus imposed on the good citizens owning properties now sadly lacking their previous delightful aspects; that happens all too often in Sydney too. What I am referencing are the wonderful Elms in the Fitzroy Gardens, avenues of such World Heritage value, given what has happened to other Elms of the world, that they should be declared immediate National Treasures.

  2. Precisely, Bunyip: The Age can no longer be trusted to report the truth. In the olden days, the journalist's craft -- and even his passion -- was to find out and write about stuff that someone didn't want you to know about. That was the beginning and end of it; that was the philosophy that delivered newspapers readers: they couldn't afford NOT to buy your newspaper because they might miss something. And when it came to political stories, information was delivered dead-eye straight as a matter of pride among peers.

    The corruption of professional ethics now being practised in the liberal media in general and at Fairfax in particular is that journalists are being allowed, even encouraged to run political agendas in their reporting, which means deliberately distorting information to serve a personal prejudice. (In this case, it's public transport good; cars bad. Ooga booga.)

    This means that readers cannot trust journalists to tell the truth, as you say, and have to read The Age, for example, like Soviet citizens used to read Pravda when it was the official organ of state: what are they really saying here? What is the agenda?

    And yet, Fairfax management insists there is no problem at all.

    At a time when newspapers are bleeding revenue, the last thing they can afford to be doing is speeding up the process by destroying the credibility of their product. And Fairfax is a global leader in this category: