There’s been high praise for the Saturday Paper. If you’ve been – as they say – living under a rock, I’d direct you to the paper’s twitter feed, where many of the comments are retweeted.
Unbeholden to 140 characters, let me try and capture the flavor of those tweets: the paper’s commentary is insightful and well-informed; it has a stable of some of Australia’s best writers working for it and it’s a welcome addition to the Fairfax/News Ltd duopoly that’s been one of the great scourges of Australian democracy.
I agree with all those sentiments.
Nonetheless, the Saturday Paper’s coverage of Israel’s assault on Gaza has been conspicuously, well, non-existent. As the death toll rises and more atrocities are committed, the Saturday Paper’s pages remain, to date, devoid of any comment.
One might consider this highly unusual. After all, it’s long been left to independent Left-wing media to support the Palestinian cause in the face of the grossly more powerful Israeli state and its supporters here in Australia. But for long-time readers of The Monthly, which, like the Saturday Paper, is published by Morry Schwartz, the coverage might not come as such a shock. (Mr. Schwartz also publishes Black Inc. and the Quarterly Essay.)
At the recent Wordstorm Festival in Darwin, John Van Tiggelan, former editor and now staff writer at The Monthly, said this:
…when you work at a small publication, it doesn’t matter if it was Graham Wood at the Global Mail or whether it’s Morry Schwartz at Black Inc. or The Monthly, you work very closely with the publisher and things do get spiked and you have raving rows about what goes through and what doesn’t and there are certain glass walls set by the publisher that you can’t go outside of and […] one of those is Palestine. I mean, it’s seen as a Left-wing publication, but the publisher is very Right-wing on Israel […] And he’s very much to the, you know, Benjamin Netanyahu end of politics. So, you can’t touch it; just don’t touch it. It’s a glass wall.
Robert Fisk, the brilliant Middle-East correspondent for the Independent, is fond of quoting the Haaretz journalist Amira Haas on the role of the media. ‘What journalism is really about,’ she says, ‘is to monitor powers and centres of power.’ There is, perhaps, nowhere in the world that this is more important than in the Middle-East, where the bellicose Israel – thanks to American backing – is grotesquely more powerful than its neighbours.
Here in Australia, the major parties refuse to rebuke Israel, even though in the current assault schools have been targeted and innocent children have been blown away while playing soccer on the beach. At the time of writing, some 1,300 Palestinians have been killed. It’s the responsibility of the media to protest this slaughter and challenge not just Israel but also the Australian government for tacitly supporting the bombardment.
Instead, one of Australia’s most important publishers says, according to Van Tiggelan, ‘just don’t touch it’. In principle this is no different to the Murdoch press’ universal support for the Iraq War (though the scale is smaller): top-down, institutionalised censorship based on the political beliefs of one individual. It’s fundamentally undemocratic and undermines the whole notion of a free press.
Morry Schwartz’s publications have done their best and most important work – on indigenous rights, climate change, asylum seeker policy – when they’re railing against those in power and struggling to achieve a more just society administered by more moral leaders. That’s what we’ve come to expect from them. But on Israel’s assault on the Palestinians, they remain shamefully silent.
This piece was originally published in Overland on 1 August, 2014.