Bob Gould, 2007

Media Monitors and information gathering
He was only doing his job, implies Sue Bolton and says Peter Murray

Source: Green Left Weekly discussion list, June 6, 2007
Proofreading, editing, mark-up: Steve Painter

The unjustified pressure on Dean Mighell to resign from the Labor Party, and the media witch-hunt against unions, attempting to marginalise them in the Labor Party, bring into the light of day questions that should alarm everyone in the workers’, Labor and socialist movements.

The clipping service, Media Monitors, whose clients include many trade union and labour movement organisations, appears to have a second line of business: recording meetings of workers’ organisations with an eye to selling critical material that may emerge at such meetings. It appears, on the face of it, that the highest bidder in the case of the Mighell recordings, and perhaps other material of significance, was the government watchdog on the building industry, the ABCC.

A number of building union sources suggest that there is some confusion as to whether the Mighell recording took place in a section of the meeting in which the union leadership authorised a media presence. The statements in the press of representatives of Media Monitors raise the question was to whether its clients also include employer groups and agencies of the Howard government.

It’s possible that these agencies include ASIO, etc, which are obvious potential clients for this sort of material. In the past, workers’ organisations were usually very careful about the privacy of their deliberations. The ALP rules in NSW still contain a provision that branch meetings cannot be attended by journalists in a working capacity, and media statements can only be made by the president and secretary after the meeting.

It seems obvious from the recent events that a certain lack of caution has crept into the practices of some parts of the trade union movement on these questions. The Mighell business is a salutory lesson as to why that ALP rule exists and why trade unions should be cautious about letting the media into their decision-making meetings, particularly in the current context, where the whole of the print media, and the bulk of the electronic media, are frantically beating up every story to somehow resurrect the Howard government’s re-election prospects.

It’s also vital to consider the current context. For the past few months the building unions, in particular, and militant unions in general, have been under the most intense pressure and scrutiny by the ruling class, with a particular focus on Victoria. It seems obvious that any socialist in Victoria working the media has a deep-rooted moral obligation to take such factors into account.

An important and difficult issue for serious socialists on these events is something that has just jumped out of the media. The man who actually recorded Mighell’s comments, if reports in the media are to be believed, is a minor figure on the far left, for some time and possibly currently a member of the Victorian executive of the Socialist Alliance, a bloke who has been around the left for a very long time.

Coincidentally, he is one of two or three surviving independents in the Socialist Alliance who doggedly defend the Boyle DSP leadership of the Socialist Alliance and from time to time he makes the odd rabidly anti-Labor speech at Alliance conferences. It emerges that this bloke has been an employee of Media Monitors for quite a while.

On the face of it, he’s not a journalist who writes a lot of copy. His main value to MM seems to be his abilities with a recorder, and possibly his practical access as a known member of the far left to all kinds of meetings and events where other journalists without such connections might find access somewhat more difficult. For instance, I’m told by a delegate in the Victorian CFMEU that for several years this bloke has regularly recorded delegates’ meetings of that union.

These circumstances obviously suggest that he may record delegates’ meetings of other unions on behalf of his employer, Media Monitors, which then onsells such material in a commercial way to its clients. It’s fairly obvious which clients may be interested in recordings of this kind.

In the Financial Review of June 5, in an article on page 7, on another matter, the following appears: “The tensions were fuelled by union claims last week that the ABCC had ‘secretly’ recorded a mass meeting at which Electrical Trades Union official Dean Mighell had bragged about pressuring employers to win pattern pay rises. Criticism of Mr Mighell’s expletive-strewn speech saw him forced out of the Labor Party by federal opposition leader Kevin Rudd.

“A commercial media monitoring firm, Media Monitors, has confirmed it recorded Mr Mighell’s speech last November, in its role of covering events based on their saleability amongst ‘existing clients and any industry groups’. ‘We turned up on spec’, said Media Monitors executive Gregg Aimes. ‘I’ve got no comment as to who it was actually sold to.’”

This report in the Financial Review extract reveals a large part of the current Media Monitors story. In Melbourne, at least, it has a lucrative sideline consisting of taping any significant meetings of workers’ organisations, into which they can get “on spec”, and then onselling the recordings to all interested parties. The man who does this kind of the taping for Media Monitors is a recognisable figure on the far left.

The question arises, and must be asked, whether this bloke also records public gatherings of the Socialist Alliance and other organisations, including the couple of big trade union gatherings that have been associated with the Socialist Alliance? Are they of interest “on spec” to his employers? Did he also record for his employer, Media Monitors, “on spec” major events addressed by Craig Johnson, who fell foul of the capitalist state?

Such material would obviously be of some interest to employers and other Media Monitors clients. In a comment on these events, Sue Bolton naively asks if the recording of workers’ meetings routinely takes place in other states, as it apparently does in Victoria. I’ve made some initial inquiries about this in NSW in the past few days and Media Monitors doesn’t appear to record union delegates’ meetings in NSW.

Perhaps there isn’t anyone available to Media Monitors in NSW with the kind of practical access to workers’ meetings that Media Monitors appears to have in Victoria. Under capitalism, workers and members of the middle class have to do many things to make a living and the rational tradition in the scientific socialist movement is not to moralise too much about how people are forced to, or even choose to, earn a crust.

Nevertheless, some jobs are clearly excluded for socialists, and for class-conscious workers. Most obviously, they shouldn’t join the police, work for ASIO and other secret police, etc.

Another question frequently arises in the labour movement, which is that of union officials being offered jobs by major capitalist concerns and employers as personnel officers, or human resources managers, as they are now so-called. Such crossovers are usually regarded in the labour movement as class desertion and such people are usually regarded as having excluded themselves from the workers’ movement.

A similar problem, in my view, arises from a certain type of industrial relations journalism and anti-Labor political journalism. No matter what their past background, industrial relations and political journalists who constantly attack the labour movement are generally regarded as having excluded themselves from the workers movement. In my considered view, it isn’t permissible from a socialist point of view for an active socialist to work in the capacity of chief recorder of workers’ meetings for Media Monitors with the knowledge, which he must have unless he deliberately closes his eyes, that delicate and sensitive material he obtains will be onsold by his employer to whoever pays the price, and the developments of the past week or so underline the importance of this point.

The man, Raven, on the Green Left discussion list, who libeled me without any evidence as an agent provocateur, in his comment on these events, muddies the water even further. Objectively he joins the witch-hunt against the trade unions in the Labor Party in repeating, with apparent approval, the attacks of the ruling class on officials of the ETU being selected as Labor candidates in Victoria and Queensland.

He also makes light of the activities of Media Monitors and Rehame in recording sensitive parts of workers’ meetings and onselling the recordings to their clients. The most recent comment on this question by Peter Murray seems to me a bit of a diversion. He attacks the bosses of Media Monitors for dropping one of its employees in it, as an invasion of his privacy.

That’s as may be, Media Monitors is possibly making a bit of a scapegoat of this bloke to cloud the issue of its routine information gathering activities in the workers’ movement. That, however, is not the central point, although it is important.

There are two issues in this series of events. One is the revelation of Media Monitors’ activities, and the other is the revelation of the apparent centrality to these activities of this bloke who has been around the left for a very long time. Painful though it may be, the fact that Media Monitors chose to drop the bloke in it, so to speak, is objectively speaking, quite useful because it gives us a dramatic insight into the new territory the whole of the workers movement is being forced into by the increasingly aggressive and barefaced information gathering activities of the ruling class.

The leadership of the Socialist Alliance, and the bloke in question, have a responsibility to the whole of the socialist and labour movement to explain these events.

Spin doctor Sue

June 6, 2007

Sue Bolton in her two contributions on the question of Media Monitors is engaged in what might kindly be called spin doctoring. Firstly, Bolton attributes to me something I didn’t say: that the bloke in question who taped the meetings “has crossed over and is a class traitor”.

I certainly did attempt to sketch out what socialists can reasonably do in the way of jobs, but I didn’t prejudge the issue concerning this bloke. I carefully asked some relevant questions, so Bolton is verballing me in this instance. The questions I asked remain relevant, and I think the key questions, and they have to be answered by the leadership of the Socialist Alliance and the bloke himself.

Bolton says in passing that she can confirm that the bloke is a member of the Socialist Alliance. Big deal, that was never in dispute. The question that I actually asked, by implication, is whether the bloke, at least up to Friday when the story broke, a member of the Victorian executive of the Socialist Alliance? Bolton should answer that implied question.

Bolton acts as a kind of attorney for the bloke, who should in fact speak for himself, and she recounts his version of events. Well, Dean Mighell and other militant union officials have a somewhat different version of events, one that’s different to Bolton’s and which she doesn’t adequately describe. Bolton baldly asserts that it’s only public parts of union meetings that are recorded, but of course the quoted union officials deny that, and some say that some tapes were obtained in a way not authorised by the union.

All that is in the public record in the newspapers. Useful clarity on these questions might be achieved by answering the following questions: 1. Has the bloke in question or Sue Bolton, or anyone else on behalf of the Socialist Alliance, had any direct communication with Dean Mighell and other affected union officials since last Friday, when the story broke? 2. What version of events have the bloke in question, and Bolton or other leading members of the Socialist Alliance, put to Mighell and other union officials, and what has been their response? It’s hard to plead privacy on these aspects of the events because the events are now very public and the radical and working class public is entitled to have a more comprehensive explanation than the bland spin of Bolton.

I stress here that I’m only asking reasonable questions, which should be answered, and I’m not prejudging the issue. I just want some answers to these questions. A further aspect of Bolton’s spin-doctoring is her second post, which has obviously been produced after a geeing up from someone in authority in the DSP. She tries to divert discussion of these concrete events into a general diatribe against Rudd and Gillard.

I agree with quite a bit of what she says on that matter, as I’ve said similar things in more cautious language in several places. But it’s pure spin to try to divert attention from the concrete questions raised about Media Monitors.

A further part of Bolton’s spin is her equation of my justifiable request that the curious man Raven withdraw his assertion that I’m an agent provocateur, with my carefully asked questions about these events concerning Media Monitors. I haven’t accused anyone of being an agent provocateur. I’ve simply asked questions that any experienced socialist has a right to ask and have answered.

Raven, on the other hand, made a despicable accusation against me without any evidence. Bolton and the bloke in the eye of the storm, so to speak, should answer the questions that I’ve raised above.

Abuse and forced indignation

June 7, 2007

I’m fascinated by the outburst of abuse and rather forced indignation at the legitimate questions I’ve asked about two things: the apparently recent practice of Media Monitors of recording workers’ meetings with an eye to onselling the recordings to clients who clearly don’t have trade union interests at heart, and the apparent role in this procedure of a bloke who is figure in the Socialist Alliance.

None of my questions have been answered, I’ve just been subjected to a torrent of abuse, which speaks volumes about the political approach of all the people involved. Something very interesting to me is the considerable hostility to Dean Mighell that is emerging in several of the contributions.

While weeping crocodile tears about the treatment of Mighell by Rudd, a number of contributors blithely imply that he’s not telling the truth about the events. Rohan Gaiswinkler and the man who has serially slandered me, Raven, both imply that Mighell is not telling the truth, and Peter Murray comes straight out and says he’s not telling the truth.

Well, up to Friday of last week, when the story broke, the DSP leadership apparently thought Mighell was telling the truth. In an article in the current Green Left Weekly, obviously written before last Friday, peddling the DSP’s Third Period line on the Labor Party, titled “Don’t be fooled by the two-party con trick”, Graeme Matthews has this to say, in passing: “Responding to illegally taped comments by Dean Mighell, Victorian Electrical Trades Union secretary, to a delegates’ meeting last year on the success of pattern bargaining, Gillard said: ‘That’s not what Labor’s policy is about.’”

The question of the role of Media Monitors as an organisation that collects information about the workers movement with an eye to selling it to commercial clients that are hostile to the labour movement is pretty important in the current reactionary political climate. So, also, is the apparent involvement of a personality in the Socialist Alliance in the activities of Media Monitors in this respect.

These are important questions that won’t go away. Engage in as much spin as you like, and pour as much abuse on me and, to a lesser extent Marcus Strom, as you like, but these questions still won’t go away. You can also start questioning Dean Mighell’s veracity, if you like, as some contributors have done, but my instinct is that you’ll pay a big political price if you choose to go very far down that path.

These very important questions require an adequate and concrete reply on the circumstances surrounding the activities of Media Monitors and the particular circumstances surrounding the meeting last November, and I await a proper reply to my questions.

Spinners should get their story straight

June 7, 2007

People engaged in spin, particularly those like the verbally abusive Peter Murray, should at least try to get their story straight and be fairly careful about how they organise their arguments. The blustering Peter Murray asserts: “At some point, the meeting went from public to private. It was not made clear when, but the ETU is mistaken in its claim that the [meeting] was not open to the media.”

How does Murray know all that? He wasn’t there, so he must be relying on somebody else’s say so, possibly his friend who did the recording. Well, if he was interested in trying to sort out what actually happened, he could go and read the whole of Dean Mighell’s speech, which is on the Media Monitors website.

It’s quite clear from Mighell’s remarks that he doesn’t believe the media are present, but he has a suspicion that somebody else is recording the meeting, and we now know who that was.

Further in his contribution, again presumably relying on his anonymous informant, Murray claims that at no stage did Mighell say that the section of the meeting open to the media was over. I prefer to believe Mighell’s account of events rather than rely on Murray’s anonymous informant, but that’s all speculation on Murray’s part and on my part.

This could easily be cleared up if the bloke who did the taping, and/or Sue Bolton, answered my very reasonable questions on these events: have they had any contact with Dean Mighell or other ETU officials since the story broke on Friday, and what did Mighell or the other officials say to them and what did Bolton and the bloke say to Mighell?

In that kind of face-to-face situation it’s likely that some sort of clarity would have emerged about what actually happened. The left and labour movement public have a right to know what happened. Certainly, when Graeme Matthews wrote his article in Green Left Weekly he accepted Dean Mighell’s account of events. I find the attacks on Mighell by ostensible leftists such as Murray and Raven, when he’s under attack from the right in all its forms, deeply offensive as a socialist.

The venom and hysteria people like Murray are directing against me for asking legitimate questions from a socialist point of view underlines just how bizarre this series of events is becoming.

I ask a further question based on Raven’s attack on ETU officials as part of “Hard Labor” and his defence of Media Monitors. Is it seriously being proposed that socialists should treat as normal media activity that Media Monitors, via their representative, should routinely go “on spec” as the Media Monitors manager put it, to meetings of workers’ organisations to record material to onsell to their clients, many of which are vicious opponents of the labour movement?

It’s also worth saying that all of this is happening in the context of sustained attack on the labour movement by all of the forces of reaction in this country. The leaders of the Socialist Alliance would be better served by providing a sensible answer on this matter, rather than relying on Murray’s verbal abuse of me in the hope that this matter will somehow go away.