Wednesday, October 14, 2009


Therefore, we encourage diversity of opinion on ths issue

The host of the ABC TV's Media Watch, Jonathan Holmes, responds to the TEAM UZUNOV story: ABC-Fairfax hissy fit at Afghan news.


“ABC and Fairfax big name reporters spit the dummy over not being able to navigate through Afghan warzone without a helping hand from the ADF...”

Not on Media Watch, they didn’t. No ABC journalist was quoted complaining about ADF media policy on our program. Nor was ABC News. The only ‘big name journalist” who was quoted was Ian McPhedran, defence correspondent for News Ltd. And he was complaining about the lack of access to Australian troops on the ground, not about his inability to ‘navigate through Afghan warzones”.

The same complaint as John Martinkus makes in his New Matilda piece.

Paul McGeough, who you so snidely deride, has probably spent more time in the “Afghan war zone” – and in Iraq, for that matter – than any other Australian journalist – including you. The fact that he doesn’t have a military background is to my mind entirely irrelevant.

- Jonathan Holmes


Thank your for your prompt and frank reply..

But asking Paul McGeough why he didnt volunteer for military service is highly relevant, much in the same way we would scrutinise medical doctors, mechanics, etc over their "qualifications."

The general public has an interest in the issue, which is why it keeps me in print and above the poverty-line! (freelanceer's attempt at humour!)

It only seems journalists without actual military experience who oppose such scrutiny. If it is irrelevant why not put it to the test? Why not ask the public?

Why do certain sections of the media, namely ABC Media Watch, avoid this issue? Is it because by opening up this debate to the public that big name reporters at the ABC will have their lucrative business of writing books and appearing on television threantened?

Furthermore, when McGeough refuses to answer the question put to him but then complains when politicians deny him information it is hypocritical. It is a case of wanting to have his cake and eat it too.

Mate (Jonathan Holmes), you're a big name ABC reporter and you sounded as though you were upset at the ADF denying reporters info....Therefore my story is correct...

I can supply you previously published stories with quotes from your former colleagues Chris Masters and Max Uechtritz and their "views" on military service....


MEDIA WATCH (Jonathan Holmes): News Ltd is not the same as Fairfax. Or hadn’t you noticed?

TEAM UZUNOV: I wasnt focusing on News Ltd but Fairfax.... You're forgetting Cynthia Banham's gabfest at ANU..

Thanks for your email Sasha. I appreciate your perspective.


Tuesday, October 13, 2009



By Sasha Uzunov

Australia’s big name journalists who write on defence and national security issues have the double advantage of making a lot of money as well as indirectly influencing government policy but without having to face the electors.

However, in recent times certain sections of the media have been chucking a hissy fit at the Australian Defence Forces and its public relations arm for allegedly denying journalists access to combat troop operations in Afghanistan.

Johanthan Holmes got on his very high moral horse on the ABC TV’s Media Watch: “By contrast, until this year, the Australian Defence Force only permitted what the media derisively calls 'bus trips' - a few days on the ground, most of them spent on heavily fortified bases, escorted at all times by an officer from Defence Public Affairs.

Self appointed Defence Expert Cynthia Banham, who wears two hats as a Fairfax journalist and as an academic at the ANU, is organizing a taxpayer-funded gabfest with the usual suspects, such as Paul McGeough, to bemoan:

“The Australian Defence Force, for instance, uses its own photographers and video operators to create the images it prefers. These then get posted on the ADF website where the public can access them directly, in the process cutting out the traditional news reporters who might have taken a more objective view of whatever story the ADF is trying to push.”

All of this indicates that not all is well with the current crop of big name “war reporters” who because they have no previous military training are having a difficult time in navigating through a war zone. Should the taxpayer pick up the tab for reporters who make a killing, pardon the pun, in writing books, appearing on television and symposiums but who refuse to open up Australia’s defence debate and allow the taxpayer a voice?

Respected journalist and author Phillip Knightley in a brutally honest manner revealed:

“…we allowed those with a vested interest to exaggerate the terrorist threat. Counter-terrorism has proved a boom business, providing thousands of new jobs for security and intelligence officers, surveillance and forensic experts - and, yes, authors and journalists. All of these naturally tend to paint any threat in strong colours, because it is in their professional and financial interests to do so.” link:

Richard Farmer, a former ALP strategist, was hired in the early 1990s as a lobbyist by Australia’s Macedonian community to convince the Australian Federal government to recognise The Republic of Macedonia under its consititutional name. Neighbouring Greece had and still does object to that name. At a meeting at the Macedonian Community Centre in Epping, Melbourne, Farmer explained to his audience, largely made up of migrants who spent decades working in factories, Australia’s political process.

“Politicians are interested in only two things. They want to be elected and then re-elected.”

You could say that Farmer’s brilliant maxim, which people with low English language skills can clearly understand, still holds true. Politicians need the oxygen of publicity to achieve election and then re-election. Therefore, whatever big name journalists report or do not report has enormous influence. This would also apply to shaping government policy, namely on defence and national security issues.

It is the tax payer who eventually has to pick up the tab but journalists do not have to face the electors every 3 or 4 years.--power without scrutiny you might say. Commercial television stations are required to pay for a broadcast licence from the Commonwealth, that is they rent the airwaves from the landlord, the Australian public. But we know that the “tennant” holds more power than the “landlord.”

The media, both commerical and public owned, have in recent times scrutinized servants of the Crown: politicians who receive campaign donations, police officers and soldiers who take a leave of absence to work a second job as private security advisers in Iraq and Afghanistan. Should we not also examine currently employed public media journalists, those from the ABC and SBS, who take on second jobs and influence defence and national security policy? First and foremost, there is nothing immoral or unethical in a journalist, who is paid tax payer dollars, from using their initiative and creating a niche for themselves. But we have to look at whether the tax payer gets value for money.

In the past Australian soldiers and Air Force fighter pilots were required to serve a miniumum amount of years in order to pay off their training. Soldiers who undertook expensive training courses incurred a Return of Service Obligation (ROSO) and had to serve more than their allotted minimum to pay back the Commonwealth.

Trying to extract information from ABC and SBS journalists is like having your sore wisdom teeth pulled: its is very painfull but very necessary. In trying to discuss defence and national security issues over the past couple of years I have encountered either silence or a haughty manner from our public funded journalists.

Media tough guy Peter Charley has a reputation for speaking his mind. As Executive Producer of ABC TV program Lateline in 2006 he issued this statement to me over my criticism of why Lateline was reluctant to open up Australia’s defence debate:

“It is neither wise nor clever to suggest that "little ol' Lateline” is "afraid" to have anyone on the program…” (Friday 13 January 2006, email).

The rhetorical question is why is it not wise or clever?

I had observed that Lateline had only used one Australian journalist with actual military experience to comment on defence issues and that was legendary newsman Gerald Stone, the founding producer of Australia’s version of 60 Minutes on the Nine Network in 1979 and a former US Army officer. You would think that Stone would have been utilized more often and other journalists with military experience given a chance to speak on Lateline.

Sally Neighbour is an award winning ABC TV journalist with the Four Corners program who also writes for the commercially owned The Australian newspaper on terrorism and is an author of “In the Shadow of Swords.” Sally, who has no previous military, policing or security experience, also lectures on the lucrative public speaker circuit. In October 2007 at Monash University she thundered from her pulpit:

“I have to say I tire of people complaining that the media makes Muslims look bad, makes all Muslims look like terrorists. It may sound trite to say this, but the media didn't crash those planes or bomb those nightclubs. Militant Islamists did it, and they did it invoking the name of Islam. The media doesn't make Muslims look bad. Terrorists who kill civilians while shouting "Allah Akhbar" make Muslims look bad.”

We can safely conclude that Sally's expertise comes from her time as an ABC journalist, that is at the taxpayer's expense. We do not know whether the ABC, that is the taxpayer, receives a slice from her second income.

Then there is Peter Hartcher, a Fairfax journalist and strategic analyst with the Lowy Institute think tank, who boasts of his political influence: “He has been called twice to testify as an expert witness to Federal Parliamentary inquiries into Australia's relations in the Asia-Pacific and commissioned to write essays on Asia for the Washington-based foreign policy journal The National Interest.

Not forgetting Greg Sheridan of The Australian newspaper:“Greg Sheridan is the most influential foreign affairs commentator in Australia. A veteran of over 30 years in the field, he has written five books and is a frequent commentator on Australian and international radio and TV.”

Freedom of speech is a valuable commodity and a two way street. If big name reporters from the ABC, SBS or Fairfax have a special licence to investigate, then that should also apply to humble freelancers, bloggers and the average Australian tax payer.

But it would appear that is not the case. Where ABC, SBS and Fairfax reporters believe they have a god-given right to go into war zones and stick cameras and microphones into people’s faces and on themselves wearing flak jackets to get the story, trying to scrutinise the credentials of these reporters is almost impossible.

I have emailed Paul McGeough of the Sydney Morning Herald newspaper asking him why he had never volunteered for military service in his youth considering his enthusiasm, passion and “expertise” in covering war but never got a response. Perhaps my question is more dangerous than facing a Taliban bullet or IED (Improvised Explosive Device)!

McGeough in defence of his “own freedom of speech” told the ABC:“If our government is eavesdropping on people's phone conversations and on their email, without having a warrant, without any check or balance in the system, I think we have a right to know. I think we have a right to debate it.”

What Jonathan Holmes and Cynthia Banham need to do is not blame the ADF when the media itself is too afraid to open up Australia’s defence debate.

Only one man is the exception and that is brave John Martinkus, who has been able to navigate his way through a battlefield without help from the Australian Defence Force.

In a thought provoking story for New Matilda: (What Does The Australian Military Have To Hide?) Martinkus tells of his frustration at being denied access to speak to Australian troops on camera in Afghanistan. Having been to Afghanistan myself I can empathise with Martinkus but also understand that the ADF's micro-management of the news flow is because during the Vietnam War the Australian Army got its fingers severely burnt and soldiers' lives were destroyed by a bogus Viet Cong water torture story that was not true.

It propelled reporter John Sorrell to fame and fortune whilst Vietnam Veterans were tarred with the brush of brutal savages.


Saturday, October 10, 2009



By Sasha Uzunov

South Australia’s Premier Mike Rann has literally been in the wars lately and the media spinners have done the best to paint him as a man of peace but the feisty politician has a radical past where he took on the likes of the French security forces in the 1970s.

Rann, born in 1953, chose to join environmental group Greenpeace in New Zealand in the early 1970s and battle French nuclear testing in the South Pacific region instead of joining the New Zealand military and fight in Vietnam as a rite of passage into young male adulthood.

(We are not referring to any National Service scheme but enlisting voluntarily in the regular New Zealand armed forces)

He was a member of NZ Greenpeace’s ruling body and as a backroom general plotted the sending of ship Greenpeace III to Mururoa Atoll, a French possession in the Pacific, in 1972. This involved the ship trespassing into French territorial waters and tangling with the French authorities to stop nuclear testing.

France, a traditional ally of Australia, has been invaded during two world wars by Germany, and as a reaction to its vulnerability created in the 1950s what it calls Force de frappe, a nuclear weapons deterrent.

Anyone or any organization interfering with France’s nuclear program in the Pacific is seen as a direct threat upon its territorial sovereignty. In 1985 French intelligence agents bombed and sank the Greenpeace ship, Rainbow Warrior, in Auckland, New Zealand in retaliation in this undeclared war. One activist was killed.

France was condemned for the bombing.

In 1978 Australia passed the CRIMES (FOREIGN INCURSIONS AND RECRUITMENT) ACT, which forbids Australian citizens or residents from entering foreign states and in engaging in hostile activities. TEAM UZUNOV explicitly states that Premier Rann broke no Australian law.

French sources have revealed that since becoming a middle of the road politician, Premier Rann has not made a formal apology to the French state for his anti-nuclear activities.

“We don’t now see him as an enemy of France and accept his youthful radical past,” the source said. “But for the sake of good diplomatic relations between our two countries it would be a step in the right direction if he apologized for his anti-French activities.”

Rann was born in England and immigrated to New Zealand with his family before moving to Australia in the mid 1970s to work for Don Dunstan, the colorful reformist minded ALP Premier of South Australia.

His father served with the British army during World War II and fought at El Alamein.

Premier Rann is married to Sasha Carruozzo, an actress and Greens party member.

A response will be sought from Premier Rann in the next few days.


Thursday, October 08, 2009


Victoria Barracks, Melbourne, vandalised with anti-Afghan War slogans. Photos copyright Sasha Uzunov 2009.



Photos taken Thursday, 8 October 2009 at 4pm.

In eerie overtones of the controversial Vietnam War (1962-72) where opponents targeted war memorials and military installations, anti-Afghan War graffiti was daubed all over the front wall of the historic Victoria Army Barracks in the heart of Melbourne, Australia

The slogans in white paint read: WHITE WASH, 8 YEARS TO(O) LONG, TROOPS OUT.

A small protest was held outside the gates of Victoria Barracks with no more than 5 or so people.

Victorian State Police were seen confiscating blue buckets with white paint. It is not known if any arrests were made or who had vandalised the historic bluestone walls of Victoria Barracks, which contains no combat troops.

Three protestors, two dressed in white jump suits and a beared gentleman held a media conference at the front gate. The bearded man said that "Afghan was becoming another Vietnam."


Friday, October 02, 2009

Afghan dress code
By Sasha Uzunov - Wednesday, 30 September 2009

An extraordinary war of words has erupted in the Canadian press over the controversial issue of Islamic dress for women in Afghanistan and Western involvement or interference, depending on your political point of view, in that country.

Highly decorated war reporter Scott Taylor, who is a staunch critic of American involvement in the Kosovo, Iraq and Afghanistan wars, has fired a powerful broadside at Canadian colleague Rosie DiManno over whether western journalists should “when in Rome do as the Romans do,” that is dress according to Afghan Islamic custom.

He wrote: “I also understand that being a western female journalist in such an Islamic fundamentalist society would pose an even steeper cultural hurdle to overcome. On the flip side of that, the entrenched and firmly enforced divide between the sexes in that part of the world makes it all but impossible for a male foreign reporter to get any sense of a female Afghan viewpoint.

“That said, I do take issue with those foreigners, reporters included, who feel no compulsion to conform to Afghan societal rules while they are visiting. In particular, a recent column by the Toronto Star’s Rosie DiManno piqued my ire for her blatant condescension and disregard for local customs.

“Playing, no doubt, to the feminist sympathies of her Canadian readers, DiManno paints herself as a crusader for religious and gender freedoms. To those of us familiar with the cultural sensitivity and fierce pride of the Afghans, DiManno instead simply comes across as an oafish boor.”

Taylor, who was taken hostage by Islamic terrorist group Ansar al-Islam in Iraq in 2004 and survived to tell the story, is no fuddy-duddy. Having traveled with him to the Balkans, Iraq and Afghanistan as his cameraman/photographer I can attest to his open mindedness and genuine curiosity in going beyond the spin.

At issue here is whether female journalists who visit Afghanistan should cover up their bodies? Speaking from a male reporter’s view I can only say that in my two trips to Afghanistan I have grown a beard and worn Afghan attire for security reasons and for not wanting to offend the local people. Because of my dark features, my parents are Macedonian migrants to Australia; I was constantly mistaken for an Afghani and once barred from entering an English pub in Kabul, the Afghan capital!

Also, having been invited to meals by our Afghani hosts we would sit on the floor cross legged, something I am not used to. Taylor writes: “While our western laws are completely liberal when it comes to dress codes (which allow clothing optional beaches, etc), our society still self-regulates what is appropriate attire in business, casual or formal surroundings. If someone comes to my house, I would not expect I would have to "accommodate" their nakedness because they profess to be a nudist, nor would I allow them to defecate on my lawn because they claim to be environmentally conscious. This would not make me a bad host. It would simply make them an outrageously rude guest.”

The dress code issue is very sensitive because of the underlying treatment of Afghani women. SBS TV Dateline reporter, Sophie McNeill has been strident in her reporting of the lowly status of women in her article “In Karzai's Afghanistan, Women Are Dirt” on September 10, 2009, she says:

“The Karzai Administration continues to treat women like second class citizens. So what, exactly, are we fighting for? “Allegations of electoral fraud linger, but the recent presidential election in Afghanistan has been declared a resounding victory for Hamid Karzai over his nearest rival, former foreign minister Dr Abdullah Abdullah. For many Afghani women, however, it didn't really matter which of these men won - because it seems that whoever rules this country, they are condemned to lives of pain and suffering.” It is a very brave article from McNeill. The dilemma for journalists is if they criticise Afghani customs they are seen as interfering or arrogant, if they remain silent they endorse mistreatment.