Barr's media 'brain snap' likened to views espoused by Joh Bjelke-Petersen

Barr's media 'brain snap' likened to views espoused by Joh Bjelke-Petersen

ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr's comment that he "hates journalists" has been labelled a "brain snap" and likened to views once espoused by the disgraced former Queensland premier, the late Joh Bjelke-Petersen.

Mr Barr told an audience of communications professionals in Canberra last week that he "hates journalists" and was "over dealing with the mainstream media" to communicate with constituents.

Chief Minister Andrew Barr, whose comment that he apparently "hates journalists" has been labelled a "brain snap".

Chief Minister Andrew Barr, whose comment that he apparently "hates journalists" has been labelled a "brain snap".

Photo: Dion Georgopoulos

In the comments, leaked to The Canberra Times, Mr Barr also criticised the ABC and laid out plans for his government to try to bypass the "mainstream media".

Mr Barr and his ministers, Yvette Berry, Meegan Fitzharris, Mick Gentleman, Rachel Stephen-Smith, Gordon Ramsay and Shane Rattenbury, issued a joint statement, saying they respected the job journalists did, in providing news and analysis, and weren't seeking to subvert that.

However, they said where there was "concentrated media ownership, such as in Canberra, it is beholden on media outlets to accurately and fairly report, without prosecuting their own agendas".


Griffith University political analyst Professor Paul Williams said he was "very surprised" to hear such rhetoric about the media from a leader of a mainstream Australian political party.

Professor Williams said that while he expected such comments from a "fringe-dwelling populist" trying to attract votes in "the backblocks of Queensland or Tasmania", he expected it would attract few friends in Canberra, given the capital's higher average level of education.

"Our own Joh Bjelke-Petersen used to say the same sort of things about the media, that life would be great for him if he could just get rid of the news media, but I think [Mr Barr's] comments show the media in Canberra is doing its job," he said.

"Voters and news consumers in the ACT should be feeling assured that their Chief Minister seems to be feeling the heat."

Professor Williams said Canberra was "not unique" in tensions that often arose between politicians and the media, but that "you don't see [Victorian Premier] Daniel Andrews or [Queensland Premier] Annastacia Palaszczuk saying they hate journalists".

"It's hard to think of even Tony Abbott using that sort of terminology. It's quite more than unexpected, it's basically reprehensible from a politician that's meant to be in the centre of the spectrum," he said.

A tweet urging Mr Barr to take the advice of South Australian Premier Jay Weatherill and stop attacking journalists, as "it never ends well", was even retweeted by Mr Weatherill himself.

Greens crossbencher Caroline Le Couteur, who is a "seven-day-a-week Fairfax subscriber even though I get it free at the office", said independent journalism was critical to a functioning democracy.

She said it was "good" Mr Barr wanted to reach audiences outside that of The Canberra Times' readership and ABC viewers, but was critical of Mr Barr's perceived attempts to bypass critical analysis.

"We need journalists who do more than just publish press releases," Ms Le Couteur said.

"Most people don't have the time, energy or resources to go through everything and do critical analysis for themselves.

"It takes real time and we've got to pay for it somehow because it's essential to government functioning."

Ms Le Couteur also hit out at Mr Barr's apparent dismissal of the views of older Canberrans, saying that even people over 60 years old were important and "the most rapidly growing demographic in the ACT".

University of Melbourne political scientist Dr Andrea Carson, a lecturer in media and politics, said Mr Barr shunned traditional media "at his own peril".

She said most successful political communicators drew on a combination of interpersonal and broadcast media to talk to voters, citing Pauline Hanson, Jacqui Lambie and Malcolm Turnbull "pre-election" as good examples.

"Even though traditional media audiences are declining individually, they're still large audiences coming together. ABC News has 1.2 million viewers on a Sunday night, and as a single large audience, that's immense for Australia," Dr Carson said.

She said using stakeholder groups and citizen juries as communication tools were fine, "but you're still getting a great deal of fragmentation".

She said using different many platforms to speak directly to people required "a lot of resources and skill", and Mr Barr's push to avoid the "filter" of journalists by broadcasting direct to social media could backfire.

"You're assuming a great deal of control that isn't there," Dr Carson said.

"It can go viral or be attenuated and changed in a way politicians may not preempt.

"We've all seen examples of corporate messages backfiring. His comments display a degree of naivety or arrogance."

Dr Carson said it was even more difficult for a message to stay on point in the "great frontier of social media", where fake and real news often sit side by side.

"Denigrating professional journalists who've traditionally held that gatekeeping role brings us into a new frontier which can be quite ugly sometimes. The Chief Minister should be careful what he wishes for," Dr Carson said.

ACT Opposition Leader Alistair Coe said Mr Barr's comments seemed to reflect a "wider born to rule mentality" seemingly held by the Barr government, labelling the Chief Minister a "little dictator" on Sky News.

He said the comments were just the latest in a string of attacks on people including seniors, those "struggling with the cost of living" and anyone who questioned or criticised the government's policies or decisions.


Former Canberra Times journalist and Nine political editor Chris Uhlmann said "far greater political minds than his have grappled with the torture of dealing with the mainstream media and decided it was central to a healthy democracy".

"When the last, irritating, journalist is sacked and when the last masthead closes, does Mr Barr imagine his already underscrutinised government will be improved?" Uhlmann asked.

Daniel Burdon is a reporter for The Canberra Times

Katie Burgess is a reporter for the Canberra Times, covering ACT politics.

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