Barr's hatred of media is driving a dangerous message
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Barr's hatred of media is driving a dangerous message

There are few obvious points of similarity between Andrew Barr and Donald Trump, but a now-declared hatred of journalists and contempt for traditional media is one.

The chief minister's directive for his government to stop talking to this newspaper and other journalists and its implicit push towards controlled messaging and social media comes at precisely the time such avenues have been found wanting as instruments for democracy.

Mr Barr says he is "over" dealing with the mainstream media - especially The Canberra Times - and wants the city's communications businesses to help him "completely overhaul" how government shares what it does with the public.

To make his case against an independent, established media, Mr Barr attempted to malign our readers as a narrow and irrelevant sub-set of Canberrans based on print circulation figures. But he omitted this key fact - The Canberra Times has more readers now that at any time in its 92-year history.

Three quarters of Canberrans older than 14 read this newspaper in print or online and they will know well the part it plays in public interest journalism and holding Mr Barr's government to account.

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They will know its pivotal role in securing a deal for Mr Fluffy homeowners. They will know it is why any of the government's questionable land deals have come to light.

They will know it is only through this newspaper that they have learned of the years of violence and abuse inside the Bimberi youth detention centre.

It is through this newspaper they learned the government's rationale for light rail is propped up by assumed land value increases and that the public transport case is marginal at best.

These are just a few fairly recent reasons for Andrew Barr to resent journalism in the city he governs.

But his attitudes are not new. He has revealed them in moments of pique as far back as his days as a junior minister. At times and after unfavourable stories he has temporarily blocked journalists - including all Canberra Times reporters - from viewing his social media posts and used his Twitter biography to taunt "lazy journalists".

He has lashed out at this newspaper over its pursuit of the full list of Mr Fluffy homes, even when it meant contradicting his own department's advice that its release was in the public interest. Two years ago he told an estimates hearing he "took great pleasure" in cancelling his newspaper subscription.

But what makes last week's leaked comments extraordinary is that they reveal publicly his desire and efforts to shape government policy to his personal, long-held enmity.

His hopes this newspaper will close down, and his vision of citizens hearing presumably only good news from his ever expanding communications teams, betrays a disturbing world view.

What frustrates him about the "filter" of journalism are the essential checks on power that democracy needs of a free press.Because of what he has said, Canberrans now have every reason to be suspicious of this chief minister and his government, the things it tells them and the things it seeks to keep hidden.

The Canberra Times is sorry the chief minister hates journalists and what we do. But our readers should know this: your newspaper will fulfil its duty in this city long after Mr Barr's time in power is over - and it will continue to do so in the interests of the public, not the politician.

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