[author]Story and photo by Luis Feliu[/author]
Veteran journalist Alex Mitchell singled out two of the institutions he once admired for a severe caning when he launched his memoir Come The Revolution at a packed function in Murwillumbah last week.
The respected journalist, who retired to the Tweed Valley with his wife Judith White several years ago, told a captive audience of around 100 people at Murwillumbah Services Memorial Club that the Australian Labor Party (ALP) and the Murdoch press had both sunk irrevocably into disrepute and become part of the ‘system’ he now loathed and fought against.
Mr Mitchell, an occasional writer for The Echo, said the ALP had changed for the worse over the years and was no longer the reformist party that he, his parents and grandparents had grown up with as ‘true believers’.
He recalled the time when the Labor Party under Arthur Caldwell contained 26 different professions ‘but now they only have six’.
As an example of how the party had lost its way, he described the debate over same-sex marriage which took up a big slice of media attention and debate at last weekend’s ALP national conference as a ‘waste of time’, as the policy should have been adopted ‘50 years ago’.
He said the ALP was now run by the right-wing faction which was more interested in its own power and was easily influenced by big business to the extent where ‘foreign mining interests can get their way and in fact got rid of Rudd’ when the former prime minister proposed a super profits tax on them.
But it was the influence of media mogul Rupert Murdoch, who gave him his first big break in the heady world of metropolitan journalism nearly half a century ago, which he reserved for a special bucketing.
Mr Mitchell said that when he started working with Murdoch’s News Ltd in the early 1960s, first with the Mt Isa Mail then with Sydney’s Daily Mirror, he wore it like ‘a badge of honour’ but the media proprietor, as he expanded his empire over the years, had ‘perverted’ journalism in Australia and around the world to achieve his own political and business ends, especially during the Thatcher and Reagan years.
He said the Murdoch empire’s naked intrusion and corruption of politics and national affairs was ‘vile’ and the political system as he knew it had been ‘perverted’ in Australia, the UK and the US where his newspapers have the most influence.
‘But worse of all was the corruption of political parties in order to advance his own interests,’ he said, ‘to the point where the ALP is now part of that system’ with its subservience to and patronage of the Murdoch press.
Mr Mitchell said Rupert Murdoch, whom he once respected, had, over the years as his power grew, transformed into a shadow of his former self, which was strikingly highlighted at the recent UK parliamentary hearings into the phone-hacking scandal which engulfed his newspapers.
‘I couldn’t help thinking how far he’d fallen and how much he’d changed since I knew him. When he appeared at those hearings he looked terrible; it was sad, and reminded me of the character Gollum from The Hobbitt,’ he said to much mirth from the audience.
Good friend Julia Hancock, who introduced him at the book launch, said Mr Mitchell was an active and enthusiastic participant of Uki Garden Club activities and that one of his gardening exploits ‘almost too bizarre to be true is the time when he found himself planting trees in the desert outside Tripoli with Vanessa Redgrave as part of General Gaddafi’s “greening the desert project”’.
Ms Hancock said, ‘these days the only dirt he digs is at his beautiful Eviron property where he gardens happily with his partner’ and ‘they have both become well-loved members of their local community’ but ‘this peaceful rural idyll has come late in an intense life and after a turbulent career in journalism and politics that began at age 14’.
Come the Revolution: A memoir is published by NewSouth Books and available at all leading bookstores.
Image: Journalist Alex Mitchell signed many copies of his book at its launch this week, including one for visitor Cathy Martin, from Wollongong.