BULLIMORE: BDS and the Murdoch press – The Australian’s false attribution of quotes and construction of fictional activists 7Sep13 September 7, 2013


by Kim Bullimore     -      Live from Occupied Palestine blog      -      2 September 2013

This weekend in Australia, we saw once again the spectacle of several Rupert Murdoch owned newspapers engaged in yellow journalism. For those who are not aware of the term “yellow journalism”, it originated in the late nineteenth century in relation to newspapers which downplayed genuine news in favour of sensationalism, biased reporting and popularism. It was marked by a reliance on bold type, eye-catching and/or misleading headlines, exaggeration, scandal-mongering and sensationalism.  Other hallmarks of yellow journalism include the use of fake interviews and an over abundance of (often colour) photos and illustrations in place of actual text. In other words, it is “reportage” which is unprofessional and unworthy of the designation “journalism”.

In Sydney, we had the spectacle once again of the Daily Telegraph - in this case the Sunday Telegraph - running a full front page election cover touting for the Liberal Party. Laughable, the Sunday Telegraph’s editorial had the audacity to declare “as always, the Sunday Telegraph will be here as a critical voice for our readers. We are not, and have never been, cheerleaders for any one side of politics”.  

At the same time that the Sunday Telegraph ran their cover and editorial, Murdoch’s Australian flagship paper, The Australian continued its yellow journalism in relation to the Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign by running an article on 31 August, which falsely attributed a quote to Palestine solidarity activist, Damian Ridgwell.

Ridgwell on his Facebook noted:

In their ever raging war on BDS and Palestine supporters, the Australian not only cheer on fining protesters, but also just resort to making shit up. As they have attributed a quote to me that is totally fictional… can you guess which one?

The article in question was written by Christian Kerr, a former Liberal Party staffer and advisor to the Howard government. Kerr’s article focused on the Liberal dominated Parramatta City Council denying the use of public space in the Church St Mall for a pro-Palestine, pro-BDS rally in mid August 2013. In addition to denying the right to use the public space, the Council also threatened activists with heavy fines if the rally went ahead. The denial was despite the fact that hundreds of public rallies and speakouts have taken place in the Church St Mall over the years with little problem and despite the fact that the pro-Palestine rally has received police approval.
The Palestine Action Group (PAG), who organised the rally, refused to have their free speech and the right to freedom of assembly curtailed and went ahead with the non-violent rally. PAG now face fines of $2200 for exercising their right to non-violent free speech in Parramatta. For PAG’s statement/media release on the attempt to politically censor and ban the rally, click here.

The quote attributed by Kerr in his 31 August 2013 article to Ridgwell was the same exact quote attributed by Kerr to another Palestine solidarity activist, Patrick Harrison, in an earlier article in The Australian on 2 May 2013. In the earlier 2 May article, Kerr quoted Harrison as saying “there isn’t really any connection” between Max Brenner in Australia and Israel. However, Kerr decontextualised the quote in order to imply that the BDS protests against Brenner were not legitimate. In the video embedded alongside Kerr’s article, Harrison noted that the Max Brenner shops in Australia were franchises and as such were not directly connected “financially” to Israel.

The Palestine Action Group noted in a statement in response to Kerr’s 2 May beat-up that:

Palestine solidarity activists are bemused that the Australian has given front page coverage to this “scoop”. The Youtube of the rally in question, which took place on September 21, 2012, has also just been released. The “exclusive” report quoting Patrick Harrison, a spokesperson from the Palestine Action Group, is taken from in a sarcastic Youtube made byJeremy Moses from Varietygarage.com.


The article tries to make out that Mr Harrison is undermining his own cause by “acknowledging” that boycotting the Max Brenner outlet in Parramatta will have no financial impact on its parent company in Israel. It also alleges that Max Brenner International “has absolutely no holding” in Max Brenner Australia.


But just because the parent company doesn’t hold shares in the Australian Max Brenner doesn’t mean that the franchisee is not connected to the parent company. Often the franchise company takes a cut and charges the franchise holder fees for the name and sometimes the equipment and supplies.

You can read the full PAG statement here, as well as my earlier blog comments on Kerr’s 2 May article and the distortions contained within the article.
Damian Ridgwell noted in relation to Kerr’s latest anti-BDS article that: “I’ve written to them [the newspaper], it would be a change to have some truth in The Australian”.  The Australian has since deleted Ridgwell’s name but have now attributed the decontextualised quote to a fictional person called Patrick Hamilton (Please see screenshots below of the original Kerr article from 2 May, as well as his current August 31 article and its updated version).

The new version of the article with the name Patrick Hamilton contains the following editors note at the end of the article:

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story attributed the quote “there isn’t really any connection” between the chain of chocolate shops in this country and Israel to Damian Ridgwell. The comment was made by Patrick Hamilton.

As already mentioned, there is no such person as Patrick Hamilton (within the context of Kerr’s earlier article), a fact Kerr should be aware of given he wrote the 2 May 2013 article which attributed the quote to Patrick Harrison.  As of 3 September – three days after the publication of the article and the removal of Ridgwell’s name – the fictional name of Patrick Hamilton remains in Kerr’s article and has not been corrected.

The mis-attribution of the original decontextualised quote, twice, along with the failure to fact check the name and the reliance on satirical videos as apparent credible sources of information in the original 2 May article by Kerr, shows the shoddy lack of concern for any resemblance of accuracy or research or honest reporting on BDS by The Australian.  In addition, it reveals the shoddy nature of Kerr’s reporting and The Australian’s yellow journalism.

As I demonstrated in my Overland article, A Case Study in Obsession, the yellow journalism of The Australian and its obsession with BDS has been evident for sometime.  In May 2013 The Australian ran 26 items on BDS in that month alone. The vast majority of these items were overwhelmingly negative, condemning the Palestinian BDS campaign and Palestine supporters as anti-Semitic and running an intolerant hate campaign. In contrast, during this same period, the Fairfax newspapers had run a total of two different news articles on BDS between them.

It should be noted that earlier in the week prior to publishing the article about the Parramatta City Council fines, The Australian, also ran several negative articles on BDS in relation to a speakout on Sydney Uni in defence of BDS and the Sydney Uni academics, Jake Lynch and Stuart Rees. Lynch and Rees have been targeted by the Zionist organisation, Shurat HaDin which have filed a complaint against at the Australian Human Rights Commission, claiming that BDS breaches the 1975 Racial Discrimination Act. However, BDS does not in anyway breach the act as it does not target any individual or even organisation or business based on race, colour, national or ethnic origin.  Instead, as Jake Lynch noted in an interview he did with the Jerusalem Post on 27 August, the reason he and Rees are being targeted is because BDS works.  Lynch told the Jerusalem Post that “supporters of the military-security lobby in Israel are stepping up their attacks on BDS because it is beginning to take effect”.

Shurat HaDin similarly threatened legal action last year against World Vision Australia and AusAid (the Australian Government Overseas Aid Program) claiming they were providing financial aid to Gaza based terrorist group via the Union of Agricultural Work Committees (UAWC).After suspending their aid program and investigating the allegation, both World Vision and AusAid announced that the accusations were not credible and resumed funding. For a more detailed response by World Vision Australia to Shurat HaDin’s allegations and Shurat HaDin’s continued claims, please click here and here.

Shurat HaDin is one of the many Zionist groups engaged in what is known as “Lawfare”, as well as hasbara (propaganda), attempts to silence BDS and intimidate pro-Palestine and BDS supporters. “Lawfare” is a portmanteau of the words “law” and “warfare” and is used to try and legally damage an opponent.  Lawfare proponents regularly utilises what are known as “Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation” or SLAPP suits in order to try and censor, intimidate and silence critics by burdening them with the cost of a legal defense until they abandon their criticism or opposition. The typical SLAPP plaintiff does not normally expect to win the lawsuit. The plaintiff’s goals are accomplished if the defendant succumbs to fear, intimidation, mounting legal costs or simple exhaustion and abandons the criticism. A SLAPP may also be used in order intimidate others from participating in the debate.

Such suits by Zionists groups against Pro-Palestine solidarity activists have so far had little success with courts and government departments in Australia, France, Scotland, England, the USA and elsewhere dismissing legal cases and claims, either acquitting pro-Palestine activists or dismissing the Zionist claims.

The Australian’s yellow journalism and obsession with BDS is unlikely to end any time soon. And neither will the Lawfare attempts (either in Australia or internationally) in order to try either criminalise support for BDS and/or intimidate pro-Palestine activists from speaking out publicly in support of the campaign and the struggle of the Palestinian people. All such attempts must be strongly rejected, whether such attempts are done by newspapers, politicians or hasbara groups. As human rights activists, who support the struggle of the Palestinian people for justice, self-determination and human rights, we must never allow the media or threats of Lawfare to convince us that it is wrong to fight against power and to stand up for the rights of the oppressed. Instead, we must redouble our efforts and speak up even louder in support of not only the Palestinian people and their struggle but also in support of the struggles of all the oppressed people of the world.

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