As journalists, by means of social media, increasingly become activists in the public debate, what is not reported sometimes becomes as significant as what is.

Take the New Year’s Eve celebrations in Cologne, for example. It took ZDF, Germany’s public broadcaster, four days to report that up to a thousand men of Middle Eastern and North African appearances had sexually and physically assaulted women who were celebrating the arrival of 2016 outside the Cologne Cathedral. Similar, albeit not so extensive, attacks occurred in such cities as Dusseldorf, Frankfurt and Hamburg.

Elmar Thevessen, deputy chief editor of the Heute (Today) program, acknowledged on Facebook that “it was a mistake of the 7pm Heute show not to at least report the incidents”. Thevessen conceded that the decision to self-­censor was “a clear misjudgment”.

But a mistake with a purpose. It seems that the powers-that-be at Germany’s taxpayer-funded public broadcaster did not want their fellow citizens to know that the Cologne assaults on women were led by young men from Muslim majority nations who may have been recent asylum-seekers — or what many in Western Europe refer to as migrants.

Among the left-liberal intelligentsia that dominates ­Western media, it is just unfashionable to refer to radical Islamists as radical Islamists or to mention the fact that in some Muslim majority ­nations women are treated as ­second-rate citizens, or worse. The fact that so many left liberals are slaves to intellectual fashion explains why so few self-declared feminists have publicly criticised the Cologne assaults.

The same can be said of the low-key response to the grooming of around 1000 white girls in the British city of Rotherham by men of Pakistani heritage. These crimes were overlooked, for many years, by those in positions of authority who did not want to be accused of Islamophobia.

The tendency of left-liberals, who like to parade a higher ­morality than the rest of us in such matters as immigration and multiculturalism, does not start and end with modern-day Islam. I was reminded of this when reading Kerry O’Brien’s biographyKeating (Allen & Unwin, 2015).

Paul Keating was a successful treasurer in Bob Hawke’s Labor government who successfully ­challenged the incumbent prime minister in December 1991. Keating defeated the John Hewson-led ­Coalition in 1993 but went on to lose to John Howard in 1996. By then, Labor was running out of steam — much like the Coalition began to falter before its defeat in 2007. Yet, in his time in Australia’s top political job, Keating left his mark.

One initiative of the Keating government, which is not often discussed in polite left-of-centre circles, turns on the introduction of mandatory detention in 1992 at about the time that there were ­unauthorised arrivals by Indo­chinese, among others. Sure, Keating’s contribution to the economic reform in Australia deserves to be the priority when the political life and times of Aust­ralia’s 24th prime minister are discussed. However, the Keating legacy does not end there.

Mandatory detention is still in place today, almost a quarter of a century after it was introduced. It’s just that O’Brien, a long-time ­journalist with the ABC, Channel 7, Channel 10 and one-time press secretary to former Labor prime minister Gough Whitlam, does not want to focus on such an unfashionable legacy.

O’Brien’s biography grew out of his four-part ABC TV interview series Keating: the Interviews which aired in 2013. The text of Keating runs for 765 pages. Yet it is not until page 758 that O’Brien ­introduces the issue of asylum-seekers and mandatory detention. The whole discussion takes up a mere two pages.

O’Brien does not challenge Keating’s defence of the policy. Which is that the then immigration minister, Gerry Hand, advised the cabinet “to set up detention centres for the orderly processing of asylum-seekers”. As Keating told O’Brien: “When the immigration minister tells you his department is losing control of the process, and this was the remedy coming from the leader of the Left, we accepted it”. The position of the Keating gov­ernment was that the left “would have the human rights issues covered”.

This was an extraordinary statement. Especially since the left, in Australia and elsewhere, in the 1960s and 70s had a record of supporting totalitarian dictatorships in China, Vietnam, Cuba and elsewhere. But Keating’s excuse was good enough for O’Brien. In the interview extract printed in the biography, O’Brien virtually invited Keating to have a go at his successor, John Howard. Not surprisingly, the former Labor prime minister accepted the offer, with a vengeance, and accused Howard of “jingoism”.

In fairness to Keating, mandatory detention probably would have been introduced even if Hawke had remained in office. New Year’s Day saw the release of the cabinet records for 1990 and 1991, the final two years of the Hawke government. They reveal that in June 1990 cabinet agreed to take a harder line on refugee claims. O’Brien, who recently stepped down as presenter of the ABC TV’s Four Cornersprogram, is more than a journalist. During the time of the Howard government, he spoke at functions which called for a relaxation of the Coalition’s position on asylum-seekers in general and mandatory detention in particular. Yet, in Keating, O’Brien has adopted a don’t-talk-about-Labor’s-mandatory-detention position.

In recent times, O’Brien has criticised the policy of former prime minister Tony Abbott on asylum-seekers. Writing in Quadrant Online (December 21, 2015), formerAge journalist Tony Thomas reported on the launch of Keating at the Melbourne Press Club last November. After praising Keating’s leadership, O’Brien condemned Australia’s “great failure” with respect to ­asylum-seekers. In response to Thomas’s question as to how many unauthorised arrivals O’Brien would take in a year, the former ABC journalist responded, “I am not a policy­maker”. In short, O’Brien wants to hold fashionable opinions about asylum-seekers without accepting any of the consequences of his advocacy.

The retired ABC presenter’s position is not dissimilar from that of the journalists atHeute. They did not want to be unfashionable, so they evaded responsibility by not reporting the events at Cologne on New Year’s Eve. Sometimes the story is that the real story is not told.