Oscar Wilde on the evils of journalism

March 26, 2009

I came across this passage from Oscar Wilde today while working on my book. I have been staying away from EM, despite receiving some very useful material from several sources, because the manuscript is now well overdue at the publishers. I won’t be posting quite so frequently over the next few weeks as I figure that my 2000 words a day are better spent on the book, than in here. However, I will be keeping a promise to defend a friend’s honour in another matter, so look for a new post on Monday.

In the meantime enjoy this Widlean take on journalism. You will recognise a few lines here, they’re often quoted, but the passage in full is really quite delightful. It’s from Wilde’s 1891 pamphlet The soul of man under socialism.

In old days men had the rack. Now they have the press. That is an improvement certainly. But still it is very bad, and wrong, and demoralising. Somebody – was it Burke? – called journalism the fourth estate. That was true at the time, no doubt. But at the present moment it really is the only estate. It has eaten up the other three. The Lords Temporal say nothing, the Lords Spiritual have nothing to say, and the House of Commons has nothing to say and says it. We are dominated by Journalism. In America the President reigns for four years, and Journalism governs for ever and ever. Fortunately, in America journalism has carried its authority to the grossest and most brutal extreme. As a natural consequence it has begun to create a spirit of revolt. People are amused by it, or disgusted by it, according to their temperaments. But it is no longer the real force it was. It is not seriously treated.

In England, Journalism, not, except in a few well-known instances, having been carried to such excesses of brutality, is still a great factor, a really remarkable power. The tyranny that it proposes to exercise over people’s private lives seems to me to be quite extraordinary. The fact is, that the public have an insatiable curiosity to know everything, except what is worth knowing. Journalism, conscious of this, and having tradesmanlike habits, supplies their demands. In centuries before ours the public nailed the ears of journalists to the pump. That was quite hideous. In this century journalists have nailed their own ears to the keyhole. That is much worse. And what aggravates the mischief is that the journalists who are most to blame are not the amusing journalists who write for what are called Society papers. The harm is done by the serious, thoughtful, earnest journalists, who solemnly, as they are doing at present, will drag before the eyes of the public some incident in the private life of a great statesman, of a man who is a leader of political thought as he is a creator of political force, and invite the public to discuss the incident, to exercise authority in the matter, to give their views, and not merely to give their views, but to carry them into action, to dictate to the man upon all other points, to dictate to his party, to dictate to his country; in fact, to make themselves ridiculous, offensive, and harmful.

The private lives of men and women should not be told to the public. The public have nothing to do with them at all. In France they manage these things better. There they do not allow the details of the trials that take place in the divorce courts to be published for the amusement or criticism of the public. All that the public are allowed to know is that the divorce has taken place and was granted on petition of one or other or both of the married parties concerned. In France, in fact, they limit the journalist, and allow the artist almost perfect freedom. Here we allow absolute freedom to the journalist, and entirely limit the artist.

English public opinion, that is to say, tries to constrain and impede and warp the man who makes things that are beautiful in effect, and compels the journalist to retail things that are ugly, or disgusting, or revolting in fact, so that we have the most serious journalists in the world, and the most indecent newspapers. It is no exaggeration to talk of compulsion. There are possibly some journalists who take a real pleasure in publishing horrible things, or who, being poor, look to scandals as forming a sort of permanent basis for an income. But there are other journalists, I feel certain, men of education and cultivation, who really dislike publishing these things, who know that it is wrong to do so, and only do it because the unhealthy conditions under which their occupation is carried on oblige them to supply the pubic with what the public wants, and to compete with other journalists in making that supply as full and satisfying to the gross popular appetite as possible. It is a very degrading position for any body of educated men to be placed in, and I have no doubt that most of them feel it acutely.

How true Oscar, how sadly true.


A fable for our time – information addiction

March 19, 2009

A big thanks to Kieran Nash for allowing me to post this. Kieran is in my grad class, Journalism Theory and Practice. We run a discussion board where students post a commentary each week that they can all respond to. Kieran posted this a couple of days ago.

The internet is a wonderful world of information, available (to use a cliché) at our fingertips.

It has become entrenched in society, especially over the last ten years, creating what I think is an “information addiction.” Now, when sitting round drinking and chatting (in real life), I like to have a computer at hand so any hotly contested point or topic can be verified.

Your friend arguing with you about something they know nothing about? In a few seconds Wikipedia can prove that bastard wrong. Talking about a new craze? Youtube can show everyone what you mean.

Everyone is checking Facebook daily to gather any snippet of information about their friends, whether they care or not. Viral marketing has now become a common water-cooler topic. An Intel survey recently asked what people would rather go without for two weeks – internet or sex? A staggering 46 percent of women and 30 percent of men would rather check their email.

This information addiction differs from all other addictions – apart from a monthly set fee, it’s free.

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TVNZ cuts – one finger now, but soon the heart?

March 17, 2009

So the axe is falling again at TVNZ. Yesterday’s announcement that TVNZ management will shave $25 million from the national broadcaster’s budget was not a surprise.  In some circles it’s what we might call a “pre-emptive buckle”.

That is, the organisation has chosen to chop off it’s own little finger, rather than have the Nationals’ Razor Gang do the job. The Yakuza has a similar punishment ritual, it’s meant to demonstrate iron discipline, instill fear and, through fear, loyalty.

Understandable really. Better to be in charge of your own destiny, even if it’s the death of a thousand cuts. At least when hacking into your own flesh (if it’s not a death wish) you can have a decent first aid kit on hand to stem the blood flow.

On paper (on screen?) it looks like the cuts are evenly spread.

The top executives have agreed to a pay-freeze (head-shaking, “Why?”). I guess this demonstrates their commitment to the organisation and it’s supposed to send a signal that the pain is being shared and that the top rung is leading from the front.

Though, if you’re lemmings heading for a clifftop fall, who wants to be in the front line. Tired cliche I know and lemmings don’t actually rush head-long off clifftops, but why let the truth get in the way of a good urban-myth-as-metaphor line.

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ABC Funding – spread the word

March 15, 2009
MEAA says ALP should keep this promise

MEAA says ALP should keep this promise

abc_funding_4 Read the rest of this entry »


The Arrival – magical mystery tour with bite

March 14, 2009
Red Leap's adaptation of The Arrival 2009
Red Leap’s production of The Arrival, Auckland March 2009

I’ve just been to see The Arrival a new production that’s had its world premiere at this year’s Auckland Festival.

The Arrival is a piece of physical theatre and interpretive dance created by Kate Parker and Julie Nolan with assistance from leading New Zealand dance muse Michael Parmenter (described as Movement Consultant in the programme) and set to haunting music by Andrew McMillan.

The production is based on a comic novel by Australian writer and illustrator Shaun Tan, but if you’re thinking Watchmen you’re way off.

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Muntazer el Zaydi jailed – crime against journalism

March 13, 2009

The jailing of Iraqi journalist Muntazer al Zaidi for throwing his shoes at former US President George W Bush is a crime against journalism.

el-zaydi-main

A hero of Iraq

A poll released today, commissioned by ABC News and the BBC, suggests 62% of Iraqis regard the shoe-thrower as a hero. Twenty-four percent of respondents saw him as a criminal who had assaulted a visiting head of state.

Outside the court, Mohammed Ali, a childhood friend of Zaidi, said: “His act was not a crime but one of defiance. When he is eventually released I expect Muntazer could change his career and become a politician.” The Guardian’s story today.

There’s also a longer profile piece about the reporter, who has become a hero to many Iraqis.

There is an online petition at the Petition Site which is aiming for 1000 signatures. When I signed there were 57 so get on over there and do your bit.

The International Federation of Journalists has condemned the three year sentece as “disproportional”:

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) has protested over the disproportionate decision of an Iraqi court which sentenced television journalist Muntadhar al-Zeidi to three years in jail for throwing his shoes at former American president George W. Bush in December last year.

“This sentence is hugely out of proportion,” said Aidan White, IFJ General Secretary. “The journalist made a serious mistake, but it was something that should have been properly dealt with internally and not brought before the courts at all. The Iraqi response is regrettable and we urge that there is clemency and his sentence is reduced on appeal.” [IFEX Update 12 March]

However, I disagree that Muntazer made a “serious mistake”. He was doing something that millions of us have fantasized about – expressing our hatred of the despotic Bush regime and its war criminal leadership.

Reporters Without Borders has also issued a statement condemning the sentence as harsh:

“We obviously regret that Zaidi chose this way to protest against the President Bush’s policies but there is no justification for this prison sentence,” Reporters Without Borders said. “The sentence is cynical in a country where so many of the people who kill journalists are never brought to justice. We call for his release.”  [Reporters Without Borders]

Sorry, but I don’t share this regret. My regret is that Muntazer is in jail.

There’s a nice post on this at Woolly Days.


Stewart pounds Cramer – round 2, no contest

March 12, 2009

I am so glad I have MySky (this is not a promo).

I never used to watch The Daily Show, but now I never miss it. Unfortunately, like most of our TV, it’s a couple of days old when we get to it

Never mind, Jon Stewart is doing a good job of going after the buffoons of CNBC’s financial news service.

Even better, the whole feud (not from Stewart’s view) is now getting wider play. The object of Stewart’s humourous knife attack, CNBC resident clown Jim Cramer, has been on a raft of other NBC shows to defend himself.

That tactic was a very interesting use of the power of the network – give Cramer a sympathetic interview and then get the other NBC anchors to hook into Stewart.

It back-fired. Cramer and the network now look even more stupid. This clip puts it into perspective quite nicely. As the YoungTurks say, it’s the fact that CNBC is crap at journalism and is no more than a highly-paid and duchessed cheer squad for the big end of town.

There’s also a nice summary at E! Online

EM’s backtrack on this story

if you want to be really entertained, check out the Jim Cramer YouTube archive. He’s a nutbag.

If you want to know more about the Cramer effect, check out Don Harrold’s YouTube channel

I love smart, angry Americans who “get it”.


Media a target for zealous police – not it’s not Russia

March 12, 2009

Thanks to Colleen for this tip.

The Guardian has an interesting story and video clip about police surveillance of reporters covering an environmental protest late last year.

Secret footage shot by two police surveillance officers during the protest, obtained by the Guardian and broadcast online over the weekend, confirmed officers have been monitoring journalists at protests. Senior officers had previously denied journalists had become the target of surveillance units.

The footage showed that while officers had been asked to monitor protesters against the Kingsnorth coal-fired power station, they showed particular interest in journalists.

An ITV news crew, a Sky News cameraman and several photographers were among members of the press placed under surveillance as they left the camp in August. Later in the day journalists were followed by another surveillance unit to a McDonald’s restaurant where police filmed them.[We wre wrong]

It’s interesting that the cops feel quite at ease following journos who are legitimately doing their jobs. It’s very worrying and clearly the informal extension of surveillance by the police is just a normal part of function creep.

It’s really just their creepy function to keep tabs on undesirables like journalists.

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Martini music – hot, but not jazz this time

March 11, 2009

Wayne and I went to the spiegeltent at the Auckland Festival last night after work. There’s a really good 2-for-1 ticket deal at the box office for “happy hour” between 4 and 6 pm.

paprikabalkanicusThe act was Paprika Balkanicus, a five-piece playing Balkan music. Two accordions, a guitar, a violinist who looks like a short, stocky Trotsky and a beanpole bass player.

After a half of Domestic and a straightener it was great. There’s a great sense of humour in the band and some fine musicianship.

If they’re coming to a town near you, check them out. Paprika Balkanicus will be in Australia from mid-March to early April then they’re heading back to Europe.

They’re fast, lively and very danceable. The spiegeltent was a great place to see them too, a bit circusy.

You can see tour dates on the band’s MySpace page.


More re-heated neo-con policies from National – private prisons to profit from crime

March 10, 2009

In an exclusive story yesterday [Monday] the NZ Herald reported that the National government is looking to privatise jail management across New Zealand.

Where do the party hacks come up with these ideas?

Today there’s a follow-up by Simon Collins in which the union representing prison officers vowed to fight the privatisation plan and described it as “driven by ideology“. At the same time a Corrections plan to put two beds in every cell was also revealed. This move might be necessary because the prison population is anticipated to increase by close to 1000 inmates over the next 18 months. I wonder if this has something to do with the projected “Three strikes” policy that’s also on the cabinet agenda in Wellington.

Unfortunately for the government, the first step in their cunning plan to hand over the prison system to the profit system may derail them (or, at least slow down the plan). The Herald is also reporting that the State Services Commissioner has refused to offer up the beleaguered head of Corrections as a sacrificial lamb.

The State Services Commissioner said today that corrections chief Barry Matthews should not be sacked.

Corrections Minister Judith Collins received the report into accountability at her ministry from State Services Commissioner Iain Rennie this morning.

Mr Rennie said Mr Matthews’s “dismissal of the chief executive would not be justified”.

You can hear a mumbled “Bugger!” emanating from the Ministerial wing of the Beehive, right about now. However, I don’t expect this will slow down the government’s hasty desire to privatise prisons. Even though there are more pressing issues as outlined in the briefing given to the incoming Minister late last year.

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