Up in smokes: Free speech fundamentalist shows true colours and logical confusion

November 26, 2011

Ah, the logic of fundamentalism. Whatever form it takes it can brook no subtlety, no fine distinction and no possible suggestion that it is ever, ever wrong.

This applies to all fundamentalisms, not just religious or political doctrine.

And now, nowhere is this more obvious than in the tobacco products ‘plain packaging’ debate.

Brendan O’Neill, the lumbering dumbarse who was once associated with the British left magazine Living Marxism and who is now associated with the libertarian Spiked-Online and a resident grumbling wanker in the columns of The Australian has come out in support of big tobacco.

Why am I not surprised?

Because O’Neill is a  libertarian conservative who The Australian likes to pretend has got some (acceptable) left credentials. Well he bloody well has none and after today’s effort I would suggest he has zero credibility too.

In his column this weekend O’Neill has the gall (or is that stupidity) to argue that banning bright, colourful and attractive tobacco packaging is an infringement of the free speech rights of the tobacco companies.

What fucking planet are you on, mate?

To confuse the right of the citizenry to enjoy free and unrestricted rights to express political opinions – which is what free speech actually is – with the paid for, commercial process of advertising and branding for commodities is a sign of sickness or idiocy.

But, O’Neill is forced into this philosophical dead end by his own politics. You see, the point he’s actually making is that the so-called ‘free speech’ argument here is just another mantra-humming log to bang over the heads of ‘the government’.

This is more than a trademark issue; it’s a free-speech issue. What is happening here is that companies are being denied the right to publish perfectly reasonable and inoffensive material – the names of their products – and at the same time they’re being forced to publish government propaganda about smoking.

O’Neill continues in this vein for several pars, including:

For years, it was considered paramount in a civilised society that people should be free to publish what they like, and that no one should be forced to parrot the government line, much less publish grotesque images handpicked by the authorities.

[Plain packaging is an infringement of free speech]

So, let’s see…the rights of multinational corporations – the ones who are poisoning us and lying about it – need to be defended because governments are trying to censor their right to advertise their deadly products in order to promote sales and attract new customers.

You remember big tobacco don’t you.

These are the same guys who stood up in front of a US congressional hearing in 1994 and, on oath, claimed that nicotine is not addictive.

Further, Australia, in introducing plain packaging is doing no more than following the World Health Organisation’s guidelines on how to reduce the harm of tobacco products.

Seriously Brendan, put down that thumping great tub and STFU while the facts are explained to you in small words and bright pictures.

Tobacco’s Toll in Health and Lives

  • Tobacco use killed 100 million people in the 20th century. If current trends continue, tobacco will kill one billion people in the 21st century.
  • Tobacco kills more than 5 million people a year and accounts for one in 10 deaths among adults.
  • If current trends persist, tobacco will kill more than 8 million people worldwide annually by the year 2030, with 80 percent of these deaths in low- and middle-income countries.
  • Almost a billion men in the world – including half of men in low- and middle-income countries – and 250 million women smoke. If no action is taken, 650 million smokers alive today will eventually die from tobacco-related diseases.
  • Tobacco kills prematurely. On average, smokers lose 15 years of life, and up to half of all smokers will die of tobacco-related causes.
  • Every day, 80,000 to 100,000 young people around the world become addicted to tobacco. If current trends continue, 250 million children and young people alive today will die from tobacco-related diseases.
  • Secondhand smoke kills more than 600,000 people worldwide each year, including 165,000 children.

Tobacco’s Economic Toll

  • Tobacco use costs the world an estimated $500 billion each year in health care expenditures, productivity losses, fire damage and other costs.
  • Health care costs associated with tobacco related illnesses are extremely high. In the United States, annual tobacco-related health care costs amount to 96 billion USD ; in Germany, 7 billion USD; in Australia, 1 billion USD.
  • Tobacco-related illnesses and premature mortality impose high productivity costs to the economy because of sick workers and those who die prematurely during their working years. Lost economic opportunities in highly-populated developing countries will be particularly severe as tobacco use is high and growing in those areas.
  • Countries that are net importers of tobacco leaf and tobacco products lose millions of dollars a year in foreign exchanges.
  • Fire damage and the related costs are significant. In 2000, about 300,000 or 10 percent of all fire deaths worldwide were caused by smoking and the estimated total cost of fires caused by smoking was 27 billion USD.
  • Tobacco production and use damage the environment and divert agricultural land that could be used to grow food.

[Tobaccofreekids.org]

Brendan, if you want to smoke (do you smoke Brendan?) go ahead. If you don’t smoke you should start now, because otherwise you’re just another stinking free speech hypocrite libertarian nut graf.

The tobacco giants have a long history of infringing the rights of people to use their free speech make claims and present solid evidence that smoking is actually bad for humans; not just those who smoke but anyone who is exposed to second-hand tobacco fumes for any length of time.

By enforcing plain packaging laws governments are actually acting in the public interest – promoting public health and legally attempting to reduce the social harm and the economic cost of smoking.

It is estimated that the negative impact of smoking on the Australian economy is in the order of $1 billion a year. That equates to a lot of very expensive free speech.

Brendan O’Neill is wrong, this is not a ‘censorship’ issue, this is not about an infringement of rights, it is a public health issue.

The tobacco companies have billions of dollars at their disposal to fight the government’s legislation and they have already signaled that they intend to use every legal trick at their disposal to prevent the plain packaging rules being enforced.

Why? Because they know that more and more people are waking up  the fact that smoking is a stupid thing to do to yourself and your friends. As this trend continues the tobacco companies will start to lose money.

They are desperate to hang on to the profits they have enjoyed for too long.

O’Neill shows his true colours, like most libertarians, he cloaks his pro-big-business views in a veil of outrage and fuming free speech rhetoric. But at the end of the day the smug prick doesn’t give a shit about anyone except his own smug self.

[Disclaimer: I am a smoker. I have not had a cigarette for about two months. I am hoping that I will never smoke again. I love Benson & Hedges and if I was determined to smoke plain packaging wouldn't stop me.]


Focus on complaints misses real point of media inquiry

November 19, 2011

An edited version of this post was published on The Conversation earlier today.

After five days of public hearings and well over 50 submissions the government’s independent media inquiry has retired to deliberate. After absorbing the tenor of some witnesses, I do not envy the judge and the professor the task ahead of them.

It seems that despite their sometimes bitter commercial rivalry the Fairfax and News Limited empires agree on one thing: the Finkelstein inquiry has been a giant waste of time and money.

Both have produced more than one editorial slamming the inquiry unnecessary and asking what is its purpose.

Outgoing News Limited CEO John Hartigan and current Fairfax CEO Greg Hywood sang the same jingle during their appearances at the inquiry this week in Sydney.

The news coverage in the papers of both media companies has been overwhelmingly negative and critical. So what is going to happen next?

My reading of the situation is that there is likely to be a recommendation, or series of recommendations that deal with the issue of the Australian Press Council. At the moment the APC is quasi-independent, but because it is entirely funded by the two major newspaper companies and some smaller publishers, this claim of independence must be questioned.

Two issues arising from the inquiry’s terms of reference have dominated the inquiry and both are to do with the APC’s relationship with its constituent members and the possibility of it taking some over-arching role in complaints handling, with additional funding from government coffers.

It is likely then, given the signals sent by Ray Finkelstein during the public hearings, that some form of ‘super’ APC will emerge; perhaps in spite of complaints from the key media companies. At the end of the day they may well agree to wear such an outcome knowing it won’t really change much in their day-to-day operations.

What we could end up with is something that looks like, smells like and barks like the British Press Complaints Commission. The PCC does not receive any government funding, but the size of the British market perhaps suggests it doesn’t need to. What is clear from the APC’s own submissions to the inquiry and Finkelstein’s generally positive commentary, is that some subsidy from the public purse could be offered.

This point has generated the most heat in the discussion so far. John Hartigan dismissed it outright, even conceding that News Limited and the other council members might have to up their own contributions to keep government ‘interference’ at bay. The argument is that a government subsidy would mean government meddling, because it would require some statutory backing from parliament.

Giving the APC some legislated authority would create something of a hybrid: a cross between the self-regulatory functions of the Press Council (or Complaints Commission) and the statutory regulation of broadcasters provided by the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA). Such a body would be a break with traditition; most Western liberal democracies have historically kept self-regulation of the print media at arms length from government while heavily regulating broadcasters using the argument of ‘spectrum scarcity’.

This argument – scarce bandwidth requires tough controls – is now out-of-date and has been for sometime. The IEEE has described the new situation as a ‘spectrum bonanza‘. What it should mean is that heavy regulation of broadcast media should be lifted, not attempting to drag the print media into the fold.

The media inquiry was tasked with examining the issue of compliance, codes of practice and regulation in the context of digital convergence; but not much was heard about that in the public sessions. In the logic displayed so far by Ray Finkelstein it makes sense to combine complaints handling in one body that is platform neutral. The question raised again and again though, is: How do you get bloggers and so-called citizen-journalists to register and be included in such a regulatory system?

No doubt these are questions that will be ‘hhhmmmmed and hhhaaaed’ over in the next few months. The judge and the professor will have plenty of reading and some interesting conversations to get them through the looming silly season. Their report and recommendations are due to be put to the convergence review in February next year.

However, I would argue that this focus on regulation and complaint management misses the point somewhat.

The existence of the PCC did not prevent the UK’s biggest media scandal in a generation, the now notorious News of the World serial phone-hacking debacle. Streamlining the complaints procedures will not improve the quality of news or journalism.

There are two issues relating to questions of quality that were, at various times, mentioned at the inquiry, but which have been effectively sidelined in the coverage.

The first is the issue of market failure and Australia’s impenetrable duopoly in print news media. While the exact figures are disputed, depending on the measure you use, it is clear that News Limited has a dominant position in metropolitan print markets, closely followed by Fairfax. The situation is not much different in radio, television or magazines.

In this environment how do we ensure a diverse range of media and opinion is available? It is difficult for new players to enter either print or broadcast markets because the cost of plant, equipment and human resources to match the two dominant entities is well into the hundreds of millions. This is despite the write-down of value in the major companies over the past few years, mainly due to the influence of the GFC.

Where public interest players are in the market – in community radio and television – the terms of their licenses are so restrictive that they exist tenuously without adequate funding or commercial income streams.

The smug response from the big two is that anyone is free to launch an online competitor and that the ‘invisible hand‘ of the marketplace will decide the outcome. What this free market myth fails to take into account is that the market is a) not a level playing field because of high entry costs and the advantage of size and first mover, and b) the market itself has failed; it does not deliver the promised outcomes and, in fact, the failure of the market has contributed to the current crisis in both business models and in lack of public trust.

At the heart of this market failure is a contradiction so intense that it is almost insurmountable and unresolvable in the market’s own terms.

The market dictates that competition produces profits for some and losses for others. It is a valorisation of monetary value and the interests of property and shareholders over the value of public interest.

Within the framework of capitalist market relations the private interests of shareholders acting in their self-interest in the marketplace cannot be reconciled with the collective social interest that effective working of the public sphere demands.

In short, I would argue, the marketplace of ideas does not guarantee an effective outcome in the public interest.

This, I feel, also undercuts the argument from News Limited and Fairfax that the media inquiry is an attack on the news media’s right to free speech. In the marketplace of ideas, speech is not free. Speech takes on a commercial and commodified form in the market and the right to freedom of the press claimed by editorialists and CEOs, is effectively a property right.

As such, it is not available to everyone. Unfortunately, apart from my own modest contribution on the first morning of the inquiry in Melbourne last week, these ideas have not been canvassed. Perhaps Stuart Littlemore came closest yesterday when he talked about the festering culture inside some newsrooms to explain how some reporters and editors appear to take perverse delight in venal attacks on and vendettas against certain targets.

Despite the comfortable deniers on mahogany row, there is evidence that the current model is broken and, as senior Fairfax news executive Peter Fray said in his Sydney University lecture earlier this week, journalism has failed us, journalists are guilty of group-think and are seduced by public relations.

The question that was not asked, let alone answered, amid all the bluster and talk of reform of the media inquiry is: What to do about the crisis in news and journalism?

Peter Fray offered one solid suggestion in his First Decade Fellow lecture, which was, unfortunately not repeated during his media inquiry appearance as sidekick to Greg Hywood a day later.

“What I am saying is that we need to become more sophisticated and radical about the way we talk about journalism and its roles.”

I couldn’t agree more, but when sophisticated and radical ideas were raised in front of the professor and the judge last week, they were howled down by a chorus of acrid smoke and noise from those who are charged with living up to the ideals that their bosses espouse.


The good doctor needs a ‘well-earned break’

November 18, 2011

Sorry to say this, but there’s an elephant in the room.

Actually, the elephant is sitting squarely in the offices of the Sydney Institute.

In fact, dare I actually write this [yes I do]: the elephant has taken a giant dump in Gerard Henderson’s brain hole.

Rude, crude, but, oh so sadly, true.

A few days ago I described Dr Henderson’s Media Watch Dog blog in less than flattering terms:

It reads much like a discussion the Mad Hatter might have with himself on rising from bed and trying to work out which pants to put on.

[Thank you for your comment...]

I realise now that was flattery of the worst kind. He has outdone himself with today’s poor effort.

I can say no more about this. The evidence speaks for itself:

Sandal-Wearer Simons Steps Out

In today’s Daily Telegraph, Miranda Devine reports as follows:

“When sandal-wearing freelance journalist and prolific tweeter Margaret Simons told the print media inquiry newspapers had “hundreds” of journalists sitting around in their newsrooms, smirks and discreet eye rolls swept the ranks of working reporters.

Those who’ve worked in a newsroom any time in the past decade are painfully aware of rows of empty desks that tell a story of declining circulations and shrinking revenue. But that reality doesn’t seem to have intruded much on the inquiry in a small tatty room in the bowels of Sydney University’s School of Tropical Medicine.”

Quite so.  Don’t say MWD hasn’t warned the world at large about leftist sandal-wearers. Or Sandalistas.  It’s not so long ago that Ms Simons entered into personal correspondence with MWD objecting to the fact that Nancy’s co-owner had described her as a sandal wearer. [I’m surprised you did not publish this personal correspondence - Ed].

Ms Simons also became upset when Nancy’s co-owner described her as a compost-sexual and revealed that her award winning book Malcolm Fraser: The Political Memoir – which she co-authored with Malcolm Fraser – was littered with factual errors. As to the compost-sexual reference, this is what Margaret Simons told The Age on 27 May 2004. Here we go:

“Compost is earthy and sexy in both the literal and metaphorical sense. The smells of sweet, well-made compost are not dissimilar to the smells of a bedroom after sex. It is the smell of the stuff of life. To my mind, a good composter is likely to be a good lover – in touch with their sensuality and aware that sex has nothing to do with airbrushing and deodorising and shaving and counsels of supposed perfection. Sex is animal. It is to do with smells, tastes, fertility and growth. The same things are true of compost.”

According to Tim Dick’s report in this morning’s Sydney Morning Herald, Margaret Simons told the Media Inquiry:

When I’ve criticised the ABC, I’ve been quoted in The Australian as an independent and respected media commentator.  When I criticise News Ltd, I’m a gardening writer and a blogger.

For the record, MWD regards Ms Simons as a “gardening writer” – which helps explain the howlers in her Malcolm Fraser book.

Unfortunately, Nancy has never been invited around to Margaret Simons’ inner-city Melbourne digs to check-out her compost.  But, if, as the saying goes, she’s up for it – then Nancy would sure like an offer to get-down-and-dirty in the Simons’ compost.

In the meantime, Nancy fantasises that there was a scent of compost on the sandals that the sandal-wearer Simons wore to Ray Finkelstein QC’s inquiry in Sydney yesterday.

[Media Watch Dog 18 November 2011]

I have not altered a word or a comma.

If you think this is OK or even funny then you are a bigger dribblejaws than Gerard Henderson.

Gerard, you and Nancy really do need that well-earned break.

This is the last MWD until 27 January 2012.  Like her journalistic colleagues, Nancy does not do holidays.  But she certainly does well-earned breaks.  So, as from (after lunch) today, Nancy will be heading for the kennels and her WEB.  Some material scheduled for this week has had to be held over until next year.  Here’s hoping youse all can wait.

However, be warned. Nancy is now in theTwitter Zone and may send out occasional Media Watch Dog messages over the Festive Season.

Yeah, get out of here you stupid, horrid little twerp.


Who’s got a short memory? Like limitednews, I forget

November 18, 2011

I’ve finally been named in a newspaper editorial. I think this is a first for me; others may remember some obscure late 1970s rant against rioting students that noted my presence at an occupation somewhere or other.

A privilege or a punch?

On Friday I was named in infamous company by The Australian in yet another editorial lambasting all and sundry who think an inquiry into the Australian news media has got any merit at all.

The Communications Minister and Greens leader apparently have short memories, as do academics Robert Manne, Martin Hirst and Margaret Simons, who have also complained about what they perceive to be “campaigns” or “vendettas” in News Limited papers. Dr Hirst said he was “blown away” by the papers’ anti-government bias.

Yes, I did say that and the context (missing from limitednews coverage) is explained here.

The fact of our short memories is then ‘proven’ in the editorial by reference to moments when News Limited papers have attacked political parties other than the ALP.

And, no Virginia, kicking Bob Brown on an hourly basis does not count. The Australian means serious criticism of serious parties.

Several incidents from the Howard years are mentioned; all of which do meet the criteria for giving government the rough end of the media pineapple.

The inquiry has heard nothing, for instance, about the blowtorch this newspaper applied to the Howard government for buying votes with middle-class welfare, the Australian Wheat Board scandal, during which we exposed kickback payments to Saddam Hussein’s regime, and our expose of the “children overboard affair”, in which senior Liberals, including John Howard, wrongly claimed that asylum-seekers had thrown their children into the sea.

I do actually remember these incidents as being significant at the time and if they were so germaine to the media inquiry, then surely John Hartigan and other News Limited folk could bring them up again and again and discuss their relevance.

Rattling off a list like this and suggesting that no-one but News Limited remembers them misses the point. It’s not about individual campaigns or moments in time, it’s about an attitude over time.

I remember too, but have not found it on a Google search, a recent comment from John Howard from his biography, Lazarus Rising, about being grateful for the support he got from News Limited papers during his time as Prime Minister.

[If anyone can find this quote, or definitively show me it wasn't made, I will be grateful]

I have read the News Limited submission and apart from the opening gambit – there is no problem with News Limited titles – the issue of an even-handed approach is not discussed. The only mention of political coverage is to point out that in last year’s election some News Limited titles backed Gillard and some backed Abbott. If an election was held tomorrow, I’m sure that would not be the case.

In any case, I remember it more like this:

DURING John Howard’s lengthy prime ministership, his conservative Praetorian Guard in the media coined a pejorative term for critics of his government. They were branded ”Howard haters”. The ”Howard haters”, the argument went, occupied the commanding heights of Australia’s cultural institutions (especially the universities), and the Coalition, notwithstanding many other achievements in office, had been unable to dislodge this rag-tag band of liberal-left windbags.

[Politics of hate takes aim at PM]

I also remember, as do many others, News Limited unflinching support for Howard during the second Gulf war against Saddam Hussein, even after the point at which everyone stopped believing in WMD.

Finally, I would just point out to the good folk at News Limited that I am still waiting for my right of reply to the untrue allegations made about me in The Australian, The Herald-Sun and The Daily Telegraph.

Is it the case that their editorial policy is honoured in the breach?

As reflected in 1.3 of the News Code, it is standard journalistic practice that person or persons who are “attacked” would be given the opportunity to provide their views or version of events as part of the original story. The right of reply would form part of the story.

[News Limited submission to Media Inquiry]

In fact, at limitednews and, I’m sure, at Fairfax and others, it is the editorial right that takes precedence. If your views are assessed as being unworthy, then you don’t get to express them.

It is appropriate that a newspaper has the editorial discretion to assess the strength or credit of views and decide the weight to give some views and not others.

As has often been said: freedom of the press belongs to those who own one (or more)

However, there is one point in the News Limited discussion document that I do agree with – though for reasons totally opposite to those expressed here:

Requiring journalists to adopt the MEAA code would make coming under the MEAA umbrella mandatory.

This is tantamount to compulsory unionism.

Of course the collective expression, by a union, of the universal right of its members to assembly and political speech cannot be tolerated in the free market of ideas. Speech in that environment is reserved for the bosses and their toadying representatives in mahogany row.

A closed shop and high density of union membership would put paid to newsroom shenanigans and could very well have saved The News of the World. Have you considered that?

But, before we leave, I would like you to ponder these excerpts taken from the News Limited submission to the media inquiry:

It is incorrect to refer to rights for journalists. …It is the antithesis of free speech that a person wishing to be involved in public debate through a traditional media company or other form of media has to agree to a set of standards.

…It is our strong view there is no alternative model of regulation of the standards of journalists which would guarantee the freedom of the press.

…If print and online media companies were to be subject to government oversight of whether or not their content is accurate and balanced, then equally so should Richard Flanagan or Christopher Hitchins giving a public lecture on women’s rights or climate change and so should a tax‐payer arguing against climate change policy on the ABC’s Drum blog website.

…We strongly contend that the case for continuing regulation to ensure media diversity has not been made out.

…Newspapers are not limited by scarcity or high barriers to entry.

…News Limited submits, the need for cross‐media regulation to achieve diversity no longer applies. The market has delivered diversity.

Does that puzzle and worry you? More on this and other thoughts of [ex]Chairman John later.


What are news? Watermelon_man helps us out

November 17, 2011

Since engaging with #mediainquiry on Twitter and in the meatworld I have stumbled across some really nice people (at least they seem nice, I’ve only seen their avatars).

Their tweets make sense and they are using their real names. This is always a plus with me because I think free speech comes with accountability.

Anyone can use anonymity to fart into the wind and spew abuse over everyone and everything. But it takes courage to stand up for what you believe in and to take responsibility for your words and actions.

At times it can be tough. Saying things that are unpopular, or that inflame the prejudices of the dribblejaws is like painting a target on your back or pinning a ‘kick me’ sign to your arse.

Anyway, two of the good guys have recently been added to my blogroll:

Watermelon_man

Happy Antipodean.

This morning a brief post. I just want to share some entries from Watermelon_man’s dictionary; they are apt in the discussion of journalism and the news that occurs frequently on EM

Advertising: Sophisticated and highly profitable activity designed to turn informed consumers into ignorant ones.

Anecdote: Story by untrained amateur of poorly observed, half-remembered event, used by media to overturn work of world scientific community

Apostrophe: most misused punctuation mark. When in doubt best not to use one and be thought idiot than use one and confirm it.

Journalism: process of analysing, explaining, making clear, issues for public (archaic); process of obscuring reality (modern)

Journalist: A reporter of facts, an impartial observer (archaic); A writer of fiction, a political player (modern)

Media scrum: a pack of journalists, behaving like animals, from every media outlet except your own. See also: paparazzi, tabloid

Opinion Poll: Phone calls to a small number of conservative people who are asked to confirm that conservative politics is best

Political news: trivial information carefully gathered from press releases, publicity stunts, malignant gossip, by “reporters”

TV Documentary: Form of teaching about a subject where the viewer gains information in spite of director’s best efforts, not because of them.


Sorry, Mr Hywood – you missed the point: It’s not about quality it’s about money

November 16, 2011

Fairfax CEO Greg Hywood delivered the A.N. Smith lecture at Melbourne University’s Centre for Advanced Journalism last night (Tuesday 15 November).

I’ve never quite understood what ‘advanced’ journalism is supposed to be. Maybe I’ll look it up one day.

According to the mission statement, the CAJ is attempting to improve the quality of journalism through ‘knowledge transfer’

The Centre for Advanced Journalism will contribute to the University’s goal of knowledge transfer through interaction with the public and with journalists and media companies.

The four key questions posed for research at the CAJ are also admirable, if a little unremarkable:

  • How will new media technologies impact on the future of journalism?
  • What is the role of public interest journalism in a liberal democracy?
  • What is the nature of the relationship between government and the media and how does this relationship serve the public interest?
  • Is “the public interest” a concept that is understood by the media and the general public?

I have no problem with that at all and I wish the centre’s new director Margaret Simons all the best. Improving journalism is something that I’m passionate about too; so in that spirit, let’s engage with Greg Hywood’s comments.

I’m not sure of the title Greg gave to his talk, on the National Times site the headline is ‘Rumours of our demise exagerated’ and on the AFR site (behind a Fairfax paywall) the headline is ‘Internet the reason journalism’s future is bright’. So, presumably that’s what the talk was about.

I’ve read the edited transcript of Mr Hywood’s speech on the National Times website and I’d just like to address a few issues.

Strong and trusted journalism has never been more important.

Yes, that’s absolutely right, but it always has been. In any day and age there needs to be a robust public debate informed by accurate and honest information. In a mass society when we can’t all gather in the forum for the daily senate meeting the public sphere is highly mediated. We get our information – on which we base our opinions – from the mass media. A reliable and trustworthy news service is absolutely essential to that process.

I believe the future of journalism has never looked stronger.

This statement needs to be addressed in several ways because Hywood’s qualification is important:

And this is because of the internet, not despite it.

We’ll come to that in a minute, but first a question to Mr Hywood: How can the future of journalism look ‘stronger’ to you when your own company Fairfax Media is busy cutting jobs and the number of working journalists in major news titles is falling around the globe?

This was the situation at Fairfax mastheads in May this year:

The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald are preparing for a wave of industrial action after new Fairfax CEO Greg Hywood wielded the axe this morning, sacking over 100 production staff to achieve annual cost savings of $15 million under the cover of an announcement spruiking “quality journalism”.

[Fairfax slashes: 'quality journalism' with fewer staff]

Perhaps Mr Hywood had this in mind when he said in his speech last night:

What has changed is the workload. Forget filing once a day. In this crowded, chaotic environment you have to provide the best, independent news and analysis all the time.

Yeah, that’s right: the old bosses’ mantra of “doing more with less.” Simple physics and quantum mechanics tell us that it it almost impossible to do more with less.

Read the rest of this entry »


Twitterville – as the name suggests

November 15, 2011

There’s something very cool and satisfying about Twitter. I actually think that as a tool for journalists it has the potential to be very valuable and I know that my colleagues (shoutout to @julieposetti) are doing some interesting work to integrate it into both newsrooms and the journalism curriculum.

But, I also know that the sound and fury of an unmoderated twitterfeed can be overwhelming and that the signal-to-noise ratio is very low.

I have written about this at some length in News 2.0: Can journalism survive the Interet? I use the example of the 2009 Iran uprising because the book was published before the Arab Spring.

I know that social media is a valuable tool for political organising, but it can be over-hyped. Revolutions are made on the street with real sweat and real blood; not in the cool vacuum of cyberspace.

I also know that, on the other side, dear old Laura Norder would like nothing better than to corral young people into a panopticon of digital surveillance and stop them from organising riots using their Blackberry and other mobile devices.

So, we have a long way to go before these issues are finally resolved. I call this the techno-legal time-gap: the dissonance between applications and regulation.

And no, I’m not calling for more regulation or laws to stop us using social media.

However, as the name suggests: there are some twits in the twitterverse.

I came across one today. And he/she confirms, for me anyway, my argument that sometimes people think that freedom of speech and expression is just the freedom to be insulting, rude or offensive.

May I introduce one of Twitterville’s many village idiots: @PropheticKleenx

Now this could be a really clever kid with a wicked sense of irony and humour: “Location: Roman controlled Australia”

But I don’t think so.

Anyway @PropheticKleenx sent me a series of unsolicited tweets today using my @ethicalmartini handle. Obviously, I’ve done something to upset this person.

You’d never guess what that might be!

I must admit I didn’t know that ‘history’ had proved Joe McCarthy was right about anything except that pink lipstick with a canary slip is so not right.

I am gob-smacked to hear that Crikey is a Jesuit publication; I thought it was home to fun-loving Trotsky-in-the-closet raggamuffins.

Nor was I across the news that ‘catholicism created communism'; I thought the term “Godless Communist” meant something entirely different.

But I get the drift: @PropheticKleenx doesn’t like me.

I get that. I’m no saint, but I’m not the ‘nadia comanice of casuistry’ either; and I’m not always proud of what I’ve done.

I did actually ‘tweet while tipsy’ a couple of weeks ago.

I am sorry @Joe_Hildebrand, but I did enjoy the ensuing verbal tennis.

But what can you do when someone wants to exercise their freedom of speech by bombarding you with almost unintelligible tweets?

Thankfully they’re only 140 characters.

And, as  I’m sure Kerry Packer used to say when people criticised the crap showing on his television station.

“If you don’t fucking like it, just turn the fucking thing off.”

He did that once to his own network in the middle of a program he didn’t like.

You can do the same with Twitterville; there’s a very useful ‘off’ switch that can stop serial pests from pestering you.

To take advantage of this very social social media function, simply go to the person’s Twitter profile and click on the’block’ button. You find it under the dropdown menu that looks like a head with an arrow down.

I just used it on @PropheticKleenx and it seems that I am not the only one s/he’s been harrassing.

Coincidentally, my mate @julieposetti had to do the same thing last week.

This really is a coincidence. I did not know about this when I started this post. I saw the block tweet from Julie only after I had completed the last step (blocking @PropheticKleenx myself)

I also recommend the same tactic for the witches of Facebook.


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