Media Inquiry? Inconvenient facts go down the memory hole (part 2)

July 28, 2012

Do you remember the Independent Media Inquiry?

You might vaguely recall the Finkelstein inquiry…yes, rings a faint bell?

It’s OK, I wouldn’t be surprised if you’d forgotten most of the details.

What do you remember?

Oh yes. Finkelstein, isn’t he the guy who wants to throw the champions of the fourth estate in jail for telling the truth about the nasty and unloved Ju-Liar government?

That’s right, that’s exactly right. Here’s a free online subscription to the Heart of the Nation.

According to many ‘exclusive’ stories in The Australian newspaper, the sole aim of the Independent Media Inquiry was to impose heavy sanctions on the news media because the Gillard government doesn’t handle criticism very well.

Take this story from media commentator Mark Day on 26 April 2012. It is so important it got top of page 1 treatment;

A new regulatory body, funded by government and with powers to impose fines and sanctions on news outlets is a key proposal of the long-awaited Convergence Review of the emedia sector.

Unfortunately, this story was wrong, wrong wrong.

The Convergence Review rejected any idea that there should be any such government-funded organisation with anything like the powers suggested in this breathless lead par.

However, since this story was published it has become standard operating procedure to continue the lie.

It is only possible to conclude one of four things:

a) the budget is so tight at News Limited that as many words as possible have to be recycled on a daily basis which means that key phrases are used over and over again to save money

b) the koolaid in the LimitedNews bunkers is real tasty and no one’s yet cottoned on that it is the source of the medicine that results in obligatory groupthink

c) there is a deliberate mis-information campaign going on designed to fool Australians into demanding Stephen Conroy’s head on a platter.

d) we are being fed a bowl of chump bait with fear-causing additives so we don’t see what’s really going on.

It’s probably a combination of all four.

If we’re stirred up about bloody attacks on ‘our’ freedom of speech and we can be made to think that only The Australian and the Institute of Public Affairs stands between us and a Stalino-Fascist dictatorship of ‘befuddled’ Greens from the ‘tofu belt’ aided and abetted by the ‘soft-Left media’ then maybe we’ll be goaded into action.

Seriously, you couldn’t make this stuff up even if you called yourself Chris Mitchell and spent your days dreaming of a world in which you could wield the absolute power that corrupts absolutely.

Read the rest of this entry »


Sleazy, nasty, dirty and wrong: Just another day at The Australian

May 19, 2012

In recent days The Australian has launched a vitriolic and highly personal campaign against Margaret Simons the director of the Centre for Advanced Journalism at Melbourne University. The campaign is aimed at discrediting Meg and her colleagues (me included) who teach journalism and who are critical of some aspects of the Australian news media.

The Australian thinks that Margaret and others are part of some leftwing conspiracy. In other words, anyone with an opinion that editor-in-chief Chris Mitchell disagrees with is fair game for slander and professional assassination.

The premise for this nasty war against Margaret Simons and other journalism academics is that Meg is somehow in the wrong for not ‘disclosing’ that she was asked to provide a name to the Finkelstein review of someone who might make a useful research assistant for the inquiry. The undertone is that anyone critical of the current set up is naturally a Stalinist who wants to shut down the free press in Australia on behalf of the political class.

This is ridiculous and unsustainable, but it doesn’t stop the News Limited papers from barking on about it.

I am a defender of Margaret Simons, though I don’t know what ‘Advanced Journalism’ might be and Meg and I probably disagree on elements of both the Finkelstein inquiry and its value and on aspects of journalism education.

As is usual in such situations, The Australian has made no attempt to find an alternative viewpoint, instead over the past few days it has rolled out the usual suspects – convenient sources who have been used before and who are guaranteed to sing off the same hymnsheet as The Australian and who can be used as ‘useful idiots’ to promote its editorial line.

Shameful, sleazy, nasty and dirty. It is exactly what we have come to expect from this self-indulgent rag.

I have written an open letter to Nick Leys and other journalists at The Australian who are involved in this beat up. I am challenging them to offer a right of reply and indicating that I am willing to provide it at short notice so that it can be in Monday’s media section.

An open letter to Nick Leys & others at The Australian

Dear Nick,
I’m disappointed with the piece today by Christian Kerr, (additional reporting by you),

We now know academics favouring a new regulatory regime were brought into key roles in the inquiry.

Cosy club behind a media watchdog

Actually, you know nothing of the sort. Your paper has accused Margaret Simons of being a conspiracy theorist, but on this yarn you lot have out-conspiracied the Roswell crowd.

It is not unusual for government departments to discuss and recommend to ministers on the appointment of advisors and inquiry personnel. There’s nothing at all unusual in that.

But your motivation is not honest reporting, it is part of a political agenda you are running to shut down discussion and debate about the lack of transparency and accountability in the Australian media. You have built a monster out of spare parts and bullshit and now you want to chase it down.

Meg Simons becomes a ‘hot topic’ on The Oz Media pages

Read the rest of this entry »


Thank you for your comment…now piss off back to Where-everstan!

November 13, 2011

After my appearance at the government-sponsored media inquiry in Melbourne last week I was suddenly on the News Limited radar. My name popped up in several news reports and comment pieces over the following days, but not once was I actually asked to comment, or explain my views.

The only inquiry I had from a News journo was late on Tuesday night when a reporter from the Daily Telegraph rang me at home. If I thought that this was going to be an opportunity to discuss my views on the Australian media, I was sadly disappointed.

The guy had been instructed by his editor to call and ask me a couple of questions. He didn’t really sound all that comfortable about it, but he plugged on. The first question was straight out of the Senator McCarthy playbook: Are you now, or have you ever been a communist?

All the Telegraph was interested in was whether or not I would confirm that I still hold left-wing views. The second question was could I supply them with a recent photograph.

“Yeah right,” I thought, “so you can out it on a ‘wanted poster’, I don’t think so.”

It’s interesting that the Telegraph would go down this line, when all the time News Limited papers are agitated about the media inquiry being some kind of McCarthyist witch-hunt against them. The next morning, it was ‘revealed’ in the Telegraph that I had links to an archive website called Marxist Interventions. the paper also pointed out that I am a critic of “Western capitalist democracy” and alleged that my criticism of News Limited had been “aggressive”.

I tried to respond to this by posting an online comment to the article; but it has not been published. In that reply I briefly set out why I am critical of “Western capitalist democracy” within the terms of polite and civil discourse.

On Andrew Bolt’s blog at the Herald Sun I was described as a “former Trotskyist and Pilger devotee”. Which is worse? I don’t know. Once again I attempted to post a polite comment; my main concern being to point out the factual error: I never once claimed to be a “former” Trotskyist. It was eventually published, but only invited more ridicule from Bolt’s followers.

A couple of days later Herald Sun columnist Miranda Devine weighed in, describing me as a “self-proclaimed Trotskyist,” and “anti-American”. I’m not sure where she got the idea that I’m anti-American. My father-in-law is a retired US serviceman; I lived in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, for three years and I have visited the US several times over the past decade. I love American muscle cars of the 1960s while recognising that they are gas-guzzling dinosaurs of the age of oil.

I don’t know what Devine means by “anti-American”. It’s a catch-all slur designed to make me seem some how less than credible; like Bolt calling me a “Pilger devotee”. Where’s the evidence for either claim?

No one has bothered to ask me what my views are on America or John Pilger.

If either Bolt or Devine is interested, this is what I would say:

I am not anti-American, but I am against American imperialism – so too are tens of thousands of Americans. Unlike the Murdoch media worldwide, I opposed both Gulf Wars, as did tens of thousands of Americans. I am against the US-led “war on terror” and I think that the American government has sanctioned war crimes in the name of “defending democracy”, while trashing democracy at home. Again, so too do tens of thousands of Americans.

Am I a “devotee” of John Pilger? No, and I’m sure he would hate to think that he has disciples or devotees. Do I admire his work and his public positions on imperialism, the Middle East and the war on terror? Yes I do; in the same way that I approve of and enjoy the work of that great anti-American documentary maker, Michael Moore.

Of course, in the eyes of the News Limited calumnists [sic] thinking favourably of Michael Moore or John Pilger is tantamount to treason. Thinking for yourself and deciding, after more than 30 years studying political economy, politics and journalism (and incidentally acquiring four degrees along the way), that you are willing to identify as a socialist is enough to get them all barking and howling at the moon; even in the middle of the day.

Considered, thoughtful, intelligent left-wing opinion cannot be allowed in the pages of the News Limited press; its very existence must be attacked, ridiculed and vilified at every turn of the page and every click of the mouse. It is why none of these people will be invited to have a column in The Australian, except for William Morris of course. If he wasn’t dead, I’m sure he’d be asked to contribute a few frothy words for the soft furnishings pages.

Why I am a socialist #1; Why I am a socialist #2; Why I am a socialist#3; Why I am a socialist #4;

Well, what I mean by Socialism is a condition of society in which there should be neither rich nor poor, neither master nor master’s man, neither idle nor overworked, neither brain­slack brain workers, nor heart­sick hand workers, in a word, in which all men would be living in equality of condition, and would manage their affairs unwastefully, and with the full consciousness that harm to one would mean harm to all-the realisation at last of the meaning of the word COMMONWEALTH .

Why I am a socialist – William Morris

If you want to know what kind of socialist I am, then look over here.

Imagine what we could do with the accumulated trillions of dollars in the hands of a tiny minority of capitalist parasites. We could feed, clothe and shelter the millions who live on less than $2 a day, just as a start. The state, with its armed might that is used to repress dissent and defend the interests of the tiny minority would no longer be necessary. There could be genuine democracy. With the end of capitalist competition for profits there would be no war, so the massive resources that go into killing machines could be put to use restoring the environment, for education, health, community care of the sick, the young and the elderly. And much more.

[What do we mean by socialism?]

And here’s why you should be a socialist too.

I don’t really expect that I would be treated politely, or with any respect, in the limitednews pages; but I was still surprised then to see myself talked about again in the Saturday (12 Nov) Weekend Australian.

The paper’s media diarist (or at least one of them, apologies to @meadea) Nick Leys filed a brief piece on the Tuesday afternoon (8 Nov) quoting my solicited comments at the media inquiry:

The first submission at the public hearings has been made by associate professor Martin Hirst who has spoken about free speech and the responsibilities of the media.

He said mainstream media is failing in this responsibility by limiting “the variety of views and opinions.”

“there is not a lot of strong left opinions in the mainstream media and I think that is a lack of diversity.”

Later he told the inquiry: “the public does have a right to expect honesty and truthfulness and a range of opinions.”

So far so good. Straightforward and accurate. But these sensible comments were to be buried a few days later by @leysie (is that a misspelling?).

I thought long and hard about why the sudden change in tone and I think I understand now. When Leys filed the short, factual piece reporting my comments in a straight newsy way, he didn’t know about my supposedly hidden socialist past. It wasn’t until he got back to the office to find that I’d been outed on the interwebs that the tone changed. He then got the News Limited line straight: under no circumstances was I to be given any credibility at all.

All the limitednews calumnists have now got the message and have fallen into line. Writing in Monday’s Media section of The Australian, veteran Murdoch apologist Mark Day argues that my appearance on Tuesday has fatally damaged the credibility of the Finkelstein inquiry.

On Tuesday, the Finkelstein inquiry into the print media got under way in Melbourne with an academic Trotskyite leading a procession of lefties calling for an overhaul of media regulation. Nothing could have been more damaging to the credibility of this once-over-lightly look at the print media.

[Cup runneth over for industry junkies]

Really, does one lone Trot have the power to do that? Imagine what we could do with a party of thousands. The week before, Mark Day was happy to ignore me in his preview of the inquiry:

THE Finkelstein inquiry into print media gets under way in Melbourne tomorrow and there are no prizes for guessing which way it will go. First up to give evidence are the “Bad News” academic Robert Manne, Crikey founder Stephen Mayne and its current owner/publisher, Eric Beecher.

[Inquiry's focus on manipulation is a joke]

Day had the running order clearly showing that I was “first up”; but at that point, my name didn’t strike horror into the hearts of reasonable men and women and the mention of Manne, Mayne and Beecher was sure to scare the horses, they were in the front lines.

You think I’m paranoid? Well sorry to disappoint. The punning ‘trot’ headlines continue to spew out of the Murdoch bunkers. Try this sorry exercise, for example: Trotting out nonsense at an inquiry into nothing by David Penberthy. You see a pattern emerging here?

The inquiry’s a joke and the pinkos are out to get us:

The Federal Government is in the middle of holding an inquiry into the Australian media. If a camel is a horse designed by a committee, this inquiry is the strangest beast to wander out of Canberra in a while. It is wholly an accident of the fraught marriage of convenience which Julia Gillard was forced to enter into with the Greens to cling to power. Its terms of reference are absurd.

[Trotting out nonsense at an inquiry into nothing]

But this stuff plays well to a News Limited audience, even if some, like “Richard”, are a little bit confused in the comment thread on Penberthy’s piece:

News limited is a very broad and sprawling organisation. While I like the Australian and the Daily Telegraph, I absolutely hate the Courier Mail, its a perverse hotbed of reds and socialists doing their darnedest to corrupt Queensland with leftist slime, I sincerely believe that.

Anyway back to@leysie. After getting the story straight [Hirst, Manne, Mayne and Beecher would now be known by the collective noun a "procession" of lefties], Nick Leys contributed a fine and lengthy piece for Inquirer in the Weekend Australian (12 Nov), which deftly establishes the News Limited agenda through insinuating an ulterior motive on behalf of the inquiry head, former judge Ray Finkelstein:

Was the structure of that first day designed to allow Finkelstein to deal with the more extreme concepts of media regulation and any vendetta against News Limited? It appeared so.

How else do you explain the near-histrionic appearance by Martin Hirst, a communications academic who told the inquiry he had been living in New Zealand for at least four years?

“I am not here to bash the Murdoch press,” he said, before doing just that.”I was blown away,” he said theatrically of the discussed political coverage. “Every story about federal politics is slanted. If they can find a way of attacking Julia Gillard or another Labor minister, they do.”

“Ouch,” histrionics, theatrical? Nick, you were there in the chamber with me for nearly two full days; did you see me waving my arms or shouting? Did you see evidence of Vaudeville song and dance? Did you watch me weep, or scream or laugh hysterically?. No, jackass, you didn’t!

You sat less than 3 metres away from me for most of Wednesday and made no effort to talk to me. You knew I was there because you were following and contributing to the #mediainquiry twitter feed.  Why not ask me a question? Journalists are supposed to conduct research and interviews. Why didn’t you make any attempt to make contact with me?

Were you afraid I might breathe Trotsky-germs on you; or did you think I might not quite fit the nasty straitjacket you and your colleagues were busily stitching up for me? Or were you told not to give me any oxygen in case I actually sounded sensible and reasonable – like I did on Tuesday morning when I was just another media academic?

Instead of going to the source, you have strung together two quotes from me as if they were part of the same (breathless?) sentence. But the transcript clearly shows they were separated by a good 10 minutes or more. I can estimate this because there’s nine pages of transcript between my first statement and the phrase that @leysie attempts to link it to.

The first part of the quote, including the remark “I’m not here to bash the Murdoch press”, is on page 10 of the transcript I have, which puts that phrase into some context:

I am not here to bash the Murdoch press, but I think across the board in the mainstream media there is what I would call a limited variety of speaking positions.  There is a limited view of what are permissible views in terms of what’s actually picked up and promoted through the media.

This comment is not aimed at News Limited alone, I am clearly linking my comments to the mainstream news media in general. Then there’s four pages of general discussion – and when I say discussion I mean that I was effectively being cross-examined by the judge.

The next mention of News Limited is a comment I make about Andrew Bolt and the Racial Discrimination Act case, which in the copy of the transcript I have is on page 15. Clearly that is some considerable number of minutes after “I am not here to bash the Murdoch press.”

MR FINKELSTEIN:   Why shouldn’t people scream abuse at each other?

DR HIRST:   It’s not very helpful.

MR FINKELSTEIN:   It might not be, but might the question be:  so what?  People scream at one another.  In other  words, they are uncivil in their political communications. In a democratic society, can I ask the question:  so what?

DR HIRST:   I guess because free speech has consequences. I guess, in a sense, that was at the heart of the Bolt matter before the RDA, that it was deemed that there were consequences of Andrew Bolt’s commentary.  It was deemed in that context to be hurtful and I would actually argue inciteful, as to incite others into action.  I make that point in the paper that you read, that in fact that is the  situation.  I would actually argue that Andrew Bolt was aware of that, and that there was a purpose behind what he was doing.

MR FINKELSTEIN:   His conduct was governed, as the court found, by existing legislation.

DR HIRST:   Absolutely, yes.

I have highlighted the line ‘in the paper that you read’, to demonstrate an important point about my appearance at the media inquiry that you will never read in the News Limited papers. I was there with my colleague Ivo Burum (@citizenmojo) to talk about something completely different. Our joint submission to the inquiry said nothing about News Limited, or Andrew Bolt; it was all about Ivo’s very successful projects teaching the tools of the trade to all sorts of interesting people. Take a look at this video to get an idea of what we’re talking about.

When Ivo and I sat down in front of the judge and the professor, we had no idea that our carefully prepared double act on NT Mojo was going to be hijacked into a discussion of free speech, racial vilification, market failure and the limits of press freedom at limitednews. I was not there, as the Telegraph was trying to suggest, as part of an anti-Murdoch conspiracy. The transcript clearly shows it was the judge who opened that Pandora’s box, not me.

Ray Finkelstein’s opening gambit was to take both of us down a rabbit hole:

MR FINKELSTEIN:   Can I deviate, though, from the terms of your submission, Doctor, and ask you some other I hope related questions.  I ask them in part because I have read a publication of yours to do with free speech and racial vilification.

DR HIRST:   It was only published a couple of days ago.

MR FINKELSTEIN:   It was published on 5 November, according to the copy that I have.

A draft of the paper, currently submitted to a journal for peer-review, was uploaded to my Academia.edu profile page on Saturday 5 November. It is called ‘I’m not a racist.’ Andrew Bolt and free speech. This was not part of my submission to the media inquiry; it is part of a broader study that I’m doing into free speech and commecial speech in the marketplace of ideas and the capitalist (private) media.

The next installment has the working title “There’s no such thing as free speech”. You will have to wait for that, but no doubt the dribblejaws will wet themselves with barely contained rage at the mere suggestion of an idea that I could even possibly contemplate such heresy against the founding fathers.

But anyway, I digress. The point is that my first comment about News Limited and my brief mention of the Bolt case do not amount to me going to the inquiry with a Murdoch-bashing agenda.

In fact, coming to that point, my comments were in response to the one question asked by the professor during my time at the front table. It is in the context of me talking about the failure of the free market  to provide a wide diversity of media voices in a capitalist economy, particularly in the mainstream media. It is worth reading this exchange, because it also puts to rest the lie that I was only talking about the Murdoch media.

I think in terms of the main ways in which we get political information and the main ways in which the public sphere is created and informed, it still relies quite heavily on the main players in the marketplace, and they are heavily capitalised global companies in most cases that do, I think, have greater clout because of their economic size and wealth.

Economic power does bring with it a certain amount of political and  social power as well, in the battle of ideas.  It actually creates a much bigger platform and louder megaphone than somebody on a blog that gets a couple of hundred views a day.  It is a much more powerful tool of speech.

…I don’t think the marketplace of ideas is actually an open and fair marketplace where everybody has the same right of access and the same ability to be heard.

DR RICKETSON:   What might be an example of what you were just talking about before with the mainstream media and the fact they have an undue influence?  What is an example of  that, that you can think of?

DR HIRST:   I think the kind of editorial pages of any newspaper provide that kind of platform.  The Insiders program on the ABC, Four Corners, 7.30 Report, all those type of things generate a huge amount of interest – Q&A,  all of that type of mainstream political information programming, news and current affairs type of programmes, I think carry a much greater social weight in terms of how we as a society form opinions and react to those things than the internet and blogs and those kind of things at the moment.  There is definitely still a dominant mainstream media in that regard.

One example that is very current, which I am sure other people will talk to you about today, is the idea that the News Limited newspapers are running some kind of political agenda at the moment against the Gillard government.  I actually think that is true.

I have only been back in the country now for about four months after living in New Zealand for four and a half years and I was absolutely blown away by that, and by what I see appearing now in the newspapers, particularly in The Australian, which I have a subscription to and I look at every day.  There is a consistent kind of approach to the way that The Australian is actually reporting federal politics at the moment.  It seems to me that the people who are arguing that there is an anti-Labor bias in the editorial pages and in the news pages of that paper are absolutely right.  You see it every day.

So, there you go; I mentioned  the editorial pages in “any” newspapers, and four ABC programs to illustrate my point; only then did I talk about The Australian.

But it actually gets more interesting. You see, I am accused of being part of the amorphous group who are conspiring to have the Murdoch press shut down. I can tell you right now that I have not caucused with Professor Manne, Stephen Mayne, or Bob Brown. I don’t speak to Labor politicians and they don’t ring me for advice (huge sigh of relief in News HQ?).

I was very careful to put on the record my views about any suggestion that I am in favour of shutting down News Limited through government regulation. I am not; I believe if it is to be shut down, it should not be by any other means than workers’ direct action, a’la 1975.

In 1975, before the News Corporation became a multinational conglomerate and moved its headquarters overseas, journalists at its flagship The Australian went on strike to protest the lack of fairness at their paper.

In 2011, in a sign that the peaking of News Corporation power had come at a price to its integrity, almost to a man and woman, those whose profession required they stand up for the public interest appeared to be fawning for favour at the requirement of their employers rather than feeling any obligation to the ethics of their profession.

Utherssay.com

Yes, I still believe in direct action. We are the 99 per cent.

So, what did I say inside the inquiry? Well, in a nutshell I said that the Murdoch press can do what it likes, that it has a ‘right’ to be anti-Labor and that we have to live with that, even if we don’t agree with it, or like it.

DR HIRST:   I don’t have a problem with The Australian doing that, but I just think it is interesting.  I am not saying that The Australian shouldn’t do that, or it doesn’t have a right to do that; I am just observing that I think that’s what is happening.

MR FINKELSTEIN:   But it’s not just an observation.  Don’t you mean that in a critical way?

DR HIRST:   Yes, I’m critical of it, but I’m not arguing that it should be stopped; that we should actually stop The Australian from doing that.

…MR FINKELSTEIN:   That is not a complaint about the content of the political articles?

DR HIRST:   I’d politically disagree with the editorial line of The Australian, but I’m not suggesting for a minute that The Australian should be banned or anything like that. I’m just making the observation that that seems to me to be one of the advantages of having a $30 million printing press that you can use.  It gives you a big advantage in terms of the battle of ideas, absolutely.

OK. got that? Like I said, this comes some 10 or more pages after my first comment and it is in response to direct questions from the chair of the inquiry.

I’d also like to nail the false allegation against me that I am pro-censorship and want the government to regulate the Murdoch press. It’s amazing how many of Andrew Bolt’s regular readers actually believe this deceitful line that he and News Limited calumnists are pushing at every opportunity. Just take a look at the comment streams on his blog and ones like this in the outer spirals of the cyberverse. Some of these posters, most of whom are anonymous and unaccountable for their disturbing worldview, are clearly living in a parallel universe.

Anonymous said…

I thought ‘shtum’ or other variant spellings, was from the Yiddish, given the ‘sh’ sound. Which will only further fuel Hirst and the Hirstians’ belief in the Murdoch-Bunyip-Zionist-RWDB-Bolt-Big Carbon-Big Pharma-Max the Chocolate cabal. Play that tune, you jolly paranoids! It’s got a good beat and you can dance to it. Neil In Newcastle

Yeah, if you say so Neil.

If you go back to the inquiry transcript you can see that I was able to get on the record my view of media licensing. Far from supporting it I am totally opposed and actually suggested that the government pull back from licensing, not impose more.

I think there is a need to probably adjust some rules and regulations.  For example, is there really any point any more to licensing broadcasters when there is no longer a shortage of spectrum?

…I think Bob Brown’s submission raised the idea of licensing newspaper owners.  I would actually argue that you should look at taking away any kind of licensing regulation around broadcasting because, in fact, the  argument for that, which is spectrum scarcity, no longer exists.

This is on page 12 of the transcript I have. It indicates that, far from only bashing Murdoch, I was answering questions and making points on a range of issues.

I made a similar point when questioned in a media scrum outside the inquiry on Tuesday.

SIMON LAUDER: The first to give evidence before the inquiry was Deakin University journalism lecturer, Dr Martin Hirst. The media is not allowed to record proceedings, but Dr Hirst spoke outside the hearing room.

He says the public doesn’t trust the media.

MARTIN HIRST: Any surveys that you look at that talk about trusted professionals – journalists rate about as high as prostitutes and used car salesmen and I think that is a problem that we need to address and I think journalists need to talk about that and start addressing that themselves, because if you don’t, if journalists don’t start fixing it themselves, there will be licensing, there will be regulation and I think that would be a blow to media and to freedom of speech.

Of course, that’s taken from the left-wing ABC program PM, so they probably doctored the quote (with my help) to confuse the dribblejaws. Joking aside, this comment makes it quite clear where my sympathies lie. I am in favour of journalists fixing the problem on their own terms. I have argued elsewhere that news workers must take collective responsibility and collective action to resolve these issues. The near hysteria from senior News Limited head-kickers is not in journalists’ best interests, nor, I would argue, is it in the greater public interest, which I also spoke about at length in my comments before the inquiry.

I think the marketplace of ideas rhetoric, which is, if you like, the rhetoric of liberal democracy and representative democracy and capitalist economy and capitalist society, is a flawed model in that the marketplace is not a level playing field.  It doesn’t give everybody the same rights of access.  I think it commodifies the notion of public interest, which is something I am also quite interested in exploring, because I think that our definitions of public interest are actually based on ideas of the market.

If you look at the legislation around broadcasting and telecommunications, for example, with the public interest test, that is often based on looking at economic benefits, so the public interest is defined in those terms and citizens are defined in that regard as consumers rather than as an expression of political ideas.

I think that there is a philosophical debate to be had about the idea of the marketplace of ideas and how relevant it is, and if it is working.  My argument would be that it is not working and that we are in a situation we are in  today, in terms of the collapse of business models and decline in public trust in journalism and in the news, as a result of failure of the market as it is currently established.

If you want to know more about this line of reasoning and how it relates to issues of trust, public interest, citizen journalism and new business models for the news media, then you can read about it here.

It is good though, that I’m not the only one attempting to tell another version of the media inquiry story. I am grateful to @watermelon_man (aka David Horton) for his tweeting, his good humour and this post in which he outlines a reasonable seven point plan:

Fundamentally you need (1) an ownership diversity mechanism (2) a “fairness” and balance doctrine in some form, (3) a return to a clear distinction between news and “opinion”, (4) some measure of truth in reporting (and advertising), (5) clear labelling of vested interests and institutional homes of commentators, (6) some protection for privacy and against libel, and (7) a complaints mechanism with teeth. Then see how it goes and review at regular intervals.

[Fit to print]

Finally, I’d just like to say a word to that man of integrity and letters, Gerard Henderson, of the conservative Sydney Institute. I don’t usually read Henderson’s Media Watch blog, but since it contains a reference to me this week (Nov 11), I thought that taking a quick look might be a good idea.

Well, not so much. 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. The bit about me is also done in this shambolic style:

Martin Hirst – A Trot With The Lot

Associate Professor Martin Hirst, who hails from Deakin University, is a former ABC journalist and a current dedicated follower of the Marxist revolutionary Leon Trotsky.  According to the website Marx Interventions [sic], Martin Hirst claims to be the only Trotskyist to have ever worked in the Canberra Press Gallery as a journalist. [I doubt this. – Ed].

It seems strange that the Media Inquiry believes that a taxpayer funded Trotskyist is the best person to lead off its public hearings.  This is what Robert Service had to say about Leon Trotsky in his well regarded Trotsky: A Biography (Macmillan, 2009):

…Trotsky was no angel. His lust for dictatorship and terror was barely disguised in the [Russian] Civil War.  He trampled on the civil rights of millions of people including the industrial workers.  His self-absorption was extreme.

By the way, Dr Hirst is on the public record as declaring that “objectivity as a principle of journalism is no longer the holy grail”.  Martin Hirst is an academic.  Can you bear it?

I haven’t read Service’s biography, perhaps I will one day. But so that you can decide for yourself, here are two reviews. The first in the Torygraph claims it a masterpiece, the second by Paul Le Blanc pans it as a stinker.

Of course for the libertarian-minded Henderson and his free-market thinking, Trotsky must be a monster. That he relies on Robert Service for his view of Trotsky comes as no surprise. This from the Wikipedia entry on Service:

His biography of Russian revolutionary Marxist and co-leader of the Russian Revolution Leon Trotsky had been subjected to severe criticism since its publication for historical falsification. David North, chairman of the International Committee of the Fourth International published his criticism in the form of a book, In Defense of Leon Trotsky[1]. The accusations of not meeting basic standards of historical scholarship and numerous factual errors in the biography were also seconded by the American Historical Review[2][3].

The last point: Henderson also attempts to cast doubt on my reputation by suggesting I am wrong (possibly lying, or ill-informed) about being the only Trotskyist to have worked as a journalist in the Canberra press gallery.

Well, Gerard, go and find another. I wish you luck. It would be nice to have a fellow-traveler to share the opprobrium with.

And yes, I do not think that the pursuit of objectivity is the holy grail of journalism. I am not alone in that view it is fairly mainstream now in the literature and even among journalists, both working and retired; living and dead.


Free speech, vilification and the Herald Sun editorial

September 30, 2011

The Herald Sun editorial defending Andrew Bolt against Federal Court ruling that he breached provisions of the Racial Discrimination Act argues that the offending columns were justified.

In the second paragraph the editorial “maintains” the view that:

What Bolt wrote in this newspaper and online was not based on race, but on the way race was used by those who took such offence. (‘Free speech vital to society’  12011)

This is a semantic point that twists the argument to suggest that the actions of those who claimed to be offended, insulted, intimidated and humiliated by Bolt’s comments are themselves racist.

In the fifth par the editorial insists the paper was right to publish Bolt’s comments:

We say [publication] was [justifiable] and if it is the interpretation of he law that comes into question, then it is the law that should be changed.

This is a key turning point in the argument, which sets up the HWT defence that the unfettered principle of free speech must trump a law, which attempts to curtail it.

The following paragraph makes a stab at defining free speech in this context:

A key measure of a mature society is the ability to publicly discuss unpopular views without fear, no matter how distasteful they are to some of us, and to follow this discussion with vigorous public debate.

But this case was not about tasteful or distasteful comments. It was about the deliberate denigration and traducing of nine individuals based only on their ethnic identity.  The HWT justification on this point seems to imply that anything goes in the freedom of speech stakes. This takes no account of the public benefit and public interest in having a legal means to curtail hateful, hurtful and inflammatory propaganda. Any society that wants to call itself democratic and civilized will have legislative and legal provisions preventing racist speech. There is no right to freedom of speech that involves racial or other defamation based on stereotyping, misconceptions, deliberately deceptive arguments. There is no right to free speech if the aim of that speech is to encourage others to action – even if that action (at this point) is merely an invitation to share such views.

On this point the Herald Sun editorial spins itself a very tight web, but unfortunately it appears caught in the clever strands of its own faulty logic:

This has very much been a trial of freedom of speech [sic]. Those who complained had he opportunity to put forward their own views. They were offered equal space on these pages, but sought to silence Bolt on the subject of the social consequences of their choice to identify as Aboriginal. (‘Free speech vital to society’  12011)

I cannot, at this point, offer an opinion on whether or not the complainants were offered and refused a chance to respond in the paper. However, I can observe that this would not necessarily have been in the plaintiff’s best interests. The only possible outcome I could see would be to add fuel to the fire Bolt was attempting to ignite with an explosion of feigned moral outrage. If I had been advising the nine my recommendation would have been not to engage with Bolt in the pages of his own newspaper. Bolt has previous form in these matters and he would know that anything the accused put forward in their defence would be used to further inflame the mob rule atmosphere that demagogues thrive in.

But on the last line “the social consequences of their choice to identify as Aboriginal” I can surmise that the irony of this comment is lost on the editorialist. One of the social consequences the plaintiffs had to endure was the vilification and opprobrium heaped on them by Andrew Bolt in his offending columns and by his legion of ill-informed fans who lap up his diatribes.

 

, ‘Free speech vital to society’ 12011, Herald Sun, 29 September, Editorial.

 

 


‘Free speech’ …the last defence of cowards and scoundrels

September 30, 2011

Freedom of speech is not freedom to say whatever you like, whenever you want about anything you please.

It’s not OK to use the pages of a newspaper or the bandwidth of a blog to defame and vilify people.

That’s why Herald Sun propagandist Andrew Bolt is crying crocodile tears over the Federal Court ruling that found he breached the Racial Discrimination Act in a 2009 column attacking so-called “light-skinned” Aborigines for – as Bolt would have it – milking the system to the detriment of “real” Aboriginal people.

Of course Bolt plays to his audience of dribblejaws. He stokes their prejudice and fans the flames of intolerance and white Australian grumpiness by simplifying his argument to the point of nonsense and focusing his attacks on the easy targets he knows will excite and agitate the usual suspects among dedicated Herald Sun readers.

He knows his coded racism will also act as dog whistle politics to those on the right fringes of Australia’s underbelly who see Bolt as some Glenn Beck-like messiah of salvation for that small-minded minority of Australian bigots who want a return to the days of the White Australia policy.

That’s why Bolt is a propagandist, not a journalist, not a columnist. He uses his position of influence to deliberately rake over these political coals attempting to catch a spark of righteous indignation.

That’s why Bolt deserved to go down in the Federal Court this week.

But of course, for a seasoned campaigner like Bolt, victory can be snatched from the jaws of defeat. In the Murdoch press war rooms up and down the east coast of Australia the planning included how to respond if Bolt lost his defence.

The editorials were already pencilled in and already paid-for tame opinionistas were phoned and told to sharpen their vitriolic pens ready to do battle on behalf of the Bolter.

One such is Gary Johns writing in The Australian. He returns to Bolt’s theme in an attempt to shore up the wrong argument that ‘free speech’ has been wounded by the Federal Court’s decision.

“The provisions of the act used to silence Bolt are bad law.”

Well, actually Bolt hasn’t been silenced – he had three pages to himself in the Herald Sun the day after the Federal Court decision and plenty of air time. No doubt he’ll come back to this on his TV platform too.

And the Racial Discrimination Act is not bad law. It is designed to prevent institutionalised and indiscriminate discrimination against those who have been historically and consistently marginalised in this still whiter-than-white nation.

What’s more surprising is that this is the first time the RDA has been used successfully against Bolt. He is a familiar face when it comes to racially-motivated diatribes against ‘difference’. Muslims and others have been targets before and will be in the future.

Johns’ defence of Bolt also revisits the ideas behind Bolt’s original offending pieces — that the group of nine who were named (and those like them) are light-skinned but identify as Aborigines “because there are public benefits in so identifying”.

This is the exact same defamatory imputation that Bolt made. It implies that this group chooses to identify as Aboriginal because they can milk the public purse by so doing.

As others have pointed out, Bolt’s words, phrases and meanings carried clearly defamatory imputations. His use of words like “official”, “political” and “professional” “white Aborigines” appear to knowingly damage the reputations of the people named in his columns.

More importantly, any defence Bolt might have to accusations of defamatory speech evaporate because he got even basic facts about his targets wrong. He wrote about one complainant that she had a white, German father. Problem was, Larissa Behrendt’s dad was an Aboriginal man.

When looking at this case over the past two days (I was living in New Zealand during 2009 when events happened and had not at that time read Bolt’s columns) I came to the same conclusion as David Marr:

Perhaps the Herald Sun and Bolt should be thanking their lucky stars not to be facing nine separate defamation trials.

[Freedom of Speech rides on - David Marr, SMH 29/9/11]

Yep, lucky that the nine complainants chose to use the Racial Discrimination Act where the test for harm is actually harder to pass than in defamation actions. The RDA contains a clause that explicitly defends freedom of speech when offensive speech is used “reasonably and in good faith”.

In the Federal Court it was proven that Bolt had not acted reasonably, or in good faith. He had knowingly used offensive speech for an explicit political purpose. To promote the myth of black privilege and to use this lie to incite hatred of his targets.

What Bolt and Johns fail to mention — though they both know it all too well — is that there is also public pain in identifying as Aboriginal in Australia. Just ask any dark-skinned Aborigine living in poverty and subject to daily racism anywhere in the country.

The myth of so-called black privilege is trotted out incessantly by the likes of Bolt – the cultural warriors who would do anything and say anything to carry out their jihad against “the left”.

These professional reputation killers know that they cannot muster any argument based on logic or rational attention to fact, so they make shit up and pander to the most base of prejudice in a small section of the community to rally the troops.

And the proof of this is in the Federal Court decision itself: Bolt got stuff wrong, he didn’t carry out basic journalistic checks on his sources (most of which were from a Google search), but found enough rubbish circulating in cyberspace to bolster his weak argument.

The judge also rightly skewers Bolt for being “intent on arguing a case”, but not making a “diligent attempt” to get the facts right.

Bolt doesn’t deny this point, but he won’t apologise or admit his mistakes to his acolytes and foot soldiers. To do so would expose as another lie the image he wants to present of himself as a martyred victim of political correctness gone wrong.

Johns tries to argue that Bolt has been prevented from discussing issues of what has become “cultural identity” in common parlance. But any honest reading of the Federal Court decision shows clearly that Judge Mordecai Bromberg explicity and rightly rejects this idea.

“In finding against [Bolt & the Herald Sun] I have taken into account the value of freedom of expression and the silencing consequences of finding a contravenion…Given the serious of the conduct involved, the silencing consequences appears to me to be justified…An expression of identity is itself an expression that freedom of expression serves to protect. That expression also derserves to be considered and valued.”

So the principle of free speech has consequences for those who choose to exercise it without due care and who knowingly claim the principle to defend wrong actions. But this point is not recognised by Bolt and his cheer squad.

In his defence of Bolt, Gary Johns intones the holy grail of the propagandist: “nothing is more sacred than free speech.”

This quasi-religious phrase is the last refuge of the coward and the scoundrel. Free speech is of course an important principle in any democratic society, but it is not the most sacred principle that a democratic society should uphold.

More important is a commitment to truth and to principles of common humanity and a commitment to fight racism and prejudice in all forms.

Bolt makes mealy-mouthed appeals to such principles as a sop to his base of supporters. He doesn’t really give a fuck. He is a paid propagandist and a mouthpiece for all that is vile and wrong in Australia today.

He should really just admit it, put on the black, shiny uniform and frog march his way into the history books.

Bye bye Bolter, I for one won’t miss you when you go.


Media Effects, Censorship and Fiji ~ Updated

February 27, 2011

by Dr Mark Hayes

I’ve added an Update on March 24, 2011, below, which seems to reinforce several points in my original argument.

Plus another short addition on March 25, 2011 too.

Reports about a study published in the British Journal of Psychiatry early in 2011 entitled ‘Social network media exposure and adolescent eating pathology in Fiji’ have gotten me thinking, again, about the Fiji military dictatorship’s rigorous media controls which themselves were evidenced, again, when a story about the declining condition of the largest pot of money in Fiji, the National Provident Fund, was banned from local publication.

(Thanks to Pacific Scoop, A/Prof David Robie, and the Pacific Media Centre for these spurs to further thought about practical media censorship.)

As I was preparing this post, yet another Fiji journalist was hauled in by the regime for a talking to, apparently about a story they’d published on maintainence problems in the Fiji sugar industry.

Communications Fiji Ltd, operator of the Pacific’s largest radio network and of Fijivillage.com, has helpfully dobbed its main cyberspace competitor, Fijilive.com, into the regime’s Media Industry Development Authority because Fijilive’s owner, Yashwant Gounder, hasn’t lived in Fiji for over a year. This is a flagrant violation of the regime’s Media Decree, which requires media owners to have lived in Fiji for at least six months of the last year. Go Get ‘Em!

(Confirms my point about the Fiji media’s extreme solidarity, usually not, whereby an attack on one outlet is usually responded to as a business opportunity by the others.)

Add to the foregoing other recent reports that the dictatorship’s Media Industry Development Authority (MIDA), imposed by the regime’s June, 2010, Media Decree (1.7 Meg PDF), and chaired by Professor Subramani, at one time based at USP, has commenced consulting with stakeholders about how to go about its business.

And a couple of statements on the regime’s web site about ‘Different roles of the media’ from the Director of the Information Ministry, Ms Setaita Natai, and a report headed ‘Accurate message brings peace and respect’ about a Fijian-language workshop mounted by Fiji Media Watch.

As an aside, worthy and well meant though the efforts of the tiny NGO, Fiji Media Watch, have been for many years, they’re on a hiding to nothing in a wholly commercialised media environment like Fiji. If it’s one thing that makes the Fiji media only slightly less suspicious than a competitor getting an advantage, it’s anybody trying to dilute or critique the believed impact of the media’s main content – advertising. As a quite reliable rule of thumb, commercial media hate advocates of media literacy. If media literacy was applied to the Fiji regime’s media efforts, an NGO like Fiji Media Watch could well get the same treatment as other perceived regime opponents or critics.

UpDate – March 24, 2001 -

Two stories in the censored Fiji Times for Wednesday, March 23, reported on a Fiji Media Watch seminar the previous day.

As an aside, all Fiji media are subject to often intrusive censorship, with censors usually stationed in Newsrooms actively vetting copy, and, as the Fiji Times and Fiji TV found out over Easter, 2009, it is forbidden under Section 16 of the still operative Public Emergency Regulations (PER) – Fiji’s so-called ‘Rule of Law’ – to inform readers, listeners, or viewers that their news has been subjected to regime censorship.The PER were supposed to be removed when the regime introduced its Media Decree in the middle of 2010 but they’re still in force.

As a matter of style and for accuracy, I always insert the word ‘censored’ before the name of a Fiji media outlet because its news output has been subjected to routine and probably intrusive regime censorship.

The first censored Fiji Times story was headed Media Affects Children’s Behaviour and reported, in part:

Ministry of Education principal education officer Tomasi Raiyawa said the media worked on theories of exploitation in order to remain sustainable.

Speaking at a workshop organised by the Fiji Media Watch, which focused on the impact of the media on the world, Mr Raiyawa said the media worked like bullets where they penetrated recipients whom he described as sitting ducks.

The audience, he said, was passive to the point where the media was allowed to “vesumona you”.

Vesumona is a composite of two Fijian words, ‘vesau‘, which refers to ‘talking in a foreign language, jabber, chatter, or talk unintelligently’ and ‘mona‘ means ‘ the brain’. In other words, the media ‘messes with your head’.

The story continued: “Mr Raiyawa said a contentious issue was the impact of the media on society, particularly on the argument of the effect of violent action movies on children”.

There is considerable evidence from a range of disciplines – psychology, education, media effects studies – pointing to a desensitization to extreme violence by adolescents and children exposed to severe, repetitious, and violent computer games, but the exposure has to be very significant, almost routine, and reinforced by other factors, including peer legitimation and the user’s social environment. Children particularly, but also many adolescents, can lack the socialization and psychological development needed to clearly differentiate between realistic, if obviously fictional, dramatic, violence and real life violence.

Equally important, and the heroic folks at the Fiji Women’s Crisis Centre and the Fiji Women’s Movement who work tirelessly against Fiji’s domestic violence epidemic amply know this, extended exposure to media violence, including but not exclusively to violent movies, crime shows, and similar – Walker Texas Ranger was once a staple on Fiji TV for years – can give apparent legitimation to quick, violent, solutions to personal or individual frustrations or grievances.

Both very broad outlines of applicable research findings, immediately above, are heavily caveated, as are the very large number of studies done on the pressing issues of the complex impacts of repeated, extreme. violence exposure on, separately, adolescents, children, and adults, and the related effects of fictional, though realistic, violence exposure to apparently offering a quick solution to real life issues.

Mr Raiyawa’s reported remarks, though, seriously misrepresent the available, reliable research findings on the pressing issues on which he is reported speaking. He’s essentially arguing that children exposed to media violence are turned into violent sociopaths: “Mr Raiyawa said the media worked like bullets where they penetrated recipients whom he described as sitting ducks”; completely discredited hypodermic needle theory of media effects.

The second story in the censored Fiji Times for Wednesday, March 23, was blandly headed ‘Ministry highlights idea‘ and appears to report on other points Mr Raiyawa made at the Fiji Media Watch seminar on Tuesday, March 22, 2011:

There were “… four types of philosophies in the media world”.

“Oh, no, here we go again,” Dr Hayes groaned. ‘“Four Theories of the Press regurgitated. Hasn’t this guy, and his Education Ministry, figured out that the Soviet Union ceased to exist around 1991, and let’s see if he discourses on the Authoritarian Theory deployed in its Fijian context?”

“The first, world philosophy, was where the paparazzi reigned in a realm of sensationalism, sex, beauty, drugs and politics, he said at a community-based workshop organised by the Fiji Media Watch ù an organisation that raises awareness on the impact of the mass media.

“When my namesake Tom Cruise came to Fiji for a holiday, the media trailed him,” Mr Raiyawa said in a lighthearted moment at the Fijian Teachers Association building at Knollys Street in Suva.

“Fiji fell into the third world philosophy where media coverage focused on development and the improvement of lifestyles.

“I’m certain, our media in Fiji is mixed up,” he said of the category the country’s media fell in.”

OK. Now Dr Hayes gets it.

Mr Raiyawa is advocating a form of development journalism, such as sketched out by development scholar, Susan George, in The Guardian in 2009.

I have absolutely no problem with this, just as I have no problems with peace journalism, a parallel sub-field of journalism which was discussed at USP Journalism late in 2010, and later discussed by former USP Journalism head, Shailendra Singh, at a conference I attended in Auckland in late 2010.

My very grave concern about advocating or even deploying peace and/or development journalism in a place like Fiji, though, lies in the risk of selective capture of these very worthy ideas and advocated practices by a military dictatorship so that some of the popular empowerment and media literacy components in these fields get diluted or even warped to serve, in practice, the interests of the regime which, to be sure, deeply infected with Group Think as it is, has thoroughly conflated Fiji’s developmental interests with its own survival.

The second censored Fiji Times report ended:

The local media was yet to take up its role in development, [Mr Raiyawa] said.

And Fiji, he said, was coming into the fourth world philosophy where there was State control.

Yep. Vinaka vakalevu for clarifying where you’re really coming from, Mr Raiyawa, principal education officer of the Fiji Education Ministry’s executive support unit.

If he really wants to update his knowledge of media theories from a normative perspective, he really should read, carefully, Normative Theories of the Media Journalism in Democratic Societies by Clifford Christians et.al. (2010). But Fiji is by no means a democratic society. It’s a military dictatorship.

Update of March 24, 2011 ends

Short UpDate on March 25 -

Pacific Media Watch has this additional item - ‘Education official hits out at ‘junk food’ media

It is all very well to castigate the media for running very cleverly crafted junk food ads – these things are extremely carefully piloted, tweaked, and tested by highly educated and skilled psychologists, marketers, and production crews; nothing is left to chance – or the implied criticism of what, on my recollection of Fiji’s media, was (and probably still is) its incessant, raucous, and repetitious pushing of credit as a means to get all the stuff you don’t need now, otherwise your neighbors, extended family, whoever, will look down on you.

The media had also given rise to neighbourly competition and subsequently theft, [Mr Tomasi Raiyawa, principal education officer of the Fiji Education Ministry's executive support unit] told participants at the Fiji Media Watch’s community based workshop in Suva earlier this week.

Families could barely make ends meet and were led to steal to meet the needs and wants of their respective families, he said.

Through the media, culture and taste has changed, Raiyawa said.

OK, Mr Raiyawa and the military dictatorship for whom you ultimately work and obey, if you want to get really serious about the issues you quite properly raised at the Fiji Media Watch gathering, start deploying your censors into the sales and marketing divisions of the Fiji media and implement a ‘clean up campaign’, like the regime says it’s doing on corruption, to ‘clean up’ the Fiji media’s real content, its advertising to deal with the genuinely serious matters you’ve identified in your recently reported comments and criticisms.

- Original Post Continues -

I was, and remain, very puzzled about the genuine justifications for the rigorous and intrusive media censorship imposed by the Fiji regime during Easter, 2009, through its Public Emergency Regulations (PER), particularly Section 16 – never made entirely clear who caused the ‘emergency’ -, then the serious reasoning behind and research informing the Media Decree, and then its enabling agency, MIDA. The only material available comes from a study of the Fiji media by Dr James Anthony commissioned by the Fiji Human Rights Commission and released in February, 2008.

(I readily admit to a certain wry amusement when admitting the foregoing puzzlement, as I’m actually quite sure there’s no serious, verifiable, or highly informed media theory or media effects research informing the Fiji regime’s media restrictions or the work of the MIDA. I’m engaging in heuristics, a ‘thought experiment’, probing the issue as if there were some heavy duty media scholarship informing the regime’s media ‘policies’ when, in reality, I’d certainly get more sense from peering into a tanoa of yagona than doing a scholarly deconstruction of the Fiji dictatorship’s media ‘policies’. But let’s play along for the purposes of this exercise…  I’m also deliberately setting to one side informed debates about, and criticisms of, the genuine capacity, or otherwise, of Fiji’s journalists.)

Firstly, a journalistic practice point.

Whenever I see media reports about serious scholarly studies which deserve a closer look, I always go to the source and download the original study. Of course, to do this, one needs access to, and knowledge about how to navigate through, academic or professional databases, usually only available through University libraries.

Then there’s a second point. Serious scholarly studies, such as reported in professional journals like The British Journal of Psychiatry, have been rigorously peer reviewed, and thence can be, and deserve to be, taken very seriously indeed. Very occasionally, poor quality science slips through, or a dodgy study gets published, but science’s self-correcting mechanisms almost always deal with such very rare incidents.

Thirdly, I certainly tunnel into the methodology deployed in studies such as this one reported in the British Journal of Psychiatry lest it be exposed as having all the methodological validity of a very bad public opinion poll or a University class teaching evaluation (i.e., virtually none). It wouldn’t have gotten anywhere near even a preliminary review panel were it in any way flakey.

This study looks very strong indeed.

I won’t rehash the material on Pacific Scoop or on the Pacific Media Centre from this valuable study, and suggest readers go find the original study for yourselves one way or another.

So, what does a very good study into media exposure and adolescent eating pathology in Fiji have to do with media censorship in the same country?

Lots; because both broad issues have to do with media effects upon audiences.

The recent Fiji study into adolescent eating pathology confirms some of the very best general research into media effects on audiences:

“Our study findings are consistent with previous reports that mass media consumption has an adverse impact on eating pathology. These findings are novel, however, in supporting the possibility that indirect media exposure – operationalised in this study as peer network exposure – may also promote risk for eating pathology. They also compliment previous research that has established peer and family-mediated influences as risk factors for eating disorders… Efforts to address the recent degradation of nutritional health in Pacific Island countries might expand to scrutinise the effects not just of culturally Western food products, but also of transnational mass media imports that may promote unhealthful behaviours. Importantly, if second-hand exposure to media content is, indeed, harmful to children, as this study supports, then the recommendation to parents to limit screen time may be inadequate to protect children from the risk imposed by their social milieu” (Becker, et.al., Brit.J.Psych, 2011 198 43 – 50 at 48 & 49).

In other words, particularly on younger members of audiences, but not exclusively so, at least in part because their self- and body identity formation is still variably plastic, the influence of the media, especially television, on their eating habits is amplified or at least solidified by peer interaction over against any direct effects of exposure to media messages which impact on eating behaviours. This can be very carefully extrapolated into probable media effects on adult audiences and their behaviours on consumer choices, voting preferences, and so on.

This confirms the core of what’s called the Lazardsfeld Two Step Flow view of media effects on audiences. (Ok; that’s a Wikipedia entry on this small but very influential part of the vast and complicated Literatures on media effects but it’s a good starting point. Internet Quality Evaluation Filters Always Engaged UQ Library advice 74 kb PDF.)

In general, the media doesn’t tell its audiences how to think about some issue. The media more likely tells us what issues we might think about, but how we actually think about some issue is largely formed elsewhere.

As far as I am aware, and I’m always open to being corrected and pointed to supporting evidence, despite the rigorous media censorship imposed in Fiji since Easter, 2009, not one advertisement for so-called junk food has been censored.

Seems the censors in Fiji are only focusing on journalistic messages in the local media, and ignoring the other, much more significant content, at least in terms of time and probable, repetitious, impacts. Of course, journalistic messages, the media content increasingly squeezed between the advertising – that’s the mass media’s really serious content – entertainment, sport, and community service announcements, is imbued with greater credibility, or allegedly so.

Media content which, apparently, has been processed or generated by journalists in information processing factories called Newsrooms, causes Fiji’s censors and the military dictatorship far more concern than almost endless, repetitious, very cleverly crafted, localised and imported (thence cheaper) advertising, some of which is, on the basis of the recent British Journal of Psychiatry study, significantly influencing adolescent eating behaviours, not so much directly but through a two-step flow of peer reinforcement.

As I’ve argued elsewhere, the Fiji regime’s all but explicit intent is nothing less than the re-working or re-programming of the Fijian psyche to eliminate corrosive, incendiary, ethno-nationalism.

To achieve this, they’ve imposed rigorous journalistic censorship, which has given extra energy to the most ‘reliable’ Fijian ‘public service’, the Coconut Wireless. At least Fiji’s incessant rumour mill never fails, unlike the notoriously unreliable water and electricity supplies. The content, of course, varies from extremely accurate to genuinely incendiary and fantastic.

That’s where journalists step in as information gatherers, refiners, refractors, and professional communicators, sieving the rumours, discarding the rubbish, seeking out the facts, balancing the opinions, and assisting their audiences to to make sense of it all. Good journalism is a very important corrective to the Coconut Wireless.

The media effects theory informing the censors and their masters in the Ministry of Information, including dictatorship appointed Permanent Secretary, Australian expatriate, former Fairfax sales executive, Ms Sharon Smith-Johns, appears to be the ‘hypodermic theory’ – I publish a media message and you are affected by it (rush to buy my product, change your voting preference, riot in the streets, and similar). As a former, senior, sales executive for a leading Australian media corporation, you’d think she actually knows her stuff when it comes to applied media effects theory and research. To be sure, under her control, the regime’s PR does seem to have improved from the earlier days when Lt. Colonel Neumi Leweni headed the Information Ministry.

Of course, the ‘quality’ or ‘impact’ of the message is relevant, so couple a very cleverly crafted message, which might even include a ‘dog whistle‘, with a sound knowledge of what makes the target audience tick, and the hypodermic effect should occur.

What the regime is actually doing is selectively withdrawing certain, quite limited, kinds of media content. Given that they haven’t published the detailed guidelines for the censors deployed in Fiji’s newsrooms – what gets through, what gets chopped – informed observers, like me, are left to reverse-engineer particular incidents to figure out why a journalist was hauled in to explain themselves.

If the sugar industry is failing, which it is, or the National Provident Fund needs some serious investigation, which it does, then why are stories about these issues censored or even suppressed, or, as in the most recent case, a story which passed a censor nevertheless had the journalist hauled in to explain themselves.

My sources have long complained that far from having anything but the vaguest ‘guidelines’ – ‘no politics’ – the censorship is often arbitrary, capricious, or even revengeful, with the censor on the day even cutting or removing a story apparently just to get back at or irritate a particular journalist or editor. Always with the real threat of being able to whistle up militarised police or, much worse, serious, armed, military muscle to enforce Fiji’s new ‘legal order’, the Rule of Fists and/or Glock.

Keep this up, so goes a crude deployment of negative reinforcement psychology – I’ll stop censoring you when you reliably report ‘correctly’ – and Fiji’s psyche might, eventually, be re-wired. So goes the apparent hypodermic effect theory.

Problem is, as an informed reading of the implications of the recent study on ‘Social network media exposure and adolescent eating pathology in Fiji’ for wider media effects confirms, the hypodermic effect of media doesn’t work, either through injection or withdrawal, so imposing rigorous censorship almost certainly doesn’t, and won’t, achieve the sought-after result.

Even allowing for highly varying levels of education, literacy in English and vernacular, media literacy, media access, and a population of some 800,000 people skewed to a younger demographic, the attempted re-wiring or re-programming the psyche of a place like Fiji through attempted censorship of just some media content is very seriously contradicted by the best available global media effects theory and research, including high quality studies focusing right down on to Fiji and its adolescent audiences themselves.

You’d really think that when a regime has its hands on all the resources of state, they’d do much better with their media controls and propaganda than the Fiji regime is currently doing.


Soldiers in harms way: Don’t ask, don’t tell

January 22, 2010

Philip Poupin/NZH 21-01-2010

Good on the New Zealand Herald for publishing this picture of two NZ SAS soldiers in Kabul.

And cheers to the Dominion Post for going for it again today.

It’s a Kiwi version of “don’t ask, don’t tell” and really quite pathetic that the Defence Minister is upset about this image. He’s said that identifying the soldiers puts them in harm’s way. Presumably because now those pesky Taleban can put a name or a face to the troopers.

That’s just bullshit. These guys wander around Kabul in heavy body armour, armed to the teeth and ready to take potshots at anyone who looks remotely suspicious. That’s about 90 per cent of the population in the reasoning of the occupying forces.

Let’s be clear about this; these SAS troopers are in harms way because of a series of political decisions taken in Washington and Wellington. Read the rest of this entry »


The “godfather” of Chinese blogging: Isaac Mao in New Zealand

October 20, 2009

I’ve had the privilege in the last couple of days of spending quality time with Isaac Mao, the well-known Chinese blogger and social media enthusiast.

Isaac is in New Zealand this week on a speaking tour of J-schools generously sponsored by the Asia-New Zealand Foundation. Isaac’s passionate commitment to free speech and democratic ideals is clear from his thoughtful and fact-packed presentations. My only regret is that more of New Zealand’s blogging community didn’t take advantage of his two speaking dates in Auckland to actually meet with Isaac.

Despite the fact that a lot of people who should have known better chose to ignore what I think is an important event of interest to Kiwi bloggers, some media have taken a great interest in Isaac’s commentary on social media and the blogosphere in China.

Isaac Mao on Asian Report with Jason Moon National Radio 20 Oct 2009

more about “The “godfather” of Chinese blogging |…“, posted with vodpod

more about “World TV Ltd – www.wtv.co.nz“, posted with vodpod

You still have a couple of chances in Wellington, Christchurch and Rotorua, it is well worthwhile. Isaac is on his way to Los Angeles whree he is a speaker at UCLA’s 40th anniversary of the Internet conference. He’s also a fellow at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University.2009


Chinese blogger Isaac Mao visiting New Zealand

October 6, 2009

Chinese blogger and social entrepreneur, Isaac Mao is visiting Auckland for 24 hours as part of whirlwind tour of NZ journalism schools. The trip is sponsored by Asia New Zealand Foundation. The Auckland leg is being hosted by the Centre for Journalism, Media & Democracy at AUT.

Isaac is an excellent commentator on China’s netizens and issues such as the recent Green Dam proposal, the Great Firewall of China, self censorship and other social and internet related issues.

There is this August 08 article by Isaac on The Guardian website

There are two chances to hear Isaac speak about the blogosphere in China and social media in the world of Web 2.0.

  • Sunday 18th October 3pm til around 5pm then adjourn to a local bar. This will be in WT tower, AUT opposite Aotea square, room WT1103.
  • Monday 19th he will be talking again in WT1305 at 12 noon.

If you’d like to come to either event pls rsvp to me martin.hirst AT aut.ac.nz


Freedom for those who defend it: Journalists – a film from Belarus

May 14, 2009

The docmentary Journalists, by Belarusian film director Aleh Dashkevich, is screening twice on the programme of the Auckland Human Rights Film Festival.

Journalists tells about how freedom of expression was destroyed in Belarus over the 15 years of Alyaksandr Lukashenka’s rule. 20081203_journalistLukashenka came to power in the 1994 election promising to allow freedom of the press. Unfortunately, like most politicians, he was lying at the time.

In most western nations journalists can operate within reasonable boundaries of freedom. It’s rare for a TV camerawo/man to be kidnapped and murdered; journalists don’t often get beaten up, arrested or threatened when covering protests. Not so in Belarus – nor, incidently, in many parts of the former Soviet Union, including Russia.

Belarus 1229920068Late last year Lukashenka’s regime signed into law further restrictions on media freedom. Among other provisions, the law equates the Internet with regular media, making sites subject to the same restrictions; bans local media from accepting foreign donations; allows local and state authorities to shutter independent publications for minor violations; and requires accreditation for all foreign journalists working in the country. [Committee to Protect Journalists]

Journalists is showing on Friday (15 May) and Tuesday (19 May) at 6pm at the Rialto cinema in Newmarket. I will be making a few brief comments after the screening and leading a question and answer session. After that I’ll be available for a quite drink if you’re interested.

Read the rest of this entry »


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,348 other followers