Why the media doesn’t get Brazil

June 24, 2013

In the largest anti-government demonstrations – dubbed the Tropical Spring – violent clashes broke out as people demanded improved public services and an end to corruption in the run-up to the 2014 World Cup. (Losh, 2013)

Is the world going to Hell in a handbasket? The answer probably depends which side of the class divide you stand on. For the world’s wealthy elites the protests in Brazil are another disturbing sign that the ungrateful wretches who survive on meagre table crumbs are restless, once again.

The issue is not so much whether the handbasket is being winched up or down; but rather: Why? If you were to rely only on the mainstream media for an answer you may just end up more confused than when you started.

There’s a mood for change sweeping many parts of the world today, but our understanding of its significance is not increased by most of the media coverage.

Since the Arab Spring of 2010 a wave of revolutionary struggle has erupted across parts of southern Europe and most recently it has spread to Turkey and to Brazil. However, our media tends to treat each of these uprisings as isolated events and attempts to explain them in terms of local and national issues. The global instability of neo-liberal late capitalism is hardly mentioned. Most journalists won’t even acknowledge it. Perhaps it’s too complicated; for some it is certainly too scary to think about.

Further, the news media’s debilitating fixation on the concept of balance means that these globe-shifting outbreaks of protest are reported with an even-handed ignorance. Simplistic explanations like social media equals more democracy are trotted out to give a sheen of analysis to what is actually intellectually threadbare coverage.

Protestors are routinely labelled as inchoerent, rudderless and violent; on the other hand, governments are portrayed as neutral arbiters of calm and order. This is a politically naïve representation that highlights the profound lack of real understanding on the part of journalists on the ground and of their media organisations. Simple vox pops are left to suffice for clear political commentary from the movement’s leaders and a seething mass of individuals ‘rioting’ provides the most telegenic images. It’s easier than trying to translate and understand the political tracts and speeches that inevitably accompany protest marches.

The problem is that most journalists are used to reporting politics as a game of ‘he said, she said’ in which claims and counter-claims are presented to the audience within a framework of parliamentary democracy. But you cannot report revolution within that framework. Revolutions do not follow that MSM script and most reporters, unfortunately, cannot see past their own faces to what is really going on.

Fundamental questions about the role of States and state-sponsored violence are sidelined, ignored or mis-interpreted.The history of social movements and the long-lived experience of people which finally draws them to the streets is underplayed or ignored altogether in favour of the sexy shots and simple sound bite.

It is not good enough.

The rest of this post concentrates on Brazil, but similar arguments can be made about Turkey and also the Arab Spring.

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One tweet does not a revolution make: Technological determinism, media and social change

May 11, 2013

This is my recently published piece on technological determinism and revolution – case study of the Arab Spring.

Reprinted from Global Media Journal

Abstract

This paper discusses the problematic influence of technological determinism in popular news media coverage and analysis of the Arab Spring events of 2010-11.

The purpose is to develop insights into how and why elements of a ‘soft’ technological determinism inflect both journalistic practice and news discourse in relation to the Arab Spring. In particular it discusses how the ‘bias of convenience’ and a journalistic obsession with the ‘continuous present’ connect with this determinist inflection to create a potential distortion in the journalists’ ‘first rough draft’ of history in relation to significant and complex events such as social revolution.

Debates about the significance of social media and communications technologies more broadly in generating mass outbursts of protest and even violence have raged in the popular news media for the past decade at least. A wave of interest in ‘theories’ about how and why new services like Facebook and Twitter may create or enable mass protest was generated by the revolutionary events in Iran following the June 2009 elections (Hirst, 2011). Many of the arguments then and now, in coverage of the Arab Spring, are suggestive of a form of technological determinism that is coupled with other underlying and little-investigated assumptions inherent in most forms of news practice and discourse.

The question of the influence of technological determinism within journalism studies is a far from settled debate and this paper follows Mosco’s argument and suggests that the idea of a social media revolution is a myth of the ‘digital sublime’ (Mosco, 2004). At best social media is a new battleground in the struggle for information control. At worst it can blind activists and commentators to reality (Morozov, 2011).

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The media reform bills – what is really in them

March 19, 2013

Daily_Telegraph_19_3_2013 For the last 12 months we’ve been warned on an almost daily basis that the sky is about to fall in on media freedoms in Australia, but what does the legislation before parliament this week actually propose?

News Media (Self regulation) Bill 2013

There is one simple purpose to this legislation and it is not to stifle freedom of the press. Instead this bill simply creates the conditions under which the Public Interest Media Advocate (PIMA) can declare that an organisation is a “news media self-regulation body”.

The definition of a self-regulator rests on one condition: the body must have a self-regulation scheme that is binding on members.

The only other function of this bill is to remove a news organisation’s exemption from some provisions of the Privacy Act 1988 if it is not a member of a self-regulatory body recognised by the media advocate.

The effective clause of the Privacy Act is 7B(4) and as it currently stands, a news media organisation is only exempt from some Privacy Act provisions if it adheres to public standards. This new bill changes nothing in that regard.

That is it; that is all this legislation is aimed to do. The self-regulation scheme proposed in the bill is no tougher than the current rules and membership requirements of the Australian Press Council. Read the rest of this entry »


From “hate media” to another fine mess: How media reform got derailed

March 13, 2013

Don Pedro of Aragon: “Officers, what offence have these men done?”

Dogberry: “Marry, sir, they have committed false report; moreover, they have spoken untruths; secondarily, they are slanders; sixth and lastly, they have belied a lady; thirdly, they have verified unjust things; and, to conclude, they are lying knaves.”

William Shakespeare, Much Ado About Nothing Act 5:Scene 1

May 19, 2011: On a mild mid-autumn day in Canberra, Greens leader Bob Brown held a fairly standard media conference to discuss climate change, emissions trading schemes and the carbon tax. During the Q&A session Brown mentioned The Australian and questioned why it was editorially opposed to making the big polluters pay. The following exchange took place:

Brown:The Australian has a position of opposing such action. My question to you is ‘Why is that?’”

Reporter: “As they said the other day, when you’re on this side, you ask the questions.”

Brown: “No. I’m just wondering why the hate media, it’s got a negative front page from top to bottom today; why it can’t be more responsible and constructive.” [Interjection]

Brown: “Let me finish. I’m just asking why you can’t be more constructive.”

Actually, that’s a fair question. The Australian would rather parade the ill-thought opinions of buffoons like Lord Monkton that get to grips with climate science. The science doesn’t suit the business interests of The Australian’s real clients.

On that now fateful May day Bob Brown made the point that the maturity of the climate change debate in Australia is questionable:

Brown: “The Murdoch media has a great deal of responsibility to take for debasing that maturity which is informed by scientific opinion from right around the world.”

Brown’s comments were reasonable, but challenging the collective wisdom of the Murdoch press is never a good idea; it is at its most effective, ferocious, vicious and unforgiving when it is under attack.

Pack instincts kick in and that is what Bob Brown was facing that day on the lawns of the parliamentary courtyard. He was having a go at the coverage of climate change in the press and argued that The Australian’s reporting was “not balanced”, it was “opinionated” and “it’s not news”.

This was inflammatory stuff; several reporters snarled and barked back. Brown responded with a comment that really goes to the heart of this whole matter:

Brown: “You don’t like it when we take you on. Don’t be so tetchy, just measure up to your own rules.”

Unfortunately, but not surprisingly, it was the “hate media” grab – shorn of context – that made the headlines and the first (extremely rough) draft of history.

This was the genesis of calls for a public inquiry into media standards in Australia, but it was only the beginning.

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Media “reformers” drunk on Clayton’s tonic: How to be seen to be doing something while not doing much at all

March 13, 2013

Well Communications Minister Stephen Conroy has finally let the skinny, de-clawed and highly-stressed cat out of the bag. This week he has announced a raft of media reforms that will be introduced into Parliament in a series of piecemeal bills designed not to offend anyone.

Australian print and online news organisations will continue to be self-regulated through voluntary membership of a press standards body, which is likely to be the tame-cat and toothless Australian Press Council.

The announced reforms are the government’s official response to the Convergence Review and Finkelstein Inquiry into the media in Australia. But the proposals are watered down, wishy-washy and look like something the cat dragged in.

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The compact comes of ‘Age’, but the real fight for Fairfax is scooping digital eyeballs

March 8, 2013

Fairfax launched its new compact size in a week where Victorian politics dominated the national agenda, making it a very good time to consider just how Melbourne’s former broadsheet, The Age, fared with its now similarly sized competitor, the Herald Sun.

The re-launch of The Age as a compact was never about being the biggest selling newspaper in Melbourne. There’s no way The Age can compete with the genuinely tabloid Herald Sun.

The Herald Sun is a modern giant among Australian newspapers: its audited Monday to Saturday circulation hovers around the 450,000 mark. That adds up to more than a million readers every weekday.

The Age sells roughly one-third: Monday to Friday (157,000) and about half (227,000) on Saturday. Readership is about half too: 566,000 Monday—Friday and 720,000 on Saturdays, according to Audit Bureau figures.

So the driver of this week’s move was re-attaching Age readers who’ve let their subscription lapse, or who hated the unwieldy broadsheet.

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Over hump day with a bikie war then scalping the Premier seals the deal

March 7, 2013

So far I would have to say that in terms of news bang-for-buck the Herald-Sun is doing tabloid better than The Age does compact. It’s early days I know, but in Melbourne, at least, the News Limited paper seems to be ahead in the stand-out front page stakes..

Though, having said that, it seems that The Age has picked up some new readers this week. At my newsagent’s pick-ups of The Age have more than doubled and are now equal to, or a bit better than the Herald-Sun. That could be an anomaly; I  live in an area where there is a likely majority of Age-types given the number of private schools, Merc, Audis and Beemers that litter the neighbourhood.

Today’s editions (Thursday, 7 March ) might even the score for the Fairfax Media title in the stand-out competiton; but the full page picture of Ted Baillieu on the Hun might attract the mouth-breathers who like big pictures more than big words.

Herald Sun Ted Quits The Age

At least today The Age has learned that headlines should be short and sweet, but four words is still twice as many as two. Yesterday (Wednesday) it was seven words in a two-deck headline for The Age and four words in three-decks for the Herald Sun; the Hun also uses a much bigger typeface.

The issue here is that The Age is trying very hard not to look like a tabloid; it wants to be a smaller broadsheet and so it’s front pages are text-heavy.

This is OK as long as Age readers are happy to have the key elements of one or two stories related on page one. The Herald Sun is sticking to its formula of fear and emotion being the main drivers of sales based on front page scans.

Wednesday’s Herald Sun front page was a classic in that genre it had heart-string plucking sick baby Linkin Fauser and warring bikies raising “Police fear public could be caught in cross fire”.

Herald_Sun_6_3_2013 The_Age_6_3_2013

At least The Age was back in the game yesterday with its own Baillieu stuff up story detailing secret fund raisers and the ongoing fall-out from the secret tapes affair that ensnared the Premier and his deputy in a rolling maul that was getting closer to the business end of the pitch.

But The Age was always playing catch-up on the secret recordings story. It seems likely that the Herald Sun had been sitting on this little box of dynamite for a while and deliberately played it out as a spoiler to the launch of The Age as a comp-loid on Monday of this week.

That is certainly how a smart newspaper executive would play it, both to boost sales and to let the opposition know that life in the tabl-act trenches would be bloody and tough.

Today it just got bloodier and tougher because it is the first time this week that we can do a full comparison on coverage of the same story. It was an even playing surface for both titles; they heard about Baillieu’s resignation at the same time (about 7.25pm last night [Wednesday 6 March] and so had about six hours to get the story ready for this morning’s papers.

The Herald Sun is rightly claiming Baillieu’s scalp and today reveals how political editor James Campbell dropped the paper’s bomb on the Liberal party late on Sunday afternoon.

It was the Hun’s story; though as I mentioned, The Age did well on Wednesday to get its own exclusive angle of the rorting and alleged corrupt shenanigans at the core of Baillieu’s incompetency.

The Hun wins today’s battle because as the front page strapline says: “SECRET TAPES CLAIM PREMIER”.

Having said, that the depth of coverage was about the same in both mastheads and apart from the Hun’s own boasting about Sunday’s Spring street squirmfest neither paper had anything substantially new to add.

Friday’s papers will be telling. Does the Herald Sun have more dirt to dish?

If so it would be a hands down winner this week.

So for now, the Herald Sun gets to count coup, but The Age could have the last laugh.

If my newsagent is right and the new compact is walking out the door this week, then The Age may win the circulation battle.

The hope in the Fairfax Media offices along Spencer street is that novelty-factor sales turn into subscriptions.

There’s a long way to go yet before that score can be counted.


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