Student journalists are not “journalists”, they are students

November 10, 2013

A few days ago, my English colleague Paul Bradshaw wrote a piece “There’s no such thing as a ‘student journalist’” on his Online Journalism blog. He argues that there should be no distinction between journalists or students of journalism (presumably training to be employed as journalists after graduation) because they are both publishers of information and the students carry out the actions of journalists — they are effectively “doing” journalism — while they learn the skills, technologies and attitudes of the profession.

Students are experiencing first hand the culture of journalism, the experience of journalism and the social consequences of what they do. Paul writes:

There is no such thing as a ‘student journalist’.

Students of journalism no longer practise their work in the seclusion of a classroom. They do not write solely for lecturers, or even for each other.

Any student on a course with some awareness of the modern media world publishes their own blogs; their student media is accessible around the world. They contribute to networks, and build communities.

Even if their course provides no opportunities to do any of these things, they will have Twitter accounts, or Facebook accounts.

All of which means that they are publishers.

I don’t disagree with this in principle. Certainly any journalism course worthy of the name would be requiring students to participate in what I like to call “live fire” news exercises. These are usually done under close supervision. However, writing a blog as part of coursework (and for many students it is an onerous requirement of their study, rather than something they enjoy or immediately see the benefits of) is not journalism. Blogging is not journalism and I thought that debate was settled years ago.

Nor does publishing (in a very loose sense of the word) to Twitter and Facebook constitute an act of journalism, nor does it make reporters out of students.

Sure, every university student has a Facebook presence and some, but not all (and perhaps not even a majority) have a Twitter account, and even fewer are blogging with any regularity, if at all. Despite the hype, the digital natives continue to be social users of social media and rarely do their tweets or Facebooking or other encounters with social media (Instagram, etc) reach what we might call acceptable professional levels. (See for example, Hirst, M., & Treadwell, G. (2011). ‘Blogs bother me’: Social media, journalism and the curriculum. Journalism Practice, 5(4), 446-461. doi: 10.1080/17512786.2011.555367, the pre-publication version is available here).

So, on a purely practical level — that is the stage of professionalism achieved and achievable in the three years of an undergraduate degree — most of our journalism students are not operating as professional, or what I might describe as “real” journalists. Another practical point that we have to consider: not everyone in a journalism course wants to be a journalist and, even among those who do want to be, not all of them will make it for a variety of reasons.

Therefore, our role as journalism educators is more than producing the next generation of newsroom fodder, or even the next Pulitzer prize winner. It is a broader academic role: that of critic and theorist as well as cadet wrangler on behalf of News Corp or whomever the employer is likely to be.

The newsroom is a classroom; the classroom is a newsroom

For 20 years I have operated my journalism courses according to the principle that the classroom is a newsroom, but also that the newsroom is still a classroom. I believe that this is an important point to make in this current debate because, at the end of the day, we owe it to our students to recognise their status as students first and foremost.

To assume that we can (and should) treat them like fully-fledged working reporters does them a disservice and it could also be dangerous for them and for us. I do not want to seem like an old fogey, or as someone who thinks that the average 18-year-old is not mature enough to be treated like an adult. Of course they are and they deserve respect from their teachers and from members of the public that they interact with when we send them out into the world beyond the campus to practice their journalism.

And that word practice is the key. It is practice, to do something repeatedly in order to gain the skill; rather than practice as the performance of the work of a trade or profession that students are engaged in.

In my view, if we do not acknowledge the student status of our students (no, that’s not a tautology), we are not being diligent in our duty of care (the pastoral role of all teachers at all levels) to ensure that we “first do no harm”. Yes, we have to, as Paul rightly points out, engage our students in the daily routines and socialisation of newsroom practice and we have to move beyond the newsroom model too; but in doing so, we have to be constantly mindful that our pupils must be kept safe.

It is true that often the best way to learn is by failure — trial and error — and getting your hands dirty in real journalism exercises is valuable and effective pedagogy, but our students also need to know that the consequences of their failures are not catastrophic.

I have no problem with most of Paul’s points. Putting students in touch with local news outlets which might take their work is a key part of their learning experience. That is also why we offer internships and other work-experience opportunities. At my university we even give it a fancy name “work-integrated learning” and the acronym WIL. It is integrated into everything we do.

The same logic motivates us (journalism academics) to provide students with in-house publication outlets, from newsprint, through collaborations with local community radio and television stations and, increasingly, an online presence edited by tutors, or “journalists-in-residence”.

I think the danger in Paul’s assertion that there are no student journalists is that it might encourage us to forget that we are no longer in the news business. We are, first and foremost, in the education business. The job of the journalism academic (at least in the teaching side) is to educate, not to chase the news.

We can sometimes forget this and can get caught up in the day-to-day excitement of the hunt for news and chasing the story of the day.

But my advice for journalism academics who think this is the main game is simple: Go back to the newsroom.

It is not our job any more to get the “scoop”, we should not be thinking that the best way to influence the news process is to become part of it again from the sanctuary of the ivory tower. Sure, we need to act as editor, sub-editor and mentor to the student journalists in our classrooms,  but we should do this from the perspective of teaching and learning, not from the view of an editor whose job is to rundown the news and satisfy the public demand for information.

Any publication that arises from the work our students do while learning journalism is secondary to the real goal which has to be ensuring that the student experience of journalism education is a good one; that the learning outcomes are met; that the assignments are suitable to the level of study and that the students do not leave our institutions scarred for life because of a bad situation that could have and should have been managed more effectively.

One final point, which is also a comment on Paul’s reference to the “teaching hospital” model of journalism education which is based on the premise that university journalism programs should be covering local communities as a matter of course and as a priority at the top of the list of all the things they should be doing.

The key argument in favour of this is not one of pedagogy but of pragmatism. The reasoning advanced by supporters of this model is that the mainstream media is failing both in terms of garnering and holding public trust and also in terms of business modelling.

This is no doubt true and has been for a while. I wrote extensively on these issues in my 2011 book News 2.0 and I gave it the subtitle “Can journalism survive the Internet?” However, it is not, in my view, the fundamental role of the j-school to substitute for a strong news media outside the campus.

Maybe our graduates can be part of the solution to the declining popularity and profitability of the news industry, but not while they are students. To expect that of them is to place too much pressure on their shoulders at a time when they should be engaged with learning and critique.


We can no longer take these ‘journalists’ seriously

October 27, 2013

Any casual reader of Ethical Martini will know that I am a critic of News Limited’s newspapers; not because they are bad newspapers, but because of the hardcore conservative political agenda that they execute with extreme prejudice.

Not only do the bulk of News Limited’s senior journalists and columnists regularly indulge in denial of anthropogenic climate change, they also indulge in denialism when it comes to their own warped sense of self importance and political bias.

As a group, it seems that they just don’t see anything at all amiss in their slavish devotion to conservatives’ pet causes — bushfires are just part of the Australian vernacular, the ABC is a vicious nest of left-wing pustules that needs to be lanced and handed over to a junior mogul, school teachers are only marginally less feral than ABC-types, the carbon tax was killing business and Aborigines get all the privilege and none of the pain of being Australia’s first people.

It even extends to the role that these hacks and fluffers think they play in the larger realm of politics and the public sphere.

According to these enlightened bigots, this year News Limited’s news outlets were not campaigning for the election of an Abbott government to suit the political mood of the omnipotent Murdoch, it was for the good of the country. News Limited journalists and columnists know better than most of us what is in the national interest.

After all, as the old adage goes: “If it’s good for business it’s good for the country and if it’s good for the country, it’s good for business.”

And our new prime minister, Tony Abbott, knows all too well, what’s good for uncle Rupert is good for business and good for the good of the nation.

So, perhaps then, it’s not surprising that Abbott wanted to gather the faithful for a blessing and a booze up to cement the too-cosy relationship between his government and the conservative commentariat.

Only one problem in that little plan: it leaked. The Sydney Morning Herald let us know yesterday that the cream of Australia’s rightwing media meritocracy would be gathering ce soir for an intimate “Merci beau coup” from the Prime Minister, an a-la-carte feast and a couple of coldies.

I can’t help but wonder if Abbott says grace at these gatherings and counts his blessings.

Murdoch-last-supper

The guest list exposes the overly close relationship that senior News Limited apologists (and one or two Fairfax fellow-travellers) will have with Abbott and his inner circle over the next few years.

When entertaining at home Tony Abbott prefers like-minded company, if the guest list to his Saturday soiree is any guide. The Prime Minister’s first gathering of the Australian media is an invitation-only affair of conservative columnists and broadcasters.

Many are disagreeable, but, happily, rarely so with the nation’s 28th leader. Invited to dinner and drinks at Kirribilli House is a rollcall of Mr Abbott’s strongest supporters: among them Andrew Bolt, Piers Akerman, Alan Jones, Janet Albrechtsen, Miranda Devine and Chris Kenny.

Daily Telegraph editor Paul Whittaker, whose paper backed Mr Abbott to the hilt, will be in attendance. News Corp editor Col Allan is believed to have flown back from New York in time for the intimate gathering of friends. The Australian editor Chris Mitchell was invited, but told Fairfax Media he was unable to attend.

That most of Mr Abbott’s guests come from News Corp would surely please Rupert Murdoch, who is back in Australia. Fairfax Media columnists Paul Sheehan and Gerard Henderson were also invited to the knees-up, which was orchestrated by Mr Abbott’s chief of staff Peta Credlin.

Guests were asked to keep details of the evening strictly confidential. ”We do not release details of the Prime Minister’s private functions,” a spokeswoman said. She declined to respond when asked whether the taxpayer would foot the bill for the dinner and drinks.

In my view  being on the guest list for this “private” soiree disqualifies those who attended from ever writing another word about federal politics. The guests at last night’s benediction are fatally compromised and beholden to Abbott.

And it’s not private, what Abbott wanted was secrecy. If the PM is entertaining at his official Sydney residence and the invitations were arranged by his staff, then it is a public matter. The guest list should be public and we should also be told what the guests were talking about. Did Margie and the girls do the catering — fairy bread and communion wine? If Kirribili House was the venue then surely staff were on hand (paid time and a half perhaps?) and it is an official, not a private engagement.

There is an air of secrecy already surrounding the actions of this government and it is a shroud that the PM has pulled tightly over many areas of public policy that we should be privilege to. It is not OK for Abbott to entertain this bunch of flunkies at taxpayer expense.

Most of the guests were already firmly in the PM’s camp politically and the News Limited posse had shamelessly displayed their fevered loyalty to the coalition during the 2013 election campaign.

Whether writing out of personal conviction, romantic attraction to Abbott, or because of Murdoch’s unwritten, but unmistakable, orders, many of the gathered faithful have been loyal foot soldier’s in Abbott’s culture war for some time.

Now they need to be publicly exposed for the sychophantic arse-wipe, lickspittle, jumped up little Hitlers that they are.

Like most sociopaths, they bully down and kiss butt upwards.

Chris Kenny has recently been promoted to “associate editor” at The Australian, no doubt in recognition of his excellent service, which continued this week with another poke at the ABC and Insiders host Barry Cassidy in a fusilade of fury about the so-called “culture wars”. I can’t help but wonder where these stories come from, surely not an insider tip from a minister’s office. Kenny has once again proven his effectiveness as a doer of dirty work on behalf of the Liberal Party.

Chris Kenny's Twitter fan club show the love

Chris Kenny’s Twitter fan club show the love

Kenny is probably an obnoxious toad and even his teenaged son has had reason to question his father’s journalistic and political judgment. How’s this for character assassination en famile:

Kenny is a staunchly neo-conservative, anti-progress, anti-worker defender of the status quo. He is an unrelenting apologist for the Liberal Party. He was one of Alexander Downer’s senior advisers at the time of the Iraq War. He’s been known to argue for stubborn, sightless inaction on climate change. He spits at anyone concerned with such trivialities as gender equality, environmental issues or labour rights from his Twitter account on a daily basis. Recently, he characterised criticism of the lack of women in Tony Abbott’s Cabinet as a continuation of the Left’s ‘gender wars’. He is a regular and fervent participant in The Australian’s numerous ongoing bully campaigns against those who question its editorial practices and ideological biases. The profoundly irresponsible, dishonest, hate-filled anti-multiculturalist Andrew Bolt has recently referred to Kenny on his blog as ‘a friend’.

Kenny is a former Liberal staffer and, according to Mark Latham, (and Wikipedia) a failed candidate for Liberal pre-selection in South Australia. He also used to work for the ABC and is proof of its left-wing bias in action. It’s no secret that there’s a revolving door between journalism and politics. Reporters often jump back and forth between the newsroom and the politician’s staffroom and some even make it into Parliament. Kenny is treading a well worn path here.

Legend has it that Tony Abbott was once a journalist, or at least a “leader writer” at The Bulletin and other journalists have been electorally elevated to the position of  PM in the past. I am not complaining about people who make these moves, but it does indicate that there is a certain cross-over and shared sense of privilege between journalists and politicians.

It’s clear that the Abbott regime intends to bring these two groups even closer together and that he wants to keep this gang of trained attack dogs inside the tent pissing out, rather than pissing on his tent.

Perhaps keeping these tame flacks happy not a difficult job when your chief of staff moves effortlessly  in the same rarified and privileged social circles as high-flying politicians like Liberal Party boss Brian Loughnane, Peter Costello, Alexander Downer, Janet Albrechtsen and her partner, former Liberal Party headkicker Michael Kroger. It’s good to see that these folk can keep it all in the family.

Dog-whistler-in-chief, Andrew Bolt is also comfortable in these circles, there’s a few square kilometres in Toorak that is home to quite a few of his close friends and confidants. Abbott has early-on in his reign signaled his fondness for Bolt by granting him an exclusive interview (only the second since taking office a little over six weeks ago).

Writing in The Guardian, Katherine Murphy was keen to be seen to be fair to Abbott in relation to the interview with Bolt and she points out that on privatising the ABC and the recognition of indigenous Australians in the constitution, Abbott did not concede ground to the more gung-ho Bolt.

Bolt and Abbott may not (in public at least) see eye-to-eye. After all, the PM has to at least be seen to be governing for the whole country, not just his favoured few in medialand. If the PM were to concede that Bolt is right on all issues, it would give the game away. Abbott’s credibility demands that he been seen to be disagreeing (even slightly) with Bolt.

However, I am not so sure that this is the Prime Minster’s true face on display here.

There is no doubt in my mind that Abbott would love to privatise or close down the ABC, but he knows it would be a long and expensive political fight and one that might split the conservative coalition down the middle. I also don’t think that Abbott’s heart (while on his sleeve) is really in favour of greater respect, autonomy and funding for the cause of Aboriginal sovereignty.

Changing the constitution is an easy one for Abbott to champion — much like Malcolm Turnbull’s treacherous double game on the republic issue — but he has an easy out; he can simply shrug his shoulders when the referendum fails.

On the essentials there is no gap between Bolt and Abbott, as this exchange on bush fires and climate change shows.

AB: I’ve been struck by the insanity of the reaction in the media and outside, particularly linking the fires to global warming and blaming you for making them worse potentially by scrapping the carbon tax.

PM: I suppose, you might say, that they are desperate to find anything that they think might pass as ammunition for their cause, but this idea that every time we have a fire or a flood it proves that climate change is real is bizarre, ’cause since the earliest days of European settlement in Australia, we’ve had fires and floods, and we’ve had worse fires and worse floods in the past than the ones we are currently experiencing. And the thing is that at some point in the future, every record will be broken, but that doesn’t prove anything about climate change. It just proves that the longer the period of time, the more possibility of extreme events … The one in 500 year flood is always a bigger flood than the one in 100 year flood.

AB: The ABC, though, has run on almost every current affairs show an almost constant barrage of stuff linking climate change to these fires.

PM: That is complete hogwash.

AB: It is time to really question the bias of the ABC?
[Note the redundant question mark here, it was really Bolt telling Abbott that IT IS TIME to move on the ABC, EM]

PM: But people are always questioning the “bias” of the ABC.

AB: Yes, but you’re the bloke that is handing over $1.1 billion a year to the ABC to continue a bias that’s against their charter.

PM: If we were starting from scratch we may not have the media landscape that we do, but we’re not starting from scratch … The ABC is an important part of a pluralistic media landscape, and I’m not going to complain about it, Andrew. I will do what I can to ensure the ABC is well managed, has got a good board, a strong board, and …

AB: But would you agree that the bias of the ABC, as observed even by former ABC chairman Maurice Newman, is in breach of its charter?

PM: I would say that there tends to be an ABC view of the world, and it’s not a view of the world that I find myself in total sympathy with. But, others would say that there’s a News Limited view of the world.

AB: Taxpayers don’t pay News Limited.

PM: But I’m a conservative, I’m a traditionalist. I’m not persuaded that we need radical change here.

The exchange continues and Bolt slips in a question about the ABC stealing an audience from Fairfax, but hypocritically he doesn’t mention the loud complaints from his own boss on the subject.

AB: Does it disturb you that the ABC is venturing into new areas like the internet, in direct competition with Fairfax in particular, offering the same audience the same product for free?

PM: If the ABC were to come to us, this government, seeking more money to do things that took it into competition with the private sector, we’d say no.

Geez, Andrew, the ABC meddling with “new areas like the internet”; thanks for letting us know about this, it’s been nearly 20 years since we had the Internet and I had no idea the ABC was faffing around there rather than just being on the wireless. Can you spell “troglodyte”?

I don’t share Katherine Murphy’s sanguine analysis of Abbott’s  answers on the ABC. To me it is a signal that the ABC is going to be cut and cut hard the next time there’s a review of its budgets.

Abbott’s party for the faithful was more than just a way for the PM to say “thanks” to his loyal media lieutenants, it is also a way of keeping them close and, I am sure, that over a beer and snag sanga there was more than a little talk of “What next?”

The “conservative” and “traditionalist” Abbott has found a loyal Greek chorus that can stay on the songsheet and that is more than delighted to sing backing vocals while Australia burns. They are all, caps in  oleaginous hands, “glad to be of service”, I’m sure.

Sorry, that last link is to Wikpedia, but I’d rather get my news from there than from this bunch of second-rate apple-polishers.

The final question, which I hope some enterprising journo is pursuing: Who paid for this little gathering?

Was Andrew Bolt flown to Sydney in a VIP jet? Did other guests from out-of-town pay their own way? Were they ensconced in a nice harbourside hotel for the weekend and how much did the party cost?

The coalition has already proven itself to be a very snouts-in-the-trough government that is prepared to live high on the hog.

These well upholstered snouts may well be truffling in taxpayers’ pockets.

Just another example of their sense of privilege and hypocrisy. All of them are free-market warriors who despise (or pretend to) extravagant wastage and frivolous government spending, but not, it might seem, where personal gain and a chance to schmooze with the big boys meets prime ministerial hospitality.

Fuck’em all,  their pencil thin, Evian drinking, calorie counting, caffiene limiting, sodium sparing, nutrasweet sweetening, rear view mirror preening, carrot nibbling bunnies and the Range Rover they rode in on.

Fuck your big ol’ Sunday New York Times
Fuck the Wall Street Journal
And Newsweek
And the lot
Including Nation, Village Voice, Guardian and the rest
Stupid set of priviliged mutha fuckers
Think its fashionable to have an alternative view

And your idea of multiculturalism
Japanese restaurant on Monday,
Indian on Tuesday,
And on Wednesday, Caribbean,
Not too spicy please

And you can’t tell whether or not I’m joking, can you?
Dumb fuck.

Click the link, if you don’t know BFE you are about to be entertained.


Can cuddling up with the commercial media save the ABC from Abbott’s axe?

July 31, 2013

For fans of publicly funded broadcasting in Australia, Mark Scott’s speech to the American Chamber of Commerce in Australia last week had some good news elements, but is it enough to save the ABC?

According to Scott, the ABC is the nation’s most trusted institution; most of us are consuming ABC products and we like it a lot, despite its critics and naysayers.

However, for Friends of the ABC (FABC), Scott’s speech sent mixed signals about the national broadcaster’s future.

The Victorian spokesperson for FABC, Glenys Stradijot is “disappointed” that Scott appears to make an argument for the ABC in “purely commercial terms”, rather than emphasising the benefits of having a “truly independent” public broadcaster. It seems to “erode the very reason that the ABC exists” she says.

FABC-Conv-centre-25May13

Friends of the ABC picket the Victorian Liberal Party convention in May 2013 where a motion to privatise the ABC was due to be debated. The motion was not voted on after intervention by Tony #Abbocolypse Abbott

Read the rest of this entry »


Someone’s looking at you: Welcome to the surveillance economy

July 26, 2013

One of my favourite Boomtown Rats tracks is “Someone’s looking at you”, written by Bob Geldoff and released as the third single from The Fine Art of Surfacing. I wanted to include the lyric as a chapter header in my 2007 book Communication and New Media: From broadcast to narrowcast, but it was too expensive to secure the rights. It is so much easier on here, and free.

I wrote two chapters on media and surveillance in that book and always wanted to return to the theme because I think we all need to be concerned about how much surveillance there is of all of us in our daily lives.

The paranoia of Thatcher’s Britain comes through in the song and I like this verse and chorus because it is about resistance:

You may as well
Shout it from the roof
Scream it from your lungs
Spit it from your mouth
It could fall on deaf ears to indulge in your fears
There’s a spy in the sky
There’s a noise on the wire
There’s a tap on the line
And for every paranoid’s desire…

There’s always Someone looking at you.
S-s-s-s-someone looking at you…
They’re always looking at you. [Bob Geldoff, 1979]

We take it for granted today, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be worried.

I have returned to the theme of surveillance to kick-start some more thinking and writing on the subject. It begins with this piece written for The Conversation.

The surveillance society

Everything that fugitive whistle-blower Edward Snowden has revealed about America’s global espionage network PRISM should make you alert and alarmed. His exposé shows that we are clearly living in a well-established surveillance society. But it also reveals more than that: surveillance is at the heart of the global digital economy too.

One document revealed that in 2001 the Australian telco, Telstra, signed an agreement to allow US spy agencies access to data about its American customers. However, according to the agreement, Telstra is not permitted to let other governments access the same data.

In response, Telstra issued a brief statement only saying that the agreement reflected its contractual obligations at the time and the revelation has received only limited media coverage.

Read the rest of this entry »


A crackdown on the boats – but who is the message aimed at

July 21, 2013

The politics of Kevin Rudd’s lurch to the right on asylum seekers arriving in Australia by boat are horrible and predictable from a desparate man who wants to wedge his political opponent and neutralise a damaging election issue.

That @KRuddMP is a hypocritical piece of racist shit goes without saying, but it’s worth saying anyway.

In 2010 he rightly criticised Julia Gillard for a proposing rightward shift in an attempt to appease the horribly racist core of Australian voters who think refugees are stealing jobs, etc. In a bid to hang on the Prime Ministership at that time, this is what Rudd had to say:

In 2010, Mr Rudd called a press conference after former Prime Minister Julia Gillard tapped him on the shoulder for a ballot.

His speech was his plea to caucus to keep him, and the main point he made was: “this party and government will not be lurching to the right on the question of asylum seekers as some have counselled us to do”.

After spectacularly promising that there would be no lurch to the right and after calling for a more humanitarian approach to asylum seekers, Rudd has done a 180 degree ‘pivot’ on the issue so that disaffected Labor voters who might be toying with voting for the #Abbocolypse because of the Mad Monk’s cute little three-word slogan “STOP THE BOATS” would think again. He is now saying he won’t “lurch to the left”.

What the PM has done is launch a cynical attack on potential refugees — he called them a “scourge” this week — knowing full-well that no matter how much it upsets and alarms refugee supporters it is not going to make them vote for the coalition. Any protest vote we make to the left of Labor will eventually flow back in preferences.

Rudd knows this and so in his maniacal and overwhelming desire to regain and hold onto the Prime Ministership he is prepared to abandon every principle he ever had.

We should not be surprised by this. Rudd is like all the other creatures in the Parliamentary wing of the ALP — including the fake lefts Kim Carr and Albo, Cameron, etc –  he is a careerist and an opportunist and, it seems, a heartless bastard to boot.

Not one of the left-bum-cheek excuses for a Labor Party caucus member, not even the caring and sharing women, will dare to say anything against this travesty and denial of what they claim to stand for. Instead, they will sit quietly and look away, pretending it’s not about them and silently praying that this monster will deliver them another four years on the Treasury benches.

As a piece of political theatre Rudd’s ruthless demonising of Iranians, Iraqis, Afghans, Sri Lankans and other asylum seekers was brilliant. But, it won’t stop the boats. As many have pointed out, dealing with the causes of the exodus from source countries requires more aid and more humanitarian policies.

It might also require an admission that Australia’s role in the global (and laughable) “war on terror” and decade long occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan might have something to do with the humanitarian crisis that causes global population flows (‘refugees’, if you like). None of that is likely from KRudd and his spineless caucus colleagues.

I think that the real target of Labor’s new slogan: You won’t be settled in Australia, is not asylum seekers waiting for the next leaky boat in Indonesia and it’s not Iranians contemplating leaving Iran because of political persecution (Rudd’s so-called ‘economic’ refugees — at this point I need to expel one almighty “GET FUCKED!” in his direction).

The real target of the reactionary and inhumane slogan – which incidentally breaches just about every UN protocol on the treatment of refugees – is Australian voters.

It has to be. How else can you explain the decision to spend a boatload of cash on placing full-page advertisements in the Australian national press this weekend.

How many copies of The Australian, the SMH, the Daily Telegraph, the Age and the Herald-Sun are sold in Jakarta, Colombo, Kabul, Baghdad and Teheran? “Diddly-fucking-squat minus infinity” might be the right answer.

Of course News Limited and Fairfax Media give away hundreds of papers each day to the airlines so maybe the idea behind publishing the offensive ads was to make sure that the low-paid cleaners who service Qantas flights in far-away airports might pick up a discarded newspaper and show it to family members of friends thinking of making the perilous journey to Christmas Island by boat.

It is sure to change their minds.

Incidentally, now that this new ‘policy’ (excuse me while I barf copiously and wipe up the vomit with my Kevin 07 T-shirt) is in place and going forward, try Googling Immigration Department Australia, it is an interesting exercise:

The paid-for Google listing

The paid-for Google listing

The top-ranked hit is a paid-for spot and the link takes you straight to this.

I haven’t seen a television commercial carrying this message yet in Australia, but it can’t be far away.

And it won’t be tagged with “authorised by the Australian Labor Party, Canberra.” It will be badged as an “Australian government” ad, just like the others that are cloggiing up our TV screens at the moment, for the NDIS, the NBN and family payments.

I bet we won’t be seeing ads for the removal of FBT benefits for people who salary sacrifice cars though. This is a very unpopular policy and it seems to be the direct cause of hundreds of clerical workers losing their jobs in the novated lease industry.

Fucking great KRudd, you’ve staggered so far to the right that now middle income Australians who get a small tax break for buying a new car on a novated lease are being demonised as ‘fat cats’ by your government.

Next thing you know, anyone who complains about the disgusting, vile stinking mess that the modern Australian Labor Party has become, or who dares to remind people that it once had a strong working class ethos and actually defended the rights of workers who were fighting bosses for the eight-hour day, or that Labor fought racism to unionise the Chinese furniture makers of Melbourne, will be carted off to Manus Island and resettled in Papua New Guinea.

Lucky for us, KRudd regards that basket case as an “emerging democracy”. I, for one, can’t wait to enjoy my future there.

I know, this is an angry post, it needs to be. Sometimes it is good to get stuff off your chest.

In the end, I can always calm myself down. This time it might take a dose of jumping around the kitchen, singing loudly.

Let’s start with this one.


Jahar – like a Rolling Stone

July 21, 2013

Jahar Tsarnaev on the cover of Rolling Stone, July 2013

It seems to me that the ‘portrait’ of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev on the cover of Rolling Stone is actually quite appropriate. If you bother to read the article, the picture that friends and acquaintances paint is very close to the image on the front of the magazine.

I wonder how many of the vociferously complaining patriots have looked inside to actually read the article?

I also think that Rolling Stone’s justification for the story and for the cover image is sound.

Our hearts go out to the victims of the Boston Marathon bombing, and our thoughts are always with them and their families. The cover story we are publishing this week falls within the traditions of journalism and Rolling Stone’s long-standing commitment to serious and thoughtful coverage of the most important political and cultural issues of our day. The fact that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is young, and in the same age group as many of our readers, makes it all the more important for us to examine the complexities of this issue and gain a more complete understanding of how a tragedy like this happens. –THE EDITORS

The first par of this apologia is just boilerplate. No American publication could cover this event without first expressing sympathy for the victims. Perhaps the mistake the editors made was thinking that such a statement would be enough. But, at the end of the day, trying to satisfy or mollify the redneck patriotic sentiment of most whitebread Americans is a thankless, if not hopeless, task.
I also can’t help but wonder what the reaction would be if Rolling Stone were to put Trayvon Martin on the cover. He’s another young American male who fell foul of the system. He ended up dead, shot in the heart by a part-time security guard who has recently been acquitted of criminal responsibility for Martin’s death.

The right stuff

Janet Reitman’s portrait of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is comprehensive and well-written. Just about everyone she’s talked to for the story — Tsarnaev’s friends and his high school wrestling coach — all express their shock and disbelief that the quiet, dope-smoking young American they knew could be the same Jahar who appears in this series of images, emerging bloody and bowed after his capture by heavily-armed Boston police and FBI agents.
It is also relevant to have a discussion about the moral and artistic merit of these photos, taken by a police ‘tactical photographer’. This one, in particular, makes Jahar look like a wounded 21st century Jesus figure.

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev at the moment of capture by Boston police

By all accounts, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was an all-American, high school sweetheart and mother’s favourite son. His Chechen background, while obviously key to his overall personality, seems to recede in the background in Reitman’s piece. The picture we get from listening to Jahar’s many friends talking to Reitman is that he was almost too good to be true.
“He was smooth as fuck,” says his friend Alyssa, who is a year younger than Jahar. Girls went a little crazy over him – though to Jahar’s credit, his friends say, even when he had crushes, he never exploited them. “He’d always be like, ‘Chill, chill, let’s just hang out,’” says Sam, recalling Jahar’s almost physical aversion to any kind of attention. “He was just really humble – that’s the best way to describe him.”

Cara, a vivacious, pretty blonde whom some believe Jahar had a secret crush on, insists they were just friends. “He was so sweet. He was too sweet, you know?” she says sadly. The two had driver’s ed together, which led to lots of time getting high and hanging out. Jahar, she says, had a talent for moving between social groups and always seemed able to empathize with just about anyone’s problems. “He is a golden person, really just a genuine good guy who was cool with everyone,” she says. “It’s hard to really explain Jahar. He was a Cambridge kid.”

What’s not to like about this boy? the cover image seems totally appropriate. It screams out the contradictions in this young man’s life that saw him transform from the quintessential nice kid into someone capable of a cold-blooded act of terrorism.

The Wrong Stuff

It seems many Americans don’t want to know the truth about Jahar Tsarnaev and the hundreds of thousands of kids like him in towns and cities across America. If Jahar can turn on the society that he made his own and that made him welcome as a refugee and a citizen, then what’s to stop hundreds more from doing the same?
It’s much better, it seems, to demonise Dzhokhar Tsarnaev through the lens of the terror frame and to imagine him as a ‘Chechen’ with an ideological chip on his shoulder and as holding the devout (read ‘exrtremist’) views of his faith.
But that is not what Janet Reitman found. She reports that others in Jahar’s circle of friends had converted to Islam and that this was not seen as anything out of the ordinary.

A few years ago, for instance, one of their mutual friends decided to convert to Islam, which some, like Cara, thought was really cool, and others, like Jackson, met with a shrug. “But that’s the kind of high school we went to,” Jackson says. “It’s the type of thing where someone could say, ‘I converted to Islam,’ and you’re like, ‘OK, cool.’” And in fact, a number of kids they knew did convert, he adds. “It was kind of like a thing for a while.”

Yep, strange as it may seems to some of us, but this is a ‘thing’ now. When I was in high school I went to a Christian fellowship and I remember a tearful ‘coming to Jesus’ in the backseat of a friend’s car. I even got my own Bible. A few weeks later it was all over and I was back to being a fairly insistent non-believer. The only reason I went to fellowship was to get out of the house on a Friday night with money in my pocket, go into the Wagon Wheels hotel for an underage schooner and then try to pash one of the fellowship girls in the church graveyard.
I went on to become a level 7 aetheist and hardcore communist, but I never wanted to blow people up.
It seems that Tsarnaev expressed a certain amount of anti-American politics – such as not agreeing with its imperialist foreign policy – but that too, I would argue, is par for the course among that late teen age group. It is a time of rebellion, some of us never grow out of it, but most do.
What this episode really shows is that there’s no easy answers and that stereotyping is a foolish waste of time. But the reaction to the Rolling Stone piece is a little OTT. It is seen as being too sympathetic to the young man, but in tone and content it is not that different from a Boston Globe profile of the Tsarnaev brothers published in April 2013. There’s a fairly nice portrait of Jahar in that piece too.
Jahar Tsarnaev from a Boston Globe video

Jahar Tsarnaev from a Boston Globe video

A disturbing coincidence

There’s another disturbing link in this case that is another piece of the Tsarnaev puzzle.
It seems that the older Tsarnaev brother, Tamerlan, is now being implicated in the September 2011 murder of a small-time Boston drug dealer and two others.
That killing occurred on either the 11th or 12th of September and the link to ’9/11′ is now being theorised as deliberate.
Conveniently, another Chechen, who lived in Boston and was a friend of Tamerlan Tsarnaev, is alleged to have confessed to police that he and Tamerlan were involved in the drug dealer deaths, though at the time neither was questioned.
Even more conveniently, the police who questioned Ibragim Todashev about Tamerlan, say he was shot and killed by them during a ‘disturbance’ and just at the point in an interrogation where he was going to confess to his and Tsarnaev’s involvement in the drug dealer killings.

Todashev was fatally shot by an FBI agent at his condo near Universal Studios in Orlando, Florida just after midnight on Wednesday.

He had allegedly turned violent as he was preparing to sign a written confession to his and Tsarnaevs involvement in the 2011 triple homicide, said authorities.

‘The agent, two Massachusetts State Police troopers, and other law enforcement personnel were interviewing an individual in connection with the Boston Marathon bombing investigation when a violent confrontation was initiated by the individual,’ the FBI said in a statement.

‘During the confrontation, the individual was killed.’

This is a more comfortable narrative for many Americans. It makes the point (true or not) that at least one of the Boston bombing perpetrators was already a crazy fucking terrorist two years before the marathon attacks.
That explains everything, doesn’t it?

Is it the role of journalists to play kingmaker?

June 30, 2013

An unsurprising take on the Labor leadership brawl from a Canberra insider, has this to say about the Rudd camp’s cultivation of Press Gallery journalists:

Once deposed, Rudd’s toxic ambition appears to have been either to return to the leadership, or to destroy both the government that had dumped him and the woman who had replaced him. In this pursuit he was abetted by political journalists who became pawns in his comeback play, channelling the Chinese whispers of his spruikers and giving credibility and substance to exaggerated claims about the pretender’s level of support within the parliamentary party for a comeback

But most of us are left wondering, is that the role of political journalists? Should they either
a) allow themselves to be seduced, or
b) encourage political players to court them, or
c) follow the dictats of politically-motivated senior editors
and fall in to what Kerry-Anne Walsh appropriately calls “lock-step” with the ambitions of one or more political players?
Anyone who has paid even passing attention to Australian politics over the past three years would be familiar with the deep and personal divisions within the Labor Party; but maybe they have not been so familiar with the similar divisions inside the Canberra Press Gallery.
There can be no doubt that the Gillard-Rudd blood feud created the conditions under which Gallery journalists chose sides, or were forced to take sides.
No doubt Rudd and his co-conspirators had their Gallery favourites–those who would be called with the latest news, or who could be loved-up with an inside story.
And no doubt too, there were those who were frozen out of Rudd’s plans and were therefore more likely to seek comment or be groomed by Gillard and her backers.
This seems to be to be the perfect conditions for a toxic environment to develop and for grudges to be formed. But it is not an appropriate climate for sensible editorial decision-making.
Almost every day, and certainly at least once a week, since March 2010, there has been at least one senior Press Gallery journalist willing to put the Rudd lines into play. This of course creates a knock-on effect. The Gallery operates as a pack and it works on the basis of groupthink (not just the News Limited drones either).
If one news organisation has a ‘story’ — no matter that it could be unfounded speculation, or worse, a yarn planted for dubious factional purposes — then everyone has to chase it. This is stenographic journalism at its worst.
Rudd, or one of his lieutenants, says something, the reporter(s) write it down and it becomes a ‘fact’ very quickly. That’s how his destabilisation campaign was able to maintain momentum for three years.
It was a great tactic. Gillard was unable to get ‘clean air’ to talk about the significant achievements of her government. The story was Rudd’s continuing fight because he and the stenographer pack said it was the story.
As Kerry-Anne Walsh sums it up, the inability of the Gallery to go beyond the blood and guts is a major failure of political reporting.

in the political shorthand of media reporting, the extraordinary circumstances that forced such an outcome were boiled down to winner and loser, victor and vanquished. The deeper reasons became too hard for many journalists to explore.

Political journalism is about winners and losers, policy debate takes second place.
Even then policy is poorly reported and only ever within a very narrow band of acceptable terminology and limited alternatives.
It is good that Walsh is prepared to at least name some names in her piece.
Of course, no one should be surprised that Rudd was talking to senior people at News Limited. The relentless and poisonously personal campaign that The Australian and other Murdoch papers have waged against Julia Gillard for the past three years is well documented. No one at News Limited has a nice word for Julia Gillard or the government she led and Rudd was a very useful idiot for Chris Mitchell and others.
However, it is unlikely that the favours will be returned now that Rudd is back in charge. Murdoch’s ambition is to elect an Abbott government, it best suits his arch-conservative neo-liberal agenda. Even this weekend The Australian has been bagging out Rudd and no doubt this will continue till election day (whenver that is).
Walsh also names veteran Gallery journalist Laurie Oakes as a Rudd stooge. She cites his now legendary Press Club question to Gillard during the 2011 election campaign, which seems to indicate that he had been very well briefed; perhaps by Rudd himself.

Channelling Rudd, Oakes asked whether, in a private meeting with Rudd that fateful night, Gillard had agreed to Rudd’s plea to be given until October to improve the government’s standing, and if he couldn’t he would stand aside voluntarily. Furthermore, he asked if Gillard then left the room, consulted colleagues, returned and told Rudd he didn’t have the numbers so she was backtracking on the deal, and would challenge anyway.

No one is covered in glory in the wash-up of this tale of palace intrigue, courtiers playing favourites with Gallery journos and messengers who were willing to take the pieces of silver on offer.
Dirty deeds, done dirt cheap?
Yep, just ask anyone in the Press Gallery who’s got ambitions to make a name for him or herself.

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