Judith Collins – poor, poor pitiful me. Good news! There is no news

July 30, 2010

The National’s police minister is crying foul about negative coverage of the cops in the New Zealand media. I’m sorry Judith, but this is pathetic on your part.

The cops have also stopped giving information about routine crime to the Gisborne Herald. Ostensibly so that the city’s reputation doesn’t suffer from over-reporting of minor crime.

What an interesting juxtaposition.

I was on The Wire today talking about this.


Gisborne Herald editor Jeremy Muir said that the police ban on supplying information to the paper was like something “straight out of a Communist handbook”. I’m not sure which handbook Mr Muir is referring to, but I’ve checked my extensive library of such materials and I can’t find a reference that supports this claim.

But, Muir is right that the effect of the policy change will further entrench the news media’s role as a “propaganda mouthpiece” for the cops.

I say ‘further entrench’ because the news media is effectively such a mouthpiece already. That’s why Judith Collins’ comments are so ill-considered and actually counter-productive for the National-ACT government which relies on the news media to promote its love affair with Laura Norder.

Conservative politicians (including those in the Labour Party) benefit from a climate of fear in the community. If public perceptions that crime is out of control are allowed to fester and an ill-founded fear of crime is established as a ‘common sense’ idea then it is easier for politicians and the cops to argue for more stuff – guns, tazers prisons, staff and increased powers of search, arrest and surveillance – even when the actual crime figures don’t support such arguments.

I have long argued that the news media’s obsession with crime reporting is unhealthy; but do you remember just a few months ago when high-ranking cops were clamouring for more “name and shame” coverage of drunk-drivers and other petty criminals in the news?

This is the “symbiotic” relationship that editors like Jeremy Muir and others say is what they want.Often there is benefit to both sides – an interest is served in each case. The news media fills the newshole and remains profitable – crime is cheap to cover; and the police get their sympathetic hearing and promote their efforts to ‘make society safer’.

But the confused and confusing justifications put forward in this debate do little to shed light on the issue; rather they just generate more wasted heat. Take this line from Muir’s Gisbone Herald editorial on the topic:

In the debate over media coverage of crime and the effect it has on perceptions of crime, it is important to differentiate between media.

Many studies do not separate violent television drama or crime shows, which have been found to have a greater influence on fear of crime than news coverage.

It is also important to have this debate.

Gisborne police have issued a decree that they will no longer report a lot of the crime going on in our communities.

But proper analysis, informed by the significant body of research on this topic, would lead to better reporting policies that would benefit everyone.

The debate itself will also leave people with a better appreciation of what influences their personal safety concerns, and whether those might be overblown.

The relationship between fear of crime and mass media is difficult to pin down — do people fear crime because they see a lot of it on television, or does television provide lots of footage about crimes because people fear crime and want to see what’s going on?

A point made in much of the research is that the heavy media coverage of violent crime skews perceptions of the risks associated with crime — which seems to argue for more reporting of minor crimes.

Another is that it is in the public interest to report crime in context.

For example, regular reporting of burglaries could be accompanied by a monthly analysis of burglary trends in different areas, perhaps compared to trends elsewhere, along with information about the police success rate in solving property crimes and tips on how to avoid becoming a victim.

While it is useful for police to communicate effectively with media, reporters must have a good knowledge of media law and crime-reporting guidelines. They should also examine the complex nature of offending, as well as crime prevention and justice.

Considering all the research on this, it is nonsensical for police to drive media policy based on gut feelings and a flimsy survey.

What does Mr Muir actually want?

He asks an important question:

Do people fear crime because they see a lot of it on television, or does television provide a lot of footage about crimes because people fear crime and want to see what’s going on?

But, he does not provide an answer. Perhaps it’s not surprising though: this is a conundrum, wrapped in a paradox and stuffed up the arse of an Enigma.

The relationship between the reporting of crime, perceptions of crime and police ‘efforts’ to ‘do away’ with criminal behaviour is complex and the motivations of both sides are not so easy to tease out. Have you ever stuck your head or your hand up the arse of an Enigma? It will take more than a forensic colonoscopy to sort out this issue.

There is no doubt that media coverage of crime and the dramatisation of what I call ‘forensic pornography’ on shows such as CSI:SVU and so on does play on people’s minds and does add to the sum of irrational fear. But this is a broader cultural and psychogical issue.

the real issue is media generation of “moral panics“:

The media act as agents and conductors of moral indignation – they create media ‘fantasies’ or a criminal ‘hyper-reality’ of produced and consumed images (Baudrillard). They create ‘social censure’.

They investigate, muck rake then point the finger via gross cases that challenge the publics tolerance – scapegoating The effect is to create disquiet, worry, fear and anxiety – then a desire for security, for order to be returned. This is their constructed reality. So is the corollary of a mythical law abiding and orderly past – to return to and envy.

Amplification raises the tension demanding release by authoritarian measures, law and order, swift justice and harsh punishment
A public end up calling for their own repression, they desire and demand ‘get tough’ action created by panics
The media can quickly move on to other vulnerable targets.
[MediaMonkey – Scrib’d]

No doubt media executives in both news and drama would argue that by covering crime and making forensic porn they are merely catering to a public need. That is production is driven by audience demand for this stuff.

And normally we might think that the cops welcome coverage because (as noted above) by coating their message in Laura Norder’s heady musk they arouse public sentiment and therefore support for what they do.

So why then would Judith Collins tazer her own arguments with her comments this week that the news media actually damages the reputation of police through negative coverage?

“I think it’s very important to acknowledge that over the last decade or so there have been numerous attacks (in the media) on the police. There have been the reports into police conduct, all those sorts of things, none of which have actually encouraged people to increase their respect for the police.”

[Collins: Media to blame for fall in police respect, NZ Herald]

Numerous attacks on the police by the media. Isn’t that actually a good thing? If we look at what the minister is talking about, we could argue quite convincingly that by attacking police misconduct, the news media is acting in the public interest.

Then again, is the minister firing a shot across the bows here? There are several important public debates at the moment about greater police powers; the routine arming of police officers; the role of police in dangerous pursuits at high speed; the controversial introduction of tazers into the New Zealand police service.

Perhaps Collins is sending a sinister warning: if the news media persists in critical analysis and reporting of these issues, there access to the ‘bread and butter’ of petty crime information will be withheld.

That is a dangerous thought.


Geting the good oil – Exxon Mobil and sponsored journalism

July 30, 2010

My friend and colleague, Wendy Bacon, who is the director of the Australian Centre for Independent Journalism (ACIJ), is circulating this open letter to journalists and supporters of journalism about Exxon-Mobil’s sponsorship of the Australian journalism awards, the Walkleys.

Wendy’s concerns are valid and in this open letter she, and other signatories are calling on the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance (the Australian journalists’ union) to ditch Exxon-Mobil as a sponsor because of the way the company works to suborn independent journalism and because it funds climate change denial.

July 29, 2010

Open Letter

Chris Warren
Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance

Dear Chris and organisers of the Walkley Media Conference,

We have recently become aware that Exxon Mobil is the Gold Sponsor of the 2010 Walkley Media Conference.  As journalists and others with an interest in media, we ask you to reconsider this decision and remove its sponsorship.

The MEAA Code of Ethics emphasises the central importance of striving for the truth and the responsibilities of media in a democracy. While we can understand the need for sponsorship, we consider that Exxon Mobil, a transnational oil corporation with a strong record of funding climate skeptic groups is an inappropriate choice. These groups promote confusion and ignorance in the community. They also protect fossil fuel interests threatened by policies aimed at meeting the grave challenge of climate change. Not only does Exxon Mobil fund these groups but it has been neither open nor honest about it.

In addition, Exxon Mobil has a long record of funding groups, which continually attack and undermine media organizations and individual journalists, which they consider to be too liberal.

Exxon is sponsoring the conference in order to gain and enhance their credibility through association with the Australian media community.  We consider that whatever financial advantages have been gained by the MEAA in return for this sponsorship deal, the reputation of the MEAA and its credibility in protecting the role of journalists to seek the truth and the public right to know is too great a price to pay.

Therefore we the undersigned call on MEAA to withdraw from this sponsorship arrangement before the conference. If you would like to discuss this matter with a group of signatories, please contact us,

Wendy Bacon, Journalist, Director Australian Centre for Independent Journalism
Alan Knight – Professor, UTS
Chris Nash, Professor, Monash University
Phillip Chubb, Associate Professor, Monash Universit
Jenna Price – Academic, UTS
Martin Hirst – Associate Professor, Auckland University of Technology (MEAA member# 2731592)

If you would like to add your signature to this letter, contact Wendy Bacon [wendybacon1ATgmail.com]

The claims made in this open letter are easily verified, the following is a brief list of sources that you can check out if you wish to confirm any of this for yourself.

Nigerian journalists threaten to boycott Exxon Mobil

Uyo — Journalists in Akwa Ibom State have threatened to boycott activities of an American oil exploration and exploitation firm, ExxonMobil, saying the mode of operation of the oil giant in the state does not add value to the socio-economic well being of the state.

[AllAfrica.com Feb 2010]

Exxon Mobil’s poor record in Nigeria

OILWATCH Africa, an environmental group concerned with the underbelly activities of the petroleum industry, is currently pressing the Nigerian government to impose heavy sanctions on ExxonMobil, an American oil and gas major, for alleged frequent oil spills in some communities in Akwa Ibom and Rivers States.

[Scoop.co.nz June 2010]

Exxon Mobil ‘green’ company of the year according to Forbes magazine

What an eye-grabber! “ExxonMobil: Green Company of Year.” I mean, who woulda thunk it?

Too bad the provocative headline of Forbes’s current cover story is little more than cheap window dressing. Worse still, its unnecessary hyperbole detracts from what could have been an interesting piece about the oil giant’s high-risk, high-reward bets on natural gas. The article, by Christopher Helman, reasons that power plants will burn Exxon’s gas in the place of comparatively dirty coal, thereby offsetting tens of millions of tons of carbon-dioxide emissions each year.

[Columbia Journalism Review August 2009]

Exxon Mobil funding of climate change denial

Exxon continued to fund climate denial in 2009
Tue, 20 Jul 2010 04:36:45 +0000
ExxonMobil gave approximately $1.3 million to climate denial organizations last year.This has been reported by The Times (London) after being provided information by the Greenpeace Research Department. (The Times is unfortunately a subscription-only paper online, but a version of the story can be found syndicated at The Australian)

[ExxonSecrets – Greenpeace]

Kiwi newspaper ‘discovers’ Facebook photos: “Ethics? What dilemma?”

July 25, 2010

Sunday News this week uncovered photos on 32-year-old [Carmen] Thomas’s Facebook page showing her playfully pecking the cheek of All Blacks midfield sensation Ma’a Nonu and embracing wing Anthony Tuitavake.

[Bunting, 25 July, Sunday News]

Gosh, I’m absolutely stunned with awe; marvelling at the forensic abilities of the Sunday News. How devastatingly newsworthy…the paper’s found out that a missing woman has been seen in a bar with two footballers.

Stunning stuff, let’s hope the police are as astute as Sunday News and are right now questioning the two players. They may know something about Carmen Thomas’ disappearance.

The headline suggest this momentous event has just happened and Carmen hasn’t been seen for about three weeks:

Missing mum poses with All Blacks

And isn’t it fantastic that there’s been a sighting of her, after all her anxious friends, her employer, her mother  and her child are beside themselves with worry.

“Oh, what’s that?” Hang on, check the details…Why? What’s wrong with this picture?

It’s not known when or where the photos were taken but the social networking site has recorded them as being uploaded on September 22, 2008.

Fuck me, the photos are nearly two years old.

Why is this newsworthy? Why is this in the paper?

Oh yeah, right, the All Blacks’ connection. We get to this point a few pars into the non-story. In an attempt to ‘keep it real’ the reporter valiantly attempts to link the All Blacks to the police investigation:

Investigation head, Mark Benefield, was reluctant to comment on Thomas’ online photos but confirmed police were “aware” of them, and that “there are several photographs of her on it [Facebook] in the company of people from all walks of life”.

“As far as we know at this stage of the investigation, there is nothing sinister in any of the photographs posted by Carmen on her pages,” Benefield said. The acting detective inspector wouldn’t say whether police had contacted the rugby stars.

Finbarr, mate, you are flogging a dead horse here. You’ve squeezed all the juice out of this particular lemon and there’s no more blood in this stone.

If I was Benefield I’d be reluctant too; knowing that whatever I said was going to be quoted at length in a cheesey hole-filler, arm-wrestled into the raggiest rag in the land.

What a tasteless, low-rent and ultimately meaningless bit of reporting.

And what investigative skills.

The Facebook photos are only visible to Thomas’ friends and their friends.

Not any more they’re not. Thanks to Sunday News we can all perv at them.

I’ve written before about gratuitous invasions of Facebook privacy by gawking media vultures. This is a classic case of reducing a person to the sum of their parts. I have no doubt that if there had been any ‘racier’ images, the Sunday News would have had no qualms about publishing them.

And let’s be clear, every newspaper in the country would do it too.

This is a wild-west frontier in journalism ethics and at the moment everyone’s behaving like a drunken cowboy in a saloon.

It’s not good enough. It is time for news organisations to establish some ethical and fair use guidelines around the plundering of Facebook for images and story leads.

There are legitimate reasons why journalists should be using social media tools to enhance their reporting; but sitting on your arse in the office downloading what is really someone else’s private property is not one of them. There are copyright issues here – is it stealing?

And of course it would seem that these egregious breaches of privacy can be overlooked because all you’re doing is exploiting some other numbnuck’s inability to operate the complex technical settings on Facebook.

Let’s be clear: what you’re doing is not journalism.

There is no pubic interest in publishing two-year old photos of Carmen Thomas with a couple of footy players; all it does is satisfy the ego of a couple of hacks without conscience.

It makes me sick.

The reporter doesn’t say how he got access to Ms Thomas’ private photos, but I guess it doesn’t matter does it. Whatever privacy settings you have on your Facebook page, to the news media goon squad it’s all public property and access is just a click away.

After all, if you’re too stupid to stop us, too fucken bad, we’re coming; guns blazing and whiskey-stained breath on your neck.

What is 20/20 up to – are Kiwis that prudish?

July 23, 2010

A colleague forwarded me an email from a Sydney nightclub about an upcoming event.

Very interesting.

Hi there,
20/20 – a New Zealand news and current affairs show – are coming to the Hellfire Club this Friday night (23 July) to film part of a story on kink culture in Sydney.

The idea behind the story is that ordinary people like to dress up and be kinky and that it gives them an opportunity to experience themselves differently and feel sexy. New Zealanders, who are rather a conservative bunch when it comes to sex, are interested in kink and fetish but don’t know quite what it is or how to go about connecting with it.

20/20 are looking for people with all kinds of kinks and fetishes and will be around till about 11.30pm hoping to film you or hear your story. You can of course decline to be filmed, but after seeing how much fun you all had with the EWTV crew, how can we deny you another chance at your ten seconds of fame? We trust you will enjoy showing our bros across the ditch how it’s done!

Who’s that girl? This gorgeous Ranga Queen may not be our new Prime Minister… but she’s just as powerful! (now if we could just get our Julia to grow her hair and eat a mud cake or three…)

The Mystery Woman is in fact a fragment of the design of our next Hellfire Club T-shirt. It was created by the exceptionally talented Leo Nguyen – who’s work you can see in the current Rolling Stone and on the covers of both the Sydney Morning Herald Metro and The Brag magazine over the coming weeks.

We’ll unveil the whole design in the next email, and you’ll be able to get your own wearable version at the August party at The Hellfire Club. Stay tuned for hot new fetish fashion!

… look forward to seeing y’all Friday night dressed to impress those budding Kiwi kinksters!

Master Tom
The Hellfire Club

[EM:Of course, it’s purely coincidence that 20/20 is fronted by Aotearoa’s very own ‘Ranga Queen’?]

20/20 presenter Miriamo Kamo

PS: Master Tom, have you checked out how 20/20 is likely to cover the Hellfire Club story?  After all, the programme’s slogan is ‘Provocative, Unflinching’.

Be careful what you wish for you fun-loving Sydney kinksters.

I’d be keen to hear how the shoot goes too.

[BTW: ‘Ranga’ is slang for redhead in this part of the world]

Dear Rupert, have you lost the plot? #paywalls

July 22, 2010

The Guardian is somewhat cheerily reporting this week that its arch-rival for British eyeballs, Murdoch’s The Times has suffered what appears to be a catastrophic drop in site traffic since ducking behind the paywall last month.

According to the Guardian‘s analysis (which you might discount on grounds of competitive one-upmanship)  traffic to the Times website has fallen as much as 90 per cent since the 15th of June this year.

The results also seem to confirm my analysis – soon to be published in News 2.0: Can journalism survive the Internet? – that the revenue streams from online subscriptions and daily paid visits are going to be a drop in the bucket compared to newspaper publishers’ overall income generating capacity:

There are approximately 150,000 Times print subscribers who get a free online registration, but if the estimated 15,000 daily online users who agreed to pay opt for the £2 a week deal, the paywall will generate £120,000 a month – £1.4m a year.

[Halliday, 20 July 2010]

That £1.4m a year is not going to cover the wages bill, let alone all the associated costs. It certainly is not a positive income stream.

I know that some commentators are suggesting that Rupert’s lost the plot – he is nearly 80 – and that the Internet has overtaken his usually sharp business brain because of its lightening speed; but I’m not so sure.

If you look at Murdoch’s strategy in New York, he has gone for a more traditional print-based newspaper war there; pitching the Wall Street Journal against the New York Times by upping its local coverage in a special section for the city that never sleeps.

To me this indicates a deeper game plan and a multiple strategy play that is yet to completely unfold. I’m not suggesting that Murdoch is going to be the ultimate winner here, but he is hedging his bets.

News International is also working on other aspects of the exclusivity of brand that the paywall might suggest. If you sign up and pay your 50 quid you get access to deals on executive travel, wine, books, etc. All aimed at the wealthier and older end of the scale. I’m shaking my head as I write this because not only is this approach nothing to do with the quality of the news on offer; but it also seems like a sinking lid strategy.

An older audience eventually gets smaller – it’s just the attrition of age and infirmity really. At the same time there’s nothing in the data to suggest that newspapers are generating interest in a younger audience – there is no long tail in this strategy.

The other clear observation is that no one has yet cracked the Holy Grail of the new business model for newspapers. It is obvious that in the short to medium term erecting a paywall means you take a hit; but it’s too soon to tell if there will be gains in the long run.

For readers, grazers and news surfers it means one less outlet, but in the crowded online market, the still-free alternatives are available to absorb the 90 per cent of Times‘ visitors who’ve given up on the once dominant masthead.

As one of my colleague remarked though, Times readers (at least those who have been loyal to the brand) tend to be conservative and may not like the more lefty tone of the Guardian or Independent.

It would be interesting to know where they’re going. Is it to The Sun, The Express or The Telegraph, or are they going off-shore for their news fix.

The next set of data on traffic, downloads and unique visitors to other news sites will be interesting, particularly if there’s a spike somewhere that might correlate with Rupert’s deserters.

I was on The Wire today discussing this issue.


You’ve got to change your thinking #capitalism

July 21, 2010

I love this clip and comrade David Harvey is on the money.

It’s a short guide to why capitalism is a system prone to crisis, with some very clever animations.

These other RSAnimations are also pretty cool.

(Thanks to Rob S for this link)

Eye candy: where’s the real target, Janet?

July 18, 2010

The opinions of bloggers make news. Welcome to News 2.0.

Former TV reporter, now media trainer, Janet Wilson, caused a small fuss when her blog post Eye Candy was reported in Saturday’s New Zealand Herald by James Ihaka. Of course one could observe (a tad cynically) that the story made it onto page 2 only because it could legitimately get the phrase ‘tits and teeth’ into the headline.

While the Herald story is not entirely sympathetic, no doubt Janet Wilson will be pleased, working on the principle that being talked about is better than not being talked about.

I for one made some effort to track down Janet’s blog; which incidentally doesn’t appear in the results of the Google search I conducted using ‘Janet Wilson Adjust your set’. I found it thanks to  Ele Ludemann  at homepaddock who had thoughtfully linked from her blog because the ‘adjust your set’ search term takes you to this post.

Anyway, in a round-about way that brings me to the point: Janet gives a spray and takes exception to the young, female faces on television because – in her opinion – they are all ‘tits and teeth’ and know nothing  much about journalism.

The implication is that they’re hired by middle-aged men who merely want ‘eye candy’ to a) decorate the newsroom and b) attract viewers to the evening news broadcast who share their taste in nubile wenchy-things who are ‘loved’ by the camera.

I’m not sure who the target of this diatribe is, but there’s plenty who can take offence. Read the rest of this entry »