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

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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.

In the Shadow of Phone Hacking: Media Accountability Inquiries in Australia

June 25, 2013
 Johan Lidberg, Monash University and Martin Hirst, Deakin University

Reproduced from the first edition of Political Economy of Communication, a new peer-reviewed journal from the Political Economy section of the International Association for Mass Communication Research (IAMCR)

Figure 1. Stalin, Mao, Castro, Conroy—media dictators Murdoch style

Introduction

On July 10, 2011, Rupert Murdoch closed the News of the World, one of the biggest selling tabloids on the globe, once the newspaper had used up its store of public trust. The paper was accused of, and later admitted that a culture of illegality had engulfed its newsroom. Phones were routinely hacked and journalists paid public officials for information on celebrities and other citizens. The News of the World scandal triggered over 100 arrests of journalists, police officers, private investigators, and public officials. It also initiated a wave of inquiries into journalistic practices and standards in several countries.

This article will summarize the two inquiries into media practice and standards in Australia, and consider the impact on democratic discourse when ownership concentration of media companies reaches high levels.

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Compacts v Tabloids: The only game in town is the back page

March 5, 2013

As of yesterday [Monday 4 March 2013] we are in a weird scenario: Rupert Murdoch’s The Australian is the only broadsheet daily newspaper left in Australia. Think about this for a minute.

Yes, shocking, I know.

All of the other Australian dailies are tabloids. Or, if you prefer the Fairfax Media spin, most of the others are tabloids and two of them are ‘compacts.

The compacts are the former broadsheets: The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age (published in Melbourne).

The last broadsheet to tabloid conversion was when Brisbane’s Courier-Mail made the switch in 2005. Today the Courier-Mail is indistinguishable from its News Limited stablemates in Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide. The Courier-Mail embraced the whole essence of becoming a tabloid. It has adopted the big double-deck headline technique with a large photo-splash and it has eagerly turned itself to tabloid news values as well.

But this is something that Fairfax Media says it won’t do; at least not yet. While it is clearly competing head-to-head with News Limited in Sydney and Melbourne, Fairfax honchos have said repeatedly–and whenever asked about it this week– that The Age and the SMH will not become tabloids, driven by celebrity, gossip and the sort of low-level moral-panic inducing campaigning journalism that characterises all the Murdoch mastheads.

Advertiser 5 March Courier Mail 5 March

Daily Tele 5 March

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Dear Media CEOs: stop meddling in our democracy

July 5, 2012

Dear media CEOs,

Thanks for your recent letter to Prime Minister Julia Gillard outlining concerns some of you have about regulation of the news media industry.

First a question regarding your views of a proposed “public interest test”: What are you afraid of?

Your letter suggests that any public interest requirement would be a “massive” increase in regulation. But your evidence for this is very slight and even misleading.

For example, you mention the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) rules on media ownership, but these do not apply to the print media. The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s (ACCC) powers and the Trade Practices Act are in place to protect the interests of news consumers, but they are not a protection of our rights as citizens.

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Miss us this day our daily newspaper? Where will the cuts come first

June 5, 2012

The hares are running on the proposition that the Fairfax Media board is considering a medium-term plan to give up on printed Monday to Friday editions of its main mastheads in favour of a digital-only strategy.

And while we’ve all been looking the other way, News Limited has quietly downsized newsrooms and subs benches at several of its titles, including the Geelong Advertiser and the company has outsourced some backroom functions.

The newspaper industry is quietly dying.

But will it matter to most of us? Avid readers will miss the pleasure of print, but the news will still be available in other formats.

It is fears about the dwindling bottom line that is driving talk of abandoning daily newspapers at Fairfax and the paywall strategy at News Limited. We can perhaps get an idea of the future from looking at recent events in the United States.

Closures, shuttering and digital only “newspapers”

At least 13 large US newspapers have closed since 2007 and 10 or more have cut back two or three editions a week, instead of publishing every day.

The argument is that by eliminating high-cost low-return editions the more profitable days can be continued and the newspaper brand survives.

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Talking Points: The Australian’s cosy little club of groupthinkers

May 25, 2012

If you get to the bottom there is a topical easter egg surprise for loyal readers.

Over recent months many of my colleagues in the Journalism Education Association of Australia (JEAA) have attempted to get responses to The Australian’s attacks on us (over many months) published. We have had very little luck. One open letter that was sent from the association with more than 50 signatures was made available as a PDF from a deep recess of The Australian’s website,but not easily searchable and just last week I received this response from editor of Media Diary Nick Leys.

A right-of-reply @leysie style

Some of the attacks have centred on Dr Matthew Ricketson who was engaged to assist with the Independent Media Inquiry. The Australian‘s coverage of this issue has been appalling and one-sided, but when Matthew tried to defend himself he was not given space, instead Nick Leys cobbled together a piece from second-hand sources. It is what The Australian‘s editor-in-chief Chris Mitchell would call “four or five out of 10″ journalism.

Editor in chief of The Australian Chris Mitchell questions the journalistic credentials of those passing judgment on the industry. “Ricketson, Simons and their mate Andrew Dodd (Crikey contributor and Swinburne University of Technology journalism course convener) all worked for The Australian and you would give them barely a pass mark as journalists,” he says.

“Seriously. People who I would score four or five out of 10 are trying to determine the future of media regulation in Australia. Everyone in the business knows it is a self-serving joke and these people are dupes for Conroy.”

Chris Mitchell quoted approvingly and at length in his own newspaper. A cosy club Chris – you’re the patron

As the national association representing journalism educators and academics, you might think that the JEAA would be given some space to respond to criticisms and abuse hurled at us. For some reason, we are not considered worthy of space in the paper’s letters pages, let alone to write a column.

We have been accused of being a “cosy club” prone to  “groupthink” even though there are many disagreements among us. It is a puzzling charge and one that The Australian rejects when it is levelled against them.

It is puzzling because the op-ed pages of The Australian display a remarkable and consistent commitment to groupthink. Its columnists all sing off the same conservative songsheet with the libertarian soloists taking center stage all too often.

However, it might come as a surprise to readers of our national broadsheet that this same groupthink is also displayed in the letters pages.

For example, Mr Brenton Minge, of suburban Bulimba in Brisbane, must be one of the luckiest writers of letters to the editor in Australia. A Google search shows up a Brenton Minge who it seems has a  bent for letter writing, particularly on topics of religion, science and the “Leftist” ABC.  Maybe this is why he so popular with The Australian‘s letters editor.

Mr Minge has had nine letters published in The Australian’s Talking Points column since May 2011, for a total of around 1400 words. He is not the only one.

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