Is the honeymoon over for ABC chief Michelle Guthrie?

November 19, 2016

In a week when more cuts to the national broadcaster have been announced, Dr Martin Hirst reports that Friends of the ABC is just one group concerned about the direction being taken by the corporation’s new chief, Michelle Guthrie.

[First published on Independent Australia 18 November]

A long-serving ABC staffer has told IA that the “clock is ticking” on Michelle Guthrie’s “honeymoon period” as Managing Director of the ABC.

Speaking on the condition of anonymity, the senior producer says that “rogue managers” have “tasted blood” and “enjoy” the process of making people redundant. Our source also believes that the ratio of production staff to managers has been skewed and that the decision to axe up to nine producers from the science program Catalyst is a “tragedy”.

Under these conditions, our source believes, the ABC will be unable to deliver the promised 17 one-hour science specials under the revamped format.

Many people are concerned about the future of the ABC under a Turnbull-led Coalition government and now that a former Murdoch executive has taken the reins as Managing Director, there is disquiet both inside and outside of Aunty at the direction the national broadcaster is now taking.

Read the rest of this entry »


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.


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 »

Rupert is safe from Australian regulators…for now

May 7, 2012

Australian media regulators would take an active interest in attempts by News Limited to increase its stake in Foxtel.

Problems facing media moguls Rupert and James Murdoch in the United Kingdom and the United States have yet to have an impact in Australia.

But if recent speculation is true that News Limited might be a buyer for James Packer’s 25% Foxtel stake, Murdoch could find himself in a forest of acronyms as various regulatory agencies – the Australian Consumer and Competition commission (ACCC), the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) and the Foreign Investment Review Board (FIRB) – take an active interest.

The continuing storm over the handling of the UK phone hacking scandal has seen a British parliamentary committee find Murdoch senior is not a fit and proper person to run a multinational media company.

The phone-hacking and police bribery scandal has led to more than 40 arrests in Britain and to a Sky news reporter admitting to hacking emails in pursuit of a story.

These revelations have also led to low-level investigations of News operations in the United States. In July last year, the FBI was reportedly opening an investigation of allegations that News reporters may have hacked the phones of victims of the 9/11 terrorist attack in New York and Washington DC.

There is no recent information to confirm that any investigation is on-going in the US. However, American politicians – always on the look out for a media opportunity – have signaled they are taking a keen interest in the British parliamentary report and the Leveson inquiry. A Washington DC ethics lobby group has also written to the US Federal Communications Commission seeking an inquiry into Murdoch’s control of the Fox network.

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) want the FCC to revoke Foxtel’s broadcasting licences. A US senator has also written to the chair of the Leveson inquiry seeking any information that might suggest American laws have been broken by News journalists.

Even is there is no illegality, Murdoch does face some problems in the US. Under American law, the finding that he is not a fit and proper person to run a business in the UK can be used to trigger an inquiry in the USA.

These ongoing worries are more than an embarrassment to the octogenarian patriarch; they are a debilitating overhang that could ultimately affect the fate of News Corporation – the parent company that manages the family’s global media business interests, including News Limited in Australia and News International in the UK. For example, BSkyB shares took a hit on UK markets after the email hacking story came to light. Read the rest of this entry »

Naive DimPost editorialist up in arms …Who rights [sic] this drivel?

September 14, 2011

This post deserves a subtitle:

“Kick’em when they’re up; kick’em when they’re down” Don Henley (see below)

My concern this evening is a weird little editorial in today’s Dominion Post concerning the reportorial credentialing of one N Hager Esq.

To wit, in evidence I copy and paste the following:

Hager sees himself as an author and a journalist. In the common definition of the journalistic craft, he is not. He is a meticulous compiler and ferreter out of information that some people would wish to keep secret, and he is very good at it.

What? Can I just take a moment to let this sink in.

Nicky Hager’s not a journalist, at least as you [DomPost editorialist 13.9.2011] choose to define it.

How do you define it by the way?

Nicky’s not a journalist, but he might be an author though.

Is that good or bad?

Is that what you’re saying here?

I must have missed something, run that par by me again…

Hager sees himself as an author and a journalist. In the common definition of the journalistic craft, he is not. He is a meticulous compiler and ferreter out of information that some people would wish to keep secret, and he is very good at it.

I don’t think “ferreter” is a word in the context you’re trying to shoehorn it into.

But, leaving aside your poor composition skills, what you’re trying to say is that Nicky Hager is good at his job — ferreting out information that some people would wish to keep secret — but that’s not journalism as you define it. How do you define journalism by the way? That last bit sounds suspiciously like what journalism is. Or at least, what it should be.

I must be stupid, but I still don’t get it…tell me more.

The flaw in Hager’s modus operandi is that he amasses what he has learned and then presents it to the public through the prism that best suits his world view, without allowing for the possibility that there might be a plausible explanation for what he has “uncovered”. The case he builds is thus rarely troubled by opposing opinions and inconvenient facts, realities that journalists in the mainstream media are morally obliged to take into account, and present.

[Seeing Afghanistan through naive prism]

Excuse me, even the headline on this piece doesn’t stand up to lexical scrutiny.

OK, you can call me a media studies poser if you like. You won’t be the first. The fact remains, we have to deconstruct this argument to make sense of the DomPo’s position.

First of all, a disclaimer. I know and admire Nicky Hager. I consider him a friend and I’ve defended him before here at EM on similar charges from Fran O’sullivan.

I haven’t yet read Nicky’s latest book Other People’s Wars — the centre of this controversy — but I am told by reliable sources that it is brilliant and you should all read it. I’m picking up my copy from Unity Books in the morning and will read it on the plane home this weekend.

I think his work in Hollow Men is exemplary investigative journalism, despite this mean-spirited and misleading line in the DumPoo’s rite [sic] of reply.

Take his earlier book, The Hollow Men, for example, which – though not news to political junkies – made uncomfortable reading for some associated with the Don Brash-led National Party.

Not even faint praise in this damning dismissal from the Dismal Poke.

Speaking of definitions of journalism didn’t Lord Harmsworth once say that it was about “afflicting the comfortable”?

Like many a determined investigator, some of whom have worked at the DomPost and done brilliant work of journalism, Nicky takes excellent care of his sources and his facts. He does, in other words, exactly what those imbued with, and accountable to, the spirit of excellence in reporting, should do.

The sputtering [sic] rage of the Dim’s editorialist — whether real or feigned for 13 sovereigns — is best expressed in this nonsense:

In the common definition of the journalistic craft, he is not.

Did that make your eyes water? Ferfucksake! Is this grammatic and syntactic outrage the result of outsourced subbing? Is there nobody in the office to tell the editorialist they’ve written gibberish; up with which we will not put.

[Ahhem, so to speak]

Can we just look, for a brief indulgent moment, at the definition of a journalist that is common today.

Actually, we might need a few, here’s one to be going on with.

“Journalism without a moral position is impossible. Every journalist is a moralist. It’s absolutely unavoidable. A journalist is someone who looks at the world and the way it works, someone who takes a close look at things every day and reports what she sees, someone who represents the world, the event, for others. She cannot do her work without judging what she sees.”

That’s from Marguerite Duras, it is echoed by many; including George Orwell. Regular readers of EM will know my line Orwell and Trotsky.

I’ll be back. In the meantime…

Read the rest of this entry »

#londonriots Looking for answers in the wrong places

August 10, 2011

If you want to know what’s really behind the rioting of the last few days in London and half a dozen other UK cities, all you need to do is understand the social dislocations, anger and cynicism that tell the real story of the numbers:

Unemployment statistics in Britain are sadly vague, but a reasonable estimate of youth unemployment just in Hackney is 33 percent.

The figure is from Michael Goldfarb an NPR correspondent who lives in the Hackney area. He goes on:

What happens after the rioting subsides is difficult to predict. Entry level jobs are in short supply these days, and as the government’s austerity measures begin to bite here, it’s not likely to get better any time soon.

Why London exploded last night

Unfortunately, I haven’t heard many commentators (liberal or conservative) talk about this. Instead we get lines like this

This type of coverage is not helpful

[anchorstooge] Many commentators say youth unemployment is behind the riots but [insert name of expert] from [insert name of rightwing thinktank] believes its just a bunch of sodding criminals who’ve been pampered too long by the nanny state

[expert, speaking in posh condesending tone that fits his double-barrel moniker] These young people come from intergenerationally dysfunctional families and they have a hand-out mentality. They don’t have to work, they just get pregnant or go on the dole. They are work-shy gangsters and by-the-way most of them are black, but we won’t mention that.

That type of commentary – criminalising the young rioters and blaming them for their existence – is underpinned superficial coverage (like in a warzone) by anxious-looking mainly white correspondents standing alongside police barricades in the early afternoon and vox-popping the gawking public.

It is stenographic churnalism of the worst order. It’s not good, but it’s understandable. The black, brown and poor white communities of the UK and elsewhere get almost no coverage of their daily lives. They live in estates surrounded by poverty, only able to secure low-wage jobs (if they can get work) and they live hand-to-mouth, day-to-day.

But then I found this little gem, recorded straight from the TV, but it’s brilliant.

I was pretty gobsmacked that Piers Morgan tweeted that the rioters should be treated like terrorists and shot, but it isn’t really that surprising. I guess it is his gall, under fire for phone hacking, and trying to rehabilitate his dusty image.

Then Darcus Howe pops up and gives the clearest and most eloquent defence of young people in the UK today. It is shocking when he mentions that Mark Duggan’s head was blown off by the police bullets. That’s yet to be tested, but the BBC anchordrone is clearly rattled and she should be.

Howe has a grand dignity and he let’s her know well and truly.

Fantastic remedy to the wall of BS.

Howe is right, it’s time to start listening to these young voices, but more importantly give them a future without random and constant police harrassment and give them work or education. Sure, many of these youngsters may be unemployed, but some are not. Some are also probably students who took part in other recent protests in the UK. They are not terrorists. But the Daily Star‘s front page is typical of what the British press is saying up and down the country.

The point is that the reasons behind what’s happening are complex and the broadcast media in general and TV in particular has so far not done a great job of analysing the causes. Instead it seems that large sections of the British media have fallen in behind David Cameron’s dangerous police-state rhetoric.

I’ve only heard one black voice on the radio (in Australia admittedly) making the absolutely valid point that all reporters need to consider. He said something along the lines of:

If the media is going to call this “mindless” violence, then it also has to ask the question: What makes these young people mindless?

He’s absolutely right. Part of the problem here is the news value of proximity. I don’t just mean physical proximity to the riots, but also social and cultural proximity and affinity between the reporters (mainly middle class and educated) and the ruling class. That’s why the very same correspondents who were four months ago covering riots and large protests in Cairo were telling a very different story to they one they’re telling about London.

In Egypt the media dismissed Mubarek’s ravings about rioting gangsters and focused on making the young people in Tahir square into revolutionary heroes and martyrs.

The lives of young men and women in Hackney is not that different to those of the same young people who so bravely chased off the (now) evil Mubarek regime.

The same root causes underlie both situations. The difference is that in Hackney the local political culture is completely flattened under media-driven consumer lust. The same issues and desires motivate the youth, their expression takes a different form.

Two other young black voices I heard on the radio this morning sum this up very well. Two women (17 and 18) were vox-popped. They had taken part in the night’s rampage and at 9.30 in the morning (Tuesday in London) were still in the street drinking from a bottle of wine they had looted. They’d been drinking all night and described what they’d been doing as fun.

But the telling comment they made was that the real target of their anger was “all the rich people”. That’s a pretty good gut instinct and it’s ultimately right. Unfortunately, these two women saw the local shopkeepers as representatives of these rich people. That’s a mistake, but it really only masks a deeper sentiment that does go toward explaining their anger and their sense of joy at the destruction they had helped to cause.

It was, in their view, no doubt an attack on the system that oppresses them.

That’s why the politics of this are so important.

Now the backlash will begin and it will be fuelled by racism. The Milwall fans who were supposedly defending their turf were all white and most likely target recruits for the English Defence League which recruits off the terraces (if not already members).

If the media continues to swallow and promote the spin from Downing street and the political establishment it will give the racists heart and the situation will get worse – a lot worse – before it gets any better.

The heavy police presence and aggressive pattern of arrests that will now rain down on Hackney and the other suburbs where disturbances occurred will only add fuel to the fire.

Brave Italian newsreader stands up to bully boy Berlusconi

May 26, 2010

An Italian journalist has resigned from the state-run TV 1 network in a protest against editorial interference and bias in favour of disgusting Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.

Maria Luisa Busi

Maria Luisa Busi has more than 20 years experience but dramatically quit her newsreading post last week angrily pointing the finger at her boss Augusto Minzolini. Busi said that Minzolini had consistently slanted TV1’s news coverage to favour Berlusconi and had actively prevented reporting of Berlusconi’s many crimes and sexual indiscretions.

Berlusconi is the Italian Rupert Murdoch (on steroids). Not only does he have political control of TV1 he also owns massive chunks of the rest of Italy’s print and broadcast minister.

Both Minzolini and Berlusconi are under investigation for corruption.

The Independent has the full story.

EM extends a warm hand of congratulations to Ms Busi for standing up and walking out for strong principled reasons. I’d like to suggest that her colleagues at RAI should follow suit.

Radio New Zealand: “They say cut back, we say fight back!”

March 1, 2010

A good crowd turned up today outside Radio New Zealand’s HQ in Hobson Street, Auckland to protest against the government’s planned cuts to the broadcasters already tight budget.

A good start, but we have to keep going and build the pressure. If you don’t do anything else, at least sign the online petition at Hands Off Our Dial

Jake and friends at the Auckland protest 1 March

Jake and friends at the Auckland protest 1 March

Over 100 people gathered to hear a few short speeches and to let Broadcasting Minister Jonathon Coleman know that he won’t get away with his ‘slash and burn’ strategy.

The arguments for retaining – and extending – RNZ’s budget are not difficult. It is the national broadcaster and it provides a vital service for all New Zealanders.

As many speakers outlined, it is a service that we have come to rely on and Sunday’s Tsunami alerts and the special extended Sunday morning Morning Report are one example among many.

I supported the rally and made a few remarks of my own. The key message I wanted to get across was to point out that critics who say “Why should I pay for Radio New Zealand, when I can listen to commercial radio for free?” are actually totally wrong.

Commercial radio is not free. In fact, the clue is in the very name ‘commercial’ radio. Advertising is the lifeblood of the commercial media – the harvesting of eyeballs and ears. Without advertising there would be no commercial radio.

But who actually pays? Well, the advertisers do don’t they?

No, in fact we pay for commercial radio every time we buy a packet of busciuts at Pack’n’Save, or when we fill up our tanks with petrol.

Advertising is a multi-billion dollar industry worldwide and advertising or marketing budgets are built into the cost and price of every commodity we buy.

You see, we in fact pay and pay and pay again for advertising every day.

So commerical radio is not free and it costs us a lot more than the paltry amount of our taxes that currently goes to supporting Radio New Zealand.

The other point I made is that RNZ is on the bones of its arse already. It has suffered cuts now for a decade under both Labor and National governments.

No government in power likes the scrutiny and independent analysis that RNZ provides. It is an irritant to any government and that’s how it should be.

You can't argue with intelligence

So when a Labor MP says that her party fully supports RNZ, what does this mean?

If it’s to mean anything at all it must mean a Manifesto commitment to restore and extend RNZ funding if they’re re-elected.


So that RNZ can continue to provide the quality programming that it does. Who else is going to promote Kiwi music and art and science and so on?

But there’s another reason to increase the funding to RNZ – so that it can continue to innovate and to extend its services.

If you look at the Australian example – go on, just for a minute – you can see that the ABC provides local radio services to every major population centre across the country. This was invaluable during last summer’s dreadful bushfires. ABC local radio kept communities informed and saved many lives through providing up-to-the-minute news about fire fronts and rescue or evacuation plans.

Then there’s the youth network TripleJ. This is a fantastic service for the youth of Australia. It talks to them in the language they appreciate and it gives them access to useful public interest information. It helps young people connect with politics and the big ideas.

Finally, the ABC provides a fantastic online presence called Unleashed that creates the space for a truly national debate about politics, policies and culture.

Honest journalism without advertising. Now there's a thought

This is what RNZ should be doing to. For that it needs much more money.

I think it is a national shame that this government is hell-bent on cutting it even more.

I think that in Wellington the ACT Party tail is wagging the National dog. And it is a dog.

Now we have to keep the protests going and keep them growing. There’s a long way to go in this fight.

They say cut back, we say fight back.