The day free speech died to protect Colonel Blimp

April 26, 2015

So this ANZAC weekend, what did you do?

dardenellesDid you go down to your local war memorial and fondly remember great-grandfathers, grandmothers and other relatives who died in a senseless slaughter 100 years ago?

Did you march proudly, wearing the medals of your ancestors, because these brave men and women are the only reason we are free today?

Did you, like I did, try to shield yourself from the nationalistic pomp and the idiotic rantings of our Prime Minister?

Did you cringe at the jingoism, the unthinking patriotism and crass commercialism that now defines ANZAC day?

Or did you, like the free speech fundamentalists and Abbott apologists, take time from your orgy of bloody celebration of war, to call for a young journalist to be sacked for daring to question the ANZAC myth?

Yes, unfortunately the dogwhistling from the feral NewsCorpse bunker caused SBS management to buckle and sack Scott McIntyre within 24 hours. There was no due process, no inquiry, no chance for Scott to defend himself.

But what exactly was McIntyre’s offence?

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The view from Disneyland — you can see the Newscorpse bunkers from here

February 8, 2015

There have been two important speeches at the National Press Club in the past week or so. One of them got bucket loads of media coverage and has turned into a national story of gargantuan significance. EM covered it here.

The second NPC speech received some coverage, but there have been few ripples across the pond and the story has died. However, EM can’t let it go because it is a subject dear to our heart — Freedom of the Press.

Just two days after Two Punch delivered his wooden and self-wounding speech on Monday, perhaps fatally injuring his own prime ministership and his political party in the process, the chair of the Australian Press Council, Professor Julian Disney, gave an address to the gathered scribes and interested onlookers.

Disney’s speech won’t kill off the Press Council, but he is leaving soon anyway and his replacement has been announced, Professor David Weisbrot; so, in some ways, the address was a valedictory.

Disney also used the speech to make some thinly-veiled comments about the role of destabilisation and undermining of the Council’s authority by Rupert Murdoch’s NewsCorpse.

newscorpse log

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Wake up Charlies: Why these world leaders are a threat to you

January 12, 2015

The killing of 12 journalists from French magazine Charlie Hebdo was a horrible murder carried out by crazed ideologues. I condemn it unconditionally…But…expressing solidarity with mass murderers and the enemies of freedom of speech is a backward step.

Read this statement from Paris-based socialist John Mullen on why the better sections of the French left marched separately and at a distance from the world leaders.

This letter from another French leftist also sets out some very cogent and nuanced arguments that non-French people should probably read. It outlines the difficulties of fighting fundamentalism and fascism at the same time. But it is the necessary form that solidarity must take — not the perverted version of marching with ghouls.

This is the difficult argument I am having with my French friends: we are all aware of the fact that the attack on Charlie Hebdo will be exploited by the Far right, and that our government will use it as an opportunity to create a false unanimity within a deeply divided society. We have already heard the prime minister Manuel Valls announce that France was “at war with Terror” – and it horrifies me to recognize the words used by George W. Bush. We are all trying to find the narrow path – defending the Republic against the twin threats of fundamentalism and fascism (and fundamentalism is a form of fascism). But I still believe that the best way to do this is to fight for our Republican ideals. Equality is meaningless in times of austerity. Liberty is but hypocrisy when elements of the French population are being routinely discriminated. But fraternity is lost when religion trumps politics as the structuring principle of a society. Charlie Hebdo promoted equality, liberty and fraternity – they were part of the solution, not the problem.

Solidarity is a fine and welcome human emotion. It shows that we are not all Ayn Randian sociopaths who will always place our individual comfort and wealth above the problems of others.

Solidarity is an expression of hope that the world can be a better place and it is a recognition that by coming together in collective action we can and we will change the world.

While the murder of journalists in cold blood by crazed Islamic terrorists can never be condoned and is rightly condemned by anyone of conscience; we cannot allow ourselves to be drawn into displays of solidarity unthinkingly and based only on a gut reaction to horror.

Think before you walk, zombie-like in the footsteps of the damned.

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Statement on Charlie Hebdo

January 10, 2015

It is always sad to witness the murder of journalists. Killing the messenger is never a solution if you don’t like the message.

The murder of 10 Charlie Hebdo journalists and cartoonists by Islamic extremists was a violent hate crime with no justification.

The perpetrators of this outrage seek to clothe themselves in the garb of Islam and claimed to carry out the murders in the cause of defending the Prophet.

They failed in that aim.

Instead, all that the murderers have achieved is to strengthen the resolve of Western powers to prosecute their own war on the people of Aghanistan, Syria and Iraq.

Intensifying the US-led bombing raids (in which Australia is a willing participant) against Da’esh or pouring more Western military aid into the hands of illegitimate governments in Yemen and the Arabian peninsula, will not reduce the threat of further attacks like that against the French satirical magazine.

Only three things are certain as a result of the Charlie Hebdo incident:

1. Western governments will use it as an excuse to continue prosecuting the so-called “War on Terror”, which, by all reasonable accounts is an abject failure and the major cause of increased terrorist attacks inside Western nations

2. Despite all the moralistic outrage gushing from the pages of Western newspapers and dripping from the lips of Western politicians our freedom of speech, our freedom of assembly and our freedom of thought will be further curtailed by the so-called guardians of liberty.

3. The hypocrisy of those in the West now calling for the re-publication of some of Charlie Hebdo’s more racist and vilifying cartoon front pages will know no boundaries; but they will pretend it doesn’t exist.

Charlie Hebdo was no saint. But satire alone is not a defence for racism and misogyny

Charlie Hebdo was no saint. But satire alone is not a defence for racism and misogyny

I will attempt to explain these three points quickly and then link to some of the better commentary on the issue.

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An open letter to Sharri Markson

October 17, 2014

The Australian‘s media editor, Sharri Markson, caused a storm this week when her newspaper published an “undercover” expose of alleged left-wing bias in two of the nation’s premier journalism programs at the University of Sydney (USYD and the University of Technology in Sydney (UTS)

sharri

Ms Markson relaxing after a hard day of study From http://www.bullshit-blog.com/sharri-markson-undercover-university/

Apparently she’s planning a follow-up and today emailed a selected number of journalism academics and others to seek their views about journalism education.

Sharri Markson's email. Oops, it leaked.

Sharri Markson’s email. Oops, it leaked.

Our correspondent, Martin Hirst, was not on the list even though he’s been a journalism academic for 20 years and is a well-known critic of News Corporation.

However, in to ensure Ms Markson gets the widest possible cross-section of views he sent her the following email.
Dr Hirst is not confident that his views will make it into Monday’s Australian, so in the interests of transparency he’s agreed to share them with us.

Dear Sharri,
Thanks for your interest in a wide range of views about journalism education in Australia.

I realise you have not actually requested my views, but I thought I’d share them with you anyway in the interests of ensuring that you do indeed get a wide range of views.

BTW: I did tweet a question at you a couple of days ago about your consideration of the MEAA Code of Ethics in your undercover story.You were busy and might have missed it; please consider sending me an answer.

In the meantime here’s my responses to your questions

What do you think about media studies and its love of critical theory, post modernism and even post Marxist critical theory?

MH: There is actually a broad range of theoretical approaches in media studies, not all of them revolve around critical theory, post modernism or post Marxist critical theory and of course, media studies and journalism studies are distinct disciplines that do have some overlaps.

Many journalism programs also operate alongside PR and other communication disciplines and we encourage students to take courses in these subjects as well. We also encourage them to take studies in non-communication disciplines in history, politics, psychology, sociology etc, even sports science in some places. We do this because – like you — we value the breadth of knowledge and we know that the news industry needs people with some content expertise, not just a ‘journalism only’ degree.

Views among journalism educators in Australia range right across the theoretical spectrum from highly normative approaches that continue to value objectivity and fourth estate theories of the press; there are even libertarians among us and then there’s those of us who think that critical theory is useful (careful how you define “critical theory” it has a 100 year history and many variations).

For instance: do you mean Habermas theory of the bourgeois public sphere or McChesney’s approach to media regulation in America, or British cultural studies; do you mean Frederick Jameson’s postmodernity, or David Harvey’s “condition of postmodernity” or Zygmunt Bauman’s “liquid modernity”?

Postmodernism and cultural studies are not overly influential in journalism education, the “media wars” of the 1990s were the highpoint of postmodernism in media theory and since then things have actually changed.

If you check out the websites of the various journalism courses in Australia you will see that there is a great deal of variety in approaches taken. Some of us are indeed critical theorists and even Marxists (though out of the 100+ who teach journalism in the higher ed system I think you could count them all on one hand).

I am really the only one who frequently puts up a hand to say “Yes, I’m a Marxist.” I am in a tiny minority. I am pretty sure that Wendy, Jenna, Margaret, Matthew and Penny (along with just about all of the JERAA’s membership) would tell you that they are explicitly not Marxists. Chomsky’s not even a Marxist.

The approach that some of us use — among others — is what you might call a “political economy” approach (it is not the same as Marxism, though it is a materialist worldview) and it involves an examination of economics and social relations; in other words an examination of historical reality, similar in many ways to the methods of journalism.

Political economy examines the news industry and the practices of journalism from a grounded position of asking “what is going on in the world and how do we explain it?” Again, you would be familiar with this approach from journalism – it is what journalists also do; ask questions, seek verification and try to approximate the truth using several sources and methods of triangulation.

Political economy is also related to sociology – my PhD is in this field and so too are those of many other journalism academics.
At the same time I also use the work of an American academic (now deceased) called John C. Merrill.

Merrill is interesting in many ways — he has written extensively on the “dialectic” in journalism — as he see’s it the struggle between “freedom” and “responsibility” and how journalists cope with that. Dialectics is not a purely Marxist concept, it goes all the way back to Heraclitus and the idea of “flux”, you would know this as “nobody steps into the same river twice”.

Merrill was a very conservative libertarian and thus would actually share some political opinions with your ultimate boss, Mr Murdoch. He would also probably be a member of the IPA today. So you can see, despite my Marxism, I am not sectarian.

On the other hand, to balance this out, quite a few journalism educators are not very theoretical at all and would rather teach the inverted pyramid than critical theory. Where you might find consensus among us is that a balance of theory and practice is important; most would also say practice should probably outweigh theory in a journalism course and in most of them it does.

Does it [critical theory] have a place in journalism education or is it ruining it?

Of course critical theory (of many stripes) and other theoretical approaches have a place in journalism education and, far from ruining it, actually improve it. I have been involved in journalism education since 1993 and I think it has got better in that time because those of us who came into teaching straight from the newsroom (and if you care to check that is just about everyone of us who is teaching journalism today, despite your newspaper’s constant dismissal of this fact without checking) have gained qualifications in teaching (for example I have a Grad Cert in adult education) and also have postgrad qualifications (I gained my MA in Australian Studies while working as a daily journalist and my PhD while working as a lecturer).

Theory and practice go together and in a professional course of study, consider nursing for example – as journalism in a university setting is — it is vital that both be central to the curriculum. As academics we are obliged to consider theory and practice, it is the role of a university to do both and challenging orthodoxy is part of that.

We challenge the orthodoxy of thinking within the journalism and news business as well. One orthodoxy that we challenge is the perception fostered by your newspaper (among others, but mainly you) is the whole “those who can do/those who can’t teach” dichotomy that is constantly thrown at us like rotten fruit. It is a false proposition and no more than populist nonsense, so why do you continue to spout it?

Is it because it suits your ideological agenda, because it is not supported by the facts? We (journalism educators) are not “failed” journalists as your editor continues to shout about.

Has there been a shift away from the practical side?

No, there has not been a shift away from the practical side of journalism in our courses. Practical and applied journalism are central to the journalism education project and embedded deeply in our curricula. There is, of course, variation between schools, but in general all of us take great pride in being practical.

If you look at unit and subject offerings across the country you will see a strong emphasis on “learning by doing” which is a key pedagogy in journalism education. Nearly all of us run online publishing outlets for student work (I am doing a research project on this at the moment and looking at the application of what the Americans call a “teaching hospital” approach to journalism education; you are welcome to contact me to talk about this).

My own pedagogy — which I’ve used very successfully for 20 years — is “the classroom is a newsroom / the newsroom is a classroom”.

This is simple really – we simulate the newsroom environment in our classrooms to teach the practical aspects of journalism — students do a range of tasks from compiling stories as in-class exercises from materials we give them (e.g. Media releases, etc) which would be a common first-year approach; then in more advanced units in second and third year students would be given real assignments; i.e.. “Get out of the classroom and find a real story to cover”.

We teach interviewing, research skills, how to do an FOI, how to keep contact books, writing the inverted pyramid, writing features, writing for online, audio and video editing, radio presentation and even on-air broadcast techniques for television.

There are hundreds of examples up and down the country of journalism students writing of the student press or their local paper, running community radio stations, doing current affairs programs for community TV, and having their own online outlets.
Then of course there’s the internships and work experience at all the major news companies across the nation and some of the newer start-ups too.

So it is wrong to say that there’s been a shift away from the practical side.
However, we do have a strong emphasis on law and ethics and you might argue this is theory, but it is equally about practice – we teach this through case studies and visits to actual courtrooms too.

Should journalism training return to a focus on the practical side rather than the theoretical?

There is no conflict here Sharri, see previous answer. In my view we get it about right, there’s always room for improvement and there is change constantly. Like the news business itself, we both (journalists and journalism educators) have to adapt to change because it’s right in front of us.

I hope you find my comments useful; I’d be happy to talk if you want to clarify anything.
You can look up my publications list from here. And you will notice I’ve actually written a couple of very practical textbooks among journal articles etc that you might dismiss as “critical” or even “Marxist” theory.

Best wishes
Martin


Hypocrisy and a tame media: How Tony Abbott can steal our democracy

September 29, 2014

There is something deeply and disturbingly ironic about Tony Abbott meeting Egypt’s military dictator Abdel el-Sisi and asking the blood-soaked general to release journalist Peter Greste from his seven-year gaol sentence.

Greste was convicted of spreading “false” news that harmed Egypt’s national interest in a sham trial that resembled a Monty Python script rather than the heights of judicial intelligence.

Pick the thug in this photo. Hint: he’s wearing a blue tie and looks very grim.

The meeting between Abbott and el-Sisi took place at the United Nations general assembly in New York where both men gave impassioned, but totally wrong-headed, speeches about the threat of Islamic terrorism.

Leave out the grotesque parody of their meeting and what are we left with?

Two leaders who claim that it has become necessary to reduce freedoms in order to keep their citizens free.

In Egypt, el-Sisi is terrorizing the population with arbitrary detentions, the arrest of activists and death sentences handed out 600 at a time to alleged members of the outlawed Muslim Brotherood. Journalists and TV presenters are among those persecuted and gaoled for speaking out against el-Sisi’s coup and the farcical recent elections.

In Australia, Tony Abbott leads a government that is also slowly destroying our freedoms and political democracy so hard won over generations.

In a speech to Federal Parliament attempting to justify the anti-Muslim hysteria dog-whistled into being by a spurious “threat” of terrorism, Abbott laid out his anti-democratic agenda, couched in the faux-Churchillian tones of his political hero, John Howard:

“Regrettably, for some time to come, the delicate balance between freedom and security may have to shift. There may be more restrictions on some so that there can be more protection for others.”

Who are the “some” and who are the “others” in this Orwellian doublespeak?

Well, that is becoming clearer as the days pass and Abbott’s anti-freedom agenda becomes clearer.

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If you don’t laugh you lose

September 26, 2014

The war on terror and spying on everyone are both very serious business. The war on terror is killing people all over the world, including, sadly this week in Australia too.
The tragic death of Abdul Numan Haidar is not a laughing matter. The confusion, misinformation and outright lies being spread about this young man are appalling. That the news media is buying into it with awful headlines and front page stories vilifying him, his friends and even random, totally unconnected young men should shame some journalists into silence.


At the same time, the rush to cut into our liberties in the name of ‘protecting’ us from a shadowy threat that kills less people than bee stings is also not something to joke about, or is it?
In the last 24 hours a new Twitter hashtag has burst into prominence and it is taking the piss out of Raging Bedsore’s new surveillance powers.
Now that our security services have the right to monitor the whole of the inter-webs with just one warrant allowing them to tap into any computer ‘network’, it seems that nothing we do online is going to be private anymore.
Well, Twitter has always been a bit irreverent – do you remember the wonderful #TonysMovieNight, for example? And this week, #lifebeforeabbott has been trending too.
The rightwing trolls don’t like it and curmudgeonly columnists like Andrew Bolt complain (without even having a Twitter account) that social media is dominated by THE LEFT, but for those of us who
a) don’t like the Abbott government;
b) think the terror threat is overblown;
c) don’t like the idea of ASIO snooping on us around the clock and, more importantly,
d) have a sense of humour
then #HeyASIO is a great way to get your message across while having a bit of fun.

It’s only been active for  few hours, but by lunch time today it was trending heavily.

Melbourne trends
Check the stream yourself and prepare for a few belly laughs.
Here’s my highlights so far.

Ethical Martini’s top 10 #HeyASIO tweets


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