How to sell a television documentary: Al Jazeera, One Nation and media ethics

March 27, 2019

Like many people I was fascinated by Al Jazeera’s investigation, “How to sell a massacre“, into the relationship between Pauline Hanson’s One Nation and the American gun lobby group, the National Rifle Association.

Screen Shot 2019-03-27 at 12.06.17 pm

The story broke in Australia with several teasers from the Al Jazeera program, which is screening in two parts. As I am writing this on Wednesday 27 March 2019, the second installment is not available in Australia via the Al Jazeera website, so my comments are qualified by the disclosure that I’ve only seen part 1.

Never-the-less, as one of the unwitting ‘stars’ of the documentary.PHON fixer James Ashby claimed, a shit storm would erupted if news of his visit to Washington DC ever became public.

Indeed it has. PHON chief strategist and Hanson’s latest Svengali (or perhaps Rasputin), James Ashby, has been anxiously trying to play down the significance of the revelations in the Al Jazeera film.

It is important to nail down exactly what these revelations are, or could be, because the investigation has also raised a number of important questions and issues about journalism ethics.

Does “How to sell a massacre” pass the public interest test?

Public interest here is the key. We’re not just talking about the voyeur’s delight we might feel in watching two PHON honchos make total fuckwits of themselves. Sure, there is pleasure in that, but it is not a strong enough justification for the deception that was perpetrated in the name of pubic interest and disclosure.

In particular, when is an undercover sting operation, like the one at the centre of this story, justified by the public interest in getting “facts” out into the public domain. Read the rest of this entry »


Virginia Tech shootings – the coverage and the aftermath

April 17, 2007

One of the worst mass shootings in the US, the death of more than 30 students and staff at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg Virginia on 16th April, is likely to be a big story for months. The funerals of the victims are likely to attract massive global media attention and no doubt we’ll see some ugly scenes in the coming weeks as various outlets jostle to “own” the story and to shut out their opposition.

This is a reality in the commercial media world, even when there’s tragedy on such a mass scale.
The Poynter Institute has been quick to upload some tips for reporters and media covering this story. Particularly in dealing with eye witnesses, managing the footage of victims, dealing with rumours and managing posts onto blogs and commentary on news sites. All sound advice.

Ethical Martini will be monitoring the coverage carefully, and posting on any issues that arise.

Recent experience in Australia, particularly coverage of the worst mass shooting in Australian history, the Port Arthur “massacre” on 28 April 1996 (35 killed) is a salient case study, as is the Columbine school shootings of 29 April 1999.

Unfortunately, Martin Bryant, the man convicted of the Port Arthur killings has become a hero of th weird consipiracy theory movement, but The Age newspaper (Melbourne) ran a good commemorative piece in April 2006.

It will also be interesting to see how the political debate about gun control (or the obvious lack of it in the USA) is played out. The National Rifle Association is a powerful minority lobby group well out of step with mainstream American opinion, but rich enough to subborn the democratic process through liberal (illiberal) applications of cash to the right Washington pockets. The NRA’s mealy-mouthed statement in response the Blacksburg shootings is enough said about this lunatic fringe organisation.

Let’s hope Dubya’s staunch backing of the gun lobby is another nail is the Republican’s presidential hopes for 2008.

It’s sad that the deaths of more than 30 young, bright future American leaders has to happen to shake the US out of its complaceny. My sympathies to all who feel a loss at this time.