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.
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 »
The first thing I noticed this morning at my newsagent in Melbourne’s leafy eastern suburbs is that the pile of Herald-Suns is twice as high as the pile of The Age. So the first comparison is easy.
Even in this relatively affluent suburb, the newsagent expects to sell more Herald-Suns than copies of The Age.
The second comparison is also easy and perhaps explains the first: the Herald-Sun is $1.20 and The Age is $2.00. Price-conscious newspaper buyers will probably prefer the cheaper product.
The canny Herald-Sun buyer also gets more bang for their buck-twenty. The Murdoch ‘tabloid’ has 80 pages and the Fairfax Media ‘compact’ has 72, plus a 16 page insert that is numbered differently.
But how do you tell a tabloid from a compact? It’s not that easy because technically they are the same size: 30X40 centimetres.
Perhaps it’s in the layout and use of colour on the front page.
The Age has retained its signature royal blue, but the masthead is superimposed reverse in white on blue. The Herald-Sun uses a verdant green and a superimpose/reverse white, but it’s masthead block is deeper coming 14 centimetres down the page. The Age masthead is a shallow nine centimetres.
The Herald-Sun also uses its masthead to promote a “Superstar Footy DVD” give-away and incorporates action pics of two AFL stars who I don’t recognize, but who I’m sure would be very familiar to Aussie Rules fans.
As you would expect the Herald-Sun has a brighter more ‘tabloid’ front page with a bold headline in four centimeter solid capital letters: “SECRET TAPES BOMBSHELL” . Over the top of that is a white-on-red banner also in heavy caps: “POLICE CRISIS ROCKS GOVERNMENT”. Just below the headline is a series of three ‘pointers’ also in block caps: “KEY STAFFER PAID $22,500”; “JOB HELP AT ODDS WITH PREMIER”; “BAILLIEU ADVISTER SLAMS DEJPUTY PREMIER”.
The kicker is that readers are invited to “Now listen to the recordings heraldsun.com.au”
The copy itself, across five columns is about 350 words and the story is continued across four pages (4-7) inside.
At the bottom of the page there’s three ‘skybox’ promos for contents inside the paper. This is a great tabloid front page and if you were buying the paper on its shelf-appeal, you would probably go for The Herald-Sun.
You might vaguely recall the Finkelstein inquiry…yes, rings a faint bell?
It’s OK, I wouldn’t be surprised if you’d forgotten most of the details.
What do you remember?
Oh yes. Finkelstein, isn’t he the guy who wants to throw the champions of the fourth estate in jail for telling the truth about the nasty and unloved Ju-Liar government?
That’s right, that’s exactly right. Here’s a free online subscription to the Heart of the Nation.
According to many ‘exclusive’ stories in The Australian newspaper, the sole aim of the Independent Media Inquiry was to impose heavy sanctions on the news media because the Gillard government doesn’t handle criticism very well.
Take this story from media commentator Mark Day on 26 April 2012. It is so important it got top of page 1 treatment;
A new regulatory body, funded by government and with powers to impose fines and sanctions on news outlets is a key proposal of the long-awaited Convergence Review of the emedia sector.
Unfortunately, this story was wrong, wrong wrong.
The Convergence Review rejected any idea that there should be any such government-funded organisation with anything like the powers suggested in this breathless lead par.
However, since this story was published it has become standard operating procedure to continue the lie.
It is only possible to conclude one of four things:
a) the budget is so tight at News Limited that as many words as possible have to be recycled on a daily basis which means that key phrases are used over and over again to save money
b) the koolaid in the LimitedNews bunkers is real tasty and no one’s yet cottoned on that it is the source of the medicine that results in obligatory groupthink
c) there is a deliberate mis-information campaign going on designed to fool Australians into demanding Stephen Conroy’s head on a platter.
d) we are being fed a bowl of chump bait with fear-causing additives so we don’t see what’s really going on.
It’s probably a combination of all four.
If we’re stirred up about bloody attacks on ‘our’ freedom of speech and we can be made to think that only The Australian and the Institute of Public Affairs stands between us and a Stalino-Fascist dictatorship of ‘befuddled’ Greens from the ‘tofu belt’ aided and abetted by the ‘soft-Left media’ then maybe we’ll be goaded into action.
Seriously, you couldn’t make this stuff up even if you called yourself Chris Mitchell and spent your days dreaming of a world in which you could wield the absolute power that corrupts absolutely.
Despite the cries of fear and loathing from the Murdoch stable that the cold hand of government intervention was upon us, the review has explicitly rejected Ray Finkelstein’s suggestion that a statutory News Media Council should be established by legislation.
What we have in this report is an attempt to play regulation catch up with digital convergence, while preserving flexibility to adapt quickly to further change. It is a difficult balance and the report fails to meet the challenge.
The Convergence Review has opted to suggest a set of principles, rather than prescription in order for any new regulatory regime to remain nimble and effective. Unfortunately, the recommendations are weak and in some cases almost totally unworkable.
There’s been some excitement on the bourse and in media boardrooms this week over Gina Rinehart’s move on Fairfax Media. It seems the West Australian iron ore magnate is angling for a seat on the Fairfax board to add to her $165 million berth at the Ten Network.
Rinehart is keen to take her original 4 per cent stake of Fairfax to about 15 per cent. She bought the first shares for $100 million and is likely to spend close to $200 million on this raid.
But what are the real implications in this venture?
There’s been speculation that the Communications Minister, Senator Stephen Conroy, might move to block Rinehart’s attempted takeover of Fairfax – if indeed that’s what it is. The grounds for such a move would perhaps be that she’s not a fit and proper person to own media assets because of her alleged political bias. Rinehart is a vocal opponent of the Labor government and its resource rent tax scheme. The timing of Rinehart’s grab has created talk about the blocking move by Canberra. She’s made the play as the final report of the Convergence Review on media and communications is due to be handed down, and in the knowledge that the current convoluted and unworkable media ownership rules will be changing.
Blocking any takeover is open to the regulators under provisions of the Trade Practices Act dealing with matters of public interest. A strong case would have to be made that Rinehart’s control would lessen media competition. There is no “media” law that prevents her actions now and even less under the proposed new regulator.
But, for me, the timing is coincidental. Rinehart is buying Fairfax shares under the existing rules, which limit audience share across platforms and across markets. She is therefore entitled to increase her stake in Fairfax – while holding significant shares in Ten – as long as she does not control the companies and her combined media assets do not constitute a breach of the “three-and-two” rule (where companies are allowed to own up to two media outlets — TV, radio and newspaper — in a single area).
There’s also the issue of the government’s legislative and political timetables to consider. Filling in the substantial missing detail in the Convergence Review’s recommendations is going to take months, if not years. The timeline could stretch well beyond the next election cycle. We will be playing by the old rules for a while yet.
Rinehart’s decision to move now can be explained without recourse to conspiracy theories or invoking the “evil witch of the West” stereotype. She is cashed up; the Fairfax share price is ridiculously low (down from about $5 five years ago to less than 90 cents today) and by taking a chunk of stock she gains leverage over the company at a time when it needs to transition from being primarily about ink on paper to being truly converged and multimedia.
Rinehart may well be thinking long-term and looking for business synergies, cost-savings and profit-taking by joining up her investments in Ten and Fairfax. She would effectively then be able to either harmonise these business units to create a going concern, or sell-off strategic assets once the new ownership rules and content regulations are in place.
Whatever her motives, Gina Rinehart still has to play by the rules. She cannot easily move to positions of control of both Ten and Fairfax Media under the current cross-media ownership regulations without a fight. Under the mooted new rules she would also have to pass the public interest test.
Having said that, I don’t think it is useful to demonise Rinehart and suggest that she has an ulterior personal and political motivation for taking on Fairfax. She has strong and very conservative political views and she has been spending some of her inherited mining wealth on anti-government campaigns in recent months, but I am not sure that Gina Rinehart is another Kerry Packer or Rupert Murdoch waiting in the wings.
Rinehart is incredibly rich and she has seen an opportunity to buy a media asset while it is at or close to the bottom of its share price cycle.
What we should be concerned about is that this share market play makes a mockery of the idea that the news media and the press are somehow bastions of free speech and freedom of expression.
According to her own family, Rinehart is a tough woman and as hard as the ore her father dug out of the Pilbara to create her vast fortune.
She will have to be resolute if she is to take on Fairfax journalists who have fiercely defended their independence in the face of perceived corporate interference. Readers of Fairfax publications may also not take too kindly to Rinehart’s editorial line.
Her solution might be, as some have suggested, to wrestle control of the major Fairfax dailies and leave the rump to be sorted by the board. This scenario rests on Rinehart’s motivation being influence rather than profit.
Rinehart’s multimillion-dollar raid on the Fairfax share cupboard just goes to show that the adage “freedom of the press belongs to those who can afford to buy one”, still applies in convergent Australia.
Rinehart’s estimated wealth is staggering – she’s rumoured to be one of the richest people on the planet – so she can easily afford to buy Fairfax and whatever she damn well wants, but there are many hurdles to jump before she can claim the throne as Australia’s princess of print.
The substantive text in this piece was published on 10 November 2011 on The Conversation. It was my first commission from them and I appreciate their creative commons approach to republishing. Eager readers will also know that I was involved in the Australian government’s media inquiry this week.
A transcript of my comments is apparently going to be made available, I will post it to EM when I can. I read through it yesterday to proof-read it. I think I did OK; but others will judge that. Speaking of which…
I have been attacked by the Daily Telegraphtwice and The Australian (several times) for being a Trotskyist, which they “revealed” (ha ha)and some how managed to make sound like I am deranged. How come they never attack libertarians for their views…and they are deranged!
I also made my cherry-busting appearance on Andrew Bolt’s blog. I did seek a right-of-reply by posting comments online to both places; but as of 6.18pm today, they have not been taken out of moderation. Unlike the 50-odd comments calling for me to be burned as a witch or sacked from my job.This is an interesting observation about the free speech fundamentalists. They bleat and moan and scream and shout about their own “rights” and then vilify those who dare critique them. But they will not extend common courtesy to their opponents.
In fact, there is no right of reply at News Limited as this lovely little ‘thank you notice’ makes very clear.
Contrast this with the pumelling I received on an anonymous blog, Bunyipitude written by someone who I only know as ‘the professor’ – it’s what he calls her/himself – after coming after me with both barrels he/she at least had the decency to post my response. The comment stream hasn’t been very complimentary, but I can take it. My only concern is that most posters there hide behind anonymity. It makes the whole experience surreal. They know who I am and can comb the interwebs for what they see as damning evidence of my perfidity, but I don’t know who they are. Then they get up set when I suggest they might be trolls.
On the other side of the ledger, I am grateful to News with nipples for a spirited defence of sanity. I note too that the author, Kim Powell is happy to identify herself. In fact she seems quite nice and I’d like to meet her. She is doing a PhD on online newsrooms so we’d have stuff to talk about.
Anyway, all I can say to my haters and detractors is: “The Devil made me do it.”
Update, September 4, 2011 ~ This Post started out as something else, but, over the last week of August, 2011, it morphed into a major, running, UpDate on developments in Fiji, several currents of which seemed to coalesce with very worrying speed and intensity. Most of it was written over August 27 – 31, with some tweaking and a few extra links added, until September 4.
I also know this Post has been read in Fiji, as well as more widely.
I won’t update this Post again, but will link to it as relevant in any future Posts on the general topic of Fiji, of which there will be more when events there suggest it and I decide I have something useful to contribute.
Of course, the Comments section remains active and I welcome any comments, which will not be censored (aside from normal, journalistic, editing as to clarity, legals, and taste).
Original Post continues –
I started to compile a more comprehensive wrap on recent developments in Fiji – more attacks on unions, the media, the Methodist Church – but then things started moving so fast on several fronts that I gave up, and will get to the bits and pieces, with much more context, in due course.
Scroll down for material on More Fantasy and Nastiness in Fiji, traversing the latest round on the Fiji regime throttling the Methodist Church, more on how media freedom is also throttled in Fiji, how the University of the South Pacific throttles academic freedom, continuing raids on the Fiji National Provident Fund, and insights into Fiji’s justice system under the military dictatorship.
Why Civil Resistance Works
A long anticipated and exceptionally valuable study, Why Civil Resistance Works: The Strategic Logic of Nonviolent Conflict, by American scholars, Erica Chenoweth and Maria J. Stephan, has landed on my desk. This is formidable and very thorough scholarship of the very first order which assembles and analyses a vast amount of historical and contemporary data to show, about as conclusively as this kind of research can do, that nonviolent direct action is much more effective at removing dictators, supporting democracies, and challenging domination than armed resistance or terrorism. That’s a huge claim, to be sure, and their work deserves a very close read, which I’m doing now.
But, Memo to the always terrifying ABC Standing Committee on Spoken English (SCOSE) – Please come for Correspondent’s Report presenter, Elizabeth Jackson, for two broadcasting sins. Firstly, she mispronounced the name of the place ~ Kiri-bas ~ and not Kiri-bati. Secondly, she did so twice, in the introduction to the story, and again in the backannounce, clearly demonstrating she didn’t listen to the story she was presenting, in which the reporter pronounced the name correctly. Back in my days at the ABC, we’d be flogged in the car park for such gross violations of SCOSE directives!
She subsequently apologised in an email to TVNZ staff and now, inevitably, the email is in the public domain and Brotherston is taking the heat. This is a shame, Paul Henry has been allowed to slink off to wait it out under whichever muddy rock he currently calls home, but Brotherston is blowing in the wind and the story today is all about her.
The real issue here has to be what will Beeza do? So far Henry’s been suspended for two weeks by TVNZ, but he’ll be back on air soon enough and that will be don’t miss car crash TV. How long will the ill-tempered tosser be able to bite his tongue before bursting into glorious flaming wreckage? Let’s hope that this latest gaffe is enough to sink forever his chances of taking over from the talking moustache on Close Up.
But you know, I’ve just reviewed some Beeza cases against Henry over the past few years and most of the time he gets away with it and TVNZ is in there fighting for his right to be offensive. As they say: “That’s entertainment”. Actually, it’s not, as you will see…if you get to the end of this long post.
I was fortunate today to meet and interview Matt Thompson. He’s a journalist, blogger and thinker. He’s also the guy behind the wildly successful viral flash videos Epic 2014 and Epic 2015.
The premise of these 8.5 minute creations is to predict the future of the media in our digital world. They were both created a few years ago now and they tried to look ahead 10 years from when they were produced.
Epic 2014 was made in 2004, but a year later Matt decided it needed updating.
While I was in Columbia, Missouri at the Missouri School of Journalism 100th anniversary celebrations I met Matt and heard him talk about a new project. He calls it “Wikipedia-ing the news”, but admits the name doesn’t really capture what he’s doing.