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 »


NRA hiding behind a conservative smokescreen

April 27, 2007

NRA-ILA :: In The News

I’ve been keeping an eye on the National Rifle Association’s website in an attempt to find some argument from them in the wake of the Virginia Tech killings a week ago. So far nothing. I’ve mentioned this before and you can trackback to see the history of this post.
This evening I found this (link above) and a couple of others like it on the NRA “news” website. Basically an aggregation of the pro-gun defences and a series of attacks on everyone except the gun-owners.

It doesn’t cut it. The NRA has not itself put out any kind of meaningful statement. And the one they did post, essentially saying “no comment” until all the “facts” are known about VT has been taken down.

Instead they’re letting the right-wing columnists and bloggers do their dirty work. If I had a gun, I’d…
Well, in the words of the Barenaked Ladies, “there’d be no tomorrow”.

I wonder if those bright sparks over at “shoot-em up central” have any idea how ironic and stupid this kind of promotion actually looks now.

Here’s one of the NRA’s “happy snap” images of what a well-armed college kid might want to carry to their next biology class.


NRA lost voice?

April 24, 2007

NRA news website
The National Rifle Association has still not broken its silence on the Blacksburg killings. But perhaps we can distill something about what it might be saying from these media releases and commentary from “gun-owners”
Here’s the Gun-Owners of America Executive Director, the well-monikered Larry Pratt:

“The latest school shooting demands an immediate end to the gun-free zone law which leaves the nation’s schools at the mercy of madmen. It is irresponsibly dangerous to tell citizens that they may not have guns at schools. The Virginia Tech shooting shows that killers have no concern about a gun ban when murder is in their hearts.”

Pratt’s comments were picked up by Ed Isler who blogs at The Conservative Voice.
I can only assume that the NRA is happy to let these politically aligned individuals speak on their behalf.

Let’s explore this “guns at school” argument. Pratt cites and Isler repeats a story about either the Application School of Law (Pratt) or the Appalachian School of Law (Isler) where a “madman” was stopped by students who fetched their own guns from cars and subdued the suspect.
We can put this scenario to the test and we end up with…32 dead.
Person A goes into a dorm and shoots two people. Person B, hearing the gunshots, pulls out their concealed weapon and runs in the direction of the gunfire. B sees A running down the stairs and cracks off a couple of shots, but misses. Persons C & D, hearing these retorts, grab their own pistols and run in search of the action.
A runs outside, pursued by B. They crouch in defensive positions and open fire on each other. C comes around the corner and can see B firing at A. C opens up at B, thinking that B is the shooter. D comes round the other side and can see A firing at B. D opens up at A. We now have four guns in operation with confusing cross-fire.
E, F, G (you can add as many more as you like because in this upside down world if you don’t carry a gun you’re in real danger from those who do). Pretty soon you’ve got a wild west “OK corral” type situation going on. A friend of mine likened it to a bar brawl where, once the first punch is thrown everyone kicks in and no one can figure out who started it or where “fault” might lie.
In the emotional and adrenalin fueled atmosphere of a campus gun battle who knows where it might end. No one apart from A and B know what went down in the first instance and they’re too busy firing back (or more likely already dead). Any newcomers into the scene are likely to shoot first and ask questions later, if they survive.
This way real madness lies, but not according to the distorted logic of the gun lobby. These are the last people in the world who should be allowed to have guns.


NRA still silent

April 18, 2007

The National Rifle Association has still not updated its response to the Virginia Tech massacre.


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.