The ABC is right to pursue the Snowden documents; The Australian is so predictable

November 24, 2013

Oh dear, the predictability and monotony of The Australian‘s whining about the ABC was taken to new heights this week on two fronts: firstly, the revelation that the national broadcaster has to pay market rates for its premier on-air talent and, secondly, feigned moral outrage that the ABC would cover the very newsworthy disclosure that the Defence Signals Directorate wanted to listen-in on the phone calls of the Indonesian President and his wife.

Any reasonably briefed chimpanzee would be able to write the coverage of these issues for the News Limited papers. There’s a template, a formula and a draw full of boilerplate copy that oozes vitriol, arsewipe and stinking double standards.

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A global war on public service journalism

March 2, 2010

You know what:  we think it’s tough fending off the Wellydogs and Dribblejaws when it comes to National Radio. And there’s a certain element of truth in that.

But, take heart, we are not alone. If Ruper Murdoch’s News Corporation had a bigger presence in New Zealand, it could be a lot worse.

After a year or more of sniping, bitching, biting and barking, Uncle Rupe’s dogs of war have had a substantial victory in the UK.

The BBC – the paradigm example of public service broadcasting – has trimmed its own wings, rather than have them ripped off by a Tory government. According to a recent piece the The Guardian, the BBC has cut 600 million pounds from its expenditure and is reducing its online presence in response to whinging, money-grubbing complaints from commercial media (led by Murdoch) that the BBC was stifling its profit potential.

You know what, these free-market shysters should shove their own medicine where the sun-don’t-shine. They want to live an die by competition, yet when a service is popular and actually out competes them they bleat on about how it’s unfair that the BBC is so successful and has licence-fee money to spend.

The market is a failure and for the losers to whine and cry till they get their own way is pathetic.

Murdoch has now set his sights on the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. News Limited columnist Mark Day is spear-heading Murdoch’s down under, low and dirty under the table kneeing in the groin attacks on the ABC.

In a piece just yesterday [1 March] Day makes a direct link between the BBC’s pre-emptive self-kneecapping and what he thinks should happen to the ABC.

It is time we had a full debate about the role of the ABC. It was established in a vastly different media landscape as a taxpayer-funded entity designed to, in part, fill in the market niches not served by the commercial sector. Now, thanks to pay-TV and the digital revolution, those niches are hotly contested. [Day 1 March 2010 redefine ABC]

The man has no shame when it comes to doing Murdoch’s bidding and some people still wonder why we fight so hard for public broadcasting. This is a totally self-serving argument that ignores the reality and history of the market and clearly serves Murdoch’s interests.

So far the ABC is standing firm and Managing Director Mark Day Scott [tx Rob] has responded to the shot across the bows.

But it seems the vigorous pursuit of commercial agendas by some of our media rivals is allowing the facts to be sidelined in pursuit of a good story.

There is a concerted attempt to portray the ABC’s role in the media as solely that of a niche provider- participating only in sections of the market not served by the commercial sector.

This “market failure only” portrayal ignores the history: Australia has been richly served by a dual system of public broadcasting working alongside commercial media. [Not for sale]

Don’t lose sight of the fact that this is a global trend. The media industry is in trouble and public service broadcasters are actually doing OK. We tend to trust them more; they’re reliable; they’re staffed by people who care about good journalism; and they don’t have greedy shareholders sucking the life out of them.

Now the greedy slugs and layabouts want a slice of our pie too.

We need to tell them to “piss off” in no uncertain terms.

This is the fight we are now joining in terms of Radio New Zealand.Murdoch may not have any direct influence here, apart from Sky TV, but there are plenty of stalking horses in the commercial media. Whanganui’s mayor is an obvious early starter.

I have been tracking the various speeches by shady members of the Murdoch clan. You can read all about it on the following links:

Barbarians at the Gate

The fall of Rome

Safe hands…not

Money-grubbing journalism

And Michael Laws’ contribution is straight from the Murdoch hymnsheet:

The state broadcaster robs taxpayers of $38 million a year to, essentially, provide two radio options. The ironically named National Programme (when its politics is ostensibly liberal Labour) and the leech-like Concert Programme.

At a time when your radio dial is replete with choice – from Radio Rhema to The Rock – public policy has decided that two types of listeners require direct subsidy. Actually, three – but that is another scandal.

The whistle is blown, the hounds are baying; they smell blood.

Get the bats ready.

Why I’ll be there on Monday – Save RNZ, save public broadcasting

February 27, 2010

Save Radio New Zealand Protest @ Radio New Zealand House Auckland

Bring your portable radio 🙂

Monday March 1 2010

12.30 to 1.30 pm

171 Hobson street Auckland

In the pub on Friday evening my colleague Wayne asked a rhetorical question: “Why should we defend public broadcasting – which is not great anyway – when anyone can download good content from the web?”

I thought about it for a few sips on a Heineken and then verbally dot-pointed an answer:

  • It’s all about the national conversation (thanks GT)
  • The public sphere creates the space for oppositional voices and debate on important social and political issues
  • Aotearoa New Zealand would be culturally poorer without te reo broadcasting, and Radio NZ concerts
  • Whatever we think of Paul Holmes, Mark Sainsbury or the presenters on Radio National, they are at least providing some stimulating ideas and a chance for a range of opinions to be heard
  • The news and current affairs outputs, particularly on radio, are part of the checks and balances that any democratic system needs
  • The web tends to fragment and isolate its audience to a large degree – perhaps not social networking, but in general the web can end up exploiting the misery of fools

It really is an argument about the whole, rather than the sum of its parts, I suggested. There is a minimum standard of public broadcasting we should expect – and we’re pretty much scraping the bottom right now. More cuts to RNZ and TVNZ will make this worse.

I am critical of RNZ and TVNZ programming from time to time, but I am a strong advocate of public ownership of the airwaves. I do not support the so-called democratic marketplace because the media market is inherently anti-democratic. It works on principles of price and profit so it favours the wealthy and powerful every time. Privately-owned media has a vested interest and strong interest in preserving the status quo. The public deserves more than that.

Public broadcasting is in the public’s best interests and is linked to the public right to know, I concluded. We chewed it over for a while and then got on to a more theoretical chat about the public interest, the right to know and the public sphere.

It got a little historical and philosophical when we talked about how, without the benefit of the bourgeois revolutions (particularly the French and American revolutions), there would be no freedom of the press and freedom of speech. This is why Wayne & I, even though we’re of the ‘left’, can see that some real progress has been made in human rights and freedoms under capitalism (for more on this reference Bowalley Road, Chris Trotter’s prolix blog: Collision Course).

“But,” I said to Wayne, the ruling class no longer needs freedom of the press or freedom of speech. The bourgeoisie now needs to hang on to the power of the State, particularly against the working class (for more see reports of large general strikes in Greece).

If we look closely at history we can see a number of instances, times and nations where the absence of a free press has led to a variety of autocratic outcomes. My historical concern has been the rise of Fascism for example in western Europe between the two major wars of the 20th century. However, as Wayne reminded me, alongside Fascism and other forms of autocratic secular regimes (Stalinist Russia and now Putin’s Gangster Capitalism; China, Burma, Sri Lanka) we also have to worry about theocratic authoritariansm (like Iran, Pakistan and so on).

In these nations and others like them there is no public service broadcasting. There is state-run media that is heavily censored and there are newspapers and television stations owned by members of the ruling elite and, like in Berlusconi’s Italy, they tend to be ultra-kind to the powerful and rich and to under-report criticism and opposition.

While this might seem a distant concern in New Zealand,  attacks on public broadcasting are the thin end of the wedge in many respects.

Without RNZ and TVNZ and in particular their news services, there will be less scrutiny of government and business.

There will be less debate on government policy – three strikes, not raising the minimum wage, cutting welfare spending, national standards in schools, etc. In other words those in power – who we know tend to be venal and corrupt, some more than others – will get away with doing whatever they want. In some cases, getting away with murder!

The National-ACT government’s attacks and calls for belt-tightening, sacrifice, etc are designed to weaken public broadcasting and to lessen the scrutiny that this government is under.

And it is under scrutiny. Tax policies, ministers gouging the public purse, cuts to funding of health and education, attacks on teachers and doctors, seabed and foreshore, whanau ora, increasing pressure on students over loans and allowances private prisons and locking up more Maori youth; all of this needs to be questioned and challenged.

This is the national conversation I’m talking about and it is really only on the public airwaves that we can all participate at the same time with the same information at our finger tips.

This is why we need to ensure that public broadcasting in New Zealand is adequately funded; television and radio. My colleague at Unitec Peter Thompson has written on this topic many times and I’ve always supported his very sound analysis. He argues that public broadcasting is being gutted and he’s right. He’s also done the math and we can have great public broadcasting in New Zealand for around one dollar – yep $1.00 – per day.

I’m going to the Save Radio NZ protest on Monday because I believe in public broadcasting. The main pillar of my belief is one that all journalists and news consumers should share:

The public right to know.

We have a right to know that Ministers of the Crown are stealing from us – even if they pretend it’s an accident; we have the right to know what is being done to our schools and hospitals. We have a right to know how John Key is going to tax the poor to keep his rich mates happy and how he’s going to spend our money to do that.

We have a right to be active in our democratic institutions and we have a right to tell Jonathon Coleman politely to fuck right off move to one side and get his greasy paws well-manicured digits off our radio station.

In fact, we have the right to tell the Minister that he should really be thinking about spending more money on both Radio New Zealand and TVNZ in order to improve the outputs and content.

Maybe he could even spring for a haircut and shave for Mark Sainsbury. Oh and minister, get him a new suit while your at it. You are after all, our servant.

Now hop too it before we kick your sorry ass.

See you outside Radio New Zealand from 12.30 on Monday.

BTW: Bomber’s made it a lot more visual and funnier than I can:

SOS for SBS – no advertising

January 19, 2008

Living in New Zealand I am familiar with the impact of commercialising public broadcasters. Our national TV network, TVNZ, is partially funded by government, but must also accept advertising in order to pay a dividend back to the central coffers. As a result the programming is not great, the local content is patchy and the News/CAFF division is leaking resources like a rusty tub.
Don’t let the same thing happen to the SBS in Australia.

I have signed a petition at to support SBS so that it is properly funded from the public purse without the need to rely on advertising. I am asking you to support this cause so that our public multicultural broadcaster may once again be able to fulfil its Charter responsibilities with high quality, multicultural and ethnic programming. ~ Please click on the direct petition link and sign the petition there as I did. ~ In short the petition calls for the Minister to immediately require that:- 1) The SBS Board cease disrupting all programs for advertisements; 2) Amend the SBS Act to prohibit advertising and sponsorship on SBS; 3) Fund SBS so it is not dependent on commercial revenue nor supplementation from advertising; and, 4) Introduce a new system of appointments to the SBS Board that will result in Board members being appointed on the basis of merit with a strong commitment to multiculturalism and SBS independence, and, that the Board is independent from the government of the day and commercial influence. ~ The petition will be handed to the Minister soon. ~ Our public multicultural broadcaster is still under threat and your support is needed so SBS can once again be properly funded and not reliant on advertising. ~ Support public broadcasting and SBS and sign the No Ads on SBS petition (NO ADVERTISEMENTS OR SPONSORSHIP ON SBS) petition NOW before it closes. ~ Protect our multicultural broadcaster. Don’t let SBS be sold out to commercialism! Click the direct petition link and sign the petition now.