From hack to Hell and back again

July 7, 2012

Graham Johnson. (2012). Hack: Sex, drugs and scandal from inside the tabloid jungle. London: Simon & Schuster.

Graham Johnson was for years an important member of the Screws of the World news team. His time at the paper predated the phone-hacking scandal, but Hack clearly shows that the culture which led to the criminal behaviour was well-established on the paper.

Johnson owns up to some pretty awful scams himself, including ruining the lives of people who were only featured in the paper to further its commercial success.

At the heart of the paper’s methods was destroying the lives of people who could not fight back. As Johnson puts it, they were usually too poor and powerless to prevent the NotW from giving them a right royal fucking over.

This is a terrible tale of what can happen when a talented reporter goes off the rails. Johnson worked for the News of the World for years and his insider story reveals a rotten culture. So rotten, in fact, that the phone-hacking and police bribery that finally brought the paper undone in July 2011 seem to be the inevitable end-result of endemic corruption and a conscious disregard for morality, ethics and the law. Read the rest of this entry »


Celebrity Privacy – Gossip isn’t journalism…or is it?

February 16, 2010

Is Alison Mau a lesbian?

Who cares. Perhaps we just need to get over our obsession with the sex lives of television presenters.Watch this clip from Breakfast, Aly Mau gives a serve to the women’s mags, particularly Woman’s Day.

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I can’t see the public interest in this issue. But I can imagine Alison’s children being taunted at school – we all know how cruel kids can be.

They also take a lead from their parents and the media.

This has become a big issue for TVNZ, Close Up waded into the debate later in the day

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And this morning, Bill Ralston was interviewed on Morning Report. For once I think that Sean Plunkett got it right in his intro and his line of questioning.
This is an interesting spat between TVNZ and the gossip mags, but also perhaps indirectly, the Herald on Sunday, which on the weekend carried along piece by Matt Nippert justifying their outing of Mau in the previous week’s issue. It’s not online either, so I’ll dig my copy out of the recycling bin and take another look.
The debate seems to hinge on some sort of privacy laws and some commentators seem to be a little confused. There is no general right of privacy enshrined in privacy laws in New Zealand, or indeed in very few jurisdictions.
The general operating rules are that if you’re in a public place, your photo can be taken without your permission. The Privacy Act covers some types of information, but it doesn’t protect you from paparazzi (a swarm of annoying mosquitos in Italian).
The Privacy Commission’s top-ten-tips say nothing about how to protect yourself from unwanted media intrusion. I don’t think new and more laws are necessarily the fix we’re looking for. In the UK there are now restrictions on media coverage of the royal family, but not for the general public.
The recent John Terry case in the UK is also interesting. The way he tried to protect his privacy – actually his reputation and lucrative sponsorship deals – was by attempting to injunct publication of damaging details of his affair with the girlfriend of an England team mate.
And there’s a suggestion that Alison Mau also considered this approach to prevent publication of details about her new love life (if that’s what it is).
The Law Commission’s review of the Privacy Act is unlikely to bring any joy to those in the cross-hairs of the tabloids who want to limit their exposure to paid appearances and positive mentions.


Close Up and personal – NZ’s finest tabloid TV

February 11, 2010

A chilling story in today’s New Zealand Herald, that suggests the national broadcaster has got its news priorities all arse-about.
John Drinnan reports that Prime Minister John Key was bumped from Tuesday’s Close Up programme in favour of an extended interview with former All Black star lock Robin Brooke.

Nothing newsy in that you might think, producers often have to make last minute changes to the line up of current affairs shows to accommodate breaking stories. On any ‘normal’ day such things would go unnoticed.

But this case is a bit different. The PM had just delivered a state-of-the-nation address to the opening of Parliament for 2010 and in his speech had outlined some swingeing changes to New Zealand’s tax system.

One of the changes – alongside reducing the tax burden on the super-rich – was an increase in the GST that would impact heavily on low income earners. Raising the GST from 12.5 to 15 per cent would lift the price of all the basics that most low income households spend the bulk of their hard-earned cash on.

This was a significant story of national interest and we might have expected Close Up host Mark Sainsbury to put Key under some hot lights for a grilling.

Sorry, who am I kidding. Let me rephrase that:

We might have expected Close Up host Mark Sainsbury to invite Key into the studio for a friendly chat – rehearsed in jolly tones – about his great and glorious, nay, visionary, tax proposals to help New Zealand’s struggling millionaires in their honourable quest to catch up with their well-off Aussie cousins.

Instead we got a five week old story about Robin Brooke’s drunken groping of a teenager and his threat to bash the 15-year-old girl’s gallant protector – himself a tough and seasoned 17.

Brooke was cajoled into giving a heart-felt (at least that’s what he told Sainsbury) apology. All of that took an excruciating (for Brooke and for the audience)  17 minutes and 56 seconds.

I get that Brooke was something of a Kiwi hero ‘back in the day’. But this story is titillation and tabloid celebrity tittle-tattle. The tax changes, on the other hand, affect every New Zealander and have some potentially huge political spin-offs for National’s relationship with the Maori party.

What were they thinking?

In Drinnan’s piece, a TVNZ  spokesmouth is quoted as saying that Close Up has a “preliminary booking” to speak with John Key on Budget night – that’s a whole three months away. But there’s no guarantee that this booking will be honoured. Suppose another ex-All Black does something stupid and wants to revarnish his reputation with a soft appearance on Close UP and Personal. Key will be left in the wings again.

No doubt the PM’s minders are not too worried about this. The less scrutiny of National’s robber baron tax policies, the better. Besides, three months is a long time in politics and Key doesn’t have to worry about getting a nasty chin rash from getting too Close Up and Personal with Mark Sainsbury’s feral facial hair.

Alongside rumours that John Campbell’s only got a handful of months to run on his contract and that Campbell Live is going to be dumped in favour of the atrocious @7, this is another nail in the coffin of New Zealand current affairs television.

Postscript 12.47pm

A source at TVNZ has written to note that the Herald‘s occupation of the moral high ground on this issue might in fact be them standing on a pile of the proverbial. My acquaintance sent this image as the proof of the pudding.

Should this pot call the kettle black?


Sunday and I’m stuffed

October 25, 2009

Two brief comments this morning about the Sunday news agenda.

Firstly, why is stuff.co.nz featuring two stories designed to get a rise out of Sunday morning male readers?

One is an inadvertent advert for Penthouse magazine and the other an advertisment for the Gold Coast SuperGP motor racing dressed up as a soft(core) news story.

The news value in these items is miniscule to non-existent. Only one has a local angle (the woman is a Kiwi, but appeared in the “Aussie Babes” pages of the magazine), but the “wow” factor is high — both feature prominent images of scantily-clad young women.

Don’t believe me that they’re adverts? Gentlemen start your engines; ladies, I’m sorry, but trust me, this is for research purposes only:

Topless teacher on Penthouse website
Miss SuperGP Gold Coast golden girl

EM tries to be a family-friendly blog (sometimes), so I’m not linking to the images, anyone over the age of 10 can imagine them from the suggestive headlines.

But this one from nzherald.co.nz is perhaps the most tittylating: Dominatrix tells of ‘bad feelings’

Phhhwhhhoaaaarrrrrrr!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Alas, it too is no more than an advertisment – this time for Metro magazine.

Second point: After all the fuss about British Nationalist Party goon Nick Griffith‘s appearance on the BBC, why is stuff.co.nz giving space to our local Nazis?

Far-right leader Kyle Chapman returns

Go figure, it must a slow news day [Labour day long-weekend in Aotearoa]  and sex sells.

Take your pick of editor’s cliched responses; I’m going back to bed.

Actually, I’m not: I’m going whale watching on Hauraki Gulf.

In the meantime, “no platform for fascists”


McCanns’ win lesson to the tabloids?

March 20, 2008

The couple at the centre of a European missing persons case have won a substantial libel suit against two leading British newspapers.

Kate and Gerry McCann, both doctors, are the parents of Madelaine McCann, the three-year-old girl who disappeared from the couple’s holiday flat in the Portugese resort town of Praia da Luz in May 2007.

The case has confounded investigators. Initial reports suggested Madelaine had been taken from the apartment during the evening while her parents ate supper at a tapas bar down the road.

Then in September 2007 the Portugese police announced that Gerry and Kate were suspects in the disappearance. At that point the British tabloid press went into a frenzy. All sorts of weird stories began to emerge, including rumours that the McCann’s had killed the child and disposed of her body.

The story was weird too because the McCann’s had gone to the media and launched a high profile campaign to have their missing daughter returned.

The English tabloids reported all the rumours in front page splash stories and the McCann’s sued.

A court has ordered the Express and the Daily Star newspapers to publish an apology and pay an undisclosed sum (rumoured to be more than half a million dollars) to the couple.

It’s one thing to win a libel suit, it’s another to have suspicion of murder lifted. Read the rest of this entry »