October 13, 2012

the missing figures

There are two missing figures in David Rowe's cartoon of Aussies at Parliament House. Despite the newspapers the first is a person from the Canberra press and media gallery talking to a politician. They are an integral part of this political culture, as it becoming ever more explicit through the way that they continue to defend their hypocrisy interpretation of Gillard's speech from the criticisms in the social media.

The gallery says that they got it right, because the real story is that Labor exploits misogyny as a tactic for its own self-interest. The real story is Gillard's hypocrisy by playing the gender card.

The criticisms of the gallery's interpretation hold that political coverage and journalism as it is currently practiced by the gallery is broken. The gallery's response, in which the press is trying to be serious by providing “analysis” instead of entertainment and trivia, is designed to highlight their savviness. This savviness increasingly relies on an impoverished notion of politics.

RoweDAussies.jpg David Rowe

We can approach this through the second missing figure: the figure of populist conservatism and its paranoid style of politics. For instance, The Australian has now added a lefty Twitter to its long list of enemies of Old Australia. The Australian has so many enemies who need to be put in their place once and for all that it is clear their paranoid style of politics needs a scary, domestic enemy.

The significance of these two missing figures is that the defensive response of the Canberra media gallery to the criticism from social media is that it journalists fail to analyze the core elements of populist conservatism. Lenore Taylor, one of the more thoughtful members of the gallery, says:

To be clear, I thought Gillard gave a great speech, but that it was delivered for at least some of the wrong reasons, in the wrong context, at the wrong time ...The point is that understanding and calculating the political context, the strategies, the deal-making, the sequences of events, is a critical part of our job. Politics is about presenting a message-as-product, which is what most observers see. We are supposed to gather information and make assessments about how and why the product is made. Assessing the actual political impact of this out-in-the-open gender debate, rather than simply how it made some people feel as Julia Gillard spoke, is something that will only be possible over time.

So according to the gallery, it is not part of the gallery's job, as savvy insiders, to analyze the sexism in populist conservatism, the defence of patriarchy (blokes rule by nature, and women are destroying the joint) or its use as a political weapon to undermine Gillard.

This sexism has no part of the political context or the sequences of events in Canberra. It is just how some people--the outsiders, the viewers, the electorate--- feel, even though the Slipper episode is a part of the political context of the pervasive sexism and misogyny in the political workplace and political life.

So the gallery are unable to give a proper analysis, or a full estimate of Abbott or his strategic work. That is why the gallery has an impoverished notion of politics.

Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 12:23 PM | Comments (14) | TrackBack

October 11, 2012

The Canberra Media Gallery has lost it

I finished the post on Gillard's misogyny speech in Parliament by remarking on the interpretation of that speech by the Canberra press/media gallery. I noted that we would expect the Right wing journalists in The Australian and elsewhere to continue putting a strident Gillard in the dock for her double standards--Gillard was a base tactician, cynically holding up her sex as a smokescreen. Partisan attacks on Gillard is what they are paid to do. It's their job.

But why did the media Gallery as a whole make this interpretation? Why the group think? Isn't this what needs to be explained? I said:

What is puzzling, though, is why those journalists in the Canberra Press Gallery who are not on the Right --eg., those on the ABC, such as Leigh Sales and Emma Alberici ----uncritically repeated the Right's spin and talking points of this event. For them it was a flawed Gillard who was in the dock. Why this interpretation? Why not something different? An interpretation that was their own? Where was the political context of the event for these oh so savvy insiders who take pride in their professionalism?

Anne Summers made a similar point in her column on The Drum. She said that the reportage and commentary this morning out of Canberra was so startlingly at odds with the reactions of such vast numbers of people both here and abroad that you have to ask: why and how could this be the case? She added:
They are, after all, seemingly so out of kilter with how so many of the rest of us reacted that they need to provide some explanation for us to have any reason to take at all seriously anything they write in future.

It is a good point. The majority of the comments on her post agreed with Summers.

I added in the post that I thought that the credibility and the authority of the Canberra Press and Media Gallery has taken a severe knock from this event. The ground has shifted under them. Tim Dunlop concurs--the gatekeepers of news have lost their keys he says. They sure have. They haven't just lost their keys though --they've been taken from them and thrown away and they are wandering around in circles looking for them.

We watch Parliament ourselves, we trust our own judgements, we publish them in social media, we evaluate other interpretations of events, and we critically judge them for their plausibility. We look at the work of the savvy insiders, such as Annable Crabb, Leigh Sales and Emma Alberici, - and reckon that they actually missed what has been going on. They ignored the sexism and misogyny in political life, and the way that it had been used against Gillard as a battering ram by the Coalition and the conservative movement in general.

Leigh Sales attempted to restore some of her credibility in this interview with Penny Wong, but it is obvious that she cannot see beyond the argy bargy of political life, or the "he said she said" style of journalism --the name-calling comes from both sides of politics. Sales' basic position is that, though she acknowledges that it is obvious the Prime Minister has been attacked with sexist language, Gillard is using gender as a shield against any criticism of her performance. Once again it is Gillard who is in the dock for defending herself from the sexist attacks.

Why? Because Gillard is defending Slipper, the sexist sleazebag. The constitutional argument made by Mark Drefyus and Daryl Melham that Labor's position was based on the separation of powers and the due judicial process was completely ignored by Sales. It had to be passed over as it directly challenged Sales interpretation of Gillard's actions. If asked Sales no doubt would have said that the legal arguments were a fig leave. They would have been dismissed as insincere, even cynical. It's an easy cynicism.

Tim Dunlop observes that what has actually happened is the people formerly known as the audience have, thanks to the tools of social media, become media critics and content shapers. He adds that this:

causes angst in the journosphere, and much of their reaction to this new dispensation is the reaction of an industry who have not only had their authority and prestige stripped from them, but of one that is struggling to find relevance in a scary new environment that threatens their very livelihood...The bottom line is this: we no longer trust the media to tell us the story of our lives. We no longer have to settle for the narrative they impose on events. We are no longer passive observers, but active participants in the way our news is shaped.

The rejection of the Canberra Media Gallery's interpretation of Gillard's speech by a large number of Australians indicates how the ground has shifted---we citizens simply don't need journalists to explain and analyse political events for us anymore.

We can expect the old media, in trying to reassert its power and authority, to attack those keyboard activists using Twitter, blogs, Youtube and Facebook. In this defence we will find some explanations for why their account differed so markedly from ours. Make no mistake, it is the Canberra gallery that is on the defensive.

Update
Jonathan Holmes of Media Watch provides one line of defence or explanation. He defines the issue as the claim that the Twittersphere represents 'ordinary people', and the cynicism of the gallery does not. The press gallery is utterly unaware of how we 'ordinary' folk think, so the bloggers step in to set things right.

He argues that such a view ignores the fact that the press gallery spends a lot of time talking to people who are aware of what people think. Whilst many bloggers talk only amongst themselves, it is the media gallery that is more in touch because they mix with backbenchers from both sides of the political divide. They spend more time talking to 'ordinary people' - not on social media, but face-to-face - than the vast majority of the rest of us do. The backbenchers also have:

a vital professional interest - especially if they're in a marginal seat - in assessing which issues are liable to change people's vote, and which are not. That's the lens through which a professional politician views everything that happens in the glass house in Canberra: how will it affect my vote? And it is the backbench politicians, not just ministerial aids stuck in ministerial offices, and the 'spinners', or each other, that the press gallery journos talk to, day in, day out.

Well, blow me down. The Canberra bubble, the Beltway, the insider view of politics, with its distorted view of the world has just disappeared. However, it soon reappears because Holmes says that the problem with those in social media, who responded favourably to Gillard's speech, is that they will have seen the speech in isolation, torn from its political context.

'Political context' is key term. Holmes means the following:

When the press gallery opined that the moment was ill-chosen, that Gillard declared that enough was enough about Abbott, but declined to declare that enough was enough about Slipper; and that the Speaker's subsequent resignation at the insistence of the cross-bench exposed the Gillard Government to charges of hypocrisy; they were reflecting, you can be sure, the rueful grumblings of many a Labor backbencher with his or her eyes on how it would play in Penrith or La Trobe or Longman.

The problem that Holmes has, of course, is that the press gallery's 'hypocrisy narrative' is what has been explicitly rejected. An alternative "gender narrative" has been constructed by those who saw the speech and expressed their views on social media; a narrative that says this political moment placed gender issues at the centre of political debate. For this narrative political context means the systematic misogynist abuse of Gillard from sections of the Right outside Parliament, whipped along, and shaped, by shock jocks and sections of News Ltd.

With the alternative narrative being vigorously defended in the public sphere we now have competing narratives that cannot be reduced to party political ones. That in itself is a sift in the ground of politics.

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October 9, 2012

South Australia: renewable energy

It is well known that The Australian newspaper is opposed to the increasing use of renewable energy and the shift to a lower carbon intensive economy. It stands behind the interests of the fossil fuel industry and King Coal and is hostile to what it terms green ideology.

The Australian constructs its opposition in terms of renewable energy being very expensive. This can be seen from this June article on South Australia, which has both the highest installed capacity of wind in Australia (wind generation now supplys approximately 20% of annual demand.) , and the highest per capita installation of rooftop Photo Voltaic (PV) solar power.

VHStarfishhill.jpg Gary Sauer-Thompson, Star Fish Hill, Cape Jervis, South Australia

The Australian's story was based on an 18% price increase announced by Essential Services Commission of SA. According to The Australian the extra costs---estimated to be $140 a year to household power bills--- are primarily attributable to the state's solar feed-in tariff scheme, green scheme subsidies, carbon pricing and the federal government's 20 per cent renewable energy target.

What is missed out from this account is the wholesale price reduction resulting from the use of renewable energy and lower demand. The Australian is silent about the wholesale price of electricity decreasing whilst the retail price of electricity has increased.

According to the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) The 2010/11 South Australian wholesale electricity market price is at its lowest since the start of the National Electricity Market (NEM).

The reasoning is fairly obvious--if you introduce more supply into the market, then prices fall if demand is static or flat. The Essential Services Commission of SA now recognizes this and it has made a Draft Price Determination to potentially reduce electricity prices by an average of $160 per household.

When put in the context of the resulting wholesale price reduction the actual cost of the feed-in tariffs and the cost of the RET is offset by the resulting wholesale price reduction.

What The Australian also doesn't acknowledge is that price rises in electricity are being used to prop up coal fired power stations and the networks.

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October 8, 2012

sqwarking shock jocks

Alan Jones, the 2GB shockjock, is rather upset at the campaign in the social media against his comments about Julia Gillard. The campaign against hate speech aimed to pressure advertisers to 'boycott' the Alan Jones Breakfast Show. It has has been so successful that Macquarie Radio Network has indefinitely suspended all advertising on his 2GB breakfast show after a week of sustained pressure.

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David Rowe

Alan Jones, the shock jock bullyboy par excellence, is outraged. The management of 2GB is furious. They say that they are the victims of ''21st century censorship, via cyber-bullying''. This fits in with Jones argument that it is the backlash against his comments which is at fault. In claiming that it is his own freedom of expression which is under attack he ignores the way he and the other shock jocks have consistently trashed the liberal ethos of civility in public debate.

Jones says that Australians:

do not have the right to interfere with that freedom of choice, or should not. And they don’t have the right, or should not, have the right to attempt cyberbullying of people who listen to this program or advertise on it ... These false petitions are anything but civilised. The hypocrisy is breathtaking .... If this is not illegal, it ought to be. As I said, if it happened anywhere else in society, this kind of bullying or harassment or intimidation or threatening conduct, the police would be called in.

Jones adds that the decision taken not to advertise had one purpose: to give innocent, hard-working people employing advertisers a break from cyber-terrorism, a break from bullying, a break from harassment.

It's about time the right wing shock jocks were made accountable for their attack dog mode of public speech, given the failure of the toothless media regulator---the Australian Communications and Media Authority, whose job it is to investigate alleged breaches of broadcast regulation, to call the vitriol for what it is. Remember Jone's inciting the Cronulla violence in 2005? It is still being resolved.

Jones and his grumpy old supporters, in trying to frame the issue as one of free speech being trammeled on by a lynch mob, look very defensive and anti-democracy. The campaign against Jones is yet another indication of the tremors taking place in the mediascape. The tremors are not just the global print media crisis in the face of the digital revolution resulting in cutting pay and reducing editorial staff because of a serious drop in revenue.

The traditional power relationships, which have been locked in for so long, are beginning to melt. Social media is providing the tools for people to organize to use them to make the shock jocks accountable for what they say in the public sphere on their syndicated radio program. More broadly, if the vacuum being left by the collapse of newspapers is resulting in the increased influence of social media, then it is also being filled by the PR industry's spin and misinformation.

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October 3, 2012

a media performance

A media performance by John Laws on the ABC's 7.30. He's a performer with an eye for the backdrop, the clothes and style. It all says 'excess'. The knife is turned on Alan Jones over the latter's remarks about the Prime Minister's father at a Young Liberals Sydney University function, whilst Law's disdain for the media is upfront.

The broader context here is that print is giving way to screen and young people are gradually turning away from the TV screen to computer and mobile screens. Hence the decline in the popularity of printed newspapers. Digital technology isn’t destroying journalism--- “it’s destroying the business that subsidized journalism. So it needs a new form of subsidy.

More worrying though is the declining trust and confidence in the media as many journalists assume that they are entitled to their own facts as well as opinions. The future of journalism may well be the Alan Jones model:---confirming and shaping the opinion and prejudice of their fragmented audience.

This relies on falsehoods and deceptive claims, for instance, abound around the energy debate, and the shift to renewable energy and climate change.

Like many politicians in the Liberal Party Jones doesn't care for the facts or what the fact checking journalists say. Jones' position is that he is entitled to his own facts, over rides the fact checking with bluster and bullying, declares a cultural war on the watch dog press that judges truth from falsehood, and tells his audience to be outraged at their victimhood.

So we tune into the Murdoch press for the latest Gillard Labor outrage that is written up in a way that is designed to reinforce the partisan political divide with deception and deliberate, carefully crafted falsehoods.

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September 15, 2012

The Daily Telegraph's moral outrage

Jonathon Green in The staggering hypocrisy of the supertrollers on the ABC's The Drum refers to the Daily Telegraph being up in arms about a lack of civility in public discourse. Its running a Stop the Trolls campaign---waging a war on the monsters that lurk on the internet.

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Green says about this tabloid's style of "journalism":

It would be fair to say that their routine journalistic tone is hectoring, enraged and pugilistic ... these are the leitmotifs of a modern mass media that sees a future in venting at its audience and in encouraging a sense of shared outrage in response. It is a community built on anger and nameless omnidirectional dread. It is also a mass media alarmed at the penetration and mainstream subverting influence of social media.

The Daily Telegraph, which routinely uses anger, confrontation and provocation as the foundation of a populist business model, is a paper that is profoundly and utterly incensed by the conduct of vile and abusive trolls on Twitter.

What Green doesn't refer to is the way that Murdoch's tabloids condone practices which had encouraged their journalists to pay cash for unauthorised disclosures – from the alleged bribery of police officers and public officials. It is a well-established procedure in the tabloids that is fostered and condoned by Murdoch and it results in a network of corrupted officials across public life.

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August 25, 2012

questioning the Murdoch ethos from within

In giving the MacTaggart address at the Media Guardian Edinburgh International Television Festival, Elizabeth Murdoch praised the BBC; argued that the Olympics experience demonstrates that television is a force for storytelling rather than a route to political power; and stated that profit must be our servant, not our master.

RowsonRTheSun.jpg Martin Rowson

She argued for the need to "reject the idea that money is the only effective measure of all things or that the free market is the only sorting mechanism" and said that "the absence of purpose" could be "one of the most dangerous own goals for capitalism and for freedom". Profit without purpose is a recipe for disaster.

This is not the dominant Murdoch ethos that governs News Corp, or News Ltd in Australia, judging from the recent conduct of The Australian towards the Prime Minister in its pursuit of Gillard over a story about the Prime Minister showing a lack of judgment 17 years ago.

News Ltd, in ruthlessly defending its dominance in Australia media, acts to resist and undermine the emergence of greater plurality in the media, especially when it is leftist. In doing so it embraces the anti-science camp of those climate change denialists, who appeal to the Oregon petition to back up their claims that the science that supports the hypothesis of human-caused global warming and consequent climate damage is wrong.

The petition is used by Jo Nova as “evidence” that climate change science is not valid because it is only an appeal to authority --ie., to scientific consensus. They reduce the scientific method to belief and so collapse the distinction between between belief and evidence.

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August 23, 2012

the smear merchants

It is not just the economics or the technology that is causing the media's woes. We also have the media letting Abbott get away with his exaggerations, lies, misinformation and the his slogans--- we can stop the boats, the carbon tax is destroying the economy, and people seeking asylum are illegals. Black is white in Abbott's inverted world but the media generally let it pass.

Why is this? What does this say about the media? What is going on? Tim Dunlop makes an obvious point about the media's conduct:

all the technology in the world isn't going to change anything if the people in charge continue to prioritise pap over substance.The media business might be struggling because of technological changes, but the quality of journalism is still down to decisions made by human beings.

It's more than pap--it is also smear and dirt in the form of innuendo and rumour. You can see Gillard's response to the campaign around the Slater & Gordon story here.

RoweDmuck.jpg David Rowe

The Australian is recycling false and defamatory material as part of a smear campaign. That too is the result of decisions made by the editors. Truth has seemingly become irrelevant. The News Ltd journalists are protagonists in the public arena in constant struggle with News Ltd's political enemies. They see them ---"liberals"---everywhere. It's a paranoid style.

It is ironic then that the journalistic commentary on the Slater and Gordon affair refers to the terrible blogosphere indulging in wild rumour, snark and smear (it's the blogosphere in general not particular bloggers) in contrast to the main stream media which ethically rejects that way of working.Glen Fuller and Jason Wiilson point out that:

Mainstream media often dismisses online forums, blogs and social media as constituting any sort of viable alternative to traditionally constituted, “quality” print and broadcast media. One of the reasons often given is the intemperate nature of online discussion, which is connected by critics with their easy accessibility, their lack of gatekeepers, and the anonymity or pseudonymity that they afford to users.

The purity of the mainstream media a false assumption, given The Australian's conduct and there is an marked unwillingness by journalists to call The Australian on its smear campaign and its justifications for that campaign.

The journalists will only do so when the PM does. They then report what Gillard says without reflecting on online publics in deliberative democracy, or on liberal democracy's decaying civic life and corrupt media. It's as if they don't know how to respond to the changing dynamic of everyday conflicts online.

The redeeming democracy through deliberation is outside their frame of reference even though they rage against the trolls. Trolling is still seen as an aberration-- the conduct of fringe weirdos that aim to derail the conversation -- rather than the norm in online discourse.

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August 20, 2012

Megalogenis on shock-jock journalism

The media in Australia is very slowly coming to critically reflect on its poor performance in covering policy issues and critically analyzing the attempts by governments to reform the economy and society. Unfortunately, the media's critical reflection on its own culture and its failure to do serious, issues-based reporting and commentary is still limited. It is as if they unable to grasp the nettle of what is causing their growing lack of legitimacy.

Thus we have George Megalogenis in his How the language of shock-jocks came to drive political debate in The Australian defending the Canberra press gallery by saying that this is the wrong place to look when diagnosing our reform malaise.

The best journalists in the business still cluster in the federal parliament ...The problem [is] something deeper in our culture.....The white noise of 21st century reporting is, in fact, the language of the shock-jock. Even earnest print journalists such as myself sometimes type with the cap locks on because we have been bluffed into thinking that if we don't shout, we won't be read. The paradox is that the community, and even the politicians, still crave serious, issues-based reporting. Yet the public, and through them our leaders, also insist that everything be simple enough to fit on a T-shirt. Everyone wants more for nothing.

I guess that there is now an awareness that the sneers and jeers of the shock jocks are an integral part of the media; and that the tabloid style has both influenced the culture of the media and the way journalists currently report and comment on politics.

Megalogenis then interprets this downmarket trend to shock-jock journalism in terms of an absence of nuance, even though he acknowledges that Gillard has been verballed on carbon pricing. It's much more than an absence of nuance in the light of the media's conduct around this episode.

The fact that Megalogenis calls it a "carbon tax" rather than carbon pricing indicates the problem:---the notable failure of the Canberra Press Gallery to question the way that the Coalition has framed the policy issue of shifting to a low carbon economy. That failure is interpreted by Mark Latham as Abbott being given a free ride in the press.

Megalogenis says he's not sure about this (ie., Latham has gone too far). My judgement is that Latham didn't go far enough: most of the media --including the Canberra press gallery---have been opposed to those reforms designed to help shift Australia to a low carbon economy. In the case of News Ltd journalists they have been openly hostile. That antagonism is one explanation for the media's lack of scrutiny of the way Abbott frames policy issues in terms of slogans.

The problem goes deeper than Abbott's free ride in the press, the partisan stance of the media, or the media's big shift to infotainment. The general problem, as Freya Mathews highlights is the way that the "news" is constructed by the media. Mathews says that:

those who construct the news focus generally on items of relative triviality while ignoring the literally earth-shattering changes that are occurring at an accelerating pace all around us.... Most [of the media] carry over the 19th century assumption that the natural world, perennial and relatively unchanging, is mere backdrop to the sizzling dramas of human society. With this 19th century assumption goes the further assumption that what happens within the realm of nature is not our responsibility: nature looks after itself and we cannot intervene in its intricately ordered webs of eaters and eaten without upsetting the whole kit and caboodle.

The media's construction of the news is one that gives the impression items about the ecological collapse of the planet are on a par, in terms of moral significance, with everyday items about crime, celebrities, scandals, financial vicissitudes, trends in lifestyle. So the media has become mere “tattlers”, purveyors of tittle tattle, to which people instinctively pay little serious attention.

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August 10, 2012

the media loose the plot

Backed by their own wing of think tanks that increasingly function as public-relations agencies, Australian conservatives are in the process of building a whole alternative ideology system, with its own facts, its own history and its own laws of economics. Their politics around the pricing of carbon is a good example.

We have entered a “post-truth” era in politics, and Tony Abbott has actually campaigned that way for the past two years. Everything is seen a political opportunity to use the tactics of fear to show that the incompetent and distrusted Gillard Government just staggers from one crisis situation to the next.

RoweDABbottelectricity.jpg David Rowe

What is disheartening is that political reporters in the mainstream press have shown that they are incapable of figuring this post truth campaign out; or if they have, then they have not informed us of the mass deception. What appears to matter for the insider journalists (the political media) is not what’s true, but whether the tactics of the campaign strategy work.

The judgment is that Abbott's fear campaign is spectacularly successful, that of the Gillard Government is a disaster, and so the Gillard Government is going to be wiped out in 2013. This representation, we are confidently informed, is the basic structure of the world. There has been a remarkable silence around the truth content of that fear campaign.

So much for the whole idea of a watchdog press which is meant to help expose the lies of the fear campaign.

Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 9:02 AM | Comments (12) | TrackBack

August 9, 2012

the media's Olympic coverage

The Olympics are finally drawing to a close. So what we will remember. The poor performance of the Australian team? The poor coverage of the Games by the media? The impact of social media? The heavy handed commercialization of the games?

RowsonMOlympics.jpg Martin Rowson

For me the Olympics spectacle highlights the shift in the television mediascape in Australia. Australian commercial free-to-air television has built up an impressive track record of treating its viewers with contempt as it chases the advertising dollar and sticks to routine broadcast schedules even during major sporting events.

The track record continues with Nine's horrendous single-channel Olympics coverage coverage of the 2012 Olympics. It's mixture of vacuous autocue jockeys, constantly repeated mind-numbing advertisements, and limited events are shown on delay have failed to deliver to Nine's viewers.

No longer is the only other option taking out an expensive pay TV subscription from Foxtel. There is the web---livestreaming direct from the BBC's sports portal utilizing net tools that get around the geo-blocking imposed by the IOC to protect its own content or intellectual property.

The National Broadband Network means that the streaming services over the internet will be available to a lot more people, and that puts pressure on Foxtel to be more flexible when it comes to traditional subscriptions, and to provide easier multichannel access.

This is not an internet vs TV narrative. The movement away traditional TV with its scarcity of content within dictated timeslots is more about the options opening up for consumers and them being able to take greater control of what and how they want to watch events and programs.

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August 8, 2012

the bully boy motif returns

Tony Abbott's speech to the Institute of Public Affairs is part of the campaign that says press freedom in Australia is under threat from the Gillard Government's proposed public interest test recommended by The Finkelstein Report into Media and Media Regulation and Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act.

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The speech is political through and through. It has little to do with strengthening human rights in the Australian constitution or equal rights and more to do with the right of free speech being under siege from jihads conducted by the Gillard Government. Abbott says that the Gillard government’s response to criticism:

has been thinly veiled intimidation of critics masquerading as proposals for better regulation. Instead of mounting a better argument, this government’s inclination is to disqualify its critics. Its instinctive response to criticism is to bully people rather than to reason with them.This is not a government that argues its case. Mostly, it simply howls down its critics using the megaphone of incumbency...The ferocity of this government’s return of serve often goes way beyond reasonable counter-argument to become a form of state-sponsored bullying.

Therefore, any new watchdog could become a political correctness enforcement agency destined to suppress inconvenient truths and to hound from the media people such as Andrew Bolt or Alan Jones.

Abbott concludes by saying that the Liberal Party is the freedom party---it stands for freedom and it will be freedom’s bulwark against the encroachments of an unworthy and dishonourable government.

Abbott says that the Gillard Government is a government that wants to prohibit statements (S18c of Racial Discrimination Act) that “offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate” another person or a group of people on grounds of race or ethnicity; that conducts jihads against mining magnates; assaults mum-and-dad anti-carbon tax protestors; and is out to get News Ltd for pursuing anti-government stories.

It's politics based on Abbott's usual tactic of misrepresentation and beatup to deepen the partisan divide. What the Finkelstein inquiry recommended was a News Media Council, appointed via an arms' length process which would be mostly funded by industry but with some government funding, and would run in a very similar fashion to the present, industry created, Australian Press Council. As Margaret Simons points out:

The crucial difference would be that in cases where the council found a publication to have breached the well established standards, which are supported by all major media outlets, then it would have the power to order the publication of a correction, apology or right of reply. If the news media outlet refused, then there would be the power to apply for a court order enforcing the council's finding. An editor who defied such an order would be in contempt of court, and could face criminal penalties.

So it is designed to make the media more accountable for their deceptions, misrepresentations, distortions and untruths. Abbott's no to this proposal means he supports, and gives the greenlight to, the self-regulation that okays the deceptions, misrepresentations and untruths by the powerful media organizations who have little time for democracy.

Abbot is going to repeal the anti-discrimination provisions (not hurt feelings) of S18c of Racial Discrimination Act. S18c renders unlawful (not prohibits) acts (not statements) that is likely, in all the circumstances, to offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate another person or a group of people; and the act is done because of the race, colour or national or ethnic origin of the other person or of some or all of the people in the group.

So Abbott's conception of liberalism is that it defends the freedom to discriminate on racial grounds.

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June 28, 2012

News Corp splits in two?

News Corp is to be split into its entertainment (film and television businesses) and publishing businesses (ie., the papers in the US, UK and Australia together with Harper Collins, News Corp's book publishing company). These will become two separately listed companies both controlled by the Murdoch family.

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The papers consume far more resources than any returns they can ever hope to offer and they are declining assets. The print division made a small profit last year. According to Amy Chozick in the New York Times:

In the year that ended June 2011, the publishing unit contributed $864 million in operating profit, compared with $4.6 billion in operating profit from entertainment units including the cable channels, the 20th Century Fox studio and Fox Broadcasting
.
The newspaper and books division would generate earnings before interest and tax of only $US542 million in fiscal year 2013 (with roughly $US280 million from Australia) valuing that proposed company at between US$4.3 to $US2.3 billion billion. The entertainment division would generate $US5.6 billion over the same year, valuing the company at $58.8 billion.

With the closing of the News of the World, one of its big newspaper earners, and with the continued fall in newspaper circulation and advertising, those small earnings may be expected to disappear. That would leave the money losers particularly exposed: the New York Post, the London Times, the Wall Street Journal, and The Australian. There will be pressure to close the more marginal or unprofitable magazines and newspapers.

There is a long history of companies splitting off under-performing divisions to allow the more lucrative division to grow. News Corporation has evolved into a successful entertainment company with a newspaper problem. The newspapers are mature industries unlikely to yield great profits as the digital revolution progresses. They are vulnerable whilst the entertainment businesses are strong.

The newspapers, once seen as a tool of political and financial influence, have become a liability in both. What's even worse is that the newspaper division is no longer sturdy enough to finance its own digital investment needs.

News Ltd chief Kim Williams whole narrative and strategy was based on the synergies between all of the media----we build all our future consumer platforms – print, online, tablet, mobile, broadcast and social. The ground appears to have pulled out from under that strategy by the New York decision--unless Australia is exempted from the split.

A split of the Australian assets of News Ltd could force the company's newspapers to cut more costs. The newspapers would have to be accountable and they would have to run on their own profit stream. There would be greater pressure to ensure the costs were cut from the traditional print division.

Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 11:22 AM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

June 26, 2012

the threat to Murdoch's pay TV interests

The events of the last few days highlight how the shakeup of the media industry from the digital revolution continues to reduce newspaper's circulations and newsrooms. This shakeup is due to the internet destroying the traditional newspapers model because the industry is left with high level printing cots as advertising revenue plunges. The advertisers have shifted to the cheaper internet platforms that charge a 10th of the rate, and they can be more targeted and effective.

If Fairfax is seen as having it back to the wall, then News Ltd was seen as strategically visionary for increasing its control of Fox Sport and Foxtel by buying out James Packers Consolidated Media holdings.

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The internet revolution is not just destroying newspapers. The internet revolution is also starting to affect traditional TV, as improved broadband services are developed and the infrastructure is built to handle the soaring bandwidth needs of their customers. Secondly, new TV sets now include an internet connectivity, which changes the way people view films and videos (it does away with the computer) and also provides an incentive for the TV manufacturers to join with IPTV service providers (ISP's) and film on demand services (Fetchtv and Quickflix).

Online TV may not compete with broadcast television but it disrupts Foxtel because its customers pay around $100 a month (on average) whilst Fetchtv offers entry -level film and TV programs for around $10 a month. The latter have a limited product to offer (limited sport), but it means that consumers no longer have to pay an extra monthly fee when pay TV providers decide to add new features like Web integration to their packages.

Presumably, the limited content access to IPTV will change with intervention of the ACCC to ensure competition in access to sport and films. in allowing the Foxtel merger with Austar, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission foresaw the ­proliferation of potential rivals and required that Foxtel make content available on commercial terms to facilitate­ com­petition.

So the penetration of traditional pay and broadcast television by the internet will continue and this explains Murdoch's hostility the national broadband network. It threatens his pay TV interests --he is paying $2 billion to acquire Fox Sport and 50% of Foxtel--because the NBN's high speed broadband allows consumers to download film and tv on demand programs quickly and easily. Hence the challenges to the long-term value of pay tv.

If Foxtel's current strength lies in its in sport exclusive content in sport (wholesaler access) and Hollywood movies, then how long can it defend that exclusive access? Therein lies the next battleground. Foxtel and Telstra will try to lock up internet broadcast rights and deny access to others.

Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 8:36 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

June 21, 2012

media shakeup

As we know the structure of the media industry is rapidly changing as the shift from print to the internet due to the digital revolution deepens, and the long term shift from newspapers to pay television continues. The good days for mass circulation newspapers are over, and they are never coming back.

The Fairfax news about shrinking and staff cuts, highlights the decline of print media whilst News Ltd moving to increase its shareholding of Fox Sport and Foxtel (cable television) highlights the shift to pay television by buying out Consolidated Media Holdings.

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News Ltd remains bullish about its tabloid newspapers even as they cut costs through consolidation (its divisions in eastern Australia will shrink from 19 to five) and it snap up the independent voice of Business Spectator to remove competition to the paywalls. This concentrates more media ownership in fewer hands--Australia has some of the most concentrated media ownership in the Western world--- and is another step in News Ltd's desire to dominate.

Murdoch is considered foreign, so News Ltd's proposal to buy James Packer's Consolidated Media Holdings is subject to Foreign Investment Review Board approval. On the strict FIRB criteria it's hard to see how it could be knocked back. The deal would also require regulatory approval from the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission. But given that News already has 25 per cent of Foxtel and management control it is hard to see how the ACCC would present much resistance.

The chief obstacle facing Murdoch's takover is Kerry Stokes, who owns 25 per cent of Consolidated Media. Will Stokes sell, given his attempts to create his own pay television operation many years back?

If digital is the future of news media, then how do Fairfax and News Ltd make money from their growing digital audience? It's a more pressing question for Fairfax than News Ltd, which is more of a multimedia company with lots of synergies and part of a global media empire. Lifting its stake in Foxtel brings News Corp's Australian business into line with its global businesses, where News Corp is primarily a television business. More than 80% of its $5 billion annual profit comes from cable pay-TV) and movie making and its ambition is to create the world's first multi-platform media operator available from paper to web to TV to iPhone to iPad.

In this new media landscape the ABC will continue to provide a comprehensive news service across all media platforms for free, for reasons related to equitable access, national reach, and the information needs of citizens. Since online advertising will not cover the costs of a digital newspaper, the turn to paywalls is seen to be necessary by Fairfax. However, Fairfax will need to provide quality journalism, if they want their paywall-protected sites---The Age and SMH --- to survive.

Unfortunately, the future of the mediascape in Australia looks to be one where the combination of market dominance, power, fear, political influence, inadequate policing and feeble regulation becomes self-reinforcing.

Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 7:54 AM | Comments (16) | TrackBack

June 19, 2012

media: Fairfax's decline

Yesterday Fairfax Media announced that it will change the broadsheets ---The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age--- to tabloid-size, and sack 1900 staff — including about 380 editorial positions — as part of a $235 million cost-cutting drive to cut the media corporations cloth to the steady decline in advertising revenue. It will also introduce digital paywalled subscriptions to the metro masthead websites on a “metered” basis — apparently similar to the New York Times.

PopeDRinehartSMH.jpg David Pope

A badly managed Fairfax is broke and its print media is declining before our very eyes due to the disruption from the internet, The old model of selling eyeballs to advertisers isn’t going to sustain Fairfax much longer since its revenues are falling faster than it can cut costs for its print media.

They need a viable business model quickly in the context of the radical restructuring taking place in the media world wrought by the digital technologies and the absence of any clearly successful blueprints for change. Greg Hywood, the CEO, is trying to reorient the group from its traditional print base to a digitally-focused future, presumably with new digital content and a growing digital audience.

However, the reality that he is trying to replace high-margin legacy revenues with low-margin digital revenues compounds the degree of difficulty of executing the transition. That means Fairfax is vulnerable to takeover from Gina Rinehart, who now owns 18.67 per cent, and whose current proprietorial demands are for three seats on the board including the deputy chairmanship, and the right to have input into editorial matters.

Her demands are in conflict with Fairfax board protocol that directors not interfere with the editorial direction of the media group and a charter of editorial independence that has been honoured by the board since the early 1990s.The danger here is that Fairfax mastheads become mining industry mouthpieces (a mockup) thereby destroying the remains of what Mike Seccombe calls Fairfax's perceived value.

Fairfax, Seccombe says, has endured years of staff cuts and online mediocrity to the point where it is now questionable whether readers be sufficiently confident of finding something of value behind the wall to justify paying. Therein lies the problem.

Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 6:40 AM | Comments (16) | TrackBack

June 16, 2012

an old media debate revisited

Martin McKenzie-Murray in Democracy running low on ink in the Fairfax Press's National Times says that one of the curious demarcations in the culture wars is that between "mainstream journalists" and independent writers.

He says that the battle goes like this:

independent writers charge that Canberra's press gallery has squandered their readers' goodwill with a mindless focus on trivia. With some, you detect a gleeful anticipation of the collapse of mainstream newspapers. The other side derides the bloggers' smug detachment from journalistic and political realities, arguing they know nothing of "shoe-leather endeavour".

The gleeful anticipation of the collapse of mainstream newspapers is a red herring. It is the low quality analysis of policy issues by the Canberra media gallery that is the problem.These journalists have not covered themselves in glory over the policy shift to carbon pricing--they have mostly written junk.

MOirAAbbotpython.jpg Alan Moir

McKenzie-Murray states that both sides have points. Many independent writers and bloggers provide commentary rather than reporting, depending on mainstream journalists' facts for their analysis. Much of our political reportage is dross, the web versions of our major newspapers are disheartening and publishers seem increasingly confused or cynical in their response to a haemorrhaging model.

He adds that high-end journalism is being eroded the world over, and the democratisation of micro-publishing isn't an antidote. High-end journalism for McKenzie-Murray appears to be investigative journalism of the Watergate model of Woodward and Bernstein at the Washington Post. Australian bloggers, in contrast, are given to repetition and apoplexy in their commentary.

I wouldn't argue that the democratisation of micro-publishing is an antidote to the erosion of high-end investigative journalism of the ABC's the Four Corners. It is an antidote to the mass deception by the Murdoch Press over issues such as NBN, climate change, renewable energy etc though. It is also an antidote to those trolls who use the freedom of the internet voice to insult, hassle, bully or abuse others; or those who use it to voice their hatred of their political opponents, liberally sprinkled with profanities and libellious rhetoric.

It is an online space to point out the weakness of the Canberra media gallery's arguments and to provide a voice for those who have been excluded from ongoing access to our national media.

Update
Fairfax Media has announced that it will change the broadsheets ---The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age--- to tabloid-size and sack 1900 staff — including about 380 editorial positions — as part of a $235 million cost-cutting drive to cut the media corporations cloth to the steady decline in advertising revenue. It will also introduce digital paywalled subscriptions to the metro masthead websites on a “metered” basis — apparently similar to The New York Times.

Fairfax is broke and declining before our very eyes. The old model of selling eyeballs to advertisers isn’t going to sustain Fairfax much longer since its revenues are falling faster than it can cut costs.

They need a viable business model quickly in the context of the radical restructuring taking place in the media world wrought by the digital technologies and the absence of any clearly successful blueprints for change. Greg Hywood, the CEO, is trying to reorient the group from its traditional print base to a digitally-focused future. However, the reality that he is trying to replace high-margin legacy revenues with low-margin digital revenues compounds the degree of difficulty of executing the transition. It is vulnerable.

Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 9:34 AM | Comments (8) | TrackBack

June 3, 2012

those feral beasts

Geoffrey Wheatcroft in What Rupert Hath Wrought! in the New York Review of Books asks an important good question with respect to the phone hacking scandal in the UK:

Why did the News of the World editors and the News International executives persist in a denial they knew to be false when it was obvious that, the longer they persisted, the more damaging the effect would be if the truth emerged?

The denial took the form of the rogue reporter argument. Wheatcroft's answer is interesting:
The answer must be that long experience had conditioned them to think that News International enjoyed special immunity, conferred by politicians and also by the police, and that they could get away with it. After all, they had got away with everything else for so long, thanks to Murdoch’s aura of invincibility and the way that successive governments had been hypnotized by him.

Wheatcroft says that behind this is the great awe, or plain fear, that Murdoch inspires. Politicians (wrongly) believe that newspapers do in fact decide the results of elections, and that it is this belief that empowers Murdoch. This scenario has shaped national life of the UK for a generation.

Hence the politicians in the UK and Australia have thought that they could be elected, and then govern, only with Murdoch's consent. Consequently, the argument runs, if Murdoch has enjoyed the kind of political sway he has, then the reason lies with the democratically elected leaders who have sucked up to him.

This argument---it is one Rupert Murdoch himself presented at the Leveson Inquiry--- downplays the real political power that Murdoch has and uses because of his extensive media empire. The phone hacking affair indicates the reach of that power into both inner circle of the government of the day and the police. That exercise of power to influence policy and buy the police, plus the fear that the politicians would be forever undermined by a hostile media, is why the politicians suck up to the feral beasts.

Therein lies the problem with the media in liberal democracy. It goes beyond the debasement of media standards by the Murdoch press, and it is a source for the desire by many to see the fall of the Murdoch media hegemony in Australia.

Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 9:48 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

May 28, 2012

going too far

I've been away in Queenstown, Tasmania on a photoshoot and in coming back to Adelaide I find that the Craig Thompson affair still dominating the agenda of the Canberra media gallery and the 24/7 news cycle.

It is pretty clear that Thomson is a pawn on a political chess board within the hothouse atmospherics of minority government. Tony Abbott has pushed the politics of this too far. Though Thomson is facing serious non-judicial findings after an extensive investigation by Fair Work Australia and is the subject of police investigation, he is entitled to the assumption of innocence in a representative democracy based on the rule of law. Until proven guilty he is entitled to a fair hearing, however implausible his claims.

PopeDThompson.jpg David Pope

What has shifted in the week that I have been away is that the media are now in the spotlight for the way they have handled the affair. They have been part of the campaign to push Thomson out of parliament before he has been charged with any offence, let alone convicted of one that satisfies the Constitution for his disqualification.Though there is no basis or precedent for Thomson to resign, and though Abbott has made no convincing argument for such a resignation, the media have acted to judge the guilt or innocence of Thomson.

Though the Thomson affair is unlikely to deliver Abbott the election he wants now that will deliver him the power he needs to roll back the reforms the affair indicates just how deeply we have entered into world of bitterly adversarial politics. It is a media world where politics, like sport, is now part of the entertainment industry,

Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 8:45 AM | Comments (22) | TrackBack

May 16, 2012

News International: the screws turn

The News International hacking scandal deepens. Rebecca Brooks, the former chief executive of News International, is now facing three charges of conspiracy to pervert the course of justice over allegations that she concealed "material, documents and computers" from detectives investigating phone hacking at the News of the World and alleged bribes to public officials by journalists at the Sun. They charges have been bought by the Crown Prosecution Service.

BellSRBrooks.jpg Steve Bell

Brooks was at the heart of Rupert Murdoch's UK newspaper business for more than a decade. She was close to the company's ruling family, particularly during her time editing the Sun from 2003, and after she stepped up to become chief executive of the tabloid's publisher, News International, in 2009.

Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 6:07 PM | TrackBack

May 13, 2012

the future of news

Richard Gingras, head of News Products at Google, recently spoke at the spoke at the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard on the future of news in a digital world.

This is a media world where accusations are taken as fact. Rumours are news. Opinion is preferred to news gathering and accurate reporting. News and analysis is instant. Answers are demanded, now.

We have live blogging of the event from Matt Stempeck. He reports Gingras as saying that we look back at the 40 golden years of newspaper profitability and distribution as if things had been structured that way forever. But these four decades was triggered by an earlier media disruption: television. The rise of television advertising caused a contraction in the newspaper business, where major metropolitan markets went from supporting 4-5 newspapers to 1-2 papers, and these remaining papers usually had a business agreement of some sort. The limited number of remaining companies allowed monopolistic pricing.

Newspapers' previous dominance was a matter of geography, and to some degree demographics, but not because of their product. The vertical model of a newspaper makes little sense going forward. Gingras compares the metropolitan newspapers' all-things to all-people product to content portals for specific communities. This strategy doesn't make sense given the possibilities. Yahoo!'s initial success was as a portal. But portals have disappeared online as consumers have learned to navigate the web on their own and found the niche sites they love. News companies must disambiguate their content and business models and devolve from the generalist approach, which is hemorrhaging both readers and revenue.

What we are seeing is a disaggregation of content flows as well as advertising as audiences evolve. Audiences are evolving. Just three years ago, in 2009, the typical news site saw 50% of their unique traffic coming to their homepage, 20-25% from search, and 30-35% from story pages. Social was almost nonexistent. We're now seeing the homepage receive only 25% of inbound traffic, search with 30-35%, and the rest going to story pages, a huge portion of which is driven by social networks.

Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 9:46 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

May 11, 2012

media and political power

I watched some of Rebeca Brook's appearance at the Leveson Inquiry. The ex-tabloid editor didn't give much away about her career moves and political fixes. She is at the nexus of the nexus of the tabloid press and political power the Leveson inquiry is trying to uncover.

RowsonzMBrooks.jpg Martin Rowson LOL

We gained an insight into the close connection/networks in the UK that had developed between the political class and Murdoch's media company in the UK. We are looking back into the decades-long process that made Murdoch so powerful and unaccountable.

If Murdoch is now in the process of being ejected from the politicians' social network for good, then who replaces Murdoch in terms of media power?

Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 7:25 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

May 6, 2012

fawning over Murdoch

The conservatives in Britain appear to be locked into defending and supporting Murdoch and News International. Apparently Tory MPs are still fighting to stop Labour and the Liberal Democrats saying that Rupert Murdoch is "unfit to run a public company".

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All the evidence points to the senior Conservatives being complicit in promising sweetheart deals to News Corporation to the point of fawning over Murdoch.They appeared to be like the courtiers of the Sun King. Do they fear that Murdoch will destroy them, even though his power is broken?

An editorial in The Australian ways into the debate identifying Murdoch's critics as the Left-liberal clique.

What is the argument? The Australian states that it is right and proper that Rupert Murdoch be made accountability or his conduct scrutinized. However:

for decades his commercial rivals, and politicians who prefer the dominance of government-funded media, have choked on his success. For complex reasons, an anti-Murdoch stance has become as entrenched in the boutique concerns of the trendy leftists in our universities and public broadcasters as anti-US and climate change alarmism. Yet the News Corp ethos demonstrably is one of the open mind. We have extensively covered the British controversy and, in London, Shawcross notes that the reportage in The Times has been "relentlessy fair". So much of the condemnation, here and abroad, has contained more schadenfreude than common sense.

It's not much of an argument. It's more demonizing the critics---much coverage of the UK phone hacking scandal is based on “prejudice, innuendo and vindictiveness’’ against Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation. It doesn't address the criticisms of way that Murdoch does business with politicians to further his commercial interests.

Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 9:46 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

May 2, 2012

media reform?

I cannot see much happening with respect to reform of the media emerging out of the Convergence Review and the Finkelston Inquiry. The Gillard Government is on its knees on the ropes and punch drunk from all the body blows to be be in any position to rock the very powerful media corporations that float on copy from the public relations world. This government is in no fit state to undertake a major overhaul of media regulation for a digital world.

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The Convergence Review's diagnosis was convincing for a dynamic media world. In a converged digital world it is no longer viable to argue that news and commentary in print media should be treated differently from news and commentary in television, radio and online. Secondly, the new industry-led body should cover all platforms—print and online, television and radio--but not the internet.

Hence the idea of the one stop shop---a converged Press Council and Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) to keep news organisations honest through news standards, adjudicating on complaints and providing timely sanctions for the wrongs. A digital economy regulator that is technology neutral is a good idea.

The problem is that the Convergence Review recommendation is for an industry self-regulation scheme eventually covering all media, with guaranteed funding – mostly from industry and some from government – and the power to impose meaningful penalties and sanctions, including forcing the publication of its adjudications. A statutory authority with a big stick was recommended by Finkelston.

An industry-led regulator, given the concentration of media ownership in Australia, that has been supported by the political class. That degree of concentration means the existing media organisations would have the same power they currently have with the Press Council – the power to do next to nothing. They have little intention of changing their media culture, they will write their own rules, they have little interest in supporting consumer empowerment and freedom in content consumption and they will oppose any tough "fit and proper person" test for a media company to hold a broadcaster licence.

This matters because the behaviour of a corrupt News International in the UK has been found to be scandalous by the House of Commons culture, media and sport committee, with respect to consumers, police and politicians. They used criminal methods to advance their commercial concerns without even noticing! News Corp may well have to pull the plug on its UK newspaper operations.

You see a scenario where the media companies could starve the industry-led cross -media self-regulating body of funds to stymie its investigations into complaints.

Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 11:09 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

April 28, 2012

"you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours.”

This cartoon is pretty much how the sleaze looks to many with respect to corporate power media power and politicians. They are seen to be shamelessly courting" the media mogul and doing his biding-- the Minister for Murdoch-- as they duck the need for increased media regulation, more competition, and less concentrated media ownership.

In doing so they tacitly agree with Murdoch's reduction of democracy to different media in the deregulated market, and that the good life is one of the exercise of power for profit making in a commodified world.

The relationship between media and politicians was described by Murdoch at the Leveson Inquiry in terms of "you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours.” Bite Murdoch and he'll put you down. He will also betray you when you are no longer useful to his commercial interests--as the News of the World journalists can attest.

RoweD Murdoch--736x525.jpg David Rowe

What stood out during Rupert and James Murdoch's performance at the Leveson Inquiry was their willingness to blame former executives for all the bad stuff. They--the News of the World's former legal manager Tom Crone and the then editor Colin Myler -- were engaged in a coverup of the phone-hacking saga. Rupert Murdoch even included his colleague of 50 years, Les Hinton - for (allegedly) keeping him in the dark about the phone-hacking saga.

In his listening to Rupert Murdoch at the Leveson Inquiry I came to realize that this more than crony capitalism. Murdoch's market philosophy holds that any imaginable object or transaction is, and should be, capable of being exchanged for measurable material gain. It draws no line between what is and what isn’t exchangeable, and what can’t be reduced to commodity terms.

This philosophy of the universal commodification of life has radically distorted how we view public services and education for the last few decades and, in the form of neo-liberalism, it has had a very easy run. It indicates that markets are corrosive of ethics to the extent that they define what is humanly desirable and good strictly in terms of material profit.

Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 11:35 AM | Comments (8) | TrackBack

April 25, 2012

Leveson Inquiry: the Murdoch dump begins

The Leveson Inquiry appears to confirm what the critics of the Murdochs have often suspected: that they have exploited their position as newspaper owners to win secret favours from governments. Emails released by News Corp --- they were written by James Murdoch's chief lobbyist, Frédéric Michel--- appear to show that Jeremy Hunt, the culture secretary, and his office passed confidential and market-sensitive information to the Murdoch empire to support its takeover of BSkyB.

The emails show that News Corp expected Hunt to push for the BSkyB deal to be approved; that Hunt providing advice guidance and privileged access to News Corporation, thereby acting as a back channel for the Murdochs; and that Hunt saw his job to help the Murdochs to get their bid for BSkyB successfully past the official regulators.

RowsonMMurdochSun.jpg Martin Rowson

In The Guardian Nick Davies says that what is emerging is evidence suggesting a deal between the Conservative leadership and News Corp.

In its crudest form, the suggestion is that the Murdochs used the Sun to make sure that Gordon Brown was driven out of Downing Street so that the incoming Conservative government could deliver them a sequence of favours – a fair wind for them to take over BSkyB; the emasculation of the much resented Ofcom; and a severe funding cut to their primary broadcasting rival, the BBC.

It highlights how the political classes – from the time of the Thatcher administration, through the Blair government to the Cameron coalition – who have allowed News Corp to increase its hold on Britain's media estate.

The BSkyB deal was looked on rather skeptically by News Corp in New York, where the view was that it would tie up the lion's share of the company's cash far longer than was advisable. Therefore, the imperative for James Murdoch in London was to move this deal through the regulatory hurdles as fast as possible. Hunt set up a back channel to News Corp to facilitate this, and in doing so effectively acted for Murdoch's interests not the public interest.

As The Guardian editorial points out:

The meaning of "quasi-judicial" is simple enough. A public servant is required to behave like a judge – setting aside all personal prejudices and behaving with such transparency, candour and integrity that people can have total faith in his or her rulings. Judges don't book private meetings with one side in the cases they or their colleagues on the bench are hearing. They don't offer inside information, or appeal for private help in formulating their decisions or covertly demolishing the other side's arguments. They don't suggest PR strategies or brief one side what the other's been saying in confidence. They don't offer winked assurances that they share one party's aims or outcomes. They don't have private chats on their mobile phones to get round official scrutiny or slip confidential information through back channels. Any judge who behaved like that would not command public confidence and would be forced to resign.

In doing this Hunt had behaved in a manner that could not remotely be described as impartial or "quasi-judicial".

The Murdoch's in their anger at the Cameron Government for setting up the Leveson Inquiry into the phone hacking scandal at News of the World are dumping on the Cameron Government. This is being done under the guise of James Murdoch defending News Corporation's insider lobbying tactics for the letting the BSkyB deal through as just normal business. They were just making their case/brief to the government.

Will Rupert Murdoch deny the history of political fixes with Thatcher, Blair, Cameron when he appears at the Leveson Inquiry? Will he spill the beans? Will there be much insight into the political fixes in Australia? Somehow I doubt it.

Update
Murdoch plays powerless broker at the Leveson Inquiry. He defended with well-constructed walls of obdurate denial, reinforced by occasional bouts of forgetfulness and long silences.

The Cameron Government's response to the revelations about the Culture Secretary's contacts with Rupert Murdoch's News Corp followed time-honoured precedent. The wagons were circled around the minister, and the special adviser was thrown to the wolves. The tactic is to erase the minister (Jeremy Hunt) from the picture by spinning the line that everything bad was done by an overzealous and free-booting adviser. The Minister acted properly throughout and did not know what was going on with his feral adviser.

How long will that defence stand up to scrutiny?

Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 9:58 AM | Comments (12) | TrackBack

April 20, 2012

The Australian: wrong again

In this review at Inside Story of two recent books on the political power of Rupert Murdoch's media empire Denis Muller highlights the systematic pattern of suppression, lack of transparency and hypocrisy. It reinforces the view that News Corp has become a toxic institution that operates like a shadow state.

This is significant and important, given the increasing concentration of the legacy media in Australia, and the increasing competition they now face from the internet's media startups. The concept of news as a series of articles published daily or weekly in a paper format is dissolving before our eyes.

Referring to David McKnight's Rupert Murdoch: An Investigation of Political Power Muller says:

The pattern takes several forms. One is journalistic misrepresentation....News Corporation’s newspapers [also] have often engaged in baseless ad hominem attacks on individuals who have challenged its world view. [Thirdly] there is a deliberate strategy to create a conservative brand of politicised journalism masquerading as “balanced.” Allied to this pattern is equally systematic hypocrisy. In Australia, Murdoch’s News Limited has been a driving force behind the Right to Know coalition, a group of twelve Australian media organisations with the stated aim of improving Australia’s “relatively poor world ranking for freedom of speech.” On the evidence presented by McKnight about Murdoch’s covert political activities, the public’s “right to know” does not appear to extend to the activities of Murdoch and News Corporation.

McKnight argues convincingly that it is his leverage with politicians that Murdoch uses to pursue his policy preferences when his financial interests are at stake and that his politics is to reshape the English-speaking world to fit the template of conservative (Republican) America.

We can see this pattern at work in The Australian's bias against and hostility towards renewable energy and sustainability. It is currently expressed in its recent Taxpayers should not gamble on renewables editorial:

Renewable energy is powered more by the winds of the zeitgeist and the flow of taxpayers' money than it is by westerlies or sunshine...he path to a low-carbon economy is taking a tortured route. While this money might have subsidised two or three nuclear plants to generate power at standard prices with zero emissions, we instead will speculate on renewables that will certainly cost more and possibly do nothing to cut emissions unless they reduce reliance on existing baseload generation. Very little will be fuelled, save for the clean energy zeitgeist.These green initiatives are driven by an obsession with renewable energy at the expense of all other options, no matter the benefits involved in lower costs or emissions.

The conclusion is blunt: It is no accident that separate reports recently revealed South Australia had the highest proportion of electricity generated by wind turbines and the most expensive power in the nation.

The reality is otherwise, as Tristan Edis points out in Climate Spectator. The high prevalence of wind power in South Australia’s electricity mix is actually depressing electricity prices in the state, whilst the lion share of increases in SA residential electricity prices to increased expenditure on distribution networks.

The Australian is increasingly shifting to an opinionated and conservatively partisan style similar to that of talkback radio. It's rhetoric of manufactured anger towards liberals, inner city and intellectual elites, and the Greens attracts a polarised audience but, in the process, undermines public trust.

Update
Jay Rosen has a interesting post on his PressThink blog entitled Rosen’s Trust Puzzler: What Explains Falling Confidence in the Press? He says:

So the puzzle is: how do these things fit together? More of a profession, more educated people going into journalism, a more desirable career, greater cultural standing (although never great pay) bigger staffs, more people to do the work … and the result of all that is less trust.
Why?
Let me be clear: I’m not saying there’s no explanation, or that this is some baffling paradox. Only that it’s worth thinking through how these things fit together.

He then suggests a number of answers as part of that thinking through. These include:

(1) All institutions are less trusted eg., the banks, the church etc;
(2) Bad actors meaning the squabblers on cable television, and the tabloid media generally–are undermining confidence in the press as a whole;
(3) Liberal bias in the media for the right. The left's answer is different
(4) Working the refs meaning that the right has learned how to manipulate journalists by never letting up on the “liberal bias” charge, no matter what.
(5) professionaliization of journalism with its insiders ethos, view from nowhere, the voice of God etc
(6) the media is just part of the power structure now
(7) culture war
(8) the stories are too big to tell

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April 12, 2012

media diversity etc

Foxtel has just got bigger with the ACCC's approval of its takeover of Austar. That means a concentration of the pay TV industry in Australia. Murdoch, in alliance with Telstra, wins again at a time when journalism is on trial, and there is a questioning of corporate power and demands for greater media accountability.

Of course, the neo-liberals will attack the regulatory regime for its heavy handed rules and the regulatory constraint around sporting content that has been imposed by the ACCC to ensure a competitive market place. The neo-liberals do not want an effective media regulatory with teeth.

RoweDIPTV.jpg David Rowe

In the background the digital revolution is facilitating the merging of broadcasting, telecommunications and broadband/internet and the emergence of IPTV as the national broadband network is increasingly rolled out.

The latter offers an alternative to the legacy institutions of Murdoch-style tabloidism, heavy handed partisan commentary and intrusive journalism. It offers us consumers the promise of the media diversity that many yearn for. The digital revolution that is under way will not preserve the power of unnecessary old media institutions; and so some of these sense the threat the internet poses and try to control it under the guises of piracy and minimal government.

We currently have a wold in world in which media conglomerates act as if they had unrestricted rights of free expression and can exercise enormous power to shape and influence, improve and damage others' lives. The issue is not one of regulating media content but regulating the media process to ensure transparency for audiences/consumers as well as accountability of the powerful.

The principle is one of making corporate media power accountable to the public interest.

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April 9, 2012

journalism's future

In the Future of Journalism at Open Democracy Angela Philips argues that journalism is not in crisis. For her there is no problem with journalism going digital. That simply isn’t the issue.

She says:

The problem lies not in the journalism itself. It lies in the business models that are failing to support them. Journalism is struggling because the source of income they have depended on for over 150 years has started to desert them....In 2000- 2001 advertising revenue was buoyant and there were no major threats on the horizon. But within a very few years newspaper owners were starting to panic as audiences started to move towards the web. They rushed head-long online assuming (given the existing model) that advertising would follow them and that the reduced cost of distribution on line would cover them for the loss of the sale price of the newspaper. \What they hadn’t bargained for was that advertising would find other places to go and leave news adrift. Nor had they bargained for the collapse of advertising with the crash of 2008.

The newspaper mangers imagined a world in which new media could improve profits and they talked of ‘scale’, centralisation and of multi-skilling.

Phillips argues that journalism's future lies not in finding ways of doing away with journalists and journalism. Or about undermining the quality of what journalists should do. It lies in finding a way to get citizens not only to participate but also to pay for the journalism we all need.

She asks:

Why should payment require anything more than clicking yes to a button that asks us to pay a few pence to view an article? Smart payment systems that are not linked to personal data would really give the web back to the people who matter: the journalists, writers, musicians, app builders, animators and other creative people. Maybe the real reason why we cannot have a simple payments system, that doesn’t require complex and off-putting log-ins, is because that would prevent the big players from getting their hands on all that private data.

Smart advertising is all about us handing over information so that we can be manipulated into buying stuff we didn’t know we needed.

Phillips asks a very pertinent question: Is selling our data, our personal lives, the very heart of our private selves really better than paying in cash for the things we need?

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February 25, 2012

Murdoch rises?

Murdoch launches a new Sunday tabloid in the UK-- the Sunday Sun or more accurately the Sun on Sunday. It's a bold move given the decline of the newspaper industry and the ongoing inquiries into phone-hacking and alleged corruption of the police at the News of the World by the Leveson inquiry.

The tabloid replaces the closed down News of the World. News International now acknowledges that senior employees and directors" knew about phone hacking and sought to conceal it by destroying evidence of wrongdoing, which evidence included a very substantial number of emails" and the computers of journalists. Murdoch is using his old tactic of sinking his competitors by predatory pricing.

BrownDMurdochrises.jpg

Murdoch has been only too willing to unleash the full force of his media empire against anyone who tried to tame him.The politicians in Australia and the UK have only made token gestures to break up his media ownership. They have feared the consequences of moving against him and bi-partisanship on the issue has been lacking.

The other aspect of this is that by 2006 the Metropolitan police already knew that phone hacking had been conducted on an industrial scale and that several News of the World staff were probably involved but they kept the inquiry narrow to protect News International. We now discover that payments and retainers running to tens of thousands of pounds were paid to the police by the News International's newspapers.

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February 2, 2012

it's more than lazy journalism

Wilcox's cartoon leaves out an important player in her representation of the tent embassy protest event in Canberra. Where is the media? More specifically, what is not represented in the cartoon is the Canberra media gallery and the way their political journalism constructs and distorts the political event.

WilcoxCTentprotest.jpg

It's yet another indication how those who work in the media have very little critical awareness of the media as a player in political life. They cannot see beyond a Gina Rinehart buying into Fairfax to create a bigger platform for her political views.

The standard response to the criticism that the media consistently misrepresents and distorts political events is that this lazy journalism arises because of the less profitable (than 20 years ago) newspapers trying to make the transition to the digital world. This time and money pressure argument states that journalists don't have time to do their job properly. Not only has demand for content increased with the emergence of the internet, but the same digital technology has undermined the newspaper's ability to adequately fund the profession.

This argument is correct in so far as it goes. The journalists don't have much time to fact-check the politician's spin or to assess the claims they make in their speeches. So we do have lazy journalism.

However, time and money pressure argument misses the main point of the criticism. The media are political players with their own agenda and they are spinning just like the politicians. They both spin together and the spin of both often reinforces each other--as exemplified by the recent tent-embassy protests in Canberra.

Let's face it, journalists are ideologues-- their job is to misrepresent and distort reality to further the political and economic interests of the media organization. If they don't they are out of a job.

Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 7:31 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

January 30, 2012

storm in a teacup

Ho hum. Another media beatup by the Canberra Media Gallery with the headlines of "Australia's day of disgrace" or commentary about a blight on our national day.

This beatup amplifies the Coalition's attack about a former staff member's (Tony Hodges) role in informing the tent embassy protesters via the intermediary of the ACT union leader Kim Sattler about Tony Abbott's whereabouts at The Lobby restaurant on Australia Day. Oh, and what Abbott said about the time of Aboriginal tent embassy being up. There's no evidence of a criminal act by Hodges, the AFP is not conducting an investigation, and Hodges has resigned.

The Coalition's outrage with its rhetoric of riots, mobs inflamed, greatest breach of security ever, thuggish violence etc is designed to undermine Gillard's political credibility. Their political framing is that it is all Gillard's fault etc , etc. It's just part of the warfare game of politics. It looks as if 2012 will be the same as 2011. The Canberra Media Gallery follows along, jazzing up a minor event.

tentembassyCan.jpg Gary Sauer-Thompson, Aboriginal Tent Embassy, Canberra, circa 2006.

The Australia Day events are a media beatup because the AAP reported (1.35pm on Thursday) that ''Tony Abbott says it's time to move the Aboriginal tent embassy in Canberra''. Yet the media isn't critical about the right wing's media practices in heating up the political atmosphere, or the dog whistle about the riots being incited by the PM's office, or their simplistic and cartoonish representations. The Canberra media Gallery's narrative is one of Gillard leading the Labor government to extinction and they simply frame the pub gossip about a minor event in terms of 'will Gillard survive 2012'? Or when will Rudd challenge?


One infers from the media construction of a 'riot' by a 'mob' that was 'violent' that we have a media fabrication before us. The media now see it as their job to heat things up, deepen the party political divisions, and launch attacks on aboriginal activists. The cultural wars continue.

Underneath this political hothouse runs the thread of those who identify with settler Australia. They continu to justify the dispossession of indigenous Australians from their land by Britain, the colonization, applying English law to aborigines, and the decades of neglect. They continue to defend settler Australia against the black armband interpretation of Australian history.

What is obscured by the media beat-up is the pressing issue of Aboriginal people moving from welfare dependence (with its associated deeply entrenched destructive behaviour that tolerates excessive alcohol abuse, domestic violence and school absenteeism) to take part in the market economy.

Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 7:26 AM | Comments (13) | TrackBack

January 14, 2012

Politics and Television

What the media industry call "convergence" is all based on the realisation that, since the 1990s, most media – print, audio, video, graphics – have been reduced to the lowest common denominator: bits, the ones and zeroes of binary arithmetic. The TV industry assumed everything would converge on the television set in the living room.

The assumption where was that television industry was shaped in an era when broadcast (few-to-many) organisations were the dominant organizations in our media jungle. During this period electoral success required political parties to buy endless hours of expensive television time for commercials that advertise their virtues and, more often, roundly assail their opponents with often spurious claims. Television ruled and broadcasters shaped our viewing habits, changed our politics and determined how we spent much of our leisure time.

In Politics and Television: How To Level the Field in the blog of the New York Review of Books Max Frankel states in relation to the US that:

It has long been obvious that television ads dominate electioneering in America. Most of those thirty-second ads are glib at best but much of the time they are unfair smears of the opposition. And we all know that those sordid slanders work—the more negative the better—unless they are instantly answered with equally facile and equally expensive rebuttals.

He adds that a rational people looking for fairness in their politics would have long ago demanded that television time be made available at no cost and apportioned equally among rival candidates.

Frankel adds:

But no one expects that any such arrangement is now possible. Political ads are jealously guarded as a major source of income by television stations. And what passes for news on most TV channels gives short shrift to most political campaigns except perhaps to “cover” the advertising combat.

This is another way in which the media has failed citizens in a liberal democracy--it fails to provide comprehensive and serious account of serious news as distinct from infotainment.

An example of this in Australia is how the television industry media grabs represents Tony Abbott in hard hat and yellow vest standing in battler country raging about the carbon tax will destroy the country and ruin us all via the pressures on the cost of living. No attempt is made by the televisual media to unpack the distortions, misrepresentations and lies about carbon pricing. We just have the media grab of Abbott saying Whyalla will be wiped out. They just toss the stories in and wash their hands of the ethics.

The tabloid form of the televisual industry is often the purveyor of misinformation and misrepresentation in their stories (eg., "whipping up a climate of fear of Islam) and it has little interest in self-criticism about its process of dumbing down as its audience fragments across the internet. There any no financial penalties (heavy fines) for lying by regulators in Australia. There ought to be.

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January 5, 2012

media futures

Dean Starkman in Confidence Game: The limited vision of the news gurus in the Columbia Journalism Review takes on what he calls the future-of-news (FON) consensus developed by Jeff Jarvis, Clay Shirky, and Jay Rosen and others. This he says holds that:

the future points toward a network-driven system of journalism in which news organizations will play a decreasingly important role. News won’t be collected and delivered in the traditional sense. It will be assembled, shared, and to an increasing degree, even gathered, by a sophisticated readership, one that is so active that the word “readership” will no longer apply. Let’s call it a user-ship or, better, a community. This is an interconnected world in which boundaries between storyteller and audience dissolve into a conversation between equal parties, the implication being that the conversation between reporter and reader was a hierarchical relationship, as opposed to, say, a simple division of labor.

He states that the FON consensus is anti-institutional, as it holds that old institutions must wither to make way for the networked future. Its major flaw is that it little to say about public-service journalism; indeed in many ways it is antithetical to it as they extol peer production and volunteerism in a network society that is less hierarchical, more democratic, more collaborative, freer, even more authentic—from the world that preceded it.

With reference to public-interest reporting Starkman says:

Public-interest reporting isn’t just another tab on the home page. It is a core value, the thing that builds trust, sets agendas, clarifies public understanding, challenges powerful institutions, and generates reform. It is, in the end, the point.

Starkman's position is a Burkean one: a defense of institutional tradition as a store of embedded wisdom, arguing for the continued relevance of existing news organizations, especially newspapers, in something very close to their current form.

Consequently resources ought to be expended shoring up existing media institutions because journalism needs its own institutions for the simple reason that it reports on institutions much larger than itself. Media institutions not only provide reporters resources and backup, the best ones create valuable news cultures by aggregating people of a certain mindset.

The problem that I have with this kind of defence is that very few media institutions practice public service journalism -- its a rarity. Most journalism takes the form of infotainment or partisan political commentary; operates within narrow intellectual boundaries; favours 'he said she said' analysis; avoids public policy issues; and doesn't even bother with facts anymore. Honestly, not much public-interest reporting is produced in Australia's existing media institutions.

Starkman downplays this aspect of our media institutions, even though it the new normal.

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December 18, 2011

an ignorant media?

As we know the mainstream media didn't do a good job of informing citizens about the global financial crisis. More often than not they acted as cheerleaders of the boom, free markets and neo-liberalism; and they failed to see what was coming, or even to realize its significance when it happened. When the crunch came the media failed its democratic function and didn't live up to its self-professed liberal ethos.

Many of us weren't surprised as they see the loss of advertising revenue resulting in the media by and large given up its fourth estate role and collapsed into opinion and infotainment in a digital world of online media convergence. As Malcolm Turnbull points out, whilst it is quality journalism that holds the government to account and shines a light on the dark corners of power, it is now a threatened species.

One of those journalists who continues to understand the media in terms of its fourth estate function is Roy Greenslade, and he spells out this function in this way:

We, the media, are the window into the arcane world of finance and economics, and what we report, and how we report it, is hugely influential. People may have all sorts of opinions garnered from their own experiences but when it comes to the esoteric topic of high finance, the vast majority rely on what they are told by journalists, politicians and a variety of talking heads granted either airtime or newspaper space.

For those journalists who are still interested in practising this form of journalism the key question becomes: 'why did the media fail citizens so badly with respect to the global financial crisis?

Greenslade says:

To be frank, most journalists were as ignorant as their readers and viewers of the range of financial products used to sustain the boom. When it was reported that the American investor Warren Buffett described derivatives as "financial weapons of mass destruction" in 2003, it made little impact. Why? Because it ran counter to the ongoing "good news" story, which was the major narrative of the decade. House prices were on the up. Retailers were raking in profits. Obtaining credit from banks was easy. The media itself was enjoying seemingly unlimited advertising revenue.It did not then appear necessary for journalists to get to grips with the credit markets, with their sophisticated instruments such as credit default swaps.

Well, we know that journalists are ignorant about most policy issues (eg., carbon pricing) and they generally cover up this ignorance by just writing about the politics of the policy from a partisan perspective or writing about Kevin Rudd vs Julia Gillard.

Greenslade basically offers a 'we were duped by the market' defence. What Greenslade should say, and doesn't , is that irrespective of the platform many journalists are lazy (they simply recycle media releases and publicity handouts); that many are basically ideologues acting on behalf of corporate interests (eg.,The Australian); and that some are happy to paid to be intense propagandists (eg., the tabloids on climate change). He also ignores the way that owners of the media (in Australia the Packers, Murdochs and Fairfaxes) have all used their media to run political agendas.

Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 8:10 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

November 30, 2011

the media: a freedom to lie

It is obvious that the media consists of both a serious press that operates, broadly, in the public interest and a popular press with an agenda that is based around human interest (celebrity) or infotainment. Broadsheet and tabloid is the name we often used to describe this difference, and the standard case for ensuring press freedom usually refers to the serious press (liberal) whilst regulation refers to the curbing of the "toxic", bullying culture of the popular tabloid press (conservative). Yet press freedom also refers to the regulation-free, market-driven, anything-goes tabloid morality.

This distinction does not just apply to the press though. The same distinctions can be, and are, made about television--eg., the ABC and Channel 9's celebrity gossip come to mind. What often drives, and reinforces, the difference is the need to attract as many readers as possible to secure advertising----the commercial imperative to maximise sales with cheap content so as to make a profit.

So it is economically logical for the tabloid hacks in the press and television to produce stories that are often inaccurate, sensationalist and plagiarised. These are not motivated by truth seeking, a desire for accuracy, or a concern for democracy.

Yet the press is allowed to be self-regulated whilst TV is regulated, even though it is widely known that the press has little interest in self-regulation. Self-regulation by the Press Council was designed with the interests of the newspapers in mind.

The media, when they defend self-regulation in absolute terms of the checks and balances against untrammelled state authority, say little about the media's accountability; how people can get remedy for the smears, lies, abuse and intimidate by the feral beasts; or even the concentration of media ownership.

The distinction between a serious press that operates, broadly, in the public interest and a popular press are too black and white . Reporters rewrite press releases, churn the publicity industry's spin and are compliant to authority to ensure continued access. Their conception of press freedom is a freedom to lie and conception of the public interest is little no more than the sheer number of copies they can sell.

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November 22, 2011

a bumpy media road

The background to the media inquiry is ACMA's 2011 Broken concepts: The Australian communications legislative landscape. It argues that the majority of the legislative concepts in Australia's media legislation are either broken or under significant strain.

This is primarily due to digitalisation, which has broken the nexus between the shape of content and the container which carries it’ (that is, services are now independent of platforms). Technological change in the form of digital transmission systems means that service delivery is now largely independent of network technologies.

This results in convergence of of older technologies such as television and print media with the internet. Just about all platforms and devices in the convergent era are digital, which makes them able to converge to a common network that operates over a variety of infrastructure types. You can access the internet on your TV, listen to radio on your PC, and watch video on your mobile device. It looks as if News Ltd and Fairfax, will survive this period but with much diminished or no print businesses and diluted earnings.

So we have the Convergence Review to examine the policy and regulatory frameworks that apply to the converged media and communications landscape in Australia. It is no longer useful for policymakers to look at broadcasting, radiocommunications and telecommunications industries as separate and distinct industries with unique policy frameworks.

These then are serious issues arising from a deep seated transformation of the mediascape. Yet the Media Inquiry is represented as a political scape-goating exercise by News Ltd; Fairfax is saying that the future of journalism looks bright; and the ABC's journalists/commentators are not exploring or informing us about what the media inquiries are supposed to be doing.

Its media policy and the journalists are interested in politics not policy.

Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 9:00 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

November 16, 2011

the media: goodbye self-regulation?

In delivering the AN Smith Lecture in Journalism at the University of Melbourne last night Greg Haywood, Fairfax Media's chief executive, said:

The best defence we have to a free and rigorous press is not some government-funded regulatory regime that has the potential to be pushed and prodded and bullied into curtailing what we do … which is asking the questions people in power do not want to be asked. Our best defence is to have our publications edited and led by the sort of people who lead them now - experienced professionals who have spent a lifetime balancing out a cacophony of competing interests and defining a fair-minded news coverage and multifaceted commentary.

This is a similar argument to that in Fairfaqes submission to the Finkelstein Media Inquiry.

Since when have the Fairfax journalists been asking the questions people in power do not want to be asked? What is usually written are recycled press releases, publicity, horse race politics that has zilch to do with public policy, and speculation masquerading as analysis.

Remember all that guff about the ALP guillotining Gillard, Rudd making the big comeback, and it would all happen before Xmas? The media flows were full of it. After the carbon price legislation was passed, little has been said. It was junk journalism Junk, or crap, is what passes for political journalism these days.

It is an example that illustrates the continual spiral of decline, with content becoming less and less valued and less and less demanded. Consumers are being offered a slim-line product written by half trained reporters, and there is little investment in journalists and journalism happening by the corporate owners.

The media seem to think that press freedom is under threat from the Finklestein inquiry, and in expressing their fears (paranoia) about the shift away from self-regulation, they ignore the crisis in confidence in the commercial media. There is a reluctance and refusal to investigate why self-regulation has been such a disaster; why the media needs checking; or even why many citizens feel that the media is out of control.

Reform of the press is expected by the public. The media continue to dismiss the need for press reform, even when they know they regularly produce not just infotainment, but trash, in order to boost sales. They see the whole inquiry as a political stunt, a response to the hacking scandal in the UK.

Any suggestion that the media should be compelled - by law, by sanctions, by institutional pressure - to abide by its own ethical rules would be a gross assault on the freedom of the press. The press should not be held to account for its conduct, no matter how obnoxious, and the media barons, publishers and editors-in-chief are not going to cough up extra money to enable the Press Council to do a better job by having the power to insist on a ruling or a correction appearing on page 1.

A good example of trash with a nasty undertone is this post on Peter Roebuck on Andrew Bolt's blog at the Herald Sun. In it Bolt insinuates that Roebuck was a pedophile (he advances no evidence for the insinuation), and bashes the (lefty) ABC and Fairfax media for covering this up with their silence, and positions himself as speaking truth to power.

Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 9:04 AM | Comments (8) | TrackBack

November 13, 2011

News Ltd: paranoia?

I suspect that the recent changes at News Ltd--John Hartigan being replaced by Kim Williams from Foxtel--- has to do Murdoch's need to find ways of monetising the digital platforms. This is the biggest challenge facing the print media in Australia, and elsewhere.

The changes have little to do with News Ltd's softening the hostility of its rolling anti-Labor campaign, or its unease and anxiety about the current Finkelstein media inquiry.

SpoonerMediaInquiry.jpg

You can see the anxiety surfacing in Nicolas Rothwell's The media inquiry masks government's hidden agenda. Rothwell's language is emotionally charged and extreme, given Margaret Simon's interpretation of the first few days of the media inquiry.

Rothwell's language includes: 'the federal government's "independent" media inquiry; a kangaroo court; pre-ordain the result; state power must, in tactful fashion, conceal its grip; the new mood of moral correctness abroad in our age; an inquisition.' Rothwell says:

For an Australian government to countenance regulation of the media or intervention in its markets is to assault the fabric of the nation: doubly. It is plain that Western secular democracies have developed in tandem with a free press, and the removal of press freedom tends to result in the swift erosion of personal freedoms...Swirling about the margins of the present inquiry one can make out a set of half-veiled reform projects - for subsidising portions of the independent media, for limiting ownership, even for licensing media outlets, and all these schemes are justified on the grounds that they would improve the probity and health of the resultant information flow.

The paranoia about the state trampling all over press freedom obscures the excellent points that Rothwell makes about the transformation of the mediascape, namely that the modern media culture, sceptical, bullying and inquisitorial, is in great part a culture developed in response to the conduct of the state, and intertwined with it.
Much about today's media, especially the political coverage, is the result of a generation-long transformation in the nature of government and its propaganda. Roughly from the time of the Vietnam War and Watergate, all Western governments and their associated bureaucracies have armed themselves with the weapons of advertising and the techniques of persuasion, in a bid to cope with the inquisitorial pressures of the media realm.
This is one of the defining shifts in public life over the past four decades. The media no longer merely reports, and the government no longer informs. The media, rather, probes, and the government quietly throws them off the scent and seeks to entrench its own preferred lines.... For all today's governmental communication is in essence publicly funded propaganda, a panoply of sweetly scented, prepackaged spin, designed to sway the media, and wholly parasitic on the media's existence.

Rothwell says that today it is often hard to make out the policy for the chaff and rhetoric: the prevailing landscape is one of artifice and secrecy. He points every finger at the state for restricting the free flow of official information. The media are merely reacting to the state's communication regime of artifice and secrecy.

Rothwell goes so far as to say that:

At a further remove from governments, but under its influence, and dependent on state largesse, are the think tanks, expert groups and academic departments that generate reports for the bureaucracy, and lend a veneer of independent authority to new policy initiatives. The lines here, between research and advocacy, between public and private, are very hard to draw.

Only the commercial print media stand against resolutely the state's publicly funded propaganda, a panoply of sweetly scented, prepackaged spin.

It's paranoia surfacing here.

Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 2:22 PM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

October 28, 2011

toxic media brands

It's a simple proposition that makes a lot of sense.

Newspapers role in a digital world is to focus on making sense of the news rather than breaking it. Traditional journalism for print media doesn’t earn its keep any more and there’s no future in telling people what they’ve already learned from their mobile phone. Simple.

Making sense of the news--ie., interpretation---makes a break from what the media traditionally understand as good journalism---they generally mean Four Corner's style investigative journalism. Newspapers won't have the resources to do that.

As we have become aware interpretation of the news can quickly become s partisan polemic and mass deception of tabloid journalism. A recent example from Channel Seven's Today Tonight:

Here is the critical response from the ABC's Media Watch. I interpret it as an argument for strong regulation of the media to make it more accountable to citizens.

The political undercurrent behind the tabloid polemics and deceptions is the obvious link to them between enforced egalitarianism and tyranny--- it is that the Welfare State's attempts to promote equality that have left the poor much worse off. So it is necessary to reverse that trend to equality because the very idea of a “share of wealth” (eg., the mining tax) should, and must, be recognised as a deeply sinister one. The politics is rewarmed up 19th century liberalism.

This kind of media politics is "the way things are done." It is the new normal. Routine. Journalists implement the politics ---as in the opposition to gambling reform. This kind of normalization, with its language of us and them to make the deceptions palatable, comes easily when money, status, power, and jobs are at stake. The journalists operate unthinkingly, following orders, efficiently carrying them out, with no consideration of their effects upon those they've targeted.

Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 3:08 PM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

October 20, 2011

in Melbourne on a photo shoot

I'm off to Melbourne for four days on a phototrip. As I won't be taking my computer with me so I will not be blogging. The emphasis, when I'm not with Suzanne, will primarily be on photography -- the large format style and it will concentrate on this kind of urban work. There will also be a lot of digital snap shots taken.

I'll be back on deck on Tuesday after The Australian has gone behind a paywall in an attempt to ensure that readers became more used to paying for what they could previously access online free, and to extra revenue flows.

Update
There does not seem to be much commentary on The Australian's paywall experiment and how it will impact on both political journalism and the media given that the transition from print to digital, the 24 hour news cycle, and the media (feral beast) constantly moving on to the ever new instant. Will the culture of contempt practiced by News Ltd be limited to its tabloids?

We do have Laurie Oaks' Andrew Olle Media Lecture 2011, which is a defense of journalism. He says that the trust issue worries him because journalism is so central to the operation of our democracy:

We like to think of ourselves as watchdogs, keeping the bastards honest .... And that IS part of our role. But, probably more important, in my view, we in journalism are the intermediaries in the conversation between voters and politicians that makes the whole thing work. If people lose trust in what we do, how can they maintain faith in the process?...There's been a lot of criticism of political journalism recently .... Much of the criticism is directly related to this democratic dialogue between punters and pollies that we as members of the Fourth Estate are supposed to facilitate. Trust is just one aspect. What the criticism boils down to is that the changing character of the media is distorting the conversation with damaging consequences for the way our political system works. Or doesn't work.

He interprets the changing character of the media as a "dumbing down" into a sideshow:
The argument is that, with media organisations under siege from commercial pressures and technological innovation, the balance in political reporting has shifted away from providing information and towards entertainment. And that this, and the way politicians have responded, is trivialising politics and dumbing down debate.

Oaks reckons the core criticism--it's the media's fault--- is overstated, and he argues against the criticism. The fact that politicians make policy decisions on the basis of what will get the most favourable media coverage rather than what's best for the nation is due to weak politicians not the media. He adds that if you want to see a real dumbing down of politics, treat yourself to another look at recent election campaign commercials from both sides.

Oaks says that the contempt for politicians constantly on show in the media is a factor in eroding faith in the political system. That contempt arises from political parties and governments using massive resources into trying to control what journalists do and say.

Update 2
Tim Dunlop has addressed the issue of the Australian's paywall at The Drum and he goes to the heart of the matter ---that News Ltd reckons that people will pay for great journalism. Dunlop says:

News Ltd are obviously banking on the idea that The Australian produces enough quality journalism to generate enough subscriptions for the site to make a profit....How realistic is this? Not very, in my view, and at least part of the answer has to do with partisanship .... The Australian is ground zero for hardline, anti-Labor, so-called "campaigning" journalism, a position that has solidified since federal Labor came to power in 2007. This editorial disposition has made them a laughing stock amongst at least half the market for serious journalism they are going to need to make the paywall pay.

Unlike Fox News in the US The Australian cannot afford to pursue a partisan audience in Australia because that niche is not large enough to be profitable.

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October 19, 2011

Crabb on the media

Annabel Crabb has an edited copy of a speech on changes in the media she gave at the Sydney Institute on The Drum. It is about a deep, elemental, structural revolution taking place in the media and what this means for democracy.

It is about the political class--the intertwining of politicians and journalists in liberal democracy that is most marked in the Canberra Press Gallery. The speech is more focused on the politicians than the journalists, as it pretty much ignores the bad practices of insider journalism.

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Crabb acknowledges that the 20th century model of the media/politics relationship was a politico-media complex, a closed shop of ideas with its passive mass audience. She says that the status quo of the politico-media complex which has comfortably characterised political debate in Australia has changed radically in the last 10 years. In the last five, even. The old gatekeepers are losing control whose job it used to be to decide what people would or should like, are are losing control and are increasingly redundant.

Secondly, digital technology means that mass audiences are fragmenting into smaller segmented marketplace; more targeted advertising based on the information gleaned about consumer's preferences and behaviour; an active audience who critique what journalists write; and some kind of paywall---eg., Crikey now and The Australian coming very soon.

This is pretty much a summary of what we know. What then, are the implications for our deliberative democracy? For Crabb it is the disappearing town square:

The most legitimate concern about today's fractured media marketplace is that we no longer have a town square. A place where we're all on the same page. A moment - outside grand finals, or landmark episodes of Masterchef - at which a large chunk of Australians are all thinking about the same thing. ...At times, I think politicians get spooked by this freewheeling Babel of media with which they tangle each day. They are worried about getting a run in the media, to the extent that getting a run becomes the aim in itself ... they still crave control of the message, some sense that they are prevailing against the [feral] beast.

What does this mean for journalists? The dumbing down, or the coarsening of political debate, says Crabb is really democracy in action. The political discourse isn't getting stupider because we citizens have more to read.

Crabb makes no mention of the partisan campaigning style of News Ltd based on the deliberate mass deceptions and disinformation around issues, such as climate change, The Greens, and the national broadband network. She also evades the issue of journalists selling out their professional ethos to become political players with the shrill and hectoring tone of the schoolyard bully. Political journalism--both the horse race and 'she said he said' styles -- in Australia is broken backed. They more often than not write crap.

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October 16, 2011

News Corp on the defensive

News Corp continues to be on the defensive as more evidence is emerging of the anything goes attitude--the schoolyard bully?-- that seems to pervade Rupert Murdoch’s the disinformation and populist tone of his papers.

The anything goes attitude is giving rise to a revolt by shareholders who have the Murdoch's in their spotlight. They are opposed to the re-election of Rupert Murdoch's two sons, James and Lachlan, at the News Corp annual meeting next week because of the phone-hacking scandal.

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The more evidence emerging refers to Nick Davies of The Guardian outlining the circulation scam at News Corporation's flagship newspaper, the Wall Street Journal.

Davies says:

The Guardian found evidence that the Journal had been channelling money through European companies in order to secretly buy thousands of copies of its own paper at a knock-down rate, misleading readers and advertisers about the Journal's true circulation....The Journal's decision to secretly purchase its own papers began with an unusual scheme to boost circulation, known as the Future Leadership Institute. Starting in January 2008, the Journal linked up with European companies who sponsored seminars for university students who were likely to be future leaders. The Journal rewarded the sponsors by publishing their names in a special panel published in the paper. The sponsors paid for that publicity by buying copies of the Journal at a knock-down rate of no more than 5¢ each. Those papers were then distributed to university students. At the bottom line, the sponsors enjoyed a prestigious link to the Journal, and the Journal boosted its circulation figures.

Boosting circulation figures is standard practice in Australia--witness all the free Australian newspapers at airports and universities. Presumably these freebies are accepted as legitimate, rather than a circulation scam. Circulation equals revenue from ads.

However, the Murdochs know their voting strength makes it difficult for investors to unseat the family members or other directors who have close ties with them. The dual-class share structure of News Corp gives the Murdoch family almost 40% of the voting rights in the company despite owning only 12% of the equity.

In Australia News Ltd doesn't give the Coalition money to spend on political propaganda and then demand business favours in return, Murdoch's papers provide the political propaganda free of charge. No money changed hands. But the briber expects and will receive business favours--it's what has happened in the past--- and the bribed politicians get puff pieces. Even the ALP treads carefully---its media inquiry carefully avoids the issue of media ownership and so News Ltd dominance of the newspaper market.

Ownership matters given the media's relationship with democracy. The media matter because they are historically seen seen as a forum for democratic politics. Martin Wolfe of the Financial Times says:

Diverse media require diverse ownership. But economic forces may generate a degree of concentration incompatible with desirable diversity. Politicians will then find themselves grovelling before proprietors who control their communications with the public. At worst, the proprietor may so twist and distort this needed communication as to transform public life. I would argue that the Fox network’s rightwing populism has done just that in the US. This should not happen in the UK.

Nor Australia.

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October 15, 2011

The Canberra Press Gallery sucks

I've become utterly sick of the way that the Canberra Press Gallery comments on public policy. They basically have two issues--- the horse race and leadership tensions--and every policy issue is enframed within, and then reduced to, these issues. Only a few dig beneath the surface of the politics to inform us what is happening behind the wall of mirrors. Mostly the journalists rely on leaks.

This is especially the case when they-- ie., journalists talking to other journalists --- talk about the particular issue of the week ie., --carbon tax or asylum seekers. They very quickly move onto Gillard being destroyed, or Rudd making a comeback, or Abbott winning the next election in 2013. That's their core interest. They'll spin political rumours in the form of journalism to spice it up.

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They have no interest in the public policy issue per se---where have they informed us about the implications of the carbon price policies?. They also show little interest in changing their practices in the light of the limitations of their commentary and the criticisms of their understanding of politics.

What they offer us is boring---its pretty much realms of speculation about a Rudd comeback and what Rudd will do when he comes back. It's boring. Boring. Boring. It's even more boring than the embrace of the tedious "he said, she said” reporting around climate science.

After watching Chris Ulhmann interview Greg Combet on The 7.30 Report I came to the conclusion that Uhlmann knew very little of the policy, and that he wasn't interested. Time and time again he showed his ignorance:

CHRIS UHLMANN: If you genuinely believe that a market mechanism is in the end the best way to deal with this problem most cheaply, then why is there a $10 billion package at the heart of this which is about picking winners?

GREG COMBET: Well the market mechanism, which is an emissions trading scheme, will put a price for the first time on every tonne of pollution from the largest polluters in the country. That's a very powerful incentive to cut their pollution levels and to invest in more efficient technology and renewable energy. So that's the main institutional change that's occurring. You're pointing of course to the fact that the Government's also investing in $10 billion in a clean energy finance corporation, and this will be there to try and help bring private finance to technologies, renewable energy technologies, low emissions technologies to get them to the marketplace, because in many respects investors in the community are just like everyone else and they're not necessarily that familiar with some of these technologies and we want to facilitate getting them to market.

CHRIS UHLMANN: But certainly. But this is direct action. This is the stuff you ridicule.

GREG COMBET: No, this is not direct action at all. The Coalition's so-called direct action program is a subsidies-for-polluters program. This is an institution, a commercially oriented organisation that will make investments through providing loans or loan guarantees or equity investments to help get renewable and clean energy technologies to market.

CHRIS UHLMANN: But it's all government money and if - by definition, if something's commercially viable, then a private sector investor will invest in it. This is a government investment and you'll be picking winners.

GREG COMBET: Well, no, it'll be an independent corporation. We've announced today that Ms Jillian Broadbent will chairing the corporation, will be the inaugural chair. She's going to go around in coming months to develop an investment mandate. She's a very experienced person with Reserve Bank board experience. She will work ...

CHRIS UHLMANN: But 100 per cent of money will come from government, won't it?

GREG COMBET: No, in particular projects the idea here is for the finance corporation to step in where perhaps a technology's struggling to get to the marketplace - a proper evaluation will be done of its commerciality of course - but this can be a circuit-breaker to work with private finance from banks and the like to get a technology to the market.

Ulhmann, as the savvy insider, is either pretending ignorance for the sake of asking these low grade questions, or he hasn't bothered to do his research. If it's the latter, then he doesn't care, cos his central concern is to look savvy--- practical, hardheaded, unsentimental, and shrewd. Just like the party operatives and strategists he feels an affinity with.

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September 29, 2011

it's just bad journalism from News Ltd

News Ltd's response to the Federal Court judgement handed down in the Bolt case by Judge Mordecai Bromberg is predictable. Freedom of speech (of the media) is at stake here. It's a bad law. This is maintained even though the Racial Discrimination Act, has embedded in it a strong freedom-of-speech defence: insulting or humiliating people because of their race or colour is not unlawful when it is done "reasonably and in good faith" in pursuit of a matter of public interest.

Thus we have this kind of rhetoric from Chris Merritt, the Legal Affairs editor of The Australian, saying:

The court's "Bolt principle" will encourage Australians to see themselves as a nation of tribes - a collection of protected species who are too fragile to cope with robust public discourse....It will limit public debate on the issue of race and lead to public policy that will be dismissed by those whose views are not heard. It will encourage people to see themselves not as Australians but as separate racial groups. By thinking in such racist terms, they will have the advantage of a law that is ridiculously skewed in their favour.

The argument ignores what Bromberg said that the language utilised in the newspaper articles was inflammatory and provocative and that Bolt had got his facts wrong in that the individuals whom he wrote about had been raised with an Aboriginal identity and enculturated as Aboriginal people. Freedom of speech is not an absolute right.

News Ltd covers up the bad journalism by its columnists with its rhetoric about strong journalism causing offence whenever it exposes hypocrisy and Bolt providing the sort of robust exchange our society should expect and defend. This leads the Australian's editorial:

to the inescapable conclusion that the 1995 racial vilification amendments to the Racial Discrimination Act were a step too far for a liberal democracy. At a time when issues of immigration, racial preference and multiculturalism need to be debated in an open and mature manner, these laws have thrown a dangerous blanket over free speech.

The Labor Government is the problem because it is considering new privacy protections and is pressing ahead with a media inquiry, and this creates an ominous momentum against press liberty. An authoritarian state looms for News Ltd. James Paterson of the IPA agrees:
It is a risky step to grant government the power to decide what can be discussed and debated in a democracy. A free society is best preserved by allowing controversial opinions to flourish in an open debate. Social attitudes change over time, and what government may regard as heretical in one generation may be accepted wisdom in another. Prematurely outlawing discussion on a controversial topic is an attempt by government to freeze social attitudes in time by limiting debate.

This ignores the judgement that Bolt that its okay to interrogate notions of identity and culture but not to make stuff up, present it as fact (he said that Ms Berehndt had a white father, when instead he was, in fact, black) and then be rude about it. The judge found that Bolt's articles contained "erroneous facts, distortions of the truth and inflammatory and provocative language" and the removal of two blog posts and an apology will satisfy Justice Bromberg.

The inference is that journalists (especially those outraged partisans from News Ltd using the bully pulpit) pay a little more attention to getting the facts right and to take responsibility for what and how they write. They should not be deliberately inciteful and untruthful.

The News Ltd position ignores that the right to freedom of expression is limited to its reasonable and good faith exercise having regard to the right of others to be free of offence. The requirement of proportionality does not involve the subjugation of one right over the other and is consistent with achieving a balanced compromise between the two.

Bolt doesn't see it this way of course. He finishes his column thus:

Despite Justice Bromberg's assurances, I feel that writing frankly about multiculturalism, and especially Aboriginal identity, yesterday became too dangerous for any conservative. It's simply safer to stay silent, or write about fluffy puppies instead. And so the multiculturalists win. They win, because no one now dares object for fear of what it will cost them in court. Hope they're satisfied, to win a debate not by argument but fear.

He's lost his freedom. He's been silenced. The problem is that he doesn't address the bad journalism issues Judge Bromberg highlighted---apart from saying, "I also made mistakes, Justice Bromberg said, although none seemed to me to be of consequence." That's how he glosses the errors in fact, distortions of the truth and inflammatory and provocative language" that were deemed to be central to Bromberg's judgment. Bolt doesn't appear to realize that if the appellants had brought a claim against him for defamation, they would have won.

Journalism is subject to the rule of law, even bad, shoddy journalism.

Update
My suspicion is that the knee jerk reaction of many journalists is to side with News Ltd: Bromberg's judgement is an attack on the freedom of expression of the press. The press is going to bleat big time on this without much in the way of self-criticism of its practices of rushed, poorly-researched, partly-informed and partisan opinion commentary that is daily churned out by the Fourth Estate.

An example is Andrew Dodd's position that Bromberg's judgement "limits the kinds of things we can discuss in public and it suggests there are lots of taboo areas where only the meekest forms of reporting would be legally acceptable." It means that journalists cannot ventilate unpopular views openly and have a robust discussion about them.

Bromberg's judgment, an interpretation in law in relation to an act of parliament, is dismissed by Dodd as in the end being "just one person's view." Dodd doesn't appear to realize that Bromberg makes a judgment using the set of laws handed to him in accordance with the ethos of legal reasoning.

Update 2
The most considered response is that by Jonathon Holmes who says: that "... Justice Bromberg's interpretation of the Racial Discrimination Act, and his application of it to Bolt's columns, strikes me as profoundly disturbing." He says that "His Honour's claim that his judgment need not affect the media's freedom to publish reports and comments on racial identity is clearly absurd."

I find Holme's argument confusing. He provides no argument that Bromberg was wrong in his judgement. What he does have a problem with the Racial Discrimination Act (RDA) itself because "...it sets a disturbingly low bar. It's very easy to cause offence, and quite plainly Bolt's columns were likely to do so; and they were all about race, colour and ethnicity."

Holmes appears to have a problem with the addition of Part 2A of the Racial Discrimination Act in 1995 because:

It creates one particular area of public life where speech is regulated by tests that simply don't apply anywhere else, and in which judges - never, for all their pontifications, friends of free speech - get to do the regulating.

Holmes' core concern, therefore, is with the law, and he flags that he wants it to be different. It is not with Bromberg's interpretation of the Racial Discrimination Act. Presumably, his concern is with the he explicit intention of the Racial Discrimination Act, which was to, prohibit the deliberate and unjustified incitement of racial hatred. It specifically targeted speech.

Do judges regulate as Holmes' claims? Can Bromberg's judgment be interpreted as regulating? Holmes makes no argument for this. What Justice Blomberg is saying is that you can criticise or say anything you want about anyone you want, unless is it clearly malicious and hurtful in respect to race. That is prohibited under the Racial Discrimination Act. That illegality is what Holmes finds problematic. Yet all that Bolt is required to do is to publish a correction.

Holmes' solution? Move away from legislative controls over the media and freedom of expression to media self-regulation?

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September 15, 2011

a media inquiry

A media inquiry into the Australia media now going to take place. It is narrow in its focus as it is concerned with print media regulation, including online publications, and the operation of the Press Council. There is nothing explicit about the concentration of media ownership, but it could function to open issues up.

It is linked to ongoing Convergence Review that's been looking at those parts of the media which have always been regulated by the state - radio and television. How should the rules that used to apply to them be recast to be relevant in an era when all media are about to converge into the digital stream? Will the announced media inquiry be linked to issues around individual privacy, in the light of the Law Reform Commission reports and News International's phone hacking in the UK.

News Limited is the biggest player in the Australian media and any inquiry will touch on its business. It's reaction was predictable: --the inquiry is a threat to press freedom and free speech and it is driven by the Greens. Mark Day says:

The Gillard government's media inquiry is a sop to the Greens - a piece of window-dressing designed to demonstrate that it can be seen to be doing something...newspapers have been free of government controls for nigh on 400 years and represent a vital part of the democratic process.The terms of reference leave open the possibility of tighter codes of practice and new regulation.If the inquiry produces such recommendations the media industry will push back strongly, which is hardly what a government polling in the 20s a year out from an election is likely to want.

Therein lies the threat from News Ltd. It will to attack the Gillard Government with even more negative coverage if they dare to introduce even some modest regulatory reforms.

For News Ltd there is no issue here other than ensuring that self-regulation continues. Not even the crappy, journalism designed to misrepresent that is now normal. Or accountability of the media to the public. Or that the Press Council to be given more statutory teeth, that it requires non-media resources, that it needs to lift its game and that it should be broadened to cover all media.

The News Ltd's position is that free speech is reduced to press freedom and equated with no regulation. Surprisingly, many journalists and commentators concur. Michelle Grattan, for instance, finishes her column thus: "any move to regulate newspapers would be laced with more dangers than positives."

Grattan presents no argument to supported this claim, even though News Ltd newspapers daily breach their own Professional Conduct Policy. And yet she well knows that the press do not to present information to citizens without distortion, misrepresentation and deception on issues such as the Iraq war, climate change, the national broadband network, clean energy etc.

Journalist's are loathe to criticize the media for the deceptions practiced in the name of an enlightening media that professes to hold governments accountable to s ensure a better democracy.

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August 30, 2011

mapping today's journalism

As is well known politics as entertainment is the dominant model of the media's coverage of politics. in this model the Australian media reframes politics as entertainment, seizing on trivial episodes that amuse or titillate and then blowing them up until they start to seem important. The stories are semi-fictionalized to make them more entertaining. Thus we have Lindsay Tanner's conception of the media as a sideshow and manufactured controversies.

In an interview on Lateline last week Jay Rosen, who is to give a keynote speech in the Melbourne Writers Festival, made some acute observations about the current state of the media and political journalism. One observation is that political coverage is broken:

I think we've reached the point where politics as entertainment, the 24-hour news cycle, the fascination with media manipulation and spin doctors, the cult of the insider in political coverage - have gone on for so long they've all come together to the point where I think they're not only distorting politics, but they're actually beginning to substitute for it. This is the sense in which I think political coverage is broken...we have now ... a situation where journalism isn't just representing what political actors do, it is actually changing what they do. And there isn't really an exit from that system no matter what channel you're watching or what news source you're consulting.

The roots of this observation is this earlier interview on Lateline in which he raised the issue of the ABC's Insider's program promoting journalists as insiders in front of the outsiders, the viewers, the electorate…When journalists define politics as a game played by the insiders, their job description becomes: find out what the insiders are doing to “win.” Knowing who the winners are is being savvy and this comes from being more inside than others.

The journalist then claims that their political reporting is agenda-less because they are uninvolved, innocent, merely reporting without stake or interest in the matter at hand. Examples are He said, she said journalism and horse race journalism.

Rosen's argument is that the above three bad ideas--insiders, the ‘cult of saviness’, and innocence-- are constitutive of the identity as a journalist and have made political journalism less useful than it should be. The inference is that political media is dysfunctional and it seems to be getting worse. What is disappearing in practice is the model of the media doing its job if it is providing citizens with the information they need to be more active and full participants in their own system of government.

Consequently, the needs of the democratic citizenry are not being met. An example.. Climate change is real, and anyone who denies it is a liar or wrong - but journalists don't call them on it. The journalist merely reports that x denies climate-change even though they understand that this a political game being played.

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August 3, 2011

The Australian writes crap

This is what passes for political journalism in Australia. Nikki Savva uses a chat involving an unknown senior Labor Cabinet minister with an acquaintance to further News Ltd's campaign against the Gillard Government. How does Savva know what was said in this private conversation?

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Her "argument" is constructed thus. The prominent member of a government (no not Martin Ferguson, so guess who) is a secret climate change denier, who says that carbon tax is destroying the Gillard Government; and that the media bias campaign being waged by the government, principally against News Limited, is a diversion. Although he (not she, so guess who) did not canvass Julia Gillard's removal in the conversation Savva is no doubt what the signs all mean.

Savva decodes this private conversation thus: the dogs are barking, the cocks are crowing and the galahs are talking. She neglected to mention the frogs. Clearly, all this chatter means that Gillard is in trouble, Labor's despair is now in depression mode, the factional knives are out and it's only a question of time before Gillard is cut down by the faceless factional bosses who have always ruled the ALP. Gavva would know. She has the inside info on what is really happening in politics.

There we have the classic example of the policy free commentary of the Canberra Gallery on display built on one anonymous cabinet minister recently revealing his desolation in a conversation with an acquaintance where he supposedly confessed political life had become near intolerable. How did Gavva know? Maybe she was a fly on the wall? Seduced the acquaintance to tell all? Used a private detective to hack into the phones?

There is no mention in the column of the NBN, health reform, carbon tax , MRRT the Malaysian deal on refugees; let alone the implications of the shift to a digital economy that is taking place all around us.

This kind of "journalism" is what gives journalist such a bad name--it's just toeing a political line of News Ltd 's agenda without "telling all sides of the story in any kind of dispute." This partisan political commentary in the guise of journalism has nothing to do with truth, accountability or public interest. The distrust of Canberra Press Gallery arises because much of their "journalism" is little more than rampantly partisan news commentary churned out by ideological warriors.

That's Murdoch's way. The hacks do as they are told. If not they are out.

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August 1, 2011

defending the need for a media inquiry

In More Regulation Won't Fix The Media at New Matilda Michael Davis argues against media regulation--- that is, regulation of journalistic ethics to ensure a greater right to privacy, or for tighter control of newspaper ownership-- to ensure greater diversity.

He joins a number of others, mostly journalists in Australia, who oppose a media inquiry, greater regulation and reducing the concentration of ownership in the media in the name of freedom of expression and the mass media effectively holding modern politicians to account.

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Davis questions the standard argument which he attributes to Wendy Bacon; namely, that a robust democracy requires diversity of ownership to minimise the risk of biased news reporting — and if this diversity cannot be achieved through a free market it should be imposed through legislation. He does so from the perspective of the market and avoids the right to privacy arguments.

Davis' argument is two fold. First:

it is a time of change in the media — and also one of great promise. Those calling for media control should look forward to the digital future not to the moribund state of newspapers. The last thing we need right now is government overview of online media, the effect of which would be to reduce, rather than increase, market dynamism and diversity by imposing regulatory barriers to entry or worse, control of content production.

This is jumping the gun. What is being called for is a media inquiry not the imposition of regulatory barriers to entry or control of content production. Who is calling for that in Australia? I can only think of the Australian Christian Lobby's censorship campaign.

Davis' second argument addresses the assumption of a connection between ownership and editorial direction. This refers to the claim that Rupert Murdoch is a right-wing ideologue intent on destroying welfare states, cutting taxes for the rich and launching neocolonial wars. This assumption Davis says is by no means obvious because there is a diversity of opinion within the Murdoch press (plus reader demographics and editorial styles) and that News Corporation, like companies in other industries, is more likely to be driven by commerce than politics.

Even if the the editorial line of any given paper is a creative fiction aimed at building a saleable identity, there is the anti-Labor anti-Green campaign being openly conducted by News Ltd and it is premised on regime change. The political agenda gives rise to bad journalism that has more to do with mass deception than speaking truth to power. This erodes the idea of News Ltd's news outlets as agents of truthfulness or honest political analysis. So what is wrong with a media inquiry to find ways to making journalists accountable to the public for their lies, half truths and deception, given that deception is a customary practice in Australian UK journalism?

Davis does acknowledge that we should be less concerned with political ideology the more concerned with insidious problem of a too-cosy relationship between government and media resulting in an unwillingness to hold government to account. A core issue is the existence of a political class---the power nexus between media, politicians and police--that is being uncovered in the UK as a result of the News of the World phone hacking scandal; and how this power nexus warps and corrupts the institutions of liberal democracy.

Though Davis raises the power issue he does not link it to the call for a media inquiry. If News Ltd is is too powerful, then much of his power derives from the Faustian bargain struck by modern politicians with the modern media. It is less corruption and more political class---backscratching, the cover ups, the instinctive regard for one another’s interest amongst press, police and politicians--that is integral to a whole system of rule.

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July 24, 2011

News Ltd: a bully boy culture

The corporate culture of News Corp is aggressive in furthering its own commercial interests and intimidatory towards its critics. An example from News International in the UK. An example from News Ltd in Australia.

Business as usual for News Corp means media dominance and a pattern of naked threats, bullying and intimidation to competitors, politicians, critics and staff.

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This is a long way from the fiction that Murdoch's tabloids are essential watchdogs that act on behalf of the working class.

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July 20, 2011

blocking a media inquiry

Events have moved swiftly for News Corp. In a little over two weeks, News Corp has closed News of the World and shelved its $US12 billion ($A11.3 billion) takeover bid for British Sky Broadcasting. The company has come under sustained criticism from both sides of British politics. In the US, it is under investigation by the FBI on speculative allegations that newspaper reporters have targeted victims of the September 11 attacks. New Corp's shares have fallen more than 16 per cent since the scandal broke this month.

The irony is that Murdoch's papers have always feasted on scandals like this, picking over the bones of their victims. Now the Murdoch’s are the ones whose bones are being picked. Murdoch deserves his humiliation given the way he has treated others, exploiting fear and engaged in a “flourishing criminal conspiracy”.

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Murdoch remains the most powerful media baron in Australia--- he has 70 per cent of the newspaper readership, plus operational control of monopoly pay TV provider Foxtel. News Ltd uses its corporate muscle for political and commercial advantage and to pursue its political agendas (NBN, carbon, mining tax, Iraq War, regime change etc) aggressively. Economic power is political power.

The standard defence of News Ltd in Australia takes the form of opposing any media inquiry on the grounds that News Ltd is entitled to its media bias because of the freedom of the press. Any attempt to regulate bias represents a stifling of critical comment and extensive scrutiny.

The inference. A media inquiry is an elitist attack on democracy and populism because it is designed to stifle Murdoch's populist challenge to the smug group-think of the anti-democratic Left.

The problem with this defence is that it ignores the extent of media concentration in Australia, which is the real issue; not political bias against the New Class, even if it is offering political propaganda services, disguised thinly as journalism. There are liberal and conservative media outlets and the right to build a noxious empire like Newscorp is an indispensable consequence of freedom of speech. The price that is paid is Murdoch's power being used to shape and empower the culture of tabloid journalism--- venal, voyeuristic, reality-show-obsessed premised on untruths, mass deceptions and blurring the lines between news and entertainment. Murdoch's corporate culture is one of bullying, conformity, manipulation and toadyism.

However the freedom of the press defence is an evasion, because it separates content from structure. Something does need to be done about that 70% print media concentration in Australia. What is of deep concern is the very fusion of politicians, journalists and media owners that govern us - the political class. The collaboration between the executive (ministers) unelected advisors, civil servants and privately owned media at the centre of the state is what needs to be prised open. Too often the political class work together in pursuit of the creation of public consent to policies which benefit them but are against the public interest.

Murdoch's standard business practice is to run roughshod over cross-ownership rules meant to prevent one man or company from having too much power — and then used his lobbying might to get those rules diluted. The Labor and Liberal parties in Australia allowed it to happen--ie, Murdoch fixing deals with government, permitting him a market advantage. As Anthony Barnett says at Open Democracy:

This was the malevolent dishonesty at the heart of Murdochism. He was a close ally of state power who advocated hostility towards it. Worse, he was an ally of the most baleful and threatening aspects of state power, its police and security and the database state, while he attacked its best aspects, regulation, welfare, investment in and defence of the public interest.

Though Murdoch is still a traditional press baron in Australia (unlike the US) his long term strategy is to increase his television interests via Foxtel. He requires considerable influence over the political elite that ultimately takes the decision to grant or withhold licences and concessions in order to do this. The loss making Australian is sustained because it is read by everyone 'whose opinion matters'.--ie., the political class (the fusion of politicians, journalists and media owners).

The hostility to a media inquiry can be seen as the political class not wanting a deep seated inquiry into itself. They are going to defend the integration of media and politics. Their politics consists of an economic agenda based on ‘opening up’ media markets, growth, innovation and promoting ‘light-touch’ regulation. It assumes that deregulation is the sole, or even preferred, route to ensuring growth and innovation whilst avoiding the fusion between politicians and the media.

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July 19, 2011

the hacks defend the Murdochs

Here we have an editorial in the Wall Street Journal in the US defending Murdoch re the phone hacking scandal in the UK, which News International tried to contain. This crisis, which raises fundamental questions about the culture of collusion between politicians, the police and the press and reveals a deep malaise in British life about those opposed to democracy, is dismissed by the WST editorial as the political mob wanting to regulate how journalists gather the news.

In Australia, News Ltd is also wheeling out a defence of the News of the World's behaviour with Brendan O'Neill's Elite few spearhead the anti-Murdoch campaign over phone-hacking scandal in todays Australian.

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It's a pathetic defence as it doesn't address the issue of the unaccountability of the trashy hack journalism practiced by some of the Murdoch tabloid titles or some of their journalists breaking the law:

what we are witnessing in Britain is a media coup led by a tiny gaggle of illiberal liberals...These self-interested crusaders may pose as warriors against alleged criminality in the tabloid press, but their true target is the culture of the tabloid press, the age-old arts of muckraking and sabre-rattling, which they consider vulgar and offensive. Under the guise of ending illegal phone-hacking, they're really pursuing a culture war against what they view as the ugly, mass, populist media.

O'Neil, who is the editor of Spiked, says it's some celebs and politicians getting revenge on Murdoch and this intolerant cultural tide will result in the end of press freedom. There is no mention of the Murdoch's running something close to a protection racket in the UK.

ONeil's defence of Murdoch is a both a de facto defence of News Ltd having 70 per cent Australian newspaper market share and Murdoch's tabloids being above the law. Its a defence of the abuse of press freedom. It is corporate power posing as a defence of press freedom.

This is corporate power whose business as usual practices to make profits includes criminal acts by journalists and editors; interception of communications; payments to policemen; theft of medical data; hacking; illegal copying; maybe lying in court and parliament; theft and intimidation and threat.

Murdoch has too much power in Australia. Thomas Clarke says that Australia’s cross-media ownership regulation simply is not working to achieve the principles of media access, freedom and diversity that it is supposed to protect.

We need media reform in Australia, yet the best that Paul Keating could do on Lateline was call for tougher privacy laws and confirm the blindingly obvious that News Ltd was currently at war with the Gillard Government. Yet there is the News Corp managed Foxtel endeavouring to take over Austar for $2.7 billion thereby creating an Australian pay-TV monopoly---the ACCC is currently looking over the takeover.

What's more News Ltd ought to be broken up. Or the newspapers sold off. It is too dominant. The real battle that Murdoch must win is in the USA and News Corp may sell of the newspapers in the US and Australia to protect the centre of the Murdoch empire in the US.

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July 16, 2011

News International: a trainwreck

Rupert Murdoch has been insisting that News International had made only "minor mistakes" in handling the phone hacking crisis, that the company has handled the crisis "extremely well in every possible way ", and that the MP's in the British Parliament were telling total lies with their allegations of corrupt practices at his newspapers in the UK.

Who believes Murdoch these days? He's endeavouring to contain the story. However, his senior executives are either resigning or are being ditched in order to save News Corp from the fallout. In the US the FBI has launched an investigation into accusations that News of the World journalists asked a former New York police officer for the phone records of relatives of 9/11 victims.

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News International have handled the crisis, now swirling around the feet of News Corp, badly; and in not taking it seriously, their systematic lies have failed to limit the fallout from the corruption and criminal activity. This is an organisation that has now been found working with known criminals, bribing police, carrying out “industrial scale” criminal activity, and making payments to silence the victims. Contrition is now the order of the day in order to get a grip on a crisis.

As a consequence, the realities of a captured state and a crumbling democratic facade are being exposed. The situation is less a ‘regulatory capture’ and more a state capture. Murdoch wielded raw power and the political class of Britain bowed to it and then went down on its knees. They were then routinely humiliated by the bully boys and girls nurtured in the corporate culture of News International.

Will Murdoch be able to rebuild his power as the banks did after the global financial crisis?

In Australia the media and the carbon tax have become intertwined because the way the right wing media--News Ltd's newspapers and the radio shock jocks--- have been dishonest and engaged in fearmongering over the carbon tax. The spotlight needs to be placed on the media's role in the carbon tax debate and it needs to be made to be accountable for the mass deceptions it routinely practices.

The trainwreck of News International is an opportunity to reconsider the structure and regulation of the media in Australia since the degree of concentration of the print media in Australia by News Ltd is too high. It is necessary to design a structure of regulation of the media market that preserves freedom for the media, while curbing abuse, including the concentrations of unaccountable power.

News Ltd will continue to resist the push for greater accountability by thundering on about a free press being one of the pillars of the west; and that it is best to leave the question of ownership to the market and that of content to the rights of expression, subject only to the law on libel and on the intrusion into private life. The press must be free and the the role of the state should be very narrowly circumscribed.

News Ltd wants the freedom to use its power to intimidate, abuse and humiliate without any checks and balances on its power.

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July 14, 2011

Murdoch's retreat

Rupert Murdoch has given up his bid for BSkyB in the face of bi partisan opposition from the British Parliament. The British political establishment is confronting its historical dread of Rupert Murdoch as his journalists, editors and executives now stand accused of widespread breaches of criminal law.

Scotland Yard have been exposed as engaging in forelock-tugging acceptance of anything News International told them whilst some of its members have been on the payroll of News International. There is to be a full investigation into the illegal conduct of the press and police, including the failure of the first police investigation into allegations of hacking.

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The first part of the inquiry will cover the "culture, practices and ethics of the press" generally and Cameron wants it to report within a year. It will have the power to summon witnesses, and Cameron said that he expected politicians and newspaper proprietors to be called to give evidence.

The second part will cover phone hacking and the bribery of police at News International and other news organisations, and the terms of reference say it will specifically look at "corporate governance and management failures at News International". The implications of this are quite profound. British newspapers have traditionally been resistant to having their working practices scrutinised by outsiders, but now they are going to be exposed to a Hutton-style inquiry.

Murdoch's retreat means that News Corp only has a series of print assets in the UK that are facing declining circulation and revenue. Some including The Times and Times on Sunday are loss making. Owning the whole of BSkyB would also have given Murdoch the opportunity to bundle satellite services with his newspapers services in a way which would have strengthened the position of the News International titles.

News Corporation is not selling its existing stake in BSkyB and there is nothing to stop Murdoch launching a fresh point at some point in the future. Will Murdoch's retreat from the UK include selling his British newspapers? That would make News Corp primarily a US company.

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July 12, 2011

UK: corruption in public life

The unfolding consequences of News International's abuse of power keeps getting worse. Royal protection officers suborned! Gordon Brown's bank details and son's medical records allegedly blagged! Scandal spreads to the Sunday Times! News International is fighting a desperate battle as one by one another body is thrown to the pursuing wolves and hungry beasts.

The crisis in Britain---what is being uncovered is the systemic corruption between media, the political class and the police in British public life---is now damaging the wider Murdoch empire. Melanie Phillips is just not happy about some of the celebrity critics of this corruption.

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News Corp's current defence strategy is to say that it was very, very happy to have the BSkyB deal referred to the Competition Commission in order to keep the bid alive. The Cameron Government, which had done everything in its power to avoid the referral, said it would do so. Nick Clegg, the deputy prime Minister and leader of the Liberal Democrats, is urging News Corporation to drop its bid for BSkyB altogether. Labour calls for Murdoch to drop his bid for 100% of BSkyB.

The media does appear as the least accountable and most corrupt profession in the UK. In Australia journalists profess to hold commercial and political power to account, but the journalists, especially those who work for the concentrated power of News Ltd in the mediascape, are actually employed as the enforcers of corporate power. Their conservative commentary denounces those people who criticise the interests of corporate power, stamping on new ideas and bullying the powerless. Who would expose News Ltd if one of it's tabloid newspapers did engage in phone hacking in Australia?

Janet Daley in the Telegraph begins to lift the covers on the relationship between the media and politicians, and the way that politics works as a club in the UK.

The truth is that for all its adversarial and investigatory strengths – which are considerable – British political journalism is basically a club to which politicians and journalists both belong. There is a degree of cosy camaraderie between the press and the governing class in this country... It is considered part of my job to take politicians to lunch regularly, and to cultivate them in a way that encourages confidences – just as fraternisation with the media is regarded as an essential aspect of any ambitious politician’s game plan...

Like so many spheres of life in this country – the art world, certain areas of academia and the higher reaches of the legal profession are examples that spring to mind – it is almost impossible to survive in political journalism as an outsider. Which is not to say (as is sometimes thought) that you actually have to have been to school or university with the people you are trying to engage – although that can help – but that you must adopt the manners which prevail in any club: the coded vocabulary, the discreet understandings, the accepted attitudes.

When politics is run as a club, it is so much easier for them to escape challenge or genuine scrutiny of the kind that comes with critical distance: from the outsider’s eye and the voice that can speak without fear of being excluded. Daley adds:
It is this familiarity, this intimacy, this set of shared assumptions … which is the real corruptor of political life. The self-limiting spectrum of what can and cannot be said … the self-reinforcing cowardice which takes for granted that certain vested interests are too powerful to be worth confronting. All of these things are constant dangers in the political life of any democracy.

British journalism as a trade is at the crossroads. Will it be replaced by PR companies?

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July 7, 2011

Murdoch's ideology

The News of the World phone hacking scandal is being interpreted as one of the great scandals in modern British media history. It is scandal involving criminality, incompetence, misjudgment , deception and depravity coupled to systematic blustering denial and ruthless attack. That's the Murdoch way.

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This raises questions about the role of the Murdoch media in a liberal democracy beyond that of the yellow of the British tabloid press given its media dominance, commercial and political power. As is well known, News Ltd uses its media power in the UK, the USA and Australia to defend, protect and fight for, and advance the conservative side of politics. It is unquestioningly accepted that a condition of success in British politics is to cosy up to and then please the world's most powerful media empire.

The politics of Murdoch's media is usually done in a black and white way that reduces political issues to a cartoon level, and in this the broadsheet, such as The Australian, is basically no different to the tabloids in Sydney and Melbourne.

Consider this commentary by Bernard Salt the demographer on the negativism around the issue of economic growth and development. Salt, who is well known for his articles in The Australian defending ‘Big Australia’, says:

All too often it seems that any form of urban growth is to be objected to or blocked, as is any form of property development. The reason being that to allow either is now popularly viewed as being tantamount to defiling the planet...And not only that, but the role and motive of property developers, let alone of a "shyster adviser" to the property industry, can only be to line their own pockets....It is therefore up to the citizenry, organised by often politically motivated propagandists, to block, stymie, and/or divert any form of property development. Don't you people get it? No development. At all. Anywhere. That's the only way we can avert environmental calamity and put the self-interested developers back in their box.

Salt stands for fact, reason and logic coupled to processes of the modern planning system against this irrationality of the anti-growth forces and the way that they use unfair and unreasonable tactics to block and stymie development projects.

Although there is anti-growth narrative--eg., the traditional anti-immigration, anti-globalization, and anti-growth greens who articulate a neo-Malthusianism-- that is not where the debates are about urban development. These are centred around placing limits to suburban development, infilling the older suburbs around public transport and restoring vibrancy and people to the inner city. The issues is how can development ensure the sustainability and liveability.b

What underpins Salt's ideology and that of the Australian and Murdoch is the Julian Simon/Matt Ridley techno-economic optimism + free markets that sees no limits to economic growth. This is a reduction of development, which involves sustainability and liveability (of the urban form), to economic growth or increased GDP. For the latter markets and technological innovation---without wise government bureaucrats guiding technological innovation---create prosperity.

Except that The Australian is opposed to technological innovation in renewable energy and opposed to using the market to address greenhouse gas emissions through an emissions trading scheme.

Update
The arrogant bully boy corporate culture of News Corp, with its tendency to deny and lie about the criminality, corruption, moral wrongness and civil liability of its journalistic practices at the News of the World would suggest that the overseas broadcasting contract should not be granted to Sky TV, which is run by and one-third owned by Murdoch interests. The part-Murdoch-owned Sky is trying to wrest the contract to run the Australia Network from the ABC.

It would be a great image for Australia if Murdoch gained the contract to run the Australia Network. This is a corporate culture that has been found to be characterized by criminality, incompetence, misjudgement and deception. There ought to be a ''fit and proper person'' test included in the Australia Network tender.

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July 6, 2011

Murdoch's way

In Australia News Ltd is saying naught about the phone hacking scandal in the UK by New's International tabloid now toxic News of the World, the so called working mans paper. Even The Australian, which is so quick to point the figure for wrong doing by others, is silent.

This suggests that they think that a few celebrities and politicians who had their voicemails accessed by journalists was of little significance in the great scheme of things, even though it is actually a central story about the power and dominance of the media in liberal democracy. It has almost everything — royalty, police corruption, Downing Street complicity, celebrities by the cartload, Fleet Street at its most evil and disgusting.

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The denial dam, which had been so carefully built by News International around the scandal caused by grub street's idea of "investigative journalism", has finally burst.

There is to be an emergency debate in the House of Commons, Labour is calling for Rebekah Brooks, the ex-News of the World editor to resign, advertisers are starting to pull their advertising, many are saying that an independent public inquiry into the whole affair is what is needed, whilst the credibility of the Press Complaints Commission is in tatters.

Murdoch's way is systematic deception and bully boy tactics on behalf of conservative politics. News International's style of news is to advance the specific interests of News Corp., not to inform citizens about public issues so they can make considered judgements. News International looks increasingly tarnished.

Murdoch will be forced to act shore up its defences and protect its key personnel to prevent the rest of the sprawling Murdoch media empire from becoming contaminated. What we have seen so far from Murdoch and his top executives is lies, obfuscation, pushback, bluster, dissembling, and generally the unedifying spectacle of extremely rich and powerful people doing their very best to never be called to account.

Will Murdoch be held accountable in the UK for decades of ethical bankruptcy, including not mere wiretapping and bribery, but three political generations of influence-peddling and who knows what else?

Update
The phone-hacking scandal at the News of the World continues to unfold as more out of control phone hacking is being revealed. At the centre of the storm is Rebekah Brooks, chief executive of News International, who was editor of the News of the World in 2002. News of the World is a newspaper that is still profitable and still selling north of 2.6m copies an issue.

The phone-hacking scandal and News International's attempts at covering up the way it routinely dug the dirt on people highlights how the police were dishonest and evasive; the press regulator was feeble and incompetent; Parliament was, ineffective, if not intimidated, and the fourth estate, apart from The Guardian, turned a blind eye. The series of checks and balances to prevent high-level corruption failed. A dominant global media empire was able to ride roughshod over the law and to become a power unto itself.

A proper, independent public inquiry into the phone hacking is what is needed in order to drag out a lot of hidden truths and make a lot of otherwise unaccountable people accountable. Murdoch, of course, is going to continue to use his power, influence and money to close down the affair. It has been making false statements, threatening critics, paying hush money to silence people it had wronged, and preventing embarrassing information entering the public domain.

Update 2
The Murdoch's protect themselves and their media empire by closing down the News of the World. It had screwed itself. It assumed that the media should not be answerable to law and regulation and it was an example of how bad the British media is. The brand has been trashed. It was toast.

Murdoch closed the title to ensure his £8bn bid to take full control of BSkyB goes through-- ie., the culture secretary, Jeremy Hunt, would deliver BSkyB into News Corp's hands. Murdoch is cutting his losses to increase his gains. It's the old story of Tory collusion and another example of how those in power have been courted and captured by the Murdoch's. The political pressure will be on to ensure that Murdoch full takeover of BSkyB is frozen, pending full judicial investigation of the hacking saga and until a proper inquiry into press law, ethics and enforcement has been conducted. Will that happen?

News of the World, with its formula of crime, sex and sensation, was his entry into, and the building block for his UK newspaper empire. This would in turn finance the expansion of News Corp into a global media conglomerate. A British institution--its launch was in 1843 and it made the switch to a sleazy tabloid in 1984 because sales were falling away--- has been consigned to the dustbin of media history.

Rebekah Brooks, the former News of the World editor and chief executive of News International stays as a firewall to protect James Murdoch. If she goes the spotlight will fall on to James Murdoch. It appears that the paper will be replaced by a Sunday edition of The Sun, which could be produced by staff at the daily. The $70bn (or so) BSkyB acquisition is the centre of his empire when the newspaper business finally withers and dies.

In a digital future there are great advantages to having one brand rather than two, especially when one has turned toxic through the use of illegal journalistic techniques.

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June 29, 2011

mass deception

One of the big deceptions currently circulating through the mainstream media is that the ongoing rise in the electricity prices is linked to a carbon tax. Prices are rising at a rapid rate, there are more increases in the pipeline (electricity prices are predicted to increase by at least 100% from 2008 levels by 2015), and the carbon tax will keep on being increased.

The inference is that the carbon tax is the reason for the increases in electricity prices even though the carbon tax is non-existent and the main cause of the price rises is a massive surge in electricity network investment. Others say that it is due to solar power (feed-in-tariffs) and the Federal government’s Renewable Energy Target (RET). Therein lies the mass deception of the public.

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The grid of the national electricity market is being renovated and extended in order to increase the supply to meet the projected increase in consumer demand for electricity--"keeping the lights on." Peak demand is growing faster than baseload demand, and that is largely driven by increased purchases of airconditioners.

The public policy emphasis is on increasing supply---including goldplating (overinvestment in infrastructure by electricity network companies) --not on reducing demand by making our homes and building more energy-efficient and so reducing peak demand. More money is being spent on poles, wires and substations and not enough on demand-side initiatives like demand management and energy efficiency in homes and offices.

The regulatory structure of the National Energy market discourages cheaper and more reliable demand-side solutions like demand management and energy efficiency, while rewarding supply-side solutions like network augmentation and centralised supply.

Even though Australia's electricity system is the main cause of our excessive greenhouse emissions but there is no consideration of this, or the cost of greenhouse emissions to the economy, in the design of the market. Simply put the rules of the National Electricity Market (NEM) are inappropriately focused on the supply of coal-fired electricity at the expense of energy savings and renewable energy technologies.

The National Electricity Market Objective is set out in Schedule 7 of the National Electricity market law, and it states that the objective of this Law is to promote efficient investment in, and efficient operation and use of, electricity services for the long-term interests of consumers of electricity with respect to:

(a) price, quality, safety, reliability and security of supply of electricity; and
(b) the reliability, safety and security of the national electricity system.

the components of the objective are fundamentally about the supply of electricity itself, irrespective of other consequential impacts associated with the electricity market, such as emissions of pollutants, or any legal rights to levels of service; or the de-carbonisation of the electricity sector.

One of the major obstacles to energy reform continues to be a culture which favours traditional 'build' engineering solutions and which pays little more than lip service to alternative options and the lack of an environmental objective for the NEM. So we have market failure. Hence the need for a sufficient carbon price signal.

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June 24, 2011

The Canberra Press Gallery: one year on

The Canberra Press Gallery have been obsessed with the anniversary of Julie Gillard becoming PM through Kevin Rudd being dumped. The screeds of commentary involves the talking heads looking back to the knifing of Rudd, and looking forward to the ongoing leadership tensions between Rudd and Gillard.

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In their focus on politics as personalities they make a judgment that the Gillard Government has achieved nothing after being a year in power, and that 'tear down' Tony Abbott 's negative campaign of no no no to everything plus stunts has been an astounding success. The Gillard Government is on the ropes because of Abbott's biffo; it is weak; and it is weak because it is a minority government. End of the story.

However, the Canberra Press Gallery is so caught up in their conception of politics as the clash of personalities that they are blind to their failure to realize where they are wrong with their judgement that the Gillard Government talks reform but achieves little.

The agreement with Telstra over the national broadband network is a watershed one not a sideshow. It corrects the failure of 20 years of policy to structurally separate Telstra (eg., its ownership of the copper wire network on which it and its telco competitors competed) and to provide substantive competition in the telecommunications market. Telstra will buy space on the wholesale NBN monopoly network, just as its competitors do.

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Not only is this agreement of historic importance the NBN is the biggest infrastructure project that Australia has seen; and one that is designed to transform Australia.

At one level this failure to acknowledge the reform is derived from a hostility to the NBN. Thus Jennifer Hewitt in her Striking up Broadband in The Australian has little positive to say about the NBN. We don't need it; its uncompetitive; its too expensive; its picking technological winners and its a toll road. The conclusion is that there is no need for it since this government-owned monopoly will never be a structure associated with innovation, flexibility or efficiency.

Hewitt's core argument is that there is a more efficient, less costly way of producing similar results, which contradicts her central argument that the possible new services such as e-education don't deliver much in terms of basic knowledge; and that households will only use the faster speeds for downloading of high-definition movies or computer games and YouTube videos.

At a deeper level the media caught up in Canberra sideshow doesn't understand the policy--there are no opinion pieces in the Fairfax Press's National Times and those that have been written are in the business pages. They are about the business deal and how successful Telstra was.

Secondly, the media lacks the knowledge to comprehend what a shift to a digital economy actually means beyond sending emails or using Skype. Nor have they shown any interest in gaining that knowledge. Their assumption is that we are passive consumers of “stuff on the internet” that other people make--eg., Hewitt's households downloading of high-definition movies or computer games and YouTube videos---rather than a digital economy being one in which everyone is as much a producer as a consumer.

It appears to be very difficult for the Canberra Press Gallery to understand what is meant by “upload speed” compared to “download speed”. As far as most are concerned, it’s ALL download, like a TV receiving TV shows, in which us consumers receive the fabulous insights op-eds of the Canberra Press Gallery.

Update
Annabel Crabb in her Sorting the myth from the chaff on this silly Sackiversary at The Drum acknowledges that the Australian political debate has become almost entirely disengaged from the two chambers that are supposed to be its home. She adds:

The perception of an anxious, uncertain Prime Minister - shadowed perpetually by the man she deposed a year ago - now dogs everything the Government does..Even a Budget that waltzes through the parliament and a previously unimaginable agreement on the NBN that is signed with Telstra does not ease it.And of course, before you all remind me: Yes, the media has a massive role in all of this. Lindsay Tanner's argument that conflict always wins higher page placement than consensus is quite correct.

A glimmer of insight and self-reflection from the Canberra Press Gallery! But it is limited, as Crabb goes on to say as ye sow, so shall ye reap.
And one of the reasons that Julia Gillard cannot escape the pestilence of intrigue and instability that envelopes her is the brute truth of what she and her colleagues did one year ago. The unease at the core of the government is no media invention; anyone with a pair of eyes can spot it. Short-term measures, like the sudden disposal of a leader, carry long-term consequences; perpetual lack of peace is one of them.

Sure the assassination of Rudd is one of the reasons for federal Labor being seen negatively. What are the others? If one of them is the role of the media, then how is the media doing this?

The Canberra Gallery remains in its comfort zone --the politics of personality.

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June 23, 2011

newspapers: decline and influence

Roy Greenslade has a good summary of the commercial woes that the newspaper industry is confronting at present due to the emergence of the internet. Given this decline we can ask does this mean that they will lose their political influence? The mainstream media certainly have lost their credibility amongst the digital publics.

On the print media's commercial woes Greenslade says:

Amid the worst economic downturn in recent history, advertising revenue is drying up. Classified advertising, once the bedrock for local weeklies, has largely migrated to internet sites that provide a free service...Meanwhile, the slow, relentless decline in circulations continues quarter upon quarter. That has had two effects: it has reduced income and it has decreased the likelihood of attracting advertisers or, at least, any that are willing to pay anything but a heavily discounted price for space.e result has been a whole range of cutbacks by companies desperate to save themselves from ruin in the hope of an eventual change of economic fortunes. Company pensions have all but vanished. Staffing has been pared back. Outsourcing has become familiar. Small offices are being closed in favour of larger, centralised "hubs".

As we have seen in a previous post The Guardian's response to this state of affairs has been to take the digital option. That major transformation involves building an audience and a secure advertising base, and it means developing skills in digital development as opposed to journalism.

The media constitute an important power in their own right and they are also intimately connected to other kinds of power, whether political, economic or social and in a liberal democracy the ability to shape public opinion is fundamental to power.

On the political influence of the media Greenslade says:

The material that appears most often in the main current affairs programmes on TV and radio, plus radio phone-in shows, is almost always based on follow-ups to stories in the national press. In such a way, papers still command the nation's central political narrative.This activity is hugely influential in the periods between elections, and much more important than the immediate pre-election calls for people to vote one way or another.The newspapers' daily drip-drip-drip of stories and commentaries - whether positive or negative - do influence the electorate, including those people who never read the papers. The repetition, and the influence over other media, are the key to creating a broad consensus.

If the slant of a newspaper comes from its audience (eg., The Australian is situated in the right of the centre in the marketplace) and it is the TV platform for news delivery which consumers now rely on most, then how much TV news is influenced by the national newspapers? Do they do what Greenslade says follow the agenda of The Australian?

A starting point here is that what we have are the talking heads on the various programs of the 24-hour news channels. As Malcolm Farnsworth points out in this media world the same faces dominate and their opinions are duplicated within and beyond their networks and organisations:

Whereas subscription television and new digital channels could be providing great diversity of programming, for the most part we get cheaply produced and predictable panel discussions with a movable but narrow cast of characters. Instead of providing platforms for divergent views and new voices, we mainly get journalists talking to journalists, lobbyists and pollsters touting their wares, and formats designed to encourage politicians to shout at each other...this week's nonsense coverage of The Anniversary serves to highlight how the plethora of programs devoted to news and politics generally remain stuck in a stultifyingly narrow frame of mind, dedicated more to covering politics as entertainment, eschewing depth for the day-to-day Punch and Judy show.

It is a very insular world--one big feedback loop in which the politicians and the media essentially fed mythology to themselves and to each other. The content inside the feedback loop has very little connection to thge everyday world in which citizens live.

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June 17, 2011

newspapers: a digital future?

Are newspapers on some journey to a digital future? Some say that the future doesn’t have room for paper or print -based newspapers at all.

It is the case that the older "mass print media" are losing ground in a marketplace fragmented by the multiplication of pay television channels and Web sites. Budgets are squeezed by the industry recession and by short term profit-taking pressure from investors; papers are losing vital classified ad revenue to online operations; and the decades-long slow constriction of circulation threatens to close the arteries unless newspapers can somehow snag the next generation of readers.

Rupert Murdoch reckons that newspapers will evolve onto a mobile, electronic platform that updates every hour or two and that consumers will pay for most online news content in future. It just seems inevitable that someday digital delivery of in-depth, personalized information -- including text, audio and video -- to electronic devices will supplant the trucking of heavy physical loads door-to-door.

That would mean stop listening to print people and putting the digital people in charge – of everything. Is that actually happening in the industry?

The Guardian has outlined a different media strategy to Murdoch's paywall approach to ensure the prestige, political influence and getting their own views across to the public.

The Guardian's major transformation programme is to de-emphasise print and become digital-first. In doing so it will, shrink the printed newspaper away from breaking news and into a smaller, less resource-intensive edition that instead leads on analysis. The intention for Guardian.co.uk to stay free on the web remains in place.

This is in contrast the newspapers in Australia where publishers have slowly balanced digital growth with print decline and where their eventual crossover appears distant. It appears that they see convergence with broadcast and online media as the shape of things to come for newspapers. That looks feasible, because the Internet is still dominated by text. But in a future dominated by video, newspapers will not translate so easily, since television and newsprint are oil and water.

Andrew Miller, the Guardian Media Group CEO, says that:

The financial pressure all newspapers are facing through the shift is such that our losses are increasing and I can’t see a way of those not decreasing without first making ourselves digital-first. All newspapers will ultimately exit print. But we’re putting no timeframe on that. This is about repositioning the business to be digital-first. I don’t know if anyone’s said that before at a major newspaper. It’s about finding the right format for newspapers in our portfolio.

One way Guardian.co.uk will endeavour to get there is to grow its U.S. audience from New York to significantly grow advertiser scale - something Miller hopes will mean Guardian.co.uk can charge higher ad prices.

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June 8, 2011

The Australian to go behind a paywall

News Limited’s Richard Freudenstein announced that the company’s Australian newspapers will erect paywalls for some of their content online. As reported in The Australian News' Ltd's decision to adopt a "freemium" model -- a mix of free and paid content similar to The Wall Street Journal-- will begin in October with The Australian broadsheet, and then for certain parts of the Daily Telegraph and the Herald Sun tabloids after that.

The price of a digital subscription will be $2.95 a week, including an iPad and Android app, website and mobile site; and you will be able to get all this plus a print subscription for $7.95 a week. The argument is that there is a need for newspapers to migrate to a new business model; and that, if we want high-quality journalism, then we must support experimentation.

The old business model is broken beyond repair, given the accelerating erosion of circulation and advertising revenue to the free online environment. Journalists are under great stress, as their authority has vanished with the disruption caused by the new online media.

I presume this is an experiment in which News Ltd tries to keep most of its traffic and display advertising revenues while generating a new stream of income and a valuable database of engaged readers. Pay walls may save broadsheet newspapers such as The Australian, even if the number of readers plummets.

Charging for general material that was freely available on the ABC is pointless, but News Ltd is banking on the idea that readers of The Australian will pay for access to their beloved columnists to create digital revenues. Even if the quality is way better than that produced by the comic style columnists such as Piers Akerman or Andrew Bolt at News Ltd's tabloids I don't associate The Australian with high-quality journalism from a conservative perspective.

The Australian has broken with the he said, she said style journalism and the code of fact and objectivity, and the appropriate use of language and tone, that is the ethos of the professionalism of modern journalism. However, I increasingly associate the newspaper with partisan journalism:--eg., the campaigns against the ABC, NBN, climate change, The Greens, Muslims etc ---and columnists such as Janet Albrechtsen, Michael Stutchbury, Glenn Milne, Henry Ergas, Angela Shanahan, Dennnis Shanahan and Christopher Pearson. I find that I read the Australian's columnists less and less online at my workstation computer.

Even when the newspaper is free in my local coffee shop I generally skip it. It's strong editorial and political stance comes through in its general reporting on national affairs, business, media and higher education. All that you need to know is that it endeavours to set the political agenda and establish what that agenda is.

That narrative--Labor sucks, bash up the left, and the inner city elites hate ordinary Australians--- is its contribution to my need, as a citizen, to stay informed and participating in public life. So I won't really miss the lack of access by not paying a subscription.

But then I'm not an engaged conservative reader who hates the ALP. and thinks that they are wrecking the country. I'm someone who would like to see News Ltd broken up because its media power is too concentrated in Australia and its political power too great. That power is being used like a sledgehammer.

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May 19, 2011

the decline of journalism

Annabel Crabb in her Finding a coin for the journalistic juke box at The Drum refers to the ongoing decline of quality journalism from falling sales of metropolitan newspapers and advertising revenue.

The standard corporate response has been cost cutting and restructuring to cover the media corporation's costs of production. The inference is that there simply will be less journalism created by professional journalists and the slide of much of contemporary journalism into banality will continue.

Crabb says that:

The internet has corroded so many of the structural basics of the journalistic transaction. Our monopoly over basic source information is significantly undermined, seeing as anyone can now watch parliament, or press conferences, or go through company reports online or tinker around with the websites of government departments. Our monopoly over the dissemination of information is damaged too, seeing as anyone can now set up a cheap publishing platform.

She adds that a journalist's main professional advantage over a blogger, increasingly, is that they have the luxury of being paid for what they do, and the privilege of some years' experience of this pleasant arrangement.

It's only the former difference that counts here, since many bloggers also have had several years of experience and they also have intellectual property rights.

What she doesn't say is what Tim Dunlop highlights: that politics cannot be understood separately from the way in which it is reported and that journalists don’t like criticism. On the latter point:

From day one, bloggers were attacked and caricatured, dismissed as ne’er do wells who talk nonsense and who had nothing to teach the seasoned professionals of the mainstream. And each new technological development - comments sections, Facebook, Twitter, whatever - has been similarly dismissed as worthy of little more than contempt.

Dunlop says---and this is the core argument of his article--- that what journalists have not done is to engage with the criticisms of how the Canberra Press Gallery practice political journalism. He adds:
It is hard to think of an industry more entrapped by what it considers the untouchable verities of its craft, or one that thinks it can so blithely ignore complaints from its customers. In fact, there is a sense that journalists see criticism as an indication that they are doing something right, not something wrong, and it produces a bunker mentality that makes them all the more determined to continue on the same course.

The bunker mentality basically says that the decline of journalism is not the journalists fault. Roy Greenslade concurs. The bunker mentality is 'we are the victims.'

Now the criticisms of political journalism are substantive --it is now less about enlightening democratic citizens about debates around policy issues that matter to the public, and more trivia and spin, gotcha politics and partisan deception.

There are, as Jonathan Holmes points out in The ten commandments of journalism?, journalists who win Gold Walkeys for expose those in power who are trying to change our world for the worse. They sustain the tradition of independent, serious-minded journalism, especially investigative journalism and their work is the first draft of history.

However, they are a small minority, compared to those whose work consists of trivia and spin, gotcha politics and partisan deception. This is why we can say that decline of journalism is the journalists’ fault. We can add that journalists need to take responsibility for the infortainment trash they write.

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April 28, 2011

journalism's future

Once upon a time, the media performed a critical role in the political life of democracies: in its fourth estate function, the news media served as the (self-appointed) guardian of the public interest. On this model regulations, from the “fairness doctrine” to a requirement for “public service” programming, affected radio and TV coverage to help ensure clear, objective reporting. This is the liberal model of the media in a parliamentary democracy.

This is no longer the case in that the news media more often than note fails to deliver on much of its promise, given the relentless focus on scandal, spectacle, celebrity and the “game” of politics. We sense the inevitability of the shift away from the fourth estate function to the infotainment world carnival barkers in sideshow alley with the destruction of the “bundled” business model for newspapers, which allowed classified ads in the real estate section to underwrite a bureau in Baghdad or Cairo.

The new model---the infotainment one--is giving readers what they want; a market-minded approach to gossip, technology, sex talk, and so on. This is the Gawker.com model with its web metrics of where journalism is heading.

There is little public appetite for hard political journalism and the size of the audience for political news in the old formats is quite small.

We understand that the media will probably become more and more market-minded, and that imposed civic obligations in the form of legal requirements or traditional publishing norms is having, and will probably continue to have less and less effect. Murdoch's Fox News, for instance, is understood be a political rather than a journalistic operation.

We are entering, or rather have entered, a new media landscape; one in which a new culture of journalism is in formation. This is one in which deception and lies become the norm instead of truth and facts; the media becomes more politically partisan and polarized; fake interviews replace real ones;

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April 20, 2011

bringing the media to heel

In Rupert Murdoch's calculated bet he can end hacking saga Roy Greenslade outlines
News International's strategy to bring the News of the World phone-hacking scandal in the UK to an end.

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They have decided to throw a lot of money at claimants who make out a decent case. Money will talk and close things down by gagging the claimants. Greenslade outlines the legal strategy to halt the series of damaging revelations.

If this strategy is successful, then it is up to the politicians to find the political courage to use the powers of Parliament to stand up to Murdoch by setting up a wide ranging public inquiry into phone hacking and the newspaper culture that would lead to the replacement of the current system of self-regulation.

You can imagine the traditional media's response to that--they'd fight greater regulation tooth and nail in the name of the freedom of the media. In many respects this is a looking backwards move because the media landscape is rapidly changing because the internet (a platform ln the same way that paper is) and streaming content online are resulting in a digital media world. The shift from print to web-only publication is well under way.

Newspapers, films, TV, music, radio are all produced and distributed in a tightly controlled way and with restricted access. The internet blows the doors off that concept because it's an environment where everyone can distribute with maximum efficiency to everyone else and to any platform. There is a space in this landscape in Australia for a consumer product/services/packages based around content, connectivity, and social TV---the Netflix recipe.

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April 12, 2011

News Ltd goes on the defensive

News Ltd is definitely on the back foot with the hacking into the phones of cabinet ministers and other high-profile figures in the UK. It has admitted the illegal practice, apologized to eight victims of the phone hacking and is preparing to pay compensation to victims of the phone hacking.

RowsonMNews Ltd.jpg Martin Rowson

News Ltd doesn't have a leg to stand on as there is no public interest defence of its actions. Its recent move is a clear attempt to stop the multiple civil actions in their track before the torrent of discovered documents and emails is exposed to the public eye. The high court has been resolutely demanding that claimants are given access to police files, phone records, notebooks and internal emails.

The episode indicates indicates a failure by the state to control the corporate media sector represented by News Corp and its modern American style conservatism that combines a belief in the possibility of endless economic expansion and that of settled small town values with an imperial foreign policy.

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April 7, 2011

The Australian's conservatism

I see that News Ltd's plan to destroy The Greens is continuing to target their criticisms of Israel and support for the Palestinian people. The extremist Greens are anti-Israel effectively providing succour to extremist, Iranian-sponsored groups such as Hamas, even though the Greens policy is support for a two state solution.

The problem with this use of conventional political weaponry in the attack on the "red Greens" from the conservatives is that their compassionate conservatism is no where to be seen. The red Greens are seen to stand for social justice and they are as much a moral project as well as a political party. In contrast, The Australian's style of conservatism is one of travelling carelessly down the laissez-faire road to free markets and hacking into the supply of government services for those being excluded by the market.

Yet most Australian voters aren't anti-government libertarians. They don't want to be left alone. They want government to care for the weak. They want government to be there when adversity strikes. They want government to work better, not to disappear. They want the welfare state. So the Australian's laissez-faire conservatism is seen to be morally inferior to the ethos of social justice. Those excluded by the market and left behind should stand on their own two feet and receive an occasional helping hand from charity.

Christian-based charities dependent on volunteer donations, greater school choice, and welfare-to-work are the dominant response to poverty and social exclusion.Oh, and strong families. Is that the strand of compassionate conservatism? If so, then compassionate conservatism is less a governing philosophy and more a mildly useful bolt-on to laissez-faire economics (cut government and unleash enterprise) + law and order + strong defence + carefully-policed immigration.

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March 20, 2011

media matters

We know that the future of newspapers is one that has much less money attached to it and far fewer people working for them. The problem the New York Times and all other newspapers and magazines are facing is that, as readers increasingly move online, news organizations aren’t getting enough money from them to maintain newsrooms of any decent size. Print subscribers and advertisers heavily subsidize the free news that online readers take for granted.

It's an uncertain future in which newspapers will have to innovate to reconnect with their readers. In response journalists have lashed out at Google and bloggers, rather than addressing issues such as massive debt-load and a failure to adapt to the times. If simple traffic and advertising isn’t doing the trick to increase cash flow, then that money has to come from somewhere else. One option is a metered approach, as opposed to a all-or-nothing subscription method, which isn't a viable one for a general news site.

The New York Times has announced that it is launching digital subscriptions for its online site. If you want to read more than 20 articles a month, you’ll need to dig in your pockets for $15 every four weeks (this will cover NYTimes.com and the Smartphone App). The changes take effect soon—first in Canada, and from 28th March, in the US and the rest of the world.

Readers who come to Times articles through links from search, blogs and social media like Facebook and Twitter will be able to read those articles, even if they have reached their monthly reading limit. For some search engines, users will have a daily limit of free links to Times articles.

There is a need for a viable stream of revenue from digital that is not tied to advertising, and, amongst journalists, that their work is good enough for readers to pay for it. The success of subscription-based models at the Wall Street Journal and the Financial Times indicate how this might be done; however, unlike the New York Times, these are specialist publications, with monopolies in their own markets.

Unlike the partisan newspapers of News Ltd, which continually throw mud at public broadcasters (ABC + BBC) minimise the misbehaviour by News Ltd media (eg., the phone hacking done by the News of the World), the New York Times, for all its faults, is still a good newspaper.

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March 5, 2011

paying homage

I heard on Radio National Breakfast that when Julie Gillard goes to Washington to see President Obama she will also pay homage to Rupert Murdoch, who has just been given the green light by the Cameron Government in the UK to allow News Corporation to buy the 60% of BSkyB it doesn't already own BskyB.

BellSMurdoch.jpg Steve Bell

What News Corp has gained by being allowed to takeover the rest of Sky, the UK’s largest cable network, is an ability to create a £7.5bn British media giant with access to the vast cashflows of the satellite broadcaster. The man who pretends to be a great free marketeer has built an empire almost entirely out of circumventing competition to throttle free markets. What Murdoch wants he gets.

As Steven Barnett observes in The Guardian yet another minister meekly surrenders to the media power of Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. It has been the story of the past 30 years of British media policymaking. Barnett says:

This deal will create a hugely powerful newspaper, TV, online and ISP media conglomerate that will dwarf every other media organisation in the UK, with guaranteed rising profits for years, on a scale that would not be contemplated in any other self-respecting mature democracy.

The concentration of media ownership continues. New s Corp defies regulators, governments and tax authorities to carve out an anti-competitive market dominance with an unmatched global concentration of media power.

As a result of the BSkyB acquistion Murdoch's global media empire has increased its stake in Sky News pay television channel in Australia. As Margaret Simons points out at Crikey:

Our local SkyNews is a joint venture operation, owned in equal thirds by BSkyB, Channel Nine and Channel Seven. Under the current ownership of BSkyB, this means that News Corporation owns just 39 per cent of one third of Australian Sky News. But assuming News Corporation takes over the whole of BSkyB, Rupert becomes an equal one third owner with Channels Nine and Seven, increasing Rupert’s domination of the news content business in Australia and creating a new field of interesting corporate manoeuvres with Kerry Stokes.

So we can expect more attacks on the ABC, and ABC24 in particular. What does Murdoch want in Australia? If Telstra exits Foxtel, then that creates an opportunity for News Limited to increase its stake.

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January 23, 2011

Murdoch + media dominance

Murdoch, as is well known, uses News Corps power, to menace any government that stands in the way of his commercial ambitions or offends his basically conservative agenda. People fear the Murdoch press, and for politicians such a fear is compounded by the fact that Murdoch's newspapers can help swing elections. The News of the World phone-hacking scandal in the UK, which is set to gather pace, could start to undermine that power.

RowsonMMurdoch.jpg Martin Rowson

Henry Porter in Rupert Murdoch and the future of British media in The Guardian outlines a scenario of media dominance in Britain that could well apply to Australia in the near future.

Referring to Murdoch's bid to buy 100% ownership of BSkyB. Porter says:

The emergence of Sky's market power would be problem enough if it just affected the television industry, but what makes it a defining moment for Britain is how the financial and industrial strength in television interacts with News International's dominance of the newspaper industry. The Times, Sunday Times, Sun and News of the World together constitute 37% of UK newspaper circulation.Moreover, this is an industry struggling to find a viable business model as circulations fall and advertising revenues shrink. Cross-media ownership was an electric issue even in an era of stable technology; at a time of transformative technological change, it has become toxic because NI's [News International] television strength can come to the rescue of print in a way no other newspaper group can match

He adds that once NI gets 100% ownership of BSkyB, it will simply add its newspaper titles to the subscription television bundle to be received online. NI is the fourth-largest advertiser in the UK. Its marketing heft and industrial strength in pay TV will thus support its newspapers and the rest of the industry will be slaughtered.

Porter adds:

There is a convergence of TV and online usage and attractively priced online newspapers available via Sky as part of carefully designed packages for individual consumers will be irresistible...the prospect by 2020 is of an enfeebled newspaper industry in which NI titles command more than half the circulation and revenues and a television industry in which coverage of current affairs beyond a diminished BBC will be sporadic, thin and partisan.

The inference is that News Ltd 's strategic plan in Australia is to acquire more of Foxtel.

The question for media regulators is that if phone hacking was widespread on a Murdoch newspaper, why should the government allow News International's parent company to own even more of the UK media landscape?

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January 8, 2011

The Australian's hypocrisy

An editorial in The Australian---The great power of Adam Smith's invisible mouse--- celebrates digital capitalism in no uncertain terms:

We live in an age where the internet provides a marketplace that is the nearest thing yet to a classical economist's utopia, the perfect market where individuals have perfect information and where there is perfect competition available with a click of a computer mouse. It is a time where new and nimble entrepreneurs can compete with, and beat, enormous organisations that have dominated markets for decades. It is an era where entrepreneurs create new uses for digital devices that their inventors did not envisage. Most important, we live in an epoch when capitalism is doing what Adam Smith understood in the 18th century it one day would: improving the lives of ordinary people by providing them with the power to buy the best products at the most competitive possible prices. One of the enduring criticisms of classical economics is that consumers have never had all the information they needed to make rational decisions -- they do now.

So why has The Australian done all it can to attack the Gillard Government for building the national broadband network infrastructure? Why oppose the infrastructure that would enable ordinary people to buy the best products at the most competitive possible prices?

Why is it silent about the News of the World's systematic phone hacking in the UK. After all News of the World is owned by News Corp. Imagine the response by Murdoch's papers if the BBC or the ABC had routinely engaged in phone hacking "persons of interest".

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January 7, 2011

Republican Attack Machine

Fox News commentators are enthusiastic about the Republican-controlled House of Representatives. The Republicans are fired up with fundamentalist anger, and many of the new ones are and unashamedly in the employ of corporate America. The task the Republicannsa have set themselves is to pull down to pull up the major planks of the Obama's legislative agenda.

RowsonMFoxNews .jpg Martin Rowson

The Democrats will be forced into protection mode whilst the Republicans talk about cutting taxes without having to make up for the lost government revenue in spending cuts. That will increase the budget deficit. So much for the Republican rhetoric about vowing to reduce the deficit, slash government spending, and balance the budget.

The Republicans are double talking as they are also saying that Americans would not stand for any further increases in the debt limit by the Democrats unless they saw decisive spending cuts.They are hypocrites because under George Bush the Republicans had abandoned any pretense of fiscal sanity, and were throwing everything they could -- wars, Medicare expansion, tax cuts, No Child Left Behind -- on the national charge card for future generations to worry about. Bush's voodoo economics added $5 trillion to the debt in just eight years.

I guess the Republicans could propose to privatize the government bureaucracy in order to slash government spending. The country is currently experiencing its worst economic downturn in 70 years with more than 25 million people unemployed, underemployed or having given up looking for work altogether as the Republicans launch their attack to cut entitlements on Social Security and Medicare even though they ran ads during the election campaign slamming the Democrats for cutting Medicare to reduce the deficit.

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December 31, 2010

The Australian's hammer

The Australian's editorial--- The politics of vacillation is holding back the nation --hammers out the standard News Corp message about a weak Labor government not knowing where its going or it standing for anything substantial by way of substantive reform.

This message or agenda is hammered because we get little by way of an argument. You get get impression that, since the Australian is basically talking to itself about itself, there is no need for an argument. It has well developed ideas about what Australia needs and it routinely hammers away at an insular leftish culture that is out of touch with the values of mainstream society which it supposedly represents. The editorial says:

It has been the year of indecision for Australia, cocooned from the economic problems of Europe and the US but complacent about the nation's future. Weak political leadership and a lack of vision was greeted with ambivalence by voters...A resources boom and strong economic growth cloaked a policy vacuum as our politicians enjoyed a reform holiday the nation could not afford. At year's end, the country's political class is all but deadlocked, with a minority Labor government in Canberra still trying to navigate its way around a Greens agenda obsessing on 10th-order issues rather than the substantive productivity, infrastructure and tax reforms so vital to our future.

What then are the substantive productivity, infrastructure and tax reforms necessary for the nation's future prosperity? Strangely, the editorial doesn't say.

What it says is this:

The government must start governing according to what the country needs, not what focus group studies claim it wants... While $31 million buys our elected representatives a lot of data, it cannot overcome a policy paralysis born of disconnection with the electorate and a lack of courage in implementing essential reforms.The second lesson of the year is that governments have limits, and we cannot continue subcontracting tasks to bureaucrats that they are incapable of performing...Governments play a crucial role in setting economic policies and broad directions for defence and for delivery of essential services, but we must disabuse ourselves of the notion that governments are omnipotent...a nation's achievements are built on the enterprise of its people and it is from their labours, not the work of governments, that growth and prosperity will flow.

There is no content at all about the substantive productivity, infrastructure and tax reforms so vital to our future that would facilitate the enterprise of the Australian people and their labours that build economic economic growth and prosperity?

it doesn't even bother to engage with the Gillard Government's spelling out that substantive productivity reforms will be achieved through investment in education and training to lift skill levels in the work force; its proposals to enhance infrastructure; CoAG's agenda for a "seamless" national economy etc etc. What we are offered is little more than office gossip in the form of commentary about its editorial line.

The Australian is talking to itself about itself.

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December 30, 2010

two types of media

In Murdoch's search for an answer to content theft in The Age Gordon Farrer, the technology editor of The Age, says that if Murdoch's model of restricting access to news content spreads to most (if not all) traditional media outlets, then journalism could split into two camps. This argument is initially plausible.

He says that in one camp there:

will be the content produced by professional journalists, backed by large organisations and traditional news-gathering structures that include several levels of editing and fact-checking, plus researching resources. This content will have to be paid for by consumers and — thanks to technological restrictions — it won’t be easily shared in social media or aggregated by search engines. It will become niche-focused news: in-depth and difficult to produce at one end; sensationalist and entertaining at the other.

In the other camp there:
will be citizen journalism: free of charge, easily searched, easily shared, more reliant on the individual writer's skills and news sense, probably shaped as much by popularity (sensationalism and entertainment value) as newsworthiness.

So we have two different types of journalism, each with their own pluses and minuses. It is a useful starting point. The most obvious flaw is that it ignores the public broadcasters who provide professional content free. And that causes problems for Murdoch and Fairfax.

Farrer then goes on to comment:

Because of the evolving restrictions to accessing ‘‘old media’’ news content — paywalls and apps that don’t allow searching, sharing or cutting and pasting of content — the citizen journalism camp will not be able to rely as much as it has on professional journalists’ content for inspiration. That is, the bloggers and tweeters and Facebook posters who riff/comment on/analyse traditional media journalism will have to go elsewhere for fodder.

Farrer's assumption that Murdoch and Fairfax provide quality assumption that bloggers then riff off is undercut by what passes for professional journalism in the mainstream media today. A lot is infortainment, much is recycled press releases, public relations junk and deception. Public opinion surveys on honesty and ethics reveal that journalists, advertising personnel, and public relations practitioners score at the bottom of those surveys.

Only some bits and pieces of professional journalism can be considered quality journalism, often from the same journalist. Newspapers are becoming more opinion and comment based, often with a political bias since it is the 24 hour television channels that deliver the news to us.

Secondly, some bloggers provide quality commentary and analysis that mainstream journalists riff/comment on--- the latter rarely analyse. Thirdly, Farrer has no idea of a dialogic public sphere in which the deliberation about issues gives rise to the ongoing conversation in the public sphere---such as the one about the changing nature of the media in a digital liberal democracy.

A deliberative democracy represents an attempt to counteract the deficits of representative democracy, particularly in terms of legitimacy.

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December 16, 2010

the American media: in the service of power

In The media's authoritarianism and WikiLeaks at Salon.com Glenn Greenward critiques the American media over its response to WikiLeaks in accepting and repeating the false claim that WikiLeaks has indiscriminately dumped thousands of cables, whereas newspapers have only selectively published some.He says:

the broader point here is crucial: the media's willingness to repeat this lie over and over underscores its standard servile role in serving government interests and uncritically spreading government claims...That's why this cannot-be-killed lie about WikiLeaks' "indiscriminate" dumping of cables has so consumed me. It's not because it would change much if they had done or end up doing that -- it wouldn't -- but because it just so powerfully proves how mindlessly subservient the American establishment media is: willing to repeat over and over completely false claims as long as it pleases the right people -- the same people to whom they claim they are "adversarial watchdogs." It's when they engage in such clear-cut, deliberate propagandizing that their true function -- their real identity -- is thrown into such stark relief.

He adds that the immediate consensus in the American political and media class was that the cyber activists who launched denial of service attacks were engaged in pure, unmitigated destruction -- even evil -- and should be severely punished.

The Americana media is less a check on state power and more a reflection of what the government thinks. They are, as Jay Rosen puts it, on the wrong side of the secrecy of the national security state after 9/11.

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December 12, 2010

the press + democracy

In Let Us Pay at the London Review of Books John Lanchester addresses the problem faced by the newspaper industry as a result of the ongoing migration of readers and advertisers towards digital media.

He says that:

Its underlying problems are to do with the net: loss of circulation and ad revenue are both driven by the rise of new media. Its opportunities come from the net too: that huge new army of readers. The industry is no longer going off a cliff, but it is still on a downward slope, and unless something happens to stop it, costs per copy will continue to rise relative to sales, and eventually newspapers will either die or (more likely) be so hollowed out by cost-cutting that they exist as freesheets with a thin, non-functioning veneer of pretend journalism.

He acknowledges that the press has many flaws---eg., news is entertainment and entertainment is news; a pack mentality and the idea that only things which are being already covered in the media are worth covering; a general retreat from the principles of serious journalism, investigative journalism, and a horror of complicated ideas; amnesia; a default setting to knee-jerk populism.

However, we still need the press because the press is just about the only force which resists governments arrogating more power to themselves, and without the press our democracy would head the way that papers themselves risk heading, and become hollowed out, with the external apparatus of democratic machinery but without the informed electorate which the press helps create.

Lanchester adds that though the fact that newspapers are necessary does not mean that they will survive. He adds that, if a solution to this slow decline is going to be found, then it will be in the form of a market mechanism. No one has found it yet. The one on trial is the paywall mechanism, but few are willing to follow Murdoch down this route because the collapse in circulation and limited income stream.

He argues that their cost base will force them to junk their print editions and shift to digital only with a simple and easy method of payment so that readers can create an individualised newspaper.

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December 11, 2010

WikiLeaks + press freedom

We learn from WikiLeaks that the upbeat account of Rudd and Gillard about the Afghanistan war they constructed for the Australian public stands in stark contrast to their pessimistic private account of it going badly.

So we have a credibility gap that is deepened by the real reason for Australia's involvement in the war is to uphold the alliance with the US, and not to deny Al Qaeda a safe haven. The corporate media has gone along with the deceptions. They are a part of the political establishment that it is their duty to report.

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It's a credibility gap based on spin about progress continually being made and Australia staying for ten years if need be to get the job done. Gillard, it seems, goes out of her way to assist the US. The Labor Right's modus operandi is to ingratiate itself with the Americans. Hence all the obedience training to ensure close fealty to those with geo-political power.

WikiLeaks is a challenge to the current power structure in liberal democracies. It is highlighting how this structure has been hollowed out through showing how networked power works.

This can be seen in their response to the WikiLeaks---impress the Americans by saying what they want to hear Gillard accusing Assange of acting illegally; McClelland asserting that obtaining classified information without authority is an offence under Australian law. No Australian laws have been broken, and the leaks come from an American database.

The inference is that the Gillard Government has little time for the freedom of the press--ie., those journalists who leak classified documents are criminals who should be jailed. The authoritarian undercurrent that runs through the ALP right surfaces; an undercurrent that situates the Gillard Government in opposition to its own left-wing constituency.

Andrew Wilkie, the Tasmanian Independent MP, nailed it when he said that Gillard has shown contempt for the rule of law, trashed the principle of free speech, and failed to stand up for Australian sovereignty by defaulting to the interests of the US ahead of those of an Australian citizen.

The name of the game is to please the Americans. Mark Latham had a phrase for this kind of behaviour: "a conga line of suckholes". The WikiLeaks cables remind us of the extraordinary demands that American officials now make of U.S. allies and those allies accommodate American demands out of self-interest,

Update
Glenn Beck from Fox News has his take on WikiLeaks:

The reality is that WikiLeaks is as only as effective as its media partners: they screen the cables, identify narrative threads, redact the names, and embarrass the parties involved.

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December 7, 2010

WikiLeaks: pressure mounts

WikiLeaks continues the dump whilst the extra juridical attacks on Julian Assange and on WikiLeaks continue. The US, the defender of internet freedom and democratic governance, is doing all it can to stem the flow of this information. A compliant Australia, as a friend of the US, is doing everything it can to assist the US in its extra-judicial pursuit of WikiLeaks.

PettyB WikiiLeaks .jpg

John Naughton in Live with the WikiLeakable world or shut down the net. It's your choice in The Guardian say that this:

represents the first really sustained confrontation between the established order and the culture of the internet. There have been skirmishes before, but this is the real thing.....The response has been vicious, co-ordinated and potentially comprehensive, and it contains hard lessons for everyone who cares about democracy and about the future of the net.There is a delicious irony in the fact that it is now the so-called liberal democracies that are clamouring to shut WikiLeaks down.

The leaks expose how political elites in western democracies have been deceiving their electorates--especially over Afghanistan.

Though absolute transparency is not desirable or necessary, there has been too much secrecy and subterfuge in the name of diplomatic endeavour in the current system of governance with respect to Irq and Afghanistan. So a corrective towards transparency is a good idea.

Naughton adds that what WikiLeaks is really exposing is the extent to which the western democratic system has been hollowed out.

In the last decade its political elites have been shown to be incompetent (Ireland, the US and UK in not regulating banks); corrupt (all governments in relation to the arms trade); or recklessly militaristic (the US and UK in Iraq). And yet nowhere have they been called to account in any effective way. Instead they have obfuscated, lied or blustered their way through. And when, finally, the veil of secrecy is lifted, their reflex reaction is to kill the messenger.

The liberal democracies are opposed to the idea of an internet that further democratizes the public sphere. When challenged they show their authoritarian side and the due process of the law be dammed. And yet, after the Gulf of Tonkin Incident, Iran/Contra, the cruise missile attack on Sudan, Colin Powell's cooked-up testimony to the Security Council in 2002, how many of us are under that many illusions about the dark underbelly of U.S. foreign policy?

Update:
Glenn Greenward at Salon.com says:
Just look at what the U.S. Government and its friends are willing to do and capable of doing to someone who challenges or defies them -- all without any charges being filed or a shred of legal authority. They've blocked access to their assets, tried to remove them from the Internet, bullied most everyone out of doing any business with them, froze the funds marked for Assange's legal defense at exactly the time that they prepare a strange international arrest warrant to be executed, repeatedly threatened him with murder, had their Australian vassals openly threaten to revoke his passport, and declared them "Terrorists" even though -- unlike the authorities who are doing all of these things -- neither Assange nor WikiLeaks ever engaged in violence, advocated violence, or caused the slaughter of civilians.

For those politicians crying treason and death penalty on Wikileaks founder Julian Assange the term 'terrorist' simply means someone impedes or defies the will of the U.S. Government with any degree of efficacy. The mainstream US media rolls over, despite the US's standard practice of CIA black sites, rendition, the torture regime, denial of habeas corpus, drones, assassinations, private mercenary forces, etc in defending its imperial interests. The media outlets appear to be devoted to serving, protecting and venerating US government authorities, turn a blind eye to secret governance and appear to do little to challenge the 'eradicate Assange' calls.

It is beginning to look as if the United States cannot be both a republic and an empire. At the moment it is acting like a wounded bear confronted by its demise as the global superpower. This empire may well unravel with unholy speed.

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December 5, 2010

Murdoch + iNewspaper

Emily Bell on Murdoch's iPad experiment in The Guardian refers to Murdoch's view that iPads are "game-changers" and his alliance with Steve Jobs of Apple to launch The Daily, a tablet-only paper with "tabloid sensibilities and newspaper intelligence" in the US. I interpret that shift to infotainment as a recognition of the threat that once advertising moves online then moving newsprint around can never make a profit.

Bell says that:

Murdoch like so many is caught between wanting revenues to reach the levels they have for packaged print products, and to retain some influence through publishing news products. The iPad is seen as being very appealing by the non-digital for a couple of reasons. The first is that you surrender control only to Steve Jobs, not the rest of the internet... The second is that you have a slightly more certain fix on revenues. But only slightly.

The question is do we want this? Is Murdoch's content information that we don't need? I don't think that this is the future. For instance I don't need Murdoch's copntent like I need the Lightroom processing software for my photography. I'll pay for the latter not the former.

As Bill Thompson points out at Open Democracy print is being replaced by digital distribution and network-based forms of expression are taking over its role as the main conduit for cultural development and the dissemination of ideas, offering to do more with less, turning the fixed text into an an active document and moving us from a one-way model of publishing to a world that can take full advantage of rich complexity of interaction and social media.

Thompson goes on to say that:

However protracted the decline [of newspapers and print media] it is happening, and it is clear that printed newspapers and magazines and broadcast television and radio have peaked as our primary tools for sharing news and opinion, that books are already being superseded when it comes to the heavy lifting of spreading and reinforcing ideas, and that interactive services based on easy online publishing, social media and the facilitation of physical propinquity are replacing pulp-based texts and linearly-scheduled programmes as the main ways in which we will acquire our knowledge of those things we collectively believe to be true about the world - the ‘news’.

We don't really need newspapers in their printed form---The Times has stopped being a newspaper when it went behind a paywall, because it is no longer generally available and omnibus account of the news of the day, broadly read in the community. As Clay Shirkey points out The Times is becoming the online newsletter of the UK’s conservative political party.

In the context of Murdoch's intense dislike of the open internet we need journalism as disclosure--as Wikileaks is currently doing-- and good and diverse interpretation of events. Murdoch's success in media leads to media dominance (his motivation is money and power: power and money) becomes a problem for democracy, and this is more important than Murdoch's bottom line.

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November 23, 2010

The Australian: more blah on the NBN

The Australian is having yet another go at the national broadband network (NBN) in its Labor should go back to basics on carbon and NBN. It is more on its standard line---'common sense says that the NBN is flawed and costly'--- and it says little that is new.

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In fact, the editorial is so caught up in its own rhetoric that it fails to address the substantive policy issues that are currently being addressed by Parliament. Nor is there any indication in the editorial that they are even interested in these policy issues.

What we can infer from this is that The Australian is about politics not policy, and that it will use anything to attack the NBN as a way of undermining the Gillard Government. It is the publicity machine of the Coalition.

The editorial says:

The unseemly rush to a National Broadband Network says more about the government's political problems than about adding to national value. Indeed, the NBN is being forced through parliament this week not because we necessarily need it but because Julia Gillard does. Australians deserve more open discussion on the NBN and on the other issue preoccupying Canberra, the question of whether we need a cap-and-trade carbon market.Both policies have a common flaw: they offer a 100 per cent "solution" to challenges. The NBN is a Rolls-Royce answer to communication needs when a Holden might do just as well....Even if the NBN delivered a top-of-the-line service rather than becoming an expensive white elephant, as some fear, the government has failed to explain why $43bn should be spent on broadband rather than on schools, hospitals, indigenous housing or other essential infrastructure and services.

The editorial refers to the legislation before the Senate-- the government is going soft on privatisation or trying to cajole the crossbenchers into confidential briefings--but not once does it mention the actual content of the legislation----the structural separation of Telstra's retail and wholesale arms, which even Telstra supports and wants passed as quickly as possible.

Telstra is not even mentioned! The elephant in the room that has bedevilled the telecommunications industry for a decade of more is ignored. The editorial continues:

Good government is about setting the right priorities and making hard-headed decisions about funding, not stubbornly clinging to policies when they patently need review. The government is in a fix over the NBN: it is deeply committed to a project that is already being rolled out and its very existence relies on independents who backed Labor in large part because of the promise of the network. We are not troglodytes on broadband or climate change, but we will continue to challenge policy that is driven by politics rather than the public good.

Well the hard decisions have been made--Telstra's structural separation which the Liberals failed to do when they privatised Telstra---in order to ensure competition in the marketplace. There is nothing in the editorial about the need for increased competition in telecommunications.

The politics is everything and the lack of understanding of the issues around the NBN shown by old white men at The Australian indicates that the paper's default position is a Luddite one---let's smash these newfangled machines and stay with copper. The debate has moved on and the old white media men increasingly sound like a voice in the wilderness.

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November 22, 2010

the warp + weave of a digital economy

Alan Kohler makes an excellent point in his Added value needed for online media survival on the ABC's The Drum with respect to the future of the fourth estate.

His general point is that industries are being disintermediated by the digital economy and are having to reinvent themselves to stay afloat:

The most urgent of these is retailing. For thousands of years we have had to travel to a shop to buy goods because the shopkeepers have controlled their distribution, just as media companies have controlled information.Now we can go direct to the source of the goods, wherever they are in the world. The volume of shopping online is now ballooning and just about everything is now being bought on the internet and delivered to homes in packages - books, shoes, clothing, food, household items.Traditional retailers sitting behind the counters in their stores in shopping malls and strips are now facing huge challenges; many won't survive. Those that do will provide something extra that can't be bought online, some sort of added value or service.

An example. Black and white sheet film for my 8x10 monorail view camera costs $140 a box (of 25 sheets) in Adelaide and $80 from B+ H in New York. Sure, I have to pay the freight, but I can use the internet to place a bulk order for several types of film for several different film cameras, thereby spreading the cost of freight. The film is then stored in the fridge until I need it.

So why would I buy from the local camera shop withe outrageous markups charged by the importers? I would only visit them if they provided added value--ie;, to help me solve the problems I'm encountering with cameras (repairs) and photography.

Journalists working in the mainstream or corporate media are no different. Their model is one person speaking to many in a digital world of Web 2. that provides the mass ability to communicate with each other, without having to go through a traditional intermediary. As Kohler points out:

It is now possible for anyone to find out almost anything. Someone sitting at home can now read any press release, watch any press conference, or read its transcript, and examine any document anywhere in the world.The lowest paid jobs in society are those that anyone can do, but can't be bothered or don't have the time, like cleaning or driving. The danger for plain reporting is that it will be increasingly seen in that light - as a service that anyone can do but can't be bothered or haven't the time. No-one is going to pay much for that, if anything, and advertisers have already discovered that they are in the driver's seat with online media because there is a glut of inventory and it's all measurable and accountable, unlike newspaper advertising.

The digital revolution shifts us from the traditional transmission model to a communication model in an open space of publicly available information with the emergence of greater convergence of text, data and moving pictures.

Kohler's solution rejects both Murdoch's paywalls for transmission and the Guardian's free, open and collaborative journalism that loses money that Alan Rusbridger outlined in the 2010 Andrew Olle Media lecture. Kolher says that in order to survive in both cases journalism must add value - "specifically it must impart meaning. It must do what its customers cannot do themselves, which is to explain what events mean, not just report them."

Well, good bloggers in a post-Gutenberg world are already explaining what events mean ---isn't that the point of commentary? What was one a passive audience has become critics, commentators and photographers. So journalists in the corporate media have competitors and people will only read them if they have something valuable and worthwhile to say.

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October 31, 2010

the state of journalism: Crabb's reflections

Australian journalists are not known for their critical reflections upon the practice of journalism, nor for their acknowledgment of the decline of quality in journalism associated with the emergence of the internet and the new media. If they ignore the criticism sit is mostly to shoot the critics. Critical arguments about journalism have been only open to practitioners and journalism academics - a closed circle of gatekeepers.

Annabel Crabb in her The end of journalism as we know it (and other good news) at the ABC's is a text version of Crabb's AN Smith lecture in journalism, delivered on October 27, 2010 at Melbourne University. It is a serious look at the state of journalism, how journalism is adapting to the changing technological environment, and the future of journalism as emerging opportunities. Crabb describes the new media landscape thus:

It's what happens when the damn system is democratised. News journalism as we have known it in the past - a sort of daily feeding-time in which news is distributed to a passive audience at a designated hour and in the order selected by the zookeeper - is over, or well on its way to being so. Audiences are splintered, but demanding. They want new news, and if something complicated has happened, they want instant analysis. Commonly, they want an opportunity to express their own views - not only on the event itself, but on how it has been reported...This loss of control is such a hallmark of the new media. And that's true for everybody it touches...For journalists, the loss of control is about the loss of centrality.

She rightly points out that journalists are just not necessarily, automatically at the core of the media landscape any more.

She adds that journalists:

are - belatedly, and for reasons entirely unassociated with Government-led deregulation or any of the other usual reasons - contestable. The community of news and commentary is getting stronger and more populous. We are just not necessarily, automatically at the core of it any more. And we are open to criticism - some of it savage, some of it worryingly accurate - like never before. Our passive, profitable audience is disappearing. In newspapers, which is where I come from, the panic is about advertising, of course. And how to monetise content online.

That is an accurate description. I agree with her when she points to future opportunities---what lies ahead is not a blasted heath. It's a building site.

Crabb then goes onto talk about information being free and this is where things start to go askew. She says:

And 10 years later, what do we have? Leading news websites, and an audience which has been trained to expect this stuff for free. Which has had the unintended effect, to some extent, of devaluing the actual product - and I use this bald term intentionally. Thanks to the expectation - inculcated by us - in readers that they should enjoy unmetered access to the work of most major newspapers, we journalists are in rather a novel industrial position...Why is my intellectual property suddenly worthless, while the guy who invents hilarious ring-tones is still entitled to the customary presumption that his day's work warrants some kind of commensurate recompense? The answer is that journalists have already ceded the field. We've already given our stuff away....Free information is usually free for a reason. Mostly, it's free because it's a press release, or an ad, or it's been nicked from TMZ.com, or because it's so incredibly banal that even its creator can't bear to look you in the eye and shake you down for cash. Free information, ladies and gentlemen, tends to be crappy information.

This is disingenuous as Crabbe is being paid by The ABC to write commentary on political events and that money comes from the government and public taxation. Unlike
many I support the ABC's innovation around The Drum and Unleashed.

Secondly, it is the old advertising based business model that is on the skids and that causes Fairfax problems. If a newspaper goes behind a pay wall--as Murdoch is doing--- that is fine. I'll subscribe if the content warrants it. The trouble is most journalism is now of such poor quality and of such little use---eg., The Australian's reportage on the national broadband network --that this kind of partisan opinion does not warrant me paying money to read it.

Thirdly, Crabb's criticism of free information is based on the repudiation of free and knowledge. She does not consider the possibility of free as knowledge in a digital world. So much for Wikipedia or Project Gutenberg. Or the body of work propduced by photographers such as David Meisal?

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October 11, 2010

on Crikey

I subscribe to Crikey in order to support independent publishing in Australia that is willing to foster quality political debate. I do so because this is difficult to do on a financial basis in a small market such as Australia.

However, I do find Crikey a little too precious these days. In spite of its proclaimed independence it is a part of the Canberra Press Gallery bubble, shows little interest in adding to the public conversation by referring to other independent voices, its commentary is often thin, and it gives the impression that only Crikey really knows what is actually going on beneath the surface appearances of political life.

Crikey publisher Eric Beecher has recently commented on independent publishing to The Australian's Media section. What he said was surprising:

As a huge supporter of the ABC, I have been somewhat shocked at (the ABC's) decision to create a website (The Drum) that sits so blatantly in the territory of sites like Crikey and The Punch... Operating in the commercial space, we expect vigorous competition from other commercial publishers. But to see the ABC tanks roll up on our lawn was bewildering..The Drum seriously and dangerously compromises the ABC's editorial integrity. It is full of personal opinions, mainly from the Left and often wacky, which is something that sits uncomfortably with the notion of a rigorously independent publicly funded national broadcaster. In doing this, it unnecessarily but almost provocatively reinforces the fairly widespread perceptions of where the ABC and its journalists sit in the political spectrum.

Beecher finishes by saying that the can now fully understand why the BBC has limited its online activities, especially in the commentary arena.

Give me a break. "Tanks on the lawn" is how James Murdoch attacks the BBC. Crikey ought to be welcoming the emerging diversity of commentary and its quality in the public sphere instead of using phrases like 'whacky'. What Beecher is doing, by saying that the ABC shouldn’t be running an online opinion site, because it encroaches on commercial media’s turf (keep your tanks of our lawn), is just repeating the Murdoch's.

I can understand that Beecher is peeved because the ABC is pinching his writers for The Drum and paying them a better fee for an op-ed than Crikey can afford. But tanks on the lawn? Where is his own independent analysis? Isn't that independence where Crikey makes its stand?

I notice that Beecher says nothing about the lack of good policy analysis and commentary in the public sphere. Or provide an argument why this is the case; or whether or not this is significant. He says nothing about the alliance between corporate Australia and the mainstream press that shapes and dominates public debate on important issues (eg., the mining tax debate).

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October 2, 2010

ABC: Judith Sloan's attack

I see that Judith Sloan has taken to recycling James Murdoch's attack on public broadcasting in Australia. Where Murdoch directed his canons at the BBC Sloan attacks the ABC, where she was deputy chairwoman from 1999 to 2005.

Her primary argument is that the ABC gets bigger all the time, but it should stick to areas overlooked by the private media. She advocates altering the charter of the ABC to narrow the focus of its operation and reduce the organisation's funding accordingly. She says:

Since I left the board, one of the most significant developments has been the sheer growth of the ABC's activities.There have been two new digital TV channels put to air, making four in total, new digital radio stations and an extensive expansion in the ABC's online presence, particularly the new The Drum website.Whereas the BBC is pulling in its horns and reducing its presence, particularly online, the operations of our ABC are becoming more expansive and intensive. Clearly, none of the senior management in the ABC is keen to acknowledge the market failure argument for public broadcasting: that the ABC should concentrate its activities on areas of the media where there is clearly insufficient or deficient private provision. The attitude within the ABC seems to be that there is no media nook or cranny that should not be filled by the public broadcaster.

The ABC should plug the gaps left by private media due to market failure. What, then are the areas of market failure--the media nooks or crannies that the ABC should plug? Sloan doesn't say. All she says is that 'there are some gaps that probably would not be filled by the private media.'

That is pretty vague. However, we cannot eliminate the areas where there is no market failure. It cannot be a 24 hour News channel because that is provided by Sky. It cannot be online commentary because that is provided by The Australian. It cannot be television because that is provided by the free-to-air commercial channels. It cannot be radio because that is also provided by private media. So we have a real slimmed down ABC. It cannot be Australian drama because the commercial channels are the ones showing original Australian dramas, not the ABC.

Maybe the media nook or cranny is media quality in all its forms because that is definitely not provided by the partisan media owned by News Ltd. An example from a recent editorial:

We believe he (Brown) and his Green colleagues are hypocrites; that they are bad for the nation and that they should be destroyed at the ballot box. The Greens voted against Mr Rudd's emissions trading scheme because they wanted a tougher regime, then used the lack of action on climate change to damage Labor at the election. Their flaky economics should have no place in the national debate. We are particularly tired of the Greens senator Christine Milne arguing that 'green jobs need a real green economy to grow in'. What on earth can she mean? Ms Gillard's embrace of the Greens underlines the vacuity of her party.

The bottom line of the Australian is defending the commercial interests of News Ltd. The best way to do that, in their judgement, is become the Coalition's noise machine.

Keeping the explicit areas of media market failure vague and avoiding what is meant by market failure is the point. The strategy is to kneecap the ABC-- privatizing the ABC is out of the question--- so that Murdoch's competition is much reduced and his spay wall strategy would work. Murdoch loves media dominance and detests competition: it must be eliminated, even if it is independent bloggers such as Grogs Gamut. The justification is the public interest, of course.

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September 26, 2010

Fox News: Glenn Beck

In the video below Glenn Beck cites a litany of cases as examples of how "choice architects have changed your life" through supposedly excessive regulation. This is Fox News, which says that it is fair and balanced. It is anything but fair and balanced.

These are rants not journalism.

Since its 1996 launch, Fox has become a central hub of the conservative movement's well-oiled media machine. Together with the GOP organization and its satellite think tanks and advocacy groups, this network of fiercely partisan outlets--such as the Washington Times, the Wall Street Journal editorial page and conservative talk-radio shows like Rush Limbaugh's--forms a highly effective right-wing echo chamber where GOP-friendly news stories can be promoted, repeated and amplified. Fox knows how to play this game better than anyone.

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September 18, 2010

The Australian's delusions

In an editorial entitled Embracing high-level analysis the Australian reflects on itself in the light of recent criticisms of its anti-ALP agenda and its stated goal to destroy The Australian Greens. The editorial states that:

While we have endorsed both sides of politics in pre-election editorials, this paper made it clear from the outset that it "is tied to no party, to no state and has no chains of any kind. Its guide is faith in Australia and the country's future." A perceptive reading of the news and commentary pages shows that the paper is less concerned about which party wins office than whether governments pursue policies and reforms geared to generate prosperity and enterprise.

The claim is at odds with The Australian's shift from a conservative broadsheet with a diversity of views to a campaigning partisan paper that is antagonistic to the ALP and the Independents and deeply hostile to The Greens.

The claim that its guiding principle is geared to policies that generate prosperity and enterprise is at odds with its deep seated social conservatism that has lead it to embrace climate change denialism in opposition to the research findings of natural science. So The Australian is opposed to both science and the ecological enlightenment.

The Australian's embrace of free market economics leads it to deny how the Keynesian use of government spending by the Rudd Government to counter the consequences of the global financial crisis generated prosperity and enterprise. This indicated an inability to understand high-level public policy.

The central delusion is that The Australian continues to understand itself in terms of what it was in 1964 when it has become Australia's equivalent to the "fair and balanced" Fox News in the US.

Update
In Unfair and unbalanced: how News failed to fell government in the National Times Rodney Tiffen says that in Australia, News Ltd titles account for about two-thirds of daily newspaper circulation, far higher than any proprietor enjoys in any other established democracy. He adds:

The Australian has a much greater pluralism in its opinion columns, even if still skewed towards the right. But the paper's key feature is the way its news judgments are filtered through its political prism. There is little clear air for alternative views or developments to emerge. Look, for example, at its coverage of climate change over the past few years. Only Labor government stuff-ups - never government achievements - are deemed newsworthy.

He says that News Ltd were sore losers at the Liberals losing the election due to the Independents siding with the ALP, and that their anger accounts for their bizarre post-election behaviour.

That sour grapes behaviour increasingly looks like becoming payback. It takes the form of describing a power sharing Parliament as the farce of the Independent's manipulation of the hung parliament in pursuit of billions in spending for electorates and posts of power. The Independents are just out for themselves and they use the threat of going back to the polls or parliament facing a "Mexican standoff" if they don't get their way.

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September 9, 2010

Murdoch's way of doing business

The phone hacking scandal at News of the World, which is owned by Murdoch's News International, refers to the great number of people---hundreds of celebrities, government officials, soccer stars---whose mobile phones were hacked by Murdoch's journalists. Hacking the phones of anyone whose personal secrets could be tabloid fodder gives us an insight into how Murdoch empire operates.

It's an old story given fresh impetus by the New York Times under pressure from Murdoch's New York-based Wall Street Journal.

As Will Hutton points out in The Guardian in the UK News International's ambition and strategy is to shrink the BBC, entrench Sky's power into a de facto monopoly, further to make itself the arbiter of British politics while using the profitability of its UK operation to support its global ambition. Murdoch, as an info capitalist, has built a self-reinforcing networks of business and political power by owning the production of information and knowledge. In Australia, as in Britain, Murdoch unabashedly uses his papers to advance a generally conservative, pro-business agenda.

The News of the World, with its roots in Britain's working class culture is a newspaper that works the time-worn formula of misbehaving celebrity kiss-and-tells and intrusive investigations. At its muck-raking best, it performs a public service in exposing crooks, cheats, hypocrites and liars--eg., the sting operation into the corruption of the Pakistan cricket team.

Andy Coulson, the prime minister's press secretary, was the deputy editor and then editor of the News of the World, the flagship Sunday tabloid of the News International stable, during the phone hacking in 2006. It was on his watch that a reporter, Clive Goodman, went to jail after admitting conspiring with a private detective, Glenn Mulcaire, to hack into the mobile phone messages of the royal family. The defence by News of the World's and News International was that the two individuals were rogues. No one else knew what was going on.

It is now being claimed that phone-hacking and other illegal reporting techniques were rife at the tabloid during 2000-2006. It also claimed that Scotland Yard's "close relationship" with the News of the World had hampered the inquiry. It also seems that in the face of continuing revelations both the previous Labour government, and now the Cameron/Grieg coalition, have been all too ready to accept police assurances that their inquiries have been as thorough as possible.

The implication is of police and politicians being deeply fearful of, and subservient to, the media, especially the Murdoch empire. News International has paid large amounts of money to get the dirt on people in public life – including in the police, the military and politics – and that it has paid huge sums (£2m and counting) to suppress the truth from coming out.

What this event suggests is that the world taking shape around us, and giving new shape to even familiar processes, institutions, movements and values, has to be increasingly understood in communicational and cultural terms. What is different from the industrial 20th century is the increasing shift of culture and communication to the centre; a shift that can be understood as a network of interconnected nodes.

Update
Murdoch's way of doing business in the UK is explored by Henry Porter and Will Hutton in The Guardian. Porter says:

British society is far from perfect: we are sometimes harsh, jeering, vulgar, indolent and lacking in compassion and it is to these traits that Murdoch's tabloid newspapers and much else in his media empire appeal. But look at Britain before Murdoch bought the News of the World and you see a nation that was a good deal less derisive. Murdoch has undoubtedly contributed to the coarsening of British society and also to an erosion of values, which now sees a society where the outrageous practices of his – and other – tabloid journalists are expected, if not quite accepted.

Hutton refers to the danger of the kind of media dominance News International is now developing in Britain. Will there be an inquiry into the activities at the News and the World and News International in relation to hacking in particular, its news-gathering techniques in general and the police's shortcomings? Or are the politicians too scared to take on Murdoch?

Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 12:57 PM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

September 7, 2010

minority government + the media

I'm finding the responses by the horse race journalists in the Canberra Press Gallery's and their fellow travellers to a hung Parliament, the three regional Independents, the reforms to Parliament and the negotiations to decide a minority government increasingly obnoxious.

TandbergRparliamentaryreform.jpg

In defending the two party system in spite of the fracturing of the body politic they target the Independents (the "Three Amigos",m ) and consistently fail to take their policy concerns about regional Australia seriously.

The Australian's general response, for instance, is to hell with parliamentary reform, another election has be to called right now so that the people get it right this time. Getting it right means a strong executive in a conservative government to reform society so that Australia is an open, pro-business economy. Minority government is simply a recipe for reform paralysis.

Others say the decision needs to be made now. There can be no more delay--even though it is actually the two major parties who are dragging their heels on addressing the policy issues the regional Independents have raised.

One of the more vitriolic responses is Niki Savva's Shackled with a few rogue fence jumpers in The Australian. This is what Savva means by rogue fence jumpers:

There is no misty-eyed rainbow coalition in the making here but one weakened bloc relying on a bunch of misfits, oddballs, rebels, megalomaniacs and ideologues to cling to power. Take your pick which is which.The cocky independents did not care about who had the most seats, who got the most votes, who was ahead in the opinion polls or the fact most people in their electorates voted anyone but Labor. They veered from anxiety attacks to power surges as they tried to decide, and tried to decide on what would make them decide.

Her argument is that with minority government nothing will get down because the three Independents will be overwhelmed.
Every piece of legislation will have to be negotiated through the cocky independents, Andrew Wilkie and or the Greens' Adam Bandt. We could end up with better outcomes. In our dreams. More realistically, nothing much will happen because no agreement can be reached, or we will end up with an even bigger plague of camels. Everyone will have to be around and on the ball all the time, especially the three cockies.

Yet 80% of legislation is passed on a bipartisan basis. The debates and negotiations occur on the contested legislation, which has gone through the committee system that is based around public consultation. None of the regional independents, Andrew Wilkie or the Greens' Adam Bandt had a problem withe national broadband network. They were all in favour of it as they were for more renewable energy.

Update
Bob Katter has decided to support Abbott and the Coalition. He added that if the Coalition did form government he would not be accepting any positions such as a ministry or the Deputy Speaker's position. He has indicated that he may retract his support for the Coalition should Tony Windsor and Rob Oakeshott decide to go with Labor. If Windsor and Oakeshott go ALP, then Katter stays as Independent in effect.

Another possibility to the one Katter mentioned is Rob Oakeshott lining up to support Gillard Labor, whilst Tony Windsor stays as an Independent supporting supply and only good confidence motions. That would make things nice and tight (75-74) with little room for slippage. Another possibility is for Windsor + Oakeshott to decide to back Gillard (76-74), which is what I reckon will happen because of the stability criteria.

Update 2
Tony Windsor goes for Gillard ALP because of the national broadband network and more renewable energy (in relation to the climate change) for regional Australia. So does Rob Oakeshott. The Gillard Government offered a better deal for regional Australia--a $10 billion regional package and the history of inequity re regional Australia was crucial for both Windsor and Oakeshott. So the national broadband network will go ahead, and we can expect substantial fibre roll-outs to occur around the country over the next 3 years.

The Independent's strategy is to leverage this political situation to address that inequity. The Independent's support is for supply and confidence motions only. Oakeshott appears to have been offered a ministry by Gillard--most likely a regional development ministry.

It is going to be a difficult three years for Gillard Labor --a minority government that is internally fractured; and squeezed between the Greens on the Left and continually firebombed from Abbott + News Ltd on the Right. The Nationals will self-destruct when it is realized that the Independents have gained more for regional Australia in two weeks than the Nationals have in a decade.

The News Ltd narrative will be that Labor will implode and they will be doing everything they can to undermine the Oakeshott and Windsor's support for a minority Labor Government. The talking point for the News Ltd hacks will be that the Greens are the problem. The News Ltd judgement would be that the Coalition would win am majority if there was an early return to the pools.

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September 2, 2010

so much hot air

The Canberra Press Gallery do go on about a hung Parliament. They cannot seem to accept that the vote in the general election was pretty well 50-50, that the number of seats in the House of Representatives reflects that, and that the politicians need to work with what they've got to form a workable minority government. What is difficult to understand?

BrownDHungParliament.jpg

Forming a workable minority government means forming coalitions for the right of centre and the left of centre parties in the context of emerging problems. It means different political voices to the two old dogs driven to barking and desire to one eat one another other, by their political unconscious.

Somehow, for many in the Canberra Press Gallery, forming coalitions is bad. According to Peter Hartcher at the National Times:

Labor's primary aim must be to win over the three rural independents to give it the numbers to form a government.Yet by formally embracing the left-leaning Greens in a power-sharing agreement, Labor has now made it harder for the trio to justify to their conservative constituencies such a deal with Labor. Labor's economics are good. Its politics are woeful.

Hartcher claims this, even though Tony Windsor says it is not a consideration for him; Andrew Wilkie has said that the Labor/Greens deal does not influence him either; two of the three country independents have said they supported a price on carbon before they were voted back in; and each party in the Labor-Greens coalition or alliance would maintain its own agenda. Hartcher is spinning hot air not arguing.

Meanwhile, The Australian continues to rage on and on about the anti-mining Greens sinking the mining sector with their push for an increased mining tax and a high price on carbon. This is part of News Ltd's partisan campaign to delegitimise both Labor and the Greens, and to demand another election.

Update
Wilkie has decided to support Gillard Labor. Labor offered him modest government investment in upgrading the Royal Hobart Hospital through proper process, federal action on pokie reform and bringing forward the proposed investments in public hospitals.

Wilkie is supporting Gillard Labor in a minimal sense for supply andf or reckless no confidence motions in the government. On everything else he would vote issue by issue. Wilkie in practice, a ''prickly'' supporter of Gillard and the ALP, because of his strong concern for ethical government. Does Gillard Labor have any idea what ethical government means? If not, then storms lie ahead.

Gillard's decision to tackle problem gambling won't go down well with the NSW Right who have strong links to the pokies lobby hostile to a system of mandatory pre-commitment in which every player is mandated to register for a non-transferrable USB stick pre-set with a maximum loss of $50 day per day. This will use a smart card technology in all pokies, which will allow gamblers to control how much they spend before starting.

What we have currently is the Productivity Commission's estimate that there are 160,000 problem gamblers nationally who generate about $4 billion of the $10 billion in annual losses.

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Mark Thompson on Murdoch's media dominance

One strand of Mark Thompson's McTaggart lecture at the Edinburgh International Television Festival was his reply to James Murdoch's lecture the year before in which he attacked the BBC (for its dominance) and public broadcasting.

Thompson, the BBC director general, pointed out that with News Corp's likely purchase of the 61% of BSkyB it doesn't already own, it would own and control close to 50% of the national press (Sun, Times, News of the World and Sunday Times) and Britain's biggest commercial broadcaster – Sky would have created a concentration of media ownership across newspapers, TV and publishing more significant than anything to be found in any other major market. As Thompson pointed out, this would not be allowed in the USA or Australia.

Dominance is what Australia's existing cross-media ownership rules were designed specifically to prevent. No one company is to be allowed to have significant press holdings and a major stake in Australia's major commercial broadcaster. After the shakeout in free-to-air commercial television the laws now function to prevent a Murdoch empire with the run of the press and a commanding position in commercial TV.

The context is that BBC is fighting on a number of fronts---fending off commercial rivals, political detractors, Treasury cutters, newspaper axe-grinders--whilst being dependent on public funding, in the form of the licence fee. The BBC is fighting for its survival (a reduced licence fee) and it is being forced to do some cost cutting in the context of the austerity economics of the Conservative Cameron Government.

The BBC, like the ABC in Australia, is sufficiently popular and successful that it is impossible to imagine scrapping it as an institution. It will be cut down because it is seen as too big. On the other hand, Murdoch's acquisition of Sky News opens up the possibility of turning Sky News into a British Fox News. That shift to an ashamedly right-wing British television news with attitude requires the removal of Britain's impartiality laws.

So we have a threat to democracy which occurs when journalists collude with politicians---when they find themselves on the same side rather than on opposite sides... when journalists decide to be cheerleaders rather than act as watchdogs on politicians based on the commitment to public interest.

Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 10:51 AM | TrackBack

August 24, 2010

voices from the past

A recent editorial in The Australian --Nation sends a message to its political class--- calls for a renewal of politics based on its standard talking point of equating minority governments with uncertainty and instability. How then does The Australian understand and conceptutalize the new politics?

Like others it understands the new politics in terms of a tectonic shock to the two party system. It says:

the election has delivered a severe shock to the predominantly two-party system that has served the nation well since federation. In itself, the breaking down of rusted-on, tribal voting patterns of the past is no bad thing. A modern, technically savvy and more politically literate nation is always going to question the old verities. But both major parties are paying the price of underestimating voters and for taking their loyalty for granted.

Most commentators agree on that. What then, given the emergence of the three country Independents, the big electoral shift to The Greens, and the refusal of both major parties to acknowledge and accept that ''good economic management'' also means devising the best way to tackle climate change?

The Australian's editorial is crystal clear and direct as to what the 3 Independents must do in the national interest:

It would be tempting for the three independents from regional areas to enter a Dutch auction or to allow past bitterness with the Nationals to sway their judgment. They must act purely in the interests of their voters, who have overwhelmingly rejected Labor. All other things being equal, common sense, not to mention the national interest in stable government, would lead them to back Mr Abbott.

That is clear. Labor must be tossed out of office. The Coalition, which represents authenticity, understands Australians much better than both the dysfunctional Labor machine men and the urban elites who have lost touch with the world beyond the inner cities.

This sounds like the old politics to me. The Australian's message is clear: Power is within the reach of the Coalition and Blue Australia must rule. The implication is that the Coalition's task is to cement power in 2013 or earlier, thereby consigning Labor's 2007-2010 government to a mere interlude across two decades of conservative rule. That is how things should be and the role of the 3 country Independents is to ensure that.

What of Labor then? What does it do when the Coalition entrenched in power for a decade or more. Well, The Australian has a clear message for Labor.

Labor's political class has paid a high price for losing touch with its heartland. The hemorrhaging of votes from both ends of the party is now confirmed and creates a Waterloo moment for Labor. It is being pushed to the Left by its Green wing but its future rests with its capacity to move more comprehensively to the centre-right inhabited by the new, aspirational, often self-employed enterprise class that wants competent service delivery, a tax system that rewards hard work, and a government that maintains a light touch over their lives.

Labor must move to the centre-right and so isolate the Greens. What is needed from Labor in The Australian's version of the "new politics" is to block the formation of a pro-climate action balance of power in both houses of parliament that would see progress on climate policy.

The Australian's scenario implies the Coalition has shifted even further to the Right, if Blue Australia is to rule the nation for another decade or more. So how are the conservative's going to fracture the left-of-centre Coalition (ALP + Greens) that is in formation to ensure that the ALP moves to the right-of-centre?

Update
The Australian has another go in sorting out its understanding of the new politics in its ALP has no reason to lurch Left. It says:

The ALP vote fractured in favour of the Greens on Labor's far Left, not on the mainstream centre-right. Were Labor to lurch to the Left, its would alienate its middle Australian base, courting electoral disaster. It would surrender the mainstream centre of politics to Tony Abbott, whose leadership saw the Coalition make major inroads on Saturday among the former Howard battlers, who later became Kevin Rudd's working families. Labor has nothing to gain by wasting political capital wooing Greens voters. Under Australia's compulsory preferential voting system, the ALP gains the lion's share of Greens preferences anyway.

The Greens will implode just like One Nation and the Democrats:
The Greens will not survive as a political third force if they stray from the values of their voters and must occupy the ground between the major parties...In the long run, the Greens will not capitalise on their "doctors' wives" base in some of Australia's most prosperous electorates by clinging to tomato Left economics, pursuing policies to increase taxes, reintroduce death duties and ban uranium mining and new coalmines.

So Labor would be foolish to overreact by lurching to the Left at the expense of vacating the centre ground.

Update 2
Guy Rundle in Crikey observes that with this election the political question has come to the fore after it had been taken over, and submerged, by economics since the 1970s. He says:

The political question who leads, how and through what institutions has barely been regarded as political at all, or cynically manipulated, as in Howard's handling of the Republic debate. ...What's happened in this election is that the process of parliamentary electoral politics which is minimally democratic and the party-based politics of interests, which isn't democratic in the slightest, have come into contradiction, in a situation where the system usually silently serves the interests. The profound cynicism and mild fear of the commentariat have caused them to back the interests against the system.

The mere process over the last three days has made visible the invisible structures of power, and their potential (if not straightforward) transformability. The political apparatus has been put into question by the regional independents whilst the business-as-usual Canberra Press Gallery is trying to play catchup.

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August 13, 2010

'horse race' journalism

The normal way to cover an election is to cover campaign strategy, attack ads, candidate gaffes and poll numbers. Political journalism during an election campaign is limited to the day-to-day reporting of events in the campaign. The journalists highlight the cut and thrust of what the leaders are up to all day, and who is winning in terms of getting the best exposure in the media headlines. This construct is what we call news, which is then commented upon. The increasing reference to The Greens is what is new.

Ben Eltham in The longing for engagement at the ABC's The Drum says that:

The lack of attention to serious policy issues seems to have been one of the most common complaints about the 2010 federal election. Voters seem apathetic, the media cynical, politicians clueless. Above all, the dominant theme seems to be disengagement: between politicians and voters, between politicians and the media, and between the media and voters...No wonder, then, that the best election coverage of this campaign is to be found on an advertising show: the ABC1's Gruen Nation. When substantive policies are thin on the ground, when great moral challenges are cause for delay and procrastination, and when even the audience at a campaign debate can be accused of being biased, it's not surprising that the most insightful political analysis comes from a panel of ad-men.

My sentiments too. However, Eltham doesn't explore how the media is integrated into the stage-managed and media-centric nature of modern election campaigning in a televisual and multi-mediated society that has emerged during a protracted crisis of social democracy.

It's integration can be seen in what Jay Rosen of Pressthink who is in Australia for the Walkley Media Conference 2010, calls horse race journalism. He says:

Horse race journalism is a reusable model for how to do campaign coverage in which you focus on who's going to win rather than what the country needs to settle by electing a prime minister.And it's easy to do because you can kind of reuse it sort of like a Christmas tree every year and it requires almost no knowledge either. And it kind of imagines the campaign as a sporting event, right? And everything that happens in the campaign can potentially affect the outcome. And so you can look at it as 'How is it going to affect the horse race?' And every day you can ask, 'Who is ahead and what is their strategy?' And I think this perspective appeals to political reporters because it kind of puts them on the inside, looking at the campaign the way the operatives do. By the way, I'm told that you actually have a program here on Sunday morning called the Insiders.

Touche. The 'insiders' are the journalists who see themselves the chroniclers of the inside game and tell us from the point of view of the professional strategists who's doing better.

Rosen says that an alternative model of journalism:

might start with 'What do the people of Australia want this campaign to be about? What are the issues they want to see the candidates discussing?'And then to ask each day, 'Well how did we do on advancing the discussion of the citizens' agenda today?' Was it ignored? Was it addressed? Was it demagogued? Was it slighted? And if the journalists helped citizens get their agenda addressed during the campaign they would be performing something that's actually very important - a role that's very important for them to do.

This kind of journalism is definitely not done by the Canberra Press Gallery or by the traveling political journalists embedded in the political parties campaign.

A good example of the citizen's agenda population pressures and the state of our cities which the politicians reduce to immigration that surfaced on Q+A as a result of Dick Smith's Population Puzzle documentary. (You can watch it on iView). Few who practice the craft of journalism are looking at the election from the perspective of a better quality of life in our cities; the urban sprawl that is gobbling up valuable farmland; or the sustainability of our cities.

Instead of this we get horse race journalism based on the journalist with contacts eg., Glenn Milne being told information from inside a political campaign. These inside sources are authoritative and this supports said journalists claim that they have special insight into the political process that the rest of us don't have. That insight into the political party's strategy means that they can predict what happens next. That is why they are the classy professionals they are.

Rosen says that the practical strengths of horse race journalism are:

Who's-gonna-win is portable, reusable from cycle to cycle, and easily learned by newcomers to the press pack. Journalists believe it brings readers to the page and eyeballs to the screen. It "works" regardless of who the candidates are, or where the nation is in historical time. No expertise is actually needed to operate it.bIn that sense, it is economical.....Who's going to win -- and what's their strategy -- plays well on television, because it generates an endless series of puzzles toward which journalists can gesture as they display their savviness, which is the unofficial religion of the mainstream press. But the biggest advantage of horse-race journalism is that it permits reporters and pundits to "play up their detachment." Focusing on the race advertises the political innocence of the press because "who's gonna win?" is not an ideological question. By asking it you reaffirm that yours is not an ideological profession.

They identify with the strategists for a political campaign and their focus of whose going to win rather than policy debates, even though campaign tactics are not all that interesting in themselves. They see getting into policy as getting into what the Americans call the weeds.

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August 7, 2010

corporate media spam

A quote from a comment on a post by Rob Beschizza at Boing Boing on claims by the editor of the Financial Times defending newspaper paywalls whilst attacking the old slogan that information wants to be free:

I suggest that much of today's media like to refer to as "journalism" resembles that craft much in the same way that a McDonald's meal resembles a healthy diet. Which means that even when distributed free, much of the corporate spam that some would pass as journalism is overpriced and indeed harmful.

Few would disagree with this in the context of the media's coverage of the current federal election. Most of it is junk that is best avoided if you hold that a healthy conversation over issues in a vibrant public sphere is a good thing for democracy. There is both a public disgust with the white noise of the press, and an intellectual crisis in journalism.

James Carey, the media theorist, argued in his Communication as Culture that democratic politics was born in the domain of oral exchange in a public sphere in which there is face to face discussion and conversation, as in the townhall and public square meetings. Democratic politics and reason are the products of an oral tradition that embraces discussion and argument, relies on the devices of memory and is free from the domination of experts and elites who seek to protect special interests and monopolies of knowledge.

The term conversion applies to speech, stylized writing, journalism and scholarship. Journalism, Cary contends, is more akin to storytelling and argument; a process of making society intelligible, which also means inhabitable by all.

Our conversation is now technologically mediated, and our modern electronic and digital systems of communication have drastically altered our experience and practices, and shaped the ordinary structures of interest and feeling. The media has made possible the grafting of the vivid democracy of the Greek city state on a continental scale and it is protected so as to amplify the debate of democracy, to serve as a check on government and to help bind the nation together.

Strong press, strong democracy is the argument. Carey wrote:

The press justifies itself in the name of the public,” the press scholar James Carey wrote. “It exists—or so it is regularly said—to inform the public, to serve as the extended eyes and ears of the public, to protect the public’s right to know, to serve the public interest.

That was then.

Now we are no longer one nation under television. The media fails us in terms of facilitating the conversation amongst citizens and, as a result, there is a decline of the audience for journalism. Journalism suffers from a credibility crisis and the growing cynicism about the media's role in liberal democracy. All terms of the political equation—democracy, public opinion, public discourse, the press—are now up for grabs.

One pathway is to uncouple "journalism" from "media," while recoupling "journalism" to the keyword "democracy." The sign indicates deliberate democracy and that implies a core commonality of shared information.

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August 3, 2010

the media: politics v policy

I've often argued that the Australian media is pretty bad if evaluated from the perspective of the role of the fourth estate as the watch dogs for democracy. They are content to recycle media releases, engage in a "he said, she said" journalism to represent the complexities of policy debates; and have dumped policy in favour of politics.

Instead of a media that questions and critiques policy proposals we have the media presenting politics as entertainment. This weakens the effective functioning of our national public sphere.

Last Friday Grog's Gamut had a critical post on the way the media operates during this election that added depth to this critique of the media. It indicates how the media have become part of the political narrative. Gamut says:

Here’s a note to all the news directors around the country: Do you want to save some money? Well then bring home your journalists following Tony Abbott and Julia Gillard, because they are not doing anything of any worth except having a round-the-country twitter and booze tour.It is a sad thing to say but we could lose 95 percent of the journalists following both leaders and the nation would be none the poorer for it. In fact we would probably be better off because it would leave the 5 percent who have some intelligence and are not there to run their own narrative a chance to ask some decent questions of the leaders. Some questions which might actually reveal who would be the better leader of this country.

The point he makes is that the media ask about the appearances of politics and ignore public policy issues. Politics rules these days.

He adds:

I think they for the most part ignore it because analysing policy is hard – you actually need to have some understanding of the issues and how they will affect the economy, the people, the Government. It is even harder to then crystallise it in to an informative and interesting 1000 words.Many in the media when they try analyse Government documents get it completely wrong.

The reason the Canberra Press Gallery get it wrong is twofold. First, their conception of politics is a partisan one. A recent example is Jettison super clinics: doctors by Mathew Franklin and Lanai Vasek in The Australian:
Doctors have demanded Julia Gillard scrap her GP super clinics program.They have warned that the taxpayer-funded clinics are stealing patients from existing surgeries.The Australian Medical Association has also questioned whether the clinics are being built in marginal seats for Labor's political gain, rather than in the areas where they are needed.

The medical argument is that the centres the potential to be "very negative" if they were not properly integrated with existing services, that should be built in areas of socio-economic disadvantage and workforce shortage, although such areas already had existing GP clinics that could be built up to provide more services with government assistance.

Are the GP super-centres properly integrated with existing service? That was not explored. Are the centres being built in areas of socio-economic disadvantage and workforce shortage. No research on that. Do the centres offer different kinds of heath services to that provided by GP's? No analysis of that. All that is offered Franklin and Vasek is partisan politics in the form of commentary about health policy.

If Franklin and Vasek were interested in health policy in their campaign journalism they would have introduced ideas of chronic illness, allied health care, integrated team care, and longer consulting times. If it was about politics in a substantive way they would mention the AMA's hostility to this kind of health care; its opposition to primary care reform that undercut the GP as gatekeeper; and its opposition to GP Superclinics. The article is just junk partisan spin functioning as the publicity arm for a particular lobby groupthat is being used to continue the daily attack on the ALP. The Australian's front page is the attack weapon.

However, the critique of the media goes deeper than the partisan bias of The Australian and the Murdoch tabloid Press campaigning to help win an election for the Coalition.

The second reason the Canberra Press Gallery get government policy documents wrong is that they don't have the skills, training or knowledge of policy areas This is really noticeable is in economics. The journalists do not question the Coalition on their mythmaking about government debt and budget deficit; or their implicit denial that the global financial crisis actually happened.

The Canberra Press Gallery just accept the lies that are being rolled out about Australia being ruined by the burden of debt; and are unable to question the claim that the only economic policy is to reduce government debt.

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July 22, 2010

The ABC's 24-hour news channel

The cash strapped ABC, is finally introducing a 24 hour news channel. It starts tonight and shifts to digital TV (HD). It is another example of how broadcasters have had to change and modernise to meet the fast-evolving demands of readers and advertisers.The national broadcaster has been dragging its feet on this, probably because it has lacked the resources and is over stretched.

Better late than never, given that they have the content and the charter. It is another necessary step into the digital age or economy. This is a media economy, in which the way that we use the internet, the mobile phone and iPad makes the half hour 7 pm News followed by the 7.30 Report an anachronism left over from the industrial age. The new digital platforms mean that we can follow a political crisis in real time on free-to-air and have access to more state based news.

Is this going to be more churnalism, regurgitation of press releases from within the State Circle beltway and journalists talking to other journalists endlessly repeated? The news now just bubbles along on the screens in airports, shopping malls, bus stations and squares so that we have chattering walls. The flow of news is now so incessant that an apathy towards the consumption of news is emerging, because the ratio of filler news to real news in the 24 hours news cycle is increasing.

Real news is simply not a ratings leader and the commercial mass media world is one in which journalistic principles are being thrown out the window in a frantic quest for ratings with junk news. In the 24/7 news world the ABC stands for independent free-to-air news, and as a competitor to Sky News and it will provide more fuel to the running feud between the ABC and News Corporation. Will the ABC's service mean a greater recognition that our local politics is increasingly shaped by global forces?

Jason Wilson in The Age has doubts about this move, given that the ABC is already over stretched:

The new station is being propped up with ''savings'' to be made elsewhere - by asking journalists to do more, by poaching personnel from their current posts elsewhere in the organisation and by recycling existing material.The problem is that the broadcaster is already noticeably overstretched. There are fewer foreign bureaus, local radio newsrooms have been pared back, and for years critics have been saying that for all Kerry O'Brien's doggedness, without solid investigative support his interviews on The 7.30 Report have become ritualistic. Four Corners still breaks occasional stories, but spends too many months of the year off the air.

He asks whether we as viewers - and voters - be prepared to put up with a continuing substandard performance across the broad sweep of news and current affairs offerings as the price of these corporate ambitions? The (relatively tiny) audience that wants continuous news can surely avail themselves of a pay-TV subscription or flick on the ABC's free News Radio.

The ABC, as a broadcaster, has little choice given that its coverage of the Rudd execution was flawed. It does need to step into the digital age, and that means a 24/7 television news services. However, Wilson says that we should ask questions about the size of the anticipated audience for this service — and about who will actually use it in a post-broadcast media world.

There’s every indication that other similar initiatives, like BBC 24 in the UK, have struggled to transcend that audience — which is also the group that Sky relies on for its daytime ratings here. A 24-hour ABC news network will likely be part of the smorgasbord of specialised material available to news junkies like me whose appetite for political content is effectively bottomless. It will, in other words, be largely serving a niche market which is already well catered for. Is this the best way to use the ABC’s finite resources?

Wilson wants the ABC to focus more on depth than shallow continuous coverage by, for example, renewing the investigative remit of 4 Corners in order that it might pursue a greater number of important, complex national stories, the ABC would be providing something that simply doesn’t exist elsewhere and which Australian democracy urgently needs. He also reckons that the ABC should develop its online offerings ---go hard on the ABC Local websites, pursue ABC Open, streamline online analysis offerings, and own that space.

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July 18, 2010

paying for good journalism

Joy Lo Dico at Prospect says that if we value good journalism, then we pay for it. According to Lo Dico that is Murdoch's challenge to internet users and consumers of news. The context is that our local and regional papers are withering away; regional television and radio news is hopelessly inadequate and our national papers are making losses that probably cannot be sustained for much longer. Hence Murdoch's paywall.

times-paywall.jpg

I have no problem with the general principle. However, it is not a simple either or: paying for news in opposition to the wider web ethos of “free”--- the idea that the internet should be an Eden where knowledge can be exchanged without a price attached.

My problems emerge with Murdoch's practice. He does not deliver good journalism, or to put it in market terms, a quality product. For instance, what is offered in Australian is partisan journalism of a conservative nature that is directed at undermining a Labor government. Why should I pay for that, even from The Australian, even if it is Australia's only national newspaper?

Lo Dico has a response to this kind of criticism:

So regardless of objections to Murdoch, there is every reason to hope that his scheme works—and you should support his paywalls on your blog, with your tweets and, most importantly, your credit cards.

It is undeniable that the business model for daily printed newspapers is in deep trouble, it is a crisis the media should solve. It is up to the various publishers to decide whether they need to go behind pay wall, or how they decide to make content operations profitable. If a newspaper decides to have a paywall, then the visits to the websites will drop off----by two thirds for The Times; and it may well be the case that we have the emergence of a journalism that may not require giant media corporation involvement.

As a consumer I buy what I consider to meet my taste, desires and needs. I have no obligation as a consumer in the information market to support Murdoch. I’ve got no problems with Murdoch creating a pay wall. It may well work for him, and it may keep his business operations in place and profitable My criticism with Murdoch is the way he thinks that the internet work: ie ., his belief that all newspapers can act in unison to keep their stories away and force users to pay, which just isn’t feasible and ignores the competitive nature of the news market.

This leads News Ltd to attack the ABC (and the BBC) because they are competitors who provide the news free. Mathew Lynn at the Sydney Morning Herald says:

It's too late to start charging for newspapers online. The content isn't good enough, and newspapers themselves are a product of technologies that simply don't work in a digital economy. All Murdoch is going to achieve with this move is to kill off one of the most famous media brands in the world.

That's Murdoch's problem. My problem is that his product is not worth the price he is asking----his newspapers have placed too little emphasis on substance, and too much on entertaining and exciting their readers. In contrast, As Tony Moore points out:
The ABC is grappling with how to transform itself from a paternalistic public broadcaster catering to a loyal if passive audience to a multi-channel narrow-caster, engaging diverse and conditional audiences that have an expectation that they will participate, or at least be consulted, in content creation.

They do have a sense of what the digital future might be.

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June 23, 2010

Gittens on the media

In his remarks on the state of the media in The Sydney Morning Herald Ross Gittens says:

the media are tellers of stories. They're the industrialised equivalent of cavemen sitting around the fire at night swapping yarns. The telling of stories about other people meets one of our most primitive human needs. What it [the media] doesn't do, however, is give us an accurate picture of what's happening in the world.

So he feels compelled to warn us---as citizens in a democracy?--- to be careful about what we read, hear and see in the media. He gives recent examples to make his point.

Thanks for the warning Ross, but we already know that about the corporate media, and the way that it frames its stories in a crisis/crisis overcome narrative. Deception as standard practice is not news to us; nor is the way that the media uses the idea of as the fourth estate and the professionalism, fairness and objectivity of journalism to disguise or mask that deception.

We citizens realized long ago that in the market-driven media commercial interests rule, that the media have their own agenda, and that they tailor their stories to further that agenda. All this is common knowledge, as is the journalist's frame of politics as a strategic game played by individual politicians for personal advancement, gain or power.

This is one reason why we are giving up buying newspapers, scan them online, and are unwilling to pay for their digital content when they---eg., Murdoch's titles--- go behind their paywall. This is news as a business that is indifferent to, if not contemptuous of the well-being of public life and to the desire of citizens to improve their lot.

It's also why we have little time for the tabloid tendencies of television's junk news in an TV culture that is addicted to the values of “infotainment” over news. This junk has little relevance to our governance frame of politics of democracy and politicians solving the nation’s problems, because they do not address policy issues, the specifics of a reform package, or the implication for the way that Australians go about the business of governing themselves. They have little interest in the democracy deficit.

The internet is the new reality. It is not simply about putting up material, but about the relationship between the creator and the readers, between provider and consumer.The relationship between the creator and the readers in the old media is primarily one of distrust and skepticism. We citizens have inferred that public journalism, as advocated by Jay Rosen, is too much of a reach for media companies traded as part of a larger corporate holding on the stock exchange.

If journalism provides much of the vernacular for the public policy dialogue between electors and the elected, is the old media still a primary site of political discourse in any liberal democracy? Are problems that receive prominent attention on the national news still become the problems viewers regard as the nation’s most pressing and serious? That used to be the case. Is it still?

One big problem with our truncated political discourse is that the sound-bites and one-liners of today’s journalism are offered up for consumption without any context, either historical or ideological. Television’s information culture treats public utterances as raw material. Within television’s paradigm, we no longer have news coverage, we have news assembly. The end product is a completely artificial dialogue, surreal and largely unconnected to truth.

The news media, in the main, have become the chroniclers of pseudo-events and image---junk news.

Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 10:41 AM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

June 16, 2010

journalism, news, democracy

The core argument that Alex Jones makes in his Losing the News: The Future of the News that Feeds Democracy is that traditional objective journalism is a bulwark of democracy; it is threatened by economic and technological change (forces outside the profession); and that to the extent that Americans ‘lose the news’, so they risk losing democracy itself.

Jones, who heads Harvard University's Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics, and Public Policy, argues (excerpts from the book) that the slow-motion collapse of traditional news-gathering media (broadcasters, news magazines, and newspapers) produce the "iron core of information" that sustains our democracy and fuels all the derivative media.

Without the iron core, no editorial page, columnist, op-ed artist, blogger, talk-show host, or aggregator will know what to say. Without the iron core, Jones fears, the public will have little clue about what governments, corporations, politicians, and the wealthy are up to. Quality "iron core" journalism nourishes democracy by keeping governments honest, assisting voters in making informed decisions at the ballot box, or stimulating political involvement.

The idea of "iron core" separates serious and important journalism from infotainment, celebrity gossip, spin or publicity and partisan comment. The iron core would only represent a small minority (15% says Jones) of the content in the traditional news-gathering media in Australia.

Jones argues that traditional, objective journalism primarily in newspapers (television —network, local, cable— is derivative media ) is the only thing preventing the public sphere from devolving into a ‘combination of advocacy, public relations, and individuals voices, even though traditional, objective journalism is a filter of of public conversation and is one shaped by the practices and ideology of media corporations.

Since the culture of Web journalism does not support in-depth news or investigative journalism Jones' map is one newspapers’ developing separate online businesses, with the owners of quality papers settling for lower than historic profit margins and renouncing slash-and-burn strategies.

This is how traditional journalists see themselves. They sense that their media world is dying, fear that Fox News stands for the new "journalism" and cannot imagine that new media might serve traditional journalistic functions---eg., writing about Question Time in the House of Representatives or on public policy such as health reform or the National Broadband Network----to foster political accountability. Their scenario is the “barbarians at the gate” one, as they cannot separate the iron core news from newspapers. Jones says:

My nightmare scenario is one of bankrupt newspapers, news by press release that is thinly disguised advocacy, scattered and ineffectual bands of former journalists and sincere amateurs whose work is left in obscurity, and a small cadre of high-priced newsletters that serve as an intelligence service of the rich and powerful.

Our present is emerging into this world and parts of it are very discernible---news by press release and the high-priced newsletters. I prefer the rough diverse democratic voices and the cacophony they create in the public sphere to yesterdays public sphere that was tightly patrolled by ‘objective’ elite and gendered news media of the he said she said journalism.

Update
Alex Jones in a debate on Bloggingheads.tv with Reason Editor-in-Chief Matt Welch:

We need a Bloggingheads.tv in Australia. It is an example of the new media.

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May 26, 2010

the ongoing digital media revolution

The standard account of the effect of the shift to digital media is that newspapers are having a hard time adjusting to declining revenues and circulation, reduced profits, shrinking resources and people moving from the printed page to networked screen. The iPad will not to save the newspapers by offseting the revenue decline of their print businesses.

Yet this is only part of the media story. The next turbulence is not switching off of all the old analogue broadcast signals; nor the existence of a catch up facility along side a broadcast service. It is the emergence of IPTV or Internet Protocol Television. IPTV enables programming to be delivered over a fast Internet connection (courtesy of the national broadband network) to a set-top box plugged into a digital television screen in the living room.

Broadband providers (eg., Internode, Telstra and iiNet) are beginning to move with increasing speed toward installing the IPTV equipment to ensure they are the comprehensive communications provider for each home they serve. Their aim is to provide video, audio, Internet and telephone service to every home with a single fat pipe – and for a single fat monthly bill.

This is disruptive technology because it offers an alternative to Pay-TV of Foxtel and it furthers the segmentation of the mass market into niches. Even though niche content appeals only to a limited subset of an audience (the long tail content), market fragmentation deprives national broadcasters of the mass market that enabled the high ad rates and the fat profits. This undermines traditional broadcast model of the commercial free-to-air media as it depends on assembling large audiences to view regularly scheduled programs.

The scenario is similar to the one newspapers have faced: as revenues recede and profit margins decline so most local broadcasters will reduce the resources they devote to covering local news. There will be a contraction in local news and the content of local TV news will become even thinner than it is today.

The Australian TV landscape is going to change. Sure IPTV today is not viewed as a successful model, the content is not there, and the market is still waiting for it to develop its business model. At the moment we have video content on the personal computer not the television whilst the internet connectivity behind the TV is rare. The big probem for IPTV providers is to create a critical mass of content which challenges that available on the open internet because ‘I don’t pay for it on my PC so why should I pay on my TV?

I suspect that there will the emergence of IPTV Freeview from the ABC with its main stream content; initially in the form of an Electronic Program Guide (EPG) that displays broadcast content schedule two weeks ahead and catch-up content one week behind for all the ABC channels.

Movie content then becomes available with film aggregators like Quickflix, and as our viewing habits change from broadcast to on-demand, we consumers demand the open browser tools (one that handles all video formats and display technologies) to discover the choice of internet-based video content themselves without gate keeping or a walled garden.

The upshot is that the broadcast ‘viewer’ model no longer cuts it in this time-poor, choice-rich world that we live in.

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May 23, 2010

media wars

The Murdochs and News Ltd don't like, or are hostile to, public broadcasters such as the BBC and the ABC doing their job of providing information to citizens. They see public broadcasters and their free content as a big threat to their media business, and they would like to see public broadcasters kneecapped so that we consumers are forced to buy more of the Murdoch media product. Nothing should be free in their world of paid-for content, with access to information being based on paying for that access.

Hence the Murdoch's big shift to putting their digital content behind pay walls --eg., News Corp.'s Times Online For them there's only one way forward for the future marked by by ongoing structural change compounded by flatter advertising growth, and its their paid-for content model, even though it is deliberately downsizing their audience. Journalism for the Murdochs is a commodity, not a democratic necessity.

Recently the Murdoch's attack on public institutions providing free information to citizens was broadened with James Murdoch's attack on the British Library's plan to digitise up to 40m newspaper pages and then make them available online. They will include papers - local, regional and national - dating back to the early 1700s and will make accessing them by the public academics and working journalists.

For the Murdoch's this is yet another example of unfair competition by subsidised public institutions increasing their audience so they capture more users and gained more funding. In his speech James Murdoch said:

Take the current controversy over the library's intention to provide unrestricted access to digital material. Material that publishers originally produced – and continue to make available – for commercial reasons. Like the search business, but motivated by different concerns, the public sector interest is to distribute content for near-zero cost – harming the market in so doing, and then justifying increased subsidies to make up for the damage it has inflicted.

The case of the British Library goes even further. Just yesterday, the library announced the digitisation of their newspaper archive – originally given to them by publishers as a matter of legal obligation.This is not simply being done for posterity, nor to make free access for library users easier, but also for commercial gain via a paid for website. The move is strongly opposed by major publishers. If it goes ahead, free content would not only be a justification for more funding, but actually become a source of funds for a public body.

The Murdoch's want a slice of the action--a cut--because the British Library's move would undermine News Corps paid-for content model. Their approach is making money rather than good journalism or public information to help democratic citizens empowering themselve.

Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 10:17 AM | TrackBack

May 15, 2010

The Australian's upside down world

The Australian's op-eds just get worse---to the point of looniness. If the strategy is to develop a conservative perspective on, and an interpretation of, the events of the day, then the stridency becomes ever more shrill and the claims ever more extreme--to the point where its columnists live in an inverted world.

The latest example from its stable of Conservative hacks and ideologues is an op-ed by Melanie Philips, who has a column in the Daily Mail and runs a blogs for the UK The Spectator in which she teases out the left's secrets and sinister patterns.

In her Londonistan (2006) book Philips claimed that radical Islamism has established London as a base of operations, blaming what she sees as the broader failures of multiculturalism, cultural relativism and appeasement in Britain. Britain is "sleepwalking towards cultural suicide" and "has capitulated to Islamic terror" etc.

In her Blind ideology is dancing on the grave of reason op-ed in The Australian Philips takes aim at the progressive intelligentsia's style of thinking.

She says:

Across a broad range of issues, the progressive intelligentsia appears to have junked the rules of evidence, objectivity and rationality in favour of fantasy, irrationality and upside-down thinking.Take man-made global warming, for example.The belief that the planet is on course for carbon Armageddon is now embedded in Western politics. Yet the evidence that the climate is warming to an unprecedented and catastrophic degree just isn't there. The seas are not rising, the ice is not shrinking, the polar bears are not vanishing, and there has been no significant climate warming since 1995.

In Philips' inverted world science is ideology and an irrationality, whilst her opinions and fundamental religion are reason, which is the reverse of the actual situation in our world.

However, this is what conservatism actually means today. This kind of inversion is what those who gather around the Australian actually believe, and the subterranean racial and class resentments leads to the idea of the Left's conspiracy machine.

Philips' perspective in her upside down world is that:

Such irrationality, intolerance and, indeed, bigotry run counter to the cardinal tenets of a free society based on reason and the toleration of dissent.This is because these dominant ideas are all rooted in ideologies: environmentalism, anti-racism, anti-Americanism, anti-imperialism, anti-Zionism, egalitarianism or scientism, the belief that scientific materialism alone explains everything.

She has written a book on science as a form of irrationality that engages in a witch hunt, whilst environmentalists are fascistic. So science stands for the anti-enlightenment. The claim is that science is ideology because it wrenches the evidence to fit a prior idea and sacrifices truth to power.

Philips claims that, in attacking science and the progressive intelligentsia, she is defending a free liberal society. However, the very extremity of her claims and the demonisation of her opponents indicates that she has dumped the whole idea of a liberal public reason based on argument and debate. Criticism can, and should be made of natural science, environmentalism and scientific materialism in a liberal society but this is done though argument not blanket condemnation.

Update
The Australian's political strategy is one of forcing political change through orchestrated crisis that makes an enemy of those who work for the Rudd Government. News Limited, with its ruthless and nasty culture has has been conducting a war on the government primarily via The Australian. Surprisingly, the ABC takes its political compass from the ugly Australian.

Maybe this inverted world is an expression of an emerging conservative populism? If so, will it led to genuine grass-roots organizing: voter registration, letter-writing campaigns, building mailing lists and staffing phone banks, canvassing neighborhoods at election time, and, above all, getting elected and mounting direct challenges to incumbents, regardless of party?

Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 8:29 PM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

April 21, 2010

the political tango of the executive and media

Peter Osborne in The Observer highlights the nexus between politics and the media in a liberal democracy:

One of the defining features of contemporary politics is the presence in the leadership entourage of a behind-the-scenes fixer and thug. George W Bush had Karl Rove, Bill Clinton the dreadful Dick Morris. Tony Blair benefited, at various stages of his shining career, from the near permanent availability of Peter Mandelson and Alastair Campbell.These doppelgängers play an essential part in the construction of the public identity of a prime minister or president. Most top politicians need, as far as possible, to remain fragrant and project a picture of unsullied virtue. They almost invariably conclude that this can best be achieved if someone else carries out the function of striking background deals, terrorising subordinates and menacing opponents.

Osborne's central concern is with Andy Coulson, the former editor of Murdoch's News of the World, acting as the doppelgänger for David Cameron, the Conservative leader in the UK. He advises Cameron to have nothing more to do with his close aide and accomplice and to sever all relations with him should he win the election.

This is one example of the political tango of the executive and media in which government and media together are happy to collude in the continued collapse of parliament. The hollowing out of democracy is a big issue.

Tasmania points the way forward: make the shift to proportional representation as this gives the public genuine representation and that should also break our current system of “executive sovereignty” by creating a House of Representatives that is more free of single party dominance controlled by the executive.

Of course the two major parties in Australia would act to kill this movement to a hung parliament: --as Tasmania shows they would belittle the Greens, intimidate the public and insist that the only choice is Rudd or Abbott. And the media would be their willing partner in the fear tactics and distortions that will be used to try and destroy the Green challenge.

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April 12, 2010

newspapers + iPad

It may well be that printed newspapers will probably survive for a decade before being largely replaced by digital news and the printing presses are switched off. Mark Day in The Australian, who faithfully runs the Murdoch line that Google steals his precious content, says that the newspaper industry is holding its collective breath: Will Apple's new distribution system on the iPad platform be the game-changer save the industry?

Murdoch's answer is yes. His glimpse of the future is that the iPad (and other tablets) will help him in his attempt to reinvent the newspaper economy in the face of declining print readership and plummeting ad revenues. The Australian says that it will be at the forefront of these new media applications. They can see the advertising dollars emerging from an app store that channels money to those who make the content.

Day treads a little more more cautiously about Murdoch's attempt to roll back the existing "free media models" on the web through paying for access to his content. He says:

The big question yet to be answered is: how many people will buy a newspaper subscription application....and switch to daily electronic delivery in place of a dead tree and diesel truck delivery system? Little else will change: the content, story selection, analysis of what, why and how, context, the interpretation and opinion arising from this analysis, will all remain.

I dare say not many, especially when news and comment is free on the BBC and the ABC. Or Business Spectator. Murdoch may have the devices that must support to make sure his content is in the right access venues, but his content is not unique enough to persuade me to pay for access to it.

It is the book publishers will do rather well out of the iPad, with their multimedia books with sound files, pictures and maps.

Day's argument, in defence of Murdoch's proposed shift to paywalls, is that deliberately downsizing your audience is good. He says:

smaller is better. Publishers who choose to deny access to Google and rely on their own ability to engage readers through iPad-style apps will be able to build their own communities of people in the same way as they do now through print circulation.These communities will be identifiable by their names, addresses, ages, socio-economic status and interests and, as such, will be more valuable to advertisers than the billions of (mostly wasted) eyeballs Google accesses.

Murdoch is willing to take a significant hit on the digital readership of his newspapers in the belief that a smaller, more valuable audience lies over the paywall.

Will the content remain the same as Day assumes? The iPad is a portable, backlit, colour high-definition screen with decent battery life which is equally at home with music, video, text, graphics, photos and hyperlinks. This indicates that the form of the content is going to change, even though TV content is the biggest hole in the fabric Apple is weaving with its integrated content and user experience.

What if text-based newspaper sites become also-rans in the shift to pictures and videos and when internet news becomes even more of fundamentally visual medium? Internet TV via an ADSL 2+ broadband connection is just around the corner.

Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 11:29 AM | Comments (18) | TrackBack

March 27, 2010

Murdoch's retreat

I see that Murdoch's The Times and the Sunday Times in the UK are to start charging for content online in June 2010. Users will be charged £1 for a day's access and £2 for a week's subscription for access to both papers' website. They are the first UK papers to fully charge for digital content. I'm an occasional visitor --"passing traffic"---but I'm not impressed by the content offered.

So I will just avoid them and increasingly turn to The Guardian, which is a better newspaper in that it avoids the slide in quality.

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The principle is if people find it valuable they will pay it. If they don't find it valuable they won't pay it. News International has implied that its other titles, the Sun and the News of the World, would follow. Who cares. Not me. They are tabloid junk that indulges in mass deception.

Jeff Jarvis comments:

By building his paywall around Times Newspapers, he has said that he has no new ideas to build advertising. He has no new ideas to build deeper and more valuable relationships with readers and will send them away if they do not pay. Even he has no new ideas to find the efficiencies the internet can bring in content creation, marketing, and delivery....Murdoch is a stranger in a strange land. All he has left to do is build a wall around himself and shrink away, a vestige of his old, bold self. Who would have thought that we'd end up feeling pity for the man?

I guess that the BBC's news website is likely to be the greatest beneficiary in the UK if papers charge for access. And the ABC in Australia.Much of the newspaper industry is falling behind Murdoch on paywalls. News Corp has made every mistake you can possibly make about the internet: they under-invested in technology, they imposed their own top-down culture on this, they saw this as an extension of their fundamental content business, the media business ... instead of thinking that this was an entirely different business with new norms and new behaviours. News Corp is not really an interesting digital company.

Paper is passé. This battle is over cyberspace. Murdoch has as good as given in.

Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 7:56 PM | Comments (19) | TrackBack

March 20, 2010

state elections + Canberra Press Gallery

After voting 1 Green this morning in the South Australian state election I bought the AFR and browsed it over morning coffee curious to see what the informed commentators from the Canberra Press Gallery were saying about the state elections in Tasmania and South Australia.

Commentary means some kind of analysis over and above the news style reportage from the last day on the hustings that could provide some insight for democratic citizens.

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There was such an article. It was entitled "Tempting you to be independent" in the Perspective section of the AFR. It was written by Louse Dodson, Mathew Dunkley and Mark Sculley and they offer their informed insights about the role of independents in Australian politics.

In doing so they comment about the changes under way in Tasmania where the Greens have been the main beneficiary of Labor's dramatic fall in recent months:

In Tasmania, voters could elect Australia's first Greens government and if not, the Greens are likely to determine who leads a minority government, although there is a chance of a majority Liberal government. The result might not be known for some time.

In other words they haven't the slightest idea what will happen in Tasmania and they have little knowledge of what is likely to happen in Tasmania's 5 electorates-- Braddon, Lyons, Franklin, Bass, Dennison. Nor are they interested, as the next 12 paragraphs are about the outcomes in the Senate given the possibility of the Rudd Government calling a double dissolution this year.

They then turn their attention to the political changes happening South Australia and say:

With Labor struggling, independents in South Australia could determine which party runs the state if there is no late swing back to Rann in the election on Saturday. Rann is preparing to down to the wire --mainly because it is tough going for a third term...Negotiating with independents is certainly on the cards for Rann once again in South Australia.

That doesn't tell us what we already know--the swing to the rejuvenated Liberals is such that a demoralised Labor Party now hopes for little more than to hang on as a minority government. It may well just sneak back in depending on how evenly spread the swing to the Liberals is across the suburbs, and so it is the role of the independents in the Legislative Council. There is nothing about this.

Though Dodson, Dunkley and Sculley devote 19 paragraphs to the possible independents in the lower house in South Australia, we do not learn what the independent's policies are, what they want to negotiate about, or what they will stand firm on--ie.,what policy issues on which they cannot compromise without upsetting their base. Nothing. There is even no reference to the history of the various charters of agreement signed by Independents in with minority governments in Tasmania, Victoria, SA, Queensland and NSW.

The inference?There is little point in reading the mainstream press. It is better to go the blogs. They are more informed. In Tasmania they predict an end to 12 years of majority Labor Government and the Greens holding the balance of power.

Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 2:18 PM | Comments (25) | TrackBack

March 12, 2010

political spin + media

Finally, some critical commentary about in the mainstream media about political spin that has its roots in Madison Avenue. As we know spin operations that manipulate the news agenda in order to gain either positive or negative coverage, has become part of the routine modus operandi of party apparatchiks.

Many say that spin is here to stay on the basis that it's a fact of political life.Tony Blair, for instance, observed that one cannot be a modern day politician without being versed in the black arts of spin---not to have a proper press operation nowadays is like asking a batsman to face bodyline bowling without pads or headgear.

Sushi Das in Political spin undermines democracy in The Sydney Morning Herald says that:

spin takes various forms. Bad news is released late in the day or on a heavy news day to reduce the negative fallout. Chosen journalists are given information exclusively to secure a positive slant. Unattributable background briefings are used to fabricate allegations or smear people. Exclusive stories are released as part of ''official leaks'' to set the agenda.

Das states that these tactics by the various spin doctors succeed in an environment in which spin doctors outnumber journalists, underfunded newsrooms rob journalists of time to do their jobs properly, and reporters are judged on the number of exclusives they churn out rather than the depth of their reporting.

The Canberra Press Gallery rely on the patronage of Canberra insiders, many of whom depend on the spin masters for their stories. The problem is that despite their intense dislike for spin, these journalists depend on the spinners for information. This chummy media/government relationship explains why news management has been so successful for so long.

The techniques and tactics of intensive media manipulation could be one reason why some members of the Canberra press gallery report that black is white. Another reason is that they have spin doctors themselves, as they re-engineering democracy and help to create a culture of public cynicism.

When spin becomes a matter of public comment, its usefulness is thereby reduced.This requires its exposure by a press that fights back against the manipulation from within government (state and commonwealth). Those journalists who desire to be watchdogs for democracy can ensure that spin gradually becomes most loathed and help public opinion identify politics as media management as nothing more than spin.

Once exposed, as Peta Duke spectacularly was in Melbourne, the public grows more cynical about politics.They perceive politics as a shadowy exercise in which truth is concealed and deception is practiced.

Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 7:46 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

February 21, 2010

bad ideas

Bad ideas are the norm in the mainstream media that has embraced info-entertainment and tabloid excess so they can sell more product. The bottom line is what matters not culture. In an industry buckling under the twin pressures of the credit crunch and the growth of digital rivals what matters is the sales impact of a story.

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Some say that paywalls are a bad idea. For major publishers, paywalls represent a desperate floundering in the face of death. Advertising is still what makes money for news, even when there's a cover charge. The bad idea is the rule of the market in which the ABC should have no special place coupled with a special pleading about making market domination easier for Foxtel and News Ltd.

The really bad idea is that we consumers pay Foxtel twice for everything, once through a monthly subscription for limited choice of packaged programmes and once by sitting through the adverts.

Of course, for the Murdochs, that is a really good idea as it means more money for them for less product. What they also want is less regulation of Foxtel and less public subsidies for free-to-air television.

Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 6:56 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

January 26, 2010

the idea of a mutualised news organisation

In his 2010 Hugh Cudlipp Lecture Alan Rusbridger, the Guardian editor-in-chief, makes some points about paywalls and the new digital journalism that make a lot of sense. You don't hear these kind of media insights and arguments from the Australian media --Fairfax or News Ltd.

He begins by looking at one business model of journalism --the one that says we must charge for all content online. It's the argument that says the age of free is over: we must now extract direct monetary return from the content we create in all digital forms. He says that this this leads onto two further questions.

The first is about 'open versus closed'. This is partly, but only partly, the same issue. If you universally make people pay for your content it follows that you are no longer open to the rest of the world, except at a cost. That might be the right direction in business terms, while simultaneously reducing access and influence in editorial terms. It removes you from the way people the world over now connect with each other. You cannot control distribution or create scarcity without becoming isolated from this new networked world.

The second issue the business model raises is the one of 'authority' versus 'involvement'. Or, more crudely, 'Us versus Them':
Here the tension is between a world in which journalists considered themselves – and were perhaps considered by others – special figures of authority. We had the information and the access; you didn't. You trusted us filter news and information and to prioritise it – and to pass it on accurately, fairly, readably and quickly. That state of affairs is now in tension with a world in which many (but not all) readers want to have the ability to make their own judgments; express their own priorities; create their own content; articulate their own views; learn from peers as much as from traditional sources of authority.

He adds that last year the Guardian earned £25m from digital advertising – not enough to sustain the legacy print business. However, his commercial colleagues believe they would earn a fraction of that from any known pay wall model. The amounts earned don't justify choking off the growth in audience numbers through a walled garden.

The Guardian's growth strategy is to embrace digital, reinvent journalism, grow the digital audience and increase digital advertising. Rusbridger's take on this is about reinventing journalism in a digital world with its computer and phone screens that the digital revolution has bought into being. He accepts the argument that digital technology has helped to:

develop a generation of fierce independence; of emotional and intellectual openness; of inclusion; biased towards free expression and strong views; interested in innovation, used to immediacy; sensitive to/ suspicious of corporate interest; preoccupied with issues of authentication and trust – which includes having access to sources; interested in personalisation or customisation rather than one-size fits all; not dazzled by technology, but more concerned with functionality.

Rusbridger says that the Guardian is edging towards a model in which a mainstream news organisation can harness something of the web's power. It is not about replacing the skills and knowledge of journalists with user generated content. It is about experimenting with the balance of what we know, what we can do, with what they know, what they can do.
We are edging away from the binary sterility of the debate between mainstream media and new forms which were supposed to replace us. We feel as if we are edging towards a new world in which we bring important things to the table – editing; reporting; areas of expertise; access; a title, or brand, that people trust; ethical professional standards and an extremely large community of readers.

They are reaching towards the idea of a mutualised news organisation.

Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 9:30 PM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

January 18, 2010

media conventions

I read somewhere that the ABC is planning to run a 24 hours news channel, bringing it into competition with Sky News. Fair enough, as it is where things are going, as the newsstand model of newspapers no longer meets consumers’ needs. But this is more the flow of ordinary news to the public than watchdog journalism.

Radio Nationals' Breakfast needs to do more than just accept that the broadsheet newspapers set the stories for the day, and then just follow their interpretation with little critical comment of its own. This is a convention of “good” journalism done on autopilot that wears the heroic mantle of truth-telling:

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What is needed is not only a redefinition of journalism, but also of what it means to be a journalist in the world of Web 2.0, a fragmenting public, audience loyalty to news sites is minimal, many viewers have abandoned the news for entertainment, and the diminished public for journalism is becoming more partisan.

Most of the orthodox newspaper reporting by the Canberra Press Gallery is recycling the media releases by politicians and publicity/media companies. What is different from this journalism in the commercial media is the shift to partisan commentary---eg. the Murdoch Press--- and this is likely to shift further in that direction.

Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 9:22 AM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

January 12, 2010

media: shifting the debate

We live amidst a digital revolution and, as we adapt to its ever deepening effects, we realize that this revolution is continuing. As an editorial in The Australian says:

Fifteen years ago, mainstream access to the internet through the then-revolutionary Netscape browser banished the orthodoxies around the collection and distribution of information. Analysts argued that the net was as transformative as steam engines and rail transport had been in the industrial age. It looked like a big call back then, but in hindsight such predictions undervalued the impact the internet would have beyond the world of business and the extent to which it would alter perceptions of time, distance and knowledge. A decade ago, few appreciated the way the net would destroy traditional business models yet at the same time spawn a suite of new products and applications.

The implications of the digital revolution are increasingly beginning to sink in--the format of journalism and potentially other media is moving away from the page-centric world we all grew up reading and writing and to a reinventing of text-based journalism for digital platforms.

We are also experiencing a far-reaching convergence of technologies: eg., newspapers are both print and digital; art galleries are starting to make films and the digital, and the erosion of distinct media policy regimes about print media, television and the internet. Newspapers are becoming multimedia operation whilst internet companies are becoming content providers.

The media debates are increasingly marketed by a conflict between between public broadcasting and commercial media (Murdoch's attacks on the ABC), the shift in regulation as pay TV becomes more prominent and a national broadband network is built, and the consumer resistance to control of the public discourse on media by media corporations.

How can we citizens contribute to the debate dominated by the centres of media power and the ‘recipe knowledge’ of the mainstream media with the emergence of the knowledge economy. Philip Schlesinger in The Politics of Media and Cultural Policy in Media LSE indicates one way that policy wonks have done this. He says that:

Influencing the terms of debate is difficult because the shaping of policy has become both more competitive and more complex. The multiplication of cultural and communication management consultancies, the expansion of special advisers in government, the growth of in-house research teams inside communications regulators, the development of specialist media and communications business journalism - all of these have recast the space available to the academy to make its views known and be taken seriously. They have reshaped the public sphere and the intellectual fields within it.

Schlesinger argues that the policy field is dominated by idea of the creative industries, creative economy and making creativity profitable.This discourse holds that cultural and communications industries designated ‘creative’ (ie., dynamism, growth, talent formation and national renewal) are the driving force of a new economy and a rival in importance to the financial sector.

Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 10:52 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

December 20, 2009

digital magazines + tablets

This conceptual video about digital magazine is a corporate collaborative research project initiated by Bonnier R&D into the experience of reading magazines on handheld digital devices. It illustrates one possible vision from Bonnier's design partners at BERG and is similar to that of Sports Illustrated.

Mag+ from Bonnier on Vimeo.

As digital is becoming an alternative to paper and the digital magazine prototypes on tablets are important for media publishers, such as Condé Nast. We can envision a free magazine application that offers one sample issue and the ability to purchase future issues afterward. Or a newspaper application that only displays text articles with pictures, but paying a fee within the app unlocks an entire new digital experience packed with music and video.

This is an example of the “freemium” model that Wired magazine’s Chris Anderson explains in his book Free. Would a freemium strategy would be much more effective through a tablet app than a website?

We know that once readers switch on their computer terminals they have almost no loyalty when seeking out news as reporting or comment and analysis journalism. As readers we jump around exploring a wide variety of news resources including blogs that are increasingly being run by media professionals.

Will these blogs and online publications provide the quality news and analysis that newspapers and magazines have provided for more than a century? Will devices like the tablets help to halt the great media collapse?

Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 10:03 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

December 9, 2009

The Drum beats badly

Jonathon Green, ex Crikey editor, promised that the ABC's new online portal The Drum would provide quality and professional commentary-based journalism:

This is not news, this is not opinion, this is thoughtful and thought-provoking analysis. We'll be taking the issues and ideas that count and digging a little deeper into and around them. Looking for a real sense of understanding.

This, he added, would involve analytic takes on the world and events around us by taking a set of facts or known circumstances and holding them up to the light... then having a chat about it.

Well, let's have a chat about a particular piece they published yesterday. This is Kill the IPPC article by Bob Carter on Unleashed, which is part of The Drum's stable and so presumably, falls under its journalistic ethos. Carter asserts or claims that:

the study of climate change, under the aegis of "dangerous global warming caused by human carbon dioxide emissions," has long since been captured by the small group of well connected, well networked and well funded atmospheric scientists and computer modellers who advise the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), and whose nearly every utterance confirms their ignorance of the true course of climate history and change on our planet - a topic that is the domain of geologists, not meteorologists and computer jockeys.

It's a big claim: nearly every utterance of IPCC confirms their ignorance of the true course of climate history and change on our planet. There is no argument argument to justify this claim of "nearly every utterance." No facts are given.

We are merely offered an interpretation of the Climategate affair without any attempt to deal with the different interpretations of the significance of these leaked emails that challenge Carter's corruption thesis. The latter implies that science and policy is based on what is said in personal emails from people who are developing some sort of scientific story, rather than the literature that appears in peer-reviewed journals.

This is not holding things up to the light. It is chasing shadows inside the cave. This is more holding things up to the light in the context of thoughtful and informed analysis.

Carter then says this:

Behind the corrupted science of Climategate and the fall of the IPCC, then, lie two things. The first is the degradation, mainly by political interference, of research conditions and practices within modern government-funded research groups. The second is the power and financial clout of the modern, ecoevangelistic Green movement, egged on by crusading media reporters and editors. The world has probably never before seen a propaganda and political machine that is as well oiled, well funded and well organized as this modern army of apocalyptics and their media flag-wavers.

He ends by saying that the siren song of the Greens imperils both our standard of living and, ironically, the state of our natural environment.

The fall of the IPC is the inference! That conclusion merely rephrases the initial assertion that nearly every utterance of IPCC confirms their ignorance of the true course of climate history and change on our planet.

So much for the ABC's "thoughtful" analysis. This is a polemic that belongs on the pages of The Australian appealing to, and stirring up, its populist conservative base. Green knows from his experience at Crikey that this is junk analysis, so they are consciously running the junk under the banner of "thought-provoking" to establish their profile in the digital market place.

Does the ABC need to do tabloid to establish its digital commentary brand and to drum up an audience? My take is that in letting Carter's article through it has undermined the values of professional journalism about objectivity (broadly understood) that it professes to uphold.

Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 3:33 PM | Comments (10) | TrackBack

December 7, 2009

media: Copenhagen + critical engagement

The Guardian has teamed up with more 50 papers worldwide to run the same front-page leader article calling for action at the climate summit in Copenhagen, which begins tomorrow. Guess what? The Guardian reports that:

Two Australian papers, the Age and the Sydney Morning Herald, pulled out at a late stage after the election of climate change sceptic Tony Abbott as leader of the opposition Liberal party recast the country's debate on green issues.

So much for political courage. True to form the Australian raves on about Copenhagen's shift to a low-carbon society meaning that Australia must radically reduce its own domestic energy use; an attack on the right to our existing standard of living, and Australians cutting their energy use to Depression levels.

The Fairfax press's lack of courage is in marked contrast to that of Malcolm Turnbull---his willingness to stand up and fight on cutting greenhouse emissions and emissions trading.

Australia's mainstream broadsheet newspapers are in flight from the following statement:

The science is complex but the facts are clear. The world needs to take steps to limit temperature rises to 2C, an aim that will require global emissions to peak and begin falling within the next 5-10 years. A bigger rise of 3-4C — the smallest increase we can prudently expect to follow inaction — would parch continents, turning farmland into desert. Half of all species could become extinct, untold millions of people would be displaced, whole nations drowned by the sea...At the deal's heart must be a settlement between the rich world and the developing world covering how the burden of fighting climate change will be divided...The transformation will be costly, but many times less than the bill for bailing out global finance — and far less costly than the consequences of doing nothing.

What is there to be fearful of, or threatened by, that statement of mainstream views at Copenhagen? In turning away the Fairfax press have dumped their watchdog for democracy role as the fourth estate and embraced infotainment.

At a time when Australia, which has some of the cheapest power in the world, is also the largest per capita carbon pollution emitter in the world, the Fairfax press refuses to engage with this issue. They've ducked for cover on Australia needing to finally do something about our reliance on coal for electricity, especially brown coal.

Fairfax are interpreting Abbott as blocking any substantive moves to achieve sharp reductions in emissions, and in doing so they ignore the following insight from the common editorial, which says that:

the shift to a low-carbon society holds out the prospect of more opportunity than sacrifice. Already some countries have recognized that embracing the transformation can bring growth, jobs and better quality lives. The flow of capital tells its own story: last year for the first time more was invested in renewable forms of energy than producing electricity from fossil fuels.

In refusing to enghage Fairfax, like The Australian, are turning their backs on this future in favour of Australia keeping on producing electricity from fossil fuels.

Into the vacuum of the online democratic public sphere strides the ABC presenting us with the The Drum --more informed diversity in critical online commentary that engages with the ideas, issues and concerns of the day. The Australian, as to be expected, is critical of this platform for what Jonathan Green is calling thought-provoking analysis:

This is not news, this is not opinion, this is thoughtful and thought-provoking analysis. We'll be taking the issues and ideas that count and digging a little deeper into and around them. Looking for a real sense of understanding.

This considered analysis by ABC journalists and experts is contrasted with the opinions of the voices on the ABC's Unleashed, which is now part of The Drum stable. Where does commentary sit? What is the difference between analysis, commentary and opinion?

Green is unclear what the purpose of the thoughtful analysis (quality journalism?) in this online space is, or how it relates to the other online voices in the public sphere? Mark Scott's "townhall concept" is not mentioned, the word democracy is notable for its absence and the emergence of user generated content on the blogs is ignored. What we are given is a defence of good journalism with nothing about the importance of good professional journalism; or the justification of this new role of the ABC is the new digital mediascape.

Is it telling the truth when the powerful commercial media are interested in profit, cutting costs, advertisements and their content, driven by commercial pressure is largely a recycling material from the wire agency and the publicity industry. Consequently, the commercial media present deception, distortion and falsehood rather than the truth.

Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 9:19 AM | Comments (22) | TrackBack

November 24, 2009

media wars

If newspapers want to survive in the new media landscape shaped by digital technology, then the newspaper industry (and the debt-ridden commercial television one) is forced to consider new business models. The reason is the economic reality of advertising revenues slumping and circulations of printed newspapers continuing their long decline. Newspapers and televison stations have sharply cut their budgets to survive. They have closed foreign bureaus and bought out or laid off editors, reporters, and photographers.

The challenge that the Internet poses is both one of destroying the financial base of reporting and dismembering the public that the press has long had. It is probable that the national broadsheet media (eg., NYT, the Guardian, and the Australian,) will probably be able to assemble a public of sufficient size on a variety of platforms to generate the revenue to support a substantial level of reporting.

Currently, the shift to a new business model has been dominated by News Corp's very loud threats to block search engines from crawling the content of its newspapers. Google is the enemy ("parasites" that are "stealing" our content) says News Corp. Several indications of News Corp's strategy for profitmaking in a digital world can now be discerned.

First, James Murdoch told an investor conference in Barcelona that newspapers will play a smaller role in the future with a smaller online audience:

In the business of ideas, which is the business that we are in, we do think journalism plays a role, and we do think there are business models there that will make a lot of sense, albeit perhaps not at the scale of some of our broadcasting businesses and other entertainment businesses......Is it going to be as big a role? No. Structurally, television is vastly more profitable and a big opportunity.

The consequences of News Corp's shift to a paywall or subscription for its digital journalism means that it will have a smaller audience than it has by giving it away for free.

The second indication is the way that News Corp is taking advantage of Microsoft's search engine war with Google. Microsoft has approached big online publishers including News Corp to persuade them to remove their sites from Google’s search engine and index them with Bing in order to increase Bing's market share. Microsoft is willing to spend big to ensure that its Bing search engine is a success.

This is a way of enclosing News Corp's content behind a group paywall. News Corp is willing to sacrifice a lot of traffic to the websites of papers, such as the Wall Street Journal and The Times, in return for a payment from Microsoft. Since Bing’s share of the search market is under 10 per cent whilst Googles is about two-thirds of the market, this means significantly smaller online audiences and therefore a probable loss of online advertising revenues. However, Murdoch has said the Google traffic is not worth very much as the revenue from search traffic is low.

The third indication of News Corp's strategy is suggested by Paul Starr's argument in the Columbia Journalism Review that:

As the diminished public for journalism becomes more partisan, journalism itself is likely to shift further in that direction. That tendency is already apparent online, as it is in cable. And so there is a disconnect between the recommendations that Downie and Schudson offer, which reflect a tradition of nonpartisan professionalism, and the pressures of the emerging environment. Not only is the audience for news likely to become more partisan; so is the universe of potential donors to nonprofit journalism.

News Corp is in the forefront of partisan commentary style journalism--eg., Fox News and The Australian.

These three tendencies indicate a defensive newspaper strategy to protect profits in the context of the digital-media revolution and the increasing irrelevance (decomposition?) of newspapers in their printed form. They also suggest market failure in fields including Australian content, investigative journalism and rural and regional reportage.

This highlights the need for public journalism and wire or news-gathering services in the public sphere or space: a not-for-profit space by design, that exists not to make money but to serve the public and it is accountable to them.The media in this space addresses the audience as citizens, not as consumers in the marketplace.

This public journalism is one that should be supported by the universities' journalism schools producing news for the public along the lines of a "teaching hospital" model of professional education.

Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 9:14 AM | Comments (11) | TrackBack

November 19, 2009

climate change politics + the media

The conservative voice of extremity is exemplified in Miranda Devine's claims in response to Rudd's Lowy Institute speech that Rudd is attempting to fashion a one-party state whilst the dissent of the climate change denialists is being stifled. This taps into undercurrents of hysteria and paranoia in the Australian polity.

These conservative claims are on par with Senator Minchin's statement that global warming is a left-wing plot to de-industrialise the world, or The Australian's standard talking point that climate change is a conspiracy of myth, deception and exaggeration that is being perpetrated by some sort of global green movement of economy-wreckers whose utopia will take Australia back to the dark ages.

Sure, I appreciate that these kind of arrows are being fired at The Greens because this political party may well hold the balance of power in the Senate after the 2010 election. So they need to be treated as political pariahs by the conservatives, who are trying to shore up their base and reduce the electoral losses they fear. That means a reduced Coalition presence in The Senate and a Labor/Green alliance of sorts.

I appreciate that the latter possibility sends a big shudder up the spine of the Labor Right, who will be mugged by political and economic reality. No doubt these social conservatives will have to grit their teeth and bite their tongue.

A more rational liberal voice is that Arthur Sinodinos in The Australian, who uses Pascal's wager to justify using a market approach to global warming. He then says:

There is no incompatibility between private enterprise or capitalism and the environment. The success of capitalism in raising living standards has been used by some Greens to equate it with environmental degradation.The poor state of the environment in Eastern Europe when the Berlin Wall fell demonstrates that there is no corollary between social and economic systems and the condition of the environment.The Greens have often used environmental issues to peddle an anti-capitalist and populist agenda, focusing on renewable energy sources as good, soft power while rejecting nuclear energy as hard power that is the dirty product of multinational corporations.

There is no mention of global warming as a classic example of market failure there. Secondly, how can government support for fostering a renewable energy industry in Australia be seen as anti-capitalist?

As Geoffrey Baker points out there is little debate in the media on some key issues:

Assuming the reality of climate change, how consistent is government policy with the prime minister’s seemingly apocalyptic rhetoric about non-action on climate change? How significantly are industry and environmental pressure groups influencing climate change policy? What is the next step if, as now seems accepted, Copenhagen cannot finalise an agreement on financing the carbon reduction programs of developing countries? Can countries like Australia ethically outsource greenhouse gas reductions by purchasing carbon credits from developing countries?

Baker's explanation for the failure of the media to use the "implied freedom" of political communication in the constitution to debate these issues is the media gatekeepers are mostly concerned about the daily polemical attack and defence of politics in the 24 hour news cycle, and not policy issues.

True, but as Matthew da Silva points out in The National Times a lot of contemporary journalism in the corporate media is little more than a rebadging media releases from the publicity industry. So readers look elsewhere.

Sinclair Davidson, of the IPA, has made an attempt to take the debate further. He says that suppose we:

imagine we know with more than 90 percent confidence that anthropogenic global warming is occurring, what next? The questions, "Should we do anything?" "What should we do?", and "How should we do it?" remain unanswered. These are not scientific questions at all. In the first instance there are economic questions, "How much will doing ‘something' cost?" Perhaps it would be cheaper to do nothing and adapt. Perhaps not. We simply do not know. The Australian Treasury modelling does not answer that question; indeed it doesn't model the actual policy under consideration.

The 'should we do anything' question has been answered with an emissions trading scheme, which is currently being considered by the Australian Senate. The reason for this policy of using the market to drive change is that we do know from the Stern Review of the UK Treasury that it is cheaper to do something now rather than do nothing and adapt. It is misleading for Davidson to say that we simply do not know about the economic question of doing something rather than nothing.

As a Professor in the School of Economics, Finance and Marketing at RMIT Davidson would know this. So why the ignorance claim?

Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 7:06 AM | Comments (14) | TrackBack

November 14, 2009

Media present is a hybrid of old + new

A debate or conversation about the future of news media between "old" and "new" media at the Monaco Media Forum between Mathias Dopfner, CEO of German media giant Axel Springer and Arianna Huffington of the entrepreneurial media start-up Huffington Post in the US.

The consensus was that the present and the future is a hybrid reality in the linked economy --- a mixture of paywalls, newspapers, broadcasters and advertising financed online media. The future is digital, the emphasis is on content provision, and there is a diversity of the distribution of content in a decentralized, opened economy.

There is always something that flows, that escapes the overcoding machine, as Deleuze would put it. Hybridity is a figure for the breakdown of all kinds of boundaries and categories and with new lines appearing to be drawn, there are new ways of playing with the fragments.

Suprisingly, it was also agreed that there is a crisis of journalism due to critical content failure (eg., the Iraq war and the global financial crisis), and not one due to the technology of the distribution channels. On those two major events the journalists failed to live up to their professed standards and were content to spin for the those in favour of war and Wall Street. There was little analysis or investigative journalism.

This is then associated with a growing concern about how we fund quality public service/accountibility journalism--seen by many to be on par with our transportation infrastructure, the social safety net, public universities---in the future. Highspeed broadband for all is the first step.

Update
In Australia the circulation of the corporate national media (the AFR and The Australian) continues to slip and their revenue to decline. The newspaper and commercial broadcast executives continue to argue that the advertising declines are cyclical, and that the advertising future will magically brighten when the overall economy returns to prosperity from the mining boom.

The economic reality is that the advertising won't return to the same levels as before, the newspapers will become much smaller operations (laying off people and scaling back) and Fairfax will struggle to service, and to roll over, its $1.8 billion debt.

Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 12:06 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

November 12, 2009

Media140 Sydney revisited

There are blog posts and reflections about Media140 Sydney's "future of journalism" conference now surfacing on the internet. These reflections are taking steps beyond the immediate comments on the day by both journalists and bloggers

These start from an acceptance that the media industry is changing dramatically, that journos are rapidly getting into online media and engaging with social media. One of the more interesting is that by Neerav Bhatt. In The future of journalism in 140 characters on the ABC's Unleashed forum he steps beyond addressing:

the well-worn arguments about bloggers vs. journalists, media outlets sacking journalists by the hundreds, the demise of newspapers and erosion of free-to-air TV audiences that threaded themselves through the conference.

He suggests that we work our way through the 10 points that constitute Jay Rosen's important Rebooting the News System in the Age of Social Media which formed the basis for his keynote address.

If you weren't at the conference, or watched the live feed of the keynote, then you along with me need to work our way through these 10 points, as they form a complex layered interpretation of what is happening in the global mediascape.

It was a significant keynote address and we in Australia are engaging with, and interpreting, his work in terms of its significance for us within the Australian mediascape. In the earlier post I'd picked up on point one on audience atomization in the closed system with its one-to-many world.

There Rosen argues that the press was able to define the sphere of legitimate debate with relative ease because the people on the receiving end were atomized-- connected "up" to Big Media but not across to each other. I observed that:

Telling our stories means challenging the way the media maintains boundaries around the sphere of legitimate debate; undermining the way that what Jay Rosen calls the “ground” of consensus is established by the professional political class in Canberra, and then offering that tightly bounded consensus to the country as if it were the country’s own.

Rosen points out that what’s really happening is that the authority of the press to assume consensus, define deviance and set the terms for legitimate debate is weaker when people can connect horizontally around and about the news.The atomization effect is overcome.

Rosen's second point is that though closed and open platforms and editorial systems (the press and the social media sphere) are different, they are not separate things. They are richly interactive with one another in the news and information marketplace.They are also interactive in terms of media values such as neutrality, trust, ethics and transparency.

The third links to Dave Winer's interpretation of a newspaper'snews process within this new mediascape. The New York Times is not:

not the printing press, the trucks, or even the editors and reporters. It is the logo and the tradition, the history. Whatever the Times does, it must not diminish the value of the brand, it must enhance it. The challenge is to tap into the enormous potential of the Internet as a news creation and delivery system ...To understand how news works, you need to visualize a flow diagram that includes all the elements of the news process. All the people, not just the reporters and editors. That's where the growth is going to come from.

So basically the Times must evolve, just a little, to see their sources not just as quotes, but also as reporters with a beat -- their expertise. If bloggers get their ideas from news people, then the news people get their ideas from bloggers, including a lot of the bloggers they don't like are also sources. It also means that the newspaper gets a person (ie user generated content) to cover an event for them.

The fourth point picks up on media technologies enabling people to become citizens and the significance of the shift from one-to-many communication (broadcaster) to a many-to-many network using digital media. The argument is that those persons, who were once the audience or readers of the media, are now using the press tools (blogging, podcasting, the Web, cheap digitial cameras, desktop editing) to inform one another about newsworthy events.

This is citizen journalism. They don't need the press to talk to, and inform, one another online. This is a shift from one-to-many communication (broadcaster) to a many-to-many network using digital media. This is about public, civic, citizen participation not just about helping news operations at Fairfax of News Ltd to get a free staff or develop better coverage.

'Citizen' make the link to a political culture and democracy, which in Australia is liberal democracy and brings into play all the historic tensions between liberal and democracy and the way that liberalism represents democracy.

Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 9:01 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

November 9, 2009

Murdoch: you're stealing my stories

The Sky News interview with Rupert Murdoch by David Speers is below. In it Murdoch mentions his opposition to fair use. He reckons that it can be challenged and changed in the courts. I presume that means applying copyright to news.

Murdoch has an old-fashioned vision of the value of journalism and one core message is that he is determined to ensure that the ABC and BBC pay for using News Corp's stories. Currently, the public broadcasters are amongst the:

people who simply pick up everything to run with, and steal our stories ... they just take them .. without payment ... If you look at them [BBC] most of their stuff is stolen from the newspapers now, and we'll be suing them for copyright.

He's sabre rattling on this. All Google News offers is a headline and a link to via a click over to one of his sites. That’s theft? Stealing? Murdoch gave what to Google? A headline where people could go to his web sites for more information. However, Murdoch really does want to hobble the ABC and the BBC. They need to be shrunk to limit what they place in the public domain so that News Corp can make more money from its online products.

Everybody's going to pay me for my content is the other core message from Murdoch. Of course, nothing was said by Murdoch about his media organizations making use of fair use of the work of others for their stories (eg., the images of the Sydney dust storm) Nothing at all. It's his entitlement, as it were, including ripping off Four Corners.

From Rupert's perspective everybody is just stealing from Rupert. It's piracy. End of story. He sounds just like the old music industry. Even if he understands how markets work, the 'piracy' implies copyrighted content. But news is not copyright. It does appear that he has joined Big Content's 'anti-piracy' campaign. For Murdoch we can have the first paragraph of his quality editorials and scintillating commentary for free. If you want anything else, then you pay.

On the fair use message Murdoch does not reckon that he should consider fair use of his content, which allows for limited use of copyrighted materials without permission so that we can put our content into the public domain. Fair use for Murdoch is the right to hire the lawyer.He doesn't like it so he'll be abolishing it shortly. So how is Murdoch going to kill off fair use through the courts? What is left for the public domain after the threat of potential legal action for 'copyright infringement'?

Fair use is a statutory exemption to the rights of copyright owners and there are four key factors that help decide whether use of copyrighted material constitutes fair use: (1) the purpose of your use, (2) the nature of the work, (3) the amount you're using, and (4) the effect of your use on the market. Copyright, despite its name, came into being as a set of liberties for the public as well as a set of rights for the author. The three most important liberties are the liberty to use ideas, the liberty to use facts and the liberty to make a fair use of expression from prior works.

It is difficult for people to use all of the liberties that the law provides because you need to have the physical, financial and emotional wherewithal to use them. You know the old line, “the rich and the poor are equally free to sleep under bridges”? However, you don't need a lawyer to take advantage of some of the liberties provided by copyright. Hence the idea of the creative commons with its Web.2 ethos of share, remix and reuse. It is this culture that Murdoch is opposed to.

He has little concern for public good function. His strategy is that the more he can choke off the internet as a free news medium, the more publishers he can get to join him, then the more people he can bring back to his papers, and the more people he can get to pay for use of his content. The internet for Murdoch is a toll booth with him in the collector's seat.

Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 6:12 PM | Comments (18) | TrackBack

journalism + new media

Derek Barry has a couple of posts on the new media, journalism as a critical public good and the Woolly Days weblog. It moves away from the old meme of the new media is bad, and journalism is dead "debate" that has gone for several years in Australia. Most of the spin aims to further the divide between old journalism and new media in order to shore up the journalist supremacy of the old media.

In his latest post Barry states:

With Murdoch-led paywalls on their way, it is crucial that ABC journalists have the right tools available to them to provide a useful free-to-net alternative for those unable (or unwilling) to afford to buy their news. .... social media, blogs and user-generated content are not replacing journalism, but they are creating an important extra layer of information and opinion. Most people are still happy to rely on mainstream news organisations to sort fact from fiction and provide a filtered view.

I concur with the layers account, but I'm not sure that the pay walls scenario is just about buying news. It is more corporate media's shift away from accountability journalism because the ad-supported newspapers can no longer afford the public good of accountability journalism. Hence the importance of public media and the creative commons.

As Clay Shirkey says in talk at the Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy at Harvard University:

What the Internet does is it makes all commercial models of journalism harder to sustain — not impossible, but harder. And it makes public models easier to sustain — partly because of the lowered cost, partly because of the [inaudible]. And it makes social models much, much easier. So we’re seeing, I believe, a rebalancing of the landscape in terms of the logic of the creation of public goods away from a market dominated by commercial interest into a market where all three of these modes of production are going to be operating side by side in different ways.

It is less a question of replacing newspapers than ensuring the continuation of accountability journalism in the new mediascape, given the decline in this kind of journalism.

Barry's understanding of this new mediascape in formation is that the old battle between old and new media is misplaced in that the blogging publishing platform and Twitter are becoming of new mediascape. Referring to the Media140 Sydney conference he says:

the battles that dominated the backchannels this week reminded me of similar warfare waged two years ago. In September 2007 I attended the first (and to my knowledge, still only,) Australian Blogging Conference in Brisbane. Much of that conference focused on blogs and political reportage. Bloggers and academics lined up on one side of the argument describing how blogs were a crucial part of the public sphere. On the other side professional journalists reminded them that blogging was a practice as well as a platform and their craft skills were still needed to provide proper context to whatever information being made public.The journalists had good reasons for their turf minding – they feared their role as sense-makers was about to be seriously diminished.

He adds that two years latter it is obvious that the old battle over blogs either saving journalism or walking all over its corpse has become history. I concur. It was a battle over nothing much. Barry says that it is Twitter that is now causing the most professional angst:
what did come out [at Media140 Sydney] was the same battle between new and old media along traditional lines but in a new technology. The early adopters and academics showed how Twitter was changing the news landscape. Once again the journalists asserted their right to provide an ethical, informed and contextualised take on the news in the new platform. It was the 2007 arguments all over again but with a new technology. I suspect the outcome will be similar.

As Sharkey points out it is it’s possible for people to agree about the irreplaceability of newspapers, but to disagree about how serious the change in the media environment is. Those changes and their future significance is where the core debates are.

My judgement is that there is a significant revolution is taking place in media production (its not just a cyclical downturn) and the old models are breaking up faster than the new ones are being put into place. What comes to the foreground with respect to public media goods is the nonprofit media organizations that operate in a commercial environment--eg., the ABC and small online magazines. The ABC is doing all right. It is the survival of the small magazines that is a concern.

Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 6:56 AM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

November 5, 2009

Media140 Sydney

There is a Media 140 event happening in Sydney over the next two days, with a live stream, live blogging, and real time twitter. Though the concern is with the impact of social media on journalism the focus is on twitter. The conference format is a mixture of keynote speeches and panels with speeches plus questions at the end. It was all text based journalism with no mention of photographers.

There is still a fear of, and disdain for, the social media being expressed by various media conservatives (eg., the ABC's Chris Uhlman and Robyn Williams from the ABC Radio National’s Science Show) but the bashers of Bloggers/Facebookers/Twitterers were in a minority. There were constant references back to objectivity and the essence of journalism (the truth?), journalism as a profession, and journalism in the grand investigative style. However, the emphasis was more on the new social media. Malcolm Turnbull was the only politician to speak and he spoke about getting the message out across all platforms. That challenges McLuhan.

Mark Scott,, managing director of the ABC, kicked things off this morning by saying that the ABC is reinventing itself from a rigid institution based around a static collection of platforms to becoming a generator, commissioner, distributor and enabler. So it is interpreting the social media as "consumer" empowerment, social interaction, dialogic ethics and ongoing conversations.

Scott, who comes across as an industry leader, spelt this out in two ways. Firstly, the development of the digital townhall concept (now the ABC Open Project) that was connected to 50 digital media producers stationed in ABC centres with a brief to work with local communities to help them create their own media. This depends upon the development of high speed broadband through the National Broadband Network.

Secondly, there will be the launch of “ABC Widgets” that will allow anyone to run ABC news feeds on websites and social networking pages. This will position the innovative ABC in the centre of the digital mediascape, and probably as the key player. This was the only substantive mention of "the audience" for most of the day. What was never addressed was deciding what does and does not legitimately belong within the national debate was a political act.

The context of this reinvention of the ABC is that the economics of the internet is impacting heavily on the industrial age media factories--it is pushing the financially threatened Fairfax media o the edge, and is forcing News Ltd to go behind the pay wall with its product linked to a Kindle or Apple Tablet type platform. Both these media factories miss the consumer empowerment of the internet, in that this new technology enables people to have "human to human" conversations, which have the potential to transform traditional business practices radically.

Jason Wilson, one of the morning panelists, deflates the signifance of Twitter "revolution":

There are some fallacies of futurology that recur when new media arrive. New media are always seen as superseding their predecessors, but very few media technologies disappear from use in any simple way. They persist alongside emerging ones, because they still have applications. New media are always seen as more transparent, but when we settle down we usually realise that no medium is a pure avenue of information; each one is used to select and frame events in specific ways. New media are often seen as democratising, but what do we mean by that exactly, beyond a normative endorsement? In fact, new media tend to gather unique publics, and there's enough research about social networks now to suggest that they have specific audiences, and are capable of exclusion as well as inclusion.

The key here is not the technology per se, but the way the social practice of journalism is being changed by the new social participatory media, and how it gives rise to different forms of writing (images and text) across a variety of media platforms. These forms of writing are expressing our content and our stories. These are narratives from below, and they are the democratising bit.

Media conservatives, of course, reject this. Thus Ben Macintyre in The Times says:

Click, tweet, e-mail, twitter, skim, browse, scan, blog, text: the jargon of the digital age describes how we now read, reflecting the way that the very act of reading, and the nature of literacy itself, is changing.... The internet, while it communicates so much information so very effectively, does not really “do” narrative. The blog is a soap box, not a story. Facebook is a place for tell-tales perhaps, but not for telling tales. The long-form narrative still does sit easily on the screen, although the e-reader is slowly edging into the mainstream. Very few stories of more than 1,000 words achieve viral status on the internet.....Narrative is not dead, merely obscured by a blizzard of byte-sized information.

Surely there will be new opportunities for storytellers to work with each other and share their tales with broader audiences online. Isn't that what the "passive audience" becoming user generators means in the context of the social media?

Telling our stories means challenging the way the media maintains boundaries around the sphere of legitimate debate; undermining the way that what Jay Rosen calls the “ground” of consensus is established by the professional political class in Canberra, and then offering that tightly bounded consensus to the country as if it were the country’s own.

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November 2, 2009

goodby media paternalism

As we know, the newsprint newspaper business model, as based on advertising, is fatally wounded because we are moving to an online world with the screen is gradually replacing ink-on-paper. Hence the declining circulation of print editions of newspapers.

Will print editions will become the supplement to the online editions and web journalism? Though the digital path is the one to take if local journalism is to survive and thrive in future, new for-profit models for supporting this work have not developed beyond erecting paywalls.

What we know is that big newspapers, big magazines, big radio and TV are industrial age creatures. Some will persist in the new age that is coming upon us. But they will need to adapt to the new networked environment, where everybody can contribute.That environment is new.

If the old, tottering media equate control with value, then that value needs questioning. Currently, though newspapers add their own content, they largely act as filters for news agencies, such as AP, Reuters, AFP and the like. Newspapers sort information rather than generate it. Secondly, modern popular journalism, is increasingly dominated by a celebrity-obsessed agenda and often reports serious issues as if they are entertainment. Thirdly, the content that will probably go behind Murdoch's pay walls are sport, page 3 girls, the commentary of celebrity journalists plus other stuff wrapped in a package called quality journalism.

So it looks as if corporate media doesn’t do much of value. They are mostly about control and gatekeeping, even though newspapers no longer own journalism.

Former Washington Post editor Leonard Downie and Columbia journalism prof Michael Schudson in their Reconstruction of American Journalism say:

Journalists leaving newspapers have started online local news sites in many cities and towns. Others have started nonprofit local investigative reporting projects and community news services at nearby universities, as well as national and statewide nonprofit investigative reporting organizations. Still others are working with local residents to produce neighborhood news blogs. Newspapers themselves are collaborating with other news media, including some of the startups and bloggers, to supplement their smaller reporting staffs. The ranks of news gatherers now include not only newsroom staffers but also freelancers, university faculty and students, bloggers and citizens armed with smart phones….

A new online world is in formation --a network--and a new era of journalism. If there is no crisis of journalism, there is one of the legacy mainstream media.

What is forming is the shift from creating sites that people come to to creating platforms that enable communities to share what they know and need to know, with journalists contributing value – reporting, editing, aggregation, curation-- to the network. As this European Commission report says:

During the first development phase of the Internet, most content was still produced and distributed in line with the old, rather centralised, broadcasting model. Today's Internet contains more and more content generated by individuals or groups of individuals. Some contains more and more content generated by individuals or groups of individuals. Some consider this trend of user generated/created content to be one of the most essential elements of what is called the "Web 2.0"...

They go on to say that:
If a great part of amateur content which is shared online corresponds to a growing need of being creative and keeping in touch with one's community, another part of amateur content is being developed by authors with more continuous and serious aspirations whose aim is to achieve a reputation. It is in particular this last group that contributes directly to the increase of global knowledge,culture and creation.

I've no idea how this is taking shape economically I've no idea, but it is happening.

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October 23, 2009

Fox News: "fair + balanced"

I used to watch Fox News when I worked in Canberra, and we had Foxtel so I could watch parliament. After a while I go sick of what I interpreted as the Republican noise machine and Bill O'Reilly and Sean Hannity that masqueraded as media. I presume that Glenn Beck came on board latter.

Looking at this video, it is clear that Fox News has become more extreme and hysterical in its attempt to destroy the Obama presidency and it has dropped its barest pretense of objectivity

The objective for Roger Ailes, as for Murdoch, is not fairness or balance; the objective is always to win by whatever means necessary. That includes marketing himself and his employees as high-minded truth-seekers and innocent victims of snotty liberalism -- much in the mode of old Nixon.

Fox News has given up being a media organization (a conservative media ) as it is now a political operation inside the shell of a media institution that aims to inflame the right-wing base (Fox Nation). It has gained audience share whilst turning itself into a big fat political target. As Glenn Greenward observes:

Fox has taken on a political role that is very rare, at least in modern times, for a large American news organization. Its news coverage is not merely biased or opinionated; there'd be nothing unusual about that. Instead, it is a major participant -- the leading participant -- in organizing, promoting and fueling protests, including street protests, against the government.... Fox has every right to do that, but the pretense that it is a news organization is ludicrous -- transparently so -- and there isn't anything remotely wrong with the Obama White House saying so.

He adds that even those with high tolerance levels for blatant double standards should have a very hard time watching Bush officials of all people -- along with their media-star allies -- whine about criticisms of Fox coming from the White House, when the prior eight years were marked by an administration that attempted to dominate and control media coverage more than any in modern history, along with a media that seemed perfectly content, even happy, to be controlled.

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October 15, 2009

media empires in decline

In his A.N. Smith Memorial Lecture in Journalism 2009 Mark Scott, the ABC's Managing Director, argues that the media empires of yesterday, which once controlled the world, are now in decline. That is a succinct account of the historical process we are living through. The good times for the old media empires are not coming back. They've gone. I'll refrain from commenting on Scott's dubious Rome analogy.

Scott says (video that though some fundamental weaknesses in the traditional publishing and broadcasting model (print and television) were evident long before the internet revolution, that revolution means that anyone can instantly publish on the web. This, in turn, has shifted power to audiences, the power to choose what they would see and read, from where and when.

Spoonermedia.jpg

Scott understands the significance of the internet revolution. He adds that in the world of fragmenting content and audiences the old media empires are waiting to see what Murdoch does. They:

seem largely out of solutions – and instead challenge reality by seeking to deny a revolution that’s already taken place by attempting to use a power that no longer exists, by trying to impose on the world a law that is impossible to enforce.

In the world of Google, Yahoo and Twitter the old media no longer set the rules. Though locking up content behind a paywall means drying up traffic, clearly the pay model will work for some things. However, Scott's main point is true: the survivors will be those who face up to how the world is, not as they might want it to be.

So where to for the ABC as a public broadcaster during the internet revolution? Scott argues that in contrast to the Murdochs, the ABC's response is more nimble and innovative. It involves:

reengineering our newsrooms to deliver quality news when our audience wants it, not just when we schedule it. Turning our local radio stations into media hubs – full of content generated for broadband, user-generated content, being a community town square...Being audience, not organisationally-centred ... affects the way we organise ourselves, the way we work together and cooperate, the way we partner with others, the way we need to cede some space, some control to our audiences to remain compelling and relevant. If we are to survive as anything more than a shell – a legacy broadcaster, an empire in decline – this is what we must do.

That strategy recognizes that a media organisation that doesn’t make audience contribution a central part of their strategy, fades to black. However, the town hall metaphor was not unpacked by Scott. It still remains a metaphor about a possible future with little content, other than the suggestion about the turn to the hyperlocal.

At this stage the ABC, for its nimbleness in embracing Twitter, will still be the ABC with just a little more commentary and user content generated from the audience. However Margaret Simons on Content Makers says that:

I think the battle between public broadcasters on the one hand, and those who want to make us pay for content will be the key media fight in the early part of this century.. It might be described as the battle between “control” media and “participatory” media. (Thanks to Bronwen Clune for those terms). Scott’s speech should be seen in that context.

The key media fight has been won--witness the free content provided by The Guardian and the New York Times. What we are witnessing is a rearguard action by Murdoch and his allies.

Update
The strongest part of Mark Scott's speech was looking back to the world disappearing into the slipstream of history and the lesson who drew from his fall of empires narrative ---public broadcasters needing to be innovative, respecting their audience and engagment with social media. Apparently this old news was a revelation to the media audience.

The weakest part of Scott's speech was the failure to unpacking what is meant by “participatory” media for a public broadcaster and then connecting this to media policy. What needs to happen in media policy for the ABC and SBS to become innovative in developing the “participatory” media experiment?

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October 12, 2009

Murdoch's rant

In his speech at the World Media Summit, Beijing, China Rupert Murdoch showed that he did not understand the internet. In it he said:

Too often the conventional media response to the internet has been inchoate. A medium once thought too powerful has often seemed impotent in the past few years. Of course there should be a price paid for quality content, and yet large media organizations have been submissive in the face of the flat-earthers who insisted that all content should be free all the time. The sun does not orbit the earth, and yet this was precisely the premise that the press passively accepted, even though there have been obvious signs that readers recognize the reality that they should pay a price.

Flat earthers? Doesn't News Ltd use Google for free? Aren't there people already paying for good content at the Wall Street Journal? I cannot see the point that Murdoch is trying to make with the analogy to flat earthers. Murdoch continues:
There are many readers who believe that they are paying for content when they sign up with an internet service provider, presuming that they have bought a ticket to a content buffet. That misconception thrived on the silence of inarticulate institutions which were unable to challenge the fallacies and humbug of the e-establishment...The Philistine phase of the digital age is almost over. The aggregators and the plagiarists will soon have to pay a price for the co-opting of our content. But if we do not take advantage of the current movement toward paid-for content, it will be the content creators, the people in this hall, who will pay the ultimate price and the content kleptomaniacs will triumph.

When I signed up to an ISP I was under no illusions that I had bought a ticket to a content buffet. I was far more interested in publishing my own content/commentary.

Now that makes me a plagarist co-opting News Ltd content in Murdoch's eyes. Don't the reporters at News Ltd rip off bloggers and photographers and other journos without explicit permission, or without even bothering to link to them? Oh, stealing copy from rivals is seen as accepted fair use.

Of course Murdoch's real target is Google and Yahoo, not the bloggers, as it is the former who challenges his power. Now news.google.com gives a headline which is linked to the original article, two or three lines quoted followed by more direct links to the article. So it refers readers back to Murdoch's newspapers. So Murdoch both wants the traffic from Google and for Google to pay him. Google has no reason to do so and they are powerful enough to resist Murdoch's demands to pay up. Murdoch wants a share of Google's income stream.

Shouldn't Murdoch be paying Google for carrying the index of the stories in the first place?

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October 8, 2009

War 2.0: Political Violence & New Media

War 2.0: Political Violence & New Media is a two day conference at the ANU hosted by the Department of International Relations. The context for me with respect to foreign correspondents is the importance of the image in war --they are a weapon of war in their own right---and the blurring between news and entertainment, which doesn't bother to explain what the over-all picture of the conflict is. Moreover, the mass or corporate media do not play the role as an effective Fourth Estate in war, whilst the new media technology are helping to shape how we interpret these conflicts.

The questions addressed by the symposium are good ones. They are questions such as:

What is 'new' about new media? How have the transformations in media technology influenced media-military relations? How have these transformations impacted upon traditional media actors? How are war, conflict, terrorism and violence represented; what are the consequences of these representations? In what ways has new media technology empowered marginalised voices in war, conflict, and terrorism? And how has the transformation of the media landscape impacted on the way states conduct their foreign policy?

I've been watching the live feed of the talks yesterday and today, and I've able to participate through twitter's conversation that updated itself in real time behind the speakers. The podcasts of some of the keynote talks and panel discussions are here. These are big pluses, and they are due to the internet and digital technology.

The theme of the conference was set by James Der Derian's opening key note speech. The background is his Virtuous War: mapping the Military-Industrial-Media-Entertainment Network. In this text Der Derian updates the Eisenhower's concept of the military-industrial complex to take account of technological changes. He maps the implications of Eisenhower’s warnings over the “unwarranted influence” of the arms industry by the Hollywoodisation of global conflict.

He also connects this to the concept of the network society, where the power of capital is seen as being located in patterns of flow rather than points of accumulation. Der Derian connects the technological onward march of the military with the spread of neo-liberalism, which has seen state prerogatives, up to and including the monopoly of legitimate force, subordinated to the overriding priority of increasing corporate profits.

The importance of the image in war---eg., the war on terrorism-- is that we have an image war played out in living rooms about the conflict. So the Pentagon's war machine tries to control through their visual framing, the new media technology enables the terrorists to construct their own visual framing of the war for their target audience. However, this visual framing doesn't address the strategic purpose of a war in Afghanistan. How does it affect our national interest? Is the strategic purpose a good one? What are we in Afghanistan for?

Who raises those kind of strategic calculus questions? Certainly not the mainstream media, which works in terms of crude simplifications of good and bad, goodies and baddies, us and them. It's the bloggers.

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media: inventing the future

There is an ongoing global conversation happening around the future of journalism.There are some entry points into this conversation in Australia, the US and the UK.

The Internet is changing everything, and it is revolutionizing and devastating media businesses. New technology – and freedom from the limits of the old means of production and distribution – is enabling the reinvention of the form of news and journalism beyond the old meme of once we agreed on the facts but disputed their interpretation. Also gone is the view that media companies are disinterested outlets whose aim is to educate the public and distill information surrounding the political debate.

The myths abound, even as the newspaper share of total advertising expenditures continues to decline and guides in how to adapt to the changing landscape. If the future of newspapers is one of a smaller audience willing to pay for a niche product supplied by a quality brand, then its a way off as few newspapers currently cut the mustard. No matter politics rules.

The focus of the conversation has shifted to inventing the future rather than trying to preserve the past of a one-way broadcasting or publishing medium. That future is one of distilling the news into an ever-richer contextual record and commentary.

Melissa Ludtke in her introduction to Lets Talk: Journalism and Media says that:

There are times when technological change catches up with an idea. Now is such a moment, as social media transform how people receive and share news and information. Just a few years back the notion of journalism being a conversation, not a lecture, wasn’t embraced widely in an industry content to transmit what reporters learned to audiences expected to consume it.

That means journalists have to find a way to be part of the conversation in the world of social media. Social media are not just tools that journalists can use as they are a form of technological enframing---we are now swimming in the digital ocean.

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September 30, 2009

goodbye to the media as watchdog

Roy Greenslade makes a penetrating point about what is happening to the British Press:

The press is no longer acting as a watchdog. It does not bite or bark. It has muzzled itself and retired to the kennel to live off PR scraps.

Isn't that the same in Australia, especially with the rural press in regional Australia, which is more or less owned by Fairfax Media and Rural Press. Margaret Simons observation about the rural press:
The main conclusion is that there has been little interest, or ability, to unify the various businesses. They are nothing if not various. What energies have been expended have been focused on unifying the advertising, not the quality of the journalism.

In the smaller capital cities such as Adelaide, journalism is sinking into casual endemic civic corruption because the commercial and political authorities are no longer held accountable by journalists. Journalism functions as part of the publicity machine of commercial and political authority through the cut and paste of the press release that produces bland pap.

Simons goes on to ask:

Surely at a time of drought, reduced water allocations to irrigators, political neglect and so on and so forth, there is more to say and room for a sharper edge to rural news reporting? And where is the leveraging of the journalistic strength of Fairfax? The investigative pieces on water allocations, that could run in the cities and across the group? Or the gutsy state political reporting of issues of rural relevance? Or the evidence that Fairfax reporters are primed with tough questions from the regions to throw at state and federal politicians? So much potential, unexploited.

Clay Shirkey argues that we are headed into a long trough of decline in accountability journalism because the old models are breaking faster than the new models will be put in their place.

If commercial media is a death by a thousand cuts, then not-for-profit journalism becomes a distinct alternative, if only because it represents a break from commercial media. So argues Greenslade.

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Washington Post + social media

As Jay Rosen points out the rhetoric of American journalism describes itself as an adversarial fourth estate, a redoubt for professional skeptics who scrutinize authority in the name of the public and help keep the public discourse honest. This self-image is moth-eaten since the corporate media mostly amplifies the agendas of others—the prominent and the powerful—and tends to aggressively assume its adversarial role only when someone or something—a president, a CEO, an institution—is wounded and vulnerable.

There is little dissent in the sense of refusing to accept that the range of possible solutions to the nation’s problems must necessarily come from the centers of power and influence or to sustained coverage of ideas and—crucially—solutions. One way of doing this questioning and debating is through blogs, as blogs, which are part of the gift economy, represent passage to the public sphere.

What journalists discover is that the “sphere of legitimate debate” as defined by journalists doesn’t match up with their own definition.The authority of the press to assume consensus, define deviance and set the terms for legitimate debate is weaker when people can connect horizontally around and about the news.

It takes us to “news as conversation,” more of a back-and-forth debate and less of a pronouncement or lecture as well as a shift in power from the traditional media's content providers to a self-informing public. The task of the press is to encourage the conversation in the public sphere not to preempt it or substitute for it or supply it with information as a seer from afar.

The Washington Post has Social Media Guidelines are severe:

Post journalists must refrain from writing, tweeting or posting anything—including photographs or video—that could be perceived as reflecting political, racial, sexist, religious or other bias or favoritism that could be used to tarnish our journalistic credibility. This same caution should be used when joining, following or friending any person or organization online. Post journalists should not be involved in any social networks related to advocacy or a special interest regarding topics they cover, unless specifically permitted by a supervising editor for reporting and so long as other standards of transparency are maintained while doing any such reporting.

So there are to be no independent voices on the Post even though many journalists now have one foot outside the corporation.Twitter is a way for journalists to connect with others, scholars, friends, locals, whomever, often with the goal of knowledge-building and sharing.

These rules are about the control of independent voices and an attempt to reassert the traditional news authority to maintain order by either keeping the deviant out of the news entirely or identifying it within the news frame as unacceptable or radical.

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September 24, 2009

media140 Sydney

There is a Future of Journalism in the Social Media Age. It is being driven by Julie Posetti, who is part of Media140, an independent global movement creating unique multimedia conferences and events to explore the future of the real-time web. The aim is to foster discourse, collaboration and innovation within journalism, media, advertising, entertainment, marketing, PR, gaming and technology industries.

This is the world of user experience and digital optimism. Media140Sydney, as a community gathering place, is concerned with the user experience of journalists, and fostering debate and exploring ideas within the media industry about Twitter and the other social media platforms and practices.

The media industry is defined as the mainstream media (print journalism, radio, television + New Matilda) and it is designed to explore the disruptive nature of ‘real-time’ social media, looking at tools such as Twitter, live-blogging, Facebook and other social networking tools as they rapidly transform the media in real-time.

Oddly, the use of blogging platform Twitter by independent political bloggers does not appear to be explored. Nor is the democratizing potential of the political blogosphere. But then blogs are so 2004, aren't they? They are full of bile, and just shout at each other, don't they? Unlike professional journalists, of course. Blogs are the dirty laundy, whilst journalism is the cleaned-up iron laundry.

What this indicates is that news and journalism are closely aligned with the existing media players, and so their combined futures are mutually dependent in the context of the woes of newspapers (profitability layoffs, consolidations, and outright closings), which are more extensive than in any period in memory.

The background to the relationship between journalism and Twitter is explored by Julie Posetti in her j-scribe as a working tool in their work. She argues that the micro-blogging platform Twitter has become the breakthrough social media tool for journalists, as they use it to cross-promote their own stories, comment on others, connect with contacts outside their usual silos and accumulate followers.

Posetti points out that Twitter has become as a way for journalists to publish news briefs from events they are observing or participating in--eg, the recent the dust storm or --- to share links to stories that are deemed significant etc. Twitter has become embedded as a component of the media's breaking news coverage and its increasing use of user-generated content. This means that newspapers are back in the breaking news business except now their delivery method is electronic and not paper.

Media140Sydney does not appear to venture outside the boundaries of mainstream journalism or what journalists working in the industry make of Twitter. The journalists are debating the ways in which technology is changing the social, political and economic fabric of their working lives. More broadly, it is a debate about digital optimism, that is premised on the threat the internet poses to the authority and relevance of the industrial media.

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September 21, 2009

behind the headlines

Mark Bowden in The Story behind the News in The Atlantic argues that one of the consequences of the collapse of professional journalism is that:

Work formerly done by reporters and producers is now routinely performed by political operatives and amateur ideologues of one stripe or another, whose goal is not to educate the public but to win. This is a trend not likely to change.

True, Bowden is nostalgic for the good old days of journalism. He says that what gave newspapers their value was the mission and promise of journalism—the hope that someone was getting paid to wade into the daily tide of manure, sort through its deliberate lies and cunning half-truths, and tell a story straight. That is one reason why newspaper reporters, despite polls that show consistently low public regard for journalists, are the heroes of so many films.

Bowden's article gives two examples of the conservative political operatives and amateur ideologues in the US who used snippets from U.S. Circuit Court Judge Sonia Sotomayor early talks to portray her as a racist and liberal activist during the first few weeks following President Obama nominating Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court. He makes his case.

This kind of political partisan work, which can be usefully described as post-journalistic, is one that we informed citizens are already familar with. It is quite extensive in the media landscape of the 24 hours news cycle and this normality operates at different levels.

Bowden goes onto say that the consequences are harmful, as the partisan practitioners see:

...democracy, by definition, as perpetual political battle. The blogger’s role is to help his side. Distortions and inaccuracies, lapses of judgment, the absence of context, all of these things matter only a little, because they are committed by both sides, and tend to come out a wash. Nobody is actually right about anything, no matter how certain they pretend to be. The truth is something that emerges from the cauldron of debate. No, not the truth: victory, because winning is way more important than being right. Power is the highest achievement. would describe their approach as post-journalistic. .....
...The blogger’s role is to help his side. Distortions and inaccuracies, lapses of judgment, the absence of context, all of these things matter only a little, because they are committed by both sides, and tend to come out a wash. Nobody is actually right about anything, no matter how certain they pretend to be. The truth is something that emerges from the cauldron of debate. No, not the truth: victory, because winning is way more important than being right. Power is the highest achievement.

Well, this the classic understanding of politics--what Carl Schmitt called an existential conflict between friend and enemy (any person or entity that represents a serious threat or conflict to one's own interests).

Bowden then argues that journalism prevents this destruction of democracy in that, without journalism, the public good is viewed only through a partisan lens, and politics becomes blood sport. I find this playing off the honest, disinterested reporting versus partisan advocacy by bloggers close to mythmaking. Most practising journalists in the media establishment are already partisan, in that they spinners for political parties, rewrite political and corporate media releases, and are complicit in management of the publicity machine. They are, to put it bluntly, engaged in mass deception not enlightenment.

Secondly, Bowden is pointing the finger at amateur bloggers when the main media institutions simply recycled the material from the Republican noise machine. Journalism these days is not seeking truth to enlighten, far from it. Journalists are a part of the relations of knowledge/power and integrated into our what works politics Thirdly, the sordid reality of actually existing journalism is covered over by Bowden's appeal to an ideal of journalism, and the ideal is then equated with what journalism actually is.

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September 18, 2009

Fairfax: time for a change

So Fairfax is involved in a power dispute between the Fairfax family and Ron Walker, the Chairman of the Board of Directors. Fairfax, which was once an Australian publishing institution that stood for quality journalism, has become just another media company.

Walker will go sooner rather than latter. A board room change--new blood and talent in the boardroom--- still leaves this media company under the management of Brian McCarthy from Rural Press, having little idea about future of newspapers or funding quality journalism in a digital world. In fact this management team gives the appearance of denying the crisis they are facing other than keeping on cost cutting. That is a one way track to a cul de sac.

As Stephen Bartholomeusz in Business Spectator observes:

The old core of Fairfax, its metropolitan newspapers, and its two big broadsheets in particular, are imploding as cyclical and structural forces have converged. No-one expects the classified advertising volumes and yields to return to their pre-crisis levels.While the Walker acquisition spree has provided diversification into less competitive and vulnerable media segments, that’s an issue of degree rather than direction. Fairfax has yet to devise a strategy or asset base that will allow it to grow while the old media declines, and both the capital it has raised and the structural issues it confronts will dampen its traditional leverage to economic recovery.

Such a strategy in an industry that is undergoing deep seated structural change outside the control of any management involves Fairfax having to reinvent itself.

Margot Simons in Crikey says that:

The real potential of the Rural Press-Fairfax merger was that it made Fairfax the only media organisation in the country -- with the exception of the ABC -- with depth of journalistic talent and real presence in rural and regional Australia. Fairfax had a unique opportunity. But the approach to Rural Press was mistaken. Fairfax understood that it had to diversify from its metropolitan print mastheads, but it thought that rural papers would continue to do well. In fact, the opportunity was about content and community, not about gaining more print assets. The trick was to invest in the content and the community, while getting away from dependence on the print platform. That was never understood.

If one wants to look at what regional and local presence combined with depth of talent might mean in the new media age, one only has to look at the ABC, where localism, social networking and the building of communities is a central part of the vision for justifying publically funded media in the new age.

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September 14, 2009

National Times

Fairfax have introduced their online commentary magazine Natonal Times, which is in competition with News Ltd's The Punch. The latter is more a tabloid style magazine with different voices and style, whilst the former, basically a resurrected masthead from the mid 80s, is more broadsheet commentary. It promises lively, intelligent engaged debate.

Does it deliver?

Firstly, there is nothing new in the voices in the National Times, as they are just the usual Fairfax commentators collected into one online place without a new visual design or style. No new ground is being broken, and there is no indication that The National Times will develop into an Australian version of The Atlantic or Prospect magazine. That online space is occupied by The Monthly and New Matilda. So why bother with the National Times?

Secondly, one question we could ask is: what is the National Times trying to become if it is not just a collection of existing articles from The Age and Sydney Morning Herald? Is there any original material? If there is new content, then it is buried. Surely Fairfax don't expect that putting this behind a pay wall will work.

Thirdly, the National Times appears to be a defensive attempt to block News Ltd. A counter move as it were with little in the way of an online strategy that recognizes how the commentary world has changed with the emergence of the political bloggers. The boundaries have changed. There is no vision of the future in The National times, and no innovation even in terms of dialogue, use of links, use of Flickr or collaborative networked journalism.

The National Times is still bounded by the 20th century know it all mass media in which the journalists acted as the gatekeepers. They are not going to going to where the conversation is taking place. They are waiting for it to come to them, or think that they are the conversation.

Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 1:22 PM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

August 31, 2009

Murdoch guns for public broadcasting

A couple of decades ago in 1989 Rupert Murdoch delivered his MacTaggart lecture, where he argued that television is an area of economic activity, a business, and that competition is invariably preferable to monopoly. Murdoch didn't argue for the death of public service television –-- or the closure of the BBC --- just a reduction in its importance as "part of the market mix, but in no way (dominating) the output".

A commercially-driven system, which he envisaged, largely arrived during the 1990s in the UK – 90% of the UK public now have multichannel digital television, and around half of homes choose to pay for content. BSkyB is currently the most profitable business model for UK television around.

James Murdoch returned to the battle in a powerfully delivered MacTaggart lecture at the 2009 Edinburgh International Television Festival. He launched a scathing attack on the BBC, describing the corporation's size and ambitions as "chilling" and accusing it of mounting a "land grab" in a beleaguered media market. The BBC's news operation was "throttling" the market, preventing its competitors from launching or expanding their own services, particularly online:

Dumping free, state-sponsored news on the market makes it incredibly difficult for journalism to flourish on the internet. Yet it is essential for the future of independent journalism that a fair price can be charged for news to people who value it.

If News Corp is to successfully introduce charges for all its websites (ie., the customer pays a fair price for quality journalism) then it needs to throttle public broadcasting's state sponsored free provision of news.

James Murdoch's argument appeals to independence and plurality and invokes the spectre of Orwell's 1984. Profit and the free market guarantees independence and plurality and a better society. Like his father he wants a much smaller public broadcaster and light regulation---Murdoch also heavily criticised the UK media industry regulator, Ofcom, calling for regulation to be scaled down.

Is this the American model? Does the appeal to plurality and independence mean Fox News Australia?

The Murdoch argument in Australia would be that the ABC's news operation was "throttling" the market, preventing its competitors from launching or expanding their own services, particularly online. Is the ABC too big, potentially a threat to paid-for journalism and inhibiting the ability of commercial competitors to invest in news?

Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 9:29 AM | Comments (24) | TrackBack

August 27, 2009

a "blueprint for progress"?

In an earlier post I mentioned that I had taken time out from my photography to prepare for, attend and speak at the Future of Journalism debate in Adelaide on Monday night. The Adelaide forum happened just after the Perth one, and Tama Lever gives a good round up of that discussion, which was designed to ease journalists to step outside Fortress journalism. As Lever says news journalists in Australia are trying to figure out new, sustainable ways of plying their trade in the digital age.

Entitled a “Blueprint for progress”, the forum was organized by the Media Alliance & Walkley Foundation I never used my speech notes. My initial response to the Adelaide forum can be found in an update to the earlier post. Instead I signed up to twitter.

futurejournalism.jpg

I was on the second panel chaired by Jonathan Este the Media Alliance’s director of communication, along with Collette Snowdon from the University of South Australia; Garry Jaffer, managing director of OMD South Australia (a media planning and advertising buying agency); and Paul Hamra, the editor and publisher of the Independent Weekly.

The panel's brief was to look into the future after the first panel of Fortress journalists had explored the changes (multi-tasking, automation, working across media) taking place in the workplace of the commercial and noncommercial print and television media institutions. The premise of the discussion was that the journalism v blogger conflict is over.

I am not going to discuss the set pieces --ie., the interviews with Tim Burrowes from mUmBrella and Stephen Brook from Media Guardian. Both talked about the world outside the citadel but the link of the new to democracy was very tenuous. What could be inferred from the set pieces is that the press had grown accustomed to silence on its fundamental aims and purposes, and that is why there is little discussion about the relationships between democracy, citizenship, public life and journalism in Australia. The inference was that such discussions were for the campus and professors, despite journalism's obvious stake in the public sphere.

One issue that surfaced through the forum was the difficulty traditional journalists were experiencing in adjusting to a digital world. This involved stepping outside the traditional journalism model to a more conversational mode of writing, using the new social media technologies of blogging, Facebook, Twitter and Flicker in the public sphere. The problem was technology, even though there is little doubt that social media is becoming a crucial part of our mediated lives.

There was a high degree of anxiety about the new technologies, despite journalists blogging, being on Facebook, and using twittering extensively. Obviously, the Media Alliance union needs to run some upskilling courses to show its members how to feel comfortable using these new technologies, and so help them to step outside Fortress journalism and start experimenting in writing journalism differently. The issue is not technology per se--it is writing journalism differently.

The fortress model is where journalism is criticized by all and in conversation with none; conventions of the craft are defended as first principles; and journalism's business is information or facts not weighty reflections. That is for professors. Journalism inside the fortress just tells it as it is, interpretation (partisan advocacy) is left to others, and it is agnostic and indifferent to policy outcomes. Therein lies a problem.

Another issue, and one not seriously discussed, was what is is to done with these tools once journalists have learned how to use them? What are they to be used for? The assumption is that they will be used in newsrooms even though these newsroom are downsizing. So where do the laid off journalists go? What do they do? Do they become independents in an emerging network culture, but are unable to make enough money online to live on. How then does the new digital technology help journalists to work outside the citadel of Fortress journalism in new media institutions?

The idea of Public (or civic) journalism was mentioned, and it was linked to the other idea of stimulating public dialogue or deliberative discussions amongst citizens on issues of a common concern to a democratic public. How this could be done in Australia was not really explored by the panel and the audience, other than the gesture to the turn to community. In that turn journalists are not only observers but participants in our political life; and they address us in our capacity as citizens within the public sphere in a media dominated environment.

There was some sense that public journalism is an idea with academic roots that is in the process of being transplanted in the soil of civil society outside the academy and outside the walls of fortress journalism. Outside the latter because it has a deep skepticism of the capacity of citizens to engage in a public discussion (eg. the vitriol of partisan/opinionated bloggers as placeholder for the herd). What was not addressed was how Fortress journalism identifies with professionals and insiders as opposed to citizens.

In this Fortress model the journalist stands as an eyewitness describing the activities of insides to a passive public, whose job it is to vote rascals/bastards in or out. Reporters act as experts and insiders and they often act as if their audience is made up of other journalists, politicians, staffers and bureaucrats. So the media is seen to talk at the public, rather than with or even to them as part of a process of considering and addressing shared problems. The Fortress model needs to be deconstructed.

Though journalists are comfortable with the public knowing what is happening, they are definitely not comfortable with using their stories and investigations to help the public take responsibility for knowing what is going on through the learned skills of conversation, deliberation and democracy. When users claim the tools as their own, the future is mobile storytelling; gaming for social change; and mapping your city according to your needs.

Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 1:56 AM | Comments (10) | TrackBack

August 24, 2009

Future of Journalism Forum in Adelaide

The Future of Journalism movement is having a forum in Adelaide tonight at the ABC Studios, just after it had rolled through Perth. The forum is entitled Blueprint for Progress, and it looks to be an interesting forum with lots of space for discussion.

I don't know how the Perth discussion went but my gut feeling is that newsrooms of the traditional media are unhappy places. This Moir cartoon can be interpreted as applying to journalism, given all the downsizing currently taking place.

MoirEndisnigh.jpg

I mentioned the forum on an earlier media post What I didn't say then was that yours truly will be a member of panel 2, The changing landscape. My talk notes are here on philosophy.com.

The two panels are structured in the following way. Panel I, entitled The changing workplace, is primarily concerned to get some idea of how journalists’ lives and work environment are changing. To what extent is convergence rewriting the skills manual – what new skills should journalists be learning and what should be provided on-site? Are journalists working longer hours? Covering more stories in any one day?

Has the traditional face-to-face interview largely been replaced by the telephone and email? What of quality: how important are the old skills of accuracy and concise writing? Are time pressures having an adverse affect in these area?

The key question for Panel 2, The changing landscape, is about charging for content – will it work, and what sort of content will people pay for? What sorts of niches are there out there ripe for exploiting by people with journalists’ skills who understand new technology? What sorts of funding models might work in the changing news landscape?

How can journalists add value to what they have traditionally done? Will “citizen journalism” play a major part in keeping the public informed and, if so, will this displace the traditional news media? How important are social networking tools to the news media: crowdsourcing, marketing, etc?

The Media Alliance's weblog Wired Scribe, which was run by Jonathan Este and attached to the Future of Journalism site, appears to have been replaced by the The Debate on the Future of Journalism site. They have added a No journo No News site. They are doing their bit to foster debate and discussion amongst their members. This post sums up the current state of debate on the charging for content issue.

Trouble is there is not much of a debate happening within journalism, judging by the lack of comments from journalists on The Debate weblog.

Update
The national context of the forum was Fairfax's $380 million loss for 2008-09, weighed down by operating earnings fell 27 per cent to $605 million, with the metropolitan newspapers the hardest hit. Fairfax have little idea about top-line growth in a digital world as they are still locked into seeing their staff as a cost centre to be constantly trimmed, rather than as the engine room for their next brilliant idea.

Understandably, the atmosphere of the forum was rather depressing if one read the body language of the industry people on the first panel, and there seemed to be a reluctance amongst journalists to step into a digital world and develop their own blogs. Journalism as writing and image making (video) was assumed to be information rather than the interpretation of information and events; the insider/outsider distinction between journalism and bloggers was assumed; and the fall in advertising revenues was attributed to the global financial crisis on advertising revenues, not the shift of advertising online. Digital advertising is still in its early stages according to the advertising people especially with local targeting, tailored to specific readers.

The journalists are in shock rather than being recovering journalists. Nothing like GrowthSpur was mentioned to facilitate the shift to web based journalism. It was bootstrap stuff----each media organization finding their own way into web journalism constrained by their resources.

In the satellite feed from London, Stephen Brook from Media Guardian, ruled out a pay wall saying that the Guardian News and Media group is exploring other ways to create new revenue streams, such as membership, and looking at a variety of potential partners and vendors (eg., festivals such as Glastonbury.)

There was no mention at the forum about news photography or photojournalism --- visually covering daily news events-- being finished.

Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 1:26 PM | Comments (8) | TrackBack

August 22, 2009

more Murdoch

The Los Angeles Times reports that News Corp is trying to organise a consortium of online news providers. Paywalls will only work if everyone does it, so they might as well organise it properly.

The notion of charging for digital access to news, either online or on devices, has been gaining momentum ever since the Associated Press' annual meeting in San Diego in April. William Dean Singleton, chairman of the AP and chief executive of MediaNews Group Inc., railed against the "misappropriation" of news on the Internet -- a reference widely interpreted as a swipe at search giant Google Inc.

Neat idea, misappropriation of the news. How can you misappropriate news? A newspaper, yes, but news?

A consortium of newspaper publishers is bound to attract scrutiny from federal regulators, who would seek to determine whether it reduces competition, said antitrust attorney Robert W. Doyle Jr., a partner in the Washington law firm of Doyle, Barlow & Mazard.

"The antitrust concern arises if there's no pro-competitive reasons why they have to get together," Doyle said. "If there is a pro-competitive benefit, that's weighed against the anti-competitive problem of allowing competitors to get together."

It would be interesting to know how Australian federal regulators would respond, other than slowly.

I originally found this at the ABC website. So if the ABC takes out a subscription with this proposed news consortium, and they broadcast or post the news they find there, will the ABC be misappropriating the news?

And if I take out a subscription and get a bit of news, and tell my neighbour and a couple of my Facebook friends and maybe one of them has a Twitter account and a big following and eventually the whole world knows about it for the cost of my one subscription, would we all be misappropriating the news? Or would that be an uncompetitive monopoly of some kind?

Posted by Lyn Calcutt at 10:53 AM | Comments (12) | TrackBack

August 18, 2009

newspapers resisted the internet

Bill Wyman at Hitsville has begun a series of articles on the reasons why Why Newspapers are Failing at Splice Today. He has five reasons for this and so far he has uploaded two: the collapse of newspaper's business model as advertisers desert newspapers for the internet, and the culture of the newspapers.

As the former is well known I will concentrate on the latter. Their culture is that of a monopolists and their history of being their reader’s de facto window to the world was just a quirk of their monopolies that made them that. Google desktop enable readers to develop their own home pages. Secondly, the newspapers did understood the web, grasped its service power, or recognized that an enormous sea change was taking place.

Wyman's argument is that journalists aren’t too clear-eyed and often aren’t too intellectually honest) when it comes to analyzing the collapse of their own profession. He says there were a number of things newspapers plainly needed to do in relation to the seachange:

Most of all they needed to stake their place in the new informational channel that was going to change our world. They had to shift their coverage to a new, tech-savvy generation. They needed new equipment to share in the experience of that generation, undergoing the biggest sociological shift since the 1960s. They needed to learn the new era’s tools, experiment with and test a new medium, take advantage of its speed and immediacy to take their place in society even deeper into peoples’ lives. They needed to take a look at their work rules and union agreements to make sure they didn’t the hamper the evolution of their industry at a time when it could be facing mortal danger.

The truth is, newsroom staffs are permeated with fear of change and a discomfort with new technology. At bigger urban papers, parsimonious bosses, unions and work rules made the transition even more difficult.

This reason for newspapers failing applies to the regional newspapers in Australia as they have a very limited presence on the web, and their strategy has been one of cost cutting and containment. In other words there was no strategy to adapt newspapers to the enormous sea change. Cost containment and reducing debt is still the "strategy" of Fairfax under Brian McCarthy. So we have their lost cost Independent Weekly as competition to The Advertiser; so low cost that it has a minimal internet presence.

Wyman says that the criticism of Google News from publishers is flawed because the top 20 daily newspaper companies in the country could have built a similar site with a paltry investment 15 years ago. They didn’t, of course, for three reasons:

• No one understood the technology or its implications, and if they did lacked the skills to situate their companies competitively;

• They didn’t think they had to;

• And, most importantly, after decades of monopoly control, they had forgotten to care about the convenience of readers in the first place.

Those three bulleted points amount to a polite way of saying they were out of their depth, lazy, and arrogant.

Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 7:50 AM | Comments (9) | TrackBack

August 14, 2009

media democratization?

Around a month ago the School of Culture and Communication at Melbourne Uni held a conference entitled “Journalism in the 21st Century: Between Globalization and National Identity”. All we have to on are the abstracts of the papers to help us explore the significance of the set of shifts from mass communications media to the emergent media environment.

The abstract that caught my eye was by Terry Flew from the Queensland University of Technology, called, Democracy, Participation and Convergent Media: Case Studies in Contemporary News Journalism in Australia. It says:

The shift from 20th century mass communications media towards convergent media and Web 2.0 has raised the possibility of a renaissance of the public sphere, based around citizen journalism and participatory media culture. This paper will evaluate such claims both conceptually and empirically. At a conceptual level, it is noted that the question of whether media democratization is occurring depends in part upon how democracy is understood, with some critical differences in understandings of democracy, the public sphere and media citizenship. The empirical work in this paper draws upon various case studies of new developments in Australian media, including online-only newspapers, developments in public service media, and the rise of commercially based online alternative media. It is argued that participatory media culture is being expanded if understood in terms of media pluralism, but that implications for the public sphere depend in part upon how media democratization is defined.

What is meant by media democratization? Or media citizenship for that matter? Fortunately Queensland University of Technology has a digital archive under a common licence, and Flew's paper can be found there.

What we learn is that the media democratisation refers to the free, user-generated content created by the emergence of by the Web 2.0 revolution. Flickr is an example. It decentralizes power, erases the old distinction between professional and amateur, and gives rise to a participatory visual culture. A participatory media culture emerging with blogging in a mediascape dominated by the cultural industries enables citizens to:

have access to a wider range of information sources, to produce and distribute their own media in greater numbers, and to have greater autonomy from agencies of the state or large-scale commercial media enterprises in doing so...The important category in terms of public sphere theory is that of voice, which points in various ways to the opportunity to participate in public discourse, the capacity to use communications media to persuade others and shift public opinion (what Hirschman termed the ‘art of voice’), and the ability to use such media to achieve influence over politics and public affairs.

Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 5:13 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

August 3, 2009

media futures: going local?

The Media, Entertainment & Arts Alliances' important Future of Journalism initiative is concerned with what journalism might become with the decline of the old print business model and people increasingly consuming their comment, analysis, fun, trivia, whatever on the internet. Their Life in the Clickstream: The Future of Journalism was mentioned in this post and analysed in the comments of that post.

Their Wired Scribe weblog run by Jonathan Este is essential reading for anyone interested in knowing what people are saying about the paradigm shift in the media now happening around us. This post gives us new material by Jay Rosen, Phil Meyer and Roy Greenslade from the Sydney discussion, which was concerned with the scale of the pace of change. I do not know the focus of the subsequent Melbourne and Brisbane meetings/discussions.

One is planned for Adelaide late this month and it sounds as if it will consider the opportunities for new forms of journalism--looking to be more proactive about the revolutionary changes caused by the digital technology of the internet. That probably means journalists needing to acquire new skills an a different understanding of journalism.

Greenslade, from The Guardian made an interesting observation at the Sydney forum about the digital revolution:

I think also we are going to see two apparently contradictory things at the same time, one is globalisation and the other is localism. That is, that I think we will see the creation of local journalism, relatively small, much more involving of citizens, reporting on their community. But we are also going to see globalisation in the sense that we’re going to see at the moment: powerful brands, if I can use that awful word, like The Guardian, like The New York Times, like the Financial Times, where you’re seeing larger audiences outside their home base for those publications than you do at the moment. So, for instance we have more readers of The Guardian in the United States than we do in Britain on the Web. So, I think that powerful brands across the world could very well be the new emergence of journalism.

The truth of the matter is that as no Australian newspaper is likely to become a global newspaper they are going to have to reduce their costs and profit margins to bring them in line with reduced revenues. So they become lean and mean through layoffs and rationalizing their operations.

Though there’s lots of people already building the digital world what isn't really happening here in Australia is the emergence of local digital journalism, broadly defined that has its roots in the community. In Adelaide, for instance, we have future digital possibilities in the form of The Independent Weekly and The Adelaide Review, but these still look back to their print past. Presumably, their publishers have not invested in a digital future because they do not see it as a profitable business model. Since they are doing very little by way of creating value on the internet, there needs to be other ways to develop new forms of practising journalism, or facilitating a regional conversation on the internet about what is happening in SA.

Much more future promising is the embrace of a new collaborative form of journalism by the ABC, with its idea of digital regional hubs. But this form of citizen journalism and user-generated content is still on the drawing board. This open source model, in which there are lots of writers, lots of people who know stuff and lots of people who are in a position to issue an accurate report or to give a view on an issue will run into problems of finding people who will end up becoming regular or reliable contributors.

The Gatewatching crowd argue that:

online news sites operated by trusted public media organisations such as the ABC and SBS, and under the governance of clear and progressive guidelines for public media and their role in modern society, currently provide the best opportunity for citizen involvement in news, opinion, and public affairs.

The ABC is in the process of becoming a public media organisation.

Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 7:46 PM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

July 31, 2009

the ugly side of the media

So we have a radio station 2DayFM owned by Austereo that has its FM's top-rating Sydney breakfast show hosted by Kyle Sandilands and Jackie O'Neil Henderson interviewing people with a lie detector test on air to help increase its ratings. This has been going for about six years and this regular stunt on the show of this celebrity shock jock radio is designed to shock and humiliate people to provide pleasure for Sydney's bogans.

In this case the girl's mother submitted her 14 year old teenage daughter to the test due to her concerns about her daughter's experiences with drugs and sex and wagging school. An initial question: why would a mother would do this to her child? Isn't this a form of public humiliation?

Before the actual test, the girl admitted on air to Sandilands, “I'm scared ... it's not fair”. Her mother asked her daughter: “Have you ever had sex?” The teen replied: “I've already told you the story about this ... and don't look at me and smile because it's not funny.” After a pause, she raised her voice with frustration and said: “Oh okay, I got raped when I was 12 years old.”

After a long pause, Sandilands then asked “Right ... is that the only experience you've had?" before the mother admitted she knew of the rape “a couple of months ago". Her daughter yelled, “Yet you still asked me the question!”

Sandilands implies that rape is a sexual experience as distinct from a violent experience of power over a woman.

So why was the teen strapped to a lie detector and asked about her sexual experiences in public in the first place? On Punch Sandilands says in his defence:

I’ve certainly pissed off a lot of journos over the years but I’m sad that they’re using the rape of a 12-year-old girl to have a go at me...As for what I said, it wasn’t intended to hurt. If people have found it appalling or offensive I’m sorry for them that feel that way, but I would ask people to put themselves into the situation where someone says to you during a live radio show that they have been raped.

Nothing about the more substantive issue why was the teen strapped to a lie detector and asked about her sexual experiences in public in the first place.

Isn't this a case of an underage child being asked personal questions about her sexuality for entertainment?


Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 8:23 AM | Comments (16) | TrackBack

July 20, 2009

both sides now media

One of the annoying aspects of the traditional media--newspapers, television and radio--is not its celebrity culture, which is bad enough. It is political journalism's conception of objectivity. Objectivity is understood as truth, and truth is gained from splitting the difference between the two sides. This implies that there is always truth to both sides of an issue. So we have "both-sides-are-equally-valid" journalism on climate change when natural science is clearly on one side of the debate.

I find this objectivity of political journalism amazing when a core problem with the traditional media is their closeness to political power. They are on the drip feed----access to the well known senior or anonymous resources that pop up everywhere in the media. So instead of journalism's ethos being one of telling truth to power, it is one of transmitting spin and deception to the powerless citizens by recycling their media releases. Journalism is presenting the media releases from both sides of an issue as news and commentary. It's manufactured news and the journalists become spokespersons, and advocates, for a political faction or the government of the day. They depend on these sources.

For them----and there are exceptions---it is often best to keep the lights off rather than turn them on about the media's dependance on, and closeness to, political power.

Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 8:19 AM | TrackBack

July 9, 2009

journalism, News Ltd style

In his 'bash the bloggers' speech last week at the Press Club, John Hartigan of News Limited called for less political spin and more inspiring stories in newspapers. Less focus on the "politics of politics" and more "that inspires, surprises and delights readers" as he marketed News Ltd vision of the future of newspapers in Australia's digital economy. Interesting he sad nothing about the drip feed.

Hartigan's vision stated that people will pay for "well researched, brilliantly written, perceptive and intelligent, professionally edited, accurate and reliable" information/news, with the inference that only News Limited was able to deliver. I'd' always puzzled about what "well researched " meant given the deceptions practised by the News Ltd tabloids, the way they stir the prejudices of their core readership, and the systematic prying into the lives of people in rather repellent ways. Or the example of Fox News in the USA, which is the media mouthpiece of the Republican party. This is the press that poses as the bastions of morality and champions of law and order in Australia whilst selling selling fear and hatred to make a profit.

Now, what has been happening in England----the phone hacking saga---gives us some idea of what "well researched " may mean. It is alleged that Murdoch's News of the World tabloid (and News Group Newspapers, part of News International) used criminal methods to get stories. The Guardian reports that "research " involved illegally hacked into the mobile phone messages of numerous public figures to gain unlawful access to confidential personal data, including tax records, social security files, bank statements and itemised phone bills.

It states:

Most of the work was subcontracted to private investigators. A senior Metropolitan police officer claimed to have evidence that thousands of people in public life had had their phones hacked by agents working on behalf of papers. The victims included MPs, cabinet ministers, minor celebrities and sportsmen. The Scotland Yard files mirror parallel evidence compiled by the information commissioner, who uncovered thousands of examples of activity which was "certainly or very probably" illegal.

It's more like the mongrels of the dumbed down yellow press being off the leash isn't it. I wonder how the News of the World and the News Group Newspapers will run the public interest defence argument for these kind of invasion of privacy practices.

Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 12:02 PM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

July 2, 2009

not news

There's plenty of comment today on John Hartigan's press club speech, where he came up with the unique idea that journalism is not blogging, and blogs are not good. And the other, somehow related in some people's minds, that Crikey and blogs should always be mentioned in the same sentence.

Journalist and blogger Tim Burrowes on the journalists versus blogger thing.

Crikey blogger Trevor Cook on the contribution newspapers have made to their own current circumstances.

ClarenceGirl figuring, almost Rudd-style, that all this consternation means bloggers must be doing something right.

Tobias Ziegler from Pure Poison on the hilarity of a News Ltd person criticising others for spouting nonsense.

Laurel Papworth pointing out these rants are actually attacks on their own readership, and therefore counter productive. In comments she makes a distinction between heritage and traditional media:

Heritage media = traditional media outlets opposed to community created media. Not traditional media that embraces it… and stays culturally relevant.
News Ltd's own Andrew Bolt and George Megalogenis are traditional media in the middle of a heritage outfit.

Just for fun, an example of what can go wrong when you attempt to fit in with this internet thingy, but continue to take your audience for idiots. Jamie Briggs at The Punch doing truthiness on Labor's handing of the economy. And they published that with their own figures to hand.

Mark Bahnisch connects dots between Hartigan's speech and Rudd and Gillard's unusually overt response to News Ltd.

During the Utegate/Ozcar/Grechmail nonsense Rudd made a few sideways remarks about News Ltd media, which he continued to do in relation to the Courier Mail's typically News Ltd coverage of events. Bahnisch points out that:

Crikey correctly observes that it’s a recognition that the “power of the press” to shape political outcomes has become a paper tiger, though that should have been obvious from the complete lack of any discernible electoral impact of campaigns such as that of The Australian in favour of Howard in 2007, and of the Courier-Mail against Anna Bligh in this year’s Queensland election. Nor would Rudd and Gillard’s comments have been spontaneous musings – when such coordinated and complimentary comments are made, you can be 100% certain that a particular political strategy has been decided upon.

A few things appear to be going on at the same time that don't bode well for the heritage model, never mind the business model part, of the News Ltd version of news media.

They've gone the lifestyle and opinion route at the expense of 'proper' journalism, to the point where reportage can't be disentangled from partisanship. That might have worked, if the internet hadn't come along and made the voicing of public opinion available to the actual public, as opposed to media's symbolic public in the op ed pages.

At the moment, they're supporting the wrong side, and have been since Kevin Rudd appeared on the public radar. Rudd studiously avoided attacking Howard during 2007, which turned out to be very smart. The public obviously approves of their 2007 decision, so it's a bit silly to think they're going to favour a news outlet that habitually rubbishes their choice. They have, after all, made news a lifestyle choice, then failed to appeal to the market they created.

So much for the public sphere ideal and the Fourth Estate.

We now have a news market, public, electorate, whatever you want to call it, with a majority opinion at odds with News Ltd overt political preference. It's reasonable, logical, and timely, for popular people like Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard to make the most of that. It may run contrary to everything we've assumed about Rupert Power and media influence, but if it turns out that the assumptions are wrong, as they appear to be, hard cheese. The public could very well choose to side with Kevin and Julia against media making the wrong political choices.

What, then, Hartigan and the empire?

Posted by Lyn Calcutt at 4:06 PM | Comments (16) | TrackBack

June 2, 2009

riesling threat

Inside Story is looking to increase (free) subscriber numbers to its newsletter.

You can actually learn things from Inside Story essays. Like this one from Charles Gent, which I personally found quite alarming. More alarming than swine flu or terrorism or Steve Fielding.

Goyder's Line is something of a relic from South Australia's early surveys, drawing an 1865 line between arable and non-arable land bang on the edge of a precious vineyard collection. It's been moving south at an unfair pace and is threatening to take some of the best riesling country with it.

Maggie from The Cook and the Chef must be beside herself.

Posted by Lyn Calcutt at 5:39 PM | Comments (14) | TrackBack

comment on the punch

Verdicts on News Ltd's new adventure, The Punch, are rolling in. As could reasonably be expected, belonging to News Ltd is a problem straight off the bat.

Apparently it's supposed to be a showcase for journalism, but as Jason Whittaker points out, there's not a lot of journalism in it. Not of the news breaking, investigative, revered kind anyway.

The Pure Poison guys are stuck into it already, one go at Tory Maguire and one at Mike Rann.

Tim Burrowes thinks it will find an audience and notes the remarkable resemblance to the revamped Crikey site. Mark Bahnisch noticed the same thing, and also makes an On Line Opinion comparison. In that vein, consider also Unleashed and New Matilda. How much opinion can the Australian market accommodate?

I get what the design is trying to do, and like others, suspect that it's partly an attempt to take on Crikey more than

other similar sites, or blogs, but Crikey could well turn out to be the least of its problems.

Selected comments are published right there, on the front page. They're moderated, but as Bolt, Blair and Ackerman know well, there's moderation and there's moderation. Thinking you can establish a reputation on the basis of contribution quality alone (especially when you're not paying contributors) is misguided. The Punch's commenters will contribute at least half of what it turns out to be. So where will these commenters be coming from and what will they bring with them?

Some will probably migrate from similar sites and blogs, but the majority will most likely end up there via the News Ltd funnel. Instant problem. Eyeball grabbing screaming headlines plus the established News Ltd audience. Nothing new there.

The biggest comment draw so far is a story on the 'race row' over attacks on Indian students. Comments here. If it's considered analysis or top shelf informed debate you're after, you'll have to look elsewhere, but Bolt's crew either haven't arrived yet or are being moderated. Mostly.

It's too early yet to see where it's headed, but indications so far suggest that The Punch is already defined by its origins in Rupert News.

Posted by Lyn Calcutt at 3:54 PM | Comments (17) | TrackBack

digital town squares

The mainstream media in Australia are less known for their innovation and entrepreneurship and more for their dogged protection of the status quo. The quality of the content of the newspapers is declining, the free-to-air television stations are low on good content and they are only tentatively making the shift to digital television; digital radio is barely out of the blocks, whilst the regional press is about cost-cutting their existing businesses, putting profit before journalism and squeezing every cent they can from their markets.

The regional press is particularly bad. As Mark Day observes in The Australian the websites of the regional press (eg., APN News & Media and the Fairfax/Rural Press group) are:

weak extensions of their newspapers -- flimsy on news and largely devoid of any local inspiration that could be described as coming close to the ABC's video/citizen journalism plans. If the regional operators have run the numbers on what it would take to build viable and profitable sites in key regional markets, they've backed away from serious investment because they haven't been able to make a commercial case for it.

Given this unwillingness to develop a digital media presences the ABC's idea of town squares in regional areas is innovative and very attractive. The ABC plans to hire "specialist video content makers" in each of its local radio stations across 50 communities in Australia. ABC managing director Mark Scott fleshed out the idea of a web hub to a Senate's estimate committee by saying that local video content makers:
will be filming, editing and uploading original local content for that market, for that community, so content from that region and for that region will be distributed through our ABC local website.This allows the community to create its own content, to develop its own stories and to share those with the broader community. We will be establishing community websites and genre portals which allow Australians with common interests to talk with each other and to share experiences.This is the creation of a virtual town square, a place where Australians can come together to listen to each other, to learn from each other, to speak and to be heard.

The development of the hubs is made possible by the rollout of the proposed $43 billion high-speed National Broadband Network, as this means that people in regional areas would be able to access video.

Though it will take a while for a critical mass of video content makers or citizen journalists to emerge from the ABC's incubator, it does open up a platform for regional communities to explore issues such as the decline of the River Murray. In the Fleurieu Peninsula the issues associated with the River Murray--eg., proposals to address the drying out of the lower lakes, and the slow death of the Coorong--- have a limited media presence. The Victor Harbor Times has no opinion or commentary.

So the ABC's Townhall idea provides a digital platform for local content producers. We can develop our own stories about the issues that are important to us

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May 13, 2009

Matthew Johns

The fallout from Monday night's Four Corners has a way to go yet, but it looks as though Matthew Johns' career prospects are being worked out today. And Kevin Rudd has yet to declare his personal disgust.

Plenty has already been said about the simple, but complicated, issue of rugby league players' off-field behaviour and a continuing pattern of abuse of women. Simple because sexual violence is plain wrong. Complicated for all sorts of reasons, some of them explored in the Four Corners program.

Consent is fuzzy when all parties are drunk. Some women do consider footy star-f.cking a hobby and how are dim footy players expected to know the difference? Players are trained to practice tribal aggression and encouraged to think of themselves as exceptional. The normal rules of reporting assault don't apply when a woman is going to be subjected to suspicion and outrage from clubs, media and fans. Boys will be boys. There's something suspiciously homoerotic going on. And on and on it goes.

Personally, I'd be happy if rugby league sank into oblivion altogether. Matthew Johns is just the current symbolic figure to embody a small part of what's wrong with the whole ideal of televised meathead aggression.

He'd be a significant scalp. High profile playing career, Footy Show co-host, game commentator. He's an all-round media star, which is part of the problem. If Nine and Fox sack him, justice can be seen to be done and we can all forget about it and get on with our lives.

Trevor Cook thinks Johns should apologise, make restitution, and make a difference. I'll go along with that, as long as it's relentless. He should keep his Footy Show job, and his good deeds should be broadcast far and wide.

And dig up another Deb Spillane to take his commentary job. While Johns sets the example for the appropriate treatment of women, a strong female commentator can set the example for a proper female footy fan. And find some token psychologist for league broadcasts to point out the Freudian connotations of just about everything the game thinks is manly and the Footy Show thinks is funny.

Update
Part One of the Tracey Grimeshaw interview with Mathew Johns and his wife on A Current Affair There are three parts to the video on the Current Affair site. It is an excellent interview.

For good commentary on the issue a useful place to start is still the article linked to early in the post---- Michael Jeh's One of the Boys over at Unleashed. This describes the culture of the NFL, which is where a lot of the problems lie, since this is a culture accepting of the degrading treatment of women.

Posted by Lyn Calcutt at 1:31 PM | Comments (112) | TrackBack

May 11, 2009

goodbye to free online newspapers?

Rupert Murdoch said recently that the days of free online content of News Corps' newspapers are about to end. He will shift to a payment model within a year. This is his response to the collapse in advertising revenues and increased competition from web-only rivals this year---newspapers (and magazines online) had to make money from readers as well as advertisers, given that ad revenues will not come back at same level.

Subscription schemes in this context, such as those offered by the Wall Street Journal Online, the Financial Times, and the AFR begin to look attractive for media corporations. Will it work for The Australian? The New York Times introduced Times Select in 2005, putting some popular columnists and archive content behind a subscription wall, but closed it in 2007. Putting a wall around content kept it out of the national conversation and devalued its brand.

I have doubts that The Australian has any content people would pay for since they do not offer a unique product. Or, in another way to put this, is The Australian able to ensure a greater differentiation in quality between print and web in order to justify the price premium? Not with the current product.

The mass media do have to get used to the idea that we consumers have been force fed advertising and we don't really like it. When I look at Foxtel in Australia I'm stunned---the bottom line is that consumers are being charged via subscription for advertising! My guess is that the owners of content rich sites will have to decide, do they want advertising or do they want subscribers? Trying to get both and rip off us consumers will not wash.

The news or entertainment industries will diminish their audience by charging, which in turn reduces advertising revenue. The Australian online is a shop window and it is free as a way of selling the site or the News Corp brand to you. The shop window entices you inside. But there has to be some good content inside, and for News Corp that means more than its standard conservative polemics.

Update
Clay Shirkey's Newspapers and Thinking the Unthinkable is the text to read in response to Murdoch's payment for digital content proposal. Shirkey says that the curious thing about the various plans hatched in the ’90s is that they were, at base, all the same plan:

“Here’s how we’re going to preserve the old forms of organization in a world of cheap perfect copies!” The details differed, but the core assumption behind all imagined outcomes (save the unthinkable one) was that the organizational form of the newspaper, as a general-purpose vehicle for publishing a variety of news and opinion, was basically sound, and only needed a digital facelift. As a result, the conversation has degenerated into the enthusiastic grasping at straws, pursued by skeptical responses.

He says that round and round this goes, with the people committed to saving newspapers demanding to know “If the old model is broken, what will work in its place?” To which the answer is: Nothing. Nothing will work. There is no general model for newspapers to replace the one the internet just broke.

He adds that many of these models will fail. No one experiment is going to replace what we are now losing with the demise of news on paper, but over time, the collection of new experiments that do work might give us the journalism we need.

Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 12:21 PM | Comments (14) | TrackBack

April 26, 2009

tabloid sensiblities

Toby Mundy in The republic of entertainment at Prospect draws a distinction between two distinct sensibilities have been competing for authority and attention in Britain and other liberal democracies the enlightenment state, and the republic of entertainment. He says:

The former reigns in the quality press, the civil service, the judiciary, science, medicine and, to some extent, the church and the military. The latter is most commonly embodied by the mainstream media, but is increasingly apparent in politics and other spheres.In the enlightenment state, reason triumphs over emotion, experts matter, elected politicians are legitimate, facts are the enemy of cynicism, means are often as important as ends, and the innocent remain so until convicted. In the republic, feelings take precedence, experts are treated with caution (if not contempt), politicians are in-it-for-themselves, cynicism is sophisticated; ends justify means, and people are generally guilty until proved innocent.

He adds that for the last two decades, it is the republican attitudes that have been on the rise, dominating the mainstream and edging into the sensibilities of previously immune institutions in politics, medicine, and the law. It is in the media that this tension is most visible, for it is here that the fight for market share has triggered the import of tropes from tabloids and soap operas into the mainstream—ones that support the narrative element of news, but that also make it more like entertainment.

The narrative is that the increasing absorption of republican values has done the media little good in that independent truth tellers, who believe that facts are more important than feelings, have for two decades been on the run. So the stories are more concerned the weirder, more idiosyncratic aspects of human existence at the expense of serious but more abstract issues like the environment.

High speed broadband will shake this dynamic up since organisations in the world of the arts, media, education, museums and so on, who can now create and distribute their own content. They have the money, expertise and high speed broadband is the spectrum. Peter Bazalgette gives some examples:

Tate Media is part of the Tate Gallery. It is run by techno-visionary Will Gompertz, a man who combines the long hair and casual dress of the art world with military directness. Gompertz acknowledges that the Tate's remit is "to increase people's knowledge and understanding of art." But might it be possible to do that without going to a building? Of course. With funding from BP, Bloomberg, the Arts Council of England and Channel 4, Tate Media now commissions and distributes its own content, just as if it were a small television station or website. They produce documentaries, like one about the Brazilian artist Cildo Meireles (later picked up by ITV's South Bank Show, though it would never have commissioned such a rarefied piece itself).

The Tate Gallery isn't just a museum, it's a content business, with art as its theme."Tate Media produces monthly videos which it distributes on its own website, but also through other galleries, on YouTube and BBC iPlayer. And because the Tate owns the rights, this stuff is free and we the public, have access to it.


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April 3, 2009

TVNZ: public broadcasting?

The Nationals are in power in New Zealand. Surprise, surprise, the state-owned Television New Zealand is facing looming job cuts, with the organization looking to shave $25 million from its annual budget:

NZEmmerson.gif

The job losses come from most areas including news and current affairs, finance and legal, marketing, sports, broadcast services and corporate affairs.The national Government sees things in terms of having $200 million invested in TVNZ, that's the equity in TVNZ. If the government doesn't receive a return on that equity in the form of a dividend then that's less money the government has to pay for hospital beds, less money it has to pay its doctors and less money it has to pay its teachers.

So much for public broadcasting--or what Eric Beecher calls "public trust" journalism.

This "public trust" journalism applies scrutiny, analysis and accountability to governments, parliaments, politicians, public servants, judges, police, councils, the military, NGOs, diplomats, business and community leaders and the recipients of public funding. It is an essential element of a functioning, informed democracy and just as important as the parliament or the judiciary and therei s here is no hint anywhere of an emerging commercial model for the large-scale "public trust" journalism. Not a hint.

Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 9:05 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

March 25, 2009

Afghanistan and the media

Pratap Chatterjee's account of divided Afghanistan in The Atlantic gives a different account to Afghanistan as the official one of Afghanistan being the haven for Islamic terrorists who threaten our national security.

The reality is that most American taxpayer money is actually spent on US troops, not on poor Afghans to provide them with electricity, water, healthcare, a steady food supply and jobs. The Obama administration's policy is one of escalation of US military presence in Afghanistan and the continuation of drone attacks in Pakistan. Australia will tag along whilst offering advice about nation building and remaining silent about the lack of a coherent strategic plan by the US in southwest Asia.

Will the media coverage of Australia's war in Afghanistan glorify this war and mostly show the pro-Government side? Will our largest media outlets (News Ltd, Fairfax, Channel Nine etc ) continue to pay people who receive their talking points from government press releases to pose as independent experts? Will the media raise the question that Australia's interests in southwest Asia are minimal and do not require major social engineering.

Stephen Colbert's speech at the 2006 White House Correspondents' Dinner spells out the rules:

But, listen, let's review the rules. Here's how it works. The President makes decisions. He's the decider. The press secretary announces those decisions, and you people of the press type those decisions down. Make, announce, type. Just put 'em through a spell check and go home. Get to know your family again. Make love to your wife. Write that novel you got kicking around in your head. You know, the one about the intrepid Washington reporter with the courage to stand up to the administration? You know, fiction.

The illusion in the media world--ie., the political media establishment--- is that there is an built antagonism between the government and the media. Yet what is on display on the Sunday morning talk shows (Insiders, Meet the Press etc ) is the insider savviness, professionalism and coolness, coupled to a desire for a deep respect and appreciation from the audience, whose proper role in one of blissful ignorance and populist emotionalism.

Yet what drives these media stars is the desperate-to-be-close-to-power neediness, and they fight tooth and nail as gatekeepers to deny that access to power to others. The gatewatching is about access. This is a relationship that presupposes that experts in defence, national security and foreign policy make the decisions because they know best. So much for the checks and balances provided by the establishment-loyal, political media. The media stars ignore the criticisms of their behavior in acting as conduits for political leaks, and they often act to suppress their amplification of government spin.

What needs to be said is that wading deeper into Afghanistan and Pakistan is a fool's errand, and it is a policy that Australia --and the Obama administration--- will regret. Australia has no vital interest in determining who actually governs in Afghanistan.

Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 8:08 AM | Comments (8) | TrackBack

March 20, 2009

public broadcasting in the 21st century

In Public Broadcasting looks for a future Margaret Simons says that the challenge is coming not from government, not from the cultural warriors of the right (or not only from them) but from pay television:

The pay television sector understands that the commercial free-to-air business model is broken. Commercial free-to-air television cannot afford to compete with pay television in providing multiple channels of specialised content to niche audiences. To do so would fragment the audience and remove the motivation for mass market advertisers to spend their bucks on television commercials.Public broadcasters are a different matter. They are, potentially, the main competition for pay television....This battle between public and pay is not only about government money, but also about spectrum and government favour.

In its submission to the commonwealth governments Review of the future of Australia's two national broadcasters, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) and Special Broadcasting Service (SBS) ASTRA, the Australian Subscription Television and Radio Association, says that that the ABC and SBS should receive government money for new channels only in cases where there is a clear market failure.

Even if there is a market failure, ASTRA says, then the money to address it should not go straight to the ABC and SBS. The required services should probably be put out to competitive tender. Likewise spectrum. If that is available, it too should be put out to competitive auction, not given to the public broadcasters.

Simons says that the ASTRA submission directly challenges almost every leg of the ABC’s funding pitch and vision. Mark Scott has used words like “market failure” at virtually every opportunity to press his claim for government money for children’s content, investigative journalism and more Australian content.

What role then for public broadcasting? An socially innovative one---ABC and SBS have led the way in multichannelling and in use of the internet and pioneering innovative drama--- as this takes us beyond market failure argue argue Terry Flew, Stuart Cunningham, Axel Bruns, and Jason Wilson in their submission:

In the 21st century digital media environment, where all media outlets are multi-platform and digitised in their modes of content production and delivery, it is better to understand the ABC and SBS as public service media organizations, rather than public service broadcasters. This emphasizes how it is the services provided, rather than the delivery platforms, that are at the core of rationales for public support of the ABC and SBS.

Social innovation refers to user-created content strategies, particularly in the provision of online services; hyper-local content; content innovators in the provision of news and information utilizing user created content strategies. The ‘people formerly known as the audience’ are increasingly finding their own means of producing and distributing content and the ABC and SBS can help to shape this activity.

Terry Flew in his blog says that:

The development of the Internet draws attention to a second vision of social innovation, where it comes from the margin and it built incrementally rather than being the product of large-scale, conscious organizational design. Whatever were the original intentions in developing the Internet, it has proved to be a radically decentralized informational and communications system, where innovation arises from the ad hoc and unco-ordinated actions of myriad individuals whose activities become interconnected in the complex networked ecology to a whole that is exponentially greater than the sum of its parts.

The ABC and SBS can effectively harness both of these models of social innovation. To do so, however, he agues that there should be a substantial opening up of both organizations to user-created content. By becoming more participatory public service media organisations, there is the scope to stimulate more public participation, creative output, diversity of sources and, ultimately, more public support for both the ABC and the SBS.

Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 4:37 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

March 12, 2009

a question about the media

A question. Journalists in the mainstream media conventionally understand themselves to be watchdogs over the political establishment, and see themselves as defending democracy. They stand for truth and enlightenment in the face of the lies, coverups and mass deceptions that further the vested interests of political power. They stand for, and represent, adversarial journalism and are responsible for the clashes of ideas in the agora or public sphere.

Is the political reality one in which these journalists are publicists for political power? And further, does the drip feed relationship (access journalism) mean that journalists are actually subservient to political power, not watchdogs over it? They are loyal spokespeople for political power because they are merged into the processes of political power and become part of the process of media management. Is access journalism the dominant form of journalism in Australia?

Glenn Greenward makes the following observations about access journalism:

what fuels "access journalism" [is] the willingness of politicians to speak only to deferential reporters, who stay deferential in order to ensure that those politicians continue to speak with them, a process that perpetuates itself ad infnitum. That has created a virtually complete -- and quite destructive -- accountability-free zone where politicians and pundits alike can simply avoid any form of adversarial questioning or challenges to their claims

It's the ability of politicians, journalists and pundits to avoid meaningful challenges to their views that, more than any other factor, degrades our political discourse. So we have a self-imposed cocooning process that is now pervasive and has become the norm. The gatekeeping that takes place in the media functions to protect both access journalism and to avoid any questioning of the structure of the political/media system.

Update
Access journalism---- in the form of the Canberra Press Gallery--- works in terms of the corporate model of journalism. The changes the newspapers are currently going through ( declining revenue, cost cutting, staff laayoffs etc) suggest that newspapers are failing as businesses and they are becoming a different industry.
By "different industry " is meant that newspapers will struggle to publish under something like the current corporate model (eg., Fairfax) but with somehow different content, eg., infotainment or lifestyle fluff. Escapes! Styles!----junk no one wants to pay for.

This kind of newspaper isn't going to be interested, or able to, produce the news that’s vital to a democracy----giving citizens the information they need to be free and self-governing. Though the newspapers (as old media) will still have great power, the internet has taught the public to expect to talk back to the mainstream media and to become content providers. That also changes the dynamics in the media---- the old model of daily print journalism is dying, and we are seeing the beginning of the end. The end of something means the birth of something new-- ie., the media as a platform for user generated content rather than a portal?

Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 7:04 AM | Comments (8) | TrackBack

March 7, 2009

commenters bad, commentators good

We've come a long way since the bad old days when The Australian got stuck into bloggers and completely overlooked the criticism from commenters in its own pages. It's becoming fashionable to deplore the antics of the hoi polloi in comments, who are apparently eroding the quality of public debate.

Last week Crikey published Peter Faris explaining why he doesn't want a Crikey blog:

I have changed my mind -- I do not think is "useful" for me to do a Crikey blog. This change of mind is propelled by the comments on the Crikey pages in response to my Henson piece. The two or three serious, on-topic comments are swamped by a deluge of personal abuse. A good number of comments are hate comments. I am as thick-skinned as the next commentator, probably more so, but there is no point in having dialogue with people who have a visceral hatred for you personally.

And another one from Clive Hamilton:

An ugly culture of dogmatic and belligerent interventions now dominates social and political debate on the Internet. Comment sections on Internet forums are blighted by a kind of cyber-rage that drowns out debate with table-thumping assertion and a style of personal engagement that owes more to Gordon Ramsay than Socrates. A new vocabulary has developed to describe the variety of offenses, with neologisms such as "flames", "trolls", "snarks" and "sock puppets". Moderators of blog and comment sites do their best to control the rage by setting rules against racism, sexism, coarse language and ad hominem attacks.

Note that Faris and Hamilton both have privileged access to media and both enjoy being controversial and getting stuck into groups of people they don't like. On the topics of Henson (Faris) and internet filtering (Hamilton), both whipped out the paedophilia card to suggest that the groups of people they don't like in relation to those issues have unhealthy ideas about kiddies, which is pretty low, yet both complain about personal abuse.

If a commenter said photographers or internet users are into child sexual abuse, say, 'artists are a bunch of fag peddos', they'd likely be moderated. But apparently it's not what you say but the way that you say it that counts. Faris and Hamilton have plausible deniability on their side.

Via Trevor Cook at Corporate Engagement, Judith Timson at Globe and Mail on bad behaviour among commenters, quoting from David Denby's Snark, which apparently sunk after a bunch of snarky reviews from commentators, not commenters. One such review in the New York Times has Denby sorting his snark from his hate speech. Irony doesn't count as snark,

But “hate speech” isn’t snark either, Denby writes, because it aims to “incite,” not get chuckles, and because it’s “directed at groups,” not individuals.

Snark is a kind of humour used to ridicule individuals, mostly high profile ones, so it's a kind of levelling mechanism in the toolkit of tall poppy syndrome.

So on one hand we have high profile individuals politely suggesting that groups, photographers, internet users and commenters are bad, but hate speech is bad because it's directed at groups and aims to incite. On the other hand it's bad for members of the groups in question to personally abuse said high profile individuals because that's playing the man and not the ball, so doesn't count as proper debate.

I liked Henson's photos, use the internet and enjoy snark. I resent the implication that that makes me a kiddy fiddler and unfit to participate in debate. Groups may be suggesting these things about people like me and so might commenters, but commenters don't expect to get away with it unchallenged just because they're articulate public figures. You say it, you own it, no matter how multi-syllabic or plausibly deniable your argument.

Faris and Hamilton both have a case when it comes to the worst kinds of personal abuse, and to be fair, Faris does point out that that's his major concern, but the broader argument about the erosion of quality in public debate now that the masses can join in needs a bit more thought.

What is being said can't realistically be corralled off from who is saying it, which is at the heart of the dog whistle and man/ball arguments. 'I have a dream' wouldn't be at all significant if some blog commenter said it. Neither would 'art galleries and the internet are brimming with paedophiles and commenters are mindless scum'. We could not have had our sad approximation of the culture wars, a series of brawls between a handful of public figures, if things were otherwise.


Posted by Lyn Calcutt at 10:35 AM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

March 3, 2009

media: the amateur returns

In Choice for local newspapers: evolve or die in the Financial Times Roger Parry says that with the web a working reality, the old advertising income is never coming back to print. The standard response to meltdown--eg., at Fairfax---is a ruthless cost-cutting that does more of the same, more cheaply. Well not quite the same, as Fairfax is increasingly shifting to infotainment on the 24/7 website. In doing so they give up their gatekeeping role in the agora.

Parry argues that something dramatic must happen to make community media franchises viable, such as strong weekly paper – in effect a print-out of the best content from a well-resourced 24/7 website. He adds:

Journalists are often busy doing things the audience no longer want. The traditional professional output is no longer valued by readers. Much, but not all, of local news gathering, feature production and photography are better done by enthusiastic amateurs for next to nothing. Want a critique of local rubbish collection policies? Ask a local resident for 500 words. It matters to them and they are more connected than a journalist sent over in a taxi. Want passionate reporting of local sports? Ask the fans. There will remain a vital role for trained journalists in investigations, analysis and quality control. But it will need fewer of them. They will need new skills of assembling user-generated content including video, digital pictures and audio.

This is a different way of doing business. In Australia it is exemplified by Crikey's use of, and reliance on, user generated content. The amateur returns. What then?

Why just produce work for the local tabloid? The produsing amateurs set up their own weblogs, websites and photoblogs, thereby creating more diverse voices in, and in turn, revitalizing the agora. And so we have stepped into the world of the creative industries and innovation and the shifting of policy in the creative industries beyond traditional industry development in areas like media or advertising to look at creative inputs right across the economy.

It is innovation policy not old‐style cultural policy that presents the compelling challenge for government.

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January 10, 2009

waging the info war

Richard Silverstein of the Guardian reports on Israel's foreign ministry attempts to turn the tide of public opinion, which hasn't been going its way recently.

Now, we know that the Israeli foreign ministry itself is orchestrating propaganda efforts designed to flood news websites with pro-Israel arguments and information.

A reader of my blog has received the following email which documents both the efforts and the agency that originated them. The solicitation to become a pro-Israel "media volunteer" also includes a list of media links which the ministry would like addressed by pro-Israel comments:

Damn those pesky blog readers and their wicked email-sharing ways.

Over at LP commenter Marks says:

When both sides in this conflict tell such blatant falsehoods so often, they lose credibility....I put it that the situation is now one that there are two sides so deep into propaganda and with almost no credible independent commentary, that the rest of us have no choice but to give it up as a bad job.

True enough, but it's not as though the two sides and their friends in the media are the only sources any more.

Medecins sans frontieres and the ICRC are more likely to be trustworthy sources than politically motivated organisations of any description.

The Israeli propaganda attempt is interesting on a few levels.

It's another (dodgy?) attempt by a government body to make use of web 2.0 - Propaganda 2.0, as MB calls it, that fails to understand how these things work or anticipate unwanted consequences like a blog reader passing an email on to a widely read publication.

It obviously seeks to influence public opinion by creating the impression that it has more public support than it does.

World governments are still patient with Israel's justified operation in Gaza. The [sic] public opinion, on the other hand, is impatient, to say the least. This gap will soon close – it always does.

It is our goal to shift the public opinion, as conveyed in the internet; avoiding, or at least minimising, sanctions by world leaders. We need to buy the IDF enough time to achieve its goals.

The suggestion here is that internet comment reading members of the public will be influenced by the opinions of other commenters, rather than media which is not cooperating. "We hold the [sic] military supremacy, yet fail the battle over the international media."

If they're under the impression that commenters on this issue can be swayed by commenters on the other side, they haven't been paying attention. And as commenter OneTooMany on the Silverstein piece points out, "The dead speak louder than spam."

The campaign offers participants a series of dot point talking points, which another commenter, AverageJosph, at Silverstein's points out is also a mistake.

I remember this tactic backfiring on a CIF thread during the Israel/Lebanon War. The first two comments on the thread by two different pro-Israel posters were completely identical, the lazy buggers had just cut'n'pasted the talking points without bothering to individualise them.

Oops.

We're in interesting times when the old communications channels have so obviously broken and the various powers that be are having trouble figuring out how the new ones work. It's just so much harder to maintain the illusion that people are sheep when they have the opportunity to speak.

Posted by Lyn Calcutt at 11:55 AM | Comments (13) | TrackBack

December 23, 2008

blogging: a note

Glenn Greenward over at Salon remarks on the the sneering references to "bloggers" and "blogs" in the mainstream media about bloggers ignoring evidence" with this characteristic being common for the blogging world. He says:

Given that virtually every establishment media outlet now regularly writes in this format, I'm really not sure -- nor is anyone else -- what distinguishes a "journalist" from a "blogger" these days. The terms have no real definition and no real purpose other than to allow the former some instrument for demonizing, sneering at, and feeling superior to the latter. So while these terms have long ago lost their definitional clarity, their true purpose means they're unlikely to disappear any time soon.

He notes that the audience size for some political blogs is larger than some cable news shows, and thus, it's foolish to ignore what is said on blogs and only pay attention to what cable news shows discuss, particularly since blog commentary often foreshadows what will eventually occur in the wider discourse.

The conservative media----the right-wing noise machine in the US --- simply invent pure fiction, trade in myths and specialise in abuse usually hurled at the liberal bogey figure of the day.The latter is a form of preaching to the converted pioneered by Rush Limbaugh about two decades ago.

More generally the mainstream media help to implant false story lines in public discourse,and uncritically publish what they're being drip fed from their cherished "political sources", and without even the pretense of verifying whether any of it is true and/or hearing any divergent views.


KudelkaAFP.jpg
Kudelka

That leaves a space for bloggers to speak truth to power and to become a critical voice in liberal democracy's mediascape. Of course, that means greater attacks on the liberal middle-class Left by the conservative media in the News Ltd stable in the form of more rants about cultural Marxists, political correctness, environmentalism etc.

Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 9:41 PM | TrackBack

December 7, 2008

Fairfax Media: cold winds blowing

David Kirk's resignation as CEO of Fairfax Media and his replacement by Brian McCarthy is a good time to assess what is happening to corporate media in Australia. Fairfax has diversified---adding more legs to its broadsheets and its dependence on the Sydney and Melbourne advertising markets. It has extended its strong position in traditional newspaper publishing into online businesses. It has done so by going on a spending spree ($5.4billion) over the last three years including Southern Cross Broadcastings' radio stations and production company.

Despite this repositioning Fairfax's share price has been ravaged by short selling, there have been cost-cutting programmes at The Age and the Sydney Morning Herald; these broadsheets continue to lose circulation, and its revenue is still 80% dependent on advertising, a market suffering from weak conditions. McCarthy as CEO means cutting costs and keeping them down. Presumably that means no frill newspapers. Goodbye quality broadsheet journalism.

So what does this mean for newspapers? Media companies in the US, UK and Australia are seeing a slump in revenue and earnings, and most are cutting staff and reducing costs. The Future of Journalism Report by the Media Alliance says that the old model of newspapers is undergoing systematic collapse and not just a cyclical downturn.

Rupert Murdoch in his Boyer Lectures observed that we are moving from newspapers to news brands.

In this coming century, the form of delivery may change, but the potential audience for our content will multiply many times over.... My summary of the way some of the established media has responded to the internet is this: it's not newspapers that might become obsolete. It's some of the editors, reporters and proprietors who are forgetting a newspaper's most precious asset: the bond with its readers.

Margaret Simons says that the events at Fairfax are a generational moment in Australian journalism and public life - the moment:
when it became crystal clear that newspapers were no longer going to be the main, or most important, forum for serious journalism and public debate. That does not mean that journalism and public debate will die. It does mean we are in the middle of a profound paradigm shift with implications for every aspect of our democracy. Things are still playing out, and will do for another decade or so, but the depth of the crisis is clear.

She adds that Fairfax Media may well survive as a company. Kirk’s legacy, the diversification away from newspapers and into internet advertising sites, means that Fairfax Media is unlikely to disappear. However, it is unlikely to be the home of premier Australian journalism in the medium and long term.

Well, we've known that for sometime. Mass media has fractured from the collapse of the old business and journalism model. What then is Simon's paradigm shift? Is it diverse media voices in a digital media landscape? What does premier Australian journalism mean in such a fragmented digital media landscape? How would it work and be funded?

Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 12:15 PM | Comments (18) | TrackBack

November 7, 2008

an independent media in Australia?

Tim Dunlop has closed his Road to Surfdom weblog down, a few weeks or so after finishing his Blogocracy gig at News Ltd in order to write a book. These were high profile and successful weblogs and it is sad to see them become another archive. Still, blogging is a tough gig, and people move on to do different things.

In his final post Dunlop comments on the state of the mainstream media in Australia, and his diagnosis of its unhealthy condition is spot on. He says:

The fact is, Australia’s mainstream media is moribund. Although there are great journalists and other contributors out there, the institution itself is stuck in a hopeless, self-serving, tenured cul-de-sac and is failing in its job to properly inform, discuss, debate and entertain. Not to mention, reinvent itself. The form is dominated by a handful of insiders who have grown so content with their own lot that they are immune to sensible criticism and lack the self-awareness to reassess what it is they are doing. They are supported in this self-satisfied loop by a political class that is happy to exploit the status quo, feeding them leaks and other tidbits to keep the whole charade ticking over in such a way that nothing really changes.

I concur. It's not the liberal bias that the conservatives complain about that is the problem. It is that the media do not do their job as the watchdog of democracy. They have mostly dumped that tradition and shifted to the insider drip feed, infotainment and partisan opinion, whilst the old journalist ethos that underpinned informing discussing, debating has been buried.

Dunlop continues with his diagnosis:

The narratives, the memes, the discussions of our political and social life are set in concrete and endlessly recycled. We have learned to accept the daily, largely manufactured, controversies of political and social discussion in lieu of genuine examination. The same voices — and there are only about 20 of them — continue to define what is important or useful or worthy of discussion and the few organs of the mainstream media keep churning them out. Their lack [of] seriousness is only matched by their lack of courage.

Spot on.There is little by way of analysis and general examination of policy issues and problems in the mainstream media. We are subjected to manufactured moral outrage, crude ideology by entrenched economic interests and the outpourings of the political noise machines. Many journalists recycle media releases, and they have no knowledge of, or interest in, policy issues. Nor do they see this as a cause of concern. The media's political focus is primarily on leadership conflict within the political parties and between them.

This dumbing down or decline of the mainstream media creates a space in a digital Australia for an "independent media" to pick up the watchdog for democracy role. What then is the condition of the "independent media"? Dunlop says that:

there are some new voices out there trying to make a difference. Some of them are thinktanks, some of them of grassroots organisations, some of them are blogs or other forms of online media. None of them has really “broken through” in the way that is necessary to make a real difference, but they are a start.

This space is quite healthy and vigorous in a grassroots way, as the new and independent media slowly replace the little magazines of the pre-internet era. However, their public presence and influence is low apart from Crikey, and there is little of the cross fertilisation of ideas between journalists, bloggers and thinktanks as there is in the US. Most of us in the new media still live in our silos.

So where to now? What do we need to do? Dunlop adds that at this moment we need to foster an independent media and enable it to move into a new and more vibrant phase. This means that people need:

to think about what needs to be done and what we can do. Citizenship matters and it is too important than to leave in the hands of the cynical gatekeepers who currently decide what is important in this democracy of ours.

True. What is the next step? A professional independent media says Dunlop. What do we need to do to produce the professional product that Dunlop says is necessary? Dunlop says it's hard cash--financial support. Mark Bahnisch, in picking up Dunlop's post at Larvatus Prodeo, concurs. Dunlop's call for a genuinely professional product, he says, requires the shift from amateur bloggers to professional writers, and that this step requires some way to earn a living from the writing so the writers can write full time:
not to put too fine a point on it - if we really wanted to try to provide the sort of independent media we think we deserve in this country, we’d need several people working full time on such an effort. There is just no other way.The frustrating thing is that I know we’ve collectively got the expertise to do it, but we can’t, because we don’t have the seed money to even get started. (And I very much include the LP community in that “we”.)

That is probably true as well--the expertise is there, the cash is not. Bahnisch appears to be reinventing the professional journalist in the mainstream media for the digital age. As a collective blog LP may evolve into some kind of online magazine with some blogs.

However, not everyone wants to be a full time citizen journalist in the independent media--an example of what is meant by citizen journalism? Many do want to do do other things than practice citizen journalism---as they are academics, policy wonks, artists, writers of books etc. If the internet's technology has opened up many ways for us to become produsers, then diverse opportunities beckon, especially for those with an entrepreneurial bent, or an eye to innovation.

Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 5:53 AM | Comments (26) | TrackBack

October 23, 2008

political blogging

I saw Kieran Gilbert from Sky News Australia's Agenda program interview Steve Clemons, a political blogger in the US who runs the Washington Note, yesterday about the US election. It wasn't Clemon's observation on the Presidential race that I found interesting. It was the attitude of Gilbert to political bloggers. He took them seriously.

They were accepted by Gilbert as acknowledgeable and as having something of interest to say--a far cry from the abuse dished out by The Australian's hack commentators and the general put down attitude of many journalists in the mainstream media.

Agenda is very much a Canberra insiders program---an extension of the Canberra Press Gallery---that picks up and explores the political issue arising out of Question Time. It's format usually has an opposition Shadow Minister (occasionally a Minister) informing us of the stance taken that day in Question Time with video footage and then two senior journalists, strategists, commentators interpreting the significance of the political events.

Both its two weekday presenter--- Kieran Gilbert and David Spiers--- are political bloggers--if irregular ones. Agenda, it would seem, does not have much of an online presence.

Sure political blogging is accepted as an integral part of the media landscape in the US, which is not the case in Australia. The dumping of national political commentary by Fairfax's Age and Sydney Morning Herald and their transformation of these newspapers into infotainment and lifestyle; plus the decline of The Australian into conservative thought bubbles creates spaces for political bloggers to explore those aspects of political events that are ignored by the mainstream media through necessity. Quiggin on The Australian's false claim that the Reserve Bank opposed the government’s deposit guarantee is a good example.

The rise of the internet is causing structural changes to the mass media, since the business model that has sustained metropolitan newspapers and underwritten large newsrooms, is under severe strain as advertising, especially classifieds, migrates from print to online. The consequence is that Fairfax and Channel Nine have been shredding staff and programs, whilst The Australian increasingly defines its rationale in terms of a war with the Government, Treasury and RBA. Why make enemies of the latter two?

As the closed insiders media world in Australia, based on the mass media of the 20th century, changes and begins to develop online diversity, bloggers can use the digital platform to develop different perspectives and highlight different issues in a rapidly changing media landscape.

Australians can utilize the capacity of digital technologies to capture and respond to arguments with which they disagree--what Lawrence Lessig calls citizen-generated political speech --- based on media material through fair use doctrine of copyright law.

Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 6:17 AM | Comments (8) | TrackBack

October 15, 2008

The Washington Post

I used to read the Washington Post on a daily basis. Though its email pops into my Thunderbrid mailbox daily I rarely read the paper. I gave up because of the poor quality commentary in its opinion pages.

An example is this op ed on the financial crisis by Steven Pearlstein. It defends Hank Paulson's international leadership thus:

Since Lehman's failure, Paulson has moved faster, more aggressively and more deftly than any of his international counterparts in doing whatever was necessary to stabilize the financial system. Yesterday, he and his collaborators at the Fed and FDIC threw everything they had at it -- flooding the banking system with an unlimited supply of dollars, expanding deposit insurance, putting a guarantee on new bank debt, injecting capital into healthy banks, giving the Japanese the assurances they needed to rescue Morgan Stanley, and doing nothing to discourage free-spending Democrats from their plans to offer another big economic stimulus plan.The result: the biggest one-day rally on stock markets in 70 years.

Really? Paulson was simply following the lead of Gordon Brown in the UK, whom Pearlstein never mentions.

bellBrown.jpg Steve Bell

Paulson in the beginning had vehemently rejected Brown's temporary part-nationalization which was a form of “equity injection. Instead he advocated government purchases of toxic mortgage-backed securities.

Europe doesn't count for Pealstein as his attention is directed towards selling Paulson as a great leader and beating up Wall Street. Pearlstein won the 2008 Pulitzer Prize for Commentary!

Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 7:18 PM | TrackBack

August 27, 2008

media woes

I see that Fairfax is trimming jobs---550 employees, including about 120 Australian journalists. Presumably the policy, one of tight cost control in response to declining revenues, will reduce reporting capacity to produce ever-higher profits. As mark Day in The Australian says:

Fairfax, like many US publishers caught in a squeeze as classified rivers of gold flow towards the internet, has chosen to cut its cloth to fit its new revenue realities, rather than seek to invest in its mastheads, grow circulation and grow advertising revenues.This is the third time in the past four years that Fairfax has instituted a major editorial slim-down.

Fairfax, as The Australian notes, has increasingly turned to lifestyle journalism as the revenue stream became depleted:
As that revenue stream became depleted by the internet, the company's titles strayed in their editorial focus to lifestyle journalism.Increasingly, the sparse newsbreaking of The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age has been wrapped around pre-printed, stapled supplements, with nothing to do with news but everything to do with the minutiae of home decoration, gardening, style, entertainment, food and gadgets. Such supplements are labour-intensive, drawing staff away from politics, business, sport and general news. They are far more expensive to preprint and insert than traditional newspapers are to produce.

The Australian's argument is that the core business of a newspaper in tough times is to break news that interests their readers. In so doing, they set national, state or local agendas on politics, business, social issues and sport, attracting readers and advertising clients day after day, year after year.

Update: 28 August
So where does that leave the media as watchdogs for democracy now that the commercial media (including free -to-air television)--is increasingly unwilling to support the democratic role? There is not equivalent print version of the ABC. Should there be?

Eric Beecher, the publisher of Crikey, thinks so. It is need to cover parliament business, investigative journalism and the courts. Fairfax's decision to sack staff at its flagship broadsheet newspapers would blow a hole in this country's traditional quality media that all of the new media's bloggers and websites would not be able to fill. This included the online publications he was involved in, such as Crikey and Business Spectator.

What's at risk here is the role of well researched, serious journalism to act as a check and balance in the system of democracy.Online media can replace part of it. The four websites I'm involved in employ 30 or 40 full-time journalists, which is quite a lot in independent media terms, but compared with 300 or 400 journalists on big daily newspapers it is fairly small. We can cherrypick. We can do the commentary and a little bit of investigative journalism and that kind of thing, but I can't see a business model for independent journalism funding hundreds of journalists to do the bigger things that you have to do to fulfil the democratic mission.

Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 6:21 AM | Comments (19) | TrackBack

August 4, 2008

The Australian's trash

The Australian's recent op-eds attacking climate change and global warming really are scrapping of the bottom the barrel. This commentary illustrates the poverty of the media as it is mere polemics, and bad polemics at that with no consideration of public reason addressing policy issues.

The latest effort is by Arthur Herman, an American historian, who plays off the fundamentalist strand in the Enlightenment tradition of religion versus science. According to Herman the climate change "sceptics" stand for science and reason whilst the main body of natural science stands for religion and superstition. Herman says that despite recent evidence that the earth is cooling:

believers in man-made global warming demand more and more money to combat climate change and still more drastic changes in our economic output and lifestyle.The reason is that precisely that they are believers, not scientists. No amount of empirical evidence will overturn what has become not a scientific theory but a form of religion.

Herman rolls out David Hume's essay Of Superstition and Enthusiasm to claim that this religion is a form of superstition based on fear and ignorance. So the main body of natural science is superstition that parades itself as science and has created a priesthood masquerading as the exponents of reason---- just like the Church in the Dark Ages, the Inquisition during the Reformation, or the race/eugenics theories of Nazi Germany.

Ooh isn't this so outrageous and decadent. Seriously though, The Australian is now living in a world turned upside down. Their central claims-- that the planet is not warming, that science is dogmatic and that we live in an age of unreason--are unsupported.

The reason for these claims is the claim that a (rationalist) science is anti-evidence. Yet the main body of the article does not consider the evidence accumulated by scientific research under the auspices of the UN. An example of the evidence being collected about the rapid changes in the Arctic and Antarctic. The ice is melting. The Arctic is warming at twice the average rate of the rest of the planet and the sea ice is now considered by many scientists to be a "coalmine canary" for monitoring the speed of global climate change.

What we see with Herman is the empiricist's prejudice about theory (of climate change) and the interpretation of data (--it's all just facts), an ignorance of the way that critical reasoning is build into the institution of science, and a bundle of superstitions about sustainable development and market failure.

And Herman is going to speak to The Centre of Independent Studies on the ideas of the Enlightenment in the 21st century! What we have is here is the poverty of reason.

Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 10:32 AM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

July 11, 2008

ABC comedy

Fandom and media convergence academic Henry Jenkins is pleased to have discovered a few of the ABC's comedy series and thinks Americans could acquire a taste for them.

I've fallen under the spell of programs from the Australian Broadcasting Company during my many previous trips to the country. And I've long believed that these quirky, unexpected, and highly original series would gain wider popularity in the American context if they were more widely available in this country. Australia has been producing compelling films since the Silent Era yet for most of that time, it has had difficulty getting its content seen in other parts of the world...Early on, it was cost prohibitive to ship heavy film canisters from the South to the North, or so it was claimed, while others saw the content as too nationally specific to be understood in a broader context. So far, some Americans have learned to love Neighbors, Prisoner in Cell Block H, Bananas in Pajamas, and Crocodile Hunter, but for the most part, we've never given a chance to sample the best of what this country producers. Yet, as digital distribution begins to remove some of the barriers to entry, I've long predicted that Australia would begin to compete for eyeballs across the English speaking world and beyond.

I guess if your TV diet consists of American comedy The Chaser, Summer Heights High, The Librarians, and Frontline would have to be acquired tastes. Surely they'd be more likely to gain cult followings in the US, because they'd be nothing but disappointing for American Steve Irwin fans.

Rather than wait around for tastes to be acquired, Jane Turner and Gina Riley are playing directly to the US market with a Kath and Kim makeover. If the comments at YouTube are any indication, Australian fans are not impressed with what they've seen in the trailer, all 53 seconds of it.

Commenters said:

wtf, this looks like pure shit

that is so lame its just been americanisd. it definatly not as good why cudnt they just air the real kath and kim in the states?????

True I havnt seen da show
but aussie kath&kim is way better!!
dis one makes kath&kim look rich and almost snobby!
its an aussie show for a very good reason!

Others wanted to know why Kim doesn't have a muffin top and why Kath says 'You can come in if you're sexy' instead of 'You can come in if you're good looking'.

It's odd to see the show promoted with the line 'Apparently, you can go home again', which was almost beside the point in the Australian version, but maybe Americans are less critical of the aspirational lifestyle than Australians.

Jenkins says of The Chaser

There are so many clips from the show on YouTube in part because the ABC and the Chasers have made a conscious decision to use the platform to generate visibility, hoping, in part, to break into the global media marketplace.

Assuming that the American Kath and Kim managed to establish a fan base keen enough to hunt down the original series, it would be interesting to know what they thought. Would they find it insulting or appropriate that an Australian series has to be remade just for them? After all, we managed to get our heads around M.A.S.H., I Love Lucy, Happy Days, The Beverly Hillbillies and The Simpsons without needing an interpreter.

Posted by Lyn Calcutt at 5:19 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

May 2, 2008

The Pentagon’s hidden media hand

David Barstow in the New York Times disclosed how the Pentagon information apparatus has used friendly military analysts in a publicity campaign to generate favorable news coverage of the administration’s wartime performance. This group have echoed administration talking points, sometimes even when they suspected the information was false or inflated.

David Barstow offered an unparalleled look inside a sophisticated Pentagon campaign, spearheaded by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, in which at least 75 retired generals and other high military officers, almost all closely tied to Pentagon contractors, were recruited as "surrogates." They were to take Pentagon "talking points" (aka "themes and messages") about the President's War on Terror and war in Iraq into every part of the media -- cable news, the television and radio networks, the major newspapers -- as their own expert "opinions."

These military analysts made tens of thousands of media appearances and also wrote copiously for op-ed pages (often with the aid of the Pentagon) as part of an unparalleled, five-plus year covert propaganda onslaught on the American people that lasted from 2002 until now.

Update: 3 May
Glenn Greenward at Salon is one of the few to address this issue explicitly. He says

In general, the establishment media almost completely excludes critiques of their own behavior, and discussions of the role the media plays in bolstering deceitful narratives is missing almost entirely from media-controlled discourse. One of the most significant political stories of this decade, if not this generation -- the media's full-scale complicity with the Government in the run-up to the Iraq war -- has never been meaningfully discussed or examined on any establishment television network, including cable shows.

He says that no fundamental critique of the role the media plays, the influence of its corporate ownership, its incestuous relationship with and dependence on government power -- among the most influential factors driving our political life -- are ever heard in the mainstream media. Greenwald adds:
Media companies simply freeze out -- try to render invisible -- any matters that reflect negatively on what they really do, what their true function is. They propagandize most vigilantly when it comes to stories revealing the true role they play in our political culture.

The mainstream media pretend that they are watchdogs for democracy when they are the lapdogs of the government and well-connected corporate interests.

Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 8:27 AM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

April 27, 2008

media narratives

A simple image but it does show how reportage in the mass media is embedded in narrative. That narrative is the media's own, and it indicates how the media engages in politics as a player. Of course, the media deny this as they hide behind the old liberal "fair and balanced", "neutrality" ethos or the positivist one of "reporting the facts" as distinct from commentary.

ChinaAustralia.jpg Sharpe

No one outside the media is fooled by the hollow pipe interpretation even if they unconditionally reject the conduit metaphor of the Old Left. If communicative media were hollow pipes there would be little purpose in analyzing their narrative potential; any kind of narrative could be fitted into the pipe and restored to its prior shape at the end of the transfer. The news or reportage is a form of story telling.

Once we move beyond seeing reportage and television programmes as transparent representations of the world we need to consider some of the ways in which media texts mediate the world to us. One of the most important of these is through the codes and conventions of narrative. Narratives rely on the presentation of an initial state of order which is in some way disturbed, order and disequilibrium, in relation to a on a particular problem or set of problems. Narratives, in short, have to be about change, disturbance, disorder.

Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 8:58 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

March 17, 2008

The Australian's hypocrisy

The Australian is well known for its mixture of news and opinion, attack dog polemics in the culture wars and being the partisan media voice for the Howard government. Yet, here it is defending the very opposite with its "Detachment Matters" editorial. The editorial agrees with John Hewson's complaint in the Australian Financial Review about journalists becoming players on the political stage rather than mere observers. As the editorial says:

Journalists are outsiders, not political players....Commentary and opinion are important elements of the political discourse and enhance the democratic process. A detached and independent mindset, however, is always important, especially for those paid to scrutinise politicians. Journalists need to guard against becoming too close to those they write about. Relying on a "drip feed" of press releases or strategic "leaks", at the expense of probing and independent analysis, demeans their profession and sells the public short. It can lead to a conflict of interest tempting journalists to turn a blind eye to the mistakes of those on whom they rely as sources.

So what are we to make of an editorial defending the very opposite of what The Australian actually does:--- its hacks (well-trained house dogs) work as insiders rather than outsiders. Shanahan, Milne and Albrechtson are well known examples.

Since there is no self-criticism is the editorial another example of the schizophrenia or split personality in the conservative camp?

To answer this we need to turn to John Hewson's op-ed in the AFR that the editorial was riffing off on. That op-ed was a defence of Brendon Nelson, the Liberal leader, from intensive media criticism. In making his Hewson remarked that we now see politics as a game, and observed that:

... perhaps, more than any time in our history, the media now are, and see themselves as, significant players in that game. In the run up to the last election a significant number of journalists nailed their flags to the Rudd mast, either by urging Howard to go, or simply overtly supporting the new "messiah"...Rudd knows this He cleverly crafts his spin to feed them with each and every of his policy initiatives --in some cases mere stunts.

Hewson laments the media becoming significant players in the political game, even though he recognizes that this is now the norm for the Canberra Press Gallery print and television media.

Murdoch's Australian has been doing the player routine for some time, as has his Fox News in the US. Since they view politics as a game in which they would say or do anything to win, the real cause of the Australian's complaint must be the way that the Canberra Press Gallery has sided with Rudd Labor and knocks down the Liberal party.

If political partisanship is the Australian editorial's raison d' etre, then being partisan for the conservative movement means that the Australian will defend detachment, rational debate and fostering the national conversation. These are just useful tactics in the current situation of having to shed some of its conservative skin to regain some political credibility now that Australia has new leadership in Canberra and issues like climate change dominate the business and political agenda.

Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 8:10 AM | Comments (10) | TrackBack

January 3, 2008

Peggy Noonan's junk commentary

I've often thought that the op-eds in the Australian mainstream media were pretty poor. The Fairfax op-eds increasingly drift towards lifestyle infotainment, whilst those in the Australian are written through the prism of the culture wars. Sometimes the recycled overseas op-eds in all our media are even worse.

A good example is Peggy Noonan's 'Let truth and common sense reign in Iowa' in The Australian, which is downloaded from her Wall St Journal column.This is not intelligent commentary by any stretch. It's so bad that one questions the judgements of the Australian's editorial crowd. Partisanship rules therein.

Noonan, who claims to speak for thousands, millions, states what she desires:

This is my 2008 slogan: Reasonable Person for President. That is my hope, what I ask Iowa to produce, and I claim here to speak for thousands, millions. We are grown-ups, we know our country needs greatness, but we do not expect it and will settle at the moment for good. We just want a reasonable person. We would like a candidate who does not appear to be obviously insane. We'd like knowledge, judgment, a prudent understanding of the world and of the ways and histories of the men and women in it.

Then she makes a checklist of which presidential candidates are "reasonable" and which ones aren't. Reasonable is not defined. We are offered examples of what reasonable means in political life---Senator Joe Biden a long term United States senator, who has read a raw threat file or two, has experience, sophistication, the long view, and knows how it works. 'Reasonable' for grown-ups refers to "knowledge, judgment, a prudent understanding of the world and of the ways and histories of the men and women in it."

Noonan then makes this judgment:

Duncan Hunter, Fred Thompson and Bill Richardson are all reasonable: mature, accomplished, nonradical. Huckabee gets enough demerits to fall into my not-reasonable column. John Edwards is not reasonable. All the Democrats would raise taxes as president, but Edwards's populism is the worst of both worlds, both intemperate and insincere. Also we can't have a president who spent two minutes on YouTube staring in a mirror and poofing his hair. Really, we just can't. I forgot Rudy Giuliani. That must say something. He is reasonable but not desirable. If he wins somewhere, I'll explain.

Why is Edwards populist agenda re health insurance companies and universal health care intemperate and insincere? Edwards is disqualified because four years ago, he was caught brushing his hair before a television appearance -- "poofing," in Noonan's words, which signifies a male homosexual. So he is not masculine. Not a real man like President Bush. So he can't possibly be President. Only real men can be the President of the US, not faggots.

Oh, by the way Hillary Clinton is not reasonable either. No, its not because she is not a man:

Clinton is the most dramatically polarizing, the most instinctively distrusted, political figure of my lifetime. Yes, I include Nixon. Would she be able to speak the nation through the trauma? I do not think so. And if I am right, that simple fact would do as much damage to America as the terrible thing itself.

Isn't President Bush polarizing? Barack Obama just squeezes through the reasonable door, though he's too young and inexperienced to be President. No problems with the Republican candidates though, apart from Mike Huckabee, the Prairie populist.

And this kind of junk represents intelligent commentary by the political and media elite in a national newspaper. We are meant to take this junk seriously? Who is kidding who.

Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 6:16 AM | Comments (10) | TrackBack

November 18, 2007

politics viewed through television

Conflict is central to liberal democracy since the legitimacy of democratic outcomes requires that political and policy options be contested and evaluated. And yet liberal democracy also rests on the premise that each side in any given controversy perceives the opposition as having some reasonable foundation for its positions. This underpins the view that liberal democracy requires an informed citizenry who can make rational decisions on political issues.

Given that few people speak directly to political advocates of opposing views, then how do we come to perceive that reasonable people may disagree on any given political controversy? Many hold that mass media, and television in particular, serve this purpose. Many political pundits then hold that television has changed Australian politics in some fundamental way. How so? In what way?

The content of television is both image and words spoken. The effect is for viewers to develop a sense of intimacy with public figures whom they have never met, and with whom they may have emphatic disagreements, strong emotions. This changes the old way the public private distinction has been drawn.

Some more questions:

Does televised political discourse familiarize viewers with rationales for oppositional political perspectives? If so, does it thereby enhance the extent to which oppositional views are perceived as legitimate? What difference does it make that most of what people experience of public discourse in the political world reaches them through television? Does television have the capacity to educate viewers about oppositional positions and to increase the perceived legitimacy of oppositional views? If it has the capacity, then does television emphasis on in-your-face political disagreement ultimately undermine its ability to serve educate viewers about oppositional positions and to increase the perceived legitimacy of oppositional views?

This article in the American Political Science Review has a good go at answering these questions. What does it conclude?

Televised political discourse is undoubtedly serving an important purpose.People do appear to learn from political television, and this includes learning about why others hold the opinions that they do. The ABC's Lateline or Difference of Oinion would be an example of this. However,

...when uncivil discourse and close-up camera perspectives combine to produce the unique “in-your-face” perspective, then the high levels of arousal and attention come at the cost of lowering regard for the other side. The “in-your-face” intimacy of uncivil political discourse on television discourages the kind of mutual respect that might sustain perceptions of a legitimate opposition.

This, which is the house style of Fox News in the US, is unpacked as follows:
...close-up perspectives on uncivil discourse routinely damage perceptions of the candidates and issue arguments that subjects are already prone to dislike; that is, attitudes toward the least-liked candidate, and the perceived legitimacy of rationales for opposing issue positions. The same pattern of effects did not occur for attitudes toward the preferred candidate, nor for perceptions of the legitimacy of arguments for the preferred issue position.

That 's why Fox News does what it does---- aims to increase the magnitude of the difference that is perceived between their own conservative side and the liberal opposition.Thus one of the legacies of political television may be to damage the notion of a “worthy opposition.” To the extent that televised political discourse puts viewers unnaturally close to their political “enemies,” it intensifies negative feelings about the opposition, and does not serve the goals of consensus or compromise.

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November 16, 2007

conundrum

Over at PollieGraph Ben Eltham has a summary of the Government Gazette versus Newhouse in Wentworth nonsense.

You'd have to expect a modicum of skullduggery over such a pivotal seat, where the only really plausible future leader of the Liberal Party is skating on thin ice. Galaxy has Newhouse and Turnbull at 50/50 two party preferred. But the whole thing is getting ridiculous.

Newhouse is suspected of being ineligible to run, so naturally Turnbull is going to make the most of it. The ABC website seems to have removed the report that Ecuyer has decided to preference Newhouse. Caroline Overington has tried to get the independent Ecuyer, running on the pulp mill issue, to preference Malcolm, while being aggressively flirtatious with Newhouse.

Gripping drama, and you couldn't find a more appropriate setting than the seat of Wentworth.

As far as the blogosphere is concerned the newspaper formerly known as The Australian has lurched from one catastrophe to another. Shanahan is a standing joke and Overington is well on the way to becoming one, preferably after the AEC and Uncle Rupert have given her a good talking to.

But thinking about it, Murdoch is likely to be pleased with the way this is working out. If you wanted to turn a highly reputable news outlet into a bawdy tabloid, Rupert's your man. If your circulation was falling and you wanted an online readership, you couldn't do better than Shanahan.

At the release of every Newspoll the collective weight of the blogosphere arrives at Shanahan's page, then scuttles back to its various burrows to indulge in a little airing of contempt. Fair enough. It's a lot of fun and you come across some clever one liners.

Meanwhile we're forever going on about the sorry state of the media and it's common for bloggers to see themselves as somehow holding the fourth estate to account. Rupert must be laughing his head off.

The perfectly reasonable George Megalogenis keeps pumping out the sort of columns we say we want, but Dennis and Caroline get all the attention. And in comments George is forever fending off accusations that the paper is garbage from people who apparently read it to reassure themselves that it is, in fact, garbage.

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November 7, 2007

the other Marx

Jack Marx' style could be described, politely, as an acquired taste. Not everyone's cup of tea. Or tasteless, grotesque, totally unnecessary garbage. He's not for the easily offended.

Then again, some of us feel that way about Glenn Milne.

This is a bit late, given that we've moved on, but if you're broad minded and in the mood for a giggle you might care to take in Marx' version of the "Garrett's Gaffe" story. It's the blue version. I wouldn't recommend it to anyone who considers Steve Price anywhere between vaguely credible and a close personal friend. Or anyone with and underdeveloped humour gland like some of the commenters on the site.

A sample paragraph from early in the piece, before he lets rip:

The Big Dick Lounge is the most exclusive den at the terminal, reserved for flyers whose penises are no less than one metre in length and several in diameter, so I was a little surprised to see Garrett and Wilkins loitering among the guild to which I have been a valued member since 2002.

If you're game the whole thing is here.

The Bullring is an interesting source of background and insider commentary. The last memorably colourful Labour environment minister Graham Richardson has a contribution, in which he writes he initially thought Rudd was a bad choice.

"If Kevin Rudd was the answer, it must have been a silly question".

Albrechtson and Overington would probably say the same thing of Garrett, if their feverish imaginations ran that way. For mine, if we're going to indulge the extraordinary fantasies of political commentators they could at least reward us with some gesture towards reader intelligence.

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November 1, 2007

old media

Regardless of the outcome this election has already had some impressive impacts for an event that hasn't even happened yet. Was it Paul Keating who said that when you change the leader you change the country? It looks very much as though we don't even need the formalities, just the likelihood is enough.

Liberal MPs, eminent conservative spokespersons and assorted media Howard marionettes are already squabbling over their own remnants. Who could have foreseen that the end of Howard would leave the Howard faithful at a loose end? Why did they allow their purpose to become so singular?

Rodney Tiffen suspects that some of our more notable opinion columnists have pro-Howarded themselves into irrelevance. I'd add Philip Adams to the list of used-to-be notables. What's the point of having a resident Howard hater without Howard?

It's probably asking for too much, but it would be appropriate if the casting changes in our political theatre were accompanied by similar arrangements in our media. Despite what our educational culture warriors would have us believe, 30 odd years of communist postmodernist teaching has served us rather well. Unlike the skills shortages we're suffering in other areas, we've managed to produce quite a few bright young things well equipped to replace the current crop.

Take a look at the offerings at the ABC's Unleashed or New Matilda's PollieGraph. The thing that strikes me about so much of it is that, unlike most of what passes for commentary at the moment, many of these people do their political analysis from a social perspective, as opposed to the politics/media bubble that bears no relation to real life.

Too bad the democratic process doesn't also apply to political journalism. Liberal MPs wouldn't be the only ones worrying about their seats.

Posted by Lyn Calcutt at 12:50 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

October 30, 2007

Walter Lippman on media corruption

As we know the standards of objective journalism,which were adopted as ideal goals by major news organizations in the mid 20th century, have long since been undermined, trampled, and trashed. Hence we have a narrative of the steady degeneration of the media s over the past few decades.

Walter Lippman on the early stages of this historical process in his Liberty and the News (1920), which has just been reissued:

Just as the most poisonous form of disorder is the mob incited from high places, the most immoral act the immorality of a government, so the most destructive form of untruth is sophistry and propaganda by those whose profession it is to report the news. The news columns are common carriers. When those who control them arrogate to themselves the right to determine by their own consciences what shall be reported and for what purpose, democracy is unworkable. Public opinion is blockaded. For when a people can no longer confidently repair "to the best foundations for their information," then anyone's guess and anyone's rumor, each man's hope and each man's whim becomes the basis of government. All that the sharpest critics of democracy have alleged is true, if there is no steady supply of trustworthy and relevant news. Incompetence and aimlessness, corruption and disloyalty, panic and ultimate disaster, must come to any people which is denied an assured access to the facts. No one can manage anything on pap. Neither can a people.

We have the "manufacture of consent"---public opinion is channeled and shaped by the managers of news--that damages democracy. For Lippmann the present crisis of western democracy is a crisis of journalism.

Lippmann's argument that you can hardly have a real democracy without a functioning press or media as we say today, is spot on.

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October 14, 2007

media + politics

It's English imagery but change the faces of the politicians in the image and it applies to Australia. Or does it? It's a key question now that the election has been called on cue.

Murdoch.jpg
Steve Bell

Will Murdoch support his old political friend, a scrappy Coalition and the conservative ascendancy? Or will he embrace political realism, betray his old friends and pump for Rudd and the conservative ALP? What will Murdoch do about the growing sense of grievance in the electorate? Ignore it? He's not known for his support forr furthering democracy is he?

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September 30, 2007

the media is a business

In Goodbye to Newspapers? in the New York Review of Books Russell Baker says that it is on the ownership and management side that the gravest problems for mainstreaam newspapers exist. He quotes from a recent speech given by John S. Carroll, a former editor of the Los Angeles Times, to the American Society of Newspaper Editors, who states that in the post-corporate phase of ownership:

we have seen a narrowing of the purpose of the newspaper in the eyes of its owner. Under the old local owners, a newspaper's capacity for making money was only part of its value. Today, it is everything. Gone is the notion that a newspaper should lead, that it has an obligation to its community, that it is beholden to the public....
Someday, I suspect, when we look back on these forty years, we will wonder how we allowed the public good to be so deeply subordinated to private gain....What do the current owners want from their newspapers?—the answer could not be simpler: Money. That's it.

Baker says that the Wall Street theory is that profits can be maximized by minimizing the product. The relentless demands for improved stock performance has resulted in a policy of slash-and-burn cost-cutting that has left the media landscape littered with frail, failing newspapers which are increasingly useless to any reader who cares about what is happening in the world, the country, and the local community.

The implication is that the new-style corporate owners are indifferent to, and often puzzled by, their editors and reporters making the traditional argument that journalism's business is to provide a public service by supplying the information the citizenry needs for democracy to work. Maybe this democratic function is more than the press can bear, whilst a lazy Canberra Press Gallery, like its Washington counterparts, has tacitly given up its obligation to keep the public informed without fear or prejudice because of their tendency to defer excessively to political power.

So we have the tendency to repeat the narrative of government as the powerful tell it.

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September 17, 2007

media: adaptingt to change

Paul Chadwick, the director of editorial policies at the ABC, has an op ed in The Age on the media needing to change. He quotes from a talk that Alan Rusbridger, editor of the London Guardian, gave to the annual conference of the Organisation of Newspaper Ombudsmen:

Journalism becomes a never-ending organic business of placing material in the public domain … Everything we do will be more contestable, more open to challenge and alternative interpretation … When we publish something that's wrong, is it better invisibly to mend it so that the mistake is removed from the permanent record, or is it more important to record or capture the fact of the untrue publication as well as the correction or clarification?These are enormous conceptual shifts in what we do.

The op-ed is an edited version of recent speech Chadwick gave to the Melbourne Press Club. He says that for those who came to journalistic maturity under the old, more opaque systems of self-regulation, the new transparency and accountability may be hard to adapt to.

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September 13, 2007

The Australian: red in tooth and claw

The Australian maybe going soft on John Howard these days, but it is still is one of our nation's most stalwart and courageous warrior organizations resolutely defending the nation against the assault on our freedom by Islamofascism. The Australian's warriors argue that one of the main reasons Australia wages endless, glorious war in the Middle East -- not just in Iraq but in Afghanistan and maybe soon in Iran as it is one of Israel's enemies. -- is that the Islamofascists pose a threat to our freedoms (which Muslims hate). Their hatred for our freedoms is proven by their attempts to suppress ideas and commentaries which are offensive to their religion.

And then there is the Leftist Islamo-loving tyranny in our nation's universities who betray our country. These Leftists are full of hate for Howard and Bush and America. These anti -American leftists continue to work out of the anti-war movement playbook of the Vietnam era. The ALP has been the party of retreat and surrender. Those who condemn Howard's are helping Australia's terrorist enemies. It's obvious isn't it: those who think that the U.S. should stop invading and bombing other countries could only think such a thing because they hate America.

That is the conservative warrior discourse isn't it? Accusing the Left of being unpatriotic, anti-American and betraying the country has been a mainstream staple of the political rhetoric from our country's pro-war Right hasn't it? In running this line The Australian is basically recycling US Republican rhetoric that is forcefully expressed on Fox News.

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August 16, 2007

media insights

I've downgraded myself to a Crikey squatter. For the moment I am quite happy to squat and receive freebie email. Yesterday's refers to The 7.30 Report going public about Peter Costello shooting his mouth off over dinner with three senior Canberra journalists in 2005 on his Howard challenge that never eventuated.

Those three journalists agreed not to print the story when Costello pulled it afterwards saying it was 'off the record.' Crikey makes an interesting comment:

But Costello's reported words are important this time for other reasons, not because of what the Treasurer said, but because of the decision the journalists involved made not to report it. Here is proof positive that journalists, when pushed by the authority figures whose affection and fellowship they crave, are happy to put two things to one side: first, their duty of care to their reading public and the trust given to our democracy's fourth estate and second, their sense of professional competitiveness. What a supine, self-serving, clubbable lot.

What we are offered by this event is an insight into the drip feeding and the media management--the secrets of the Canberra Gallery are being disclosed.

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August 2, 2007

media +politics

It looks as the Labor left may have gone quiet to ensure the possibility of a Rudd victory, now that Rudd is seen as an election contender-- even by the business community in WA. He looks safe and doesn't rock the boat too much whilst occupying the middle ground.

Or so we are told by reporters/commentators who position themselves as the knowledgeable insiders we can trust to tell us what is really happening in a distant world that only the political elite, lobbyists and staffers have an experience of.

This is the mainstream way of looking at politics:-institutional journalists and their news organizations spend their time and space on the so-called "horse-race" (who wins) and on "insider coverage (the story of political struggle). They spend little time and space on policy analysis or telling the stories of people affected by politics and governance.

LeftLabor.jpg
Alan Moir

The traditional frame of the mainstream media----the horse-race with an uncertain outcome in 5 months time ---keeps us citizens informed about events that often have low political utility or meaningfulness---eg., the Canberra whispers, rumors, events, and remarks when Parliament sits. Everything in politics is a tactic and all politicians are mere schemers and opportunists according to the Canberra Press Gallery frame.

These remarks and events are then given flash, tone and slant to create drama and interest, so as to sell newspapers. So we have a narrative structure (a horse race to create a causal sense of events) being applied to ambiguous events and words. This narrative of tactics and strategy is more about political myth than it is about history.

If we come back to left Labor being quiet, we can ask, well, where is Rudd on the Haneef case? Haneef has gone and yet Kevin Andrews is still spinning and managing the news. Why hasn't the ALP had a go at the dalek Minister? Cannot they smell a weakness? Vulnerability? A wound? Why don't they fire a few arrows in his direction, instead of saying that everything is hunky dory from the briefings they've been given and calling softly for an independent judicial inquiry.

Things are not hunky dory are they? So why not place pressure on Andrews. Soften him up.

Update
Well the ALP has found some political courage. After much deliberation with his strategists Rudd has stepped out of the political shadows. He's taken 2-3 deep breaths and called Andrews inconsistent. Wow. Such courage! So what is going to do with the anti-terrorism legislation when it comes before Parliament.

Update #2
Maybe more courage will be shown by the ALP in the use of the new media that goes beyond dipping the political toes into YouTube, MySpace or Facebook. The framing there is different to the horserace frame of the Canberra Press Gallery.

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August 1, 2007

Murdoch, Wall Street Journal, journalism

So Rupert Murdoch has finally gained control of the Wall Street Journal from the deeply divided Bancroft family to buy Dow Jones & Company, publisher of The Wall Street Journal, for around $5 billion.'Tis a long way in his 55-year empire building from his start in sleepy Adelaide back in October 1952.

Fox.jpgIt was in the families' hands after the initial offer of $60 for the $36 shares received board approval. Murdoch wanted the WSJ more that anyone else, including the Bancrofts.

The news pages in the Wall Street Journal are about the smartest and bravest of any newspaper in America. Jack Schafer in Slate says that the Wall Street Journal played it pretty straight in terms of disclosure about conflicts of interest.

Murdoch will now control a broadcast network, a cable news channel and a national newspaper -- three of the small handful of outlets that set the US national news agenda. What we have is a multiple platform approach to gathering and distributing business and financial news, information and analysis

So will Murdoch turns the Journal into a shill for his business interests?Schafer says that:

a Murdoch-owned Journal would be a journalistic disaster because wherever Murdoch goes on the planet, he uses his enterprises to advance his personal interests and his business interests. So, my guess is that no, he wouldn't disclose News Corp.'s conflicts.

Frank Ahrens, a business reporter with the Washington Post, said on Radio National Breakfast that Murdoch wouldn't buy the Journal just to destroy it. Murdock wouldn't destroy it, as he needs the content for his new business channel on Fox that will take on CNBC

But as know from our Australian experience, Murdoch is someone who has molded journalism to serve his business and political interests and the editorial pages of his newspapers routinely call liberals and lefties cowards, traitors and criminals. However, before we get too carried away with the rhetoric about 'the barbarians at the gate' producing swill and rubbish for us, we need to remember that the WSJ's editorial pages had operated with Murdoch-like sleaze because they were run by right wing ideologues.

Media consolidation has replaced investigative journalism with infotainment, foreign affairs reporting with fluff, and local coverage with cookie-cutter content. The emerging Internet outlets do not offset consolidation's affect on journalism, Murdoch isn't going to change his ways and Washington is unlikely to start rolling back media consolidation.

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July 17, 2007

Murdoch's voice

A graphic image of the Murdoch media as a conservative noise machine that is a globe-spanning media empire with affiliated digital and broadcast platforms designed to soothe conservatives' delicate sensibilities:

MurdochnoiseA.jpg
Sharpe

The machine is about setting agendas as a counterbalance to what he sees as a liberal print press (Fairfax in Australia). Setting the agenda means neoliberal economic views, neo-conservative enthusiasm for war-making, a dislike of multiculturalism, assimilation etc. There are no walls of separation between the opinion pages and the news sections in the conservative noise machine.

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July 16, 2007

spinning the spin

Alastair Campbell was privy to intimate conversations with cabinet ministers and world leaders; but surreptitiously he was taking a note of what they thought were private conversations. He was the transmission mechanism, in charge of "message discipline", and therefore in charge of both the message and the discipline. As one of Blair's key advisers, he stepped beyond matters of presentation and explanation to be a strategist and tactician.

Apparently, the diaries are a bit of a yawn as the politically meaty bits are missing from the Blair years. Does his account from the heart of the spin machine contain insights into the management of political spin? After all Alastair Campbell is responsible for an era of squalid, sleazy spin. He made headlines around the world because of his central role in preparing the dossier on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, and the now infamous claim that Saddam Hussein could launch those weapons in 45 minutes.The weapons have yet to be found, and Campbell is basically defending his role as spim master.

Campbellsdiaries.jpg
Peter Brooke

Though Campbell chats away on his Diary of the Dairy I haven't found much there on the spinning of politics--what he calls modern communications. We know that Campbell, as Blair Government chief "spin doctor", has admitted that Labour's attempts to control the media has been partly to blame for public antipathy towards politics.

Those attempts to influence the news agenda involved self-serving leaks to the newspapers that whetted the appetite of reporters so that broadcasters tripped over themselves in their rush to gain exclusive interviews. It was Campbell who was feeding the "feral beasts" though a steady diet of good lines, clever evasions, half-truths and cues.

In doing so Campbell damaged the Parliamentary process because of the way he was allowed to rewrite the rules for government information officers so that they could trail announcements in the news media before being announced to Parliament. Campbell, as a special advisor, had the power to instruct civil servants or get involved in the publication of intelligence information, and he fought attempts by senior public servants to claw back a degree of control for the civil service.

Jack Waterford at the Canberra Times makes the point that:

Spin doctors are not new, any more than minders are. Only the terms are new. But the role of modern media in the political process and the 24-hour news cycle makes their role more significant. It has, to a degree, created a new profession somewhere between the politician himself or herself and the old notion of the cunning adviser, Svengali, Richelieu or Machiavelli himself.

They are masters of being ahead of the game. The danger is that the more one's talents as a Machiavelli are recognised, the more one gets to be distrusted, the more people feel they are being manipulated, the more the audience feels they are being played upon. Campbell was found out in the end.

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July 13, 2007

talkback radio+conservatism

In the past decade talkback radio has become a powerful conservative political force in Australia with Stan Zemanek, Alan Jones and John Laws in Sydney and Bob Francis in Adelaide spearheading the one nation conservative movement. By giving voice to conservative instincts reacting to the effects of globalization talkback radio has helped to polarize, and deeply divide Australia.

John Ruddick argues that Zemanek's success was largely due to Paul Keating and the conservative hostility he attracted.It was the Labor Party heartland of western Sydney that tuned in in droves. Ruddick says:

By the mid-1990s, many blue-collar, socially conservative Australians who had voted Labor all their life were being turned off by the ALP. After having overwhelmingly supported Bob Hawke in the four elections from 1983 to 1990, they had serious doubts about his successor. Keating's agenda of multiculturalism, reconciliation, the politicians' republic, family reunion schemes and unfair dismissal laws appealed to the intellectual establishment. But rusted-on Labor voters were becoming unstuck .... when they heard someone spell out loudly and clearly why Keating was wrong on Mabo, or an apology to rampant welfarism, or his Asia-first foreign policy, they loved it. And so they went to the ballot box in 1996 and voted Liberal for the first time.

Zemanek could be heard in other parts of Australia, and he was especially popular in Brisbane and rural Queensland. When Howard won in 1996, it was western Sydney and Queensland that delivered a substantial proportion of his majority.

Ruddick says that where Limbaugh helped convert the Reagan Democrats into lifelong Republicans, Zemanek played matchmaker for Howard and his battlers. By helping to convert masses of Labor voters into Liberal voters, he played a pivotal role in Howard's success.

Ruddick also acknowledges that Zemanek was also instrumental in the nation's cultural realignment:

It is now possible to debunk many myths central to our view of society, once popular among enlightened Australians: that is to say, people who accept the assumptions of The Sydney Morning Herald and ABC world view. These include the following long-held beliefs: that welfarism and the perpetuation of tribal beliefs are the best way of achieving Aboriginal dignity; that separation and divorce do not harm children; that there is no downside to an excess of multiculturalism; and that there was secret women's business on Hindmarsh Island. During the Keating era, disagreeing with any of these shibboleths led to vicious criticism in certain circles. This is no longer the case.

Ruddick concludes by saying that Zemanek may have been crude and perhaps even rude at times, but he nonetheless helped to dramatically change the public culture of the country for the better.

Better? Why so? More freedom of speech? More freedom of speech in the form of dogwhistle politics? Greater expression of one nation conservatism that lead to the culture wars conducted by the Murdoch Press? A more polarized Australia? Is this better? How does that make things better?

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July 7, 2007

Adelaide Festival of Ideas 2007: Digital Ink

This session of the Adelaide Festival of Ideas on the future of journalism took place in the Bonython Hall. Kerryn Goldsworthy attended the same session. I previously explored some of the ideas in the Media Moves post, which was from a blogger's relationship to the corporate media.

The session was chaired by Sarah Warhaft, the editor of The Monthly, which was launched at the last Festival of Ideas. Warhaft, to my surprise, is definitely old school print journalism, as are Ryan and Wheen. All loved newspapers dearly, and though they mentioned reading blogs and finding them useful, they did not critically think about their significance in terms of the development of the media or journalism in relation to democracy. What was clear from the talk was the identity crisis being experienced by journalism and their retreat into old style journalism.

Journalism was defined as print journalism (there were no TV journalists on the panel), which was then tacitly interpreted as high quality investigative journalism in the mainstream broadsheet media. This gold standard was the criterion to evaluate the changes in the media landscape. No mention was made of the bad journalists in the Canberra Press Gallery who do not read books, have no knowledge of public policy (nor are they remotely interested), never venture beyond writing about the surface party political conflicts and are indifferent, if not hostile to the world of ideas, and rely on the drip feed and planted leaks.

The gold standard as the normal meant that a narrative of decline was presented as a result of the internet and the digital age by people who lamented the passing of good old days of journalism and professionalism.

Collen Ryan argued that the business case of the narrative---the old economic model that underpinned mass circulation newspapers has been destroyed by the shift of the classified advertising to the web, and the minimal cash flow from online advertising no matter how many clicks. Newspapers are in decline and that means they cannot afford to support the expensive investigative journalism.

Ryan said that one solution is the New York Times option charge a realistic price of the product (subscription) and increase the quality of the product with opinion, good writing and good information. The Australian Financial Review is attempting this though unsuccessfully. The other option is Murdoch's global strategy across all platforms by leveraging off the journalist and owning the cannibalizer (Youtube).

Francis Wheen distinguished between newspapers (dying as the younger generation turns away) and journalism. He argued that the decline of investigative journalism predated the digital age, as it is the shift to entertainment that downgrades reportage and investigation which are seen as too expensive and unable to life circulation. The implication was that good journalism could survive in other mediums.

Thankfully, Paul Chadwick was the dissenting voice on the panel and he, more than the others, linked the media to democracy. He agreed with Ryan that the old economic model had been shaken and new one had ye to develop. He then gave the internet substance in terms of a new transparency that is imposed on the old media by the new media and bloggers.

He did so by taking a historical approach. He sketched the history of print and pointed to the similarities in the stages with the new digital media. Newspapers started out as rough pamphleteers (blogs); struggled for legal acceptance (Salon.com) ; developed a market model (Google are working through that) ; depended on mass literacy (visual or ipod literacy); technology (telegraph, printing presses, trucks) drove development ( portable computers wierless, ipods); collaborated with public relations and spin (Drudge) ; developed watchdog truth to power with the Pentagon papers (???) and distrust between journalists and audience (that is expressed by blogs).

What we can infer from this, Chadwick argued, is that the Internet places the tools of disclosure in the hands of everybody. The bloggers have digital skills that sift and order information that is dumped on the net by government to overwhelm the public on an issue and to evade accountability. What bloggers do is a textual analysis and deconstruct public documents (and op-eds in the mainstream media). So we have the formation of a critical discourse--- a counter discourse to the Murdoch style cross media ownership which closes things down.

Chadwick argued that bloggers use the skill of journalism to dissect journalism (their secret sources said in the spin and publicity column) and the journalists have lost their monopoly on selecting the key themes from a complex flow of information and then publishing it.

Journalists and the old print magazines are now running interference (denial, confusing the issue; bullying bloggers who tell the truth etc).

Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 7:48 PM | TrackBack

July 4, 2007

Adelaide Festival of Ideas 2007: Media moves

The 2007 Adelaide Festival of Ideas has a couple of sessions on the media entitled Digital Ink: the Future of Journalism on Friday and Media Malaise on Sunday.

afilogo.jpg The link between the two sessions is liberal democracy. It depends on the media performing a watchdog function and keeping citizens informed of what is happening in the polity. The Murdoch Press, for instance has tossed this tradition aside on the issues such as the war on terror and climate change. It is openly partisan and frames its commentary within the culture wars that treats social liberalism as the enemy within.

Robert Phiddian's program notes for Digital Ink address a key issue in the current changes in the media landscape due to the medium media players (eg., Rural Press, Southern Cross Broadcasting) being taken over by the larger ones (Fairfax, Macquarie Media, News Corp) pursuing new media opportunities with their sizzling cross-media deals. Phiddian rightly says:

The dead tree version of newspapers is not going to go away any time soon ... However, it has long lost its primacy as a source of information on the world and is no longer even the dominant forum for the digestion of the information into opinion. As the economics of newspapers (and of TV broadcasting in due course) weaken, the way ‘good journalism’ has been funded in the past comes under pressure. Does digital technology provide alternative ways of performing this function that are as good as or even better than traditional print journalism? Or has something that has been socially and politically useful for at least the last century withering?

I presume that ''good traditional print journalism" here means the truth telling investigative journalism of the media acting as watchdogs for democracy.

Well, that is fast disappearing with the rise of infotainment (video entertainment as the key to online businesses). Hence the turn to digital media. This looks promising as some political blogs do perform a critical function on some public issues. So how will they grow?

Phiddian acknowledges that some parts of the blogosphere permit deeper, more expert, and less ‘spun’ analysis than often occurs in the traditional media. But, he add, two concerns nag:

*Some digital commentary is good but a very great deal is ratty and ‘interested’. The conventions for locating the authoritative material if you are relatively uniformed on a particular topic are not at all clear.
*What is the business model for maintaining good deliberative analysis on the web for when newspapers and media organizations have laid off all their journalists and replaced them with ‘bots’ crawling automatically
through digitally available media releases?
In other words, is there a future for journalism in something like the form we have known it?

What we have at the moment is a hostile relationship between the blogs and the establishment media:---the establishment media's hostility towards bloggers is quite marked, and the former's endless reliance on caricature to belittle and demonize blogs. The scorn is obvious: you cannot trust bloggers ; they are not objective, they are merely uninformed opinions, they are a bunch of reckless amateurs etc. etc.

This "critique", which purports to be motivated by a genuine concern over journalistic ethics and responsibility, is made by those who steadfastly ignore their own breaches of said ethics and professional responsibility. The overwhelming sentiment towards the work of bloggers from the partisan media figures is to ignore them, in order to relegate the political blogs to the "unserious" fringes of the media.

My judgement is that much of the establishment media's hostility towards blogs is grounded in the role blogs play in scrutinizing their conduct and offering an alternative to replace the opinion-making monopoly the mainstream media held previously. The anti-blogger hostility comes from bloggers shining a light on the corruption (eg., the drip feed) in the journalistic profession which previously remained in the dark, and by the blogs increasingly rendering what the opinion forming journalists do as less important. The blogger's critique of the establishment media is grounded in a desire for less spin and drop feed and more independent journalism and commentary.

Despite the constraints of a small market blogs are now able to stand on their own two feet in the media world and they are developing and debating different ideas, narratives, and viewpoints from the increasingly corrupted public discourse of a partisan corporate media.

Jack Waterford in the Canberra Times addresses Phiddian's second point in a more realistic way than the use of bots:

The ultimate nightmare of the reporter in this technological age is of the day when she is sent to cover a matter of public importance to discover that she is expected to file something immediate for her newspaper's website, then do some breathy radio for the company's radio station, a stand-up, from a laptop, for the company's television network, a series of updates through the afternoon for all of the above, then a thoughtful and considered piece of analysis for the company newspaper that evening. Probably with some digital photos of the action.

Is it a nightmare?

Update
Phiddian's blurb for Media Malaise or Agitators at work is based around the saying attributed to Voltaire that though 'I disapprove of what you say, I will defend to the death your right to say it’, and he points out that the proverb:

is a crucial principle of liberal institutions. It is a principle under pressure in the command and control world of modern government and corporations. Tell us how and why to resist the pressures.Nevertheless, you may also wish to consider the human cost of agitation, both to the agitators and to those who sincerely support the status quo being undermined (none of us cares about the cost to those who corruptly benefit from controlling dissent, I presume). It is easy wax sanctimonious about the ills and idiocies of the world, but harder to be clear-minded and charitable in seeking to address them.

Agitators need independent media (eg., Tasmanian Times, and National Indigenous Times) for their voice to be heard given the increasing concentration of the media in the capital cities.

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June 14, 2007

the media's psychosis

The Australian's recent editorial entitled Reality bites the psychotic Left argues that by refusing to face modern realities, the Australian Left has dealt itself out of the national debate. It goes on to assert that closely related to the Left's hatred of the US is their contempt for capitalism. It then says that:

On one of the burning topics of the day, climate change, this profound hatred of capitalism has led them down another philosophical dead end which advocates a romantic vision of suffering for a cause. Rather than objectively assess the realities of climate change and the practical task ahead they advocate symbolic, but ultimately futile, penance. By persisting with a misguided campaign to turn back the clock and demonise the Howard Government for not being harsh enough, once again, the debate has passed them by. Kyoto is giving way to a new global compact at which the US and Australia are at the centre. As research into clean coal technology for electricity generation looks set to become not just a reality but much quicker than even optimists had expected, those who advocate a return to dark nights and cold showers again look foolish.

This is from a newspaper that has used every tactic to support any strategy to stall action on climate change to stem the green tide. The editorial goes on to claim that todays Left has allowed itself to become trapped in a parallel universe, out of touch and far removed from the mainstream where the real Australian discourse takes place.

Really? On climate change it is The Australian's trenchant denialist position that is marked by "distorted perceptions of reality" surely. It has traditionally held that a strong case could be made that no scientific consensus on climate change exists, and that it was the climate change scientists who were the true believers.

The Australian understood its stance to be one of scepticism, and it has continued to cling to this even though most Australians judged climate change to pose a real threat to their mode of life and a real danger to that of their childrens. It has dealt dealt itself out of the national debate on climate change with its vitriol and hysteria rhetoric about the neo-Arcadian Left being anti-affluence, anti-wealth, anti-economic growth. The Australian is resolutely anti-green underneath its practical approach, adopts a bully boy approach to its critics, and it lost the climate change debate by a long way. Ideology was no match for the enlightening science of climate change.

It is The Australian that looks out of touch and ridiculous as it whips up its mock outrage into a form of hysteria about the "psychotic" Left. So what is it going to do about its denialist position now that it has been left stranded on the far shore. It has to cover its retreat in some way.

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Tony Blair on the feral beast

In the dying days of his political career Tony Blair has a few words on the media. Much of what he says is true. He is critical of the 24 hour news cycle, instant forms of journalism, views the media as feral beasts that eschews balance or proportion, and raises the need for more regulation and accountability.

The result is a media that increasingly and to a dangerous degree is driven by "impact". It is all that can distinguish, can rise above the clamour, can get noticed. Impact gives competitive edge. Of course, the accuracy of a story counts. But it is secondary to impact. News is rarely news unless it generates heat as much as, or more than, light. Second, attacking motive is far more potent than attacking judgement. It is not enough for someone to make an error. It has to be venal. Conspiratorial.

And:
The fear of missing out means today's media, more than ever before, hunts in a pack. In these modes it is like a feral beast, just tearing people and reputations to bits. But no one dares miss out.

Blair acknowledges that the media is deeply into interpretation of what a politician says and devotes reams of commentary to its significance.

It is true that the media face intense competitive pressures; that commentary trumps facts; that a politician's error always becomes part of a venal conspiracy; and that hidden meanings matter more to the media than what a politician actually says.

What Blair doesn't address in his speech to the Reuters Institute is the way some sections of the media engage in politics. In picking in the Independent in the UK he ignores the way the Murdoch Press in Australia and Fox News in the USA frames issues for a conservative audience, beats them up and does so by aggressively casting the other side as enemies to be destroyed. Oh, and the media stars use of anonymous sources in the Canberra court to further the right wing agenda; or the way they are more interested in influence than reporting.

Blair was largely dismissive of the democratising, diversifying potential of new media, preferring to emphasis its downside; ignored the way ministers leaked to selected journalists, downplays the politicians' more manipulative approach to supplying news; or lied about the Iraq war dossiers and the Hutton report.

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June 7, 2007

the return of the newspaper?

Tom Plate in The Age argues that important and complex matters cannot be seriously addressed in soundbite sentences on television. These can only be addressed by newspapers. Plate says:

My emphasis on newspapers is rooted in the core belief that political civilisation may depend in some circumstances on their flowering. Whether arrayed clinically on a digital computer screen, or splashed across newsprint that inevitably leaves ink on your hands as you pore over it, the newspaper at its best is a carrier of complexity. Any idiot news medium can handle the Paris Hilton story, but only a truly good newspaper can hope to offer you any wisdom at all on the daunting complexities of international currency imbalances, the Russian resurgence and China's weird stock market — not to mention the entire sprawling complexity of the Muslim world.

Even with the astonishing rise of the internet, the dominant media of mass communication probably remains television. However, it is newspapers that offer educated story selection, sophisticated analysis and more than the three-second soundbite, and with the internet this become more available to a greater number of people.

This is true. I can now read the Washington Post, New York Times, The Guardian, The Times online whilst in Adelaide or Canberra, as well as the Australian or the Sydney Morning Herald. Yet some of the analysis in these analyses can hardly be called sophisticated. Many are partisan and party political with the media companies seeing their core business of the company is the soliciting and publishing of advertising with journalists becoming content providers. So there is a need for quality content online both text-based and video.

Plate says that an example of quality online newspapers is The Times of India, and he acknowledges that the Wall Street Journal will probably be owned by media baron Rupert Murdoch, and that in 10 years it would probably not be the Wall Street Journal that more or less as we know it today under the Bancroft family. Murdoch will use his control of the Journal's parent company ravage it for profits or save it for posterity. No matter we still have the Times of India.

As the editorial in the Wall Street Journal says capitalism is dynamic, and as the Journal extols the virtues of Joseph Schumpeter's "creative destruction" for others, it can't complain when it sweeps through our own industry in the form of the Internet breaking up long-time media business models. Not when its classical liberal ethos is one of "free people and free markets." In doing so capitalism changes the nature of journalism to being content providers. That means a shift away from the Packer style media baron to private equity capital that works by increasing debt levels and improving margins of profitability by stripping costs and maximising returns; then reselling in 5-7 years.

A financially stringent new media model , that undergoes a technological overhaul to go digital, also means turning away from the big national debates , a dumbing down of content and embracing infotainment. So who generates the content that Sky News takes from the free-to-air networks, puts in some of its own content and plays it out. Someone has to, as Sky News has cameras without operators.

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May 13, 2007

blogging and pro journalists

I tried to join the National Press Club in Canberra as a citizen blogger a while ago. They laughed.

Their view was that as a blogger I cannot be a serious media person since all I do is sit at home and mouth off at whatever takes my fancy. I said my reason for applying for membership as a blogger, rather than a country member, was that I was deeply dissatisfied with the the prevailing political and media power centers. Being an entrepreneurial sort of chap I had created my own online publishing instruments for expressing and activating that dissatisfaction.

The tone in the room turned cold. Hostility was the reaction that accompanied the tight smile. I pressed on: there is not enough real adversarial and investigative reporting by the Canberra Press Gallery I offered as a conciliatory gesture. An overweight middle aged journalist heard the exchange and opined that I must be one of those left-wing blogger types who act as parasites on the reporting by the professionals in the gallery who work for first-rate media organizations.

I decided to cut my loses and join the Press Club as a country member.

However, I could not resist keeping the conversation going. Doesn't the Canberra Press Gallery engage in punditry as well as reporting I asked? How is that not mouthing off at work?

The reply was swift. The Canberra Press Gallery are in touch with the common sense of most Americans and understand how they live and how they think about their government. Moreover the careers of the Canberra Press Gallery require access and information, which in turn requires networking with politicians and their staffers, and the media corporations for which they work. That's why we are professionals in contrast to you amateurs. The national Press Gallery is for professionals.

My response was that the Canberra Press Gallery was a source of the problem. The Canberra media are not outsiders looking in on the Canberra power system, for they are eager participants within it, and so cannot they perform the adversarial and watchdog functions that our political press says it performs and upholds. Moreover, the Canberra media are not representative of the Australian heartland or mainstream since they largely attribute their own views to what ordinary Australians believe. So we need to ask what, if anything, does it mean to be a professional journalist?

As you can see the conversation was going nowhere. A divide was looming. Time to move on.

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May 1, 2007

The ABC's selling of Downer

As we know the world of the media is changing rapidly. So, out of interest, I watched the ABC's Australian Story on Alexander Downer last night. I find this programme walks a fine line between a new kind of journalism--people telling their own stories--- and marketing a goody image of specific people. It was also about the relationship between the media and government and party political politics.

Apart from showing the Foreign Minister dealing the recent plane crash incident in Indonesia Australian Story came across as a selling of Alexander Downer during an election year. He was presented as a nice likeable chap doing a stressful job well, despite the obvious personal toll. Suprisingly, the programme also included attacks on Kevin Rudd, and it ended with a clip of Downer defending the occupation of Iraq and going on about the ALP running the white flag line with its call for troop withdrawal from Iraq.

This programme was not a personal story of dealing with tragedy. So what is Australian Story up to? Can we call it media corruption in the form of the drip feed?

The political reality is that Downer, along with The Australian, Fox News, Weekly Standard etc, lives in fantasy land about 'progress in Iraq'; and he is out of touch with Australians being overwhelmingly in favor a legislated, forced withdrawal on a date certain. Apart from a refusal to recognize reality Downer, as a neoconservative, bears some responsiblity for some of the worst falsehoods and most egregious errors leading to the disaster in Iraq.

This 'selling of Downer' kind of programme raises questions about the state of the media in Australia. The media is becoming an infotainment industrial complex that is cutting free from the old culture and civic mission of journalism that considered itself a part of civic democracy. If the Australian Story programme was political and about the relationship between the press and the Howard government, then it ought to have made some reference to the corrupt behavior by our dominant political and media institutions.

This reference is one that would mention the role played by the Australia media in enabling the Howard Government and its warmonger spinners and publicists to disseminate pure falsehoods to the American public. Alexander Downer, as Foreign Minister, was and still is, a central figure in the Howard Government's strategy to deceive the country into accepting a war based on a whole set of false claims -- and the Canberra Pres Gallery nation's media outlets acted as a conduit of this mass deception of citizens. Yet the media still reckon they did a great job as professional journalists.

Isn't that arguably the most significant political story of the last decade? Not the job of Australian Story?

Then what is it doing providing a platform for partisan political attack in an election year? What is most disturbing about Australian story is that it doesn't think that it is doing anything wrong. They see no need to be accountable for providing such a platform.


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April 15, 2007

Sally Young on media repetition

Sally Young, a senior lecturer in media and communications at the University of Melbourne, has an op-ed in The Age, that addresses the way that the press gallery in Australia acts as "a pack" in that it writes the same stories, using the same angles, and then reporting on one another. It's a loop.

Young's argument is that this repetition is due to the media having to rely on the same pool of material, and describes how the media coverage of federal politics in Australia now often follows a set pattern.

John Howard does a radio interview in the morning. Footage of the interview is then edited into sound bites, which are used on television news that night. The next day's newspapers also regurgitate quotes from the interview because journalists will have been supplied with the transcript but probably won't have had an opportunity to question the Prime Minister directly. They may have tried to put follow-up questions to press secretaries but these are often brushed off, with media minders directing the journalist back to the transcript.

Young, who wrote The Persuaders: Inside the hidden machine of political advertising, describes this pattern as part of the government's strategy to muzzle the media, in that as Australian journalists are less able to get an interview, they must turn to the material they receive in abundance — interview transcripts and press releases supplied by politicians and their media minders. So the Press gallery has to deal with the spin on an issue.

Young, who is associated with the Southern Review, argues that relying on interview transcripts for news reporting is problematic, as John Howard repeats one line, with only minor variations, over and over, regardless of the question being asked and even when no question had been asked at all. It is what media advisers call staying on message.This is how politicians have limited and controlled media access, and it has had a major impact on how Australian politics is reported.

I concur with Young's argument. Where to now? Well the Press Gallery could do more than 'report' the political spin. They could analyze the issue and do a bit of research on the issue. That would be helpful to citizens. The problem is that many just report on the fluff because they do not know much about the policy issue, nor are they interested in it. They could also analyse the spin, and its erosion of democracy.Or they could critique the 'way we are living in a PR state characterised by an army of media advisers and the siphoning of public money into polling, marketing, advertising and media monitoring'

Isn't that what journalists have been trained to do in their media and communication courses?

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April 14, 2007

rightwing shock jocks

The Australian Communications and Media Authority's report this week that found 2GB broadcaster Alan Jones was likely to have encouraged violence and vilification of Australians of Lebanese and other Middle Eastern backgrounds in the days before the Cronulla riots in late 2005. Jones infamously endorsed a listener's letter calling on "biker gangs" to greet "these Lebanese thugs" when they arrived at Cronulla and send "this scum" scurrying back to their "lairs".

WeldonAshockjock.jpg

Remember this code was developed by industry in the first place--its a Code of Practice, not an Act or a regulation. The Authority said:

The suggestion to invite bikers gangs to intimidate Lebanese rail passengers was made in the context of other comments which gave the impression that people of Lebanese background or people of Middle Eastern background were forming gangs intent on causing harm to 'Australians', had no respect for the law and that existing law enforcement agencies were powerless. ACMA is of the view that, in these circumstances, an ordinary reasonable listener would regard the endorsement of the biker gang invitation as likely to encourage violence and thereby stimulate violence by approval."

The impression is that Jones help incite a riot and that his 2GB audience are a bunch of rednecks. I guess the advertisers are happy with that. The Howard Government comes out in support, with the PM enthusiastically endorsing him. Kevin Rudd also supports Jones. So what has happened to Rudd's ethics in politics position?

Is there any politician who considers it inappropriate to take the side of the side of a broadcaster who's tried to stir a racist gang war at Cronulla Station? Many know that there are votes in siding with Jones and that's what matters isn't it. You cannot allow yourself to get offside with Jones. Jones rules okay. Communications Minister Helen Coonan effectively threatened to gag the independent watchdog she had appointed.


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April 2, 2007

blogger's criticism of the Canberra Press Gallery

As I understand it the blogger's key criticism of the mainstream media is that journalists are partisan, because they now spin government claims and right-wing narratives, and do so uncritically and often with inaccuracies. The disaster of the Iraq War and the myths about that war which the Murdoch journalists allowed to take root -- and which they never investigated, exposed or attacked -- is an indictment of their profession.

I appreciate that Canberra has been a town dominated by the Liberal power structure for a decade or more, and that those journalists who see their job as breaking stories need to have meaningful political source. Consequently, they have needed to cultivate relationships with Liberal Party sources.

However, that process of currying favor with the Liberal power structure, listening to Liberal sources, being dependent upon Liberal favors and access means that many journalists in the Canberra Press gallery are on the Liberal Party drip feed, with several becoming spinners and attack dogs for the conservative movement against "the Left."

The second criticism is that the journalists are unwilling to address the way the above linkages is producing biased and corrupt journalism that undermines what the media claims is their core responsibiliy: -- to act as an adversarial check on government. This watchdog for democracy responsibility is what has been abdicated by large sections of the Canberra Press Gallery during the formation of the national security state.

This core watchdog responsibility is important because the conservative movement is an authoritarian movement, whose slogan "security leads to freedom", covers up the way that the Howard Government embraces and seeks ever-expanding government power within Fortress Australia. This power is based on the claimed need to protect the Australian people from all the scary, lurking dangers in the world just outside our national borders. These dangers about global terrorism are constantly stirred and inflamed in order to ensure the need for "security," from terrorists is ensured by vesting more and more power in the hands of strong, protective Leaders. These are leaders willing to take the tough decisions to deprive citizens of their liberty to ensure national security.

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March 21, 2007

Google + journalism vs bloggers

The journalism vs bloggers debate could be undercut by the boring NSW election. This election is primarily concerned with who is better in terms of the management and delivery of services. If the Lemma Government is on the nose, then so are the Liberals. It's LibLab recycled yet again. It is becoming taken for granted that the state government in NSW is corrupt and incompetent, if not dysfunctional.

NSWElection.jpg
Alan Moir

Dissatisfaction with the incumbents isn't enough: voters need some evidence that the opposition would do better.

So how could the old journalism vs bloggers divide be undercut? Jeff Jarvis at BuzzMachine says that we have two models of the media: centralized and decentralized.

Journalism as a part of the media sees itself owning audiences. The SMH markets itself to get me to come to its site. Then it feeds me as much advertising as they can, until you leave and go elsewhere. That’s the centralized model of media. But bloggers are not an audience and we are not owned. Google understands this. They bring their services to my own personalized homepage. This introduces a decentralized media ecosystem.

Glenn Greenwald argues that one of the core functions bloggers could perform is to battle against the cliched narratives and reflexive mindset the media has relied upon for two decades now in determining which stories they select to cover and what they say about those stories. He says this refers to:

how the national media depicts political movements and the assumptions embedded in how they referee our country's political discourse. The point here -- as always -- is to try to force the media to write about the stories it covers in a more critical and factual manner, to compel them to abandon the cheap and lazy cliches that otherwise frame everything they write. That is one of the most critical functions of blogs, and it is one of the goals that is realistically attainable by bloggers and their readers working together.

Bloggers could question the conservative media hunts the Left under beds, in university corridors, everywhere elites gather to swap their dangerous opinions and fills their columns’ with their endless fake rage and challenge the conservative machines tactics of setting up fake controversies to mask the real ones.

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February 27, 2007

the denial machine

Four Corners ran a programme from the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation's The Fifth Estate entitled The Denial Machine last night. The programme:

investigates the campaign to deny the science of global warming and slow international action against it. It tracks the activities of a small group of North American scientists, some of whom previously worked for Big Tobacco and who are now receiving donations from large oil and coal interests. It also examines how key planks of the fossil fuel industry’s case were adopted by governments in the US and Canada…

It puts name and faces to those in the publicity campaign of the major coal and energy in the US--those that stand to lose out from climate change policy--- to delay any government action to address global warming, such as taxes on CO2 emissions or an emissions trading scheme.

The Canadian programme highlights the recent history of the media politics, not the science; its history because even Australia's biggest electricity and gas companies are demanding that the commonwealth government establish a national greenhouse emissions trading scheme. Their argument is that carbon is going to be priced in one way or another, and that emmissions trading is the most efficient way to deal with the pricing issue.

The Institute of Public Affairs looks to be increasingly isolated on the issue and the shift to a clean energy future for Australia.

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January 31, 2007

SBS goes commercial

I watched a bit of SBS tonight. What's happened? The 9.30pm news looks like that of the ABC with a break in the middle that is filled with adverts. I watched a program on the necons entitled The Power of Nightmares and it was broken throughout with blocks of adverts. I was watching commercial television. SBS is no longer a public broadcaster. It's now just another commercial free to fair station chasing the advertising dollar.

When did this happen? Sometime last year I presume. I understand that the network is still limited to five minutes of advertising per hour and the advertisements must appear in what the guidelines refer to as "natural breaks". I saw no natural breaks on The Power of Nightmares; in fact the flow of the programme---a feature documentary--- was interrupted by the ad breaks.

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December 28, 2006

The Australian bashes the ABC again

I see that The Australian is having another 'lets trash the ABC.' This time it is Paul Gray, a columnist with the Herald Sun in Melbourne. The trashing is hard to take seriously as political commentar---it is incoherent and makes little sense--- but it does open a window onto the violence in the political unconscious of Australian conservatives.

In his op-ed Gray says that he has always contended that dealing with the ABC's bias problem at its roots requires nothing less than the complete philosophical re-education of those ABC staff members engaged in intellectual tasks. He adds that short of outright privatisation, this is the only way to arrest the endemic anti-Western bias which, at our ABC, expresses itself as partisan political passion, with the institutions and figureheads of Western liberal democracy as its principal targets.

Gray has his wires mixed up. The ABC works within liberalism not outside it. It works within the tradtion of western liberalism and is not anti-western. Gray's 're-education' call reads like something out of Mao's cultural revolution. Re-education into what?

Gray outlines his reasoning:

The ABC represents the Australian intellectual class in miniature. The journalists, writers and artists who make up that class suffer broadly from the confused values that have characterised Western intellectual elites since the late 19th century. There is political passion without historical knowledge. There is philosophical scepticism, without the well thought-out metaphysical beliefs to make that scepticism useful. There is a nihilistic tendency that goes beyond the call of reason, and summons those afflicted with it to a fundamentalist rejection of the society in which they live, and which on the whole treats them very well.

This reads like a conservative Christian rant, which ignores the existence of conservative intellectual elites and the role they have played in critiquing liberalism. Moreover, Australian intellectual class has been primarily educated into a utilitarian liberalism.

So what does this re-education involve, given that Gray holds the problem is less the creation of ABC culture as such and more a problem of the Australian tertiary-educated middle class? Gray says:

Perhaps those making the coffee at ABC staff cafeterias may be excused from the need to learn the basic outlines of Western metaphysical discourse: the tension between utopian political ideologies and the doctrine of original sin, for example. But any staffer who is paid to write, record, edit or in any other way contribute to the production of verbal output through the media of ABC TV and radio should be trained to recognise the key elements in historical Western intellectual discussion. Re-education, leading to a broadened view of the traditions of Western civilisation itself, is the only way to counter the deep-seated anti-Western hostility that characterises our intellectual elites in the modern era.

We need religion to counter secularism, because the secularism of the tertiary-educated middle class is nihilistic. That means being western is being religious in a conservative way. So how does privatisation and the market ensure a conservative religious re-reducation. Isn't it the market and its consumerism that is ungodly?

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December 17, 2006

new Arab media voices

In my posts on the Israeli and Palestinian conflict I have increasingly noted the anti-Palestinan bias of the Australian media and the way in which it is largely pro-Israel and pro-American. The other side of this bias is the lack of Arab voices --we just do not hear them. An Arab public sphere does not really exist in Australia; or if it does, it so marginalised in Australia that it has no voice. However, there is a global Arab voice--most notably the new Arab media such as al-Jazeera----but this is still difficult to access in Australia, even though al-Jazeera is the leading and most influential public platform for Arab critical voices across the Middle East and in the Diaspora.

In 'Voices of the New Arab Public' Marc Lynch (who blogs at Abu Aardvark) traces the emergence of the new Arab public sphere starting in the early 1990s until the aftermath of the invasion of Iraq in 2004, analyzing the evolution of Arab debate on political developments related to the Iraqi crisis. He shows that this new Arab media has revolutionized Arab public discourse on Arab political issues, especially on Iraq and Palestine, which is challenging the contrived monolithic discourse, dominated by the “voice of the state”.

The argument is that Al-Jazeera's novel approach to Arab politics--freely aired open and unscripted public arguments and disputations on the most sensitive issues---is empowering individual Arabs to assert their independent opinions in the public arena, thus defining a new kind of Arab public and a new kind of Arab politics. This phenomenon is not mentioned by the Quadrant conservatives who argue that Islamic and Western cultures are incompatible in a single polity and say no more Muslims in Australia.

The academic reviews of Voices of the New Arab Public can be found here From these and Lynch's responses we can glean that the book makes a strong argument for the potentially positive effects of the new Arab media:

shattering state monopolies on information and opinion, challenging taboos and red lines which have shackled Arab political debate, consistently highlighting democratic elections and political reform, and empowering contentious politics from below. The book argues that building a culture of pluralism and public debate is a necessary condition for achieving real democratic reforms.. but not a sufficient one.

This is a very different voice to Stone's collapsing Muslims into Muslim fundamentalism and saying that the core of the Muslim problem (it stands opposed to everything Western civilization stands for) lies in the essence of Islam itself.

Mahmud A. Faksh, one of the reviewers of Voices of the New Arab Public, asks a good question: 'Is the new open Arab public sphere really paving the road to a liberal, pluralist politics, as the author seems to imply'?he says:

The answer is simply no. Indeed, as the study shows, the emerging Arab public discourse, open and free though it may be, remains cloistered in an Arab narrative anchored in Arab-Islamic identity and culture, spewing populism, anti-Westernism driven by past and present grievances (colonialism, the plight of the Palestinians under occupation, the suffering of the Iraqi people under the weight of the U.S.-imposed sanctions, the subsequent U.S. occupation, and perceived or real Western double standards), and obscurantist Islamism---all the antithesis of a civic liberal culture that promotes tolerance, trust, compromise, and reason in the marketplace of ideas.

Faksh says that the Middle East today is in the throes of an ongoing pervasive and intense struggle between moderate Islam and militant Islam that is shaping the Middle East's evolving cultural dynamics and its worldview and that modernist-secularist discourse in the Arab public arena is a marginal one. Lynch says that his book is explicitly ambivalent about the liberalizing effects of the new media, as opposed to its contributions to pluralism and contentious politics. It argues that the new Arab public can not alone produce democracy, is constantly tempted by populist mobilization, and will not necessarily advance liberalism.
He argues that even if the power of a new international public sphere is growing, it is not at all clear that it is a liberal public sphere as the politics of the new Arab public sphere tend towards populism, the politics of identity, of authenticity, and of resistance. He adds that whether the Arab public sphere develops in a liberal direction or in a populist direction, consumed by questions of identity and authenticity, is one of the most pivotal questions shaping the Arab future.

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December 8, 2006

media changes

It is well known that, for all the rhetoric of market solutions, the Australian media market is a protected cartel where existing players profits are buttressed through government regulation.

MediaA.jpg
Allan Moir

Emma Dawson & Miriam Lyons argue in New Matilda that this protected cartel:

is a particularly pressing problem in the ‘new media age’, when traditional news sources, such as newspapers and television, are being supplanted by new media technologies. While, at present, the majority of the news and journalism we consume still comes from the daily paper or the nightly news, the future is digital, and the community is beginning to move decisively in that direction (despite government coddling of free to air TV). Australians are increasingly getting their news and information online or on-demand: the audience that turned the television on at the end of the working day and rarely touched the dial before bed time is largely gone.

The old ‘static’ audience of yesterday is rapidly being replaced by troops of highly mobile, technologically savvy consumers, whose loyalty is to themselves and their own tastes, rather than to any monolithic media ‘voice’. As such, they cannot be relied upon to provide the kind of mass audiences that have driven commercial media for more than 50 years.

So why protect the old media?

Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 7:04 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

December 7, 2006

media plays

I see that Fairfax Media has launched a $2.9 billion friendly shares-and-cash takeover bid for Rural Press, thereby creating the largest newspaper company in Australia. The takeover is to be completed in April 2007 and it will probably act as a deterrent to predators ( Murdoch, Packer and Stokes) eyeing a full takeover of Fairfax in the new media landscape. So the Canberra Times and radio stations (in Queensland and South Australia) will added to the AFR, SMH and Age. Rural Press was previously owned by Fairfax, before the bustup in the late 1980s, when Warwick Fairfax lost the company from his ill-fated $2 billion-plus privatisation of the group. Fairfax then slid into receivership.

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Pryor

Fairfax Media will emerge as a stronger, independent national media player following its effective takeover of Rural Press next year. It allows the combined group to step up its internet potential by using the content from the combined metropolitan, regional and rural newspaper group. However, the combined group has no interest in moving into free-to-air television.

Rural Press extracts a good margin out of its businesses as it runs them very lean and operates from a particularly low cost base. Local journalism meaning low rent journalism. Presumably, the tight control on costs by Rural Press will also be a key part of delivering earnings growth for the new Fairfax.

What does that mean for journalism at Fairfax Media? Yet more downsizing? Margaret Simons in the Sydney Morning Herald answers:

We can expect deep cost cutting, and it will be on the Fairfax side, not the Rural Press side, which is already so lean as to be skeletal. Brian McCarthy, the Rural Press chief executive, will now be in charge of running the broadsheets as well as regional and suburban newspapers. He is notorious as a tough, ruthless manager, cutting resources to the bone....the truth is that at Rural, John Fairfax has left McCarthy to run a lean, mean, accountant's company, and hasn't imposed his aspirations. So we can expect cost cutting at The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald. The truth is that this would have happened to some extent no matter who owned the mastheads.

Will the takover mean a much improved Canberra Times that has been so poorly resourced? A greater online local presence for the Canberra Times? How will community and localism work in the national capital?

Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 5:39 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

November 18, 2006

The Australian's junk commentary #2

Another example of the poverty of the op-ed in The Australian which prides itself on informed public debate. This time it is Christopher Pearson on climate change in a piece entitled 'Hotheads warned, cool it'. This time we have some form of reasoning, but it is pretty implausible.

He says there is something terribly galling about the federal Government deciding to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on controlling emissions of what will turn out to be, in all probability, a perfectly harmless gas. So though greenhouse emissions are linked to climate change they are not causally linked to global warming. Pearson stands for strong leadership on this issue, for:

...we know that strong leadership can change public opinion through time. I think the Prime Minister could and should have taken a bolder stand right from the start of the debate. He should have sacked ministers, especially in the environment portfolio, who falsely asserted an incontrovertible link between global warming and carbon dioxide. He ought to have promoted more of the informed debate we have seen in the pages of The Australian from the likes of Bjorn Lomborg and Bob Carter. No doubt we are a more credulous people than our grandparents were, but he might have tried appealing to the scepticism that was once such a prominent feature of the national character.

Gee, I'm beginning to feel sorry for these conservatives. They are beginning to understand the poverty of their conservatism and the lack of strong leadership.

No worries though. Pearson turns for comfort and intellectual and moral leadership to lecture given by Nigel Lawson, Margaret Thatcher's Chancellor of the Exchequer, at the Centre for Policy Studies, a free market think tank in the UK. Lawson dismisses the Stern Report as scaremongering relying 'on a battery of essentially spurious statistics based on theoretical models and conjectural worst cases'. With that out of the way Pearson says that the next leg of Lawson's argument relies on two irreducible truths. He quotes Lawson:

First, there is no way the growth in atmospheric carbon dioxide can be arrested without a very substantial rise in the cost of carbon, presumably via the imposition of a swingeing carbon tax, which would require, at least in the short to medium term, a radical change of lifestyle in the developed world. Are we seriously prepared to do this? (A tax would at least be preferable to the capricious and corrupt rationing system (that) half-heartedly exists today under Kyoto).

Pearson says that Lawson's other unavoidable fact is that, even if the developed world were prepared to forgo its accustomed reliance on fossil fuels:
It would still be useless unless the major developing nations, notably China, India and Brazil, were prepared to do the same, which they are manifestly and understandably not." No amount of jaw-boning by Howard and Peter Costello is going to persuade the two Asian giants to curb their energy consumption and the economic activity that is delivering, often for the first time, a measure of prosperity to their people. It is utterly hubristic of them to imagine otherwise.

Therefore, Lawson infers 'we are driven back to the need to adapt to a warmer world and the moral obligation of the richer countries to help the poorer countries to do so.' So what does 'adapt' mean for the Murray-Darling Basin or Adelaide where Pearson lives? Oh dear, Pearson hasn't thought that through, even though the autumn rains have failed for seven years in a row in the Basin, the Darling River is more or less dead, and its stopped raining where we have built our cities and irrigation infrastucture.

Pearson is more interested in following Lawson to warn us about the twin dangers of the new religion of eco-funadamentalism apart from the needless havoc it may wreak on some developed nations' economies. He says:

The first is that "the global salvationist movement is profoundly hostile to capitalism and the market economy ...Given the fact that the only way in which the world's poor will ever be able to escape from their poverty is by embracing capitalism and the global market economy, this is not good news."

Gee I thought one of the options to address the problem of emissions was to deploy the market mechanism of emissions trading. Aren't economists talking in terms of the National Water Initiative, water trading, users paying the full cost of water and water recycling? Pearson is way of beam. He's not even reading the policy options.

Pearson says that the second danger is even more disturbing. He quotes Lawson:

It could not be a worse time to abandon our own traditions of reason and tolerance, and to embrace instead the irrationality and intolerance of eco-fundamentalism, where reasoned questioning of its mantras is regarded as a form of blasphemy. There is no greater threat to the people of this planet than the retreat from reason we see all around us today."

Who is Pearson trying to kid. He's off beam again. He simply ignores the way that it is the Right that is in flight from reason and embracing irrationality.

Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 2:26 PM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

Al Jazeera

It is unlikely that we will see Al Jazeera in Australia, as we do CNN or the BBC. The live feed has to come through Foxtel, and guess what?

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Geoff Pryor

Apart from TransAct in Canberra (you need to have cable) we can only watch Al AJazeera through a video feed via broadband. I watched some yesterday on the internet on the free option for around 15 minutes and I was very impressed. As a 24 hours news and current affairs channel Aljazerera looked to be very good--much better than Sky News I'm considering subscribing.

Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 9:24 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

November 17, 2006

The Australian's junk commentary

Some of the commentary in the op-ed columns of the corporate media in Australia is bad, very bad. It is often far worse than what you would find on the best political blogs. The corporate media understand themselves to be promoting an informed debate. The Australian, for instance, says that this is what it does through the op-eds from people such as Bjorn Lomborg and Bob Carter. "Informed debate' gives us the criteria to to evaluate the op.-eds.

One example of the junk commentary is the recent op-ed entitled 'A bigger storm is brewing' by John Stone, an ex-Secretary of the Treasury in today's Australian newspaper. The op-ed is on 'Australia's Muslim problem and the climate change non-problem'. This is what Stone says on the latter issue to defend his claim that climate change is a 'non-problem' for Australia:

...discussion of climate change has degenerated from mild inanity into quasi-religious hysteria, with assorted opinion-formers demanding that we "get serious" in undermining Australia's main energy-producing and energy-using industries.

The phrase 'quasi-religious hysteria' is written a couple of weeks after the Stern Report mind you. Stone goes on to say:
In short, we should remain officially complacent about the most serious threat to our future, namely the fundamental incompatibility of Islam with Western society, while adopting anti-economic growth policies to address a problem that exists chiefly in the fevered minds of its [sic] UN and Green proponents. Corporate rent seekers also are angling for governmental subsidies for their economically hopeless wind farms, solar power toys and carbon sequestration follies. The kindest explanation for these people's views is that they are (as I think) merely another bunch of would-be corporate welfare dependants, much like the manufacturers before the Hawke government (chiefly) got rid of their protective tariff rackets.

Dwell on that for a moment and let it sink in: climate change and global warming is not real---as a problem it exists in the fevered minds of the UN and Green proponents. It's an illusion. There is no need for technical fixes because there is nothing to fix.

This nonsense is the response by an ex-Secretary of the Australian Treasury to an economic report produced by the British Treasury that talks about climate change in terms of market failure and externalities.

What is the significant about this political moment is that the Australian prints the junk, even though the editors cannot expect us to take Stone's rant seriously. We can treat it a paid piece on behalf of the fossil fuel lobby, or we can take it seriously as the violent expression of the political unconscious of the irrational Right. Or both.

Stone's pose as a rational neo-liberal is deceitful as he fails to mention all the subsidies handed out to the big corporations in the fossil fuel lobby by the state.

Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 10:07 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

November 16, 2006

media woes

I see from Crikey Daily that the circulation of the main newspapers are down, even with the giveaways. Crikey understands that of the 35 major newspapers surveyed, 26 have a lower circulation than a year ago. That means less revenue from advertising. So we have staff cuts and that a reduction in the quality of the material produced.

That surely means more Paris Hilton and Piers Ackerman.

The accelerating decline of newspapers increasingly means producing product for news "consumers" rather than citizens.That means the turn to entertainment and to fake news, rumor, speculation and gossip. That, in turn, signifies the decay of the implicit role of journalism as a "calling" rather than just a job; one that has been defined as being the "guardian or watchdog of democracy" and as an "intermediary and an interpreter between society and knowledge."

That means more Tim Blairs.

As Eric Alterman points out in The Nation in relation to a similar situation in the US:

What is staring everybody in the face is the evaporation of journalism's financial foundation into Internet air, where information is supposed to be "free" and ad rates are a fraction of those in print. Young people don't buy newspapers or watch the evening news--even, or perhaps especially, with cute Katie Couric reading it to them. Blogs are more fun to read and sometimes more reliable. Traditional revenue streams have been diverted by craigslist, eBay, Yahoo! and, of course, Google.

I would presume that there is panic over what the future holds in store, especially at Fairfax. Is this why we have the recent turn to news blogs on newspapers or at news.com.au? I presume they--talkback blogs--- generate readers through offering a space for consumers to express their opinions on a topical issue and so generate a bit of controversy.

Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 6:22 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

October 22, 2006

media reforms: survival of the fittest

The media reforms were sold by the Howard Government as benefiting the consumer.The reality is otherwise the battle of ownership that is under way now is about power and wealth as the media companies begin to move onto the world stage:

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Pryor

There is nothing about diversity in this kind of 'play.' But then that's the normal workings of capitalism--the concentration of economic power in which on the fittest survive. It's just business as usual in the free market. And yet though the delivery systems are more powerful they still ne