The Guardian and handful of other news outlets reported last Monday something quite significant: church leaders were arrested for an asylum prayer vigil at Tony Abbott’s Sydney office.
Meanwhile, a simultaneous sit-down protest was held at opposition leader Bill Shorten’s electorate office in Melbourne.
The significance of course is that peaceful, law-abiding civilians with strong religious beliefs are now prepared to be arrested over the horrendous imprisonment of 1,023 children in Australian-run immigration detention centres.
More than that, they targeted both political parties that engage in this cruelty, and came from a broad section of the Christian faith: Catholic, Baptist, Anglican and Uniting churches.
Interestingly Abbott’s goons brought the cops in while Shorten let them stay. It follows similar sit-in protests at immigration minister Scott Morrison’s electorate office in March, as well as the office of foreign affairs minister Julie Bishop. Will non-violent protests against human and environmental crimes define 2014?
Heads up hyper-local media junkies – newly released newspaper circulation figures have seen The Byron Echo increase its domi- nance over The Byron News (APN), with a 48 per cent circulation lead. The figures, which are updated every six months, were released last week by the Audited Media Association.
There’s been a general decline for local daily The Northern Star, owned by Australian Provincial Newspapers (APN). The Star now prints 9,662 copies daily, which is down seven per cent on the same period last year. Its Saturday edition is also down 8.8 per cent.
While independent publishers such as The Echo are holding steady and expanding online, the days of complacency are long over. The media’s existence relies on more than just relevant and informative news; it relies on good relationships with its advertisers.
But as for corporate suckholes like Rupert Murdoch, be wary of those who afflict the afflicted while comforting the comfortable.
He said he is a ‘powerful tool’, in the media and yes, he is a tool.
‘I have an article on drink driving that I reckon would fit great on the pages of The Echo,’ was the email opener, and that seemed innocuous enough.
It was a ‘cold call’ email from an Australian public relations company spokesperson, and he offered at first glance what looked like a news item. And when I checked his website, the penny dropped. I had wasted my time: the opening paragraph said they spread ‘a brand’s message through creative and colourful content strategy’.
Indeed one of the ‘articles’ posted gushed in support of the fossil fuel industry. So I asked, ‘Are you shilling a product in the guise of it being “content”? Just a thought – no accusations here, just curiosity.’
While it seemed slightly antagonistic to keep questioning his integrity (he eventually had enough of me), it is reasonable to be fiercely protective of information. After all, we live in an age where there are more employed in the public relations sector than journalism. It’s a recent tipping point, and one that many people would know. But not everyone.
Which leads us to the US news and entertainment website, BuzzFeed.
The Guardian last week reported that it is swimming in cash, raised primarily from presenting advertorial, or advertising that looks like news editorial. It strikes at the heart of ‘old’ news media because the two have always been separated. And for good reason: journalism that operates without fear or favour is the most valuable.
Anyway, the point is that there is a push, through newly discovered social media principles, to encourage us to interact with products so we might end up buying them. It’s a clear departure from traditional news gathering and makes the credibility of news unclear.
On the bright side, a new journalism venture worth a reported $250 million has been launched between eBay founder Pierre Omidyar and former Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald. Greenwald is one of the few voices that question the powerful and elite, so let’s hope he has the courage to ask whether eBay should be taxed more in light of the effect eBay has on traditional ‘bricks and mortar’ retailers.
Hans Lovejoy, editor
I honestly can’t tell the difference between Fairfax and News Ltd any more, especially after the Herald went tabloid and Gina Rinehart’s toxic influence infected it.
Evidence could be found in a recent Chinese junket shared by both the PM’s department and mining magnate Andrew Forrest.
Crikey’s Matthew Knott revealed last week that both Fairfax and News Ltd’s expenses were paid by Andrew Forrest’s Fortescue Metals Group and that payment wasn’t disclosed. And both Fairfax and News Ltd didn’t think it was a problem. Presumably Forrest innocently wanted to make a few new friends while hoping no one would mention Tibet or the Falun Gong. And it worked – having your own media tag along ensures those awkward questions are never asked.
Knott says that Mark Pearson, an expert in media law and ethics at Griffith University, told Crikey media outlets should disclose paid travel and accommodation within their stories or in a footnote at the end. ‘The mainstream media needs points of difference from the new media,’ he said. ‘They don’t do it at their peril. It’s what distinguishes them from the riff-raff.’
But why bother with a point of difference when you both control almost everything? According to The Australian Collaboration’s Democracy in Australia – Media concentration and media laws document (found at www.australiancollaboration.com. au), ‘Currently two newspaper groups (News Limited and John Fairfax Holdings) account for over 90 per cent of the circulation of daily newspapers, and Australia has only three commercial television networks.’
So Woolies and Coles own the food and if it wasn’t for the ABC, News Ltd and Fairfax would own the information.
A misconception about big media is that it behaves like any corporate organisation. It simply doesn’t. In addition to customer relationships and shareholder obligations, it has a unique role in democratic societies. The fourth estate, as it was once called, provided societies with critical analysis of those in charge.
Not any more. Given the current climate of sucking up to mining, would more media diversity just mean that Mr Forrest and the PM would have to charter more planes for overseas junkets?
As I expected he’s up front with a wide smile. ‘Ah you’re from the paper that keeps bagging me.’
‘Oh no,’ I enthuse, ‘I have never published anything about you.’
I am sitting at a table with federal Nationals senator Barnaby Joyce in the food hall at the South Tweed mall.
We huddle to escape the noise of eaters while a flock of nervous Young Nationals hover nearby in outrageously loud yellow t-shirts.
Thankfully veteran Echo photographer Eve Jeffery is with me.
Sitting casually to one side, she holds the camera at waist level and clicks away as we chat.
He’s listening intently as I explain last week’s Echo lead story on a renewables company that went bust.
In conclusion I asked, ‘Is it a conflict of interest that a board, comprising partly the fossil fuel industry, regulates the renewables industry’s?’
Barnaby wouldn’t bite and it became clear I was onto something.
Despite being well known for giving an opinion on anything he gives me nothing.
We move on and Barnaby volleys a straight political ball.
‘You know, it’s important that we have this opportunity to speak,’ he says, ‘being that your paper is not particularly aligned with us, it’s a good thing that we reach your readership. ‘Real politics lies in differing views,’ he says with a sparkle in his eye. At that point he opens last week’s Echo, lands straight on the lead story and his jaw drops.
The camera clicks. In disbelief he points at subheadings ‘Little To No Support From Nats’, ‘MP Hartsuyker: No Political Weight’ and ‘Glazed Abbott.’
As of going to print, broadcaster Alan Jones and radio station 2GB (that he part owns) are losing advertisers fist over dollar due to comments he made about the prime minister’s now deceased father.
And supermarket giant Woolworths is also under fire, according to Fairfax’s www.brisbanetimes.com.au.
‘A jacket made out of a chaff bag, a reference to Jones’s remarks [about Gillard being dumped at sea in a chaff bag], was donated to the Liberal Club dinner as an auction item by Woolworths community relations manager Simon Berger.’
Mr Berger claims to the Times to have attended the function ‘in a private capacity’, while Woolies has been forced to ‘suspend’ the occasional advertising they do with the show.
‘Woolworths in no way supports the comments made at that function,’ the statement reportedly said.
It’s obvious that Woolies and everyone one else associated had to say it was inappropriate, right? But the remarks are similar to what he’s been saying for years – yet this has sparked a fire-storm.
The Chaser did a brilliant parody of overlaying The Beatles song Julia with Alan and his ilk’s vitriolic rants against the PM, so the intent has been swilling around for years.
It’s speech he is well adept at and is designed to divide.
As journalist/author George Monbiot recently said on ABC radio’s Late Night Live, the only way to make change happen is action. Ask your redneck brother-in-law to explain why they listen to Jones and his ilk. Or better yet, as www.change.org says, petition the companies that still advertise on 2GB.
Those remaining include Telstra, Hyundai, Volvo, Roses Only, St George Bank, Harvey Norman, Toyota, Virgin... more at https:// www.facebook.com/SackAlanJones/posts/209484422516022.
Lock the Gate organisers were correct to drop Jones; however, I am sure there were plenty who would have relished the opportunity to heckle the old man in person. Myself included.
This week I will be interviewing ex-Greens leader Bob Brown at the Writers’ Festival.
While formulating questions to ask, I searched ‘Andrew Bolt and Bob Brown,’ thinking I could learn something from an opposing point of view. But after reading Mr Bolt’s views on Bob I almost choked on my double shot flat white in a mug.
Right-wing media pundits are so predictable. And boring. All you have to do is feign outrage and spew vitriolic vomit at anything that challenges a narrow world view. They rarely play the ball, always the man. It does make great theatre admittedly, but is this constructive to the evolution of our species?
I did a phoner (journo speak for phone interview) a few years ago with Mr Brown and asked about his hemp policy. At the time, all he said was that he supported hemp production and nothing more.
I have learned subsequently this week that The Greens still don’t have a policy on hemp. The Echo has reported previously on the CSIRO’s support of cotton and lack of hemp innovation.
This matters because hemp production represents progressive idealism just as renewable energy does. It has a long, rich history as a useful natural fibre and is far superior to others. Henry Ford even made his car bodies from hemp material at one point.
And it’s an easy thing to overlook; hey, we get everything we need from plastics and cotton, right? Except that this plays well into the recurring ‘light bulb’ theory. Humans can produce a light bulb to last much longer than those commercially produced.
Mass consumption is predicated upon obsolescence.
Author Aldous Huxley once said, ‘Armaments, universal debt and planned obsolescence – those are the three pillars of western prosperity.’
Our collective future depends on a fruitful and harmonious marriage between economics and environment.
The Echo hopes Bob’s replacement in the senate, economist Peter Whish-Wilson, will provide a bridge to those political divides.
Questions for Bob are welcome. Please email email@example.com.
An analysis of how global news corporations control the access to information was aired last week – but chances are most of us in this country didn’t catch it.
Eighty-year-old veteran US journalist Dan Rather told Bill Maher’s Real Time show (available only through YouTube or as a bitTorrent file) that he was sacked in 2004 by his corporate boss CBS after reporting George W Bush’s appalling national service record in the Vietnam war. As records show, Bush went AWOL in the National Guard for a year after being given a plum post because of his family connections.
‘Everybody should be concerned about this,’ Rather said, of censorship and control.
‘There are no more than six – my count is four – who control more than 80 per cent of the true national distribution of news.
‘Now, these large corporations have things they need from the power structures in Washington, whether it’s Republican or Democrat. Big business is in bed with big government, and this has more to do with the average person reads, sees, hears than most people know...’ He goes on to say that the corporatisation and the politicisation of news has led to the trivialisation of the news.
There was a time, he says, when corporations saw news, at least in part, as a public service. ‘The firewall between the news division and the corporate structure has now disappeared.’
Maher agreed, and made the point that news was a loss leader (much like the Coles and Woolies milk wars).
‘In the old days, news didn’t have to make money,’ Maher said. ‘The Beverley Hillbillies made money, so that meant you could do what you do.’ Rather added that this was the case for CBS news until fairly recently. ‘With constant consolidation, ultimately under the Viacom flag, that’s when it went all out the window.’
Honest brokers of information are becoming far less fashionable these days, but controlling the flow is not a fait accompli. Basically this means maintaining scepticism and suspending beliefs on all things driven by corporations.
The late comedian Bill Hicks said it best: ‘Go back to bed America, your government is in control. Here, here’s American Gladiators. Watch this, shut up, go back to bed America, here is American Gladiators, here is 56 channels of it. Watch these pituitary retards bang their fucking skulls together and congratulate you on living in the land of freedom. Here you go America – you are free to do what we’ll tell you! You are free to do what we tell you!’
Often I have wanted to paste stickers on ‘news’ items that appear in newspapers. They would say, for instance, that this story is a ‘re-written media release,’ or, ‘To ensure future interviews with subject, important questions were not asked.’
This publication, of course, tries its utmost to provide real news to its community; however, the reality is that re-written media releases make up a portion of what constitutes ‘news’.
It’s vital that the public know exactly what they read, watch or listen to is of real journalistic quality. And journalists, for anyone interested, are becoming more integrated with public relations (PR) companies.
Journos and editors have media releases lobbed to them from governments and public relations companies daily. And when a ‘journalist’ puts their name to a re-written media release, it damages not only their reputation and credibility but their publication’s.
It’s disingenuous, lazy, incompetent and is a threat to society.
Real journalists never re-write, they ask questions. They take different points of view; they contrast. When a PR company tells the media something wonderful about its product, or a government tells them how well they are doing, journalists should ask the fundamental question: who does it affect? Of course the best journalism is investigative and does not rely on media releases. It could be argued that media releases are just free advertising. Smart publicists tailor their media releases to a publication and good publications never reprint generic media releases as is.
Does the majority of Australians accept what they read, see or hear in the media? Or is it mostly about manipulation and control? It is always worth remembering that the privileged few that have this voice are of course linked to advertising dollars.
With never-ending cost cutting, many publications don’t have the staff to follow up every media release. Hence, most local publications continue to compromise their editorial content with unexamined media releases.
It’s the ratio of media releases to ‘real news’ that makes a difference; not only to the publication, but to the eventual outcome of a community’s better understanding of itself.
Everything this week is last week’s news anyway. Last week’s newspapers are used for cleaning windows, kitty litter, wrapping chips and – most importantly – starting fires.
Where does one draw the line over the liberty we give society’s antagonists? Should free speech really have limits?
One of the first European settler antagonists in Australia was Ballarat Times editor, Henry Seekamp. As the only person to serve jail time for the Eureka Stockade in 1854, he was arrested and charged the day after the event with seditious libel. A petition by the town, however, reduced his sentence to three months from an original six. The prosecution brief – which can be found at wiki.prov.vic.gov.au – contains transcripts of the offending material, which was heard in the supreme court of the colony of Victoria. And what a hotbed of radicalism it was.
Seekamp advocated an Australian congress, ‘meaning an assembly governing Australia independently of the government of the United Kingdom’. He called the Queen’s ministers ‘dishonest’ for ‘dictating obnoxious laws,’ over expensive gold mining licences.
In more recent times, sedition laws were used against members of the Communist Party of Australia (CPA) around the cold war.
It serves as an interesting insight into how ideas can become problems for governments. The online parliamentary library – www.aph.gov.au – highlights a few sedition cases. General secretary of the CPA, Laurence Louis Sharkey, said he would support a Soviet invasion in certain circumstances and might use force to allow workers to gain power. His sentence? Eighteen months’ imprisonment and hard labour in 1949.
The last federal prosecution and jailing for sedition was in 1960, when department of native affairs officer Brian Cooper was prosecuted for urging ‘the natives’ of Papua New Guinea to demand independence from Australia. He was charged under the Criminal Code (Qld) which at the time extended to Papua New Guinea. He was sentenced to two months’ imprisonment with hard labour.
Sedition can have positive effects on society, as is the case with the Eureka Rebellion. Even australia.gov.au says the Eureka Rebellion was ‘a key event in the development of Australian democracy and Australian identity.’ Seekamp remains an original European settler dissenter. According to the online Australian dictionary of biography, Eureka rebellion leader Raffaello Carboni described Seekamp as a ‘short, thick, rare sort of man, who hated humbug and yabber yabber... His energy never abated, though the whole legion of Victorian red-tape wanted to dry his inkstand’.
‘Byron Bay to Bradley’ was held last week at the Community Centre as part of the Global Days of Actions. It was in solidarity with US Army Private Bradley Manning, who is accused of leaking the WikiLeaks ‘Collateral Murder’ video.
It made international headlines in April – though it was filmed in 2007 – and depicts three airstrikes from a US Apache helicopter in New Baghdad. At least eleven people were killed in the airstrikes, including two journalists working for Reuters. The US army has kept Manning in isolation since his arrest on May 29, according to www.bradleymanning.org, and he needs at least $50,000 to defend himself. He is facing 52 years imprisonment and is under suicide watch.
Leaking footage of US soldiers wilfully killing unarmed civilians is more than a military PR nightmare – it highlights humanity’s futile endeavours with wars that are invariably over religion, sovereignty, resources and ideology. US national security was not threatened by this action, however The New York Times reported that Manning is also accused
of leaking over 240,000 classified intelligence reports and diplomatic cables involving the war in Afghanistan. That is a threat to US national security, and most likely the reason he will be jailed for most of his life. WikiLeaks defended disclosure of the material, saying transparency is essential to democracy.
‘The Taliban have already stated they are reading the documents, looking for names and will go and kill any Afghan listed as being an informant or connected to those who worked with/for NATO,’ a forum contributor to Manning’s site says. ‘With this security leak, informants now see that they are not safe and fewer – or perhaps none – will be willing to come out with information.’ So is Manning hero or villain?
Arguably one of the images that was instrumental in changing the American public’s views on the Vietnam War was of the execution of a Viet Cong guerrilla by South Vietnam’s national police chief. Mainstream media (NBC and AP) captured that moment in 1968, and the comparison with Manning’s helicopter footage is evident.
New technologies have the ability to spread over larger areas of population than ever before. It can be dangerous and is a powerful tool, and one that should always be used with extreme care so it doesn’t endanger lives.
Anything that ends wars, un-winnable or not, is in humankind’s ultimate interest. It’s probably the reason the mothership hasn’t arrived from outer space yet.
As George Carlin said, ‘we are but monkeys with baseball caps and machine guns.’