Benny on journalism

I thought long and hard about what my next article was going to be. I have been working somewhat on a series of articles related to children, including should children be subsidised and are current custody laws in the Family Law Act adequate. However, these article take a fair amount of time to do.

However, for me, there were two events last week that really stood out. The first was the release of the latest Sensis Business Index.

On Wednesday the Sensis business index came out, and included one of the findings that, after 21 consecutive quarters of this prestige title, New South Wales was overtaken by Queensland as the least popular Government amongst Small and Medium Enterprises (in terms of their opinions of government policies impacting small business).

Anna Bligh is already struggling in the poles, and you think that this would be a fine source to use to ridicule her. Instead, the Queensland opposition seemed unblissfully unaware of this. Instead, from my limited media exposure, the main topic for journalistic reporting for the day was the Treasurer beating up the opposition over teddy-bears. Further, few media outlets even realised the Sensis report. Queensland Business Review picked it up rather early, but otherwise it mostly went missing.

This compares to earlier in the week, when the most recent Tourism data was released. The big story was Victoria overtook Queensland in Domestic Tourist Visitors. It led to quotes like this:

“The offer of big events, cultural events, retail, food and wine is considered more attractive than stuff like theme parks, Big Pineapples and gee-whizzy type of stuff,” Victorian Tourism Industry Council chief Anthony McIntosh said.

Apparently culture includes the absence of severe storms, floods, an oil spill and all the bad PR stemming from these. But this is beside the point.

Last week highlighted two things, the severe disadvantage the opposition is at due to its lack of human resources, and the absolutely woeful state of Queensland journalism.

I have always hated Today/Tonight. I think it more miseducates the public rather than provides a good consumer watchdog type service. While I think the media has become to an extent the method of exposing and crushing certain elements of society that seemingly fall through other safety nets (e.g. exposing dodgy dealings, etc), I am not sure Today/Tonight deserves much kudos in this regard. I tend to think Today/Tonight more highlights rather unimportant issues, directing attention away from issues that deserve focus and onto things that benefit less from continual oversight. It gives many issues that really don’t deserve much more than a passing comment a place in the limelight, determining the content of talkback radio switchboards the following day. And the ABC isn’t much better. I watched some Tony Jones interviews a while back that were absolutely terrible. He got various politicians on to discuss policy, and Tony Jones’ interviewing technique was all about aggressiveness and trying to get the interviewee to trip up. If a certain issue wasn’t working, he moved on to the next one. Providing an interview that provided information to the public and discussing the actual policy was non-existent. It was all about the spectable.

In a perfect world, the media would be on-top of issues, and be able to disseminate and present it to the public in understandable chunks. While it seems many journalists aspire to report the facts and avoid opinion, it seems that disection, inference and explanation also have disappeared. Instead, they go for the candy issues, the stuff that BTN would present to schoolchildren if all BTN’s employees were dead.

Analysis should be an integral part of journalism. Journalism has become a spoon-fed role. Journalists get given a prepared statement, and they put it through the journalism machine and out pops an article. I think the machine applies quotation marks and a snappy headline. Still, the commercial goals of the media are not in alignment with Australia’s democratic processed. With the media more concerned with the easy stories and the politician cheap-shots or trips-ups, politicians will be more focused on media and perception management rather than governance and providing policy related information.

Without the resources and personnel the government has available, opposition attacks seem to be limited to what they can derive from mainstream media. These days, Australian opposition parties are very limited in the extent of their government oversight roles, and winning an election is more a case of the government losing the support of the populace rather than the opposition winning it.

We have to begin to wonder, given the importance of the media in our political structure, does something need to be done?

Crime and punishment

It seems odd to me that Matthew Johns could engage in dubious, but legal, conduct and lose his job – and future employability – on that basis. He’ll probably never work in the areas he was, until today, employed in again. Fair? I’m not so sure.

What Johns did wasn’t nice. It was wrong by most definitions of the word, and It will cost the NRL money, it will cost Channel Nine money. But the media witch hunt has been appalling.

It seems particularly hypocritical for the network that brought us “turkey slapping” to stick a turkey with a microphone under John’s nose at an airport demanding an apology on behalf of a girl the reporter doesn’t know and has never met.

It also seems somewhat hypocritical for Australia’s leading newspapers to run such a witch hunt while they have these stories driving their online advertising revenue:


Update: Matthew Johns has now apologised to the woman in question in a pretty contrite interview with ACA (reported here).

“Johns, who was earlier stood down indefinitely from Channel Nine and the Melbourne Storm, said the incident was morally wrong but claimed the woman involved was not acting against her will.

“I did not commit an act of abuse to that woman,” Johns said in the taped interview with A Current Affair. “I am guilty of infidelity to my wife and guilty of absolute stupidity.”

“I would say that on the night when she came back to the room, she was a willing participant in everything that occurred.”

He also said that he was unaware of the effect the incident had caused the woman since the night, which he apologised for.

“Any trauma and embarrassment that she’s gone through as a result of this I’m extremely sorry for.”

Protect us from ourselves

I got this email today, from a colleague.

“Joe Smith started the day early having set his alarm clock ( MADE IN JAPAN ) for 6am . While his coffeepot ( MADE IN CHINA ) was perking, he shaved with his electric razor (MADE IN HONG KONG ). He put on a dress shirt ( MADE IN SRI LANKA ), designer jeans ( MADE IN SINGAPORE ) and tennis shoes ( MADE IN KOREA ). After cooking his breakfast in his new electric skillet ( MADE IN INDIA ) he sat down with his calculator ( MADE IN MEXICO ) to see how much he could spend today. After setting his watch ( MADE IN TAIWAN ) to the radio (MADE IN INDIA ) he got in his car ( MADE IN GERMANY ) filled it with Petrol from Saudi Arabiaand continued his search for a good paying Australian JOB At the end of yet another discouraging and fruitless day checking his Computer (MADE In MALAYSIA ), Joe decide to relax for a while.. He put on his sandals ( MADE IN BRAZIL ) poured himself a glass of wine (MADE IN FRANCE.! ) and turned on his TV ( MADE IN INDONESIA ), and then wondered why he can’t find a good paying job in … Australia….. “

Is it just me or is protectionism so hot right now? “Buy local” campaigns are the new economic black. I think A Current Affair is running a story (or they have already run it) encouraging their legion’s of viewers to buy Australian made. It’s odd. And pretty stupid. In fact I think it’s just clever marketing and a nice, easy PR campaign to boot. Who’s not going to cover a story about keeping locals in jobs. It seems the first thing advertisers do in a recession is call for protectionism – buy local campaigns etc…

Magnetic Island is in the midst of a protectionism row at the moment after a local operator missed out on a tender to a Sydney based comments. This operator’s comments to the local paper that these fly by night Sydney operators would “be crucified” if they tried setting up on the island no doubt does our region a world of good as we try to attract investment and tourists. Here’s a message to you new businesses from the businesses on Magnetic Island… “die or we’ll kill you”. Nice.

The campaign to reverse the Townsville City Council’s incredibly above board tender decision took on new legs over the weekend with a protest group carting around signs that said “Beach Hire is un-Australian” and “local jobs for locals”… Apparently coming from Sydney is un-Australian now. Basically this guy thought the job was his by right – and barely even scraped together a tender (and submitted it after the closing date). He lost. That’s life. Move on.

I like to preface these pretty broad posts by saying “I’m no economist but” so here’s the standard disclaimer. I’m no economist but in the face of a global financial crisis it doesn’t make sense to be acting in the national not global interest – because to me, the bigger problem for Australian jobs is the rapidly collapsing resource sector. A collapse fuelled by slowing demand from overseas. That’s right. We export this stuff. So we need other countries to be in a financial position to buy our stuff.

This is why I think the fact most of the stimulus package being spent on things produced overseas is a good thing. Sure, buying local is good. But buying foreign made is ok. And why should we value employment in our prosperous country with better than adequate social security over jobs in other countries with non-existant unemployment payments?

I’ve had a few conversations with a few people who “don’t want the money from K-Rudd” on principle. That’s fine. Give it to me. I’ll spend it wisely.

These conversations go along these lines:

1. We should be helping big business that’s how to fix the economy
2. We should be investing in infrastructure that’s how to help the economy – we need to be ready for the next resources boom…
3. This money is only going to keep retail employees in jobs – and most of it will go overseas to China.
4. It’s a big debt that we can’t afford to pay now – and it will be a burden on future generations.

From my very, very laymans meta-analysis of the current economic situation the downturn in Chinese production fueled by the lack of demand for their products seems to me to be a pretty prime factor in our resource prices tanking.

Pouring money into Chinese manufacturers is a good thing because not only will it give us access to technology as they develop it to suit demand, it will also stimulate demand for our resources – there won’t be another resource boom if other countries don’t want to grow and develop.

Sure, we could have a locally driven resource boom. But then the Greens would get angry that we’re chopping down trees to pave paradise for multi-storey car parking.

The debt thing is an issue – but once we’ve decided to spend money saving the economy rather than letting it tank completely and picking up the pieces the solution is going to require spending money, and governments are really the only entities in a position to borrow.

So here’s the response I sent to my colleague… some of the points are a stretch – but I wish sometimes people would think a little bit past the obvious “that money’s going to support a Chinese person not an Australian person” bias.

“Joe Smith started the day early having set his alarm clock ( MADE IN JAPAN – using Nickel from Townsville) for 6am . While his coffeepot ( MADE IN CHINA (using aluminium mined in Australia) – (with coffee grown on the Atherton Tablelands ) was perking, he shaved with his electric razor (MADE IN HONG KONG ) (using technology developed in Australian universities). He put on a dress shirt ( MADE IN SRI LANKA – using cotton grown in Australia ), designer jeans ( MADE IN SINGAPORE – also using Australian cotton) and tennis shoes ( MADE IN KOREA using Australian leather ). After cooking his breakfast in his new electric skillet ( MADE IN INDIA from Australian steel ) he sat down with his calculator ( MADE IN MEXICO using components made from Australian resources ) to see how much he could spend today (based on Australian research). After setting his watch ( MADE IN TAIWAN using Australian components and sold to him by an Australian salesman ) to the radio (MADE IN INDIA and installed, repaired and serviced by Australian technicians ) he got in his car ( MADE IN GERMANY – sold in Australia by a local dealer who employs local mechanics – unless the locals are so lazy that he has to bring in workers from overseas ) filled it with Petrol from Saudi Arabia (shipped to Australia by an Australian company, transported by Australian truck drivers) and continued his search for a good paying Australian JOB (he wasn’t looking hard enough) At the end of yet another discouraging and fruitless day checking his Computer (MADE In MALAYSIA ), Joe decide to relax for a while.. He put on his sandals ( MADE IN BRAZIL – That is unAustralian – he should have been wearing pluggers) poured himself a glass of wine (MADE IN FRANCE.! – again, there’s plenty of good Australian wine) and turned on his TV ( MADE IN INDONESIA filled with Australian content), and then wondered why he can’t find a good paying job in … Australia….. probably because nobody wants to buy our resources anymore because we’ve stopped buying stuff, or he’s too lazy to do anything he considers “menial” or beneath him…”

Underbelly creep you won’t see on ACA

“Journalist arrested for links to hitman from Sydney’s seedy underbelly” – it’s almost the perfect opportunity for ACA to run a cross promotional Underbelly story. Only he’s one of their own. Ben Fordham. I can’t believe I missed this last week. Now the hitman (a nephew of Sydney’s mayor) has been arrested. No doubt he’ll come up with a plea bargain that sees the journo and his producer chucked in the slammer as an example.

Ben Fordham’s career as a corporate speaker will no doubt take off. He also has the added benefit of a PR manager – his famous father.

I remember watching the original story – where Fordham bravely foiled a “hit” and thinking they were crossing into some murky grey area of journalistic entrapment. Turns out it was murky enough for criminal charges.

I’m not sure how I feel about this. Personally, from a journalistic perspective, I loathe the sensationalism ACA and Today Tonight pursue. But I also think journalists should be able to become as involved in the story as they do. ACA ran an interesting piece last night where their journo, Martin King complete with prosthetic nose, lived as a homeless person for a period of time and explored the way Melbourne’s homeless are treated. It’s worth a watch.

Ben Fordham is getting a reputation as a bit of a toe rag. The police also cautioned him after an interaction with Belinda Neal last year. He was also the guy who brought us the controversial story about the “last tribe of cannibals” and their prospective dinner, Wawa. Who Nine didn’t rescue – and Fordham allegedly blew the whistle on Seven as Today Tonight made an illegal attempt.

So, what do you think? Should the courts thank Channel 9 for aborting this hit via their story, or should they throw the book at the guy?

Underbelly Creep

Channel 9 (and regional counterparts WIN) seems determined to force as much Underbelly down our throats as they can through a diet of cross-promotion and re-runs.

Last week they ran a two minute news story in the Queensland statewide news about the fact that the happenings documented in Underbelly were real. They happened 30 years ago. I thought news was meant to be timely.

Seven’s relentless cross promotion of their programming during the Australian Open was bad enough.

But this constant diet of Underbelly takes the cake. It was even featured on Getaway tonight. With a Sydney restaurant that’s a regular feature in the new series.

It’ll be on Here’s Humphrey next in the one where Humphrey gets whacked by a gangster, or the cast will bring a famous Mafia pasta dish to the set of Fresh.

What took the cake for me was last night’s A Current Affair. I try not to watch it often. But last night it looked like they were going to have something serious to say about the Pakistani terrorist attack on the Sri Lankan cricketers.

But no – it was about the “seedy underbelly” of Pakistani cricket – lumping terrorism, match fixing and corruption into a package that used the word Underbelly about eight times – and then even showed a clip from the show.

This Sunday morning Underbelly is the advertised feature of the Today Show.

Underbelly is this year’s Gordon Ramsay – and we all know what happened to him. He appears to have been ignominiously pulled from Channel 9’s Thursday schedule, and his family man image is damaged beyond repair. That’s what happens when Nine flog you to death.

No doubt the Footy Show will also have an Underbelly themed segment next Thursday night. And then it will all start over again when there are DVDs to sell.

Chain mail

Television tabloid journalism sank to an all new low this week – if that’s possible – with Today Tonight chaining a granny to her retirement home cupboard for the sake of a dramatic story. It’s a new low in a series of lows stretching for as long as the ratings war between Nine’s A Current Affair and Seven’s Today Tonight. It’s a battle for the hearts and minds of Australia’s gullible majority who rely on the program to keep informed and educated.

Tabloid programs traditionally rotate about seven stories – the neighbour from hell dispute, dodgy brothers traders being hunted down, consumer protection, how to save money (bargain hunting), shameless network cross promotion, dieting tips, and the emotionally charged plight of a disadvantaged entity who needs “your” help. There’s a Venn like overlap between the categories – but that’s the way they like it.

My friend Benny hates these shows, which regularly compete for story fodder (ala the tit-for-tat Corby drama from the last few weeks), blaming them for all manner of societal malaise. It’s been a bad year for Today Tonight who have managed to sully their already scurilous reputation with a number of well publiscised mishaps on and off camera.

Naomi Robson was at the heart of a number of controversies prior to her decision to hand the hosting duties on to anti chequebook journalism crusader Anna Coren.

The first famous mishap came when Naomi was caught swearing at her producer – the clip made its way to commercial radio and was widely circulated online – causing this apology…

Her horror year is documented here.

This story seems to be an all new low for any “current affairs” programming and the journalist in question should get the boot for being reprehensibly stupid.

Programs like this should not be allowed to wield the influence they do on public debate. They rate through the roof so there’s no real chance of the pin ever being pulled which is a tragedy for the country’s intellectual standards.

Speaking of intellectual standards… English Football demonstrated its capacity to churn out boorish louts incapable of human interaction – Craig Bellamy and John Arne Riise look to have been to the same school of ettiquette as Penrith’s newly appointed co-captain Craig Gower. Apparently Bellamy took to Riise’s legs with a golf club following his refusal to take part in a training camp karaoke competition. It seems that’s just what the doctor ordered with both players on the score sheet in their upset away win over Barcelona. The coach was apparently ready to give Bellamy the flick if he’d put in a sub-par performance – boom-boom-tish.

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