Today Tonight

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?

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?

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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