Ethical Martini

A discussion of contemporary issues in media ethics, with olives and a twist. Made with only the freshest ingredients, shaken, stirred and poured over ice. I should also mention that I do like the odd, occasional martini. Bombay Sapphire gin and Lillet, dry and plenty of salty olives. Welcome to this cocktail of journalism and alcohol. A fine combination!

Saturday, 29 March 2008

Ethical Martini now on Wordpress

Ethical Martini

I have finally decided to make the move. Ethical Martini will no longer be updated at Blogspot.

If you have linked to this site, pls alter your code to point to Ethical Martini at Wordpress.


Thursday, 20 March 2008

McCanns' win lesson to the tabloids?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It's one thing to win a libel suit, it's another to have suspicion of murder lifted.

There are parallels here with the famous "Dingo took my baby" story from Australia in 1980. In that case the child's mother, Lindy Chamberlain, was chief suspect, she was tried and convicted, but then exonerated on appeal many years later.

In both cases the media portrayed the parents as weird potential killers who behaved in a bizarre fashion at the height of their grief.

We don't do these stories very well. The cultural meme of "folk devils" is still strong and women who don't fit the "nurture" mold are often vilified without justification.

There's another interesting parallel the reported existence of DNA evidence in the form of blood in a car used by the couple. in the Chamberlain case the forensic investigation was flawed. In the McCann case the DNA match is not conclusive.

A blast from Palast

I don't really have anything of substance to add, but this spray from Greg Palast on the hypocrisy in Washington and New York over the Spitzer affair is worth linking too just for the humour in the writing and the venom in the digital pen.
Eliot's Mess

Here's a taster:

While New York Governor Eliot Spitzer was paying an ‘escort’ $4,300 in a hotel room in Washington, just down the road, George Bush’s new Federal Reserve Board Chairman, Ben Bernanke, was secretly handing over $200 billion in a tryst with mortgage bank industry speculators.

73% of HIGH INCOME Black and Hispanic borrowers were given sub-prime loans versus 17% of similar-income Whites. Dark-skinned borrowers aren’t stupid – they had no choice. They were ‘steered’ as it’s called in the mortgage sharking business.

‘Steering,’ sub-prime loans with usurious kickers, fake inducements to over-borrow, called ‘fraudulent conveyance’ or ‘predatory lending’ under US law, were almost completely forbidden in the olden days (Clinton Administration and earlier) by federal regulators and state laws as nothing more than fancy loan-sharking.

But when the Bush regime took over, Countrywide and its banking brethren were told to party hearty – it was OK now to steer’m, fake’m, charge’m and take’m.

Then, on Wednesday of this week, the unthinkable happened. Carlyle Capital went bankrupt. Who? That’s Carlyle as in Carlyle Group. James Baker, Senior Counsel. Notable partners, former and past: George Bush, the Bin Laden family and more dictators, potentates, pirates and presidents than you can count.

The Fed had to act. Bernanke opened the vault and dumped $200 billion on the poor little suffering bankers. They got the public treasure – and got to keep the Grinning’s house. There was no ‘quid’ of a foreclosure moratorium for the ‘pro quo’ of public bailout. Not one family was saved – but not one banker was left behind.

Every mortgage sharking operation shot up in value. Mozilo’s Countrywide stock rose 17% in one day. The Citi sheiks saw their company’s stock rise $10 billion in an afternoon.

And that very same day the bail-out was decided – what a coinkydink! – the man called, ‘The Sheriff of Wall Street’ was cuffed. Spitzer was silenced.

Do I believe the banks called Justice and said, “Take him down today!” Naw, that’s not how the system works. But the big players knew that unless Spitzer was taken out, he would create enough ruckus to spoil the party. Headlines in the financial press – one was “Wall Street Declares War on Spitzer” - made clear to Bush’s enforcers at Justice who their number one target should be. And it wasn’t Bin Laden.

Cheers Greg, worthy wordsmithing with a fine point.

Sunday, 16 March 2008

Bouqets not brickbats

I thought I'd keep readers up-to-date with the Blue Chip story from last week. I had a go at the Herald on Sunday for its front page piece about businessman Mark Bryers and his visits to an Auckland brothel.

I noted at the time that it would be interesting to see what the paper came up with this week. Well, it's a much more detailed expose of some of Bryers' and Blue Chips money trails. Much more like a good investigative piece; though still no allegations of criminal behaviour; just dodgy dealings and attempts to evade process servers.

And while I'm handing out some praise today, I thought the front page lead in Saturday's NZ Herald about the difference in pay rates for New Zealand and Chinese flight attendants on Air New Zealand international services was great.

It had all the ingredients to make me really angry with Air New Zealand. It exposed their dreadful behaviour, one could almost suggest Air NZ is being racist in its dealings with Chinese staff. Of course the airline argues it's contract is with a Chinese labour hire company and that the pay rates are about what the attendants would get in China - it's all relative, the airline says.

The story told of separate contracts that mean Chinese staff get paid a fraction of the lousy wages that the Kiwi counterparts get - even when they work next to each other on the same plane.

If you need another reason to boycott the Beijing Olympics, you know apart from Tibet, the Falun Gong, and just general nastiness of the regime, this is a good one.

Saturday, 15 March 2008

A day in the life of Ashley Dupre: Celebrity callgirl to callgirl celebrity

It seems that 24 hours is a lifetime in the blogosphere. Just yesterday I was defending the right to privacy for sex workers caught up in scandals and media stories.
Now I find myself being amazed again at how quickly some people can turn adversity into a new adventure.

The young woman who's found herself caught up in the Eliot Spitzer fracas now seems to be trading infamy for instant celebrity. It turns out that Ashley Dupre is a recording artist whose songs are available at Amie Street online music store for around 90 cents.

Ms Dupre's music got some random airplay on New York radio stations once she was outed by the NYT newspaper. But apparently it's not that good and failed to gain high rotation status. However, it's a good example of how people can make money from someone's misfortune. Here's a statement of great principle from radio Z100 honcho Tom Poleman:

"Z100 is all about playing what's hot, and we can't think of anything hotter than a song from the woman at the center of the scandal that took down the governor of New York. On top of that, it's not a bad song. Looks like she may have a new career; this time in music."

Not only a music career either; according to speculation in the news today Ms Dupre may well be able to parlay her brief stint in the media spotlight into a Hollywood career, or at least a "spread" in Playboy or Penthouse magazine. Perhaps she'll have to wait till after her testimony to the investigating grand jury.

No doubt more images and information about Ms Dupre will emerge soon. I expect that the gossip and trash mags will have a field day. The first nude photos should be arriving at your inbox any day now.

The story gets more interesting the further you dig. According to one version the Aime Street site was set up by Dupre after the scandal broke, which indicates she may still have some control over her own destiny.

She's also rapidly reaching 'vapid star' status on Facebook. A number of groups have been established, including Ashley Dupre for president and Ashley Dupre for next American Idol.

There are many others, including for supporters and 'haters'. I guess it never hurts to be famous on Facebook, and it also, once again, proves the cliche "there's no such thing as bad publicity".

So at the end of the day can we blame Ms Dupre for making the most of her 15 minutes?

Friday, 14 March 2008

Prostitutes, privacy and media harrassment

Good things come in threes...but not it seems if you're a sex worker caught up in a high profile media broo-ha-ha.
I recently mentioned a Herald on Sunday story that outed an Auckland businessman who frequented a brothel in the city. My point then was that the guy had done nothing illegal (at least as far as the paper could report), so why was the HoS harassing him?

I got a brief reply to an email I sent to the journalist. Basically her response was "I know a lot more, but can't say anything for legal reasons." Let's see what next Sunday brings - perhaps another installment in that story.

The story also featured a photograph of a woman who, according to the caption, was a worker from the brothel in question. Her face was turned away from the camera, but she'd be identifiable to people who know her.

Now this week the New Zealand Prostitutes' Collective has gone public with a complaint about an immigration department raid on another Auckland brothel in November last year when officials were accompanied by a television crew shooting for a reality TV series called Borderline which is produced by Auckland company Cream TV.

A man, who was a client at the brothel at the time, died after jumping from a window to avoid being caught on tape by the crew from Cream. Immigration officials at the time said they knew nothing about this unfortunate accident. it looks like they didn't really care either, but someone must: perhaps a family member, a child, a friend.

A former NZ Immigration Minister and now consultant, Tuariki Delamere described the raid as "Gestapo tactics".

The Prostitutes' Collective wants a ban on such ambush raids by television crews. Quite rightly, the collective's spokeswoman Catherine Healy is concerned about the invasion of the privacy of both clients and sex workers.

I think this is an interesting and important issue. Sex workers in New Zealand and many other places are doing nothing illegal if they're employed in a licensed brothel. But because of the stigma attached to the world's oldest profession (I'm sure that's just a crap cliche, but it fits here anyway) they are fair game for the media.

I think we tend to forget that prostitutes are also friends and lovers, mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, husbands and wives. They are deserving of respect as much as anything and certainly deserving of their privacy.

And what's with immigration officials allowing the cameras to accompany them on a raid like this. If they're looking to uncover criminal activity (in this case perhaps illegal "overstayers", or some such), what public right do they have to agree to allowing a commercial TV production company to follow them onto the premises which are essentially private property?

The television company has no right and if they barged in without the cops or other officials there, they'd be trespassing. I'm sure any warrant issued for the raid that resulted in the death of the client did not specify "and TV crew" as a party to the affair.

These so-called reality shows, like "Border Security" and so on make me bloody angry and pretty sick too. It's a combination of trivial voyeurism and the legitimation of authority in the name of public service and entertainment.

What public service? I'm sure Cream TV is only interested in the profits it makes from such programmes. I've checked their website, no hint of an apology to the sex workers, or the dead man's family and none from TVNZ either which screens this crap.

While I'm on the topic of prostitutes, privacy and media harassment, the third story this week is about the governor of New York.

Dickwad! Caught in an FBI sting operation and wiretapped making arrangements to see a high-priced hooker. He's resigned, for the sin of hypocrisy rather than adultery, one suspects.

But the newspapers today are splattered with photographs of the attractive young woman who Eliot Spitzer is alleged to have liaised with. It seems that her privacy is not an issue for headline-hunting media pimps.

Again I draw your attention to the NZ Herald, which is carrying a photograph, but saying that it was the New York Times that outed the young woman. This is a neat media trick - wait until someone else breaks the dam then pour through the cracks fullspeed. It was the NYT (see below).

There is a public interest angle here.

The public interest in this case is in Spitzer's anti-crime public persona being contradicted by his private prediliction for under-the-table tonking. As an "Elliot Ness"-style anti-corruption crusader he should probably not consort with criminals. But that does not justify the NY Times naming the call girl, or writing a feature exposing her personal life to the world. That is just prurient self-interest on the part of the media, it does not add one jot to the public interest in this story.

Monday, 10 March 2008

Congratulations to Susan Boyd-Bell

A big "well done" to my colleague, Susan Boyd-Bell, who has just completed her Masters thesis and is graduating this week from AUT. I have posted the abstract here and you can get a downloadable version by clicking on the title below.

Experiential learning in journalism education: a New Zealand case study

Susan Boyd-Bell, MEd
Master of Education

School: School of Education

Supervisor: Sue Stover , Andy Begg


Teaching journalism in tertiary institutions presents challenges, including how students learn to work in teams under the sort of pressure that characterizes workplace journalism. This thesis is a case study of how a group of students at AUT University, in Auckland, experienced taking responsibility for producing four editions of a student newspaper as part of their journalism training.

Based on a series of individual student interviews, before, during and after their experience, this research suggests that the key factor in their learning was their being allowed, to a large extent, the power to make their own decisions about the appearance and content of their product, while still being charged with the responsibility of ensuring it reached a highly professional standard.

The realities of life as a journalist, including recognizing the frequent need to prune, tighten or re-angle stories – even to reject them – and the vital role of co-operative teamwork, unparalleled in their other journalism studies, were driven home.

The two tutors, interviewed after the last edition, put some of the student observations into context and provided insights into the discipline involved, as teachers, in maintaining training as a priority, while ensuring production to deadline of a series of reputable and legally safe newspapers.

This case study suggests that while there are contrived aspects that cannot replicate a “real” newsroom – such as the students’ assignment to editorial roles without the status of real editors or chief reporters – the learning experience resulted not only in advances in the students’ technological skills but significant development in their critical thinking about the profession they were due to enter.

Year: 2007
Keywords: Journalism education; Experiential learning; Problem-based learning; Student empowerment; Student newspaper; Structured interviews
Language: EN