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!

Tuesday, 29 May 2007

the dialectic of press freedom #2

Media urged to help State - Fiji Times Online

In this piece from the Fiji Times Online, a USP academic calls on the Fijian media to 'help' the government repair its damaged image with the Fijian people.

Dr Steven Ratuva's speech on World Media Freedom Day was an argument for cooperation between Fiji's embattled media and the coup leaders. A dangerous suggestion in my view. Here's an excerpt:

"Media can be agent of progress, of stability, also peace building," he said.

He said Fiji was moving to the next and perhaps the last stage of the coup.

"It is to do with re-democratisation,'' he said.

"It's very important that all these three stakeholders (the media, the state and the citizens of the country) and interests begin converging and provide that broader dialogues we move towards elections and we move towards the future."

the dialectic of press freedom

Challenges for the press and freedom - Fiji Times Online

This is an edited transcript of the speech given by Australian Press Council member, Chris McLeod to a Fiji Media Council-sponsored seminar at the University of the South Pacific last night on World Media Freedom Day. The theme of the day was Media Freedom in a State of Emergency.

The point I want to make here is that legislative attempts to enshrine media freedoms in law are a double-edged sword. The dialectic of the front page is clearly shown in the examples mentioned here.
For example, the real purpose of a law to guarantee freedom of speech and media accountability in Zimbabwe is to guarantee that the government of Robert Mugabe can stifle criticism by both local and international journalists.

In Fiji, under military law and a declared 'state of emergency' is also a case in point. The repeated attacks on journalists, including detention, intimidation and physical beatings are excused by the military as necessary to maintain good order. The real purpose is, of course, to stifle dissent and criticism.

Unfortunately the Australian government turns a blind eye to such maneouvering when it's regional interests are seen to be supported by draconian regimes.

Intimidation of journalists via judicial and legislative means is the dark side of arguments in favour of government 'guarantees' of media freedom. It is not freedom, but rather a set of fur-lined shackles.

Friday, 25 May 2007

MacLennan and Hookham - more on the matter

I have copied the contents of an email that's circulating among supporters of John and Garry. I haven't had time to do much editing on this, but it's important that it's out there. I'll come back later and clean this up. Right now I'm off to a meeting (one of three this afternoon). Why do we schedule hard work on Friday afternoons, it is afterall, almost martini time.

Message begins here:

Dear Visible Evidence Colleagues,

I'm writing to you because I believe that, as a group, we are deeply concerned about ethical practices in documentary and non-fiction filmmaking. I'm hoping, therefore, that you will be able to help me.

I'm also writing because my colleague, Gary MacLennan and I are in a major dispute with our university and are facing charges of "serious misconduct". It is very likely that we will be suspended without pay within ten days.

The background to this is that I teach film and television at Queensland University of Technology in Brisbane, Australia. A couple of weeks ago, my colleague, Dr Gary MacLennan and I attended a PhD Confirmation Seminar at our university. In Australia, PhD candidates are required to present a public seminar (which is advertised broadly over the campus) wherein they outline the scope and intentions of their research and show the progress they have made. This is usually done after a year in the PhD program.

On the basis of this presentation, a panel of four academics decides whether the candidate may proceed with the program and the candidature is then confirmed. If there are doubts about the scope of the work or the methodology or anything else, confirmation is withheld until the panel is satisfied that the candidate can now fulfil what is required.

On this particular occasion, the candidate, Michael Noonan's thesis title was " Laughing at the Disabled: Creating comedy that Confronts, Offends and Entertains." The thesis abstract explained that "Laughing at the Disabled is an exploration of authorship and exploitation in disability comedy, the culmination of which will be the creation and production [for sale] of a six-part comedy series featuring two intellectually disabled personalities. The show, entitled Darren and James: Downunder Mystery Tour, will be aimed squarely at the mainstream masses; its aim to confront, offend and entertain."

The candidate then went on to screen clips from his work in progress. My colleague, Dr MacLennan and I were horrified by both the material we saw and the intention behind the "research". We witnessed two intellectually disabled men being ridiculed and mocked for the purpose of "mass entertainment". At the seminar, we publicly expressed our concern and indicated that we were extremely offended. At this point we would have expected the panel to invite us to privately discuss our reservations with them but this never happened. The panel met in camera and then only much later did we discover that the candidate had been confirmed.

We used the official university channels to complain but the matter was ignored. [MH At this point is an excerpt from the piece that appeared in The Australian and at Public Opinion Online, I have edited this out as the text is in a post below on Ethical Martini]

The university's response to this criticism has been most severe and we were then accused, in the press, by the Assistant Dean (Research) of "misrepresentation" and "abuse" of the PhD student. What follows is an excerpt from the Assistant Dean's letter.

Hookham and MacLennan were not part of the formal committees that have ruled that Noonan's study will now progress to completion. Given their distance from these deliberations, it is neither reasonable nor acceptable for them to judge their fellow academics as being indifferent to the belief that it is morally wrong to laugh at the afflicted. Their fellow academics are just as sensitive to such matters and recognise that guarantees are in place to ensure that everyone involved will be treated justly and with integrity.

In this regard there is particular concern over the abuse of our PhD candidate, who has been exposed to national press scrutiny based on selective information and out-of-context misrepresentation.

We are also being intimidated and have every reason to believe that our careers are under threat despite the fact that we are both tenured members of faculty. I have taught here for 8 years and Gary has been here at QUT (Queensland University of Technology) for over 32 years.

Yesterday we both received a hand delivered letter charging us with "serious misconduct" and telling us that we will probably be suspended without pay.

We have discussed this matter with a mainstream disability advocacy group, Queensland Advocacy Group (QAI), which is fully behind us. Again, I am including this documentation for your interest.

What follows is an excerpt from QAI's letter)

"We write in relation to the reports in the Australian newspaper on Wednesday 11th April. We are alarmed by the recent confirmation of PhD candidate Michael Noonan and endorsement of his project titled "Laughing at the Disabled: Creating Comedy that Confronts, Offends and Entertains" by the Creative Industries Faculty. This project is a very ethically sensitive one and it should not proceed without external scrutiny, ethical review by a panel including those knowledgeable in disability ethics and development of stringent ethical safeguards.

Our concerns with this project are many. The abstract for the confirmation seminar itself suggests a number of potential ethical pitfalls. Exploring authorship and exploitation in disability comedy is a legitimate academic aim, however it is not legitimate to explore this by reproducing relationships which are exploitative, by representing vulnerable people with disability in offensive ways or by exposing them to public mockery by the "mainstream masses". Further, the abstract makes the fallacious assertion that there is a "fine line between laughing at and laughing with". To claim this in the context of reactions to people with disability is to be ignorant of the powerlessness of people with disability and the extremely detrimental impact of historical social constructions of disability.

To demean people with disability by portraying them as inept is not just offensive or "confronting". Instead, the representation of people with disability (particularly very vulnerable people with intellectual and developmental disability) as objects of ridicule is a form of disability vilification. It offends the right of people with disability to be treated as citizens worthy of equal moral respect. Reports of the "film in progress" (shown at the confirmation seminar) suggests that the film-maker has effectively exploited the innate characteristics of the young men's disabilities for the purpose of others' entertainment, and, ultimately, for the goal of commercial gain. The film-maker may claim to be "pushing boundaries" but the pervasive devaluation of people with disability and their historical confinement to negative social roles, including that of an "object of mockery" is hardly ground-breaking. Instead such constructions reinvest in harmful damaging social stereotypes. These stereotypes construct the person with disability as "other", non-human and diminish what the "mainstream masses" see as their worth and social value. These views then justify widespread social neglect, segregation and other threats to the protections afforded to valued citizens…

Kevin Cocks


Queensland Advocacy Inc.

2005 Australian Human Rights Medal Recipient and QUT Distinguished Alumni

Dr Lisa Bridle

Clinical Co-Ordinator

Queensland Centre for Intellectual and Developmental Disability "

The Vice-Chancellor has only recently replied to this letter. Herein he states:

The Project has already been the subject of an ethical clearance in accordance with the University's ethical clearance requirements which are based on well established principles. In the circumstances, there is no basis for requiring the Project to be further reviewed for ethical clearance by external parties as suggested by your letter.

The university is not in a position to provide you with access to the student's work in the film shown at the confirmation seminar.

I think there are two issues here. First, we feel that we have a duty to advocate for the disabled. Secondly our right to do so should be guaranteed under the right to free speech and also under academic freedom. Unfortunately Australia does not have a Bill of Rights and there is not a strong tradition here of academics defending their rights to free speech.

We believe that the "Laughing at the Disabled" project violates the most fundamental ethical protocols of our profession as film and video makers. We do not think filmmakers should exploit people who are unable to defend themselves. Above all, we abhor the fact that the university is doing this for profit.

We are also shocked by Queensland University of Technology's response to our criticism of this project. We are really and truly under attack and our only offence has been that we defended two young men unable to defend themselves. In the process though we believe we have also defended the ideals of a real university. These include academic freedom and a pastoral relationship with the wider community. We think that any attack on these ideals indicates a severe crisis in the university and we believe that, in the words of Allan Bloom, "a crisis in the university, the home of reason, is perhaps the profoundest crisis (we may) face."

Because of this, I would like to ask you to support us in our attempts to have this project stopped. To this end, I am asking you to forward this letter to all concerned academics asking them to stand by us. We have received support from other academics and we are very thankful for that.

What follows is an excerpt from Prof Michael Rabiger's letter in support of us:

The ethical issues raised by Dr. Hookham and Dr. MacLennan are ones that impinge on anyone documenting anyone else. The greater the imbalance of power and competency between the two, the more acute and disturbing these issues can become.

Just as the Aboriginal community no longer permits documentaries about them by non-Aboriginals, only the handicapped have the expertise to decide what is on the margins of acceptability as public utterance on their behalf. They seem excluded thus far from QIT's deliberations, which appear to legitimize a return to the days of laughing at the village idiot.

Judging from the evidence I have, Queensland Institute of Technology has made a monumental miscalculation in giving its blessing to the unfortunate Michael Noonan's thesis. It has compounded its original mistakes by circling the wagons on the grounds that a thesis committee had passed the work. Institutions and institutional committees make mistakes—that's not unusual. Now to set this difficult situation right, I suggest you use your authority to:

  1. Limit the widespread infamy this case is causing by immediately opening the QIT's process up to the steps advocated by Queensland Advocacy Incorporated, or any other nationally respected advocacy group for the handicapped.
  2. Clarify QIT's commitment to free speech and academic freedom among tenured faculty.
  3. Rescind Michael Noonan's confirmation pending the formation of a panel of nationally respected ethicists to advise on the purposes, means, and likely outcome of his "six-part comedy series featuring two intellectually disabled personalities….entitled 'Darren and James: Downunder Mystery Tour…aimed squarely at the mainstream masses; its aim to confront, offend and entertain." In the event they can find no redeeming features, compensate Mr. Noonan by assisting him in every way to find an alternative doctoral thesis subject."

We hope that you will then write to:

The Hon Julie Bishop MP
Minister for Education, Science and Training


Indicating support for us and requesting a Federal enquiry into how this project "Laughing at the Disabled" could have received ethical clearance.

I would appreciate it if they could also copy these emails to me and my colleague on:




In the subject heading please write: "Laughing at the Disabled".

Finally I should point out that in the article we wrote, we were critical of post-structuralism. Many colleagues might disagree with what we said. That is fine but I would expect them to defend our right to say these things.

Thank you for the opportunity to write to you at length. I am truly grateful and I would welcome your assistance with this matter.

Yours faithfully,

John Hookham PhD

Martini time

I've been meaning to post this for a while, but work has been hectic and the long-awaited arrival of Tiffany and the cats from Brisbane has disrupted some of my normal routines.
I recently went on a martini hunt in Auckland, something I'd been planning for a while.
I came across a great little bar in Ponsonby called the Musket Room. The tapas are great and the martinis...well, sublime perhaps comes close.
The staff kindly let me take the martini 'menu' when I left, after trying them all.
Here's a quick sampler:

Advent: zubrowka, wyborowa, krupnik - yep three vodkas in one glass. Superb, instead of the usual 'twist' or olives this comes with a cinamon stick and a piece of apple. Fantastic. Zubrowka is by far my favourite vodka - it's flavoured with a thin strip of grass, called 'bison grass'. I usually drink this one straight from the freezer in a shot glass, but it makes a great triple-treat'ini.

Consortium: havana club (white rum), marmalade, lime, cointreau - marvellous. My first martini made on white rum. A postmodern touch, but delicious.

Cockayne place: vanilla zubrowka, creme de cacao, passionfruit, cream - what-the-f*<$ The glass is rimmed with chocolate. This is a wierd little martini, but fantastic. I describe this as the perfect dessert martini.

Jia bao: jia bao, havana club, lime, cointreau - jia bao is a Chinese spirit. By this stage I'm not remembering much and I didn't make notes on this one, but I'd certainly drink it again.

Homopolitan: cranberry wyborowa, martini rosso, cassis, lime - I know, the thought of a sweet martini rosso instead of a dry vermouth, what's that about. This is another dessert martini, sweet, but with a bite. It certainly isn't overly sweet.

Over Easy: havana reserve, mint, lime - this is a refreshing martini, perhaps the 'chaser' after you've downed one of the chocolate or other dessert martinis.

The Musket Room is tucked away up a flight of stairs in Ponsonby Road, right in the heart of the cafe strip. The decor is cool, dark and wooden. The delightful Mel is the hostess with the mostess, including a snappy line in spats and suits. The bar also plays some cool martini music and the place has real class - linen napkins and a casual, refined ambience.

If you live in Auckland and have never tried it out, get down there and sample some of the best, if a little 'out-there' martinis around.
BTW: Mel will also make you a straight up dirty martini if you ask nicely.

Freedom of Speech disabled at QUT

This is a very serious issue of academic freedom of expression. My friends Garry MacLennan and John Hookham are facing disciplinary charges at Queensland University of Technology for objecting to a PhD approval that raises serious ethical issues about treatment of people with disabilities.

This YouTube doco explains part of the story

Here is the original piece that they published criticising the university and the PhD approval process. It seems, as my mate Phil Castles points out in the YouTube piece, that Garry and John are being disciplined for going public with their concerns.

Philistines of relativism at the gates
John Hookham, Gary MacLennan
1678 words
11 April 2007
The Australian
1 - All-round Country
Copyright 2007 News Ltd. All Rights Reserved

Universities should provide access to the best art and literature, write John Hookham and Gary MacLennan

A TIME comes when you have to say: "Enough!", when you can no longer put up with the misanthropic and amoral trash produced under the rubric of postmodernist, post-structuralist thought. The last straw, the defining moment, came for us when we attended a recent PhD confirmation at the Queensland University of Technology, where we teach.

Candidate Michael Noonan's thesis title was Laughing at the Disabled: Creating comedy that Confronts, Offends and Entertains. The thesis abstract explained that "Laughing at the Disabled is an exploration of authorship and exploitation in disability comedy, the culmination of which will be the creation and production [for sale] of a six-part comedy series featuring two intellectually disabled personalities.

"The show, entitled [Craig and William]: Downunder Mystery Tour, will be aimed squarely at the mainstream masses; its aim to confront, offend and entertain." [Editor's note: the subjects' names have been changed to protect their privacy.] Noonan went on to affirm that his thesis was guided by post-structuralist theory, which in our view entails moral relativism. He then showed video clips in which he had set up scenarios placing the intellectually disabled subjects in situations they did not devise and in which they could appear only as inept. Thus, the disabled Craig and William were sent to a pub out west to ask the locals about the mystery of the min-min lights.

In the tradition of reality television, the locals were not informed that Craig and William were disabled. But the candidate assured us some did "get it", it being the joke that these two men could not possibly understand the content of the interviews they were conducting. This, the candidate seemed to think, was incredibly funny.

Presumably he also thought it was amusing to give them an oversized and comically shaped pencil that made it difficult for them to write down answers to the questions they were meant to ask. The young men were also instructed to ask the locals about whether there were any girls in the town as they were looking for romance. This produced a scene wherein a drunk Aboriginal woman amorously mauled William.

Capping off this reality show format, the candidate asked Craig and William on camera what they would do if a girl fancied both of them. When William, a sufferer of Asperger's syndrome, twitched and was unable to answer, the university audience broke into laughter. Then Craig replied: "We would share her." This, it seems, was also funny for the university audience. They had clearly "got it".

It's worth noting that William's condition may make it difficult for him to understand the subtexts of social interaction. AS sufferers struggle to read facial expressions and body language and are often unable to predict what to expect of others or what others may expect of them. This leads to social awkwardness and inappropriate behaviour.

Hilarious, huh?

Much was made at the seminar of the potential for all humour to offend and of the ancient nature of the tradition of mocking the disabled. But the purpose of humour is not just cruelty. The butt of a joke usually has some undeserved claim to dignity and the funny incident takes him or her down a peg.

Humour undermines the rich and powerful, and it can be politically subversive. But we don't think it's funny to mock and ridicule two intellectually disabled boys. We think we, and the university, have a duty of care to those who are less fortunate than us.

At the seminar we were told there was a thin line between laughing at and laughing with. There is no such thin line. There is an absolute difference that anyone who has been laughed at knows.

We must admit with great reluctance that at the seminar we were alone in our criticism of the project. For us, it was a moment of great shame and a burning testimony to the power of post-structuralist thought to corrupt.

It is not our intention here to demolish the work of Noonan, an aspiring young academic and filmmaker. After all, ultimate responsibility for this research rests with the candidate's supervisory team, which included associate professor Alan McKee, the faculty ethics committee, which apparently gave his project total approval, and the expert panel, which confirmed his candidacy.

To understand how we have got into this dreadful situation, one need go no further than reading the series of interviews with some of the great figures of popular culture published in the journal Americana. These interviews are remarkable in that they all follow a similar narrative: the young professors who burn with a passion for popular culture take up a position at a university where they come up against the dragon of high culture. They risk life and career to slay the dragon by publishing articles on popular cultural phenomena such as TV soap operas. This, then, is the story of the heroic age of cultural studies, when teachers of cultural studies forced the academy and the schools to broaden their horizons.

As academics who have published articles on The Simpsons and Deadwood, we warm to these tales of derring-do. However, it is vital that one recognise that the heroic age of cultural studies is long past. The dragon of high-culture elitism has been well and truly slain.

What holds centre stage is not a critique of how popular culture provides -- in the words of scholar George Lipsitz -- the "links that connect the nation, the citizen subject, sexuality, desire and consumption". What we have instead is the reality that cultural studies is in the grip of a powerful movement that we call the radical philistine push. It is this same movement that has seen the collapse of English studies and the consequent production of graduates who have only the scantiest acquaintance with our literary heritage.

It is also undermining the moral fabric of the university.

Let us be clear: we are not blaming students. In our line of fire are the academics who have led the assault against notions of aesthetic and moral quality in cultural studies. This has taken the form of a direct attack on those who do not celebrate every offering that comes out of the maw of corporate culture. We are all supposed to wave our rear ends and become cheerleaders for rubbish such as Big Brother and Wife Swap. Lest the reader think we exaggerate, let us turn to the views of McKee, the enfant terrible of the post-structuralist radical philistines within the creative industries faculty at QUT.

In the university newspaper, Inside QUT, he was reported as saying: "Teaching school students that Shakespeare is more worthy than reality television is actively evil" (italics added) and in his "ideal world programs such as Big Brother would be at the centre of thecurriculum".

In a similar vein, John Hartley, Federation fellow and the founding dean of the faculty, has claimed there are similarities between Big Brother and Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew in that both explore issues of marriageability. Of course there are similarities; almost all stories deal with the quest to find a mate. But, in any comparison between Shakespeare and Big Brother, what counts are the differences, not the similarities. In Shakespeare we can point to, at the very least, the complex and sophisticated way in which the text is shaped, formed and structured. Every aspect has been deliberately crafted so that no feature is superfluous.

But by elevating Big Brother to the level of Shakespeare, the radical philistines have taken the high culture v low culture distinction and inverted it. Low culture is the tops and anyone who so much as refers to high culture becomes the enemy and is subjected to the politics of abuse and exclusion. This is what has led us to Craig and William: Downunder Mystery Tour.

And now, when we say that in civilised society it is repugnant to mock the disabled, most academics in our field appear to disagree with us. When we say it is morally wrong to laugh at the afflicted, our colleagues seem indifferent to the truth of this statement. Presumably for them it is just our "narrative".

They can take this position because in the postmodern world there are no theories, no knowledge and no truth; there are only narratives, fictional stories, all told with bias.

Yet we and almost everyone outside of the cultural studies ghetto reject this moral and epistemological relativism. If we are to take meaningful political action, if we are to act morally, if we are to teach our students how to live, how to act in an ethical fashion and how to make progressive and powerful art, then we need to be able to determine what is right and what is wrong, what is true and what is false.

Is there an alternative to the moral relativism, the schlock aesthetics and the dumbing down of the postmodernists? Yes, but to transcend the position staked out by the new philistines would require a commitment to aesthetic and moral education.

The aesthetic component would once again undertake the task of cultivating and improving aesthetic taste and judgment. That means providing access to the best that has been written, painted, said and filmed.

This aspect of the curriculum would necessarily be anti-relativist.

There are dangers and difficulties here, but the present situation is one where educational institutions are beset with wilful ignorance and culturally the ruling slogan appears to be "the grosser the better". This is nothing less than an offence to the human spirit.

John Hookham is a filmmaker whose work has been screened at festivals such as Cannes. Gary MacLennan's expertise includes documentary theory and practice. Both are senior lecturers in the creative industries faculty of the Queensland University of Technology.

Below I've inserted the coverage of this story. I think it is important that we support John and Garry and condemn QUT's heavy handed approach, which seems designed to cover the administration's embarrassment.

Uproar at student's disabled comedy
Dorothy Illing, Higher education writer
418 words
11 April 2007
The Australian
1 - All-round Country
Copyright 2007 News Ltd. All Rights Reserved

A PhD student's TV comedy about disabled people has sparked outrage from senior academics and prompted an investigation.

Michael Noonan's thesis, "Laughing at the disabled: Creating comedy that confronts, offends and entertains", has been attacked for its reality TV-style depiction of two intellectually disabled men interviewing locals in a country pub.

Gary MacLennan and John Hookham, of Queensland University of Technology's film and television school, believe that work such as Mr Noonan's is being validated under the rubric of postmodernist or poststructuralist thought, where "you abandon any idea of individual worth".

"For us, this is symptomatic of a wider intellectual and moral problem," Dr MacLennan said.

Mr Noonan, who is one year into a three-year PhD and has the support of his supervisor, Geoff Portmann, said he was surprised the academics had taken offence.

"I love these guys and would never exploit them," Mr Noonan said of the two characters in the planned television series, which will form part of his thesis. "It looks like they were in a vulnerable situation when they were not."

The project is backed by Spectrum, a not-for-profit group that helps disabled people in mainstream society.

Spectrum chief executive John Hart said Mr Noonan's work would change the way people viewed those with disabilities: "Michael is a wonderful human being; he is going to break down so many barriers."

Mr Noonan recently sold another series to ABC television, Unlikely Travellers, also backed by Spectrum. It is expected to screen later this year.

Dr MacLennan said that Unlikely Travellers, a documentary about six disabled people, was warm and beautiful, but the characters in Mr Noonan's latest project were portrayed as objects of ridicule.

The issue erupted late last month when Mr Noonan showed 10 to 20 minutes of footage at a confirmation seminar, a standard process in which a panel of academics assesses a PhD student's work 12 months into the degree to see whether she or he can continue.

Assistant dean in QUT's faculty of creative industries Brad Haseman said the project was cleared by the university ethics committee in September, but that a special ethics reference group would be established to monitor the work.

Professor Haseman said Mr Noonan had been told he could proceed on the condition he changed the title, which was "offensive" and "regrettable".

Higher Education -- Page 33

Here's a bit more, to bring you up to date with what's happening.

1067 words
25 April 2007
The Australian
1 - All-round Country
Copyright 2007 News Ltd. All Rights Reserved

Disabled project a crisis

IN attempting to defend the Laughing at the Disabled project ("Funny business", HES April 18), Brad Haseman tells us what we already know: namely that the PhD project went through all the appropriate channels at the Queensland University of Technology. That's what bothers us. If this went through all the right channels, then those channels must be hopelessly flawed.

Haseman makes no comment about the nature or content of the project. His only defence is that we must trust the experts. But it takes no expertise at all to know that one should not laugh at the disabled. It is a matter of basic decency.

Haseman assures us that the project was reviewed properly by the ethics committee. Our information is that the project received expedited approval.

If this is so, we call on the committee members to justify what they have done.

We challenge Haseman to make the project footage that was shown at the confirmation seminar available to mainstream disability groups. Let them judge this project.

Haseman has accused us of abuse of PhD candidate Michael Noonan. This is a most serious charge. It is one we reject absolutely. If anyone has been abused in this sorry affair, it is the two intellectually disabled young people unfortunate enough to have become entangled in the project.

But let us try to help Haseman understand what he and his experts have approved. Let him take the (belatedly changed and sanitised) title from the candidate's thesis, Laughing at the Disabled: Creating Comedy that Confronts, Offends and Entertains. Let him substitute the word Aborigines for Disabled. Let him try to speak this sentence into a mirror: Laughing at Aborigines: Creating Comedy that Confronts, Offends and Entertains. Do we need to say more?

But Haseman seems more interested in chastising the whistleblowers. Our offence is that we have defended the disabled. We have defended the true ideals of our university. These include academic freedom and a pastoral relationship with the wider community. For this reason we call on the university managers to intervene and to jettison the Laughing at the Disabled project. We urge them to recognise that this is a crisis. We remind them that, in the words of Allan Bloom, "a crisis in the university, the home of reason, is perhaps the profoundest crisis [we may] face".

John Hookham

Gary MacLennan

Creative industries faculty

Queensland University of Technology

This next piece explains how and why the university has moved to discipline Garry and John. They are now facing suspension without pay and charges of academic misconduct. I'm bloody angry about this. It is a serious attack on the rights of academics to engage in public debate about important issues in the intellectual domain.

Critics of PhD face discipline
Bernard Lane
590 words
9 May 2007
The Australian
1 - All-round Country
Copyright 2007 News Ltd. All Rights Reserved

TWO academics who went public with their opposition to a PhD project called Laughing at the Disabled face disciplinary action from their university.

John Hookham and Gary MacLennan, senior lecturers at the Queensland University of Technology, wrote an article in the HES last month saying the PhD project showed the amoral influence of postmodernism within their creative industries faculty.

QUT stood by the project, complaints against the two critics emerged from the faculty, and they face misconduct charges and possible suspension without pay.

Kevin Cocks, a Brisbane-based disability activist and another critic of the project, said that once again it was the whistleblowers who were pursued.

It is understood that the charges arise from an alleged lack of respect in their criticism of the PhD student, Michael Noonan, and his supervisors.

"This is not about speaking up -- it's about events that allegedly occurred and how they occurred," vice-chancellor Peter Coaldrake told the HES yesterday. "The university supports the right to academic freedom on the basis that it comes with responsibility, particularly when students are concerned."

Mr Noonan said his project, which includes a reality television-style depiction of two young intellectually disabled men interviewing locals in a country pub, had the full approval of the men's parents and guardians.

"I've talked to their parents and guardians [since the controversy erupted] and they still support it," Mr Noonan said. "It's frustrating when things are taken out of context. I don't think [Dr Hookham and Dr MacLennan] have got beyond the title."

The title was changed after the HES coverage appeared.

John Hart, chief executive of the disability group Spectrum, reaffirmed his support for Noonan's work, which would empower the disabled and give them "a voice through comedy".

But Mr Cocks, director of Queensland Advocacy Ltd and a QUT distinguished alumnus, said a letter from Professor Coaldrake had not eased his concerns about the ethical pitfalls of the project.

"If anyone had said laughing at Aborigines or laughing at women those groups would be rightly angered," he said.

"[The project] is sending a message to the community that it's OK to treat people with disabilities as objects of ridicule."

He said he would pursue the issue by seeking a meeting with Queensland's Anti-Discrimination Commission, the Public Advocate and the Adult Guardian. Professor Coaldrake had ignored his request to meet.

"We don't want to escalate this issue, we'd like to talk to [Professor Coaldrake] to see if this can be resolved," Mr Cocks said.

Dr MacLennan has told students by email of the disciplinary action against him, saying "this crisis has taken a terrible toll on my health".

About 40 students, mostly from the creative industries faculty, met yesterday to work out a campaign in favour of Dr Hookham's and Dr MacLennan's right to speak out, according to student Daniel Cabrera.

"We're taking some footage and making a documentary about this as well," he said. He said not all students at the meeting agreed with the thrust of the Hookham-MacLennan article.

In a QUT online forum one student posted: "I am not an activist. I know nothing about petitions, marches or fighting `the man'. What I do know is that what QUT has done is wrong.

"Their actions have filled me with indignation and compelled me to act. We cannot be silent and let them administer undeserved punishment."

Monday, 21 May 2007

This YouTube clip is of a union protest at the Qantas New Zealand Media Awards held in Wellington on Friday 18 May.
Several journos from the APN group wanted to raise the issue of APN's outsourcing of sub-editing. They got the banner up, but were shutdown and shoved off the stage pretty quickly.

Tuesday, 15 May 2007

Canadian Journalist - a good blog

Canadian Journalist :: Main Page

I just came across this blogsite from Canada, by journalists about Canadian journalism. Highly recommended, pls take a look.

Sunday, 13 May 2007

A Current Affair - crash test dummies

Crew faces probe over crash - General - News - smh.com.au

Those fun-loving boys and girls over at Channel Nine's A Current Affair are in the sh!t again. It seems they may have caused an accident in Melbourne while shooting a story on 'nasty' truck drives who hog the road.
The details are in this SMH story, but it's still under investigation by Victorian police.
I wonder if they had another crew chasing the ambulance sent to the scene.

Saturday, 12 May 2007

We think we've got problems with outsourcing

Local newsgathering outsourced to India

I've written before on APN's outsourcing of sub-editing, but what about out-sourcing an entire newsroom?
Radical hey?

The California-based Pasedena Now website is advertising for a freelance journalist based in Bangalore to report on local council issues and other daily event coverage in Pasedena.
The website editor thinks he can justify this because the council meetings are broadcast over the web anyway. Here's a taste of AP copy on the story:

James Macpherson, editor and publisher of the two-year-old Web site pasadenanow.com, acknowledged it sounds strange to have journalists in India cover news in this wealthy city just outside Los Angeles.

But he said it can be done from afar now that weekly Pasadena City Council meetings can be watched over the Internet. And he said the idea makes business sense because of India's lower labor costs.

"I think it could be a significant way to increase the quality of journalism on the local level without the expense that is a major problem for local publications," said the 51-year-old Pasadena native. "Whether you're at a desk in Pasadena or a desk in Mumbai, you're still just a phone call or e-mail away from the interview."

Friday, 11 May 2007

Is the new media boom over?

I don't want to be a Cassandra, and I certainly don't want you all to think that I'm boosting for the Wall Street Journal (Murdoch can have it!). But two interesting articles that I've linked to here.
Both are about huge media and entertainment mulitnationals who've recently lost money on their entertainment, news and internet investments. I want to come back to this, but for now, these stories make interesting reading.
Viacom profits fall 36%

Warner Music posts net loss

BBC's Johnston wins press award

BBC NEWS | World | Middle East | BBC's Johnston wins press award

Congratulations Alan. We all hope that you can come home to enjoy this win.
Apparently Al Jazeera has a video sent by Johnston's captors, but it contains no new images of him, only a shot of his BBC identity card. The tape was sent by a group calling itself Jaish al-Islam (Army of Islam). I have not been able to find a copy of the footage to link to.

Broadcast Yourself- and get paid

YouTube to pay popular contributors

So YouTube is to start paying contributors for clips posted on the site as "partners". This is another "beginning of the end of journalism" scenario. It will be interesting to see if television and other media who rip youtube clips for their own use will also now be charged a fee for this.
Hang on a minute, they're going to pay university contributors too. Perhaps J-schools should all set up a "channel" on YT, it could help pay for expensive staff and equipment (LOL).
Seriously though, I'm considering setting up a channel for my TV Journ and Online Journ students in second semester. It's a good way to solve some technical issues about hosting clips on the university webiste.

Tell this man about economics

Take a look at this, it's the opening pars of a story by W. E. Hussman Jr in the Wall Street Journal. I thought this was a reputable paper that employed writers who actually know a thing or two about economics and business (at least from a pro-capital perspective).

But this is just nonsense. How can something that's "free" be a commodity? Being a commodity implies, nay demands, that it also have a price. This was something that Adam Smith worked out over 150 years ago and Karl Marx built a whole thesis around. Read this for yourself:

How to Sink a Newspaper

By Walter E. Hussman Jr.

One has to wonder how many of the newspaper industry's current problems are self-inflicted. Take free news. News has become ubiquitous, free, and as a result, a commodity. Anytime you are trying to sell something that becomes a commodity, you have lost much of the value in providing that product or service.

Not many years ago if someone wanted to find out what was in the newspaper they had to buy one. But not anymore. Now you can just go to the newspaper's Web site and get that same information for free.

The newspaper industry wonders why it is losing ...

There is a real issue here, the declining value of advertising income in newspapers and an unstoppable fall in circulations as readers migrate to the net. So, the issue of free content on the web is of concern to newspaper proprietors and managers around the world.

I was talking to Rick Neville today, he's the deputy CEO of APN newspapers in New Zealand, about these very issues. He has quite a sophisticated view and, as an ex-journo and editor, understands both sides of the news business. Rick pointed out that one reason Rupert Murdoch is interested in buying the WSJ is because it has a very successful high-end online subscription service that adds value to a newspaper subscription and that is attractive to a high-value A-B demographic audience.

Rick says that in the future newspapers will be for a small, elite, market and that the rest of the rabble (my word not his), will make do, or get by with online content.

You might remember from earlier posts that APN is moving most of its sub-editing operations out of house to an Australian company call PageMasters that is setting up in Auckland.

Rick was open about the possible damage to the APN news brand and acknowledges that mistakes will be made. He's not really happy about it when he's got is journo's hat on, but he's also in charge of the economic health of the company and shareholders are demanding a better return on their investment. The cost-cutting is part of that schema.

This is the real political economy of news, and from Rick Neville's perspective, it's about keeping the newspaper afloat. His insights are much more useful in this debate that pages of "insightful" crap from some wally on the WSJ who doesn't even know fundamental economic definitions.

How to sink a newspaper? Easy! Just continue to employ idiots like Mr Hussman and eventually the weight of the dross they produce will send you to the bottom of the ocean of ink.

Thursday, 10 May 2007

Would you buy freedom of speech from these people?

An interesting story this, not that there's anything wrong with free speech in principle. The thing here is that this reads like a News Limited press release. Oh, hang on. It's written by Crhis Merritt, The Australian's Legal Affairs Editor.
Ah, now I remember, is this the same Chris Merritt who's constantly bashing the 'civil libertarian' set over their support for free speech for Australia's Muslim community and demanding that David Hicks be given a fair trial?
The same Chris Merritt who vilified and spewed hatred out at Jack Thomas and the entire Australian legal system when so-called "jihad" Jack was acquitted on terror charges because the Australian police had coerced a confession out of him.
Merritt, you are an unprincipled hypocrite, keep your bloody hands of my freedom of speech you disgusting Murdochoid.

United effort to save free speech
Chris Merritt
Legal affairs editor

10 May 2007

THE nation's top media interests put aside their differences this morning and announced the formation of a coalition aimed at persuading governments and the courts to end the erosion of free speech.

They will commission an audit of the growing restrictions on the media and recruit a chairman to lead a lobbying campaign.

The initiative was revealed at a press conference in Sydney at which the top executives of rival media companies all warned that free speech was being eroded.

News Ltd chairman and chief executive John Hartigan said that restrictions on free speech meant Australia was “a lightweight democracy” compared with countries such as Canada, New Zealand and Britain.

“Two international studies ranked Australia 35th and 39th on a world press freedom index,” Mr Hartigan said. “We should be up there with other democracies that are way in front of us."

The campaign, which was initiated by News Ltd, publisher of The Australian, is backed by Fairfax Media, the ABC, the commercial radio and television industries, SBS, Australian Associated P ress and Sky News.

Mr Hartigan said he believed other media organisations were likely to join the free speech campaign over the next few days. He said it was not the initiative was not “a political swipe at any political party”

“To trace the degradation in our press freedoms over many recent years shows that parties of all persuasions, whether they be federal or state, have allowed this to continue,” he said.

The coalition, known as Australia's Right to Know, says issues such as suppression orders in courts, refusal of Freedom of Information applications and terror-related laws have eaten away at press freedom.

Representatives of other media organisations were present, including the journalists union, the Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance, which outlined the scale of the problem last month in its annual press freedom report.

MEAA secretary Chris Warren said restrictions had become so severe that the public was being denied crucial information.

The main problem areas outlined by the MEAA include:

* The Freedom of Information Act has been rendered almost useless by the High Court and the federal Government.

* Terror trials are being conducted largely in secret under court orders obtained by the federal Government.

* Companies are using strategic litigation to silence public debate.

* Journalists are being threatened with imprisonment for upholding their code of ethics.

* Whistleblowers are being charged with criminal offences for revealing maladministration by the federal Government.

Mr Warren said the greatest crisis for press freedom in Australia was the attack on journalists' confidential sources.

Herald Sun journalists Michael Harvey and Gerard McManus are awaiting sentence for contempt of court for refusing to identify a confidential source in the federal public service.

In an unrelated incident, former Customs officer Allan Kessing is awaiting sentence after being convicted of a criminal offence for leaking documents revealing flaws in airport security.

Federal attorney-general Philip Ruddock promised in 2005 to introduce shield laws to protect journalists' sources but he was unable to secure sufficient state support at a meeting last month.

Saturday, 5 May 2007

Singing to police officers is not a crime

Radio New Zealand News : Police angered by protester's quashed conviction

I heard this story briefly on Radio New Zealand last night on my way home from work.
A 37 year-old Greymouth man, Allistair Patrick Brooker, won a Supreme Court appeal against his earlier conviction for disorderly conduct. He had stood outside the home of a local police officer for 15 minutes playing his guitar and singing a little ditty about the officer's conduct during a warranted raid on his home in the middle of the night.
The Supreme Court quashed the conviction on the grounds that Brooker was exercising his rights to protest, guaranteed under New Zealand's Bill of Rights, even though it might cause annoyance to the cop concerned The Supreme Court issued a brief media release after the decision was handed down. Here's a taste:

By majority, the Court has concluded that, taking into account Mr Brooker’s right to freedom of expression guaranteed by s 14 of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990, his behaviour had not in these circumstances been disruptive of public order and was therefore not disorderly in terms of s 4(1)(a) of the Summary Offences Act 1981.

You can read the full judgment via the Scoop website.
Of course, the police union (if we can call it that), the Police Association, is outraged. Association President Greg O'Connor said the decision undermines the authority of the police and denies them the protection they need to do their jobs.
Oh yeah, like this will stop the rozzers from using capsicum spray, or tasers. Do you think it will interfere with their 'right' to jack up suspects, or bash people?

Unfortunately for Mr Brooker, his troubles may not be over. He and his partner, Sheryl Ann Goodger, are currently on remand for allegedly trespassing at the home of Greymouth district superintendent Vern Morris. The couple's recent appearance in Greymouth District Court was reported in The Press on 21 April 2007.
It seems that Mr Booker is a serial protestor, which is not a bad thing. During his appeal he told the Supreme Court that he had been on many protests, his first as a 10-year-old.

As an adult I've never lived in a nation with a bill of rights until coming to New Zealand. Here's the important section about democratic rights:
2 Democratic and Civil Rights
You have the right to
• freedom of expression
• freedom of peaceful assembly
• freedom of association
• freedom of thought, conscience, religion and
As a New Zealand citizen over 18 you have the right
to vote and to be a Member of Parliament.
So long as you are lawfully in New Zealand you
have the right to freedom of movement and
residence in New Zealand.
You have the right to practise your own religion or

So my right to practice a religion of my choice is enshrined here, but there's no mention of not having a religion. Is aetheism a belief, or a lack of beliefs. And what about my right to protest violently?
Maybe I should write a protest song and sing it badly (I don't sing any other way) outside the home of the Supreme Court justices till I get my day in court.

Friday, 4 May 2007

Murdoch not rich enough yet

Murdoch on owning the Wall Street Journal
So Rupert Murdoch wants to buy the Wall Street Journal for $5 billion, but admits he never reads or understands every article. In an interview with the International Herald Tribune, Murdoch went to great lengths to promote his love of journalism.

While Murdoch went to great pains to explain that he sees himself as a lifelong newspaperman who learned journalism from his father in Australia, he also tried to say that his reputation as an interloper owner was overstated. He said he was not involved with the news operations of the higher-end newspapers, although he takes a closer role in tabloids like The Sun in London and The New York Post.

But his denials about interfering in the editorial work of his many media assets are hollow, to say the least. In Australia, the UK and the US, Murdoch has a long and well-documented history of doing the opposite. His senior editors are all handpicked loyalists and who could forget that every one of Murdoch's papers and the Fox network have been strong supporters of the Bush-Blair-Howard axle of weevils in Iraq from day one.

Nice joke Mr Murdoch, but try pulling the other one.
Interestingly, the Journal itself is reporting this story with a fairly positive spin, even suggesting that Murdoch's lieutenants are keen to win over staff reporters as well as the Bancroft family which currently owns most of the shares in the parent company.
This is not so unusual, the reporting of 'business' news, when the media property itself is part of the story, is often done this way. It's one way of signaling to share holders that the deal is perhaps in their best interests. I'm sure, though, that the union members at the WSJ will not be so easily fooled by the snake oil merchants promising them the moon.

BTW: you can actually watch the great documentary about Fox News, Outfoxed, on YouTube. If you haven't seen it, it's not a bad way to spend a couple of hours in front of the computer not downloading you know what.

Celebrity picture wars - worth a mint

OK! wins Zeta Jones picture battle
A British magazine has won a House of Lords appeal against a rival publication that published photos as a way of 'spoiling' its exclusive deal with Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones to print images from their wedding.
The judges' ruling is interesting. They decided that OK! magazine had paid for the right to impose a confidentiality agreement on wedding guests, one of whom is presumed to have taken the secret photos and sold them to rival Hello magazine.
So let's put this in perspective:
Two rich bums decide they want to make money by selling pictures of their celebrity-splashed wedding to a magazine. They sign an exclusive and then impose a confidentiality agreement on their guests (are you following this Aunty Beryl?). A court agrees that because money has changed hands, the guests are bound by this dubious contract.
It seems to me that the rights of the wedding guests to attend said celebration, get pissed and behave like idiots have been infringed here.
A word of warning. If you're planning a wedding, make sure you sign a confidentiality agreement with the photographer and ban your guests from taking happy snaps. Your exclusive with the Woman's Weekly could be at risk.
If the worst happens, you could always take the guest's cameras and feed them to that big sloppy dog on television who seems to like chowing down on the odd Canon sure-shot.

The Myspace President

Obama in website battle with blogger

Well at least the phony American presidential election campaign period promises to be interesting. Last week I mentioned how Republican candidate John McCain had become a reluctant download star on the YouTube website. Now it seems that Democratic hopeful Barak Obama has got himself into a fight with a former fan.
Joe Anthony had set up a 'tribute' page for Barak on MySpace, but now the candidate has wrestled control away, with the help of the MySpace spat-sorters.
Mr Anthony was demanding tens of millions of dollars to hand over the site, but Barak's team got it for free.
Nice one Mr Presidential-hopeful. You need the votes of the young and black Americans who hate George Bush, but you can't keep your hands of the kids' toys. Shame on you. A bit of trust would be a useful character trait for a controversial candidate. Now you just look like a suit from Sony.
Seriously though, if the US presidential campaign was based on popularity, in the same way as MySpace page rankings, some 12-year-old from Butte, Montana would be the perfect choice. She couldn't do a worse job than the incumbent and the candidates are all looking greedy and ungrateful, just like in every other presidential election since... When? Well, way before the Vietnam war anyway.
Who was the last American president who wasn't a rich, white and almost-dead male? Yep, tough question.

Ok, ok, I know you want to check out Barak's pages. Just how cool can this guy get, click through here to find out.

A poor excuse for drinking - better than none!

Campbell: 'I'm allergic to alcohol' - Digital Spy:

This must be a day for dumbduck celebrities to make amends - not quite apologies mind. Alan Jones claim to be 'sincere' [see below] and now a supermodel who's renowned for her tantrums when imbibing too much of the happy juice (in liquid and powder form) says it's her 'allergies'.
Take a bow, Naomi Campbell.

"According to BreakingNews.ie, Campbell has decided to give up drinking. She explained: 'I choose not to drink today in my life because I find that I'm allergic to alcohol. I'm not someone that's in denial of my problems and I'm not going to lie about my problems and I'm not hiding my problems."

Denial? Naomi, you're positively gushing! She hasn't been in the news much since she finished her uber-fashionable gig as a cleaning lady - to atone for previous sins.

This is a blog about journalism and alcohol, but I've never stooped so low as to blame my love of martinis on a medical condition. Though I have been known to have one or two for purely 'medicinal' purposes.
In fact, I'm going to buy a bottle of reasonable gin and some olives on the way home. I've had a tough week here in the blogosphere, spent most of it at home in mi sick bed.
Now's the time to live a little, before the allergies kick in.

Where is Alan Johnston?

Reuters Photo

Palestinians know whereabouts of kidnapped BBC man: Abbas. 03/05/2007. ABC News Online

Agence France Press reported this week that kidnapped BBC reporter Alan Johnston is being held in Gaza and that the Palestinian authorities know where he is. Apparently they haven't launched a rescue operation because they are worried he'll be killed.
There's been no official or verifiable information about Alan since it was reported in mid-April that he was being held, or had already been killed by a little-known group called Tawheed & Jihad.

Whitlam memory lapse alert - sincerely

Whitlam called to Balibo Five inquest. 03/05/2007. ABC News Online

This is a story that just won't go away. Thirty years ago, on October 16 1975, two Australians, two Britons and a
a New Zealander were murdered by Indonesian soldiers during that country's invasion of East Timor. The five, reporter Greg Shackleton, 27, sound recordist Tony Stewart, 21, cameraman Gary Cunningham, 27, cameraman Brian Peters, 29, and reporter Malcolm Rennie, 28 were in the town of Balibo when the Indonesians attacked. They were shot in cold blood.
There's always been a suggestion that the then Labor government, led by PM Gough Whitlam, was complicit in the Indonesians' bloody take-over.
I wonder if Gough can remember what happened back in 1975. He'll certainly never forget November the 11th,the day he was sacked by the Governor General, but will he be able to recall any meetings with Indonesian and American officials at which the decision to chop off any chance of East Timorese independence was relayed to him?
If I was Gough, I'd be claiming Altzeimer's has finally taken its toll. That would be consistent with the various memoirs he's written and his constant denials of Australian knowledge.

Read more at the SMH Online
and this background piece at Scoop which covers some of the 'untold' story about a high-level cover-up. the case has been in and out of the spotlight for many years. Reporters Without Borders recently reported on secrecy surrounding the coronial inquest when it began in February 2007.
Greg Shackleton's wife, Shirley, has fought tirelessly for the true story of her husband's murder to be told. Here's a grab of a story from the Dart Center for journalism and trauma, from October last year:

Shirley Shackleton—whose husband, Australian journalist Greg Shackleton, was murdered in East Timor in 1975—has been asking the same question for 30 years: “I want to know what happened to my husband and his colleagues,” she says. “Why were these people murdered in cold blood?”
A very good question, it's about time someone was held responsible.
Shirley Shackleton
Photo by Cait McMahon

Alan Jones - sincerity bypass successful!

Jones comments on Coates were 'honestly held' opinion. 04/05/2007. ABC News Online

Ah, Alan Jones, love him or hate him you've got to give the guy credit for two massive balls.
As the broadcaster of choice for a range of conservative causes he's never short of a topic to blag about, or a strawdog to kick.
Now he's in trouble for defaming one of Australia's leading sports administrators. He's going the "honest Al" route here claiming the comments were based on his sincere beliefs.
I'm sure the jury won't be fooled, this man had a sincerity bypass as a young man, the sincerity sac was replaced with giant money bags.

Some student views on ethical fault lines

Te Waha Nui Online - AUT

My colleague, Associate Professor David Robie, has posted some interesting student work on ethical dilemmas on the Te Waha Nui website.The commentaries are from an assignment set in the AUT journalism paper Public Affairs Reporting.
Students have tackled some interesting topics:

  • When pictures may be lying: Adnan Hajj digitally altered a dramatic photo of destruction in Beirut during last year's attacks by Israeli jets. He added extra smoke to a picture, but the crudeness of the digital manipulation meant he got caught - by bloggers.

  • Celebrity in the media: The death of Anna Nicole Smith and images of her body being manhandled into an ambulance created a media feeding frenzy that resembled the world-wide reaction to the death of Princess Diana in 1996. Why are we so fascinated with the horribly delicious aspects of celebrity drug and booze scandals?

  • Mental health and media responsibility: When privacy and the public's right to know collide there's always heated debate. But where is the line in the sand when the media's exposure of a mental health patient's work history causes him to be sacked from a job he loves?

  • Cash-for-comment Kiwi-style: If a journalist receives a grant to produce a series of stories, is their independence compromised? Does this blur the line between public relations and journalism?

  • Bloody Mary: How an episode of South Park has upset New Zealand's Catholic Bishops and stirred the free speech debate.

Congratulations to Spike, Sarah G, Charlotte, Pricscilla, Eleanor, Todd and Sarah L.
It's good to see that journalism students don't lose their sense of ethics and their idealism when confronted with some of the less seemly aspects of their chosen profession. Let's hope that as the new generation comes into its own in the newsrooms of the future that these lessons are not forgotten.

Thursday, 3 May 2007

Conservative Christian Congressman, the saviour of the US media?

CJR May/June 2007

An interesting analysis from the Columbia Journalism Review about a US politician who is an unlikely champion of press freedom.
Congressman Mike Pence, a 'charismatic' Republican (isn't that an oxymoron?) is supporting media shield laws to protect journalists who protect their sources. Here's a brief taste from Bree Nordenson's CJR article:

Conservatives these days are generally not considered champions of the national press, but a little more than two years ago, after reading an editorial in The New York Times about Judith Miller’s jailing and the need for a federal reporter’s privilege, Pence took it upon himself to champion the legislative effort for a federal media shield law, which would protect journalists from being forced to reveal confidential sources. Pence, a forty-seven-year-old lawyer and former talk-show host, may not like what he sees as “bad news bias” in the mainstream media, but he’s far more troubled by the “rising tide of cases where federal prosecutors have used the threat of jail time or outright jail time to coerce reporters to reveal confidential sources.” For the last two years, Pence has been the primary legislative force behind the shield-law effort, making it one of his signature issues. “Our founders did not put the freedom of the press in the First Amendment because they got good press—quite the opposite was true,” he says. For Pence, the shield law represents a good-government provision, one that would ultimately help citizens “make informed decisions” about their leadership.
Personally, I'm a bit ambivalent about shield laws. The Judith Miller case for example is complex and while I don't support journalists being jailed for refusing to reveal sources, her politics (compared, for example to Josh Wolf) are distasteful. Shield laws would have provided her with deep cover to continue playing the disingenious disinformation role on behalf of the White House.
There are strong arguments for protecting journalists from charges of contempt if they do refuse to cough up the name of a key source, but in my mind, the real danger is that shield laws will be used, not to protect journalists, but to force conditions of disclosure that will in fact weaken any protection reporters have against contempt charges.
That is shield laws will define a small area of privileged communication and leave most stuff open for intrusion from the courts.
The best protection, I think, is in fact to have strong whistleblower legislation that protects the disclosure by the source. This way courts would not be able to pressure reporters into revealing sources by chucking them in jail for contempt. The information would be protected at source making it an offence for the reporter to reveal it and limiting the court's ability to probe and pressure journalists in the witness box.

Wednesday, 2 May 2007

A reporter's life is full of drama

Journalist learns to live with chewed ear after invasion
This is not a pretty story, but life is tough on the mean reaches of Hawkes Bay. Our sincere sympathies for Doug Laing. This has got to hurt.

Freeview gives me a chill

New Zealand has got a new free-to-air digital television service, Freeview, so what.
Really it is no more than what's currently available, at least for now. The set top box that makes it available will cost around $300, why would you bother, just to get the same four channels that a standard UHF aerial gets you now.
Some commentators reckon it will eat into the monopoly currently enjoyed by Sky TV, but I can't see it. Sky has 'Girls of the Playboy Manson' and 'Naked Wild On', not to mention the rugby, the rugby league and thousands of other sport 'exclusives'.
What's the strategy for TVNZ and TV 3 getting together wih a couple of other small players?
Well, to really enjoy the benefits of the digital service we'll all eventually have to buy a TV with widescreen. Some time in the future (say 5-10 years) the analogue service will be switched off. So don't buy a new TV, get outside and play with the dog, better for your physical and mental health.

I've had the flu, just getting better, so that's it for now. A small rise from the sickbed to have a little whinge.
Back with more soon.