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!

Friday, 31 August 2007

TVNZ - "flawed, unworkable model"

I've been in Wellington for a few days attending a couple of conferences on media and politics.
The first one at the beautiful Te Papa (national museum) was organised by NZ's broadcasting minister, Steve Maharey and was concerned with "Broadcasting Futures". The key themes were to examine the future of television in a convergent future - what many at the conference began calling the age of the "third screen".
The second was the New Zealand Political Studies Association conference at Victoria University, Wellington. There was a media & politics stream and the most interesting speaker was former TVNZ News/CAff head, Bill Ralston.
Ralston's always outspoken and he didn't disappoint. He described the TVNZ model as flawed and unworkable, mainly because of the fundamental and probably unresolvable contradiction between the public service "social dividend" responsibility imposed by the TVNZ Charter and the "financial dividend" of around nine percent a year (roughly $NZ30 million) that the national broadcaster must return to its sole shareholder, the New Zealand government.
It is this economic imperative - based on the market model of commercial broadcasting - that turns TVNZ news journos into what Ralston describes as "news clerks". This is not their fault and I disagree with notions that journalists are lazy. The real issue is resource constraints that emerge from the commericialy-oriented decisions of TVNZ's management. If you cut costs and reduce news budgets then of course there's less time for reporters to actually cover the news in anything more than a perfunctory way.
Ralston also gave some interesting insights into Board level interference into editorial decision-making and noted that the current leadership of TVNZ (with a few exceptions) comes from sales and marketing backgrounds.
The board also suffers from being short-term political appointees and the tension between the political pressures, commercial pressures, the effects of Charter responsibilities and public dissatisfaction tend to make the organisation timid in many ways. TVNZ is, in Ralston's view, often a political football and when it gets kicked around, the rest of the media takes great delight in also putting the boot in - self-serving, but expected in a competitive environment.
Ralston ended his speech with a call for yet another reorganisation of TVNZ.
This is all well and good, but as other presentations at the NZPSA conference pointed out, there's been a long history of policy failure in relation to broadcasting in New Zealand. That is successive governments have not got it right.
I tend to agree, and I think that Broadcasting Futures served to underline that policy failure is the default setting in Wellington when it comes to dealing with complex issues of diveristy, globalisation, convergence and spectrum allocation.\
Broadcasting Futures was like a curate's egg. Tasty in parts, but overall, mostly unpalatable.
Many of the sessions were dominated by the marketing guys from the large corporates who were among the key sponsors. This included an embarrassingly crass presentation on the Freeview system; a shameless spruiking of Vodafone products and a product plugging demonstration by the guy from Kordia complete with cheesy props - "cool gadgets".
There were serious issues discussed too, if you clear away all the dross. For example the funding of independent New Zealand production by NZOnAir and government subsidies to TVNZ and TV3 to get Freeview off the ground.
There was a real tension between the content makers and the platform providers and it wasn't hard to see who was in the driver's seat. The content makers are the poor relations. The embarrassing second cousins who are necessary to the overall well-being of the family, but who we would prefer to ignore and keep out of family celebrations.
The fat-pipe guys have all the aces. They have the suits and the contacts in government (both political and functionary) and they have the money.
For example, why is the analogue TV signal going to be switched off? This is a global trend in most developed capitalist economies. The arguments about better signals, or what the marketing men call "value propositions" for "customers" are one thing, but who's actually asking for it? In whose interests is it really for all of us to be pushed onto digital platforms?
It's all about marketising and commodifiying popular culture, all of our entertainment and information options and all of our political rights as citizens.
Michael Parenti is one critical scholar who has looked at this issue; in an article in Monthly Review he wrote:

Linked by purchase and persuasion to dominant ruling-class interests, ...social institutions are regularly misrepresented as politically neutral, especially by those who occupy command positions within them or are otherwise advantaged by them. What Gramsci said about the military might apply to most other institutions in capitalist society: their "so-called neutrality only means support for the reactionary side...As the capitalist economy has grown in influence and power, much of our culture has been expropriated and commodified. Its use value increasingly takes second place to its exchange value. Nowadays we create less of our culture and buy more of it, until it really is no longer our culture. "
The process of digitisation and convergence in media technologies is accompanied by a growth in the globalisation and concentration of media capital. More and more of our lives are turned into "value propositions".
A value proposition is a piece of marketing jargon that attempts to simplify a complex message into bite-sized meaty chunks of information that consumers can digest and that will help them make a decision to by your product or service. In the context of public interest media this means a conscious dumbing down of ideas and then attaching an exchange value to them - that is pricing them in a market context just like any other commodity.
While Bill Ralston might think the model of broadcasting in New Zealand is flawed and unworkable, I would go further: the whole system is broken.

Thursday, 30 August 2007

My pal Alex

I am indebted to fellow blogger Trevor Loudon for providing this picture of my old pal Alex Callinicos.

I just wanted to add a quick note so Trevor doesn't have to bother anyone for another pic. I met Alex about twenty-something years ago when he was in Australia. Unfortunately we haven't kept in touch.

At the time I was on the national executive of the International Socialists group and Alex and I had a nice chat about factional issues while sitting on the grass in Sydney's Hyde Park.

Note to Trev: If you ring ASIO they can probably send you a photo of me and Alex "on the grass" for your blog.
The photo of Alex you published shows he's put on weight, but then none of us are spring chickens any more.
Alex is a well-known and respected Marxist intellectual. He's widely published by major academic presses and is a remarkable thinker about philosophy, politics and materialism.


Wednesday, 29 August 2007

Freedom of Speech eroded - no surprises there

The respected and high profile human rights lawyer, Geoffrey Robertson gave a speech in Sydney on Tuesday 28 August in which he criticised Australia's record on protecting the freedom of speech principles that underpin a free media. He ended by calling for a bill of rights in Australia to enshrine freedom of expression much as the American Constitution does.

There were no surprises in Robertson's speech. He made the usual historical homage to 18th and 19th century bourgeois liberals, including those who were gaoled at various times for sedition and for exercising the right to free speech.

What was surprising was that the whole thing was broadcast live on Sky TV. I was watching a Sky news bulletin in a Wellington hotel room about 10pm when the speech came on. They ran the whole lot. At the end of it, back to the newsroom for the disclosure that Sky TV was a backer of the 'free media' campaign group (a loose alliance of jouralists and media owners, and therefore in my view flawed) that is campaigning against some aspects of the Howard governments attacks on the free press in recent years - such as the conviction of two Herald-Sun journalists for contempt of court. Source protection, defamation law and shield laws were on Robertson's agenda. I will find a transcript of the speech for another post, examining it in some detail.

Of interest was Robertson's note that Australia is dropping on the global index of press freedom at the same time as the international reputation of its judiciary is dropping.

Meanwhile, you can read a report at the Sydney Morning Herald.

Tuesday, 28 August 2007

Solidarity with Peter McGregor

I reproduce here a news piece written by my friend Antonio about another friend Peter.
Civil liberties in Australia are under threat and the right to protest is very limited indeed.

This story will be published on Saturday in City Hub. As Dr. Maria Angel (UWS) said: "Peter may not do things the way that each one of us might choose to, but what has happened to him is a breach of civil liberty and the principle of free speech."
A group of UWS academics have written to Hilmer, Dr. Williams and Dr. Lynch requesting to drop the charges against Peter McGregor - a former UWS academic.

Too much law and liberty

By Antonio Castillo
Arresting academics for speaking out is usually associated
with dictatorships and governments unable to deal with
When former academic Peter McGregor was arrested and charged
last July while attending the Gilbert & Tobin Symposium on
“Law & Liberty in the War on Terror” at the University of New
South Wales, the irony of the situation was quickly replaced
by outrage.
A group of academics from the University of Western Sydney
where Mr McGregor was a well-respected lecturer wrote: “To
prosecute Mr Macgregor for exercising the rights the Gilbert
& Tobin Centre and its staff have been on public record
supporting and advocating would seem to be contradictory and
hypocritical. We believe that Universities need to be places
where robust debate and differences of opinion can be
expressed without fear of reprisal.”
The arrest of the former academic followed his attempt after
the symposium proceedings to peacefully protest against the
presence of Attorney-General Phillip Ruddock, the keynote
speaker. He was removed by police from the event and informed
that his permit to attend the event had been revoked by the
organisers. He was then charged.
“When I registered to attend the Gilbert & Tobin Symposium on
“Law & Liberty in the War on Terror” I was appalled to see
that Attorney-General Philip Ruddock was a 'keynote'
speaker,” Mr McGregor said. “And that there were two other
speakers from the Attorney-General's Department and one from
the Australian Defence Association but no speakers from the
anti-war movement, or even the Council for Civil Liberties.”
In a letter to the event organisers Dr George Williams and Dr
Andrew Lynch, University of Western Sydney Law School
Associate Professor Michael Head requested the charge be
dropped. “I call on you to immediately contact the police and
request that the charge be dropped. It would be entirely
hypocritical of you not to do so, while at the same time
writing publicly in defence of the civil liberties of Mohamed
Haneef. McGregor, a retired academic, was wrongly evicted
from the symposium for seeking to make a peaceful and
legitimate protest against the presence of the Attorney-
General,” he said.
Associate Professor Head said many participants had objected
to the false report given to the symposium that McGregor had
“rushed at” Mr Ruddock. “McGregor, who is a well-known
political figure, simply rose to address the audience before
he was frog-marched out by police. Unless you intervene with
the police, you will be involved in using similar methods of
slander and smear as those being used in the attempt to
convict Dr Haneef,” he said.
Mr McGgregor – a member of NSW Council for Civil Liberties –
has pleaded not guilty and the trial will begin on Wednesday
September 5 at Waverley Court.

Addendum: this is going to make some recent visitors Ethical Martini salivate, for others it's a sad indictment of the current poor state of democracy.

Monday, 27 August 2007

What's the matter with Libertarianism?

Long Ago and Not True Anyway: What’s the Matter with Libertarianism?:
Terrence, a blogger in Wellington, has written an extended piece critiquing libertarianism. It's a good read and takes the libertarian view at face value. Interestingly, this and other material on libertarianism that's available seems to suggest that fierce anti-communism and personal abuse of political opponents is not one of its principles.

Terrence concludes that as a philosophy it is not very convincing.
He writes:

"To me libertarianism just doesn’t pan out: when expressed in terms of rights it renders absolute a right (property) the pre-eminence of which it cannot defend; its rhetoric co-opts the word freedom and robs it of half its meaning; and it is unjust – on its own terms. What’s more I see no evidence that – even if you were to discard all the concerns above – it would ‘work’ any better than the alternatives. In short it is wholly unconvincing."

Social Media: Social media, citizen media, grassroots media

Social networks are generating new media content too. This list compiled by the Social Media blog team shows an interesting mix of new media labels for what is essentially do-it-yourself reporting. I'm not sure if it's journalism, but part of the task in the new book I'm writing is to actually work out where DIY fits in the broader scheme of what's happening to journalism as a "trade", "craft", or "profession".

Social Media: Social media, citizen media, grassroots media:

"Social media: 8,060,000 English pages
User-generated content: 2,360,000
Independent media: 1,790,000
Our media: 1,600,000 (though many of these refer to critiques of our traditional media)
Citizen media: 696,000
User-created content: 288,000
Participatory media: 213,000
Grassroots media: 171,000
Citizens media: 117,000"

Facebook - the new online surveillance tool?

Facebook Gets Personal With Ad Targeting Plan - WSJ.com

Social networking is really booming. Sites like Myspace and Facebook allow users to upload tons of information about themselves, photos, embarrasing admissions and all kinds of stuff.
Now Facebook has worked out a way to marketise this aspect of the clickstream.
I think we should all think carefully before posting anything about ourselves online.

the template returns

ain't that strange, i've somehow managed to restore the template for the site. My ignorance of html is a blessing in disguise.

Thursday, 23 August 2007

Real world of journalism - Perspectives - The Press

Real world of journalism - Perspectives - The Press

Take this link if you want to see what all the "fuss" is about. A few posts ago I mentioned the Journalism Matters conference recently held in Wellington and the response from the Dominion Post/Press [Christchurch] columnist Karl Du Fresne. My response was published today in The Press. It is this that led Trevor Louden to me and the blog he loaded up earlier today too (linked in an earlier post here).

If Louden's ignorant slather is supposed to shut me up, or intimidate me (which is how these thugs work), he needs to know that I am not afraid. In fact, it's interesting that what I wrote has caused him to froth at the mouth. Du Fresne had a similar reaction during our initial meeting in Wellington.

Why are these conservative types so scared of Marxists like me? Is it because I have a reputation for sneaking into homes and eating children? I don't think so. Rather, it's because they can't address or refute the logic of materialism, and so they have to get down and dirty -- attack rants are easier to digest than formal, considered arguments.

What is state capitalism

I mentioned state capitalism in the previous post and linked to a wikipedia entry. This is a link to a more substantial theoretical explanation of what state capitalism is. I draw your attention to a couple of key paragraphs about how the Soviet Union found itself on this path.

Peter Binns: State Capitalism (1986):

"The extreme backwardness of Russia in an age of imperialism forced it to industrialise rapidly. If the revolutions in Germany and elsewhere had succeeded in the early 1920s, plenty of means of production and skilled labour could have flowed into Russia to accomplish this task. But when the perspective changed, from stressing the need to spread the revolution internationally to stressing the building of “socialism” in a single country, as was proposed by Stalin in 1924, the situation was completely reversed.
If industrialisation was to take place in Russia in isolation, this could only be by extracting huge surpluses from the peasantry and by forcing many of these peasants off the land into the mines and steel mills. The Russian bureaucracy could only retain power in so far as it could succeed in this task. It required a vast apparatus of terror to subordinate the consumption of the masses to the need of the Russian state to accumulate.
For a time Stalin tried to avoid this logic. He allied with the right wing of the Bolshevik Party, which spoke of “proceeding towards socialism at a snail’s pace”, without attacks on the peasantry. But this meant that what accumulation there was in the years 1923-28 went into the social services, education, agriculture and food, rather than into heavy industry. Little progress was made in these years towards catching up with the West"

The GodZone right comes out from under its rock

Well, I've been outed! Some right-wing dribblejaws* has me lined up in his beady little eyes (see picture)

this is him in his own words:

Trevor Loudon

About Me

I'm a libertarian and ACT Party member from Christchurch. I believe in freedom with responsibility, not freedom from responsibility. My ideal society is one in which government is slashed to the bone and people are free to reach their potential. To achieve more freedom I believe in working with all those who are moving in broadly the same direction. The views expressed in this Blog are strictly my own

Why do these people insist on using the word "libertarian" to describe their politics. They don't actually believe in liberty at all. The idea that you can "slash government to the bone" and leave people free to "reach their potential" in a global capitalist economy is just fairytale rubbish.

Libertarians are to politics what the flat-earth crowd are to science.

* I have changed my description of Trevor Louden. I originally labelled him a "neo-nazi goon". He objected to that label and claims not to be associated with any such organisation in New Zealand/Aotearoa. However, he has in the past been associated with an organisation called Zenith Applied Philosophy, which has some very unsavoury friends.
Mr Loudon has attempted to slander me by claiming friends of my friends have links with the Islamic Brotherhood. So he cannot claim to be the only injured party here.
Whether or not Trevor Loudon maintains any ongoing links with ZAP or other far-right groups, other than the ACT Party, is besides the point. His attacks on me are offensive and defamatory and designed to intimidate. To be honest, I didn't start this blog to have a troll-war with the likes of Trevor Loudon, but I am prepared to defend myself and my politics. Mr Loudon has, in the past had some associations with extreme right political groups in New Zealand.
You can read more about Trevor Loudon if you wish to. I'm finished with this.

Was Orwell Trotskyist?

New Zeal: S.A.P. 17 Dr Martin Hirst

This is an interesting rant from some far-right goons in GodZone, I feel like I've arrived on fucking Mars! Not really, as my mate Helen pointed out. It's not a bad place at all. Just got the same quota of loony-tunes as any where else really.

If you bother to read the thread I've linked to you'll see that the rampant revisionism of the right regarding Orwell is in full swing. In fact Orwell was basically a Trot. If you read Goldstein's "The Principles of Oligarchical Collectivism" in the centre pages of Nineteen Eighty-four, you'll clearly see that he was elucidating a theory of state capitalism.

Monday, 20 August 2007

"I think we got it right"

You gotta love these YouTubers who chase down embarrassing footage like this.
Dick Cheney, circa 1994 explaining the current 2007 situation in Iraq. Day Ja Voo anyone?

Friday, 17 August 2007

Judy McGregor's 12-point plan for a better media - Perspectives - The Press

Judy McGregor, a former editor of the Auckland Star was a keynote speaker at the Journalism Matters conference. She gave a vigorous and insightful speech. The Press newspaper has published it. You can read Judy's 12-point plan for a better media here.

I"ve lbown up my template

Damn this blogging craze. In a vain attempt to stay ahead of the curve I tried to play with the html in my template and screwed it up. Sorry. I'm hoping that the nice people at Blogger.com will help me restore it to a previous cached version. But so far no luck.

The posts are all still here, but the blogroll, etc have all disappeared for now. I'll slowly get round to rebuilding it, but not perhaps for a while. My work life's crazy right now, so I don't have a lot of time to play around.
Nice Mr Blogger, if you're reading this and take pity on me, a magical overnight restore would be just fabulous.

Thursday, 16 August 2007

Changing the world, not just reporting it

it seems like I didn't make a friend of Fairfax columnist Karl De Fresne at the EPMU's Journalism Matters conference last weekend in Wellington. Karl's written a column that appeared today in both the Press (Christchurch) and the Dominion Post (Wellington) Politics threaten media progress - Perspectives in which he criticises me for arguing that objectivity in journalism is dead and for declaring my socialist politics. You can read a previous post on market journalism and objectivity to see where I'm coming from.

I stand by what I said - that the point of journalism is to change the world, not just report it. I've written a letter to the editor in response to Karl's column and here's the text:

Letter to the editor

The Press

16 August 2007

I’d like to quickly respond to Karl Du Fresne’s piece about the Journalism Matters conference in Wellington last weekend (The Press 16 August). The idea that journalism is more about changing the world than merely reporting it is not something new that has recently become entrenched in journalism schools. If readers care to look beyond the rhetoric it becomes clear that the news media has played this role for more than 200 years.

The original press in Britain, Europe and North America was a highly partisan operation. Newspapers took a stand on issues and attempted to influence their readers. The press was influential in changing public opinion about slavery for example. The French and American revolutions were also stirred by the press of the day. Radicals were keen to have their own press in order to inform and mobilise supporters.

If Karl thinks that this has ever disappeared from the news media he’s wrong. William Hearst and Joseph Pulitizer both used their newspapers to push the United States into a war with Mexico in the late 19th centuries. The American press was a propaganda tool used to great effect to generate public sympathy for the allies’ cause in both world wars this century.

The news media took sides during the Cold War, the Korean War and the Vietnam conflict too. Today, Rupert Murdoch is proud of the role his newspapers and television networks played in building public support for the US invasion of Iraq in 2003.

In a nutshell, the freedom of the press is now, and always has been, the freedom of the news owners to push their own views. On the other side of the ledger, some of the best journalism has also led to galvanised public opinion and, yes, world-moving change. The BBC’s Michael Burk reported famine in Africa and mad it clear that he was angry and upset about what he’d seen. This mobilised huge relief efforts that no doubt saved thousands of lives. The exposure of thalidomide in the UK in the late 1960s led to that drug being taken off the market as a treatment for morning sickness. John Pilger’s crusading work over many years is another example of what I describe as the journalism of engagement.

Objectivity as a principle of journalism is no longer the holy grail. The fact that some journalism educators are prepared to say so and to put such ideas in front of their students is just a recognition of this idea. In the respected Columbia Journalism Review, Brent Cunningham has written a thoughtful piece called “Rethinking Objectivity”. He makes the point that often it is an excuse for lazy journalism and that it forces reporters to rely on official sources. He also argues that it allows the news agenda to be captured by the “spin doctors”.

Finally, I would commend George Orwell’s famous essay “Why I write”, in which he argues for an engaged and partisan journalism that tackles the difficult political issues of the day. He was writing at the close of World War Two, but if you read between the lines, the sentiments expressed echo down the years. I come not to praise objectivity, but to bury it.

Martin Hirst,

AUT, Auckland

Wednesday, 15 August 2007

Objectivity and Market-Driven Journalism

At the Journalism Matters conference recently (see earlier posts on this), I got into a mini argument with a colleague about what should be taught in journalism schools about objectivity. He was quite miffed when I said that I don't teach it at all. I think it's an ideological myth, part of the mists of spin that revolve around the concept of professionalism. We cannot separate ourselves from our thoughts, our beliefs, or our work.

I was surprised, in a way, that there are still some old hands out there who think that journalists are not only supposed to be objective, but that it's actually possible.

Even when it's not, they argue, the "free" market will sort out the wheat from the chaff. Unfortunately, in my 50 years of living in a market economy I've grown to believe that there is no f*cking wheat, only various grades of mostly unpalatable chaff.

The market cannot solve the basic fault line in journalism-- between the public interest and the profit motive. This is a dialectic contradiction that is built in to the system. In fact, it is the bl**dy system.

In 2003, the Columbia Journalism Review published piece, by Brent Cunningham is called "Re-thinking objectivity". It seems to me that he might be on to something.

The debate has now broken out into the blogosphere, here's some samples of what's being said:

This isn't to say that the objectivity problem is unsolvable, only that it's going to take time, and it will have to be done incrementally. Paul McLeary
This is like saying we can incrementally get rid of capitalism by convincing the capitalists, one by one, to give up their stolen wealth.

Mark Kleiman, over at The Reality-Based Community, has a different view:

A news account isn't an editorial. The ideal-type "reporter" is supposed to give "just the facts, ma'am," and not his or her own opinions.

This creates a problem when a reporter has to report false statements, especially by candidates for office. If a candidate says that the Earth is flat (or that tax cuts lead to revenue increases, or that there's still legitimate doubt about anthropogenic global warming, or that soldiers in Iraq are mostly fighting al-Qaeda) should the reporter "objectively" simply report the statement, or should she add the objective fact that the world is actually round?
To me this is not a bad position. There is "objectivity", if you like, in the natural world. It rains and we get wet, there are floods and bridges collapse. If we don't eat and drink well, we die. Smoking causes lung cancer. These are "facts", but when we get into the murky social world of politics, economics and spin. Where the hell is the factual truth? It's not some middle ground of "balance". There's right and there's wrong.

Going back to Cunningham's original piece, he puts this into the context of the invasion of Iraq in March 2003:

Before the fighting started in Iraq, in the dozens of articles and broadcasts that addressed the potential aftermath of a war, much was written and said about the maneuverings of the Iraqi exile community and the shape of a postwar government, about cost and duration and troop numbers. Important subjects all. But few of those stories, dating from late last summer, delved deeply into the numerous and plausible complications of the aftermath. That all changed on February 26, when President Bush spoke grandly of making Iraq a model for retooling the entire Middle East. After Bush's speech "aftermath" articles began to flow like the waters of the Tigris — including cover stories in Time and The New York Times Magazine — culminating in The Wall Street Journal's page-one story on March 17, just days before the first cruise missiles rained down on Baghdad, that revealed how the administration planned to hand the multibillion-dollar job of rebuilding Iraq to U.S. corporations. It was as if the subject of the war's aftermath was more or less off the table until the president put it there himself.

There is no single explanation for these holes in the coverage, but I would argue that our devotion to what we call "objectivity" played a role. It's true that the Bush administration is like a clenched fist with information, one that won't hesitate to hit back when pressed. And that reporting on the possible aftermath of a war before the war occurs, in particular, was a difficult and speculative story.

Cunningham makes some good points, among them:

  1. Objectivity has persisted for some valid reasons, the most important being that nothing better has replaced it.
  2. But our pursuit of objectivity can trip us up on the way to "truth." Objectivity excuses lazy reporting.
  3. It exacerbates our tendency to rely on official sources, which is the easiest, quickest way to get both the "he said" and the "she said," and, thus, "balance."
  4. More important, objectivity makes us wary of seeming to argue with the president — or the governor, or the CEO — and risk losing our access.
  5. Finally, objectivity makes reporters hesitant to inject issues into the news that aren't already out there.
  6. In short, the press's awkward embrace of an impossible ideal limits its ability to help set the agenda.
  7. If space is a problem, time is an even greater one. The nonstop news cycle leaves reporters less time to dig, and encourages reliance on official sources who can provide the information quickly and succinctly.
  8. Meanwhile, the Internet and cable news's Shout TV, which drive the nonstop news cycle, have also elevated the appeal of "attitude" in the news, making the balanced, measured report seem anachronistic.
  9. Perhaps most ominous of all, public relations, whose birth early in the twentieth century rattled the world of objective journalism, has matured into a spin monster so ubiquitous that nearly every word a reporter hears from an official source has been shaped and polished to proper effect.
  10. The genuflection toward "fairness" is a familiar newsroom piety, in practice the excuse for a good deal of autopilot reporting and lazy thinking but in theory a benign ideal.
  11. Reporters are biased, but not in the oversimplified, left-right way that Ann Coulter and the rest of the bias cops would have everyone believe.
  12. Mostly, though, we are biased in favor of getting the story, regardless of whose ox is being gored.

I think the most telling point, and the one that puts the kybosh on any bullsh*t about the virility of market forces, is the issue of class. Here's Cunningham's take, and I agree wholeheartedly:
Arguably the most damaging bias is rarely discussed — the bias born of class. A number of people interviewed for this story said that the lack of socioeconomic diversity in the newsroom is one of American journalism's biggest blind spots. Most newsroom diversity efforts, though, focus on ethnic, racial, and gender minorities, which can often mean people with different skin color but largely the same middle-class background and aspirations. At a March 13 panel on media bias at Columbia's journalism school, John Leo, a columnist for U.S. News & World Report, said, "It used to be that anybody could be a reporter by walking in the door. It's a little harder to do that now, and you don't get the working-class Irish poor like Hamill or Breslin or me. What you get is people from Ivy League colleges with upper-class credentials, what you get is people who more and more tend to be and act alike." That, he says, makes it hard for a newsroom to spot its own biases.
He continues, and again, I concur:

It is important, always, for reporters to understand their biases, to understand what the accepted narratives are, and to work against them as much as possible. This might be less of a problem if our newsrooms were more diverse — intellectually and socioeconomically as well as in gender, race, and ethnicity — but it would still be a struggle. There is too much easy opinion passing for journalism these days, and this is in no way an attempt to justify that. Quite the opposite. We need deep reporting and real understanding, but we also need reporters to acknowledge all that they don't know, and not try to mask that shortcoming behind a gloss of attitude, or drown it in a roar of oversimplified assertions.

I come not to praise objectivity, but to bury it. Any decent journalist who has a questioning mind should immediately abandon any attempt at objectivity and, instead, embrace their own political soul. Journalism should be about challenging the status quo, pushing for change and arguing for the oppressed and the underdog. I encourage my students to read George Orwell, particularly this passage from "Why I Write":
Every line of serious work that I have written since 1936 has been written, directly or indirectly, against totalitarianism and for democratic socialism, as I understand it. It seems to me nonsense, in a period like our own, to think that one can avoid writing of such subjects. Everyone writes of them in one guise or another. It is simply a question of which side one takes and what approach one follows. And the more one is conscious of one's political bias, the more chance one has of acting politically without sacrificing one's aesthetic and intellectual integrity.

What I have most wanted to do throughout the past ten years is to make political writing into an art. My starting point is always a feeling of partisanship, a sense of injustice. When I sit down to write a book, I do not say to myself, ‘I am going to produce a work of art’. I write it because there is some lie that I want to expose, some fact to which I want to draw attention, and my initial concern is to get a hearing. But I could not do the work of writing a book, or even a long magazine article, if it were not also an aesthetic experience. Anyone who cares to examine my work will see that even when it is downright propaganda it contains much that a full-time politician would consider irrelevant. I am not able, and do not want, completely to abandon the world view that I acquired in childhood. So long as I remain alive and well I shall continue to feel strongly about prose style, to love the surface of the earth, and to take a pleasure in solid objects and scraps of useless information. It is no use trying to suppress that side of myself. The job is to reconcile my ingrained likes and dislikes with the essentially public, non-individual activities that this age forces on all of us.

We live in such an age. The struggle between totalitarian ideologies, states and systems is going on all around us. Who can choose sensibly between the greedheads in Washington and the crazy mullahs in Teheran? It is, in my view, similar to the scenario that Orwell describes in 1984. A global war in which both sides struggle for a hegemony that can only come at the expense of real people.

That is the truth, but it sure ain't objective.

Will this really worry Rupert?

My university, AUT (Auckland University of Technology) has just launched a marketing campaign to promote some of its teaching and research strengths. Part of the campaign is a series of billboards and bus shelter posters around Auckland.

This one is interesting, but I'm not sure Rupert's all that worried about any real competition from the Internet. After all, he recently paid over $500 million for MySpace. And he's famously on the record as saying News International (and its various tentacles) has and will take the Internet seriously. Why wouldn't he? If there's money to be made, Murdoch wants to know about it.

A commercial news media blog about journalism - a rare bird?

Public Eye: CBS News Blogs and Editorial Forum - CBSNews.com

The CBSNews.com website hosts an interesting blog that I've just come across. (I know, you've all been there, done that.) It's a noble mission on behalf of CBS...

Public Eye’s fundamental mission is to bring transparency to the editorial operations of CBS News — transparency that is unprecedented for broadcast and online journalism.
That's totally refreshing. It's not just CBS journos posting here, the key dude is Brian Montopoli, who previously worked for the respected Columbia Journalism Review.
Public Eye's worth checking out and there's an RSS feed available too.

Tuesday, 14 August 2007

A clever con...or a miscarriage of justice?

TV3 > Programmes > News and Current Affairs > 60 Minutes

I'm not normally one to praise the 60 Minutes programme, in fact as a rule I don't watch it. But this week, perhaps as a result of being immersed in a conference about how much journalism actually matters to our society, I decided to catch up on some current affairs TV when I got back to Auckland.

I watched Campbell Live, which I must admit doesn't thrill me at all, but then the promos for 60 Minutes came on and I was fascinated with their lead story about a young Iraqi man who's been convicted of smuggling drugs into New Zealand.

Mazin Jaburi claims that he smuggled over $200K of ecstasy from Amsterdam because a criminal gang in Baghdad had kidnapped his sister and threatened to kill her.

Initially the NZ customs service believed him and the police took Mazin to his hotel where he was to hand over the drugs. But the next day he was arrested and charged. The court/jury did not believe his story and he was found guilty. He is to be sentenced in the Manakau District Court next week.

The defence counsel claimed to have proof of Mazin's sister's kidnap and murder, but the evidence was not allowed at the trial because the prosecution said it would not be able to cross-examine witnesses. Mazin's cousin was prepared to travel to NZ to give evidence, but he could not secure a visa.

I've spoken to Sarah Hall, the 60 Minutes' reporter covering this story. Like me, she has doubts about the safety of Mazin's conviction. She says that the programme is hoping to do a follow-up.

I've also spoken to Mazin's lawyer, David Niven, who obviously has to be circumspect in what he says because the matter is still before the courts. It is unlikely that this matter will be over when Mazin is sentenced next week.

I think this is a potentially serious miscarriage of justice, or at least an unsafe verdict, and I'd urge you to watch Sarah's story at the 60 Minutes / TV3 website. It seems to me that this is a case that might well be taken up by any "Justice Project" groups in New Zealand who care to take a look.

I have no real way, at the moment, of establishing Mazin's guilt or innocence, but according to New Zealand law, the crown has to prove a case beyond reasonable doubt to secure a conviction. I have some reasonable doubt about this case.

Kudos to Sarah Hall and 60 Minutes for running this story. I hope they are able to follow it up and that civil rights activists in New Zealand also take a look at the trial, the evidence and the process.

There's a good possibility that Mazin may go to gaol for up to 10 years, as he says in the 60 Minutes' story, the death of his sister seems punishment enough.

Monday, 13 August 2007

Journalism Matters, summary of outcomes

Here's Simon Collins, NZ Herald social affairs reporter and EPMU delegate's summary of the Journalism Matters conference held over the weekend 11-12 August in Wellington.

About 115 people attended the media summit organised by the journalists' scetion of the EPMU at Parliament over the weekend, including journalists from all sections of the media. There has been nothing like it in my 31 years as a journalist.

Outcomes were (summarised):
1. The EPMU will lead a review of journalism in NZ over the next 6 months, inviting public submissions on the effects of growing commercial pressures on journalism, journalists'pay rates and the resulting loss of talent to PR, freelance pay rates, union membership, public interest broadcasting and the growing pressure on journalists to serve multiple media at once.
2. The EPMU will also review the Journalists' Code of Ethics, available as Rule 42 of the EPMU rules at:
Public submissions will, be sought for this review too. The code needs to be updated to take account of new technology.
3. We want taxpayer funding of TVNZ to be increased to a level that allows it to be a true public service broadcaster.
4. We urge everyone concerned about democratic media to take every opportunity to create new media outlets committed to providing people with information about public issues in a coherent form, facilitating an exchange of ideas about those issues and building a sense of social cohesion as a foundation for social action.
5. We support the work of the Bruce Jesson Foundation and urge other funders to fund independent investigative journalism on important public issues.
6. We will establish a Movement for Democratic Media, with membership open to all NZers as well as the union, to create, support and link local websites and other media outlets reporting on public issues, and to campaign for publicly funded broadcasting. We hope to organise a planning meeting to establish an Auckland branch of the movement in the near future. If you're keen to be involved, please let me know.


I was interviewed by 95bFM on Sunday morning about the conference, you can hear the audio here.

David Robie, my colleague at AUT, has also blogged on this at the Pacific Media Centre website. You can also read and hear more at Scoop
David's blog on the conference is at Cafe Pacific

APN begins editorial outsourcing

Media began outsourcing editorial production work in New Zealand yesterday, in a strategy being watched by media outlets in other countries.

A contractor, Pagemasters New Zealand, is now doing the editing and layout work for The New Zealand Herald and several regional and weekly papers.

APN says 20 full-time sub-editors at Pagemasters started work on Sunday in Auckland on an extension of the group's computer editorial production system.

APN deputy chief executive Rick Neville said that by the end of 2007, Pagemasters will have about 45 editing staff to edit the seven newspapers. That is nearly 30 fewer than the newspapers employed for the job.

Pagemasters is a subsidiary of the Australian Associated Press news agency.

The Engineering, Printing and Manufacturing Union has said the move will erode the quality of news coverage because stories will be handled by editors unfamiliar with local issues.

Journalism Matters

Over the past weekend 11-12 August I was in NZ's very own "windy city", the capital Wellington for a conference hosted by the EPMU, which has the journalists' union tucked up inside it. EPMU stands for Electrical, Print and Manufacturing Union and the journos ended up there after a series of amalgamations forced on the trade union movement by the neo-liberal policies of successive New Zealand governments.

[Photo right: Simon Collins, EPMU delegate at the New Zealand Herald]

The journos' union is not in great shape. It appears that membership is falling and that 'density' the ratio of unionised to non-unionised workers in any newsroom is also low.

But the conference itself was interesting. At the end of the first morning I was asked to sum up the day so far. Here's a copy of my notes:

Citizen. Journalist.
We're all agreed that a well-functioning media is a critical element to a functioning democracy. However, I think we should start by putting an emphatic full-stop between the words Citizen. and Journalist.
All journalists are citizens, but the question today is: "Are all citizens journalists?"
Clearly the answer is not yet.
This raised the issue of filtered versus non-filtered news. It also suggests the combination "citizen-hyphen-journalist" and the attendant quality issues.
I'd prefer to talk about "DIY", do-it-yourself journalism, but is it really journalism?

Then there's the link between "celebrity" and journalism. There's journalism about celebrities (perhaps a dumbing down of the news agenda) and there's "celebrity-hyphen-journalist". This is the situation where the personality of the journalist (mainly in TV, but also in blogging and columns) takes over.

Convergence and new technologies
What will the journalists of the future do? More importantly, who are they?
There was considerable discussion of digital convergence and the issues of cross-platform journalism. Is it the case that in the future, if reporters are required to work across platforms that they risk becoming competent in video/audio/photography and writing, but not really masters of any discipline.

Workloads associated with repurposing copy also raised issues, particularly in the context of the low wages and poor conditions "enjoyed" by working journos in New Zealand. One student from Massey even pointed out that she earns more as a waitress in a Wellington restaurant than she will in a newsroom after four years of study.

the key issue for me is that we shouldn't get too hung up about platforms. Convergence is not going to go away and in the scheme of things the "digital revolution" may yet have some way to go. If it's anything like the industrial revolution, it go on for another couple of generations, at least.

In that context the important thing to remember about journalism is that the key intellectual skills of a journalist - the ability to "record", "disclose", "remember" and "entertain" will not go away either. I believe that journalists are quotidian intellectuals. They are the public intellectuals of the everyday. Their job is to do more than merely report, there is a role for interpretation, analysis and critical thinking.

Is the changing face of New Zealand represented in the media? The short answer is no. Most journalists are from fairly priviledged white, middle class backgrounds, but New Zealand's population is changing. Maori and Pasifika populations are growing and so is the "Asian" community. I always feel uncomfortable talking about the "Asian" community in such broad terms. It's made up of many different national and ethnic groups and they each deserve recognition. Chinese, Korean, Thai, Vietnamese, Laotian, Burmese, Japanese, Indian (Sikhs, Hindus, Tamils, Pakistanis, Sri Lankans, Muslims and Christians).

Journalism schools are also struggling with this population shift.
At AUT University we're trying to increase our appeal in non-white communities, with, so far, limited success, but we're working on it. According to JTO (Journalists Training Organisation) figures there is still a large gap between the general demographic profile of New Zealand and the graduates from the j schools.
[Photo right: Jim Tucker of the JTO]

There's also an age issue in terms of the NZ demographic picture. People under 25 generally don't read newspapers, while those over 50 do. This is certainly having an impact on both the commercial and the content side of the news in print and broadcasting. Which led me, in a round-about way to talking about political economy.

Political Economy of News Everyone seemed concerned about the impact of globalisation on the New Zealand news industry. New Zealand has one of the most concentrated and foreign-dominated media industries in the world. This work by Bill Rosenberg spells it out quite clearly. There are some good tables and figures in Bill's work. There was a sentiment that globalisation leads to a homogenisation of the news agenda and an element of "dumbing down" the news to lowest common denominators.

A key issue then, is can good journalism coexist with corporate ownership. As Judy McGregor pointed out, this is an important fault line in the media. It cannot necessarily be solved by changes and reforms, such as cross-media ownership laws.
[Photo right: Keynote speaker, Dr Judy McGregor]

Wages and conditions
All that really needs to be said is that they are bad and getting worse. It was good that Rick Neville from APN and several executives from Fairfax were there to hear this, but we're yet to see if it will make any difference. Frankly, without some kind of mega industrial campaign that is absolutely illegal under NZ industrial law, this is not likely to change.

However, several speakers, including Chris Warren of the Australian journos' union, the MEAA, made the point that the quality of news must also be an industrial issue. Certainly this was strongly expressed during an afternoon session on media ethics. The collective action of organised labour is a key strategic weapon of the unions. At least it should be.

The union needs to do lots of work to improve its coverage and its clout in New Zealand newsrooms.

Finally we talked about the public-union interface and the need for some kind of real public and political campaign. Hopefully this is about to begin. AUT journalism school is hosting a meeting in Auckland on 22 August to launch a campaign committee.
More on that later

Columbia Journalism Review - new updates

The latest from Columbia Journalism Review:

Dear Readers,
Good morning. Here’s the latest from Columbia Journalism Review:
The Greenhouse Effect
Gal Beckerman on how Hurricane Linda blew C-Span away
To Juice or Not to Juice?
Curtis Brainard on how several journalists are floating the idea of legalizing doping in sports
The Good-Citizen Quiz
Michael Schudson and Tony Dokoupil on what Americans know about their nation
We hope you enjoy these articles. Please consider a subscription.
The Editors
To SUBSCRIBE, to give CJR as a GIFT, or to check STUDENT RATES, go to www.cjr.org/subscriptions.

Friday, 10 August 2007

Fourth estate won't bow to digital age - Business - Business - smh.com.au

Fourth estate won't bow to digital age - Business - Business - smh.com.au

So are newspapers dying or not? Are they a little bit sick, or is it terminal?

According to News Limited CEO John Hartigan, newspapers need to aggressively market themselves as interpreters of the news, not just providers. In a speech this week to the Pacific Area Newspaper Publishers' Association (PANPA), Hartigan also called for more "crusading and campaigning journalism".

This is actually a scary thought - most of News Limited's papers, which dominate the Australian market, are conservative and more prone to spreading moral panic than crusading analytical journalism.

Look out for more tabloid-style crusades from the Daily Telegraph, the Herald Sun and the Australian. No paedophile, drug-addicted single mum or drunken Aborigine will be safe from the News Limited rain of terror.

Is there really though a new virtual public sphere -- a 'fourth estate' of the internet? I'm not yet convinced as I told my students the other day. The interent is rapidly being suborned by the very same large old-media companies who currently dominate the print and broadcast media. In this climate there's no greater freedom available to journalists of either the professional, or the 'citizen' type.