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

Saturday, 29 March 2008

Ethical Martini now on Wordpress

Ethical Martini

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

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


Thursday, 20 March 2008

McCanns' win lesson to the tabloids?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A blast from Palast

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

Here's a taster:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cheers Greg, worthy wordsmithing with a fine point.

Sunday, 16 March 2008

Bouqets not brickbats

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, 15 March 2008

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, 14 March 2008

Prostitutes, privacy and media harrassment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There is a public interest angle here.

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

Monday, 10 March 2008

Congratulations to Susan Boyd-Bell

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

Experiential learning in journalism education: a New Zealand case study

Susan Boyd-Bell, MEd
Master of Education

School: School of Education

Supervisor: Sue Stover , Andy Begg


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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, 9 March 2008

So hot. So Not!

This is just a chuckle piece.

The infamous Hollywood gossip-monger, Perez Hilton is now the subject of some interesting blogonews himself. Apparently he has been IMing with Jonathon Jaxson [sic] and there's sex tapes involved.

Yuksville, chucksville, but don't look away, car crash ahead! Jaxon seems obsessed with outing gay celebrities - what's that about in 2008. It's so yesterday.

I have no comment, check it out yourself:

Perez Hilton

Sex Scandal

Celebrity Buzz The blogger's in hot water for allegedly soliciting dirty videos from a naughty young man. You can breathe easy people: The sex tape in this scandal does not feature Mario "Perez Hilton" Lavandeira, he of the freakish hair. Instead, Lavandeira reportedly solicited sex tapes from another blogger in exchange for "help."

Does this stand as a case study in the differences between "real" and "accidental" journalists - the existence of a code of ethics and the fact that most journalists would take it seriously?

Hilton and his ilk are amusing (sometimes) and gross (most of the time), but they exist in our world now.

What I take some simple pleasure in is the way that other equally dubious blogspots have responded with clear contempt. The fruit does not fall far from the tree.

If this is the future of "journalism", I will drink myself to death!

Brothel client front page news? Not

An interesting read over my breakfast martini this fine Auckland Sunday. The Herald on Sunday ran a splash (admittedly below the 'fold') about a wealthy Aucklander who likes his social life a little on the spicy side: "Blue Chip man's brothel spend-up".

The unfortunate who's picture and private life were plastered across three pages of newshole (as only a splash can be plastered) is investment broker, rake-about-town and sometime property consultant, Mark Bryers.

Mr Bryers has been in the news recently about other more pressing matters - the investment vehicle Blue Chip has gone belly-up due to circumstances in the global property market and some local variations, such as the over-heated investment scene.

No doubt these events are newsworthy - after all, thousands of "mum & dad" investors (Does nobody else leave their money with shonks and sharks?) have lost their life savings. People like Charles and Lesley Rouse are upset (piss*d off mightly is perhaps a better description) that Mr Bryers and his associates are living large, while the hapless rubes who trusted them are forced to live virtually on the street.

But, does the fact that Mr Bryers likes saucy blondes and naughty redheads (often, it seems, in multiple combinations) add any real news value to the already sad story of the hardly-done-by Blue Chip investors?

Well, maybe, if one could make a solid connection between Mr Bryers' visits to the (ahem) "gentleman's club" in question [NSFW: don't click this link from the office desktop] then the revelations in the HoS could be justified. But I couldn't see any links between the Rouse's money and Mark Bryers prediliction for off-the-ledger rumpy-pumpy in the copy.

Bryers is allegedly worth $70 million (OK, so that's Kiwi dollars) but with that amount of credit, a night at the HQ (allegedly worth between five and ten $K) is hardly going to break the bank.

So, the question is: Why would the HoS consider that to be a newsworthy story? Bryers may not be full square and one has to feel sorry for the Rouses and anyone who's lost money in Blue Chip funds, but what about the separation between public interest and public curiosity or curious purience on the part of newspaper editors seeking an edge in the competitive Sunday tabloids market?

The HoS piece was also curious from another angle. In the story, the brothel-keeper is quoted several times, in one instance making veiled threats to the HoS journalist, Jane Phare, and advising her against publishing anything that identified the premises in question. What might the consequences be of this?

Has the newspaper put its staff in danger for the sake of a rakish and titillating headline?
Time will tell.

And what about the ethics of outing someone for sexual adventurism, which is legal and commonplace? If Mr Bryers has a partner, she/he might be well not happy, but it's not a criminal or social offence to visit a legal brothel and have consensual relations (of what ever vice-type) with the object of your desire.

Where do you draw the line once you start down this road? Remember recently the Australian PM was outed in The Daily Telegraph for visiting a strip club in New York while he was leader of the opposition? As the image here shows, long bows were drawn on this story too - this is an obvious digital composite.

If it was an attempt to nobble him it didn't work; what's the motive in the Bryers' case?

Off the record - Not!

So another Barak Obama staffer has fallen on her perfumed sword. This time because of comments in an interview with a British journalist about Hilary Clinton.

It's not the truth of Samantha Power's comments that's in question in this case: Hilary Clinton may well be a monster. It's not even the language, everyone's entitled to at least one "fu*k" a day.

It's because she made the mistake of thinking that such juicy comments would remain "off the record". A reasonable assumption perhaps given that she told the reporter the comments were off the record.

Here's how the story was covered by the Times Online:

Ms Power made the offending remark during a trip to London this week in which she was apparently too candid about the problems facing the Obama campaign.

"We f***** up in Ohio," she told the newspaper. "In Ohio, they are obsessed and Hillary is going to town on it, because she knows Ohio's the only place they can win.

"She is a monster, too – that is off the record – she is stooping to anything," Ms Power added. The newspaper described her as "hastily trying to withdraw her remark".

Scotsman editor Mike Gilson tonight stepped in to defend his use of the "off-the-record" quotes.

He said: "We have no opinion on whether Ms Power was right to quit and perhaps politics should be able to retain people with talent who are prepared to learn by their mistakes but we are certain it was right to publish. I do not know of a case when anyone has been able to withdraw on the record quotes after they have been made.

"The interview our political correspondent Gerri Peev conducted with Ms Power was clearly on an on-the-record basis. She was clearly passionate and angry with the tactics of the Clinton camp over the Ohio primary and that spilled over in the interview. Our job was to put that interview before the public as a matter of public interest. It was for others to judge whether the remarks were ill-judged or spoke of the inexperience in the Obama camp."

What happened here? It's clear from the Times piece above that Ms Power instantly regretted her comments and then added the line about them being "off the record". The question is: Did the reporter have to respect that?

Is it a case of "caveat emptor", or in this case "interviewee beware"?
As Dan Gilmor writes on his blog, Etcetera...,it would be unusual for a journalist to agree to something being "off the record" after the fact.
When I was a reporter and then a columnist, I had a rule that no public figure — that is, anyone who’d had experience with being interviewed — had the right to declare anything off the record after the fact. Now I might agree not to publish something if it wasn’t relevant, but if something was to be off the record it would be decided ahead of time.

I didn’t have the same policy with people who weren’t media-savvy. Sometimes I’d actually say to someone, “Do you realize that I what you’re telling me might go into the newspaper?” I’d let them reconsider their words.

This is a fair enough rule and perhaps Ms Power should have known better, but it's an all-too-familiar sign of what's wrong with American politics, in particular presidential campaigns, that someone should be forced to resign from their position over something as innocuous as the comments Samantha Power made in an un-guarded moment.

It's as if no one is allowed to actually tell the truth, or express a tough, forthright and honestly-held opinion.

It's faux-polite in my view. Obama and Clinton are both spending enough to wipe out poverty in a mid-sized third-world nation on their respective campaigns. There's negative commentary in the media all the time, fed by both camps.

In this case the frame of pretend-to-play-nice has been broken; some unwritten rule transgressed. I think it's a shame really; though I don't think any blame can be laid at the feet of the journalist, or the newspaper.
Live by the words; die by the words.

Of course there's plenty of commentary out there in the blogosphere

If we must teach shorthand what are we not teaching?

A friend, Helen M, sent me this link to a recent piece in the US online publication, PR Weekly, it talks about how journalism and journalism education are changing in response to the convergence factor of digital technology.

It lists a whole lot of new stuff that journalism educators and students are/should perhaps be doing in the classroom.

If we continue teaching shorthand,where do we find room for new stuff? What do we leave out?

It might be tempting to argue that more practical stuff should be included at the expense of what detractors call "theory", or "media studies". But what about journalism theory?

Isn't there a place in journalism education for an intellectual discussion about the values and meaning of journalism.

To deny space for such discussions is to doom journalism education and the reporters of the future to repeat the same mistakes over and over. Self-reflection is necessary for the news industry to cope with change; so to is a willingness to embrace change.

In particular, as the industry is changing younger reporters will need new and different skills; the definition of who is a journalist is also changing.

This is not necessarily a new idea, I've written about it in Communication & New Media (Hirst & Harrison 2007, OUP) in terms of the changing reportorial community.

Now this is an even more pressing issue because of the rise of the "accidental" journalist, not just the "citizen" journalist. Do we ignore this or embrace it?

There has to be room in the journalism curriculum for these issues to be put in front of students and we also have to think of these issues in terms of our current and future research.

Saturday, 8 March 2008

Who's still teaching shorthand?

Here in New Zealand all journalism schools require students to be proficient in T-line Shorthand at around 60-80 wpm before they can graduate.

The shorthand requirement is mandated by the NZ Journalists Training Organisation (JTO) as a Unit Standard for the qualification the National Diploma in Journalism. The diploma is a level 5 qualification, the equivalent to the first year of a university degree.

The journalism training in the Polytechnic system follows this syllabus quite closely while the university-based courses are at level 7 (3rd year undergraduate) or levels 8/9 Postgraduate Diploma and Masters level.

The JTO is an industry-funded body and industry members of the various J-schools' advisory committees are also strongly committed to the teaching and learning of shorthand.

While it's a requirement of the level 5 diploma (worth 15 credit points) there is some debate about the suitability of making shorthand a full 15 point paper within the normal academic framework of a bachelor's degree or postgraduate qualification.

Personally I'm not convinced that shorthand is still a necessary skill for 21st century journalists. I am forming the view that it is an antiquated technology that can easily be replaced with a variety of cheap, easy-to-use and unobtrusive digital recording devices that allow for accurate transcription of quotes and notes.

Here are a number of counter arguments that I've heard and I'm keen to see some real debate about this amongst journalism educators.

Arguments in favour of shorthand
  • shorthand notes are a legal document that can be used as evidence in a court case
  • shorthand is a vital skill for court reporters because in most jurisdictions cameras and recorders are not allowed in court during proceedings; further transcripts are hard to get from court officials and they take time to be released to the media
  • in New Zealand reporters are paid a bonus if they keep their shorthand up above a minimum speed requirement
I think things are changing. Increasingly cameras are being seen in courts, though I understand that this is an uneven process. I also don't think that reporters are called upon to give evidence from their shorthand notes in many court cases; so this is a "just in case" type of argument in effect. Finally, the bonus is a matter of a handful of dollars a week.

I'm going to go out on a limb here and suggest that by insisting that accredited journalism schools teach shorthand (often at great expense), the industry is merely pushing the cost onto the students and the tertiary education system. maybe the employers should be paying for it; either by subsidising the j schools to teach it, or doing it in-house once they get their hands on our graduates.

I'm currently looking into this issue in other countries and I'd be very keen to hear from journalism educators and working reporters about the use-value of shorthand. I know that anecdotally some of our graduates are alleged to say things like "shorthand is the most useful thing I learned at journalism school."

If this is really the case that what are we doing? Surely the value of a good education in journalism is more than 80 wpm of T-line.

The global situation?
A quick google search turned up some interesting material about the teaching of shorthand, including this interesting prediction that it would disappear from the journalism curriculum in 5-10 years...this was in 1998:

Bernie Corbett, national organizer for Britain’s National Union of Journalists, explained that most journalism jobs there require an academic “qualification.” And, he said, most print journalism degree programs require shorthand skills of 100 words per minute.

“Currently, trainers and editors still maintain that it is an indispensable core skill,” Corbett said, “but modern attitudes are against them and I predict the requirement will be dropped some time in the next five to ten years.”

Then again, is shorthand likely to become the next battle ground between the industry and the academy? Certainly that appears to be the case in the UK where the industry training body the NCTJ has been making the argument that journalism courses are too "academic" and not "practical" enough. According to Andy Bull, a senior NCTJ official, shorthand is still an essential:
"For editors and for the NCTJ, shorthand is essential. Universities have a problem with shorthand because they see it purely as a mechanical skill. Never mind that it is hard to manage as a foreign language."
I found this quote in a blog by Steve Hill, a lecturer in electronic publishing at Southampton Solent University, where he discusses Bull's piece from the British Journalism Review. Unfortunately the full copy of Andy's piece is not available online.

I also found an Australian reference to the JSchool run by Professor John Henningham in Brisbane (Queensland). Students in his privately-run programme do get some shorthand training.

I'm keen to hear from journalism educators and reporters on this issue.
To kick off some discussion, here's the txt of an email my colleague Stephen Quinn sent from Deakin University in Victoria (Australia):

The relevance depends on what you are educating J students for. If for
a career in mainstream print media, then you could argue shorthand is needed. Many
years ago I proposed to our dean that we teach Teeline (rather than Pittman's) on
the journalism major at Deakin. She said that was the role for the local TAFE, and
not a university.

Given the dramatic drop in jobs at newspapers in the US (see my blog squinn.org for
details), and if that trend carries over into Australia, we could argue that more jobs will be available online and in other forms of new media. Then we have
to ask if shorthand is relevant, given many of the newer jobs will involve
re-purposing of content (yes, an ugly phrase but the best I have) and editing rather than reporting.

Bottom line: if educating reporters, then shorthand is still necessary. If educating
editors, debatable.

Over to you.
BTW: If you're a journalism student, I'd love to hear from you too.

Friday, 7 March 2008

Taste Test: The Journalist

perhaps we can all go get one after graduation next friday as we will be qualified journos!
- bex
Hey, bex, xclnt idea to go for a drink. In our graduation drag?

But, I would recommend caution when it comes to The Journalist, or at least finding a bar with a v.good cocktail mixologist. This is not a drink to let loose around amateurs.

I had a couple earlier this week at a local bar (no names coz I don't want to upset anyone at the Brooklyn) and to be honest, I was a tad disappointed.

When I say "tad" I been bloody disappointed. The colour was good; the ingredients were pretty much top shelf- Bombay, Cointreau and Martini vermouth(s)

[Is the plural of vermouth "vermine"?]
But the mixing was ordinary. The drink was warmish, while a great Martini is chilled beyond cool and I expected a great kick, but all I got was a sweetish, warm lolly-water drink. it lacked bite and even the addition of a triple-olive stick with a twist didn't seem to lift it beyond the "gin ordinaire".

I'm sure that Frank Moorhouse and his friend Voltz would strongly disapprove of The Journalist; it would rank alongside the other "fad" concoctions and "crazy drinks" that they both detest.

However, I am not easily deterred and I intend to persist until I can make this drink my own.

On a slighlty different note, I enjoyed Moorhouse' "memoir" Martini, and at the time I thought it was a reasonably true account of some aspects of his life. So I was very disappointed to come across this old bit of news while I was googling him today.

It seems that the "memoir" may actually be a work of fiction, in the news story linked above Moorhouse refers to himself (or is it a character in the "memoir") as "the demented narrator-author".

That's almost as disappointing as a lukewarm Journalist.

Tuesday, 4 March 2008

A "new" Martini: The Gin and the Journalist

One of the things I love about teaching is learning from my students. Hat tip to Quinn for telling me about The Journalist.

I suppose a purist would scoff, but it is a distant relative of the Martini - at least it's based on Gin and Vermouth.

It's a take on the whole dry/sweet thing and I must say I am constantly surprised at the number of bar staff who think it's OK to make a Martini with sweet vermouth - "Bianco".

Personally I find the combination distasteful, but rarely send it back. I much prefer the traditional dry Martini.

However, The Journalist is on my menu for the next Brooklyn visit.

Quinn brought me a photocopied page from his cocktail recipe book, here's the author's review of this unconventional Martini.

I've never been a supporter of unnecessarily complicated cocktails but this one seems to succeed against all the odds.

The Journalist defies convention [you're right about that mate] but is great as a palate-cleansing aperitif.

The sweet/dry theme is repeated twice, with the sweet and dry vermouth, then the triple sec and lemon juice.

Definitely a good pre-dinner drink to order at a bar, but if you're making it at home watch the measurements carefully, it's a drink that needs to be very finely balanced.

On the web you can find plenty of recipes for The Journalist, some use Curacao instead of Triple Sec. I'm sure you could substitute Vodka for Gin too. You know the rules "Choose your poison."

But what's with this glass, it just ain't right:

I much prefer the conventional frosted Martini glass, so much more refined.

If you're willing to try The Journalist, send me a note, rate it.

Here's the recipe with Curacao (from Cocktail Database), use Triple Sec and/or Vodka if you like.

The Journalist
Stir in mixing glass with ice & strain
1 1/2 oz gin (4.5 cl, 3/8 gills)
1/4 oz sweet vermouth (6 dashes, 1/16 gills)
1/4 oz dry vermouth (6 dashes, 1/16 gills)

Monday, 3 March 2008

Harry Hotpants and his Crack Baby

I was intrigued by the reference to a cocktail called a Crack Baby in recent stories about Harry Hotpants, the valiant prince of Afghanistan and friend of Terry Taleban.

The Crack Baby is a drink for stupid rich kids. Yes I'm prejudiced, but here's the recipe, go figure:

Crack Baby Ingredients

1/2 carton Passion Fruit Juice

1/2 bottle vodka

punnet chopped strawberries

bottle asti/ champagne

Put all the ingredients together in an electric blender and let it do the work for you! Let it mix for a minute or so then pour in a cocktail glass and drink with a straw for maximum effect!

Will get you hammered in no time!!!

On the cocktail recipe site where I got this the following list also popped up. It speaks for itself:

Other users who liked a Crack Baby also liked:

Crack Pipe

Crazy Frog

Why don't you give them a go too?

Harry Hotpants exposes himself to Terry Taleban: "I'm a f*ck*** tosser!"

Now that the giddy "Oh my gosh!" pretend outrage has cooled a little I'd like to add my ten Kiwi cents to the Harry-Embargo-Imbroglio (HEI).

It seems that the English tosser who happens to be 3rd-in-line to the best paid non-job in the world is not that keen on the country of his birth. HEI's been telling anyone who'll listen - pretty much the entire world's media - that, actually, HEI hates England. In particular Harry Hotpants doesn't like English beer (he drinks something called a Crack
baby cocktail
(see separate post) and HEI doesn't like the English media too much either.

From today's New Zealand Herald (and a 1000 other quasi-tabloid shi*sheets. The NZH lifted the story from The Observer):

"I don't want to sit around Windsor," HEI admitted. "I generally don't like England that much and, you know, it's nice to be away from all the press and the papers and all the general shite that they write."

England was, in fact, "poo", HEI declared.

That's a pity really. His retainers and flunkies should tell the lucky shite that thanks to the world's oversupply of trash and gossip magazines HEI's one of the most eligible rich dicks around and can get into the pants of every young 'gel' who takes his royal fancy. HEI doesn't even know that "poo" (how upper-class quaint) "stinks".

To be honest, I wouldn't lose a minute of my life worrying or being upset if HEI was topped by an IED. Apparently there's a price on HEI's head.

'Prince Harry

Is A Top Terror Target'

Prince Harry is now a top terror target after serving in Afghanistan, a radical cleric has warned.

Omar <span class=
Omar Bakri Mohammad

Omar Bakri Mohammad said the Prince, who is arriving back in the UK today, was behaving like a "big man, tough man" and that would make him a target for Islamic militants.

The cleric said the Prince had become an "ambassador of war" unlike his mother Diana who had been an "ambassador of peace".

"I think now he will be more targeted by the Taliban and al Qaeda supporters than before," he said. "It's better for him to return home.

However, let's remember that while the world's media spent far too much time fawning over this blue-blooded waste of oxygen, real people were dying in Afghanistan and Iraq. We can pause to reflect on another British serviceman who was killed on Sunday March 2:

British airman killed

in Iraq attack named

8:29AM Monday March 03, 2008
By Peter Griffiths
British airman killed in rocket attack named.  Photo /Reuters.

British airman killed in rocket attack named. Photo /Reuters.

LONDON - A British airman killed in a rocket attack in southern Iraq was named on Sunday as Sergeant Duane Barwood.

The Ministry of Defence in London said the 41-year-old from the town of Carterton, Oxfordshire, died on Friday after an attack on the British military base outside Basra.

His death brings to 175 the number of British armed forces personnel who have died in Iraq since the U.S.-led invasion in March 2003.

Barwood, known as "Baz", was part of the 903 Expeditionary Air Wing of the Royal Air Force and was based at RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire.

He leaves a wife, Sharon, and two daughters, Leanna and Rebecca. In a statement, his family said: "Baz will be greatly missed by all those who knew him.

Harry Hotpants you are a lucky and privileged bastard. Shove another Crack Baby down your sun-burnt neck instead of complaining about English ordinariness. Harry have you sent flowers to Mrs Barwood? I didn't think so, you insufferable waste of space.

We should also pause for the other victims of this senseless Imperialist adventure in which Prince Hotpants got to play toy soldiers. We need to be reminded of the hundreds who die every week in Iraq and Afghanistan whose names we are never told by the press.

Sunday 2 March: 22 dead

Baghdad: 3 bodies.

Baquba: roadside bomb kills policeman trying to defuse it; gunmen kill civilian.
Wajihiya: roadside bomb kills 6, 2 of them children.
Buhriz: motorist is shot dead by Iraqi soldiers, after failing to 'respond to checkpoint instructions.'
Muqdadiya: 3 bodies.

Mosul: car bomb kills civilian.
Shabana: 2 policemen killed in clashes with gunmen.

Samarra: car bomb kills 4, a child among them.

But while all this is going on, the crap media's attention is somewhere else. The photogenic action man Harry Hotpants has been discovered living a "normal" life in southern Afghanistan.

As an aside:
"Oh shi*, hold the presses!" Harry Hotpants leads 'normal life', now there's a headline you don't see every day.
You little silver-coated turd; you think life in southern Afghanistan is 'normal'? You freakish little rich shi*, fu** you and your warped idea of 'normal'. A life of war and poverty is not 'normal'. You, sir, have no idea of what 'normal' is. Suck down another Crack Baby you lazy ill-begotten drunk and fu** off back to Knightsbridge.

HEE HEE HEE...Oops...
Sorry, back to the real point of this post:

A few days ago there was an almighty fuss that was heard around the world: some pissant little Australian gossip rag had broken an embargo on a story that the valiant prince had "seen action" in Afghanistan.

No, it wasn't about the princely prick getting on in a Kabul whorehouse; though it would be a better story if it was. There happened to be a jeep-load of photos and video footage of Harry with a pistol tucked into his flack jacket in really cool wrap-around sunglasses in a cool brown T-shirt and a backwards baseball cap chatting to "Terry Taleban". but I noticed with some delight that Harry and Terry were never in the same frame; though HEI did tell the media that when Terry's head "popped up", HEI fired his trusty blunderbuss for a minute or too.

As an aside: Does anyone else feel slightly uncomfortable about this veiled reference to "Towel Heads" (Terry-toweling)?

When HEI wasn't kissing Terry's babies, or getting the footman to make HEI an icy Crack Baby back in the mess, HEI was cracking off some rounds of 50 calibre machine gun fire in the general direction of the native men-folk.
"Mix me another Crack Baby, Hughes.
This damn gunnery is hot work."
Harry Hotpants on show during a secret attack
against Terry Taleban of Helmand Province.

As an aside:
Cue Monty Python music: "I fart in your general direction." Did you notice HEI looked remarkably uncomfortable behind that gun, with the regimental SM leaning over his shoulder: "Put your balls into it you useless twat." Not the right kind of show for a chap with the (purely ceremonial) rank of Coronet.

Is it just me, or did the whole thing seem slightly staged from the royal "get go"?

And why pick on New Idea, according to other media reports the story was also on the Drudge Report and on several European news websites.

The point is that the whole idea of an embargo is stupid and the media who were prepared to stick with an agreement to keep Sir Hotpants' deployment to Afghanistan secret were colluding in a restraint of trade and an ideological hoodwinking of their readers and viewers.

Buckingham Palace and the British government had a deal: Sir Hotpants' heroic (sic) stint in dusty Afghanistan would be revealed to a grateful public at a time of their own choosing; preferably when Harry was doing the horizontal Zorba with a suitably lubricated (with Crack Baby) Chelsea slapper and was safely out of the way.

Just to make sure the loyal tabloids didn't miss a beat, or a shot, a royal battalion of tame paparazzo was billeted next to HEI to film his every move across the wide brown plains of Helmand province.

"Sir, would you mind pooing in this trench, sir. We can shoot your royal buttocks from a flattering angle over here, sir."

"Make-up, more powder on the royal derriere please...and...action."

"Oh sir, it's true! Royal poo is blue, and sir, it smells divine, sir."

You think I'm being funny? No? Well, yes and no. The Telegraph story on the breaking of the embargo contained this little gem:

As part of the deal between the media and the MoD, a small number of journalists went to Helmand Province in southern Afghanistan to report.

[British defence chief] Sir Richard said: "What the last two months have shown is that it is perfectly possible for Prince Harry to be employed just the same as other Army officers of his rank and experience.

Yes, just the same as any officer with rank of Coronet with fuc*all experience, except in drinking Crack Baby cocktails and senseless rutting.

Yes, just the same as every Coronet who needs a battalion of minders tagging along in a war zone.

Harry Hotpants was never in danger in Helmand Province. He's safer there than in any Soho nightclub where he might drown in his 37th Crack Baby of that particular binge.

The whole thing was a stinking propaganda exercise designed to hit British hearts and minds with a "shock and awe" message bomb. The war is unpopular in Britain and this would have been a huge publicity coup.

I don't much care who broke this story. If it was New Idea then good luck to them. According to The Telegraph in London, the story was in New Idea a month ago and no one picked it up then. In a statement issued on Feb 29, New Idea is quoted as saying:
"New Idea was not issued with a press embargo and was unaware of the existence of one...
The story was published on Monday, January 7. Since then New Idea has received no comment from the British Ministry of Defence.
We take these matters very seriously and would never knowingly break an embargo. We regret any issues the revelation of this story in America has caused today. "
Six weeks ago this story was mentioned in NW; now they're getting blasted by the rest of the press. Actually, NW was probably dobbed in by Palace flacks as a way of giving the story a boost. How else could Sky TV and other networks have a special all ready to go with the shit-eating headline "Hero Harry Home At Last". PUKE!

The British tabloids hate to be upstaged and for an Antipodean trash mag to do it is the height of colonial bastardry. For revenge, the tabbies have been falling over themselves to gush the mush about the heroic Harry Hotpants and sections of the quality press have been rubbing their noses in it:

Earlier yesterday even The Sun found itself saying: "There's no doubt Harry has struggled with the pressures of Royalty. But Harry has found richer fulfilment serving with his mates than he ever found in the bottom of a Crack Baby cocktail.

"In place of the tipsy playboy, we saw a self-assured and mature man of action at ease with himself.''

The Daily Mirror said: "Harry, famous in the past for his partying, is a young man who has come of age, serving his Queen -- his grandmother -- and country with distinction...

The Daily Express said: "For Harry to serve his country in a combat zone will boost the morale of forces families everywhere. Britain can be extremely proud of its soldier Prince and so can the Royal Family.''

The story was heavily used around the world, and in the United States there was sometimes a little more comment added.

The New York Post said: "Looks like the Taliban is getting the royal treatment.'' And it added: "The 23-year-old royal heir, once nicknamed 'Dirty Harry' by British tabloids for his hard-partying ways, has now been dubbed 'Harry the Hero' for his role in the war on terror.''

The real point is the sycophantic coverage by the hypocritical tabloids that's vomited up on every news website since Sir Hotpants' glorious return to the country of his mother, his mother country that he hates.

As an aside:
Fuck you, Harry Hotpants; bloodsucking scion of inbred ingrates.

And to you sycophantic toadies of the tabloids:
Get a grip (or actually let go of your august organs and start thinking with your brains, not your assholes).

I'm with Peter Preston of The Observer on this shabby little story:

But phooey! Double phooey! There's no point in criticising anyone involved in this deluded little charade, because everyone acted from perfectly comprehensible motives. Harry wanted a bit of proper soldiering. The MoD wanted a warm bath of publicity on its own terms. The press loves being praised for restraint, plus getting pool exclusives of 'Hero Harry' playing 'keepy-uppy' with a toilet roll shortly after 'shedding tears for Chelsea'. But the difficulty is that this was always going to be a flaky deal, which lasted rather longer than you'd have bet at the start.

That's right, a flaky deal designed to get some good publicity for the British military machine and for dumbass Gordon Brown.

A flaky deal aimed at the gullible audience (in MoD parlance) of New Idea readers who were told this remarkable and top secret news SIX WEEKS AGO, but didn't see they'd been duped by those nasty editor-bitches.

Hey guess what, Terry Taleban (or at least his missus) must also not be reading NW. Terry and his brothers had six weeks to get to Harry Hotpants with a suicide bomb or a sniper yet the self-confessed "bullet magnet" made it home alive.

The power of the press HEI HEI HEI. It seems HEI actually blew it with his "I don't like England" comments. I think the good folk of the Home Counties should whip the hat around to buy the idiot prince a ticket back to Helmand Province. Perhaps HEI and Terry Taleban could share a Crack Baby and get drunk enough to think they'd solved all the world's problems. At least they'd be too pissed to shoot at each other.

And for those whingeing outlets who are now ganging up on New Idea, including stupid, inane and unethical gossip websites, such as Defamer.com, stop the crocodile tears. You would steal your granny's nickers for the sake of a story.

Thursday, 28 February 2008

How to Stop the Fiji Regime in its Tracks when it comes for Journalists

How to Stop the Fiji Regime in its Tracks when it comes for Journalists
By Dr Mark Hayes, a Brisbane-based media and journalism educator who knows the media situation in Fiji very well indeed.
In Fijian, there’s a term used to describe ‘sweeping under the mat’, ‘or ‘secretive decisions’, a ‘deliberate denial of transparency and accountability’ – Vere Ubiubi (pron: Very Umbi Umbi). This is an example of how it works in practice.
The disgraceful, and quite possibly illegal and certainly in contempt of court, deportation of Fiji Sun editor Russell Hunter on Tuesday morning, February 26, 2008, is, among many other things a serious failure in crisis responding by the Fiji media.
A senior, and well known, media executive, and his family, are intimidated, and he’s kidnapped in the dead of night by a cowardly snatch squad sent by person or persons unknown. Meanwhile, a superior court issues a ‘stop order’ to prevent an apparent deportation attempt, and this is ignored by all relevant authorities and agencies. The executive is deprived of all communication, so he can’t even tell his family where he is, let alone contact his lawyer or staff, driven almost 200 kilometres at night (if you’ve driven from Suva to Nadi, even in daylight, you know that’s a very scary journey), humiliated as he’s hurried through Customs and Immigration, publically segregated from other passengers in the Departure Lounge, and bundled on to an Air Pacific jet.
The belated feeble excuses offered by senior authorities make no rational sense, and no even remotely convincing evidence to justify this action has been produced.
The Fiji media make all the expected, ritual, noises while Mr Hunter’s long gone from Nadi Airport.
At every step, we can see a cascading failure in crisis responding on the part of almost all with genuine interests in this outrage, especially in Fiji.
This is made even worse because, following on from the 2000 – 2001 crisis, and then the heroic stand some media took on the evening of the 2006 coup, the Fiji media should know how to very effectively respond to a grave governance crisis in general, such as a coup, and a specific incident such as Mr Hunter’s treatment (or other well documented harassment of several of their number over the last year or so).
On the night of the 2006 coup, the Fiji military, following the ‘book of coups’ (yes; there is one) tried to prevent the Fiji media from reporting statements from the ousted SDL government by deploying soldiers into several newsrooms. The Fiji Times and Fiji TV refused to publish looming bulletins and editions under military intimidation, and other media similarly resisted military pressure. The responses of the Fiji media that night, and into subsequent days were genuinely heroic, and amply demonstrated what principled solidarity can achieve. Over subsequent months, however, the Fiji media has revered to its usual acutely competitive habits, even when one of their own was summoned to the military camp in northern Suva and verbally threatened later in 2007. Around the same time, the leading US nonviolence think tank, the Albert Einstein Institution was seeding copies of its Anti-Coup Handbook very widely around Fiji-based NGOs.
Here’s not the place to go into a detailed exposition of nonviolent direct action, but what I am strongly arguing is that if the Fiji media consistently deployed principled, highly informed, and creative nonviolent resistance techniques and tactics, at the very least they could educate the Interim Government that it is really not a good idea to mess with them, and, when another incident of harassment occurs, deal with the ‘authorities’ like a swarm of wasps. These techniques are entirely congruent with the Fiji Media Council Code of Ethics.
Putting it another way – and Fiji must be one of the few places on the planet not to have had Star Trek on its television screens – the Fiji media needs to install individual, newsroom, and industry Corbomite Shields, so that any attempts at attack against any one of them rebounds against the attacker, with equal force. A related idea is backfire, which can be planned for, and engineered to occur when harassment occurs. Even obdurate slow learners, like the Fiji military appear to be, will sooner rather than later get the message.
Much nonviolence is informed by the proposition that dominators only wield power and thence obtain, if not eager obedience, then at least acquiescence, to the extent that their targets let them. In many important respects, the very wide array of nonviolent techniques available, even in far worse, even lethal, contexts than contemporary Fiji, are aimed at eroding and even removing a dominator’s power.
So, revisiting the Hunter deportation, at many stages, nonviolence could have been deployed to monkey wrench the intended activities of his cowardly snatch squad, and, more importantly, their even more craven and cowardly masters. Some of these techniques need to be deployed and rehearsed well in advance of possible intimidation, and some can be deployed as needed. Nonviolent resistance should by no means be a spontaneous response to pressing intimidation, as is connoted by the obsolete term ‘passive resistance’, but requires planning, preparation, and creative, principled, and courageous deployment. Finally, though, there are no guarantees of success (just as there are no certainties in warfare either).
With Mr Hunter in Sydney, the Fiji Media Council could show it remembers what a spine is for by coordinating a joint industry operation to get him back, as well as seriously investigating the whole foul and disgraceful exercise. It may be they have an ally in this exercise in the person of the Interim Attorney General.
The Council’s President, Mr Daryl Tarte, with a suitably equipped Fiji TV crew using small digital video cameras, could go to Sydney, and return with Mr Hunter, and record the whole process from the inside.
There’s another good story to report if Air Pacific declines to carry Mr Hunter because, they may well claim, he’s been declared an illegal. By whom? Under what powers or legislation, and using what evidence? Qantas, which code shares with Air Pacific, might need interrogation too if Mr Hunter seeks to travel on a Qantas ticket rather than an Air Pacific ticket, and is similarly declined passage.
A radio journalist or two, with digital audio recorders, could also be dispatched on this part of the operation. Mobile phones can be used to broadcast and photograph, even video, proceedings live as they occur.
At Nadi Airport, the plane can be met by a group of reporters equipped to report the story from the outside, including interrogating officials in the terminal, as they have choices to obey or not.
As it appears to be the case that there was a court order out preventing Mr Hunter’s deportation, some media need to track down and explain why that order was ignored, by whom, and why Air Pacific, as the carrier, also ignored the court order. Other media need to seriously interrogate the real reasons why Mr Hunter was deported, and why it was absolutely necessary to send a cowardly snatch squad to his home at night, rather than visit him at work, by appointment, as civilised authorities usually do to serve, for example, legal documents or even press releases. Are all legal documents served on all media in Fiji by similar means, and if so, why, and if not, why not, and by whom? Perhaps all Fiji media should refuse to accept all legal documents unless they are delivered to appropriate executive’s homes late at night by a cowardly, secretive, anonymous snatch squad. After all, there is now a clear and very high level precedent for this kind of activity, so what’s the problem?
Indeed, the media should seek to identify the members of Mr Hunter’s snatch squad, and expose them, because they had a choice in the matter. International law, and military regulations, fully allow for the principled disobedience of an illegal order by individual soldiers. Even military genocides occur because soldiers actually doing the killing, and civilian officials often assisting, particularly these days, ignore their consciences, and even basic training in the laws of war, and obey their illegal orders. And similarly up the snatch squad’s chain of military and civilian command, outing each and every person responsible. That’s called accountability.
A fairly well known trick to pull when one fears physical intimidation, in a bar for example, and rapid withdrawal seems difficult, is to hit the floor writhing and screaming as if one had actually been assaulted. Mr Hunter could have executed this kind of tactic in the Departure Lounge of Nadi Airport (which I know well) to draw significant public attention to his situation. It appears that another passenger on his flight was a senior US consular official who kindly lent him extra cash prior to arriving in Sydney. Excellent witnesses such as this official can be later called on in court, as well as quoted in subsequent stories.
The pressure the combined Fiji media should put on the Interim Government should be incessant, unremitting, and indefatigable, like wasps, coming at them from many simultaneous directions, seeking answers to entirely legitimate questions, chasing down angles and leads, and drawing the public into the continuing story, by engaging them actively in the restoration of democracy, monitoring power, and exposing abuses of power. That’s what the media does.
The foregoing is, by the way, entirely congruent with the principles of good governance, and media freedom, which, so the Interim Prime Minister recently declared, was ‘secure and guaranteed in Fiji’. By reference to generally accepted and internationally supported standards and principles, we assume.

Saturday, 23 February 2008

Media hypocrisy over TV3 interview with crook

Background note: For anyone not familiar with this story, the history can be found here. Briefly around 96 important military medals were stolen from the Waiouru army museum, including a Victoria Cross won by a New Zealand war hero, Charlie Upham. The theft was described as an "insult to the nation". After some weeks they were returned and it seems the thieves may have pocketed most of the reward money.

If you live north of the Bombay Hills take a deep whiff, if the wind's in the right direction the unmistakable stench of media hypocrisy will burn your nasal membranes.

Late last week the TV3 programme Campbell Live scored a pretty good scoop: an exclusive interview with one of the alleged suspects in the theft of some pretty important pakeha taonga.

Almost immediately the rest of the media went into a shitty tailspin, ostensibly because of TV3's unethical behaviour, but IMHO more motivated by the fact that they had not got the story.

Indeed the competition between media outlets over this story has been fierce. The NZ Herald had a couple of front page hits of its own, including the story of how a known associate of an alleged criminal gang had been bailed on serious charges for helping with the "investigation" that led to the return of the Victoria Cross and other medals.

The Herald was no doubt pissed when its previously exclusive ownership of the story was trumped by Campbell Live's interview with "Robert", one of the theives -- at least by his own account.
Until this point the Herald had pretty much had the story to itself and obviously had some good sources close to the investigation and to the alleged crims involved.

"Robert" did not appear live in the TV3 programme, an actor was used instead. According to TV3's account the interview was done on a dictaphone and transcribed. "Robert" was never on camera.

Spurred on by moralistic outrage from some media commentators, the police dutifully raided TV3 HQ in Great North Road and took statements and documents away. They had no choice really, but given their "Look the other way" attitude to other aspects of this rapidly degenerating criminal farce, we can expect nothing to come of the raid.

To his credit TV3 news chief Mark Jennings has stuck to his guns and not backed down from the interview with "Robert".

Today (Saturday) the Herald weighed in again with the ridiculous headline "TV3 attacked for re-enactment of medal theft interview". My pal Jim Tully from the journalism programme at Canterbury University told the Herald that the use of the actor had "tarnished a good news scoop". Hardly a swingeing attack. And of course the cops supplied the obligatory "tut tut" statement to go with their half-hearted "raid" on TV3 yesterday.

The real deal
Let's go back and review the media coverage of this story from day one. From the start no one was particularly concerned to catch the crooks; the real concern was with getting back the "national treasure", a bunch of rusty medals celebrating the glory of war and the myth of the ANZAC. The Herald and all the NZ media agreed it was in the national interest that the medals be returned and that the theft was a terrible blot on national pride and glory.

Bollocks. I'm not going to go into a long diatribe about the glorification of capitalist war and why nationalism is crap. You can go away and read up on that in other places. The simple point is that the media went weak at the knees and talked up the national patriotic bullshit.

What seemed to get lost in all this rhetoric is the fact that a crime was committed and no one seemed to know who the thieves were. More importantly no one seemed to care.

Then Chris Comesky, a former cop who is now a tasty criminal lawyer with form, got involved and was able to broker a deal that saw $300,000 (roughly) put into his trust account with the strong suggestion that some of it, at least, would go to the crooks for the return of the medals.

This story is a lot wierder and has a lot more dubious ethical twists than John Campbell's interview with "Robert".

A few questions that the media might like to ask:

Why have the crooks effectively been given immunity?
How did lawyer Chris Comeskey get involved and why did the police let him do the immunity deal?
What were the Herald's sources for its stories about the gang member who was released on bail and the thieves, one of whom might have been banged up Mt Eden gaol with the gang member/deal broker?
Why have the cops been so relaxed about a shady deal to protect the alleged crims in return for the medals being given back?

Web Capitalism 2.0

I came across this at Andrew Keen's The Great Seduction. I sometimes disagree with Andrew but I think his analysis of web-capitalism (summed up here) is pretty accurate:

For all the glib pieties about the "democratization" of media, the truth about the Web 2.0 economy is that it's anything but democratic. That vast sucking sound you can hear is Google, YouTube et al gobbling up obscene amounts of wealth from the rest of the media business.

New claims about cancer scare at ABC Brisbane studios

The Brisbane Courier-Mail is reporting that the ABC site at Toowong, which has been abandoned for the past year or more, might be contaminated with the pesticide Dieldrin.

A number of female staff have been diagnosed with breast cancer linked to their employment.

So far the ABC has spent millions on rehousing staff and has not revealed what it plans to do with the riverside site.

McCain, elections, ethics and smears

I'm watching with interest the American presidential primaries. I can't make up my mind about Obama and/or Clinton. I'm inclined to argue that a vote for Barak Obama is more of a threat to the US political status quo than a vote for Hilary Clinton. It's a judgment about whether race or gender is the more volatile fault line in the American psyche.
I tend to lean towards Obama and a vote for a black man over a white woman; mainly because white women were never tortured and murdered like African Americans, or suffered under the racist and segregationist Jim Crow laws. Though of course, if you go back far enough into American history it's clear that witches were hated, feared and hunted down too during colonial times.

But today, I'm interested in coverage of the recent New York Times piece outlining some historical allegations that Republican candidate John McCain has a shaky record on conflicts of interest.

The Times has come under fire from other media, particularly the Fox network and the paper's also had over 3000 email and blog questions posted by readers. I've read the Times piece and it seems reasonably balanced to me. It's quite long and detailed, but critics say it relies too heavily on anonymous sources.

The paper justifies using anonymous sources on the grounds that the story was of great public interest and needed to be told. I have no issue with this; what I find more interesting is the question posed by a reader about the NYT's endorsement of McCain. Here's the exchange:

Why Did The Times Endorse McCain?

Q. Why did The New York Times strongly endorse Senator McCain to be the Republican Party nominee in January, if at the same time the paper was well aware of and continuing to investigate what it considered to be front-page, damaging, “un-presidential” charges?

— Debbie Collazo, Tucson, Ariz.

A. The short answer is that the news department of The Times and the editorial page are totally separate operations that do not consult or coordinate when it comes to news coverage and endorsements or other expressions of editorial opinion. We in the newsroom did not speak to anyone at the editorial page about the story we were working on about Senator McCain. They did not consult us about their deliberations over endorsements of the presidential candidates. I’m the political editor, and the first I knew of the McCain endorsement (and of the endorsement of Hillary Clinton on the Democratic side) was when I read them in the newspaper. In all of our internal discussions about the news story subsequent to the endorsement, I do not recall anyone bringing it up.

(As an aside, I think it’s fair to say that most of our political reporters would prefer that the paper not endorse candidates. Endorsements inevitably create the perception among some voters that The Times is backing a candidate on an institutional level, leaving those of us on the news side to explain over and over that our coverage is not influenced by what our colleagues on the editorial page write.)

As your question suggests, this particular situation was especially odd because most everyone in politics and journalism — including, I assume, our colleagues on the editorial page — knew we were working on a story about Senator McCain, courtesy of an item on Drudge in December. Whether that influenced the editorial page’s deliberations, I have no idea.

But it meant that there were a lot of people speculating for months about what kind of story we were pursuing and whether and when we were going to publish it. This didn’t influence the timing or the substance of the story at all, but I do think it created a situation in which opinions and battle lines about the story began to develop long before the actual story was published.

— Richard W. Stevenson, political editor

Sure, Richard, you can maintain the fiction that the newsroom and the editorial decision-making are at arms-length.
It's the dialectic of the front page. The story is too big to ignore and you've got it as an exclusive, so go for it, but don't pretend that Mahogany Row doesn't know exactly what's going on newswise and can intervene at any time.

Saturday, 26 January 2008

Farewell Peter McGregor 1947-2008, revolutionary friend

I was checking emails while on holidays in Bateau Bay on the NSW central coast. My brother and I had just come back from swimming at Shelley Beach with my niece and her friend. A message from Neville asking when I would be arriving in the Blue Mountains, then some sad news:
As you may have heard Peter McGregor has committed suicide. Don't have details yet. Was very sudden because I had an email from him the day before about an anti-Guantanamo demonstration. There's an excellent obit by Tony Stephens in yesterday's SMH.

In a round-about way I've known Peter McGregor for some 20 years, perhaps a bit longer. I can't remember the circumstances of our meeting; I have no doubt he would know. Most recently I'd worked alongside Peter in the School of Communications at the University of Western Sydney in the late 1990s.

We always managed to stay in touch, even though I had moved away from UWS and left Sydney, first to Brisbane and now Auckland.

I always admired Peter's dedication and enthusiasm. He was an activist and a humanist. Perhaps more of an anarchist than me, but nevertheless I will always be proud to call him "comrade".

I'm chuckling at that because it is a term of endearment among socialists of all stripes and at times can even transcend ideological and factional disputes. "Comrade" has a proud tradition and it rings with affection and strength when spoken out loud among good friends. It can be stirring in song, "Comrades come rally and the last fight let us face."

I'm chuckling because for the hard right and even the Liberal right "comrade" is a term of derision and abuse. I've been lambasted on at least one blog for using the word in every day speech. It was incontrovertibe proof of my Stalinist and anti-democratic tendencies.

I'm smiling because for some anarchists it holds similar connotations. Peter never minded me regarding him as a comrade. He was principled and non-sectarian. Peter would work with anyone for a common cause and the public good.

I have been looking for other online tributes to Peter. The first one I found was Remote Control. This is from Lynda Hawryluk; writer, educator, artist, keen disco dance, who was also a colleague of Peter's.

My last interaction with Peter was over his arrest, court case and subsequent total absolution in the whole Ruddock incident, which, in my view, brought shame on a whole bunch of individuals and instutions that I had previously thought better of. I documented his adventure here on Ethical Martini.

So long comrade, so long revolutionary friend, goodbye Pete.

Remote Control - Peter McGregor 1947-2008: 'Thanks for the dreams that I have had with many of you.'