Tuesday, March 24, 2009

John Hartigan, the right to know, News Ltd, Media Watch, and a strange case of Jekyll and Hyde

John Hartigan surely has to take the first prize with ribbon for pious platitudes, when it comes to his speech to the Australia's Right to Know conference.

After the Pauline Hanson photos affair, he has the cheek to say that mistakes just happen because journalists are fallible.

... very, very rarely in my experience are these episodes motivated by malice or an arrogant disregard by the media.

What I demand of our editors is a passionate desire to be the best they can be.

Yet somehow Neil Breen still holds down a job editing the Sunday Telegraph.

There's something profoundly schizophrenic, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, about News Ltd. It's a very strange case, worthy of the pen of Robert Louis Stevenson. 

Off in one corner are the very grand, ostentatious and pretentious poo bahs of The Australian, imagining they're setting some high minded tone, and over in the other corner, there's the sleazoid tabloids publishing whatever they found in the gutter in the last few days (and with ranting, shrieking loonish right wing columnists and blogs to match). And how would we term the Hanson nudie pics, if not as arrogant disregard?

The high minded tone is also dampened a little by giving the job of writing the backup to Hartigan's plea for more open government, in State of Secrecy, to Caroline Overington, who thought so much of the objective role of journalism that she got down and dirty in the last election campaign. Would you trust Overington with state secrets or even some gossip over the back of the fence? 

Well it might be lead headline stuff in The Australian - you can currently get Hartigan's speech in pdf format on the front page, at least until it falls down below the fold and gets buried in the honorable pieties section - but until the old media learns to sort itself out, and News Ltd. in particular learns how to deal sensibly with its tabloid tendencies, if I were in government I wouldn't lift a finger to help them.

Over at the Daily Terror of course the main secret they're concerned with today comes under the header Secrets of Underbelly. And the bikie mayhem. And Annette Sharp's revelatory Sydney Confidential. And more on Russell Brand's sex addiction. And so on and on. The Hun, the Melbourne equivalent, is even worse, and too dispiriting to open on anything like a regular basis (about once a year keeps the brain in good shape).

To match the online capers of the tabloid section, the Fairfax press in its online presence has also gone down market. That's why the SMH - on their splash photo lead on the left hand side today - have Princess Mary putting on a show in Chicago, with photos and speculation she might be pregnant again. Some days you have to think Women's Day might be a more penetrating supplier of secrets, even if not of a state kind.

Hartigan doesn't break stride when he gives him and his band of brothers a good health tick.

In the main Australia has a vibrant, diverse, fair and responsible media. It is one reason why we want to be part of this rational, sensible debate about the kind of country we want Australia to be.

And it is one reason why newspapers in Australia are in such relatively good shape while their counterparts in the United States - which lack the courage and conviction that keeps readers coming back - are folding left, right and centre.

No we don't John. We have a newspaper game controlled by a couple of big players. A diverse set of titles doesn't mean diversity. How many people do you think manage to read City Hub?Well in Sydney, a city heading to four million, there's just it, the Herald, The Australian and the Telegraph. And a bunch of suburban rags, again largely owned by the main players, and let's not forget the throwaway Murdoch rag Mx, which can usually fill up five minutes in a half hour train journey. 

It's not a diversity, it's a lock down.

Vibrant? Well I guess Pauline Hanson photos are vibrant in their own way. Fair and responsible? See Pauline Hanson photos.

The Sunday Terror just shot your argument to pieces, and if you think that somehow newspapers here are going to avoid the contagion infecting newspapers in the United States, on the specious grounds of courage and conviction, think again. 

It's actually about new delivery mechanisms and new ways of interacting with consumers, and if you don't start getting it right here soon, when real broadband comes along, hard copy media will die like the dinosaurs and electronic competitors like a local Huffington Post will be nailing your business model to the floor with a cheap and dirty operation. (And then Crikey might also come into its own).

Way way back when, the world didn't see a need for newspapers, and that was before television, radio, and now the internet's capacity to deliver digital files in a flash - including all those nasty links that Conroy and ACMA sought to suppress, and which didn't end up in a hardcopy newspaper but ended up on a leaks site dedicated to the kind of whistle blowing and openness to government you're rabbiting on about. Mounted on the other side of the world ...

The old ways are rapidly changing, and along with the old ways you need to get rid of, self congratulation should be the second thing to be tossed out the window.

There's only one media organization that can hold its head up this week, and that's Media Watch, for the roasting it gave the disgraceful Terror and its nudie pics.

Yet The Australian has carried on a feud with Media Watch for years for its entirely reasonable scrutiny of the media in Australia, and especially the always righteous, always right leaning, always indignant poo bahs at The Australian

Who will guard the guardians,  who will police the police, and above all who will provide the hard copy to correct the tendencies of arrogant and righteous journos who think they're on a mission from god when way too often they're just on a mission to sell fish and chip wrapping?(Given that one time really useful "under the lino work" for day old newspapers is now largely a thing of the past).

Sort out the schizophrenia, explain just how and why anybody should take a single word written for the Terror and the Hun seriously, and then people will start to take seriously talk of responsible media in this country.

Until then, lay off the sanctimonious stuff, and let's just watch the explosive secrets unveiled on a nightly basis in Today Tonight and A Current Affair in peace.


Juan Moment said...

Love your style...Great blog!

dorothy parker said...

thanks dude, I see you're active at
and an animal farm lover like me. They chant 'go mules' at Warrensburg MO but I'm with you, 'go pigs!'