JG Estiot is the President of TELNEM, a media-watch group based in Melbourne, Australia. His weekly column below is posted every Monday by 9pm and reflects on news coverage from the preceding week. Unless otherwise specified, his comments are based on the daily monitoring of ABC, Nine and Seven TV news in Victoria. JG is not a member of a political party, special interest group, sporting or professional association other than TELNEM.
Timor conference: aborted coverage
The Bryant trial: beating up an anti-climax
More to Clinton's visit than patting kangaroos
The visit of Bill and Hilary Clinton to Australia started the news week off on a high note. The media contingent following the Clintons was in a relaxed mood. All was set for the round of golf, the kangaroo patting and the koala cuddling. Australia, the cultural satellite of the US, had laid the red carpet for His Excellency the King of democracy.
The Seven network was not about to spoil the "meet
and greet" party by broadcasting the news the champions
of democracy had vetoed a 14 to 1 vote to re-appoint the UN Secretary
General, and were threatening to strangle the UN financially.
This week was to be a US positive week and no negatives
would sneak in.
The hacks were following the Clintons just about
everywhere. The reporting matched the occasion and throughout
the week, descriptive narration prevailed. In one report, Michael
Asher (Nine) gave the following facts in succession:
No doubt about it. It is factual. His report continued in this fashion until most of his audience collapsed, the victims of a subliminally transmitted lobotomy.
Bill Clinton was using his Australian trip as a breather after an exhausting election campaign, and the media appeared to be doing the same. A few got caught napping when President Clinton sneaked some real juice into a seemingly innocuous postcard from Australia kind of speech.
Whilst in Port Douglas, President Clinton said: "I
call upon the community of nations to agree to legally binding
commitments to fight climate change." This was more
than a general purpose statement on global warming. It related
to Australia's stance during a UN climate conference in Geneva
last July. At the time, Australia found itself compromising its
high-profile on the environment for the sake of protecting the
coal industry. So soon after a long campaign against French nuclear
testing, Australia and New-Zealand stood alone and were widely
criticised by a united world. The two countries were the only
OECD nations to vote against legally binding targets on greenhouse
emissions. In other words, Australia is not the environment
champion it claims to be but actively seeks to obstruct world-wide
measures to fight pollution.
Reporting the Bill Clinton's speech, Nine News rightly
established the connection between Clinton's statement and the
events which unfolded during the Geneva conference. This is amusing
because at the time, only the ABC and SBS gave any coverage to
the conference. I assumed back then that the commercial stations
were muzzled by interests related to the mining industry.
Seven completely missed the boat and passed
Clinton's sting off as a call for a join Australian-American strategy
to combat global warming. This deceitful angle to the speech portrayed
Australia and America as working hand in hand towards the same
goal, when in reality, there are on a collision course. Seven
avoided the above quote and chose instead a less pointed part
of Clinton's speech: "A greenhouse may be a good place
to raise plants but it is no place to nurture our children"
Clearly, Seven removed all context potentially pitting Australia
and America against each other. The mentors had written the script
and no fact was to get in the way.
Fact: Nine spent 30 seconds on the reporting and analysis of Bill Clinton's speech on global warming, the ABC used 2 minutes and 10 seconds and Seven a total of 20 seconds.
Timor conference: aborted coverage
On the 10th of November, activists holding a Timor conference in Kuala Lumpur were arrested, detained and deported by the Malaysian authorities. The conference had been declared illegal by the authorities and a swift rounding-up operation followed. An ABC journalist was caught in the middle and was arrested with the others. This made the news on all stations. The next day, the return to Australia of some of the activists also made the news. By then the media had involved Prime Minister John Howard who, invoking the illegality of the gathering, did not offer much sympathy to the deportees.
A few days later (16th of November) the Malaysian High Court declared that the Timor meeting was legal. This announcement was important and, if reported, would have significantly changed public perception. The organisers of the conference would no longer be the single-minded people who went ahead despite the risks. The boot would have been on the other foot and the Malaysian authorities would have had a little explaining to do.
The Seven news covered everything up to that point,
but somehow did not find the High Court decision newsworthy. Such
disturbing and repeated failures are common on Seven. TV news
viewers expect continuity in coverage. If something is considered
newsworthy in the first place, reports should continue for as
long as important related events occur.
Malaysian Prime Minister Dr Mahatir is not exactly impressed with the Australian media. On Sunday, he called them "congenital liars" and "incapable of telling the truth." The "State-briefed" media in his country did not have to tell lies. They did not report the incident at all. Will the Australian media take up the challenge and get stuck into Mahatir? After all, suggesting the Australian media have an hereditary or genetically inherited tendency to lie could be interpreted as a racist statement.
Since the build-up to the start of the APEC summit, we have had a daily serving of racial controversy in the news. This, it seems, is a neurotic ping-pong game between the Australian and Asian media. In official diplomatic or business circles, the "racial thing" does not even rate a mention.
The Bryant trial: beating up an anti-climax
Once Martin Bryant pleaded guilty to all charges, the trial became a formality. All media hype should have vanished. It didn't. Stopping the steam-rolling action of a well-oiled freak show seems to be as hard as bringing a tanker to a halt. The course was set and the coverage had been orchestrated weeks in advance.
I am not suggesting the verdict and post-trial reactions
from victims and families should have been bypassed. It is all
newsworthy. But was there a need for page upon page in the press,
and hours of air-time on radio and television? For some, it seems
the main game was to justify the expense of sending crews to Tasmania
(or to use a word Ray Martin has worn out this week, Tassie)
The Seven Network sent high-profile newsreader David
Johnston to Tasmania. What for? He appeared live on-camera for
a grand total of 2 minutes and four seconds. He stood in front
of some dull building reading from the autocue. He could have
been in Rio or Paris, it would have made no difference at all.
This farcical live act reached its low point when sports
presenter Tim Watson read the lotto results in Melbourne, handed
over to David Johnston in Tasmania who threw back to Melbourne
for a commercial break. This live thing is a gimmick. It is about
splashing promos and building people's expectations. It is
a make-believe game. The gullible would think that because
the news bulletin is coming live from a location, something extra
will come of it. Nothing happened, they did not even bother to
have a guest or co-host live on the set. The Tasmanian junket
must have cost thousands of dollars. In the end, one way or another,
the consumer has to pay for it.
Fact: Channel Seven has covered almost twice as much of the Bryant trial in its nightly news as any other station.
Malcolm Long, the SBS managing director who last week categorically denied the allegations made by the Nine Network program Sunday, has made a huge back-flip this week. After claiming none of the facts presented by Nine were true, he spent much of the week wiping the eggs off his face.
Nine produced footage of Long contradicting himself.
His videotaped statement to the Senate Estimate Committee confirmed
that SBS funding had gone up in real terms. The audience decline
in most of SBS top programs was also demonstrated by Nine, even
with the dubious audience reach method used by SBS to inflate
its ratings. The list of allegations substantially proven by
Nine is quite long. To prove some of them was as easy as using
figures published in the SBS annual report.
If a politician had mislead the public half as much Malcolm Long did, he would have resigned a week ago. This is still be the best way out for Mr. Long.