Censorship, guns and the right to arm bears

 

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This image is classified (S) for satire under FOMM’s censorship guidelines

I was idly wondering if I should have a go at George Christensen for pulling that silly, anti-greenies gun stunt at the firing range but self censorship kicked in. What if he knows where I live? I blanched. The process known in journalism school as ‘self censorship by osmosis’ still kicks in, even 18 years down the track.

You may have assumed I was about to jump into the very deep pool of acrimonious discourse about mass shootings, guns and gun control. Actually, no, there are enough rabid views out there from one side and the other. Perhaps you will have seen Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young’s repost of the kind of vile trolling one can attract by advocating for the environment (if not, don’t bother looking it up – Ed.)

Instead, I thought we should look at a worrisome instance of censorship; where a respected economic analyst/journalist had an article taken down by the national broadcaster, the ABC. Emma Alberice’s reasoned piece about corporate tax cuts was removed by ABC management, reportedly after complaints from on high about its alleged lack of impartiality. Alberice’s article argues there is no case for a corporate tax cut when one in five of Australia’s top companies don’t pay any tax.

After public criticism, the ABC deflected cries of ‘censorship’ saying removing the analysis and an accompanying news story were ‘entirely due to concerns about Ms Alberici’s compliance with ABC editorial policies that differentiate analysis from opinion’.

The analysis has since been scrutinised by experts and given the seal of approval. It has even been re-posted at a public affairs website owned by the eminent Australian, John Menadue, AO. You may recall Menadue. He started his working life as private secretary to Gough Whitlam (1960-67), before forging a career in the private sector then returning to public service in the mid-1970s. He has since led a distinguished career in both public and private life, most notably as an Australian diplomat.

Mr Denmore, one of Australia’s more incisive commentators on media and economics, wrote this in Alberici’s defence:

Mr Denmore (the pseuydonym of a former finance journalist), sees this issue as plain old-fashioned censorship.

He concludes that Alberice was merely offering insights, which have got the nod from some serious-headed economists, as ‘uncomfortable truths’, which those in high government office and boardrooms found too confronting.

Now, a week later, the ABC has reinstated* Emma Alberici’s analysis, albeit with some passages removed. As former ABC journalist Quentin Dempster reported in The New Daily, the author and her lawyers negotiated an agreed form of words for the reposted analysis.

The removal of Alberici’s original analysis coincided with a planned US visit by a high-level delegation of Australian business and government leaders.  The latest advocate of global  of ‘trickle-down economics’,+ President Donald Trump, will meet with PM Malcolm Turnbull today. No doubt Mal will be taking notes on the US president’s ‘open for business’ approach of slashing corporate tax rates from 35% to 21%. Australia’s more modest proposal, which is currently blocked in the Senate, is to reduce the corporate tax rate from 30% to 25%, over a decade.

+A term attributed to American comedian Will Rogers, who used the term derisively, as did later opponents of President Reagan’s ‘Reaganomics’.

The nation’s top business leaders, under the umbrella of the Business Council of Australia, will also meet with US governors and top-level US company executives. Australian State Premiers, including Queensland’s Annastasia Palaszczuk, will also attend.

Business Council head Jennifer Westacott told the Sydney Morning Herald she feels that Australian business is “in the weeds of politics” and

“Meanwhile in the US they’re getting on with it.”

Westacott and Council members support the Australian corporate tax cut proposal as the only policy that can deliver jobs and growth.

Opposition leader Bill Shorten is taking the hard line – a corporate tax cut cannot help ordinary people, at a time when companies are using tax havens and keeping wages low. Shadow Treasurer Chris Bowen admits there is a case for company tax cuts, but said the LNP’s plan is unaffordable when the budget is in deficit.

The attempt to gag debate on this subject is, however, more worrying than the toadying going on in Washington. Australia ranks 19th in an international survey of countries judged on press freedoms. Reporters without Borders (RSF) maintains the list of 180 countries, many of whom oppress the media in far more serious ways than plain old censorship.

Australian media freedoms pursued by stealth

At first glance, 19th from 180 sounds good, but Australia has some issues, not the least of which is concentration of media ownership. The risk of self censorship is high, given the lack of job opportunities elsewhere. The 2017 survey notes that new laws in 2015 provide for prison sentences for whistleblowers who disclose information about defence matters, conditions in refugee centres or operations by the Australian Security Intelligence Organization.

I sometimes fret about a FOMM I wrote before these laws were introduced – an eyewitness account of US Marine movements after a chance encounter at a Northern Territory roadhouse.

“Aw shucks, we all just stopped to use the latrine, Ma’am.”

There’s more: a new telecommunications law has opened the door for surveillance of the metadata of journalists’ communications. Federal police raids on Labor Party parliamentarians in 2016 violated the confidentiality of sources. The Reporters without Borders report says the latter showed that authorities were “more concerned about silencing the messengers than addressing the issues of concern to the public that had been raised by their revelations”.

Meanwhile, a new draft national security bill seeks to restrict foreign interference in politics and national security. It contains secrecy and espionage provisions that could result in journalists being sent to prison for five years just for being in possession of sensitive information.

Daniel Bastard, the head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk, called the draft bill “oppressive and ill-conceived”.

“If this bill were passed, journalists receiving sensitive information they had not sought would automatically be in violation of the law. If this law had existed in the United States in 1974, the Watergate scandal would never have come to light.”

The free-wheeling nature of social media ensures that dissenting discourse does not stay banned for very long, though often exposed to a much smaller audience.

You may censor me, but never my T-shirts

I suppose now you want me to explain the relevance of the Right to Arm Bears T-shirt, eh? This now threadbare item was bought from a tourist shop on the Canadian side of Niagara Falls in 2010. I have been trying to find and purchase a replacement online. The manufacturer (Gildan) has similar T-shirts but none as fetching as the grumpy-looking bears wearing hunting jackets.

Wearing a shirt that makes a political point, however ironically, is an individual’s right in a free country to express an opinion. In my case it succinctly states my position on American gun laws, just as another T-shirt bought from a stall at Woodford, depicting a full-masted, 17th century sailboat (”Boat People”) says a lot about my attitude to refugees. Perhaps I should replace it with a Save the ABC shirt. Seems like the ABC needs all the friends it can find.

*Read Emma Alberici’s revised analysis here:

More on press freedom.

Many issues in unwinnable Queensland election

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Election special: Photo of old Maleny police station by Bob Wilson

In the interests of better community policing and the fact she had just called an election, Queensland Premier Anastasia Palaszczuk made an unequivocal promise.

The Premier, who somewhere in the Courier-Mail’s Monday election coverage recalls winning a Grade Nine competition to ‘help police fight crime’, made a commitment to hire an extra 400 police officers over the next four years. Based on a First Year Constable’s salary (including shift allowances) of $70,820, that’s a $28.32 million promise

We back our police with the resources they want, the powers they need and the pay they deserve,” she told the ABC last Sunday.

Crikey, they ought to send a couple up the hill here to Maleny, where the new $2 million police station in Macadamia Drive (staffed by four police officers), has a roaming brief to cover an area from Maleny out to Palmwoods, Beerwah, Conondale and Kenilworth.

Ms Palaszczuk’s election promise to hire more police comes a week before the 1950s-style police station in Maleny’s main street is sold at auction. The 2,344sqm property, which is zoned Community Facilities, includes an office/police station and a residence but excludes a separate lock-up.

On my calculations, this sale alone should provide the Queensland Police Service with enough money to pay the salaries of an extra 21 police officers (over four years).

Against my better judgement, I bought the election special edition of The Courier-Mail on Monday after a three-year hiatus, prompted by a series of inflammatory, misleading and discriminatory front pages. Monday’s page one was no less lurid, presenting unflattering caricatures of the three main party leaders.

I worked there in the broadsheet days, pre-tabloid, pre-redundancies, pre-online editions, four editors ago. No regrets, Coyote, as Joni would say. I entered my 70th year on Monday, BP 120/80, feeling OK and supremely relieved I had no part to play in the CM’s graphics-laden presentation of an unwinnable election.

The first two pages of the CM’s October 30 election special purport to sell us the idea they have the State’s media covered. In what amounts to a two-page ‘house ad’, the CM confirms what we already knew – Rupert Murdoch’s Queensland media empire owns almost all of the print media titles. So yes, they have it covered, but you’d expect the coverage to be suitably mainstream; about 9% of the eleven-page election coverage was set aside for stories about the Greens and how they hope to win three seats, including Deputy Premier Jackie’s Trad’s seat of South Brisbane. It appears (from vox pops interviews), that some people in West End will be voting Green because of over-development (apartments) in the inner city suburb.

The rest of the coverage focuses on the resurgence of One Nation, how Labor will suffer from its seemingly intractable position on the Adani coal mine (no mention that the LNP are all for it too), a token story about the Katter Party and proportional space for (most of) the party leaders to have their say.

So to the unwinnable election

There’s a fair chance no single party will emerge from the November 25 poll with a workable majority, so in this sense it is unwinnable.

Crikey’s Perth-based election analyst, Poll Bludger, quoted ReachTEL polling figures from September showing the LNP with a 52-48 lead on primary votes. One Nation was polling at 19.5% and Greens at 8.1%.

An earlier Newspoll had Labor on 37% and the LNP on 34%. Some of you might take this to mean that the two parties will take 71% of the primary vote. This is roughly in line with election trends around the world where one in three people did not vote for one of the major parties. This leaves the unallocated 29% to be divided up between the Greens, One Nation, Independents, minor parties and the 2% of the electorate who cast informal votes.

The poll numbers, which focus only on primary votes, are not worth much in light of the return to compulsory preferential voting (CPV). To the uninitiated, this means numbering your preferred candidate 1 and then others in order of preference (meaning the party you like the least goes last). So if no single candidate has a clear majority, second preferences of the party that polled the least number of votes are counted until a winner emerges.

Many people do not understand preferential voting, so when handed a how-to-vote-card at the polling booth, they simply fill in the numbers as suggested (or number all candidates 1 to 6 consecutively, which is known as the “Donkey Vote.”)

An Australian Institute poll last year found that only 29% of respondents knew how to correctly fill in the (preferential) Senate ballot paper. So that is not a good sign for the re-introduction of compulsory preferential voting at this election. As Griffith University’s Paul Williams pointed out (in the CM), the Australian Electoral Commission is yet to conduct an information campaign to ensure CPV is clearly understood.

University of Melbourne honorary associate Adrian Beaumont has more to say about polling and CPV in The Conversation.

The Sydney Morning Herald suggested on Monday that the return of full preferential voting and new electoral boundaries could hand One Nation a balance of power role.

Enter stage right, former Senator Malcolm Roberts, booted out after a High Court decision found he had not renounced his British citizenship.

By challenging the seat of Ipswich for One Nation, Mr Roberts, best known for his climate change conspiracy theories, could attract enough LNP second preferences to win the seat, the article suggests. (I would go ‘aarrgghh’ at this stage but that would be editorialising).

ABC election analyst Antony Green told the SMH Roberts faced an uphill battle.

“It would be highly surprising if One Nation won there on first preferences, which would mean they would have to come from behind on LNP preferences,” he said.

Ipswich West was more likely to fall to One Nation, he said, adding that One Nation also had a good chance of winning the neighbouring seat of Lockyer.

Ipswich was where Pauline Hanson originally built her One Nation party in the 1990s. Should Roberts prevail, he is being tipped to lead One Nation in Queensland. What was that about the Lord Mayor’s show and the dust cart?

On latest polling, One Nation at 19.5% would seem to be in a strong position to win seats in Queensland and maybe also control the balance of power. A scary notion for some, but you have to give credit where it is due: Pauline Hanson has found the ear of disgruntled voters, much as Donald Trump wooed that endangered species US filmmaker Michael Moore called ‘angry white men’.

In Queensland, the angry, the poor and those who feel forgotten are listening and Hanson tells them what they want to hear.

There is only one certainty about the Queensland election, whoever cobbles together a coalition from this mess will have a mandated four years in which to rule – that’s 208 ‘Fridays on our minds’…#aarrgghh

In search of quality news

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Where I go to escape the news, fake or otherwise

Some of my Facebook friends have been on a search for quality news – and a way to divert Donald Trump stories and memes from their news feed. There was just too much analysis, too many suspect ‘news’ stories from unfamiliar sources and hundreds of derogatory memes which only serve to confirm readers’ biases.

Australian comedian and folk singer Martin Pearson had evidently had enough too. He shared an insightful infographic (see below) which makes plain where media outlets sit in terms of quality news and partisanship. Pearson shared Vanessa Otero’s media infographic with a plea to his 1,520 friends to check the sources of news, especially if it is about Donald Trump:

“Please, you should all follow SNOPES on FB straight away; you get a good supply of reporter-checked news and fact-checked news straight to your page. And take a look at the info-graphic. If a news story confirms your bias, check its source.”

Vanessa Otero is a US patent attorney who enjoys snowboarding, reading, writing and observing communication patterns. Her infographic, originally posted on Twitter, was re-posted and shared so many times Otero went to her blog to explain in detail the reasoning and methodology.

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News Infographic by Vanessa Otera (Creative Commons)

The infographic places media outlets on a chart which clearly suggests where the publication or electronic media outlet sit in terms of quality news and partisan bias. The ‘utter garbage/conspiracy theory’ news outlets, be they conservative or liberal (that is, left of centre), end up on the extremes of the chart, grouped as ‘don’t read this’ or ‘Just no’. I note with a chuckle Otero places local TV news, US Today and CNN (dressed in partisan blue), as ‘sensational or clickbait’, though apparently relatively unbiased, so earning the category – “better than not reading news at all”.

Otero writes: “I wanted to take the landscape of news sources that I was highly familiar with and put it into an easily digestible, visual format. I wanted it to be easily shareable, and more substantive than a meme, but less substantive than an article.”

That much worked – the infographic was shared 20,000 times on Facebook and viewed one million times on Imgur. Otero said this is evidence that she accomplished the goal of reaching people who hardly ever engage with lengthy editorials. And as she self-deprecatingly acknowledges, very few will read her “boring-ass article” about the methodology behind it.

“Many non/infrequent readers are quite bad at distinguishing between decent news sources and terrible news sources. I wanted to make this chart in the hopes that if non/infrequent readers saw it, they could use it to avoid trash.”

Otero has said that considering all feedback, she’d make some changes to future versions of the chart (like moving The Economist more to the centre).

Otero’s chart is no one-off, though. Business Insider cited the Pew Research Centre to compile an infographic on the most (and least), trustworthy media sources in AmericaThe most trusted news outlets, that is, purveyors of quality news, are British, topped by the BBC and The Economist.

Conversely, BuzzFeed and The Rush Limbaugh Show are at the bottom.

There’s a difference between trusted and most popular, however. Pew polled 3,000 Americans in a random sample to find that they get most of their news from local TV, Facebook, and major networks like CNN and Fox News.

Some Australians who reacted to Otero’s publication wanted to know when someone would do a similar exercise on the highly concentrated Australian media market.

I suspect an Australian version of the search for quality news would look quite different; less crowded and lack the dubious news sources which appear to flourish in the US. There have been attempts in recent years to loosen the stranglehold a handful of media companies hold over Australian media audiences. They include Crikey, The Monthly, the Saturday Paper, New Matilda and The Conversation, the latter a collaboration between academics and journalists. Whatever subject you wish to research has probably been turned over there at least once and if not, send them an email and suggest a topic.

In this article from December 2016, authors Tim Dwyer and Denis Muller explore the concentration of media ownership in Australia.

They cite market research firm IBISWorld’s findings that the industry’s four largest players, News Australia, Fairfax Media, Seven West Media and APN News and Media, accounted for more than 90% of industry revenue in 2015-16. A very small list of owners, notably News Australia and Fairfax Media, publish content that reaches the large majority of Australians.

Since then, 12 Queensland and NSW regional daily newspapers and 60+ non-dailies and 40+ websites were sold to News Corp for $36.6 million.  APN News and Media agreed to sell Australian Regional Media (ARM) last June (News was already a 14.9% shareholder). It was approved by the foreign investment and competition regulators in late December. For Queenslanders, this means that Rupert Murdoch’s News Ltd owns every substantial newspaper in the State, from the Cairns Post in the north to the Tweed Daily News in the south and the Toowoomba Chronicle in the west.  News also publishes Brisbane’s suburban weeklies.

Only the Fairfax-owned online newspaper, Brisbane Times, stands out as a daily voice of difference.

The latest iteration of newspaper monopoly in Queensland has received surprisingly little coverage or analysis − much less so than when Rupert Murdoch took over The Herald & Weekly Times group in 1987. That transaction delivered him ownership of every daily newspaper in Brisbane. The competition watchdog ruled that Murdoch must sell one of these to an ‘independent’ owner. So he kept the Courier-Mail, The Telegraph and Sunday Mail and sold the Daily Sun and Sunday Sun.

As for the ARM/News merger, The Australian quoted Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) chairman Rod Sims:

“The ACCC reviewed the acquisition very closely, as News and ARM are the two largest newspaper publishers in Queensland. However, feedback from readers raised very few concerns and suggested that there is not close competition between the paid daily Queensland papers published by News and ARM.”

Having said surprisingly little about this, the ABC’s Mediawatch made its 2017 return on Monday with a special on ‘Fake News,’ a term now so pervasive it has wormed its way into the Macquarie Dictionary (and FOMM).

As Mediawatch host Paul Barry said:

“Fake news is hardly a new phenomenon, nor is believing stuff that defies all evidence.

“But in a world where anyone can set up a website and so many are on social media, it can spread like wildfire. Almost 2 billion people log onto Facebook every month. And Facebook works by giving them the news they want.”

Craig Silverman of National Public Radio (NPR) said in December, fake news works because “we love to hear things that confirm what we think and what we feel and what we already believe.’

“It tells people exactly what they want to hear. It makes them feel very comforted and it gets them to react on the platform. And the platform sees that content does really well and Facebook feeds more of it to more people.

So as Martin Pearson advised, and I concur, be sceptical, subscribe to a source that fact checks (Snopes, The Conversation).

Above all, don’t immediately share something on Facebook or Twitter without reading first, thinking about it and doing some checking.

We can only hope that’ll happen…LOL

http://bobwords.com.au/elephant-captured-nullarbor-plain/

 

Speed dating with Stan

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Photo: Paul Townsend https://flic.kr/p/f9o9TQ

Sometime in December, I signed up for a one-month free trial with a streaming service, just to see how it measured up. A week later I was telling a young friend, “I’ve been speed dating Stan.”

He gave me that WTF look 30-somethings sometimes give their elders: “It’s called binge-watching, Dude.”

And so it is. If you succumb to the marvels of being able to stream TV drama to your mobile phone, iPad, laptop and now even to your big screen TV, you can watch anything, anytime, anywhere.

I rather quickly got caught up in the misadventures of one Walter White, a mild-mannered chemistry teacher who turns to making and dealing methamphetamine as a way of funding chemo for his newly diagnosed lung cancer.

An implausible premise, maybe, but that peerless actor Brian Cranston, as Walter, pulls it off, in each and every improbable episode. His dunderhead brother-in-law Hank, who works for the Drug Enforcement Administration, continues not to see the forest for the trees.

Binge-watching is an unhealthy past-time, though, earbuds in, snuggling into your bed at 7.30pm ready to watch back-to-back episodes of Game of Thrones, House of Cards or Breaking Bad. There is the potential to fragment the family unit more than ever before. Mum’s in the lounge watching catch-up TV episodes of Gardening Australia. Teenage son is downstairs watching who knows what, teenage daughter is Skyping her friends who are backpacking around Europe; Dad’s got his headphones on watching Trapped on his smart phone and Little Dan is playing X-Box in the rumpus room. It’s a long way from the nuclear family enjoying My Three Sons, The Munsters or Mr Ed on a black and white TV.

I rarely watch more than two episodes of Breaking Bad in a night and not every night, but I’m half-way through season two already.

“Have you got to the bath scene yet?” my son asked. Yes I had. And it confirmed the wisdom of my decision to watch this dark comedy alone, as She Who Has an Aversion to TV Violence would have puked.

Oops, I think that’s what they call a ‘spoiler’ in streaming TV circles. Any day now someone will form a covers band and call it The Bath Scene from Breaking Bad.*

Call me a late adaptor, but what drove me to engage with streaming TV was the appallingly sparse fare offered by free-to-air TV in December/January.

Stan’s free trial period expired fairly quickly. I knew this when $10 was deducted from my credit card. Oh sure, I knew they would do this unless I told them not to – but they could have emailed, sent a text?

“Dude, we see you’re a fan of Breaking Bad! Where’s our money, Yo!”

Streaming services offer great value to people who like watching a TV series from beginning to end. The other investment I made, in what amounts to creating in-house entertainment in a time devoid of quality TV programming, was to purchase Google’s Chromecast device. Apple, Amazon and others have their own version of a device which enables you to ‘cast’ a TV programme from your phone or iPad to the big screen at home. These gadgets are inexpensive for what they offer. But most households will have to buy a Wi-Fi extender to ensure the programmes stream and play without buffering or crashing.

If this is old technology, what’s next?

This is already old technology as most “Smart TVs” made after 2014 (obviously not ours), come with Stan and Netflix built-in. So with the variety of ways one can seek out TV content that is not free-to-air (and I have not even mentioned Torrens), commercial TV is seriously up against it. As an extra enticement, most streaming services, unlike Pay TV, can be watched ad free.

Harold Mitchell, chairman of Free TV Australia, launched a campaign in October 2016 lauding the industry’s 60 years of achievements, its 15 million audience reach, stressing how badly Australia needs free TV.

In AdNews, Mitchell defended free to air television, saying it invests more than $1.5 billion in local content, employing 15,000 people.

He warned that commercial TV’s investment in (local) content is under threat from unregulated digital media companies,

 “Australian licence fees are about three and a half times greater than in the next highest market, which is Singapore, and more than 115 times greater than in the United States.”

At its best, free TV offers live events like cricket tests, rugby union, rugby league, AFL and soccer matches, golf tournaments, the Australian Open, the NRL Grand Final, the Olympics, Winter Olympics and, whether it’s your thing or not, 24/7 news.  No matter how generally awful the evening programming is in the summer, if something dramatic happens anywhere in the world, you can be sure the ABC, SBS, 7, 9 and 10 will be right across it, instantly.

Nevertheless, if not for the Australian Open (tennis) or perhaps the Cricket, there would no incentive to turn the TV on in January. There are repeats, repeats of repeats, vapid soapies; Kevin McCloud’s bespoke TV shows about people spending copious sums fixing up falling down buildings, the ubiquitous cooking competitions, and a puzzling show where a man and a woman loll about on a bed in their underwear. I gather there is supposed to be ‘chemistry’. Walter White would give them an F.

A day to mourn dispossession & dispersal

Last night I flicked through TV news to see how Australia Day was portrayed. It was as you might imagine. Flags and more flags, sausages on the barbie, gumboot-throwing competitions, families at the beach, cars with flags fluttering from their windows. Some channels covered the protests in Melbourne, Brisbane and Sydney, the latter ‘erupting in violence’ as one person allegedly set fire to a flag. Tens of thousands gathered in capital cities, all calling for a change of date. Many indigenous people call it “Invasion Day” – the anniversary of the British First Fleet arriving in Australia.

Fremantle Council, despite bowing to pressure from Canberra to hold Citizenship ceremonies, has become a poster child for the #changethedate movement. Council plans to hold a “culturally inclusive” celebration on Saturday (despite WA Premier Barnett urging Councillors to “pull their heads in”.)

Overwhelmed by jingoism, we engaged the ‘casting’ device, which not only allows you to watch Stan or Netflix, but also catch up on ABC, SBS and commercial station programmes. So far we have watched Outback ER, an ABC reality TV doco set in Broken Hill. What does happen when you have a heart attack and you are 500 kms away from cardiac specialists?

We watched Concussion on Stan last night. At $10 a month and no advertising, Stan is a no-brainer option for a media consumer. It is dearer than free TV, certainly, but the options are seemingly limitless.

Meanwhile, I’ll probably have to sign up for Netflix as well, as I see there is a fourth (and maybe even a fifth) season of House of Cards in the wings. I figure I owe Netflix money as I watched all three series of House of Cards last year during my one-month trial (39 episodes).

Now that’s what I call speed dating!

*Cultural reference to a 1990s Melbourne band called The Shower Scene from Psycho.