11 August, 2010

Prime-Time Flame Wars

In addition to the battle between Labor and Liberal, this election campaign also has a side-skirmish – the battle between old and new media. Many proponents of 'new' media – that is, here on the intermanet – like to scoff at 'old' media's response to the new. Broadcast and print media doesn't really know what to make of news and analysis through 'blogging and social media. Many television news services have added segments to report on what's happening online, completely missing the point that if we wanted to see what was being discussed on Facebook, we'd check Facebook. We have the internet too. I always miss the Twitter comments that are displayed on the screen during Q and A, because I'm busy watching the Twitter stream online.

Even some of those from the press gallery who have embraced the immediacy of online networks are finding it difficult to adjust to. Every report of Mark Latham's stunts over the weekend had him "posing" as a journalist. This is not technically true. To say he was posing implies that he was there under false pretences. The truth is, he had accreditation, obtained for him by Channel 9 as a reporter for 60 Minutes. It is fair to say that Latham is only there to insert himself into the story. However, if using the campaign for career advancement and self-aggrandisement makes one a poser, then there are a few actual journalists who, through their use of social media, have revealed themselves to be posing just as much as Latham is.

The interesting twist today, is that television adopted an aspect of 'new media' that traditional outlets usually use as evidence of the internet's deficiencies. They started a flame-war. On Sunday evening, Laurie Oakes said it didn't speak well of 60 Minutes or Channel 9 that they would hire Latham and allow him to behave as he did. Latham used a live spot on Sky News to hit back at Oakes, implying he was a coward. Then on 9 News tonight, Oakes was given a free kick back at Latham. If they were on a forum, they would probably both have their accounts suspended for a week.

That much doesn't surprise me. What does surprise me is how people have praised Laurie Oakes for seeming to bite the hand that feeds. He has done nothing of the sort. Oh yes, it looks good to see Laurie criticising his own network - so good, that everyone watched it. Ker-ching! Oakes can take the high moral ground and call for Latham's sacking all he likes, but he wouldn't be able to talk about it if Nine hadn't hired Latham in the first place, and so long as Oakes keeps talking about Latham and bagging his bosses, we'll keep tuning in. Nine can't lose. The Laurie vs Latham spot was introduced on National Nine News with the headline that Latham continues to be a distraction to the campaign. And who gave him the power to be a distraction? Channel 9! And who is saying how bad it is? Channel 9! And where does Oakes deliver his rebuttals? Channel 9! Just wait for some other pundit to come out and call it great television. No matter what Laurie says, so long as he's talking about the Latham controversy and not boring policy stuff, he's vindicating Nine's decision to employ Latham.

Whether any of Latham's 'reports' ever go to air, Nine has won. If they sacked him right now, it would still mean they get the story and the ratings. If you're disgusted by this whole process, the only way to protest is to not watch Channel 9, regardless of what happens next. If and when they sack Mark Latham, they should be given all the praise that would befit someone who has finally decided to stop kicking puppies.


  1. What amazes me (though it shouldn't) is how oblivious people are to the commercial and political bias of 'mainstream' media. There's this passive acceptance that what's in the papers or on TV is important, unbiased reporting of the facts.

    The fact is most media are privately owned and their sole purpose is to create a profit for their owners. Money isn't in dry, unbiased, factual reporting. Money is in sensationalism, cherry-picking, ignoring details and reinforcing prejudices and stereotypes. People want their beliefs confirmed, not challenged.

    Then you can add media owners who try to manufacture public opinion to support their own (cue Rupert Murdoch and his media empire).

    The blogosphere provides a not-for-profit alternative (for the most part) where it is hard for bloggers to hide their allegiances. When reading a blog, the sympathies of the blogger (left/right/religious/green/etc) are often either disclosed or apparent so I can mentally filter what I read. Few pretend to be unbiased because nobody is. I get more critical analysis of issues from the blogosphere that I ever would from watching the TV.

  2. I've often suspected that Laurie Oakes is pulling for the Libs, but every once in a while he does something to make me think he might just want the next headline. He's certainly not above making himself the story, or making the story. The 6:30 current affairs shows are the television equivalent of the Herald Sun. And as I mentioned previously, 60 Minutes was so blatantly biased against Labor that I couldn't believe no-one mentioned it - especially when all the Libs start screaming about left-wing bias at the A.B friggin' C every time Kerry or Tony asks a question they can't answer.

    We all know Kerry was a Labor staffer, but I've never seen him give anyone a soft time of it, and what other network gives time to right-wing boofheads like Andrew Bolt and Piers Ackerman every week?

    I'm hesitant to credit 'bloggers with greater insight, but certainly during this election, 'blogs have had the best analysis, whether they be fully independent or on sites like Crikey or the Drum.