30 September, 2011

The Only Thing Worse than Being Talked About

In his screed of self-justification yesterday (you can find it yourself if you want to), Andrew Bolt referred to two years of worry over his court case which was settled this week.  Forgive me if I’m not convinced.  In the end, Bolt and his employers couldn’t lose.

If the decision had gone the other way, the Hun would still have given him the front page, only it would have been to praise a victory for free speech rather than decrying a blow for it.  Sales would have been exactly the same.  People who read Bolt are going to read Bolt no matter what he’s writing about. 

If Bolt or News Ltd had really been worried, they would have quietly settled out of court, added confidentiality clauses and found something else to write about.  Instead, they played it out under the guise of taking a stand on principle.  In reality, whether he’s a champion or a martyr for free speech, it keeps Bolt and the papers he’s published in visible, notable and talked about.  As we all know, the one thing worse than being talked about, is not being talked about.

This story will be dragged out for a few more weeks, and then Bolt will most likely try to get taken to court for something else.  That will keep him as the centre of attention and save him, his colleagues and even his competitors from the drudgery of writing about anything that might resemble news.

Just like their banner says:


Andrew Bolt is Not a Journalist

Much has been written and said – and much more will be – about the Andrew Bolt verdict this week and how it pertains to free speech.  I have already written several times about how the right to free speech does not entitle you to be published or paid for it, or give you immunity from the consequences of exercising that right.  I see no reason to restate that point with fresh examples.  As to whether the law he was sued under is an ass, I will leave that to people who are more learned and passionate on the subject than I am.* 

What I take issue with is the way Andrew Bolt is frequently referred to as a journalist.  He is not.

Journalists break stories.  The closest Andrew Bolt has come to breaking a story in recent memory was dropping a teaser about having a story that would force Julia Gillard to resign, and then throwing a hissy fit (again, related to free speech) when the story he was (presumably) referring to had to be quickly pulled on the grounds that it wasn’t true.  What kind of country are we living in when you’re stopped from publishing a story just because it isn’t true?

Andrew Bolt makes more new than he reports.  Like an Australian Ann Coulter (a comparison he would probably consider a compliment) he makes a career out of saying increasingly outlandish things and then cries about censorship whenever he is called out on that outlandishness.  That’s not journalism.

Journalists report the news.  It could be an impending political scandal, a war, a traffic accident or a cat stuck up a tree – you just never know.  Journalism is more than staying in your office, doing all your research on Google, writing a daily “Here’s what I reckon about that” column, and posting photos that readers have taken through their windows on your ’blog.

I am not saying Andrew Bolt has never been a journalist.  I know that when he first got his job at the Herald Sun, it was as a journalist.  I don’t doubt that he has some journalistic blood.  I know he chooses to identify as a journalist.  I am saying that what he does now, is not journalism.

“But Bill, you’re not a journalist.  Who are you to say who is a journalist and who isn’t?”

No, I’m not a journalist.  I never have been one and most likely never will be.
But I reckon I know one when I see one.  And I reckon I’m at least as qualified to decide who should or shouldn’t be called a journalist as Andrew Bolt is to decide who should and shouldn’t be called Aboriginal.
That’s free speech for ya!

* My pick of the commentary on the case:
David Marr: "In black and white, Andrew Bolt trifled with the facts"
Jonathan Holmes: "Bolt, Bromberg and a profoundly disturbing judgement"
Michael Gawenda: "Bolt's columns did not deserve to see the light of day. End of story"
Mike Carlton: "Nuts come out after the truth has bolted"

24 September, 2011

The Message We Are Sending

The interception of two more boats of asylum seekers off Christmas Island this week had Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott blaming each other for the arrivals.  Predictably enough, each of them claimed the other had sent a message to people-smugglers that Australia is open to them.  I honestly can’t be bothered delving into the logic of either position except to say that it beggars belief that the utterances of either leader has a direct influence on people’s willingness to risk everything to flee their country of origin, or those who would take advantage of such desperation.

What I will say is that if we’re really concerned about the message we send overseas, we need to look a bit higher than the daily partisan bickering for domestic consumption.

For those who’ve come across the seas
We’ve boundless plains to share;
With courage let us all combine
To Advance Australia Fair.

I guess there’s a reason we never sing the second verse.

14 September, 2011

Whither Satire?

Tom Lehrer once said that he gave up satire after Henry Kissinger won the Nobel Peace Prize, declaring the profession redundant after that.  It’s tempting to suggest that political satire is redundant in Australia too.  We have a government that offers no leadership and an opposition that offers no alternative.  In these most laughable times, there’s no-one on television specifically making an act out of saying how laughable it is.  Perhaps there should be.

When talking of television political satire, it’s impossible not to mention The Gillies Report in the nid-80s, but there has also been the most excellent BackBerner around the turn of the century.  Right now, there’s bugger all.  All we have that approaches satire are the 7PM Project, At Home with Julia and The Gruen Transfer – and they all approach satire very timidly.

The 7PM project started out as an attempt at a local version of The Daily Show, but they stuffed up in trying to mix in actual news.  So we had, “Here’s a news headline.  And here’s a joke about it.  Here’s another news headline.  And here’s another joke.  Here’s another news headline.  Ooh, there’s nothing funny about that – let’s look uncomfortable and move on.”  Then they gave a platform to right-wing trolls like Steve Price and Andrew Bolt, brought on as their “serious” analysts and now 7PM is basically an info-tainment program.  But the host doesn’t shave – ooh, they’re just so edgy!

The point 7PM missed is that The Daily Show does more serious commentary by staying true to their mission of being a comedy program rather than trying to go half way to being serious.  The one thing I dislike about the Daily Show is that they still call it fake news.  It’s not.  The news is real.  The difference is that being a comedy program the Daily Show gets to take something that’s really stupid and say, “Hey, that’s really stupid!”

At Home With Julia buries the occasional satirical observation so deep inside a painfully unfunny sitcom that it’s not worth waiting for, and the Gruen Transfer tells us all how we’re being lied to while praising the cleverness of those lies.  There has also been the Chaser, but too often they tarnish their brand by going for the “OMG! I can’t believe you just did that,” laughs.  The only place we have for actual, literate satire is the perennial Clarke and Dawe.

While this is going on, supposedly serious programs are leaving it to the audience to make their own jokes.  Q and A has given up on its “experiments in democracy,” and is instead going for just being good television (where “good television,” is a euphemism for an entertaining train wreck.  Most of the guests are commentators more than anyone involved in policy, the questions are mostly grandstanding and the on-screen tweets are mostly bad jokes and attention-seekers.  (Yes, I am as guilty of this as anyone else).

With so much of politics and analysis allowing casual observers to make their own jokes, I for one am beginning to miss informed, well crafted satire.

04 September, 2011

Why Books Are Better Than Kindle*

*or Kobo, or Nook, or iPad, or any other kind of e-reader

  1. If you lose one, you’ve only lost one.
  2. You can loan a book to a friend.
  3. Or you can borrow one.
  4. You don’t have to turn it off when your flight is taking off or landing.
  5. Others can see what you’re reading.  You might make a new friend based on a common interest.
  6. You can impress your date with the type of books on your shelves.  Or, you can see what your date is interested in by their shelves.  Both excellent conversation starters.
  7. You can take old books that you no longer want to a book exchange to trade for new books, or at least new-to-you books.
  8. Or you can donate them to libraries or charity shops so they can continue to do good after you’re finished with them.
  9. Or you can leave them somewhere for others to pick up.
  10. A book can be signed by the author.
  11. Books can appreciate in value.  Ever seen a bidding war for a version-1 pdf?
  12. The battery never runs out.
  13. Books weather and age.  A book can tell a story quite apart from what is written in it.
  14. You can write a dedication in a book you give as a gift.
  15. They have page numbers.
  16. You can throw a bad book across the room, out the window or up a creek with minimal damage.
  17. You can tell when a book has been read and how much it has been returned to.
  18. Books can be beautiful.
  19. Books are biodegradable.
  20. You can use cool bookmarks.
  21. You can highlight passages or make notes by whatever means suit you.
  22. Books are compatible with anything.
  23. No DRM.
  24. Books smell awesome.
  25. Books make a house feel like a home.
  26. Books have different fonts.
  27. A well-loved book will naturally fall open at your favourite part.
  28. A cookbook can be open in the kitchen with minimal risk of damage from spatter.
  29. If you buy a book from one store, you can still books from other stores.
  30. Books come with their own customised dust jacket at no extra charge.
  31. Paper is not a proprietary format.
  32. You don’t have to worry that a newer, better version will come out next year.
  33. Books aren’t printed in Chinese sweatshops. (yet)
  34. Books don’t crash or need their OS updated.
  35. Once you own a book, you own it. The store can’t take it off your shelf when the licencing arrangements change.
  36. Books don’t automatically update when you don’t want them to.
  37. Bookshelves are works of art.
  38. Books are tactile.
  39. Books don’t need protection. They’re either flexible enough to take a bit of bending or hard enough to resist it.
  40. Instant on.

Update: John Carney has written a very witty response here:  http://johncarney.posterous.com/68424958 

02 September, 2011

How to Manufacture a Leadership Crisis

Speculation is mounting about the future of the prime minister’s leadership.
This will always be true.  There mere act of saying so automatically increases speculation.

[Question to frontbencher]
Is it true that there is dissatisfaction amongst the parliamentary party with the prime minister’s leadership?
No, I am not aware of any such dissatisfaction.  We are all completely behind the prime minister.
They deny it.  It must be true.

[Question to deputy leader]
Have you been approached to challenge the prime minister for the leadership?
No, I have not.
He denies it.  It must be true!

Now that the questions have been asked, the natural paranoia and ambition of politicians takes over.  The prime minister checks to see if there really is a challenge in the offing.  So does the deputy leader.  The party, having read of leadership speculation in the papers, assumes it must be what people are thinking about and begin to wonder whether they should question the prime minister’s leadership. 

The only thing that is really up to the party is whether the prime minister calls a spill to consolidate the leadership or the party puts up a challenger having read of widespread speculation and dissatisfaction. 

A spill is called.

As first reported in these pages two weeks ago, there is a challenge to the prime minister’s leadership.

The prime minister is either re-elected or replaced.

We told you so!  But the tightness of the result means the new/old leader is still in a vulnerable position.

Repeat any time you’re bored or when policy is too complicated to bother with.  Remember: keep it simple, stupid.