Archive for December, 2010

Julian Assange – media personality 2010

The Woolly Days media personality of 2010 is Julian Assange. Last year I called it the Australian media personality of the year and gave it to ABC boss Mark Scott. Assange is also Australian but his impact has gone well beyond his native shores and his name and reputation are now household names across the world.

With the possible exception of Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, no other person has dominated and indeed changed the media landscape with such effect this year. Assange’s choice of media weaponry, Wikileaks, has been in operation for four years scouring the underbelly of dodgy political and business dealings across the world and putting embarrassing documents onto the Internet for all to see and study. The resulting database was whistleblowing journalism blown out into international proportions and it and Assange were the centrepiece of Iceland’s plans to turn itself into a haven of investigative journalism.

Iceland’s plans revealed in February were the first hint that 2010 was to be a breakthrough year for Assange. Wikileaks took a quantum leap forward in international consciousness when it posted a video in April of US helicopter gunships killing civilian targets in Iraq. The helicopter pilots casually swap conversation before opening fire on what they believed to be military insurgents and who were in fact Reuters photographer Namir Noor-Eldeen and his driver Saeed Chmagh.

The footage entitled collateral murder was an overnight sensation and has received over 10 million hits via Youtube alone. Inscribed with the George Orwell dictum “political language is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and give the appearance of solidity to pure wind”, it immediately put the Pentagon on the back foot who launched a massive investigation to find the source of the leak while condemning Wikileaks in awkward language that tried to convey the heinousness of the crime while also reassuring it had no discernable impact.

On 6 July, the US charged 22-year-old private Bradley Manning with disclosing the video. By then, Manning had gotten his hands on even more devastating information. Manning was an intelligence agent for eight months in Baghdad where he got hold of 250,000 secret state department cables from more than 250 US embassies and consulates. Manning told a friend how he did it: “I would come in with music on a CD-RW labelled with something like ‘Lady Gaga’ … erase the music … then write a compressed split file. No one suspected a thing … [I] listened and lip-synched to Lady Gaga’s Telephone while exfiltrating possibly the largest data spillage in American history.” Manning uploaded the copies to Wikileaks where Assange now had to determine what to do with them. They decided on staged disclosure aimed at maximising political impact. They entered agreements with The Guardian, the New York Times, Le Monde, El Pais and Der Spiegel to spread the data in reputable newspapers.

The release was compared to Daniel Ellsberg’s Pentagon Papers to the New York Times and Washington Post in 1971 which outlines the US’s secret wars in Cambodia and Laos. Just as the then-Nixon administration was outraged by what it saw as a gross breach of national security, Barack Obama and his officials led the condemnation of the Wikileaks’ disclosures. Once again the denunciations had an implausible mixture of saying they were irresponsible while claiming they revealed nothing new.

Right-wing hardheads in the US called for Assange’s execution while Pentagon officials searched for criminal offences he may have committed. Assange’s own paranoid lifestyle helped turn him into media darling with his sex life getting as many column inches in the redtops as his whistleblowing. His sex life indeed is proving a weak link as he faces extradition charges to Sweden for rape. The issues his supporters face over these charges has led to an extraordinary campaign called “mooreandme” in which feminists are angry with Michael Moore and Keith Olbermann for the way they have downplayed the charges against Assange.

Meanwhile the US, its allies and sympathetic non-state actors has taken elaborate steps to try to take Wikileaks off the air. There have been denial of service attacks which forced Wikileaks to change its address. In reply, companies such as Paypal and Amazon have themselves been victim of hacking attacks in retaliation for suspending micropayments to the organisation. Yet Wikileaks has survived with multiple mirror sites and a grassroots campaign that has struck a chord with people across the world concerned about freedom of information.

Freedom of Information is a relatively new concept and it is not yet clear how much we want information to be free. As Clay Shirky notes human systems can’t stand pure transparency. In releasing all this information into the wild, Assange is challenge powerful notions of what it means to have secrets. He has turned the read-write-web into a powerful democratic tool though to what ends no-one can really tell yet.

Most importantly of all he has spawned a host of imitators that will ensure the work lives on even if Assange is incarcerated or worse. Copycat sites such as Indolinks (Indonesia), BrusselsLeaks (EU) and Balkanleaks (old Yugoslavia) have sprung up using modern technology to give muscle to the ancient grievance of the beans spiller. The biggest rival site Openleaks want to be exactly the same as Wikileaks but without “Assange’s autocratic behaviour, and [they] believe the rival site will be more democratically governed.” They make not like Assange personally but there is no better example that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

December 31, 2010 at 4:23 pm 1 comment

My day in the floods

For now you can call me the Western Star’s overseas reporter.

I had intended to drive back to Roma  on Monday after a very wet Christmas with friends in Maryborough. Normally it’s a fairly straightforward if dull 5 and a half hour drive of about 520km. But Monday was never going to be a straightforward day.


(photo: Jimbour Creek around midday Monday)

A quick squizz at a few Internet sites told me that. The Bureau of Meteorology told me there was a nasty storm cell heading my way from exactly the direction I was travelling. The Department of Main Roads told me the Wondai-Chinchilla road was closed as was the Warrego Highway near Chinchilla and in the town itself. I saw Charley’s Creek in Chinchilla on the drive over on the day before Christmas Eve and it was lapping the bridge. It was no surprise to hear it went over.

Yet knowing all this I set off in blind hope. Maybe the information is 24 hours old, I thought. Maybe it will be down by the time I get there, I rationalised optimistically. Maybe I could still get through via Tara or Condamine.

So I set off around 9.30am with extra provisions given to me by concerned friends and set off along the highway. The Bruce Highway south to Gympie was busy as always and I scuttled along at 80kph. I turned off at Bauple and headed towards Kilkevan and Goomeri where the traffic was less but the rains were now quite intense.
That was the first mistake. I should have continued down the Bruce and holed out at my place in Brisbane. My second mistake was not listening to the radio. I was playing music and oblivious to the gathering crisis ahead of me.

When I travelled about 250km to Wondai, I saw the first sign that said “water over the road”. The creek at the northern entrance to town had burst its banks and I carefully treaded my way through the centre of the road sending water flying in all directions. It would not be the last time I did this.

I saw the Chinchilla turn off and although there was no ‘road closed’ sign I didn’t want to risk it. It was 160km of nothing and I hated the thought of getting 100km or more and then having to turn back. So I took the detour via Kingaroy and Dalby. This would add about 80 to 100km to my journey but a safer option I thought. The rains continued to pummel down.

I got about 40km north of Dalby to the little town of Bell when my heart dropped. Without any warning the road to Dalby was closed. There was a right turn still open to Jimbour which I knew lay north of the Warrego Highway somewhere. So I started to drive to Jimbour. The fun started here. There were several creeks that had burst their banks and I had to gingerly tread my way through them. I got to the very edge of Jimbour where I saw the Jimbour Creek. It had burst its banks severely and was rushing over the bridge in dangerous looking fashion.

A 4WD came the other way and carefully crossed the bridge. The driver stopped and talk to me at the other side. “What do you reckon my chances are?” I said.
“I wouldn’t do it in that little rocket,” he said with a sideways glance at my tiny Kia Rio car.
“Any other way through?”
“Nope, apart from the road back to Bell and that won’t be open much longer,” he answered.
He went on and I got out to chance the creek on foot. It was, as he said, too dangerous for my “rocket”. I hurriedly got back in the car and drove the hazardous route back to Bell. I stopped in the pub and asked them what was the story with the closed road to Dalby.
“I came up there a half hour ago,” one woman told me.
“But it was in a 4WD.”
Another said I would be alright if I could get past Cattle Creek 5km south of down.
“If you can see the cement on the bridge, it is still safe to cross.”
“But I’d do it now if I were you, it’s still rising.”

So, I decided to chance it. I crossed the “road closed” sign, breaking the law in the process as I later realised. If a cop saw me on the other side, they were perfectly entitled to give me a ticket – something I was unaware of in the morning.
I got to Cattle Creek and had to cross the most dangerous stretch of water yet. The bridge itself – and its cement – was still visible but the water had cross across in a different spot and it was more hazardous than anything I had encountered on the Jimbour Road. Once I got across I gave a whoop of delight. Now it would be plain sailing to Dalby. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

There were several more burst creeks to contend with and the closer I got to Dalby the worse they were. Once particularly long stretch had my heart in my mouth as the car bobbed from side to side but luckily I didn’t stall. I had gotten within 5km of Dalby and though I had made it when I saw the tall mast on the northern edge of town. The signs weren’t encouraging though as the fields on both sides of the road were turned into lakes. Finally I got to a point where a convoy of cars was stopped ahead of me.
I got out to take a look. It wasn’t a creek crossing but simply a place where the raging waters burst over the road and on to the field on the other side. There was no height marker but a bent post had scared the drivers ahead (also in 2WD vehicles) enough to stop. I got out to walk across. The water came up to my knees and beyond. Worse still was a very strong current that wanted to pull me into the field. I agreed with the other drivers this was the end of the line.
One had already called a tow truck and when it arrived the driver told us there was at least three or four such crossings still to go.

“And one of them is even worse than this one,” the truckie said.
Immediately the other three of us in line asked to be towed as soon as he could come back. It would cost $120 but worth every penny as I didn’t want to be in these rising waters a minute longer than necessary. We watched as a parade of 4WDs made the crossing. One 2WD came up behind us and made as if he was going to give it a go. We all watched intently sure he would be dragged off in the field. At the last moment, he must have realised this too and pulled out.

We spent an hour or two in an agonizing slow wait for the truck while the islands of road receded as the oceans of water rose.
While waiting for the truck, I went back to my car and turned on ABC local radio. The news was unrelentingly bad. Dalby was cut off in all directions. Chinchilla Creek was still rising. England were smashing the Aussies in the cricket in faraway Melbourne where miraculously it wasn’t raining.

(photo: the end of the line 5km north of Dalby yesterday)

It was clear I would be spending the night in Dalby. Then I heard something that made me change my mind. The radio said Myall Creek in Dalby was still rising and expected to peak at 11pm. There was talk of evacuations. What I thought, was the point of spending the night in Dalby if I was going to be washed away. Maybe I should try and get back to Brisbane via Kingaroy. At least I would have a dry bed for the night.

I canvassed this idea with the others. They all thought this was silly.
“In any case the Nanango is cut off the other side of Kingaroy,” someone said.
Undeterred I asked the latest arrival, “Can you get still back to Bell?”
“just about,” I was told laconically.

So I hopped back in the car and did a u-turn and started to drive north again.
The creeks I had passed were getting more swollen. I passed through two very dangerous ones heart in mouth and car in first gear revving slowly through the waters. Third time unlucky, I stalled.

I jumped out of the car and game pushed the car out of the flooded creek. Water sloshed all around me and by fierce effort and pumping adrenalin I succeeded in pushing the car back on to dry land. The floor of the car was soaking wet, my thongs had disappeared into the floodwaters. I was stuck and on a closed road, far from help in any direction. I cursed my impetuous change of plan.

I could see another flooded stretch about 400m ahead and decided to push the car onwards to get to the other side of that. I would have pushed my car about a kilometre in total. I was totally stuffed at the end and the car still would not start. A couple in a 4WD gave me a spray to dry off the motor. They also told me there was further dangers ahead.

“How is the Cattle Creek?” I asked
“You won’t make that, there is a creek up to .4m down the road,” they said.
I was resigned to a night in the middle of nowhere surrounded by rising waters.
After starting the car about a million times, it miraculously revved into life on the million and first go. I cheered up and started north again. I got to the .4m crossing – I could see the measure and they weren’t lying. But I trudged through it anyway. Amazingly I made it through.

Just the Cattle Creek to go, I thought. Sure enough it had risen, but nothing like the peaks I had already negotiated. I was finally free from my nightmare. So what, Nanango was closed but I thought I would cross that bridge (or not) when I came to it.
I refueled in Kingaroy and asked the attendant about options back to Brisbane.
“The Dingo Creek at Wondai is up,” he said (I remembered this as the very first watery experience of the day which seemed like aeons ago.
“Nanango is out too but you may be able to get through the back way,” he said.
So I set off for Nanango 21km away on the main highway back to Brisbane.

The rain had stopped now but it was late afternoon and I was worried about being near floodwaters after dark. I got through town and then saw the creek. It was completely impassable. But authorities here were prepared. There were yellow detour signs that took me “the back way” and after 25kms or so landed me back on the highway on the Brisbane side of Nanango. Waves of relief could finally replace the waves of floodwaters that had dominated my day.

For the remainder of the 170km back to Brisbane I peered into countless overflowing creeks – but none of them spilled onto the road. I listened intently to ABC Local Radio and the fund of horror stories emerging from people across the state. Dalby and Chinchilla were on the verge of evacuation. It would be a while before I would be getting back to Roma.

I didn’t care. I went home to bed and had long dreams about getting stuck in floods. Whenever I woke which was often, I reminded myself I was dry and safe. I drifted off the sleep again waiting for the waters to rise again in my mind.

December 30, 2010 at 11:33 am Leave a comment

Laurent Gbagbo thumbs nose at international condemnation in Ivory Coast

The US and EU has issued a travel ban on Ivory Coast president Laurent Gbagbo after he refused to concede defeat in the 28 November run-off election. The US, EU, UN, and the AU have all recognized Gbagbo’s challenger Alassane Ouattara as the winner of that election. Violence broke out last week when Ouattara’s supporters fought with Gbagbo’s security forces. The possibility is increasing of a return to the civil war fought between north and south of the country in the early half of the decade.
(Photo: Issouf Sanogo/AFP/Getty)
But Gbagbo shows no sign of bowing to international pressure. Instead his troops have cut off food, water and medical help to Ouattara who has been holed up in the Golf Hotel in Abidjan since the election guarded by UN peacekeepers. UN observers in Ivory Coast say Gbagbo has ordered at least 50 murders and abducted many more in the last week. Gbagbo used state-controlled media to portray the calls for his departure as a foreign plot to control the country’s rich natural resources. He has also started to harass UN operatives after the Security Council extended the mandate of 8,650 peacekeepers until the end of June.

This year’s election was intended as a way of drawing a line under eight years of division between the north and south of the country which remains the world’s leading producer of cocoa. The civil war began in 2000 after a military coup which ousted President Henri Konan Bedie. Ouattara, a former Prime Minister and a Muslim, had intended to stand for the election due that year. But coup leader General Guei established criteria that all candidates had to have two Ivorian parents. Courts barred Ouattara on the grounds his mother was from Burkina Faso. Gbabgo eventually won the election but Ouattara has been a thorn in his side ever since.

Attempts to run another election since 2005 were hampered by continuing violence in the north of the country. In the first round in October 2010 Gbagbo came first with 38 percent and Ouattara was second with 32 percent. With neither reaching 50 percent, a run-off was required. Third placed Bedie was eliminated on 25 percent amid the inevitable claim the vote was rigged. In the run-off election at the end of November, provisional results showed Gbagbo had lost by nearly 10 percent.

Before the highest court in the land, the Constitutional Council, could validate any results, Electoral Commission boss Youssouf Bakayok appeared on France24 news channel without the approval of the other 30 members of the Commission, and announced a victory for Ouattara. But when the full Constitutional Council met, they decided to cancel thousands of votes from the north which was Ouattara’s stronghold.

The Council declared Gbagbo the winner with 51 percent of the vote. The news was greeted with international condemnation. Obama’s press secretary Robert Gibbs said Outtara was the rightly and justly elected President and said the US ready to impose targeted sanctions individually and with other countries against Gbagbo who “continues to cling to power illegitimately.” “That election was clear. Its result was clear. And it’s time for him to go,” Gibbs said.

France joined the chorus of condemnation. The former colonial power still has many interests in the country and has a 950-strong security force posted there separate to the UN peacekeepers. French Foreign Minister Michele Alliot-Marie said their troops would defend themselves should they come under attack. President Sarkozy said the results show a clear and incontestable victory for Alassane Ouattara. A president has just been elected in the Ivory Coast. That president is Ouattara.” The message has yet to get through to Laurent Gbagbo.

December 21, 2010 at 10:31 pm Leave a comment

Media miss the news in first Aussie Wikileak

Oblivious to the fact that one of the dreaded new media was providing the scoop, the Australian newspaper breathlessly reported the first Wikileaks document to mention Australian officials as ““Rudd’s plan to contain Beijing”. It’s hardly surprising The Australian would go data-mining for the thing that would most embarrass the Federal Government. But it’s hardly surprising too they got it wrong.

In the haste to follow their narrow political agenda, they skipped over far more substantive elements to the story. Not only that, they also misquoted Rudd. The breathless first line of Paul Maley’s front page story said Rudd had warned the world must be prepared to deploy force” if China didn’t co-operate with the international community.

Compare this to what the cable actually said:
Rudd argued for “multilateral engagement with bilateral vigour” – integrating China effectively into the international community and allowing it to demonstrate greater responsibility, all while also preparing to deploy force if everything goes wrong.”

Suggesting the west have a Plan Z for China that involves force is a long way from advocating it or even making it “Rudd’s plan”. Unfortunately it wasn’t just The Australian that took this approach. The ABC took a similar tack with the material saying it was Rudd’s “suggestion that the US use force against China in a worst case scenario”.

It was nothing of the sort and a poor way of using what was remarkable information put out in the public domain. The ABC also turned it into an inane domestic political drama by harvesting a meaningless quote from Julie Bishop about “disturbing reading”. Don’t read it Julie, if it disturbs you.

Beyond this dross, some substantial issues were discussed when Secretary Clinton met Australian PM Kevin Rudd in Washington on 24 March 2009 and Wikileaks should be praised for putting it in the public domain. The cable about the meeting 09STATE30049 was marked “confidential” which is far from the highest security level and was due to be released into the public domain anyway in 2019.

The meeting was wide-ranging and talked about problems in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Russia, but China was the biggest topic. Some of it was just polite platitudes with Rudd buttering up a valued friend but most of it was extremely useful and informative information sharing between allies. Rudd used his in-depth knowledge of China to give Clinton and her advisors some useful information which they could validate against their own knowledge sources.

Rudd had high hopes for the little-known philosophy of Kang Youwei which he said was China’s idea of a harmonious world, and could potentially fit in well with the West’s concept of responsible stakeholders. He also said Hu Jintao did not have the same level of power as former leader Jiang Zemin: “No one person dominated Chinese leadership currently, although Hu’s likely replacement, Xi Jinping, had family ties to the military and might be able to rise above his colleagues,” Rudd told Clinton.

Rudd also noticed an important distinction between China’s attitude to Taiwan and Tibet. With the former it was purely “sub-rational and deeply emotional” (because China has no intention of disturbing the status quo on Taiwan) the more concrete hardline policies against the latter were designed to send a message to other minorities within mainland China.

Rudd also told Clinton the Standing Committee of the Politburo was the real decision-making body in China which then passed decisions for implementation by the State Council. Rudd saw the Asia Pacific community initiative as a bulwark against any Chinese plans to issue an Asian Monroe Doctrine. Rudd did say the 2009 Australian Defence White Paper was a response to Chinese power, something he could never admit publicly at the time.

In return for this information, Rudd wanted Washington’s intelligence on Russia so he could prepare for an upcoming meeting in Moscow. Conversation centred on the power struggle between Medvedev and Putin with both sides agreeing the President’s desire for “status and respect” could drive him closer to western thinking.

On the AfPak situation, both parties also agreed there was no point in “total success” in Afghanistan (whatever that represented) if Pakistan fell apart. Pakistan needed to drop its obsessive focus on India and attend to its western border problems.

What comes across in the cables I have read is not so much the “brutality and venality of US foreign policy” as its growing impotence. This is the reason the US is after Assange. It is the embarrassment he has caused them rather than the exposing of any international secrets that angers them so much.

The one phrase that sums up the problem this cable reveals was uttered by Hillary Clinton to Rudd in relation to China: “how do you deal toughly with your banker?” A damn good question and given China is our banker too, one Australian media should be asking. “Rudd’s embarrassment” has nothing on our media’s for missing the real news.

December 7, 2010 at 12:55 am Leave a comment

And there it rests: Lessons from Twitdef

On Tuesday, News Limited attempted to draw a line under its latest battle with new media which went under the tag of #twitdef. In a terse and tired sounding article by media writer Caroline Overington on Tuesday, The Australian admitted Canberra journalism academic Julie Posseti probably didn’t commit a crime when she live-tweeted the words of a speaker at a conference. The broadsheet made the admission after it heard the audio evidence about what Asa Wahlquist said at the recent Journalism Education Association Australia conference in Sydney. Posetti, said Overington, had produced a “fair summary”.

Mitchell had earlier threatened to “unremarkably” sue Posetti for defamation (though given his well documented climate change agnosticism it was never clear what Mitchell though he was defending his reputation FOR). Few people would have have been surprised to hear Wahlquist, who recently quit News after many years as a journalist, faced intense editorial pressures to conform to a party line when reporting on climate change and other political matters. It also corresponds to what I have personally heard (off the record) from other News Ltd journalists when they file copy.

Defamation was always an idle threat in this exercise. Mitchell’s real intention was to project power by creating a chilling effect in Twitter. It didn’t work because Mitchell has no idea how the medium works. His non-apology apology via Caroline Overington claimed Wahlquist told Mitchell her comments were taken out of context and Posetti “should have contacted him to get his side of the story.”

Apart from the blundering suggestion Twitter must follow the conventions of “he said, she said” journalism, Mitchell also refused to accede to the truth of the matter. He still maintained Posetti had defamed him though the ambiguous sounding “And there it rests” suggested he was not going to take the matter further. After the Twitterati picked this ambiguity up, Overington issued a coda saying it simply meant “she had no more” to offer. It allowed Mitchell to maintain the pretense of keeping his legal avenues open.

Mitchell couldn’t apologise properly to Julie Posetti because it was not in his nature. Stephen Mayne picked up Mitchell’s true nature seven years ago when he was first appointed editorial boss of The Oz.
“Mitchell is known for his hardline political views and aggressive style – The key to understanding [him] is to know that he is a right-wing social engineer who happens to be a journalist,” Mayne wrote perceptively.

New York University’s Professor of Journalism Jay Rosen probably hadn’t heard of Mitchell in 2003 but he certainly knows about him now. He believes Mitchell’s social engineering is a major problem.
“I think The Australian is fast becoming a malevolent force and for some reason that I do not fully understand it is not met with the sort of public opposition it deserves,” Rosen told me by email yesterday.

I had contacted Rosen because I was curious to know why he injected himself into recent News Ltd stoushes against new media such as the outing of Grog’s Gamut and now the hounding of Posetti.

Rosen told me he saw it as a critical part of a larger battle.
“As the Murdoch empire faces the loss of the emperor–his lost grip or his eventual passing–it starts behaving erratically and in that state it becomes rather dangerous: to itself, but also to other people and to cultural treasures like freedom of the press,” he said.

But the Empire has an Achilles Heel, according to Rosen: “Murdoch cannot master digital.”

“He tried, but the thing has eluded him. That is unacceptable for a mogul. But it is also a fact. Put those two things together–an unacceptable fact that is also true–and you have a dangerous situation for a news empire. Rupert is trying to impose an order on the digital world that it does not have. This creates problems for his editorial employees. They have to believe in an analysis that is ‘shitty’ but also saintly because it comes from the top. They get into trouble when they try to prove the emperor right, and behave like little emperors themselves.”

Rosen said the dynamic is being forced down through the hierarchy so that it reaches even the reporters at The Oz, “who think they can impose order, knock heads and, for example, demonstrate to the blogosphere which rules it has to obey”.

“Notice how often people from The Australian say there’s ‘nothing special’ about Twitter, or that it doesn’t get a pass, that it isn’t an exception. That’s the echo, way down the line, of the unacceptable fact that is also true. ‘There’s nothing different going on here. We got this under control.’ When they are criticised for taking what is, in effect, a party line, people from The Australian have a strange habit of hearing criticism as a charge of conspiracy. Then they laugh at the overheated image of a conspiracy which in turn protects them against the criticism.

Rosen agreed with my suggestion that Australia’s dangerously concentrated media landscape was one of the reasons the Twitterati have been so feisty in opposition but said there was an important second reason.

“The above ground opposition is weak. Online, there is a lot of juvenile sneering at News Ltd. which reflects how rarely the respectable people criticize and investigate what’s rotten in the empire. How many journalists who were there when Asa Wahlquist made her remarks spoke up about what they heard?” he asked.

“For the professional culture of journalism in Australia, which extends to the academic centres where journalism is studied, that is a significant number,” Rosen concluded.

While the Oz attempts to thrash Posetti’s reputation as much as their own via #twitdef, the climate change that started it all continues to be ignored. As another journalism educator Marcus O’Donnell pointed out today “even a threat of US walkout at Cancun is relegated to p15 of SMH”.

Chris Mitchell, it would appear, is not the only social engineer running mainstream Australian media. And there it rests.

====
(The full text of my question and answer session with Rosen is attached below)
====
DB: Firstly, given your geographical position in the intensely creative hub that is New York why would what is going on in the boondocks of Australian media be of interest to you enough to take part in the debate?

JR: Within the Australian press culture, blogging and journalism academic worlds, there’s a decent number of people who are interested in my work, so I have taken an interest in what’s going on there, especially after my latest visit. Twitter allows them to follow me and me to follow them, which is also a big factor. At a certain point you acquire enough background knowledge that you can monitor events in another country without feeling lost; after my last visit to Australia, during the elections in August of this year, I felt I had reached that point. I know what Telstra is. I know about the marginal seats in western Sydney. I’ve watched Tony Jones on Q&A.

Finally, I think The Australian is fast becoming an malevolent force and for some reason that I do not fully understand it is not met with the sort of public opposition it deserves.

DB: Is there lessons from the Australian experience in the current old/new media “war” for the American mediascape?

JR: As the Murdoch empire faces the loss of the emperor–his lost grip, his inability to master digital, or his eventual passing–it starts behaving erratically and in that state it becomes rather dangerous: to itself, but also to other people and to cultural treasures like freedom of the press.

DB: Are the likes of Chris Mitchell just being Canutes trying to stop the tide or can the Murdoch Empire really stamp its authority over the old/new media landscape worldwide?

JR: Here’s one hypothesis: Murdoch cannot master digital. He tried, but the thing has eluded him. That is unacceptable for a mogul. But it is also a fact. Put those two things together–an unacceptable fact that is also true–and you have a dangerous situation for a news empire. Rupert is trying to impose an order on the digital world that it does not have. This creates problems for his editorial employees. They have to believe in an analysis that is “shitty,” but also saintly because it comes from the top. They get into trouble when they try to prove the emperor right, and behave like little emperors themselves.

This then draws ridicule in the new media environments they disdain but also have to participate in. Which enrages them, causing them to say and do stupid things, as Chris Mitchell did. The dynamic is being forced down through the hierarchy so that it reaches even the reporters at The Oz, who think they can impose order, knock heads and, for example, demonstrate to the blogosphere which rules it has to obey.

Notice how often people from The Australian say there’s “nothing special” about Twitter, or that it doesn’t get a pass, that it isn’t an exception. That’s the echo, way down the line, of the unacceptable fact that is also true. “There’s nothing different going on here. We got this under control.” When they are criticized for taking what is, in effect, a party line, people from The Australian have a strange habit of hearing criticism as a charge of conspiracy. Then they laugh at the overheated image of a conspiracy, which in turn protects them against the criticism. Sally Jackson did this just the other day:

In the case of Matthew Franklin, I documented the pattern here:

http://jayrosen.tumblr.com/post/102744512/massively-multi-player-denial-when-do-we-grok-the#comment-84775968

Even after I showed it to him, he had no idea what I was talking about.

DB: Is it perhaps because the mainstream Australian media scene is so dominated by one publisher, that the underground movement as represented by Australia’s Twitterati is so lively?

JR: Also the fact that the above ground opposition is so weak. Online, there is a lot of juvenile sneering at News Ltd. which reflects how rarely the respectable people criticize and investigate what’s rotten in the empire. How many journalists who were there when Asa Wahlquist made her remarks spoke up about what they heard? For the professional culture of journalism in Australia, which extends to the academic centres where journalism is studied, that is a significant number.

December 3, 2010 at 2:25 am 6 comments


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