Sunday, March 18, 2012

The State must not be a watchdog over the media

JOHN HENNINGHAM says "no thanks" to the Soviet model. As a former head of journalism education at the University of Qld., Prof. Henningham is a rare academic critic of the Finkelstein proposals. He is also however a former working journalist

THE priorities and values of Australia's journalism educators have been called into question by Cameron Stewart's analysis in this newspaper last week of the "great divide" between academics and the media.

While news organisations rejected with hostility the key recommendation of Ray Finkelstein's inquiry into the media, journalism and media educators have emerged as prominent champions of the report.

In particular, a great many academics support or are sympathetic to the proposed solution to the media's flaws: government establishment of a news media council to adjudicate on complaints and order the publication of corrections.

Back in the 1990s my research identified another great divide: between journalists and the public. A survey of more than 1000 Australian journalists showed they were more small-l liberal than the public on social and economic issues, andlikelier to support non-conservative political parties.

Some argue that publishers leaning to the Right and their journalists to the Left yields some kind of balance, perhaps proved by accusations of bias from opposing political camps.

Moreover, publications or broadcasters occupy different positions in the ideological spectrum, with journalists drawn to those where they feel more at home.

It was ever thus. Foundation of the ABC's news service in the 1940s attracted many journalists unhappy with the unalloyed right-wing views of the tough old newspaper barons who had employed them.

In the 1960s and early 70s Rupert Murdoch's tabloids and in particular The Australian were the place to be for young left-liberal journalists, many taking refuge from the rigid conservative values that permeated the Fairfax, Herald & Weekly Times and Packer newspapers.

Arts and social science academics are traditionally left of centre, and contemporary journalism and media educators are firmly in this part of the spectrum, although this was less the case a generation ago.

But why journalism teachers should be at odds with their core profession on the key issue of media regulation remains unclear. It's not really a matter of being Left or Right, as objection to government regulation of the press is shared by journalists of different political views.

Political scientist Rod Tiffen won plaudits from journalism academics in arguing that Finkelstein's proposed news media council would work in exactly the same way as the present Press Council: complaints would be considered by a committee of public and industry representatives who would decide whether to uphold or reject them, with the adjudication then published.

But at this point the difference is so shocking in its implications that no self-respecting journalist could possibly entertain it.

It is the government telling a newspaper what to publish.

This principle was invented by Hitler and Goebbels in 1933, with the establishment of the Reich Press Chamber. It was the beginning of a whole new relationship between authoritarian governments and the press -- not simply censoring information or jailing editors -- but actively using the press as an instrument of propaganda: print this, or else. (The Soviet Union had been in this game since 1917, but as the communist government owned the newspapers anyway, it was not quite the same.)

The shock of the Finkelstein proposal is a government body in a democracy telling a privately owned newspaper to print something (no matter how worthy the intent). Thinking about it sent shivers up my spine.

Opposition to this is in journalists' DNA. But many journalism and media educators are on a different planet.

The rot set in when universities cynically developed a potpourri of media-related disciplines to attract students without any regard to the employability of graduates in media industries.

The University of Queensland's well-respected journalism department, staffed entirely by former news media professionals including daily and national newspaper editors, was forced into a communication school. It lost its hard-won reputation and most of its journalism staff overnight.

Similar downscaling of journalism went on across the country, with the most recent example the University of Canberra, whose bachelor of journalism is to be replaced by a communication degree with fewer hands-on units (although the University of Technology, Sydney says it's bucking the trend, with establishment of a graduate school of journalism and recognition of investigative journalism as research).

Tertiary institutions made a serious misjudgment by mixing media studies with journalism. Any worthwhile journalism degree will be directed towards producing graduates whose passion for a career in journalism has been inflamed, and who have the knowledge and curiosity to be successful; people whom newsrooms can employ without the need for extensive training.

Their formation as journalists flows from being part of departments where pride in journalism is instilled.

Traditional professional faculties socialise their students, so that medical students end up thinking like doctors, engineering students as engineers and so on. By contrast, students commonly graduate from journalism studies with a jaundiced and negative view of the news media and a feeling that if they get work in the field they will be a beacon of purity in a corrupt and evil world of ethical breaches, perpetual harassment of victims, mendacity, bias and distortion.

There is little evidence of journalism's achievements being celebrated within universities, or much research aimed at helping the profession (as is the norm in traditional professional faculties). While it's no doubt part of the brief for journalism academics to critically appraise the media, the extent of media-bashing in journalism schools is alarming. Are there any other professional schools where academics are so hostile to the profession they're serving?

It is a reciprocal relationship: media organisations are contemptuous of much journalism education, major groups even setting up their own training programs and employing non-journalism graduates. But industry is partly to blame for what has happened in universities by not demanding more oversight of courses badged journalism through membership of faculty boards where they could have a say in staff selection and curriculum. Accreditation of courses by industry is another option.

Meanwhile, rather than giving the Finkelstein report a loving embrace, journalism academics could contribute to press freedom and quality journalism by critically analysing the report and its recommendations.


'Without Irish, we'd be like NZ', says Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard

I think there is some truth in this but Kiwis might point to their lack of a convict influence in a mocking way

PRIME Minister Julia Gillard has paid tribute to Irish larrikinism and its influence on Australia - joking that, without it, Australia would be just like New Zealand.

Speaking at a St Patrick's Day lunch in Sydney, Ms Gillard compared Ireland to an absent but favourite uncle, saying "without the Irish we would be a very different place".

"At the start of European settlement Englishness and Irishness were the original warp and weft of the people, the weave and the cross-weave of our national personality," Ms Gillard told the annual Landsdowne Club luncheon.

"We love the larrikin. Could you have a larrikin without Irish immigration? The answer is no.

"We know what Australia would be like without the Irish - just like New Zealand."

The Welsh-born Ms Gillard then quipped: "I'm going to pay for that in my next bilateral discussions with (New Zealand Prime Minister) John Key, I can feel it."


Concern about listeria means pregnant women miss out on nutrition

SOME pregnant women are being overly cautious about avoiding what are traditionally considered "no-no'' foods, such as soft cheeses, pates and sashimi, a researcher says.

Professor Clare Collins, of the University of Newcastle, studied the eating habits of 7000 Australian women to see if they were missing out on important nutrients as a result of avoiding "risky'' foods that potentially carried listeria.

Oysters, smoked fish, delicatessen meats, salad bar salads and pre-cut fruit are also considered high risk for carrying the listeria monocytogenes bacteria.

The bacteria can lead to listeriosis, a rare form of food poisoning that can cause miscarriage, stillbirth, premature birth and neonatal infection.

Because of hormonal changes during pregnancy, mums-to-be are at particular risk of infection, Prof Collins says.

Reporting her findings in the journal Public Health Nutrition, Prof Collins said her study found that women who ate the most listeria foods reported more frequent miscarriages, but had high levels of the nutrients needed to have a healthy baby.

Conversely, those who ate moderate or low amounts of listeria foods had less miscarriages but also lower levels of nutrients like calcium, folate and Omega 3 acids.

"In those with moderate and low exposure there was no excess risk of miscarriage but the problem was their nutrient intakes were then worse,'' Prof Collins said.

"We're saying pregnant women need to be given more advice on how to eat healthy.

"If all they hear is risky foods, and they drop out all the potential listeria foods, their micro-nutrient intake is going to be really bad.

"They will potentially then be at risk for things like neural tube defects. Or they'll put their own health at risk.''

She said existing listeria guidelines for pregnant women were entirely legitimate but needed to be rewritten to provide more information about what could be eaten, as well as what should be avoided.

"It would be nice to see the guidelines coupled with evidence of what pregnant women can eat to meet their nutrient requirements,'' she said.

There were 65 cases of listeriosis in Australia in 2008, 12 during pregnancy and one that was fatal.


Councils could increase rates by up to $100 to combat the carbon tax

SA homeowners could face a rate rise of $100 or have services slashed as councils combat carbon tax.

Ratepayers have received the first indication of the impact of the carbon tax with the Sunday Mail obtaining internal Marion Council documents that foreshadowed a 3.25 per cent rate increase from July to cover an estimated $2 million budget blowout due to the tax.

Utility, fuel and costs of concrete and bitumen would all rise under the tax, according to the document titled Internal Working Paper - Carbon Pricing.

The council's modelling means the carbon tax impact on ratepayers is five times greater than the 0.6 per cent rise calculated by the Federal Government.

The Residents and Ratepayers Association president Kevin Kaeding said the disparity between local government and Federal Treasury estimates was a "major worry".

"If there are hidden costs not revealed by the Federal Government, which local governments will have to pass on, it will be a major blow to ratepayers, who are already struggling as it is," Mr Kaeding said.

"A rate rise of 3 per cent-plus in dollar terms could cost ratepayers anything from an extra $40 to $100 a year, depending on the value of the property and the council it is in."

On Friday, a Marion Council spokesman said the one-off 3.25 per cent rate increase was "one of many hypothetical options considered as part of modelling on the impact of the carbon tax".

"Council will not be passing on the cost of carbon pricing to ratepayers, . ." he said.

Last month the Sunday Mail revealed AGL wants to slug electricity customers an extra $150 a year from July to cover the cost of the carbon tax.


1 comment:

S(r)ambo said...

an indedendant body will regulate the industry not the government, the government will fund it but thats about it, its better then the media funding the media watch dog dont you think, the main issue that warrants the review is opinion writers claiming their opinions are actual news, we need a clear understanding of, is it his/her opinion, or is it reporting the facts, something the public are not informed about, the review is bad if your planning on presenting half truths as fact, which has become common practice in Australia, if your reporting facts as they come you have no problem, you can still write opinion pieces but must state it only your opinion, the public stand to gain a more professional media so whats the problem really?