Money does tend to blur the perspective of many

One can understand Matthew Ricketson’s despair over the criticism levelled at the report of the media inquiry of which he was part; after all, one never likes to see one’s work, especially when it is so high-profile, being regarded as the output of a government toady.

(Ricketson, a journalism academic, assisted a retired judge, Ray Finkelstein, in conducting an inquiry into the media in Australia recently.)

But then, Ricketson has only himself to blame. If he thought that news organisations would take kindly to the idea of oversight by the government, then his connection with journalism in the field is obviously rather tenuous.

As an aside, it is curious that though Ricketson expressed a wish to see the media industry reporting on itself without spin, the good professor himself was rather reluctant to tell readers that he was paid, and handsomely too, for his labours alongside Justice Finkelstein. A day before his outpouring which is linked to in the first paragraph of this piece, there were reports that he had received $2500 per day, or a total of $175,000, for assisting Justice Finkelstein. That’s much more than a year’s salary for most journalists who work in the newsrooms of the bigger newspapers in this country.

After receiving wages like these – Justice Finkelstein received $308,000 or $4400 per day – if the public were to judge the recipient as wanting to please, even a little, his paymaster, then that public would surely have to be forgiven. As with all humans, the tendency to avoid biting the hand that feeds us exists within our beings. It is part of human nature.

Consultants, analysts, call them what one wishes, always make sure to avoid annoying those who provide them with handsome commissions – else the danger of missing out when the next chance arises is very real.

No reflection on Ricketson or the good judge – they are human too. Thus, if either of them were to say they were not influenced by the commissioning authority, one would have to take that with a pinch of salt. Not to say that this happened consciously; it happens subconsciously to all members of the human race. We avoid conflict whenever possible.

It is surprising that someone who has been a journalist can ever condone a solution to a media problem which involves the government. Perhaps, apart from the influence of the commissioning authority, one can put that down to the individual never having lived in a country where government has more than a passing involvement in running the media.

From a personal point of view, I find the suggestion of a government-funded overseer abhorrent. My thinking may well be influenced by having witnessed government excesses towards the media during the 26-month emergency promulgated by the late Indira Gandhi in India between 1975 and 1977 – at a time when I was still in university – and also having actually felt the clammy hand of the government censor when I was chief sub-editor of the Khaleej Times in Dubai in the 1990s, at a time when that august publication was the biggest English-language daily in the Middle East.

The obvious argument put forward by those pushing for government funding of a regulatory body is that a situation such as those described above could never eventuate in Australia. Given the extent to which the government already tries to twist its version of truth before it reaches the media here, and the extent to which politicians try to influence what appears in print or is broadcast, by fair means or foul, I would much rather err on the side of caution.

The Australian Press Council may be a poor alternative but, after some beefing up, it is a much better solution than giving the government the ability to twist arms. The powers-that-be are already trying to scare the hell out of people as much as possible by bringing in more and more oppressive laws, the latest being the proposed two-year data retention legislation.

To actually hand the power of regulation of the one entity that can bring the government to heel to that same government would be rather foolish, to put it mildly. Do we really want to put the cat in charge of looking after the canaries?

Smartphones. How about dumbphones?

Smartphone. Nice word – is the phone meant to be the smart one or does it make the user smarter? Or is it the case that the phone increases the chances of error to the extent that people do tend to make more errors?

There is a sense of arrogance evident when people use smartphones, forgetting that if they are stupid then they will end up doing stupid things.

Any computer can only be programmed by human beings. Humans are prone to make errors. And those errors will reflect themselves in the way computer programs behave.

The classic example is the message that one receives at the venerable DOS prompt after entering a command that means nothing to the operating system. The computer responds “Bad command or filename.” End of story.

With a human being the reaction is different; if one were to ask one’s child to go to the bedroom and fetch a red shirt lying on the bed, the child will use his own intelligence when he finds a blue shirt lying there instead.

The kid’s reasoning will run thus: “Dad must have made a mistake, I better take the blue shirt with me as he must have meant blue instead of red.” The computer cannot reason in this manner.

But the line of demarcation is never made clear by the makers of digital devices who always paint the device as having its own form of intelligence. And when those of rather feeble intelligence are the ones spreading the message of technology, the question does tend to get confused.

Technology has come from a long way from the timw when computers tended to malfunction every time women wearing nylon underwear stood close to the machine. But it is still the case that the intelligence lies with the human being, not the machine.

There are many cases where an inefficient organisation computerises every one of its functions and then wonders why it doesn’t become efficient overnight. Those who are in charge do not realise that computerised inefficiency is worse than the other kind.

Do smartphones make people smarter? No, these devices have the capability to make it easier to carry out some functions which were done in a more laborious manner in the past. The apparent ease with which things can be done also makes it possible to make more horrendous mistakes.

The human is the smart one. Or, dumb, as the case may be.

Crikey: Hypocrisy with a capital ‘h’

THE Australian newsletter Crikey is a publication that thinks it is top of the pile. It is always lecturing all and sundry about standards, journalistic and otherwise. But when its own shortcomings (and they are legion) are pointed out, one doesn’t even get an acknowledgement. I sent the following missive to the editor about the edition of June 1. No response at all.

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On many occasions I have put finger to keyboard to write a letter to the editor, pointing out the shocking editorials in your newsletter. But then, I’ve just put it off, due to my own laziness. Today, after reading the last issue, I probably was more annoyed than usual, so I’ve pulled your editorial apart.

“As Alexander Downer noted today,…”

If you have descended to the level where you have to quote Lord Downer, then things have gone well below the gutter.

“…claims we’ve reached a new low in parliamentary behaviour should be treated sceptically.”

Really? A “new” low? As opposed to an “old” low, I presume? That’s called tautology, in case you were unaware.

“Every parliament has its bad moments; its undignified, sordid, shambolic or disgraceful moments.”

Oh boy, if that isn’t stating the bleeding obvious. How about something original for a change?

“In any event, it’s hard for contemporary observers to judge standards from before the television age, which reshaped political tactics and altered parliamentary behaviour. And not necessarily for the better.”

Really? How did the broadcasting of parliamentary proceedings change things? Politicians have always behaved like grubs. Another untested statement.

“As Bernard Keane notes today, both the media and politicians face the problem of disengagement by Australians.”

Really? Lord Keane’s statement is just another opinion, so how can it be quoted as gospel?

“The general tone of vituperation….”

How clumsy can you get? “The general vituperative tone” would read so much better.

“– and childish behaviour of Tony Abbott and Christopher Pyne in the now-famous flight for the exits”

Famous? How did the incident become famous? It has no relevance to anyone outside this country. And it’s famous? Exactly how many cliches do you pack into one editorial?

” — is unlikely to do anything other than accelerate that disengagement, particularly when the Prime Minister herself is seen by so many voters as untrusworthy.”

I haven’t heard of untrusworthy. I have heard of untrustworthy. Even the spell-checker in my free text editor catches that kind of f***-up.

“If the standards of parliamentary behaviour are bad, we’ve also rarely seen a time when the country’s two most important political leaders were regarded so poorly by voters.”

Is that the way to reinforce a statement? Why doesn’t the writer go back to school and do a course in basic grammar? Anyone with basic education would use “Not only…” to begin that sentence.

“But both sides know that. However poor their behaviour, voters will still be required to attend the polls at the next election, and compulsory preferential voting will mean that, in all but a small number of seats, their votes will eventually filter through a major party candidate of one kind or another.”

Wrong again. Nobody is required to vote. One only has to turn up at the polling station and get one’s attendance noted. You can then do what you like with the ballot paper and stuff it in the box. And you are at the forefront of accusing others of getting things wrong. Pot, kettle, black.

Major party politicians have the game rigged.

Which game? Politics? Journalism? Badly-written newsletter editorials? After all the screw-ups, this conclusion seems based on nothing more than the writer’s imagination.

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I doubt there will be any response. When the emperor was told he had no clothes, he just continued on his merry way.