tip off

AFR black-out … Gill’s $1m claim … Gittens turns …

Colour me black: AFR on offensive. Just what is going on at The Australian Financial Review under very, we’re told, hands-on editor-in-chief Michael Stutchbury? There’s the obsession with front page “exclusives”, frequently slapped on anodyne business yarns that wouldn’t look out of place on page six. There’s the rise in climate denialist op-eds. And today there’s this weird and offensive front-page headline:

The story itself — which plainly a subbie forgot to put “exclusive” on — is a collection of earnest declarations from assorted business leaders about how much they’re doing on indigenous employment, including Nev Powell from Fortescue, which is virtually at war with the Yindjibarndi Aboriginal Corporation over its Solomon Project. All well and good, except, why use the words “blacks” in the headline when it is offensive to many indigenous people?

According to a Fin source, the word “indigenous” was originally used but altered by a senior manager. Stutchbury and editor Paul Bailey did not respond before deadline. — Bernard Keane

Gill wants $1m for AFR sacking. But then, Fairfax’s business unit has bigger fish to fry. Like defending an extraordinary $1 million-plus damages claim from its ex-editor Michael Gill, who says he was fired because he was too old. Sally Jackson reports at The Australian:

AXED Financial Review Group boss Michael Gill is suing former employer Fairfax Media for unlawful age discrimination, seeking more than $1 million in damages as well as the publication of a full-page apology in its national business daily The Australian Financial Review.

Gill, who turns 59 in April, was abruptly removed as FRG chief executive and editor-in-chief last March and replaced by his former AFR deputy managing editor, 35-year-old Brett Clegg.

Gill filed legal proceedings under the Human Rights Commission Act in mid December, with the hearing due to start on Wednesday in the Federal Court in Sydney.”

Gill wants $724,349.68 in compensation for lost wages and $50,000 for pain and suffering —  plus the value of 411,990 long-term incentive scheme shares he held before he was fired. Gill wasn’t answering calls when we tried to talk to him this morning.

The Oz’s war on climate science (cont). As a sort of in-house promotion, today The Australian ran a piece by journalist Debbie Guest excitedly reporting that “scientists from around the world” were criticising alarmist rhetoric on climate science, via a piece in News Corporation stablemate The Wall Street Journal. Guest quoted extensively from the “scientists’” letter, then backed it up with a chat with signatory and local climate denialist and retired meteorologist William Kininmonth.

One of course wishes to give Guest the benefit of the doubt, and suggest she didn’t have time to do some research on the “scientists” involved. This might have at least extended to Googling the letter, which has already been discredited at ThinkProgress and Forbes, which noted The WSJ, while happy to run a letter by 16 “scientists”, had declined to run one from over 250 members of the US National Academy of Sciences.

Then there are the signatories themselves, which Guest might have also Googled. In fact, even Googling them was unnecessary — their CVs have been helpfully summarised at Newsvine, and include J. Scott Armstrong, a marketing professor, an aeronautical engineer, geneticist Jan Breslow, two chemists, an astrophysicist and several current or former employees of Exxon — including the solitary climate scientist in the group. Good to see The Oz continuing to give climate denialism the benefit of the doubt. —  Bernard Keane

Gittens calls out colleagues on forecasts. It’s a joy to read the columns of Sydney Morning Herald Economics editor Ross Gittins. They are well written, interesting and approachable. Gittins is not afraid to make a point or three, to treasurers, governments, fellow economists, especially from the ranks of those in business, and the media, including those employed in his area at his employer, Fairfax Media. Gittins’ columns on Monday, Wednesday and Saturdays are required reading if you want to see current issues and their causes and progenitors given a good mauling and ideas sliced and diced.

But it’s occasional economic lectures and backgrounders to the rest of the media, not least those at Fairfax, that catch the eye. Take the economic forecasts issued by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund this month. The Fairfax media in particular grabbed the recent doomsday warnings from the World Bank and International Monetary Fund and gave them a real egg-beating. ”World Bank’s crisis warning,” blared a story on January 18. The next day it was grimmer: “Worse GFC to come: World Bank”.

And then there was the IMF’s new forecasts and comments from head Christine Lagarde: “IMF seeks $1 trillion to stave off ‘1930s moment’.” The Australian Financial Review wasn’t far behind, its headline on January 24 yelled: “IMF fears 1930s moment near”. That must have sat rather sourly with Gittins, because in his column this morning he lets fly, in a gentlemanly but direct way:

Unfortunately, there has been a tendency in parts of the media to convey an exaggerated impression of how bad things are and of the extent to which Europe’s problems translate into problems for us …

We heard a lot about the fund’s dire warnings of what could happen if the Europeans did not get their act together, but what was not made clear was that the fund’s actual forecast was for global recession to be avoided …

I think the media could try harder to bridge this gap rather than leaving us with the vague impression disaster for Europe means disaster for Australia. Actually, what matters for us is not world growth so much as the growth in our main trading partners, with each partner’s contribution weighted according to its share of our exports.”

Hear hear. There is a headlong rush for page one prominence by reporters that at times weakens the stories. It’s all part of a “bias to negativity” — not a negative bias, but an understanding in newsrooms that negative or bad news gets a bigger play and better display than do merely reporting or positive stories. It’s a pity Gittins doesn’t have a counterpart at the AFR or The Australian, a literate, experienced, well-read business or economics writer willing to chide his peers about their egg-beating efforts. —  Glenn Dyer

Foxtel gets its priorities right. The finals over the weekend of the KFC T20 Big Bash made for exciting viewing for many children as they watched all the KFC promos, as well as seeing their sporting idols associate themselves with KFC products in a steady flow of advertisements throughout the game. But was it necessary for Foxtel to interrupt its telecast of the game for an interview with the chief marketing officer of KFC, so that she could promote the product as an essential feature of the Australian summer, and tell us all about the modest charitable donations KFC makes as part of its promotional program?

Amazingly, the interview ran not only during the periods between play, but while the game itself was on — preventing the commentators from calling deliveries during the game. Does money change hands directly or indirectly for this kind of blatant demonstration that promoting junk food is more important than televising sport? The Australian Communications Media Authority is so dozy on issues such as this that there seems little point in complaining to the body that is notionally charged with overseeing broadcasting standards.

What next? Instant replays of the best promotional interview by a sponsor? —  Professor Mike Dube, Director of the Public Health Advocacy Institute at Curtin University (read more health news at Croakey)

T20 big hit — but not without Warne. Meanwhile, Saturday night’s Big Bash Twenty20 final won by the Sydney Sixers had a pay TV audience of 459,000 — not to be sneezed at because it was the sixth-largest pay TV audience ever in Australia. But that aside, it was also a bit of a let down: the audience for the final wasn’t the highest, as we see in football codes like the AFL, NRL and A League. The highest audience for the Twenty20 games was the 488,000 who watched the Melbourne Stars play the Sydney Thunder in the second game of the series. (Game one’s audience between the Sixers and the Brisbane team averaged 355,000.)

Sydney beat Shane Warne’s Melbourne Stars (Warne’s return to cricket in Australia in that match probably led to the big audience) with a century to David Warner. Saturday night’s final against the Perth Scorchers was up against the women’s tennis final on Seven at the same time. That competition is probably why the audience for the final failed to be the best for the season. —  Glenn Dyer

The Department of Corrections. The Australian apologised today over an un-Australian headline:

Over 400 arrests — including journos — at Occupy Oakland Action

Oakland police thwarted the efforts, arresting more than 400 people in the process, primarily during a mass night-time arrest outside a downtown YMCA. That number included at least six journalists, myself included, in direct violation of OPD media relations policy.” — OB Rag

Reporters, activists condemn Somali assassination

Media advocacy groups have condemned the murder of Somalia’s Shabelle Media Network Director Hassan Osman Abdi, the network’s third leader to be killed in as many years.” — Voice of America

Why Twitter will regret its flirtation with censorship

Outrage has predictably followed Twitter’s announcement that it has developed a system to block specific tweets in specific countries if they violate local law, while keeping the content available for the rest of the world.” — Foreign Policy

Megaupload’s Kim Dotcom loses Call of Duty top spot

Megaupload founder Kim Dotcom can’t defend his top-spot score in the game Modern Warfare: Call of Duty 3 from behind bars — he was recently bumped to the No. 2 spot by a player named Azaros.” — Mashable

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