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Media briefs: MEAA democracy … Oscar puns and Q&A …

Death of democracy at the MEAA? … Slave headlines in poor taste … Correction of the day …

Death of democracy at the MEAA? After 15 years at the helm of the Media, Arts and Entertainment Alliance, federal secretary Chris Warren recently announced he won’t contest the next election for the role, due next year. But it appears the union — which represents journalists, actors and musicians — may not hold an election at all.

At a meeting on March 17 and 18, union delegates will vote on a proposal to turn the federal secretary position into an appointed CEO role. This has aroused concerns amoung some of the MEAA’s membership. On a website launched yesterday, Jeff Waters and Greg Miskelly from the ABC, along with Charles Firth of Chaser fame and Pacific Magazine’s John Roper, raise their concerns about the plan, which would have the union’s management committee appoint an unelected CEO to run the union. “It will mean you, the people who fund and support MEAA, will have no real say on who runs your union,” they write.

The four journalists, all MEAA members, call on the MEAA to publish the full details of their CEO model online, and call on journalists to add their support to the page, “so that your federal councilors know that members want them to vote for democracy, and a direct say in who runs our union”.

MEAA chief Chris Warren confirmed to Crikey that the issue would go to a vote, saying the union had over a number of years moved to phase out the number of directly elected employees. “We’ve moved from at one stage having 20 elected employees to just a handful,” he said.

Warren argues that the direct appointment of a CEO will make the MEAA more accountable to its members, as well as more transparent and efficient. “We believe the union is most democratic when its led by people working in the industry. That means when you have elected officials who increasingly come from outside the industry, then you undermine the power of activists and working journalists, performers and musicians.” An appointed head would answer directly to the union’s delegates, giving them more power, Warren said, adding that appointment would allow the union to attract the best person for the job.

Asked about how he would respond to the concerns raised by the journalists, Warren said he welcomed people discussing the issue. “It’s been a long-running debate within our union,” he said. — Myriam Robin (disclosure: the author is Private Media’s union delegate)

Slave headlines in poor taste. First The Australian made this awful faux pas on its website on Oscar afternoon …

Now a California newspaper has splashed with the Best Picture winner in very poor taste (the owner of the paper said he “winced” when he saw it) …

Perhaps skip the puns for this one, folks.

Correction of the day. Speaking of the Oscar-crowned film … It’s never too late to correct a mistake, right? Sorry doesn’t seem to be the hardest word for The New York Times, which is correcting the record for a misspelt name — 161 years later. Eagle-eyed Times readers spotted the error when reading a historical article about Solomon Northup, whose book inspired 12 Years a Slave. Subs at the Grey Lady don’t seem to have been as diligent in the 19th century (or perhaps they did not have the fear of being confronted with their errors in the infamous “Greenies” the next day), as they spelled Northup’s name two different ways, neither of them correct …

Northup correction

Video of the day. Everyone’s favourite underhanded congressman, aka Kevin Spacey, had a chat to a BuzzFeed reporter on the Oscars red carpet on Sunday. She asked him the questions female stars usually have to answer — what time he had got up that morning to get ready, who did his hair (“it just happened”), and whether he has been dieting for months. We especially like Spacey’s reaction when asked about Spanx …

Front page of the day. ”The People’s Pope” is something of a rock star among the faithful (and others), nailing the cover of Rolling Stone, accidentally swearing, and being named Time’s Person of the Year. Now he’s getting his own magazine, Il Mio Papa, from Silvio Berlusconi’s publishing house. My Pope will be all Pope, all the time, and it hits Italian newsstands today …

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    Brendan Jones
    Posted Wednesday, 5 March 2014 at 4:51 pm | Permalink

    If I was a journalist, I’m not sure I’d bother joining the MEAA. The MEAA did advocate for shield laws to protect journalists - good, but in other areas the MEAA have - in my opinion - let their members down:

    I asked the MEAA to comment on paper on the relationship between whistleblowers and journalists. In particular, the reasons why journalists are reluctant to cover whistleblowers stories. But the MEAA refused.

    I wrote back to the MEAA “I hope you reconsider. We’re on the same side here and I’m trying to make it easier for your members to work without threat or intimidation. AFAIK Defamation is the biggest threat to journalists face. Stephen Mayne lost his house over defamation. Surely Alliance [MEAA] has a position on this?”

    Response: crickets chirping.

    BTW Here’s a list of defamation cases compiled by Stephen Mayne: http://www.maynereport.com/articles/2009/03/10-1024-2493.html

    Here’s the ABC’s Chris Masters on defamation: Journalists and broadcasters are just not going to do stories when defamation proceedings become as arduous and lengthy as this one was” … “The hardest things that I ever did in my career were not to do with gathering the story in the first place but in defending it … The worst thing is the emotional burden waking up every day knowing you’ve got court matters to deal with … it gets to a point where it can be extremely demoralising. You begin to say to yourself, I didn’t get into this to be a professional witness or professional defendant.” “I call it my death by a 1000 courts. The emotional drain tends to be understood only by those who experience it. You watch your morale and assets erode all the while surrounded by lawyers who are having the time of their lives. Horrible.” http://victimsofdsto.com/online/#freespeech

    To me it seems defamation is a a problem very relevant to journalists. (The paper was published here http://www.bmartin.cc/dissent/documents/Jones13.pdf Evan Whitton has written on how defamation is used to silence journalists here: http://netk.net.au/Whitton/OCLS.pdf p129- In the US journalists are protected when reporting public interest stories, because in the words of SCOTUS Justice Hugo Black, anything less would result in the wholesale destruction of the press. Yet the MEAA has ‘no comment’? Fascinating…)

    And then there is Michaela Banerji aka “LaLegale”; the public servant sacked for tweeting an opinion critical of the government.

    Civil Liberties Australia, who said they can only take on one case a year and were working on a wrongful imprisonment case, recommended that being an MEAA member she ask the MEAA to represent her given her sackings obvious free speech implications.

    MEAA is a strong supporter of free speech, right?

    But the MEAA refused. Michaela Banerji said she was simply amazed that MEAA and CPSU (the Commonwealth public sector union) did not want to be involved. She had been a member of both unions since 1996. She thought they would have both have an interest here.

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