Can you listen to the radio and watch TV while surfing the net reading a paper? Media junkie Hillary Bray likes to try.

There were sighs of relief in newsrooms round the country last week when Steve Fossett finally touched down but not because the adventurer was safe.

Instead, there were lots of news editors, directors and the like who were very worried that it was only a few days into the financial year and they were already blowing big, big holes in their budget to pay for planes, choppers, satellites, links and accommodation in three states to keep up with Fossett as he drifted across the country in search of somewhere to land.

Fred still loves you

Isn’t that sweet of him! After James Packer had told Lachlan Murdoch or one of his minions, anyway that Fairfax was Australia’s worst run company in their little contretemps over the Sun-Herald’s coverage of his marriage split, Fairfax boss Frederick G Hilmer those middle initials are catching on at Fairfax gave everyone a pat on the back. Then he sacked half of them. Sorry. That’s next week.

MEMORANDUM

TO: All Fairfax Staff

FROM: Frederick G. Hilmer

DATE: 1 July 2002

Dear colleagues:

You will no doubt have read or heard about the interview given by James Packer in yesterday’s Sunday Telegraph (and which is posted on Fairfax Today). It is no coincidence that such an attack on Fairfax — the company and our reporting — comes at this time, and it is a direct result of the independence and integrity of our journalism.

The fact is that we are well placed going forward. Due in large part to all your efforts in this difficult media market we have been able to continue improving and investing in our mastheads and supporting infrastructure. We are well positioned for growth as the media market strengthens.

I take great pride in what we do, and how we do it, both in managing the company and in our journalism.

All of which constitutes a good message for the commencement of the new financial year.

Regards, Fred

Get lost

Fred Hilmer might love ’em but Fairfax seems committed to fostering an, er, unique attitude to its staff if this memo from SMH/Sun-Herald publisher Alan Revell is any guide:

Flexible work program

Invitation for applications by July 17

Several staff have asked for more flexible work arrangements so they can pursue other activities while continuing to contribute to the Herald. These requests have coincided with the paper needing to come up with smarter ways of containing costs while retaining all the paper’s strong points.

Many overseas papers maintain a relationship with talented writers, photographers and artists by offering them the security of being a retained contributor. It has allowed these people to develop other projects such as books, script writing or non-media activities. The paper and readers benefit by being able to continue enjoying the work of leading journalists or artists while they pursue other work or a lifestyle change.

These ideas have evolved into an innovative program that aims to keep a close relationship with those staff keen to change their work patterns. It also manages costs in a constructive way at a time where the paper is being asked to tightly manage its budgets.

The flexible work program will operate like this.

* Successful applicants will cease being employees of the company. *

* Annual and long service leave will be paid out and you will start a new relationship with the company as a contributor. Contributors normally work from their home and maintain their own hours.

* Typically, the candidates will have a track record of independent ideas-generation, consistent quality without the need for close supervision, timely filing, clean copy, pictures or artwork and a capacity to work for several sections of the paper.

The paper reserves the right to restrict the number of positions and to choose those who best meet the selection criteria. Only a limited number of places will be offered.

Payment will be negotiated on an individual basis. It is envisaged payment will include a one-off sum, to help with set up costs such as home office, accounting and other associated expenses, plus an ongoing fee for an agreed number of articles, pictures or artwork for the agreed period.

Successful applicants would sign the standard Fairfax contributor agreement.

As they will no longer be staff they will be paid through the contributors system. A sheet of basic Q&As is attached and anyone interested in further discussion should see their senior editor or Tom Burton.

Staff interested in being part of this program are asked to submit their application to the Editor through Herald HR by July 17.

Alan Revell

Publisher SMH/Sun Herald

Quick off the mark

The Guardian published a rehash of all the old Club of Rome lies on Sunday, a World Wildlife Fund report that supposedly claims “Earth’s population will be forced to colonise two planets within 50 years if natural resources continue to be exploited at the current rate”.

So who’ll be first off the mark to report it the Sydney Morning Herald or the Age.

More memos

The lunatics are well and truly back in charge of Their ABC and to celebrate they elected one of their more hard core members to the Board, Ramona Koval.

Her first report has gone out telling her fellow inmates Imre Salusinszky and Tim Blair won’t be allowed back on the air (in the nicest possible way) and that Michael Kroger surprise, surprise is a villain.

Thursday June 27th 2002

Staff Elected Director’s Report #1

The first ABC Board meeting at which I represented you was held in Melbourne on Wednesday 26.6.02. Some of the issues raised were long standing.

1. EDITORIAL GUIDELINES DOCUMENT

An extension of the deadline for staff comments on the Draft Editorial Guidelines was sought against management recommendations that it closed on June 24th. I said that this did not give staff time to evaluate this document by which they would have to work closely in the future. I argued that the three-year “hold-up” had not been on the part of the staff, but on the process by which management had travelled. It was agreed that an extension for comment be given to 5th July, thus allowing for the finished document to be presented to the July Board meeting.

2. A RIGHTWING PHILLIP ADAMS

Once again, the vexed question of a “right-wing Phillip Adams” was raised. I pointed out the wisdom of appointing broadcasters for their ability to broadcast. Broadcasting is a highly skilled and demanding job, and there is folly in assuming that those who have certain opinions and even skills in other areas of the media can necessarily perform well as broadcasters.

3. APPROPRIATE BEHAVIOUR OF BOARD DIRECTORS.

I had been asked by Tim Palmer, the ABC’s Middle East correspondent, to raise with the Board an issue of inappropriate behaviour by a Board director.

The ABC TV Media Watch program reported on 13/5/2002 that ABC director Michael Kroger had written in 2001 to the then Managing Director and the Director of News and Current Affairs asking them to “tell me what you are going to do about the clear anti-Israel bias exposed in Dr (Colin) Rubenstein’s letter.” A letter of complaint about the ABC’s Middle East coverage was enclosed. A detailed internal inquiry of all the matters raised by Dr Rubenstein, (Executive Director of the Australia/Israel and Jewish Affairs Council) was conducted over some weeks concluding that the ABC stood by our coverage of Israel, Palestine and the Middle East generally, which was of a high standard.

Tim Palmer complained to me as staff-elected director that Mr Kroger’s remarks in his covering letter were clearly prejudicial to him as they were made before any examination or assessment of the facts by ABC management. As a significant number of the complaints were about Tim Palmer’s Middle East reports on radio and television, Mr Palmer was particularly concerned. He thought that an ABC Board Director was trying to unduly influence editorial matters. His ABC managers were being pressured by a Director to take action against him. He asked me to seek an apology from Mr Kroger.

I raised Tim Palmer’s concerns with the chairman and sought his agreement to place the issue on the Board’s agenda. In the meantime the chairman wrote a letter to Tim Palmer (which Tim has given me permission to mention) in which he noted the proper processes for complaints handling; asserted that director Kroger’s remarks were irrelevant to the process; acknowledged the significance of Mr Palmer’s work in bringing Middle East events back to the Australian public and noted his appointment to another sensitive post as the ABC’s Djakarta correspondent.

At the Board meeting I argued that it was inappropriate for a Board Director to personally involve himself in a campaign on behalf of a lobbyist instead of keeping the complaint at arm’s length and referring the matter without comment. The terms used, particularly coming from a director of the corporation, were damaging to the reputation of the ABC as a news gathering and information broadcaster. And they also had the potential to damage the reputations of staff and endanger their security and safety in the field where they are already operating at some personal risk.

I asked the Board to confirm their support of our correspondents working in the Middle East. The Board indicated its position had been articulated by the chairman’s letter to Mr Palmer and that the matter should rest there. I asked for an apology from Mr Kroger on behalf of Tim Palmer. There was no indication that an apology would be forthcoming.

The Board is working on a Code of Conduct for Board Directors as part of its concern with governance matters.

Ramona Koval

Staff Elected Director

Digital age

Labor’s communication spokesperson Lindsay Tanner lifted his head ever so slightly above the parapet this week to say something slightly nasty about the Nine network and its monopoly on broadcast sport.

Quite rightly, Tanner asked if something should be done to stop networks buying up multiple sports rights that they can’t possibly broadcast, so preventing Australians from seeing sport live.

The most recent case was on Friday night, when football matches looked set to prevent Australians seeing Lleyton Hewitt’s semi-final clash at Wimbledon live, instead being set down for delayed broadcast after the football.

Fortunately, Kerry Packer has enough influence to ensure rain in London, so this unpleasant clash never became a major issue. But it was amusing to see the response of Communications Minister Richard Alston, who opined it was “not the role of Government to become programmer” a nice one, although it has never stopped him waffling on about what the ABC should be broadcasting.

But in fact, Alston must take some of the blame for any broadcast clashes as he is the minister who introduced the current ridiculous digital broadcasting regime.

In Britain, Wimbledon viewers had the option, courtesy of digital broadcasting, to choose which Wimbledon match to watch. If, during the world cup, two soccer matches were on at the same time, viewers could choose between the matches on the digital channels. If Channel Four want to broadcast both cricket and the racing, they do so on separate digital channels.

But this is not possible in Australia, because the government bowed to the TV networks and mandated HDTV (high definition) rather than SDTV (standard) digital broadcasting.

Digital broadcasts take up less of the spectrum than the same analogue transmission, meaning multiple channels can be broadcast in the same bandwidth. But by mandating HDTV as the standard, the extra definition included in HDTV means the digital signal takes up the same bandwidth as analogue broadcasting. Hence, no room for extra channels. In the end, all the government has done with digital broadcasting is transfer the existing broadcast monopoly from analogue to digital, with the only advantage being better picture quality. There are no extra services, which is why the take up rate of digital TVs has been so bad.

The whole process has been a suck-up to the existing broadcasters, allowing them to continue with their broadcast monopoly, without the government allowing other organisations into the broadcast spectrum.

But the other downside is, that if a network like the Nine network has multiple sports broadcasts, it can only show one at a time. If the government had gone for standard digital rather than HDTV, then the Nine network could have broadcast both sports at the same time. Of course, the question then arises whether they should be allowed to have the extra channels free, which gets back to the original problem of why the networks wanted HDTV.

Digital broadcasting is changing the way Europeans watch television, giving them greater choice, and opening up the spectrum to new players. Yet here in Australia, we have adopted a standard that gives viewers no new choices, and continues the entrenched monopoly of those already with spectrum.

Alston’s decision on digital broadcasting was one of the most self-interested made by this government, doing nothing more than suck up to the media proprietors who help keep the government in office. The public interest been has been completely trashed.

So much for the Liberal Party’s 1996 slogan “For all of us”. On digital television, it’s for a few mates, and the rest of us can go and get stuffed.

Eagle eyes

There were red faces all round at the Age last weekend after a mock death notice for the brutally dispatched Victorian Labor state secretary David Feeney was published. Hillary hears the same stunt was tried in the Sunday Herald Sun but picked up by the eagle eyed editor, Alan Howe, in the proofs.

Gossip bust up

Hillary was too preoccupied by the James Packer yarn on last Sunday to read the rest of the Telegraph on Sunday, and only looked at normal must reads like Ros Reines much later. It was surprising to see her having a go at the “pneumatic” Pamela Anderson. People who live in silicone houses…

More shocks at the Fin

They may need to keep Mark Skulley on oxygen down at the Financial Review’s Melbourne office when they let him know he’s being replaced as local chief by former Age hack Michael Short.

Michael – son of Jim Short, the Assistant Treasurer for that brief shining moment in 1996 when the John Howard code of conduct for ministers was enforced – has been enjoying the Beaujolais-au-lait life in France these past few years, famously departing the 7.30 Report ten years ago after attempting a pissoir interview with grumpy old Jeff Kennett and also running that rather cheeky “cunning stunt” line in a story.

They think it’s all over

Finally, an item to ease World Cup withdrawal.

The Sunday Age’s sparkling “Critical Mass” columnist, Corrie Perkin has been closely following the World Cup, each week devoting a column to various quotes from competitors and observers. Last week, she slipped in a quote from “Sven Goran Eriksson, Denmark Coach” a reference, presumably, the Swedish coach of England.

A word to the wise: Corrie, instead of writing in ignorance, stick to subjects you know. Which is, exactly, er…

Corrie’s dad, Graham Perkin, was also a journalist, a legendary Age editor who dragged that organ from the 1930s into the 1970 and in whose name his peers struck a perpetual Journalist of the Year award. Yes, he was an industry titan. Although he never scaled the heights of vacuous TV tittle tattle columns and acres of quotes devoted to mis-identifying the world’s most famous football coach. He must be rolling gently in his grave.

Hillary Bray can be contacted at [email protected]

Peter Fray

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