Crikey’s Sydney correspondent, Crullers, was in the crowd at ABC studio as Philip Adams did a bit of soul searching on the hot topic of journalistic standards. Here’s his epic account of a promising concept which fell flat, just days before the most controversial discussion in recent memory erupted on the role of the media.

A noble quest indeed, but one, unfortunately, which was hijacked by your stereotypical ABC types so that this forum didn’t even come close to a representative cross-section of society and worse, rarely came close to the topic.

Unfortunately, Philip’s timing was awry – if only he’d chaired the discussion two days later we could have spent two hours discussing Cheryl and Biggles and that rotten muck-raker and Packer lackey, The Sphere of Effluence!

Aside from chairman Philip – dressed in his signature black, and greeted with a cheer of “we love you Philip” (yes, that was Crullers being a serial nitwit again) as he entered the stage – there was SMH webdiarist Margo Kingston, ace foreign correspondent Mark Davis, and 7:30 Report producer Jonathan Holmes.

They were the good guys – but of course!

From the evil world of non-Fairfax commercial media, we had Paul “Mooner” Murray, former editor of the West Australian and now 6PR talkback host, Michael Stuchbury, editor of the Australian, and Sandy Aloisi, news director of 2UE.

The first hour was a panel discussion on the topic at hand, while the second hour was dedicated to questions from the floor on the topic, with responses from the panel.

Actually, it was more like “political speeches from the floor”, with Philip doing his level best to get the motley assortment of ramblers and special interest group advocates to either (a) get to the point or (b) stop yelling out and interrupting without a microphone when the panel was answering.

We really needed a Steve Price to grumble “get on with it”. Instead, the civilised Mr Adams was far too courteous to speakers who completely ignored the “rules” of the forum and waffled on for far too long.

Crowd favourite Margo Kingston seemed to be close to having a coronary on a few occasions when either criticising the Howard Government, the Murdoch press and in particular their “suck job effort on the Packers” last weekend.

Philip referred to the “substantial audience” in attendance. I did a quick seat count and it look liked a 300 seater which was about two thirds full. They couldn’t even give away tickets to this one!

And that’s part of the problem with the ABC – it can indulge in worthy efforts like this debate, yet barely anybody seems to be listening.

After the events of Cherylgate last week, never before has the role of the Fourth Estate been so precisely examined.

The panel discussion

The discussion didn’t get off to a flying start when Philip turned to his question of “new journalism”, one of his headline topics.

The only problem was, no one on the panel knew what this “new journalism” gig was. (Some unkind characters might suggest that some or all of the panel don’t know a thing about “old journalism”, either.)

Mooner Murray didn’t know what it meant, nor did Michael Stuchbury. So Philip moved on to rephrase it terms of the changing mindset of the media consumer.

Stuchbury said that in today’s difficult market the key was to “engage” readers. When Adams asked him if this amounted to “dumbing down”, Stuchbury said it was the exact opposite – the key was to engage readers and have them feeling that they’ve been informed after their daily read.

Stuchbury said the new recruits coming up were “frighteningly smart and clever”. They obviously weren’t the ones who graduated from J-School, if the accounts of blogging prodigy Gareth Parker are anything to go by.

Sandy Aloisi made the interesting point that there just aren’t the training grounds any more.

And who is cutting all those regional newsrooms? Sandy’s employer, Southern Cross Broadcasting, no less!

Philip proudly pointed out that 65% of his listeners were university educated and estimated that “closer to 6%” of 2UE’s listeners would be university educated.

Adams did point out that he left school in his teens and he wasn’t trying to be snobbish, but why raise the point if not to paint talkback radio listeners as backwoods hicks?! How outrageous! I’m cancelling my 8 cents a day subscription to the ABC immediately.

Just because Pricey’s popular (although not as popular as others), doesn’t mean his show isn’t intelligent. Sure, he beats up on local government a fair bit. Sure, he doesn’t exactly get the Sydney chapter of MENSA ringing up – it’s more likely worried old dears who can’t afford their medication, victims of viscous dog attacks, victims of poor taxi service and pranksters who like to fire Pricey up.

But that doesn’t make his listeners idiots!!!

Margo was clearly the crowd favourite, getting her first round of applause for referring to her “free university education” (first “Friends of the ABC” stereotyping of the crowd for the night).

So what did she do with this free education?

MARGO: And I feel damn lucky that I did [get a free university education]. And also, I hated my first job. So I went on the dole, whooped in, got the dole and thought about it for 6 months…

Tisk, tisk, tisk. You see – if you give people something for free, they just don’t appreciate it. Give away uni courses, and these free-loading students just take that attitude into the real world and go looking for government handouts instead of gainful employment.

In throwing up a Dorothy Dixer to Jonathan Holmes, Philip claimed that “the only time the issue of bias comes up, it seems to me, is when the focus is on the ABC”.

Yeah, right!

What about the sustained campaign Media Watch has been running – quite fairly, in my view – of the sycophantic coverage Rupert’s papers give their good Uncle Rupe?

Every media outlet gets accused of bias Philip, it’s just louder in the case of the ABC.

Holmes’s response though, to Philip’s question of how he deals with allegations of bias, was quite interesting.

But you won’t see it reported by any of the ABC-friendly elements of the Fairfax press, because – hold the presses – the producer of the 7:30 Report, the show most often accused by the Libs of being biased, doesn’t get any pressure (directly or otherwise) from the Liberal stooges on the ABC’s board.

JONNY HOLMES: I don’t get the pressures directly from above, Philip, either from above in the ABC, or from the politicians. It doesn’t come down to my level, if you like. If it’s there, it’s dealt with higher up the tree. We get it remorselessly from the public… I would say three quarters of the letters that we get and the emails and the phone calls are accusing us of bias. It’s the word that’s kind of the “catch all” word to cover every inadequacy that we might have. When Kerry O’Brien does an interview, and he does a tough interview and he asks the questions that the other side will want asked, which is the standard procedure in television interviews and has been since television was invented, he’s biased, just for asking the tough questions!…

And later, Holmes mentioned that he’d never received one letter from Federal Libs director Lynton Crosby, despite doomsayers predicting a letter a week. He then had this to say about Michael Kroger’s role on the board and supposed interference with programming:

HOLMES: Michael Kroger has been arguing with other members of the board. He has not been ringing me. He has not been sending me emails. He has not been instructing me, nor has anyone else in the ABC. [Incredulously] Nobody seems to believe this, but I would not be working there if they were.

Well, the reason nobody believes you, Jonny, is because nobody hears your alternative point of view.

You certainly won’t read about it in the ABC-friendly elements of the Fairfax press, and I doubt other ABC sympaticos like Errol Simper would run the line that the Lib stooges on the ABC board don’t stick their noses in programming business.

It’s a rarity indeed when Crullers agrees with Margo, but she stuck it up the Murdoch press with this barb aimed at Michael Stuchbury:

MARGO: (Interrupting a response Michael Stuchbury was making) An oligopoly of Murdoch and Packer. There is no democracy in this country. We’re the only guys keeping an eye on you guys. [Margo’s hysteria count rising alarmingly.] You guys have basically shaken each other’s hands. Look at the bloody Sunday Telegraph absolute suck job by the editor [Warning! Danger!] where the whole piece was unfair [? – slightly inaudible at this point due to microphone feedback and the audience hysteria rising to keep track with Margo’s] to Fairfax. Not one question about what went wrong with OneTel. [Longest round of applause for the night.]

Sure, an easy target and one that was always going to appease this crowd, but Michael Stuchbury’s reaction – silence for a couple of seconds and an “I’m not sure how to respond to that” – was lame.

It’s hard to defend the indefensible (actually, it’s impossible by definition, you nitwit, Crullers), but any lame throwaway line would have been better than Stuchbury’s marvellous take on a stunned mullet.

Even a piece of fluff like “Oh, come on Margo, you’re just jealous because we got the scoop, Fairfax didn’t, and you’re stung by Packer’s legitimate criticism of the slipping standards in the Fairfax press and the shoddy business practices of the men at the top” would have been better.

If he could have trotted that out with a straight face, he should get into politics!

And it’s not as though he shouldn’t have seen this sort of criticism coming. News Ltd papers have been bagged from pillar to post about their coverage of the Packer split.

And where was the other News Ltd journalist on the panel in sticking up for his employer? I speak of course of Philip, who was as silent as a shell-shocked Michael Stuchbury on this.

He was also silent when Margo accused the Murdoch press of not having a culture of dissent and public disagreement among journos. Come again?

What about Philip and his ongoing slanging match with Tim Blair? Did Philip forget that, or was he just too “impartial” in his role as chair of the discussion to stick up for the Murdoch press?

Speaking of Tim Blair, I was most disappointed to find out he had been invited to participate in the panel but then un-invited. It most definitely wasn’t a Blair-friendly crowd, and I reckon the rascally blogger would have felt the sting of a hundred walking sticks hurled his way had he shown up!

Question time

The second program, which I thought was the more promising prospect, was a shambles.

The problem?

The participants. No, not the panelists, but the people shooting the “questions” at the panel. Crullers will take the rap for his circus antics – provided solely for his own amusement and that of his talkback partner in crime, Anthony from Chippendale – but stands by his question of “how do journos cut through spin?”

Unfortunately the good folk at Late Night Live did some judicious editing and cut out Crullers’ plug for Pricey’s show. But if they edited out the rest of the garbage that was brought up by the other speakers, they wouldn’t have had a show left.

It got off to a bad start from the kick off.

ADAMS: We have a central microphone to avoid any suggestion of bias and the first question, madam, comes from you.

PENELOPE TOLTZ: Hi. I’m Penelope Toltz and I’m the President of the Friends of the ABC. [Whistle, cheers, sustained applause. It was going to be that sort of show.] Thank you. The first thing that I found that was very interesting in the first half of the program was that there seems to be such a passionlessness about the people sitting up there tonight apart from Margo [laughter, more applause]. I find this fascinating. I don’t expect that everybody’s out there with their Superman suits like, leaping off tall buildings et cetera et cetera and I know that life is grim and life is earnest now but I feel that a little more passion would go a long way to making people feel more engaged. I think when I’m reading the Sydney Morning Herald as I invariably do – and I read also the Australian – but when I read the Sydney Morning Herald and I read people like Miranda Devine and PP McGuinness and I can’t always get right through their articles I have to say [more chuckles from the crowd] but when I read these articles and I see that these people don’t even do their research, they just make opinions, they don’t back them up with anything, and I find this continual harping about where is the right wing Philip Adams, I find this is just one of those red herrings that goes along to sort of get people off the real story, and the real story seems to me that there aren’t enough, either there aren’t enough journalists or not enough researchers, but it seems to me the in depth stories aren’t being done like they used to be.

Sorry, about the long sentence, folks, but it would do a grave injustice to Penelope’s circular breathing technique to split it into halves – or eighths, as is probably more appropriate.

And can you fit any more of your classic Friends of the ABC stereotypes into the one spray?!

Crullers will readily ‘fess up to agreeing more often than not with the Devine Ms M and Australia’s pre-eminent curmudgeon, but it’s bloody rich of Penelope to accuse Miranda and PP of lacking facts when in her lengthy spray (it’s not as though she didn’t get plenty of time) she came up with a fact count of …. well, zilch.

That is, if you take out the purported facts that she got wrong.

“Passionlessness”? Well, Mooner Murray blew that one out of the water.

MOONER: I think Penelope’s just broken one of the cardinal rules of journalism, and that is “don’t assume”. I mean, you’ve assumed on the basis of watching us answer Philip’s questions for an hour that we’re passionless. I mean, I don’t think that’s a very smart assumption. I think you’ve made an ass of you and me.

PENELOPE: I think that’s great, and if you’re that passionate to say that, hear, hear.

Supposedly passionless shock jock 1, Friend of ABC 0.

Michael Stuchbury then gave a long spiel about how The Oz demonstrated its passion by throwing resources at the children overboard scam and uncovering the government’s lies.

PENELOPE: That’s more like it Michael, that’s the way I want to hear you talking.

Supposedly passionless Murdoch lackey 1, Friend of ABC 0.

“Continual harping about where is the right wing Philip Adams”?

I must say that’s one thing I haven’t heard much of lately until Ramona Koval noted it in her report to staff on her first meeting running the asylum. I thought it was a throw-away line by Michael Kroger which had a run about a year ago and pretty quickly ran out of steam.

The ABC had their very own right wing Philip Adamses for a while – Imre Salusinszky and Tim Blair – who produced a pretty good radio show based on my occasional listening. (Friday night is pub night, fellas.)

But they were given the boot because they weren’t ABC – friendly enough. You can read Imre’s take on it in the latest edition of Quadrant.

Toltz also claimed “it seems to me the in depth stories aren’t being done like they used to be”?

Facts please, Penelope? Well, this one is just an anecdote dressed up as opinion.

The 7:30 Report’s Jonathan Holmes jumped in with a commendation for The Oz and a whinge about the ABC’s place in the world:

JONNY HOLMES: Yeah good on you, Michael. And I think it’s dead true, and I think The Australian did a fantastic job on the Tampa. If the ABC had done as good a job, if it had happened to be the ABC that broke the story, we would have read in the Australian’s editorial column and its Op Ed columns ad nauseum from the IPA about the ABC’s culture. [Huge cheers.] And all those things you’ve been running in your paper, those (sic) wonderful stuff about Mabo, that great stuff you were doing about Aboriginal health issues, if we run it in the ABC, it’s the ABC culture at work. And it’s you guys who are fuelling that, and that’s some passion from me, because I’m fed up with it. [More cheers.]

Mark Davis then made the point that he thought the ABC had taken a “bland path” and there was a “fear” of being seen to be subjective.

If the producer of the 7:30 Report says he’s “fed up” with constant criticism about the “ABC culture” when they trash the conservative side of politics, there might be some substance to Davis’ observation.

Of course, that requires the assumption that constant criticism would affect the way Holmes runs stories on the 7:30 Report, and as Mooner taught us earlier, never assume!

Then we had someone from the Australia – East Timor association bagging reporting on the East Timor situation.

Adams tried but didn’t quite manage to step in and nip this one in the bud. It was a question on a specific issue, admittedly important but of little interest to the general population and didn’t address the general issue of whether the profession is doing the job.

GEOFF LEIGH: Yes, Geoff Leigh from the Australia – East Timor Association. I would like to take up this issue that you’ve been pursuing on foreign policy in the previous discussion from the panelists, particularly from the East Timor perspective. In spite of all the good things Michael’s said about The Australian’s coverage of the refugee issue, I vehemently disagree with his comment that the Don Greenlees book and its serialisation almost in full in The Australian is the definitive work on Australia – Indonesian – East Timor relations. I think that was already done by the journalists who stuck their necks out, John Martinkus “A Dirty Little War”, the aid worker who stuck his neck out, Lansell Taudevin, “Too Little, Too Late” and so on and so forth. The guts of it on the East Timor question is that The Australian and the rest of the media are re-writing history at the moment to the point that Gough Whitlam can stand up and say that he’s a good guy. They’re still ignoring West Papua and HR, the reality of the East Timor story has been buried. It was re-written by Greg Sheridan and the rest of the DFAT drip people who feed The Australian’s foreign affairs section [applause]…

ADAMS: OK…

LEIGH: Now, basically, I think that if you look at the foreign news coverage that we’re getting at the moment, we’re getting nothing but what’s coming out of Canberra. And ditto to a large extent the refugee issue. And I’ll finish up on this [at last!]. I sent a letter to the editor of both The Australian and the Herald last week suggesting that they admit defeat, join the spectacle and maybe Big Brother should be applied to Parliamentary Question Time and politicians should get voted out once every week. That should also apply to the media. That’s the only way we can get rid of Andrew Bolt and Piers Akerman. [Much applause, Anthony from Chippendale trying valiantly to have his “boos” heard over the din.]

ADAMS: That’s a very interesting statement, but it’s not a question.

Well thanks for nothing Philip! This bloke’s wasted your precious radio time when others are chaffing at the bit to ask legitimate questions about the debate we’re supposedly having on the media.

Why the heck wasn’t this edited out? It was irrelevant and there was no further discussion on it by the panel.

It would be too easy to launch into a “that’s the problem with the ABC” spray at this point.

So I will.

You see [all “that’s the problem with the ABC” sprays must start with “you see”, just as all letters to the editors grieving over dear old Aunty must start with “Why, oh why….”], this bloke encapsulates everything that’s wrong with the ABC at the moment.

It gets hijacked by special interest groups who, try as they might in fighting for valiant causes, try to ram stuff down the throat of the mug punter who just couldn’t give a rat’s tossbag.

Instead of cutting this bloke off early on, the far too civilised for his own good Philip Adams let him whine on with a boring, predictable, fact-less set of theories that 99.9% of people have no interest in.

Worse still, the contribution was completely off the topic.

Little wonder then that your Piers Akerman types (and Crullers, for that matter) regularly load up for cheap shots at the ABC about their paucity of ratings and when a bloke comes in to do something – Shier, of course – he gets run out of town for being too crass and commercial.

Don’t get Crullers wrong – he’s a fervent fan of plenty of the ABC’s work, but just as passionately dislikes a lot of things the ABC does.

Philip should have set out the ground rules and said “look folks, thanks for turning up but this is a general discussion on the role of the media. No more discussion on topics of specific interest, please.”

So what happens next?

He gets an equally boring, predictable, fact devoid, conspiratorial etc etc spray from some bloke from the Australian – Lebanese Association.

At least Philip told this bloke to “keep it brief” and cut him off at the pass after he’d raised examples of supposedly biased reporting on gang rapes and the anti-terror legislation.

In responding to this question, it was interesting to hear Margo say:

MARGO: … I think the duty of journalists now is to stick with the children overboard inquiry, stick with SIEV-X, stick with the facts, no matter what people say about your motives. Just stick with the facts and keep yourself focused and keep yourself as objective as you can be…

With the greatest respect (lawyer speak for I’m about to dump a bucketload of A-grade fertiliser), “objectivity” and “facts” are words that I wouldn’t always associate with Margo’s reporting on most issues, especially most recently on SIEV-X.

From day one Margo has surprised no one by trying to nail the government and despite the best efforts of the Parliamentary inquiry, the conspiracy theories just stack up to form a compelling case.

Crullers couldn’t sum it up better than this letter writer to the Yawning did in complaining about the Herald’s reporting on the issue, led by Margo:

“A group of uninvited people decide to move to Australia, bypassing the normal entry procedures and flouting a series of laws to do so. They engage in a high-risk operation and base themselves in Indonesia, with the knowledge of the local authorities and government. A rich local businessman arranges for them to be shipped out to Australia. The boat is overcrowded, unsafe and clearly unsuited for an ocean voyage lasting several days. The local authorities are well aware of what is happening and possibly even help.

“The boat sinks 80 or 130 kilometres off the Indonesian coast at night; the Indonesian Navy and authorities do nothing to prevent this ship sailing or to help rescue survivors. The nearest Australian ship and territory are 240km and 400km away, respectively.

“Yet it’s Australia at fault, according to the propaganda campaign being waged by the politically correct.

“Stephen Thomas, Wahroonga, June 20.”

The next special interest bloke up to the mike started off by saying that “I refuse to read the Daily Telegraph”.

He then proceeded to pull out a “throwaway article” that he objected to from where else but – who would have guessed?! – the Tele!

Don’t you just love a fearless trail-blazer who can take a courageous stand and guts it out? This bloke is quite the contortionist – he reads papers that he refuses to read and holds onto articles that he defines as “throwaways”!

He was whingeing about that ban that some university pinheads had placed on their Israeli counterparts that was universally rubbished in the press.

Remember that? And did you add a phony name or three hundred to their online petition like everyone else did?

Well, if someone is citing that editorial as an example of declining standards in the press, you’re clutching at straws, pal.

But it got worse.

This joker had the absolute gall to slander talkback radio! He prattled on with some mostly incoherent gibberish about “polluting the airwaves” and callers getting cut off.

Well, if you ramble on like that with Pricey, of course he’s going to cut you off. Pricey and his cohorts only have so much time to connect with the punters, and waffling diatribes just don’t cut the mustard in the pulsating world of (commercial) talkback radio.

This isn’t the ABC you know – ratings matter out there in the real world.

The too-infrequently-heard-from Sandy Aloisi made the valid point that if you have a dissenting view, it will get airplay – and it’s true.

Why? Because it rates.

Nobody wants to listen to a bland radio show where everyone agrees with everyone else – witness the ABC’s ratings. (Sorry, another cheap shot about ABC ratings but I just couldn’t help myself.)

It might be the theatre of having some goon (aka Crullers) rankle Pricey and cause his blood pressure to rise by suggesting that John Safran’s ecstasy tablet prank was funny. Or it might be the intellectual stimulation of having two compelling sides of a debate aired to expand our understanding of a complex issue.

But the bottom line is that homogeneity is not good for talkback radio.

Sorry pal, you’re wrong. That didn’t stop him from trying to interject from the floor as Aloisi was making her point.

Crullers had to bite the tongue as he stood in line waiting to ask his question when Aloisi mentioned “serial callers” who sometimes get killed at the switchboard.

Not this serial caller! Neal from Redfern and Anthony from Chippendale get the star treatment on Pricey’s show.

Why? Because we’re good for ratings! (“You wish!” says Pricey as he’s reading this.)

Naturally Crikey’s Sydney correspondent had to pipe up with a question, firing off with his trademark “thanks Philip – enjoy the show, congratulations on the ratings” (2.3 in Melbourne and 2.2 in Sydney according to the latest Neilsen survey) and then saying “I must be in the minority here, because I don’t have a barrow to push…”

I proceeded with a question on how journos cut through the many layers of spin doctoring they have to put up with these days, and also objected to the earlier speaker who damned talkback radio to hell. I said it was a great medium and recommended that people tune in to Steve Price tomorrow morning on 2UE.

I said in last week’s sealed section before the program went to air “it wouldn’t surprise if that gratuitous plug ended up on the cutting room floor” and sure enough, the ABC didn’t surprise us!

Mooner Murray said a few good words about talkback radio and then the panel gave their views on how to get through spinning. Mooner said that in evidence a to WA Royal Commission he felt like he was “going to war” with spinners to try and cut through the bullspittle.

He said that sometimes they get caught out by the spinners “because they’re good at it, and sometimes they’re better than us”.

Interestingly, Michael Stuchbury mentioned how:

STUCH: …We’ve had instances in business reporting where a company will want to very much manage the release of some information and where we’ve worked at the best – and I agree with Paul – sometimes you do a fantastic job, sometimes you completely fall hook… you know, fall for it completely.

So, when would that be, Michael?

When Mark Westfield fell for the dodgy HIH leaks that Rodney Adler was drip-feeding him?

Or when Uncle Rupert’s spinners put those brilliantly crafted slants on News Corp’s recent write off disasters that The Oz just couldn’t peer through?

Mark Davis also made the point that journos were vulnerable to lies because of lazy “press release journalism” – the process of covering not an event, but the event as described in a press release.

Sandy Aloisi also noted that most of the spin doctors come from the journalism profession and are better resourced so they can play the game better than the press can.

The next bloke up asked a question about the decline of investigative journalism. But then he tacked onto it a spray about the term “boat people”, which he found offensive because we’re all “boat people” – some just arrived last year, others arrived three generations ago.

I couldn’t understand the point of this, but it got the obligatory round of applause from the crowd.

Is “boat people” a pejorative term? I don’t think so. Judging by the applause, most of the crowd seemed to agree with this bloke. Margo thought that “boat people” was a “lovely” term!

And another speaker later agreed with the questioner, saying that it was a very derogatory “white, middle class term”.

Huh? As I was scratching my head at that one, most of the rest of the crowd’s hands were busily employed giving this speaker a loud ovation.

Another speaker asked when would Paul Kelly and Greg Sheridan be held accountable for the “crap” they have written on East Timor for the past 24 years and when would “Bondi boy and world renowned journalist John Pilger” grace us with his words of wisdom in the Yawning.

Right…

For an alternative view on John Pilger’s journalism credentials (or lack thereof), check out the gripping ongoing serial, “A Lie on Every Page” ™.

The same speaker also said he objected to journalism being referred to as a “product”.

Michael Stuchbury spent a good deal of time trying to brief this guy on what goes on in the real world where people have to turn a quid and can’t spend their entire lives naval gazing, but I fear the message would be lost on that punter.

Someone accused the Australian of pulling stories to placate advertisers. Loud applause. Stuchbury answered the only way it could be answered – credibility. It took him a while to get to the point, but the last sentence of this excerpt is all that matters.

STUCH: There’s nothing wrong with making a profit. Profit and the free enterprise system is why we’re sitting here in relative comfort here tonight… In my experience it’s never happened to me [spiking stories] but I know of instances on my paper where – and it’s treated very seriously – where editorial independence from advertisers … it wouldn’t stack up. You are selling in the market place your credibility and if you lose that, you lose a very valuable asset…

Mooner Murray noted that the corollary was that we can only believe things that come out of government run broadcasters – “I’d much rather trust the free enterprise system”.

Again, I don’t think there would be too many subscribers to that view in the gallery!

The final word

And on it went.

In the end, a noble quest but fatally flawed in its execution.

Why?

Because it was on the ABC.

Not because the ABC can’t stage such a debate – quite the contrary. The most disappointing thing about this is that the ABC is probably the best avenue through which to conduct this sort of debate.

No, this was flawed because of the crowd it attracted. It was your stereotypical ABC / SMH friendly crowd straight out of the Piers Akerman ABC stereotype casting agency.

But in the end, it wasn’t particularly interesting radio in my view and it strayed from the topic too often.

Invariably, this was caused by speakers not interested in talking on the topic but instead pushing their own personal agenda.

If a media outfit with a more “commercial” outlook had taken up the challenge (read: provide an informative discussion AND make it lively and relevant to a broad audience) they would have stuck to the topic and tolerated no rambling.

The state of journalism is a topic that a lot of people would be interested in. We are all consumers every day of our lives to some extent.

But 99.9% of the public couldn’t give a flying fig about how Greg Sheridan reports on East Timor in the Australian. 99.9% of the public wouldn’t care any more about a “throwaway article” on page 9 of the Tele bagging university geeks who placed some silly ban on their Israeli counterparts. 99.9% of the population have had enough of some conspiracy theory that the government assisted a boat sail out of Indonesia, watched it sink, told the navy not to help, yadda yadda yadda.

But the questions of what’s wrong with journalism, what it needs to do to lift game and so on are important.

The public participants in this debate dragged it away from the key questions and onto the minutia of their specific interest for the show’s own good.

Peter Fray

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