The Crikey Army presents its report card on the NSW bushfire coverage.

A journo who has been covering the NSW bushfires for a major media outlet has a few interesting points to make about some aspects of the coverage, although being on the ground he / she can’t comment in much detail on the coverage generally:

“- A tv station – I think Channel 9 – reported that guests in the Hydro Majestic Hotel in Medlow Bath sipped champagne as the fire approached yesterday. Bollocks. They were in the ballroom, but so far as I could make out, no champagne.

– TV in particular keeps reporting fresh flare-ups of this fire – which has been vigorously burning since Thursday afternoon, as though they were new fires. This is really getting the goat of the local firefighters, who have been consistently flat out since Thursday. The problem is the TV choppers only arrive when there is “action” close to the towns, and they seem not to have memories longer than 12 hours.

– A more general point is that all the media are focussing on issues like back-burning and whether it was adequate, but hardly anybody is talking about the absolute plague of arson that has caused, or almost certainly caused, ALL the firestorms around Sydney so far this season. An extraordinary omission.


Phil Koperberg – confusing us all?

This correspondent reckons the head of the NSW Rural Fire Service, Phil Koperberg, might be fudging his figures, but also recommends that we keep an eye out for how the new OH&S laws will apply following the recent death of a volunteer fire fighter:


The fresh flare-ups are inaccurate, but you’ve got Phil on the box-that-never-stops saying that everything’s under control again, and admirably restraining himself from using the usual ‘the State’s a tinderbox’ epithet. With the confidence of the statements coming out of RFS head office, it’s not surprising that people (including reporters) are confused.

No one seems to know what the difference is between controlled and mopped up. Educating people is so much harder than simply ‘informing’ them with perdy pictures.

As to the arson claims, I don’t imagine there’s been much forensics done on the fires yet. Certainly a large number of the fires could be attributable to dry lightning strikes (all the rain-free thunderstorms and the lengthy drought combine to create great conditions for ‘natural’ fires).

I don’t imagine many reporters have been out of the CBD for the past few months (droughts don’t make good copy) so they wouldn’t have witnessed the spectacular weather we’ve seen just a couple of hours out of Sydney.

Much more interesting in this arena, though, is what’s happening with the investigation into the death of the volunteer several weeks ago. The first death the RFS had since the new OH&S legislation went in, and one of the effects is an obligation by the agency to report the incident to WorkCover, and a similar obligation by WorkCover to prosecute .. someone. Once they work out who, that is.

What is the situation where an unpaid worker ignores the directive given by their leader, also acting in an unpaid capacity, which subsequently leads to their own death?

Koperberg’s avoidance of formally attaching himself to any specific political party is a beautiful thing, but even more impressive is the change to his KPI’s [key performance indicators] made a while ago, whereby the number of houses saved, rather than the number lost, is the metric to watch.

How do you measure the number of houses that are NOT burned down?”

Sky News is the best

This correspondent reckons Sky News rules the roost:

“G’day Crikey Team

I reckon Sky News has the best coverage. I’ve been doing a lot of channel hopping and they certainly have the most complete coverage I’ve seen. Obviously it is a bit easier with a dedicated news channel. But one thing is they’ll take footage from anywhere…they’ve had their own footage, along with footage from Seven and Ten.

It is a little Sydney-centric, though they do make an effort to keep us informed of what is happening in other areas. Most of their footage is of Sydney, due no doubt to a large number of fast sources, compared to relatively slow regional news camera teams.

Keep up the great work!


This correspondent concurs:

“Hi Crikey!

With regard to handling of fire reporting I was unable to watch the free to air bulletins last night but during the day had Sky News on all day with continuous live coverage.

Apart from some of the usual problems of live reporting, they seemed to handle it well. Unfortunately I haven’t been able to watch as solidly today, so I’m not sure if they’ve been able to keep up the momentum.”

Sky News is the pits!

This correspondent begs to differ:

“If you have access to Sky News it is a must watch. It is the most shocking coverage.

– most footage is more than a day old;

– “we are crossing now to our sport commentator XYZ who is at the fire in ABC” (so down to all hands reporting – none of whom have any idea);

– they don’t seem to have cameras anywhere important nor anywhere near anywhere important. There are also few interviews;

– footage inside the helicopter is often facing the roof – not out the window;

– half the edits are broadcast – after what looks like a 1/2 minute edit in the truck – without the presenter knowing what they are;

– the anchor is constantly trying to comment on footage but has no idea where / what it is; and

– they are just bumbling along, struggling to put sentences together half the time.

My wife and I leave it on for comedic value alone – that’s about all its good for.

On the bright side, ABC 702 Sydney is doing a great job.


A couple of classics from the bushfire reporting book of cliches


For me, the two highlights of the bushfire coverage on the commercial networks I watched on Thursday Dec 5 were:

1. The ten news reporter with a mask covering his face, and started coughing in between sentences during the delivery of his piece to camera just in case the viewers didn’t see the pictures of gushing smoke around him. Though I have to admit, the previous piece which had a camera literally a metre away from a family saving their house from the surrounding fire was one of the closest ideas viewers would have had as to what happens in a situation like this.

2. Peter Harvey’s over-sized ultra-clean extra-bright yellow fire flak jacket. A totally unnecessary fashion accessory, especially since it looked like he was miles away from any risk of being near a bush fire (probably because he didn’t want to get his new jacket dirty).

Also, do any of the media monitoring groups do a count of the amount of times the word “plume” (of smoke) is used during bushfire coverage on radio?

J-Bro punts the hazard reduction football

“Re the John Brogden interview with Sally Loane on ABC702 today- he used the opportunity to stick the boot into the Carr government and particularly the National Parks & Wildlife Service for not doing enough hazard reduction burning.

This old chestnut, the favourite of talkback shock-jocks, gets a run every bushfire season, and J-Bro is jumping on the Alan Jones bandwagon as you would expect a shallow Liberal leader to do. There is no evidence that ‘not enough’ hazard reduction was done, nor that more would have greatly helped.

Plenty was burned around the threatened areas of Berowra & Cowan this winter. How much is enough anyway? In weather conditions such as now, a fire will run strongly across paddocks of short grass stubble to strike at houses, exactly as has happened around the rural area of Glenorie this week.

J-Bro really stuck it to the NPWS, accusing it of having a ‘strong culture of resistance to hazard reduction burning’. Loane let him get away with this without asking for any evidence. Nor did she dispute his figure of 40,000 hectares of reduction burning in NSW this year. Yesterday, I heard Carr say the figure was 500,000. It doesn’t matter. It was J-Bro going for cheap political point-scoring at a time of natural disaster, and being allowed to get away with it.

Fiery Fred”

CRIKEY: The Parrot has continued his attacks, interviewing the head of National Parks and Wildlife on his show on 10 December, peddling the same line about their incompetence in not doing enough hazard reduction. As Phil Koperberg has had to stress, the emphasis is on reduction, not elimination. Some shock jocks might prefer that we live in a nanny state where all risks are completely eliminated, but for the 99% of the population who don’t listen to discredited shock jocks, we’ll continue enjoy the amenity of the wildlife and take on the attendant risks.