Bruce Meagher, SBS Director of Strategy and Communications, writes: Re. “SBS multi-channelling plan: part of a golden age of public broadcasting?” (yesterday, item 18). Unfortunately Margaret Simons got the wrong end of the stick in her piece on SBS’s digital strategy. What she found on our website was the SBS Triennial Funding Submission for 2006-2009 that was lodged with the Government in 2005 and not released yesterday. While that submission does outline many of the strategies that SBS is pursuing it is out of date when it comes to detail. With the lifting of the genre restrictions on the public broadcasters’ digital multi-channels SBS does hope to be able to launch a fully fledged second channel showcasing original Australian content and exciting international programs from all around the world. However, due to bandwidth constraints and our decision to broadcast at an an improved high definition standard (720p for those who are technically minded), we will not launch a third multi-channel at this stage. SBS hopes that the Government will see fit to provide funding for this second channel in the upcoming budget. It seems only logical that, having invested in digital transmission infrastructure and lifted the genre restrictions, the Government will go the next step and fund the content that everyone agrees will be the key to driving takeup of digital television.

Margaret Simons writes: I stuffed up in saying the document was new, and my apologies to readers and to SBS. I was misled by this report of 7 February and by this into thinking the information was new, but there are never any excuses in a case like this and I should have been more careful. Once again, apologies.

An SBS employee writes: Margaret Simons is naïve in the extreme to regard two new SBS digital channels as ushering in a “golden age” of public broadcasting. The move is entirely consistent with the program being pursued by the Shaun Brown/Matt Campbell regime to destroy a station which had built up a reputation as one of the most important and innovative broadcasters in the world. Every single thing current management does is masked behind the “it’s for more local content” argument, because they believe no one will dare argue against it. The butchering of programs with in-program breaks is justified by the “extra money for more local content” nonsense. Likewise new stations must be good because they’ll have local content – well, not if the content is just more reality and cooking shows. The poison pill is the other digital channel, “SBS World”. Having thrown all foreign language broadcasting to the fringes of the existing schedule in favour of English-language mediocrity, they will now seek to throw it entirely into a new digital channel which will be inaccessible to most people. But, as they always explain themselves away by appealing to the letter of the SBS Charter rather than its spirit, they will claim this fulfils the station’s commitment to foreign-language broadcasting. The main SBS channel will become English-language dominant. The philistines took over that institution long ago.

Paul Vallelonga writes: Top marks to SBS for its thoughtful use of advertising. During the documentary The Power of Nightmares – a doco that provides an assessment of whether the threat from a hidden and organised terrorist network is an illusion – SBS showed the federal government’s terrorism hotline ad! Perhaps this could be a model for the ABC to gain advertising revenue while maintaining “balance”?

Keith Stuart Bales writes: Re. “Will the ABC now carry advertising online?” (yesterday, item 6). Mark Scott is just doing what I respectfully wrote in my report on ABC Enterprises some years ago, which was leaked to the media! Placing advertising on the ABC’s online content will in no way interfere with nor compromise the integrity to the national broadcaster. Nor would it, should the ABC drive revenue for itself (and therefore it’s programming budgets) by selling advertising on its overseas transmissions. No one, even the so-called Friends Of The ABC who do little to help or assist the broadcaster except whinge and grizzle about everything, has ever complained about strategically placed advertising on SBS. The ABC could easily sell limited ads, but for a high premium, before and after some of its news and current affairs programmes without any real (not imagined by the “Friends” of The ABC) impact on its integrity. The broadcaster loses more integrity, in my opinion, by many of the left wing biased commentators on the payroll. It would be most interesting to see HOW much real support the “Friends” of The ABC gave the Corporation if and when it launches the ABC Friends CREDIT card I suggested. This would earn the ABC real dollars to put into continued excellent programming! Estimates were for $10 million per annum. The ABC Charter allows, and in fact requires, the Corporation energetically and creatively to pursue commercial revenue opportunities to help itself so it doesn’t continually have to go to the Government with cap in hand seeking more funding all the time. Mr Mark Scott could further help the efficiency of the ABC by appointing an executive in charge of waste and over-manning! Taxi account cards and vouchers and theft. Anyone who has worked in the organisation knows there is terrible and abounding waste and overmanning. Just take a look at the long list of credits on The 7.30 Report which goes out for ONLY half an hour FOUR days a week?

Mary Sharp, Director of Information Technology Services at Macquarie University, writes: Contrary to your article “Macquarie University’s great battle of management styles” (yesterday, item 4) posted on your website yesterday, the ITS budget has not been slashed and in fact saw a modest operating budget increase in 2007. The university is gradually moving towards 24/7 available systems and a plan for achieving this is currently being implemented. During the implementation there will be some disruption to services for which I apologise.

Tim Bentley writes: Re. “Smartcard evokes dumb debate” (yesterday, item 12). Putting aside the issues of privacy and public good, Bagaric misses a key technical point about smart cards – that information (and in this case potentially sensitive information) is stored on the card itself. As someone who designs security software for a living, I would be very concerned that certain personal information might be stored on a such a card, and that it will be taken to be authoritative – probably “more” authoritative than info on a “non electronic” card, because of a perception that it’s harder to forge/change. To put it in simple terms, a card system like this can almost always be compromised. It may be more or less difficult depending on the technology and processes but the only real question is whether the reward for doing so exceeds the time and the cost. Depending on exactly what is stored on a “national smart card”, and what the card itself can be used for, the rewards could be very high indeed – and if it should turn into an actual or de facto identity card, the terrorists and the identity thieves will be drooling with excitement.

Matt Hardin writes: Dr Mirko Bagaric misses the point about the collection of information. Yes, the government has this information in variety of different forms and yes, it is possible but difficult for someone with access to put it together. Putting it all in one spot makes any abuse of confidentiality very easy. Abuse of this information can come from individuals, the bureaucracy or commercial entities and should not be made simple. Privacy is important because it allows a citizen to control how much other people know about them and hence how they are perceived. However, given his rant today, I am sure that Dr Bagaric will have no hesitation then in publishing in Crikey the following: his address, telephone number(s), email address, where he shops, his investments and their worth, what, if any, medical conditions he may have (physical and mental), any s-xual predilections he may have, his religious beliefs and any other information about him – after all, it will be good for him!

J.M. Melville writes: Dr Mirko Bagaric tells us that the proposed Access smart card will lighten our individual wallets by replacing “over a dozen cards” with one card. What world does the good doctor live in? I only have three cards to my name – Medicare, pension and bank account. The only thing the proposed smart card will do for me is cause a monumental and ongoing headache, as non-government agencies and business try to insist on treating it as an identity card which is something they frequently now attempt with the existing Medicare card. I have even had a video store try to get me to hand over my Medicare card for photocopying as proof of identity!

Corinne Gepp writes: Dr Bagaric, I’m too lazy to have a hidden agenda. I simply want to be sure that the details of my life remain my business, just as I would wish for everybody else. Once upon a time, personal information was private, or confidential, not secret. We disclosed personal information as required for a situation, and in return that information was disseminated, sold or used for other purposes without our consent, thereby damaging our trust, and leading to the “regrettable blossoming” of privacy laws that turned everything into a secret. The general breakdown of trust has resulted in our being identified, numbered, data matched, and frequently filmed, in inverse relationship with the amount of privacy protection we think we have. It hasn’t worked. We still have crime (despite surveillance cameras), a black economy (so much for the GST) and finance fraud (100 points anyone?) and fake passports and driver’s licences, despite all the information and images gathered every day. Dr Bagaric wants us to just get on with it so politicians can concentrate on matters that count. My privacy counts to me, and any further debate or discussion is a good thing.

Richard Cooke writes: Mirko Bagaric has overlooked a key benefit to the proposed “smartcard”. Mandatory ID is an ideal adjunct to any program of government-sponsored torture, of the kind Mirko has advocated previously. Not only would smartcards make it easier to find subjects to torture, they’d also ensure fewer innocent people were tortured, assuaging some of the fears that “social commentators” have about ending centuries of “unrealistic ban”. Come on Australia! End this dumb debate already!

Michael Pearce SC writes: Like many lawyers, Mirko Bagaric does not seem to know much history. He should read some, especially from 20th century Europe, before blithely dismissing the right of privacy.

Steve Harding writes: Having sat gob smacked after reading Mirko Bagaric’s treatment of the Hicks issue on Wednesday (item 3), and having read his piece on the Smartcard just now, I am convinced he is trying to emulate the radio “shock jocks” that abound on our airwaves. The treatment in both instances was so shallow and so full of inaccuracies or prejudice that there can be no other explanation. Trump up an emotive piece that pokes sharply at a strong community concern and make simple assertions that are just plain misleading, and there you have it. If you are going to have controversial comment on sensitive issues, which you should, please use someone who actually does their factual homework. Come on Crikey, surely you can do better than this. You will lose me if you don’t.

Stephen Magee writes: Is Crikey’s readership demographic particularly skewed towards bush lawyers? The nonsense about the laws of war that greeted Mirko Bagaric’s comments would suggest so (yesterday, comments). The laws of war (like law generally) are constantly changing in response to developments. The development of mass conscription by the French after the Revolution saw the abandonment of the gentlemanly rules under which the Duke of Marlborough and his contemporaries fought. The horrors of WWII gave rise to the Nuremberg trials (now there was retrospective law with a real kick). We’re currently in a war being conducted by large transnational organisations against sovereign states. To fight such a war using laws governing international disputes is as effective and realistic as trying to employ the laws of the 18th century. That’s not to say that there shouldn’t be laws, but those laws must recognise the reality, not some romantic vision garnered from old WWII movies.

Mike Martin writes: Mike Chamberlain raises the question (yesterday, comments) of how variations in the Sun’s output affect the Earth’s weather. Robert Ehrlich of George Mason University, Fairfax, Virginia, published a paper last January in which he conjectured that changes in the Earth’s brightness account for the cycle of ice ages that have occurred consistently every 1000 centuries over the last million years. It is difficult to collect evidence that either supports or refutes this conjecture. Anyway, this does not explain the unprecedented rise in global temperature over the last 50 years. Less expectedly, last September Paula Reimer of Queens University, Belfast, UK, linked changes in the Earth’s climate to sunspot activity. There is strong evidence that solar magnetic activity has significant effect on the Earth’s weather. Sam Solanki at the Max Planck Institute for Solar Research in Germany and colleagues have tracked the correlation back 11,000 years. The Sun may be currently entering a quiet period which could result in a 0.2 degree C drop in global atmosphere. But this will only be brief respite before solar activity rises again. Solanki considers that the temperature of the Earth in the past few decades does not correlate with solar activity at all. He estimates that solar activity is responsible for only 30%, at most, of the warming since 1970. (From New Scientist, “Global warming: Will the Sun come to our rescue?”, Sept 18, 2006). Short answer: “no”.

Geoff Russell writes: Mike Chamberlain wants to know about the role of increasing solar energy output in global warming. The increased energy amounts to ~0.24 Watts/square meter of the planet. By comparison, the increase due to increasing greenhouse gas emissions is ~2.7 Watts/square meter. You can find plenty of detail here . So, the increase in solar irradiance is one small, well measured and understood factor in the mix.

John Bowyer writes: Re. Geoff Russell on tree plantations (yesterday, comments). Those large timber harvesting machines are the most efficient way of harvesting timber which most certainly will sequester carbon. Silly Geoff just doesn’t want any jobs in Australia but where would he like them?

Russell Darroch writes: Re. “Could Turnbull be the greatest parliamentary orator since Menzies?” (yesterday, item 8). For goodness sake, let’s all get a grip… Turnbull is no Churchill or Menzies, has neither the vision nor the social responsibility those two had, despite the verbiage. Your writers do need to keep some perspective and Farmer seems to have lost his. Granted, Turnbull may be one of the brighter ones in today’s coalition, but he has a long way to go. The water proposals are weak, poorly conceived, and political motivated rather than solution motivated. Until he can stand CLEARLY apart from Howard he is just like the rest of this weak kneed government – weak, mean and nasty. If he wants to prove his leadership he should be leading the charge to get David Hicks (who personally I think is an idiot, but he IS an Australian citizen) home. And if he is any good as a lawyer he should be doubly keen to do so, unlike his pathetic fellow ministers, Ruddock, Downer and the rest who have meekly said “yes sir, yes sir” to Howard’s ego driven and mean minded government. And by the way, today’s employment data – jobs are full because we have (a) a skill shortage (in part due to lack of planning by ten years of Howard) and (b) wages are falling and people are working MULTIPLE jobs…something a lot of analysts seem to manage to ignore. We have a long way to go to get this country back on track – Malcolm shows no signs of being capable of that so far.

Kate McDonald writes: Exactly what sort of hallucinogenic is Richard Farmer on? Yesterday he attempted to spank the bottoms of journos who poked fun at JWH’s fumble about climate change, insisting they dip their toes in the pond scum of shame because the ol’ fella has a hearing problem, and now he’s comparing Malcolm Turnbull to bloody Bob Menzies? If this is satire, both my antenna and his wit is off target. If it was serious, the pond scum beckons. Don’t resist the dip, Richard.

Garry Scarf writes: Is it not fascinating to behold John Howard claiming that there was no law around in 2001 in Australia which could be used to convict David Hicks of any potential crime of which he is currently being accused in Guantanamo Bay by the US Military Commission. Cast your minds back to 1980 when the same John Howard, as treasurer in the Fraser Government, found no conflict of interest or conscience in retrospectively changing the laws to outlaw “bottom of the harbor tax schemes”. He created the precedent, did he not? What say he and Philip Ruddock try again for an Australian citizen incarcerated in Guantanamo Bay?

Dr Rohan Wee writes: Re. HIV, climate change and denial. Enough! As a medical student 10-15 years ago I visited AIDS wards at Fairfield Infectious Diseases Hospital (alas now closed) filled with patients dying from AIDS. With the introduction of effective antiretroviral drugs that suppress HIV viral loads these wards no longer exist. Have we “proven” that HIV causes AIDS? No more than we have “proven” that TB causes TB, anthrax causes anthrax and influenza causes the flu. The weight of evidence (supported by the use of that evidence to develop effective treatments) is overwhelming. If the Perth Group (and Michael McAllister) disagree, it is now up to them to provide a credible alternative explanation for HIV/AIDS and the response seen to the treatment that is predicated on the theory of an HIV retrovirus. If this is the best argument that exists for granting (the oil and energy industry) funded critics of climate change equal air time then they are on shaky ground indeed.

Philip Carman writes: Re. “$1.5bn James Hardie giveaway backed in a landslide” (yesterday, item 21). Despite the landslide vote to cough up the $1.5 billion, James Hardie Ltd continues to avoid its responsibilities in respect of Australian taxpayers, who it has firstly burdened with costly court proceedings and upon whom it now imposes the demand for tax deductibility of its contribution to the welfare of those it has so patently damaged. When will our government take up the cause of protecting our revenue from these plunderers? Treasurer Costello quite rightly attempted to do so and was apparently shoved aside in the rush to accept the offer by Hardies but the unions, lawyers and victims seem not to realize that they and the rest us are still at being duped out of billions of dollars by this company. I work with some of those victims and they are the most deserving of cases, but the fact remains that to expedite the final settlements we have virtually allowed Hardies to shift some more of what should be their cost (about 30% – the company tax rate) to the rest of us. Every single Australian taxpayer should protest this shabby grab for their cash.

Mark Bahnisch writes: In yesterday’s Crikey (item 11), I incorrectly wrote that Keating’s “true believers” election win in 93 inaugurated Labor’s fourth term. In fact, it was Labor’s fifth term. Unaccountably, I’d forgotten about the 84 election when Andrew Peacock was Opposition Leader.

Send your comments, corrections, clarifications and c*ck-ups to [email protected] . Preference will be given to comments that are short and succinct: maximum length is 200 words (we reserve the right to edit comments for length). Please include your full name – we won’t publish comments anonymously unless there is a very good reason.

Peter Fray

Get your first 12 weeks of Crikey for $12.

Without subscribers, Crikey can’t do what it does. Fortunately, our support base is growing.

Every day, Crikey aims to bring new and challenging insights into politics, business, national affairs, media and society. We lift up the rocks that other news media largely ignore. Without your support, more of those rocks – and the secrets beneath them — will remain lodged in the dirt.

Join today and get your first 12 weeks of Crikey for just $12.

 

Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

JOIN NOW