Don’t worry about the news, just pre-write it “Conceptual masterpiece”. “Astonishing”. “Bombastic and serious.” Just a smattering of some of the adjectives flung at Friday’s opening ceremony in the MSM’s “Beijing08” coverage over the weekend. Country Sydney Morning Herald and Weekend Oz readers were regaled with a page one image of the now-infamous blue orb, while The Age featured blue irregulars waving yellow ship components. “Blergggh”, loyal subscribers probably spluttered as they attempted to beat a path to the real news of ecstasy busts and genocide in South Ossetia. But hang on. Could those savvy sub-editors really have presented “all the details from last night” and still met first edition deadlines? Was this a final act of defiance from a dead tree production process once dubbed the ‘Daily Miracle’ or something more sinister? Sub-editorial informants have told Crikey that large slabs of Saturday’s editions were pre-written and laid-out well in advance of Friday’s 10:08pm AEST opening ceremony commencement time.

The actual event depicted in the SMH’s wraparound splash? Tuesday’s final dress rehearsal, attended by journalists on the condition that content be withheld prior to the real thing. Curiously, details of the final flame lighting, at around 2:00am Saturday AEST, were mysteriously absent from all major dailies. It’s understood one AAP hackette dutifully prepared her copy two days in advance–an 8 August datelined piece that popped up on SBS online and in several ex-Rural Press papers on the Saturday. In country locales, keen readers could have been digesting AAP’s account of the ceremony’s ins and outs before it had finished on TV. But nothing could top Fairfax’s Alex Brown who reported that Beijing’s air quality debate “continued to rage” in the opening ceremony’s “aftermath”. It would seem an Olympian effort indeed to assess the post-ceremony debate and file for editions available in city 7/11 stores at nearly the same time.

The pre-writing of news stories is nothing new. Wire services routinely mock-up 5 paragraphs on looming interest rate decisions and night-time footy scribes usually have their match reports well underway before three-quarter time. In Friday’s case, newsroom subs were under the pump to maintain the illusion of simultaneity with the knowledge that the internet would render their efforts almost immediately redundant. It’s hard to remember a worse deadline clash, aside from September 11 2001 (when planes flew into the World Trade Centre at the excruciating time of 10:45pm AEST). But seven years later, with months of pre-warning, editors decided to bank on Beijing’s lauded military precision—without which a last-minute wardrobe malfunction (or terrorist attack) would have gone unreported until Sunday. — Andrew Crook

How to promote the Summer Heights High DVD ‘special edition’ [i.e. reissued DVD with a couple more extras] the ABC way:

1. Invent a spurious, borderline insulting [to redheads] national Sorry Day.

2. Co-opt ABC radio stations into the promo blitz (and Hamish & Andy who scored an interview with Chris Lilley.)

3. Pick up a little bit of bonus press coverage:

Redheads unite – it’s your day Sunday Mail Adelaide, 10/08/08

Ranga and proud of it, Sydney Morning Herald, 09/08/08, General News,

Chris Lilley exposed, The Age, 09/08/08, Good Weekend Magazine, Page 1

Celebrate with a nice red, Ballarat Courier, 08/08/08

Nuts about gingers! Time Out Sydney, 06/08/08

4. Get some internet hits (Google News ‘Sorry Rangas Day’ for coverage).

Voila! Watch those special edition DVDs fly off the shelves… — Neil Walker

Vale Perth’s Channel 31 Channel 31 in Perth, the WA capital’s community TV station has gone bust, raising questions about the Federal Government’s plans to reallocate spectrum when digital TV arrives. Last week viewers of Channel 31 in the city saw this message on their screens during the broadcast of a program called The Couch. 

     Access31 thanks all our loyal viewers, sponsors and program providers for your support.

A blog from Perth Now wrote:

Access 31 should not rest in peace.
“On Monday the Board (of Channel 31) decided to close, on Tuesday the Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy knew, late on Wednesday the staff was told. Some independent producers managed to hear by chance.

Nobody told the volunteers.

On 6PR’s Nightline last night, Graham Mabury interviewed Fred Mafrica, producer and presenter of The Couch, the only person connected with Access31 who was prepared to speak about the closure. It seems that the investment of $500,000 from Perth architect, Garry Baverstock, and a promised $250,000 from Lotteries West were not enough to keep the Station out of trouble. Maybury asked why Perth was the only capital city in Australia which seemed to be struggling to keep a community TV station going. It begs the question, he said.

Now which question would that be? Why it aired aged serials like Sergeant Preston of the Yukon, Captain Midnight, Sea Hunt, I Love Lucy and The Loretta Young Show while current programmes made in Perth at CTV were broadcast through community TV in Melbourne and Foxtel? Why out of a national total of 50 paid staff in community TV stations, 24 of them were in Perth? Were Board members ever paid as consultants, and if so how much and for what? Why on June 4th this year a Declaration of Solvency was made to ASIC stating that the ‘estimated surplus after paying debts in full’ would be $706,884? Why Access 31, a body which was created to broadcast – CTV was created to produce – had got itself a largish, fully equipped recording studio in which perhaps six shows were regularly taped?

The least we could expect from a TV station is a formal and dignified shutdown. Garry Baverstock has thrown energy and professional competence into a failed rescue attempt. A filmed press release of a statement from him would have been a cleaner end than this grubby conspiracy of silence.

It’s a great misfortune for many of us that Access31 has closed. The way it has done so is contemptible.

So what’s to be done with Community TV in Perth?  Part of the Federal Government’s plans for closing the analogue channels is to find digital space for Channel 31 (Community TV) everywhere it currently broadcasts. That means some sort of Federal Government assistance is going to have to come from Canberra and or the WA Government. — Glenn Dyer

Free speech v privacy When The Australian starts getting worried about privacy you can smell the hypocrisy in the air:

Australia’s top news organisations are readying for a showdown if the Australian Law Reform Commission recommends tough new privacy laws today, as expected.

The commission’s report could have significant ramifications for news reporting, especially on the lives of well-known people.

Justin Quill, a media and litigation lawyer and director of law firm Kelly Hazell, said a privacy law would most affect magazines that specialised in reporting celebrity news, followed by shows such as A Current Affair and Today Tonight and then other news services.

Gilbert + Tobin partner Peter Leonard expected the immediate effect of a privacy law would be “more cautious reporting around the personal life of celebrities”.

For example, he said much of the reporting of former AFL footballer Wayne Carey might be disallowed if a privacy law existed.

“It could have a significant chilling effect on the reporting of the private lives of celebrities,” Mr Leonard said.

One person’s free speech (according to The Australian) is another’s privacy. Or, free speech good, privacy bad. Just why isn’t explained.

Just take the way Nicole Kidman and her child, Sunday Rose, are being pursued by paparazzi and others looking for the snap they can then sell to the likes of News Ltd, Fairfax or PBL Media, for their tabloids, magazines and gossip pages, plus overseas media organisations, such as News Corp and the other defenders of free speech in London, the US etc. Contrast the way Ms Kidman is being chased, by the sedate way James Packer and his new baby Indigo, are being chased: The Sydney Morning Herald last week had a snap of Erica Baxter and what appeared to be a child wrapped securely in baby blankets, but it could have also been a small animal, a watermelon or a lump of wood. There was no sighting of a head or face. It seems News Ltd and other media organisations continually confuse the right to know with the right to intrude on others lives, but not in their own. If The PBL Media women’s mags and gossip rags were really hard nosed and committed to the freedom to know they would be publishing the same sort of badly shot photos and unsourced gossip about the likes of the Packers, the Murdochs and others that they publish about other people. It’s the freedom to know, not the freedom to abuse and invade. — Glenn Dyer

A Crikey reader writes: Why does the Australian website still have an RSS blog feed for Matt Price? One would presume he has stopped submitting his blogs.

Madonna — a life in magazine covers: Check out The Washington Post‘s marvellous compilation of covers of the Material Girl. Check out how Madonna changed her image over time with this sampling of covers spanning 1984 to now.

 — The Washington Post

Peter Fray

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