The media coverage of Afghanistan:

Max Blenkin, defence correspondent for Australian Associated Press, writes: Re. “Reporting on Afghanistan: media v the military” (yesterday, item 4). Kevin Foster makes some fair points about media coverage of Afghanistan and others which warrant comment. Much of the media product from Afghanistan, and also Iraq does come via the Defence public affairs machine. Journalists who travelled to either place made only short visits of a few days which were closely chaperoned by escort officers. Yet having made a number of such trips, I have never experienced as rigid an enforcement of OPSEC rules as he suggests. Older media accreditation rules allowed vetting of copy but that’s no longer the case. I have seen a number of journalists whose agenda in getting the soldiers to say something politically controversial during an interview was all too transparent. Soldiers aren’t stupid and on such occasions unsurprisingly revert to the official line. But then soldiers can be astonishingly candid. My favourite was one in East Timor who said: “Geez we’re looking forward to getting out there and whacking some of those militia bastards.”

In Iraq last year, one group ranted about Labor’s withdrawal policy on grounds it demeaned their efforts. An officer showed off the abilities of an unmanned aerial vehicle, including vision of a party of insurgents being obliterated. A week later back in Australia, Defence PR said I should never have been shown this material. So the official line in Canberra can be quite different to what happens in country. For some reason the ADF has never gone for embedding of reporters within combat units in the same manner as the Brits or US and that should be reviewed.

However, a significant impediment is the cost — up to $1,000 a day for insurance. Big organisations can cop this for a few days. The alternative for others is to go without. There was at one time consideration within Defence of carrying the insurance risk for accredited reporters, a move which would have required legislation. For some reason that seems to have faded away. Reporting of Special Forces activities is a difficult one. By the standards of the US and UK, Australia is a paragon of openness about what our Special Forces are up to. Anyone who thinks differently can try to Google contemporaneous media reporting on activities of US and British Special Forces. I’d like a lot more on what our Special Forces are up to but what information we get is better than nothing at all.

Sarah Palin and US election 08:

Lloyd Lacey writes: Re. “Rundle 08: Waiting for Palin. Oh God.” (Yesterday, item 2). When you are pleasant looking, charming in manner and appealing in a wholesome family way — no, I’m not talking about Barack Obama, but Sarah Palin — you are a difficult political target. But especially so if you are a woman. And you are a particularly difficult target for male Democrats. How do you key a response to the silky, feline insults delivered by Palin? A reply in kind will demean the critic. To use a frontal assault will look like bullying. But too late I fear. The dopey left US commentariat have already fallen for that one — and just wait for the fountain of bile from the feminist warriors. Critics will sneer at Palin at their political peril — those who do will seem rude and graceless. They will find issues turned on them in terms of manners and not matter. And they will repeat the mistakes of those who tried to ridicule Margaret Thatcher — the grocer’s daughter — and created a political colossus. Or those who converted Pauline Hanson into a political St Joan who distracted the political process in Australia for years.

The last thing the Democrats need is to make Sarah Palin — and their treatment of her — an election issue. Away from the auto cue and the craftsmanship of Matthew Scully, George W. Bush’s writer and the author of her Republican Convention acceptance speech, Palin may be vulnerable. The Republicans will do their best to keep her away from direct contact with opponents, political and journalistic — lots of small town rallies in front of sympathetic crowds will be the order of the day. A crusade to match Obama’s. And in the process, to distract and maybe weaken Obama with death by a thousand scratches. And she will arrive as well prepared for the vice-presidential debates as she was for the Republican convention. The Palin agenda can only be defeated if her critics take her and her issues seriously and counter with facts and credible alternatives. In eight weeks, name calling will not be enough to bring her to account.

Ken Lambert writes: One of the great mysteries of our time is how does America work? Two generations have been brought up on a diet of moronic celebrity culture mixed in a weird cocktail of fundamentalist religion and infantile politics. If unqualified has any meaning for the Presidency of the United States of America think of the following: Jimmy Carter was nuclear physicist and Billy’s brother; Bill Clinton was the Governor of Arkansas and a hard dog to keep on the porch; Ronald Reagan was reality and movies merged; and worst of all, George W. Bush — living proof that anyone can be President if well enough financed. And what to make of Sarah Palin? Just what a body politic raised on Oprah Winfrey could relate to. Annie Oakley meets Doris Day. Frontier Gal who can shoot straight and talk in short words. And if local hero McCain did win the Presidency and then expire in office — what would Putin make of Palin? A bear on a moose hunt in the colder regions of our imagination — makes me shiver thinking about it.

Denise Marcos writes: Naively, we believed it couldn’t get any worse than Dick Cheney.

Will Grant writes: So, when this US election thing is all done, are you going to publish Guy Rundle’s columns as a book? I’d re-read them any time.

Matthew Robertson writes: Re. Yesterday’s editorial. Crikey wrote: “The fact is that the pregnancy of Palin junior points to the deeper hypocrisy of the proselytizing, moralizing, upright, arrogantly self assertive religious right. Weird indeed.” But being “upright” is a good thing. The others are bad. Being moral is good, but ceaselessly telling people how they should be then not following through yourself is bad. I don’t think behaving morally and pretending to behave morally should be confused — the first is genuinely good, the second is very bad.

John Goldbaum writes: The accidental pregnancy of Sarah Palin’s unmarried teenage daughter does indeed demonstrate the hypocrisy of the religious right but not for the reasons your editorial listed. No-one should criticize the poor girl or her mother for the pregnancy itself but if they really practised family values, the daughter would not have broken her promise to remain a virgin until her marriage.

Sek Hulme writes: Nice to know what pompous bastards run Crikey. Has it occurred to anyone there that when a 17 year old unmarried girl has a baby it might not show “the deeper hypocrisy of the proselytizing, moralizing, upright, arrogantly self assertive religious right”, but merely that 17 year old girls sometimes behave like 17 year old girls, no matter what their mothers believe and preach?

Joe Dwyer writes: Is there any truth in the rumour, doing the rounds in these parts, that Sarah Palin is a direct descendant of Eskimo Nell?

Water politics:

John Clements writes: Re. “Plenty of water for Murray Darling, just no political will” (Wednesday, item 10). Another Canberra expert, waffling on about how simple the solutions are for the Murray Darling basin. Bernard Keane is a ten out of ten example of the problems of media centralisation dumbing down the story. Let’s look at a few SA realities — the state has ducked water reform for decades with the able assistance of the dumbed down centralised media. No meters on irrigation pumps, no cost recovery, new allocations when there are no inflows and no cap audit on the huge SA evaporation caused by the SA insistence on not having water infrastructure, applicable to only SA. The Coorong until the 1930s was a natural estuary, progress put a stop to that, progress in the form of eight kilometres of concrete holding back the ocean and allowing an inappropriate freshwater irrigation industry to grow around what have always been estuarine lakes. As is common with man-made attempts to hold back the tide of nature, and in this case the ocean, it has failed.

The real SA figures: Most of SA water usage is out of the MD Basin; the water is piped to their cities; SA intends to grow this out of the Basin water extraction at the expense of people who live in the Basin; SA has clearly expressed the view that the 1800 gigs of out of Cap evaporation directly attributed to SA usage of shallow lakes as water storages is not up for debate and neither is holding back the tide with concrete.

Get real Bernard — as if SA needs more spin doctor in its bid to avoid reform.

Junk food advertising:

Alan Kennedy writes: Re. “Free TV: no link between advertising and obese kids” (Wednesday, item 21). Julie Flynn does a great job for the free to airs but her claims about junk food advertising simply generated the Mandy Rice Davis reaction for me. And I am puzzled. If the ads don’t work then why do the junk food makers spend so much money advertising during children’s television? An act of charity for struggling TV tycoons perhaps? How commendable. Julie, when asked, will also mount an aggressive fight on anti-syphoning. This is also tosh. The anti syphoning rules are just a piece of industry protection and sporting rights should be up for grabs for whoever wants them.

Free to air television is an outdated and dying business model being kept alive by artificial means (in this case the Federal Government). Switch off the machines so we can all get access to live streaming to our computers, sporting events live and not delayed telecasts and HD television now not some time in the future when the free to airs get around to switching it on. I know they are pumping out something they claim to be HD but it doesn’t look like HD when compared to some of the other HD channels. It looks like the free to airs doing what they do best, treating customers with contempt and just rolling the arm over.

Browser wars:

Tony Healy, software engineer, writes: Re. “Google’s Chrome browser blows Microsoft out of the water” (Wednesday, item 5). The real motivation for Google releasing its own browser is probably to protect its advertising revenue. Microsoft’s new browser, Internet Explorer 8, makes it easy for users to block the third party content that’s crucial to Google’s advertising network. Although other browsers and add-ins have offered this capability before, the size of Microsoft’s market share turns this into a serious business threat to Google. If Google can succeed in popularising its browser, it will have a guaranteed route to feed advertising to users. It’s significant that Google’s browser is not finished, and not even available on Linux or Macintosh yet, which suggests the release has been rushed as a response to Internet Explorer’s new features. And for some light amusement, here’s an acerbic satire on Google’s true motivations, by The Register.

The Senate:

Tim Villa writes: Re. “Minchin’s Liberals forget the Senate rules” (yesterday, item 15). I think it’s Noel Crichton-Browne who’s forgotten the Senate rules, not Nick Minchin. The Senate’s web site states: “The current convention is that presidents are elected from the governing party, with non-government senators agreeing to this arrangement even if, as is usually the case, the government does not have a majority in the Senate.”

Andrew Burke writes: Every time Stephen Fielding casts his vote to defeat a government Bill, as he has with the luxury car tax, let’s remember who’s responsible for his election — the Victorian ALP. If their preferences in 2004 had gone to the Greens rather than Fielding then there would have been one more Green vote and the Bill would have passed, with the Greens’ sensible amendment to exempt efficient cars. Over the next couple of years it may prove to be a very painful mistake indeed.

Iemma:

John Taylor writes: Re. “It’s obvious: Premier Iemma must sack Costa” (yesterday, item 10). Well bugger me! Ryde is in the Upper North Shore! And they’ve always had a Labor member. And currently he’s from the Left. Bet they didn’t realise. If they ever discover their exalted place in Sydney’s demography they’ll boot that rotten Socialist as quick as you can say John Watkins.

Covering Defence:

Sasha Uzunov writes: Re. Tom Hyland on Gerard Henderson (yesterday, comments). I think Tom is being too clever here. For the record I never objected to Garrie Hutchinson as a Veteran Heritage Officer. As a journalist I was simply reporting anger from the Vietnam Veteran community. But I think Dr Henderson is right because the tone of Tom’s article by clever inference left no doubt that I was somehow pushing a hidden agenda. I’m a journalist, not a spokesman for any group.

Let me quote the Hyland article (17 August 2008, Sunday Age): “The opening round was fired by freelance journalist Sasha Uzunov, a man on a curious crusade.” “Last Thursday, after Mr Hutchinson stepped aside from his position, Uzunov issued an email describing himself as a “fearless freelance photo-journalist” and boasting he had broken a story “that others seem to be too afraid to raise”. “Uzunov, a former soldier who served in East Timor, describes himself as a military affairs expert. He complains he is not taken seriously by mainstream journalists who are jealous of his claimed expertise. His self-published stories include emails in which he demands that men who were of military age in the 1960s justify why they didn’t serve in the army.”

I hope this will be the final say on this. The Hyland article, in salty army barracks language, tries to tear me a second behind! The part about the fearless freelance photo journalist comes from a group email addressed to The Age’s Defence correspondent, Brendan Nicholson, who actually has a sense of humour…. and calls me from time to time seeking defence tips. I wrote …whilst Brendan Nicholson was having cookies and warm milk in cold Canberra, fearless reporter Sasha Uzunov breaks the story etc etc. It was a piss take! But Tom didn’t mention that.

As for asking why our leading defence experts do not volunteer for military service, as a journalist I’m proud to be asking this question. If I were a journalist covering the legal beat, I would be asking if “legal experts” had some form of training in the law; likewise if they were medical experts, I would ask if they had medical training.

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

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