A raging hot favourite. There’s no doubt at all now that we will have a further big cut in interest rates when the Reserve Bank Board meets next week. The consumer price index figures out this morning will see to that. Any residual doubt the economic boffins had about inflation getting out of control in the short term will now have gone despite the probability that the fall in petrol prices has come to a halt. It was cheaper petrol that was responsible for the biggest fall in consumer prices for a decade. The Crikey Interest Rate Indicator now assesses the chance of an interest rate cut of 0.75% or more at 85%.

Putting in the emotive words. Don’t you just love the way we journalists put in an emotive word to try and make our yarns seem more important than they really are? Here are a few recent examples of what I mean. A group of Queensland councillors who went on a study trip to Britain werejetsetting Queensland Councillors”. Former politicians Terry Mackenroth and Con Sciacca were not paid to help a consortium win a contract they “pocketed a huge windfall“. Nor were they just a pair of ordinary retired MPs but “influential Labor figures.” Equally Mitch Fifield, a virtually unknown and certainly ineffectual Liberal Senator from Victoria since 2004, became a “Senior Liberal” when he gave Michelle Grattan an advance copy of his speech to the Young Liberals containing a different view from that of his Party Leader. In Saturday’s Sydney Telegraph Abu Hamza was not just a Muslim cleric but an “embattled” one.

The Courier-Mail didn’t have a former staff member of a Labor minister working for a government corporation but “can reveal Labor acolyte Cameron Milner” is being paid by power generator Stanwell Corporation to make representations to governments. And when Justin Valleho wrote in the Daily Telegraph attacking what local government public servants are paid it was the “skyrocketing salaries” of council general managers that had led “outraged” ratepayers waiting for basic street repairs to demand the “lucrative pay packets” be slashed.

Slumdog update: the campaign of denigration continues. Have a read of “Slumdog child stars miss out on the movie millions“, which explains how the child stars Rubina Ali and Azharuddin Ismail have won international acclaim and rubbed shoulders with the film’s glamorous stars and its British director, while the reality of their life is far closer to that of the characters they play in the story of love, violent crime and extreme poverty in India. The London Daily Telegraph story says the pair were paid less than many Indian domestic servants — £500 for Rubina’s year’s work and £1,700 for Azharuddin — while the film is on its way to making hundreds of millions of pounds in box office receipts.

The PR hacks promoting the other Oscar chances will have loved all that and they no doubt will be circulating copies of the Soutik Biswa’s explanation “Why Slumdog fails to move me” to the Academy voters as well. Biswa claims not to be concerned with what one critic called director Danny Boyle’s “slum chic” with its cheery depiction of the resilience of slum children and the sunny side of slum life. That is part of the unchanging popular oriental stereotype of poverty equals slums equals dirty, smiling children. “Been there, seen that,” says Biswas.

His quibble with Slumdog Millionaire lies elsewhere. The film doesn’t move him. “I suspect what Boyle tries to do is a Bollywood film — the dirt-poor lost brothers, unrequited love — with dollops of gritty realism. But at the end of it all, it is a pretty callow copy of a genre which only the Indians can make with the élan it deserves. The realism skims the surface, and in spite of some decent performances, style dominates over substance.”

Then there’s another Telegraph correspondent who, under the headline “Slumdog Millionaire, a dangerous fairytale to tell“, weighs in with “the ‘don’t the poor seem happy to me’ observation – common from Westerners visiting India – is an insidious, if unconscious, way of justifying and rationalizing the gross inequities which underpin the rich-poor relationship – and India’s middle classes are as guilty of this willful blindness as we Westerners.” That is not a sentiment with which a left-liberal leaning, Barack Obam- voting Hollywood would want to be associated.

I hasten to add that the Telegraph quote is from the London, not the Sydney, version. Criticism of the kind above is unlikely to be given much prominence in the papers of News Corporation when it is its subsidiary, Fox Searchlight, doing the distribution for a film which will be a handy little earner in these troubled economic times.

The survey stories just keep on coming. The anti-alco pops tax campaign is clearly in big trouble. The Distilled Spirits Industry Council of Australia (DSICA) this week went to the expense of getting the Galaxy pollsters to ask more than 1000 adults how they felt about the tax. It found almost four out of five people surveyed thought the tax was ineffective in solving binge drinking among young people. Only 78%? This must surely be the lowest support ever for a proposal that a tax be lowered. No wonder the press, for once, largely ignored this piece of lobbyist’s nonsense although it was sent out by the AAP wire service.

The Australian Education Union fared slightly better this morning when, quite remarkably, Andrew Trounson and Angus Hohenboken of The Australian took seriously a survey finding by the Union that two-thirds of voters do not believe the Rudd Government is investing enough in public schools, despite Labor promises of an education revolution. This survey is supposed to be ammunition supporting higher education spending but while blatant self interest might have influenced a pair of journos it surely will be ignored by the Cabinet’s budget committee.

There was more than a dash of self-interest too, I would have thought, in the release by Q Research of its latest Q Scores survey, purporting to show that axed Nine Network Sydney newsreader Mark Ferguson was twice as popular as his replacement Peter Overton. This “secret TV audience testing” with its “damning data” was reported by the Sydney Daily Telegraph under the headline “Axing Mark Ferguson a bit mistake” but it did at least provide readers with the reason that the normally private Q Scores were made available on this occasion. Channel Nine does not subscribe to them.

Fujitsu Consulting, one of those firms that uses a regular survey to try and keep in the public eye, had to come up with a slight variation this week on its normal formula of revealing how many households are suffering from mortgage stress. The figures themselves showed a fall to 635,000 this month, from a peak of 883,000 back in August, which is hardly newsworthy in an environment where the press is looking for evidence of an international financial crisis. So Fujitsu surveyed into the future to predict that number will rise to 929,000 households by mid-year as more people lose their jobs and have trouble making repayments. The Sydney Morning Herald duly obliged with a plug this morning, but if it had been me doing the survey, I would have found a figure over the million. More than a million households threatened with foreclosure — that would have been irresistible to the tabloids and, who knows — it might even turn out to be right.

Peter Fray

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