ABC News Online:

Alan Sunderland, Head of Policy, ABC News, writes: Re. “Rejuvenating journalism in a jaded age: Ballad of a Thin Man” (yesterday, item 15).”Mr Denmore” takes issue with ABC News Online’s coverage of the COAG Health meeting on the weekend, accusing us of lazy journalism by focussing on Opposition criticism of the Government to the exclusion of anything more balanced, thoughtful or insightful.

This latest contribution serves his well-worn thesis, but it doesn’t serve Crikey’s readers. It ignores the facts.

Yes, it is true that the ABC’s web page ran a story quoting Christopher Pyne attacking the Government’s plans. At one point on the weekend, it was the lead item. If that’s all we’d done, I could understand the criticism.

But the piece followed an earlier equally prominent story quoting the Prime Minister and the Health Minister at length on their hopes for the meeting.

And what about the other three stories we ran on the Saturday previewing the meeting and quoting a range of sources extensively?

Or the other four stories we ran on Sunday before the meeting ended?

Or the story we filed late on Sunday night after the meeting was over?

Or the two expert opinion pieces published in The Drum in the weeks leading up to the meeting, dealing at length with the policy imperatives behind the politicking?

Or the material placed on line by the AM, PM, World Today and Lateline program teams on the Friday and Saturday before the meeting?

Or all the accompanying audio and video content?

Or the live streaming ABC NEWS 24 material available on the website, including the full press conference with unedited comments from the Prime Minister and the Premiers?

Or the series of excellent Radio National interviews on health policy conducted on the Friday before and then posted online over the weekend?

That’s nine different text stories over two days, together with a wealth of program material. Not bad for “lazy nothing-at-stake Sunday template journalism”.

When it comes to explainers, backgrounders and contextual analysis, I’m the first to agree we could all do with more, and the ABC is currently exploring the best way to do that on its range of news platforms. There are already good examples of some innovative work in this area starting to appear on ABC websites, and there will be more to come. But if “Mr Denmore” wants to focus on the gaps in our coverage, he might want to begin by looking carefully at all the coverage first.

Criticise us for what we have really done, not what you imagine we might have done.

A banana correction:

Clare Buchanan, Group Public Relations Manager, Woolworths Limited, writes: Re. “Tips and rumours” (yesterday, item 7). Regarding the below “rumour” it would be nice to think the poster could be bothered to check their facts first but I doubt it:

“Interesting to note that bananas being unpacked at the Woolworths in St Ives last week were from cartons clearly date stamped as having been packed on January 27 – one full week before cyclone Yasi destroyed the Queensland banana plantations, but sold at the cyclone inflated price of $5.98 per kilo. Given that Woolworths undoubtedly purchased the bananas at a pre-cyclone price, it would be nice to think that it was passing on the increased profits to the growers who subsequently lost their livelihoods it the storm – but somehow I doubt it.”

Actual facts below (media release issued on 4th Feb, was widely reported and posted on our website)

Friday 4 February 2011: The recent cyclone in Far North Queensland has caused substantial damage to banana crops which will severely affect availability and prices in the weeks and months to come.

Woolworths today increased the shelf price of bananas to $5.98 per kilo. The price increase is in line with today’s wholesale market price.

Woolworths’ price also reflects the fact that we have retrospectively more than doubled the payments made to banana growers in the last seven days to the tune of over $3.9 million to help compensate them for crop damage caused by the cyclone. Back paying farmers in this way will assist them to recover faster and survive the short term financial impact of crop shortages.

Egypt and Iraq:

Michael R. James writes: Re. “Rundle: helping to form the resistance is the Right’s legacy in Egypt” (yesterday, item 4). I disagree with Rundle in his piece that Iraq had no influence on events in Egypt.

Via Al-Jazeera satellite TV and on-line, and social media and cell phones, all the Arab world watched as first the Americans bombed Iraq back to pre-industrial times with their absurd shock and awe overkill (including two al-Jazeera journalists as collateral damage), then stood back as sectarian violence ripped the country to shreds, so far with a death tally of between 500k to 1M.

Despite hundreds of billions of dollars of fat contracts to the likes of Halliburton to rebuild the bombed infrastructure, everything from telephone system, water, sewage and power remain much below pre-war levels. Hardly anyone except inside the Green Zone has continuous electric power. Hospitals remain overwhelmed while any injured Americans are flown straight to their air bases in Germany for treatment.

So, as much as the Arab world hated Saddam Hussein and would have delighted if he was dispatched cleanly, say, by one of those drones, the utter horror show of Iraq is a powerful disincentive to too much societal disruption, interference by outsiders (al-Qaeda, Iran, Americans) and a powerful incentive to avoid American “solutions”. Maybe Egyptians can after all thank GW Bush!

Incidentally, Alaa Al Aswany, who was one of the founders of Kefaya in 2004, is the author of The Yacoubian Building, the “… controversial bestselling novel in the Arab world reveals the political corruption, sexual repression, religious extremism, and modern hopes of Egypt today.” The 2006 film of the same name screened late night last Thursday on SBS.


Paul Hampton-Smith writes: Re. “Wireless obsession gets in the way on broadband” (yesterday, item 2). No matter whether we talk about the FTTP Labor NBN strategy or the Coalition wireless strategy, the customer has already decided to be “obsessed” with wireless.  The controversy about the NBN is not about fibre versus wireless, but about where the gateway from fibre to wireless should occur.

Right now, most internet savvy homeowners have a wireless router connected to their copper line.  Beyond that, numerous internet enabled devices, but seldom any physical connections.  Walk down most suburban streets with a WiFi-enabled phone, and a handful of routers are visible at any one time.  Barring the encryption because they are linked to private ISP accounts, we are already in a continuous soup of 50Mbit/s WiFi availability in cities now without even planning it.

Physically bringing fibre into houses will be costly and invasive — the “drilling holes/digging up rose garden” problem. WiFi speed and beyond, and largely uncontested bandwidth, is possible from a next generation wireless connection point sitting on an electricity pole at the end of each street, connected, you guessed it, to the NBN.

One twentieth of the physical connections to install and manage instant access to all houses in the area without a further truck roll, and untouched rose gardens.

Colin Ross writes: If all the opponents of the NBN would care to start by reading the work of Claude Shannon of Bell System Laboratories, always keeping in mind the word “spectrum”, they might see why fibre optic cable is the better long term solution to future communication needs. Albeit that wireless will have a large role, it will of necessity be a secondary one.

Joe Boswell writes: Bernard Keane and others writing for Crikey keep denouncing claims by the opposition and The Australian etc  that wireless broadband will make the NBN redundant, but just look how many people don’t want a mains water supply now they can get bottled water and carry it about anywhere.

The grey-headed flying foxes:

Hilary Vallance writes: Re. “Government accelerating the demise of flying foxes” (yesterday, item 11). The grey-headed flying foxes in Sydney’s Royal Botanic Garden are not threatened with death in any way.

What is necessary is that they be re-located, as the damage they have done to some of the oldest and most significant trees in the Garden is irreparable. Where will they go when all the trees have died?

For two years at least experts and volunteers have been tracing the movements of the bats and working out a way to relocate them to several other bat colonies in the Sydney district which will be able to provide for their needs. The real issue is the destruction of the forests around Sydney, where they have lived for hundreds of years.

Each day more and more trees are destroyed, and with them their habitat. It is time for governments to take this environmental destruction seriously, and time for those who are over-sentimental to have some feeling for the forests and all the animals which live in them.

If this isn’t addressed soon, the bats will starve.

John Band writes: I’m disappointed to hear that Peter Garrett approved a proposal to remove the grey flying foxes that help make Sydney beautiful and unique from our Botanical Gardens.

Then again, since the roof insulation scandal that cost him his position was almost completely invented by the tabloid media, perhaps the pink batts had their revenge on behalf of their grey brothers…

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