Kindle winners:

Crikey writes: As if a subscription to Crikey isn’t inherently valuable enough, there’s a reasonable chance you could pick up your very own Amazon Kindle 3G+Wi-Fi, too. We’re giving away 10 over 10 days. Yesterday’s winner was Sue Mackay. One to go now – get your entry in today.

Foxtel:

Foxtel CEO Kim Williams writes: Re. “Media briefs: Good Living’s reheated dish … Carr on Foxtel … Hun mum on source …” (yesterday, item 16). Bob Carr blogs like a medieval crusader — and like all crusaders he wants to make the world in his own image and mow over all in his wake. In doing so, Bob has created a fantasy realm bereft of fact. He’s become like a character from Lord of the Rings.

Back in the real world, I’ve been reading Bob’s rants about FOXTEL with sadness and bemusement turning to bewilderment. I’ve to-date resisted a response given that he so misrepresents and sledges it’s difficult to respond with a straight face.

He’s become lost in the blogosphere — where one can rant and rave because you are solely in charge of what is written and are rarely called to account. The time for reckoning is upon Bob.

Bob’s hostile rants against FOXTEL seem to be fixated on three channels — that is what he has written about and it reflects the summary of his personal interests (at least as they relate to programming on FOXTEL). Oddly he seems to enjoy chewing on TV he doesn’t like and complaining about it.

Bob, there are well over a hundred channels on FOXTEL. Many consumers explore and delight in them. They tell us they find attractive programming that meets their needs in spades. Just because it doesn’t interest you, Bob Carr, doesn’t mean it is of no interest and enjoyment to others.

Bob wrote (29-10-11): “Silly me again, expecting documentary content anywhere on pay TV”.

Silly Bob must have missed the 16 dedicated 24-hour documentary channels on FOXTEL, including channels provided by world leaders BBC, National Geographic and Discovery. Not to mention documentary content on our 11 news channels.  FOXTEL and subscription TV spends close to $600 million a year on original Australian content, including documentaries.

Bob claims the Bio Channel “has no bio”. Let’s be clear Bob, Bio is an entertainment based channel with a strong “showbiz” take — the audience (except Bob) understands that. Bob seems to be the only one not “”n the know”. A quick look at the online program guide for next week shows an Andrew Denton Enough Rope profile on George Gregan, profiles on film director John Ford and actor William Holden, and a documentary hosted by Ita Buttrose on the lives of Australian Women: Shaping the Nation. Yes, as Bob says, Judge Judy is on the Bio Channel too. Strange as it seems to Bob, some people like it. It’s called choice, and FOXTEL delivers it without judging the audience.

Bob Carr, with an apparently turned up nose, blogged on August 20 (Foxtel Dumbs us Down) that the SBS-operated STVDIO channel “served up two hours of punk rock”.  He means “indie” Irish-American band Flogging Molly which, as the Irish press has pointed out, reached the highest position on the US Billboard 200 of any Irish artist other than U2 and Enya. Many people like that band. Bob doesn’t. So what. He doesn’t have to watch it. Bob continued “Meanwhile, The Guardian website has been able to stream the Glyndebourne Meistersingers for a week. Hey Foxtel, that’s what an arts channel is supposed to do”. I rest my case on personal choice — as a former politician surely Bob (of all people) understands the imperative of delivering to a broad spectrum of interests. It certainly seemed prominent in his political life — many would say supreme in that realm for him!

Clearly Bob pays no regard at all to the diversity of taste and interests satisfied by FOXTEL — for example he makes no mention of sport, in which FOXTEL despite the government protectionism afforded the free-to-air networks, excels. Sport doesn’t interest Bob, so apparently we are all meant to have no regard to sport. Phooey to you Bob.

Bob likes to call FOXTEL a monopoly. It’s catchy. But it’s a pretty odd monopoly that has a universally available free substitute in the free-to-air networks and their multi-channels, as well as growing IPTV with Fetch TV, Apple TV and Google which compete for the audience’s attention. Bob behaves as if he is a prisoner to FOXTEL.

Bob goes even further, suggesting that subscription TV enjoys some preferment and unique privilege from government (Bob’s blog 20-8-11).  He’s on another planet. Subscription TV is in fact restricted by government in relation to sports rights, the revenue we can earn from advertising, we must pay for our own spectrum, and there is no limit on new licences for competitors. Bob must be mixed up with free-to-air TV which is protected from new licences, enjoys protected sports rights, tax rebates, and free access to digital spectrum.

Bob reckons senior FOXTEL executives don’t watch the programs he dislikes. But he doesn’t watch TV with me or my team, more importantly he does not watch with the actual audience that does.

Unlike Bob, FOXTEL talks to the audience and has over 500,000 conversations every month with individual households across the spectrum of the community.

Unlike Bob, our audience likes the diversity of sports, movie, kids’, music, news, and lifestyle channels, as much as documentaries.

Bob would seem not to care — he just wants to impose his own “Bob’s World” taste under his personal control or by a controller nominated by him. In fact, if Bob wants a FOXTEL channel manager’s job, he’s welcome to apply. But he’ll have to listen to the audience, not himself.

Bob wants his approach to be one of government intervention to stop the “dumbing down of Australian tastes” on TV.  There is more choice and a profusion of opinion and interests on television now than ever, but Bob seems not to like that.  I think most Australians do not want Bob to be their Big Brother. Does Bob Carr want a return to the Soviet Union’s commissars of culture? Surely a profoundly dangerous and historically repulsive approach to communication generally?

Most people know that Bob has a deep interest in American history. How about some credit to FOXTEL for the premiere screening of one of the great documentary dramas John Adams, the seven-part series on the second American president that won 13 Emmy Awards and four Golden Globes.

There are too many great original Australian and international dramas, documentaries and other programs to begin listing them here — the audience actually knows them — which premiere on FOXTEL. Bob would seem not to know or care because he only ever nominates three channels to criticise (and even there he is unfair and inaccurate).

Bob is a keen observer of politics and was once a player. He like FOXTEL was tasked with understanding and serving as many different perspectives in the community as possible. Bob no longer seems to recognise those principles. Odd that he repudiates them so ferociously.

Does he ever watch or credit Sky News, a leader in Australian political news and analysis, and the only television broadcaster to have covered nationally every federal, state and territory election for the past decade and dare I add every New Zealand election with an unusual consistency in Australian media delivery? Sky News, with FOXTEL‘s and Austar’s backing, also provides Australia’s only public affairs channel A-PAC with all the wealth of debate and presentation it provides free from editorial judgement. But that of course in, Bob Carr’s crusade is an unwelcome fact to be cast aside.

Most of us in the media spend our lives defending and protecting fact from fiction; analysis from hubristic bombastic assertion; and above all the right of the public to choose what they want and to exercise independent rights. It is called living in a democratic culture.

Bob Carr has the same right as everyone to choose or reject what we offer.

Chris Pearce writes: Re. “Bolt decision: ‘Irresponsible journalism illegal’? Think again” (yesterday, item 1). Margaret Simons has a chill struck into her heart over the concept that journalist’s publications can be found to be illegal. In my view, her piece places too much importance on the right to freedom of speech.

Australia has never entrenched the right to freedom of speech in the way the American Constitution has. We do have a constitutional right to freedom of political communication, but that right must be balanced with others. Of course, freedom of communication (by the organised media and others) is an important pillar of the maintenance of democracy. Society must be informed.  But the level of that freedom must be tempered with people’s other rights.

Australia generally strikes the right balance. America is a good example of a place that does not. The Supreme Court there recently upheld the right of members of the Westbro Baptist Church to say the most horrific things on the internet about deceased members of the military, and to picket military funerals with horrific signs (including things like “God hates you” and “Thank God for dead soldiers”). Justice Samuel Alito’s dissenting judgment has an excellent analysis of why the rights of grieving family members should trump the right to freedom of speech in the circumstances (the case is Snyder v Phelps).

The point is solely this: freedom of speech is not, and should not be, absolute. Laws protecting other rights, whether they give rise to civil damages claims for defamation, or statutory offences created to protect people against discrimination, are entirely appropriate. Journalists should not have free rein to say whatever they want, where the comments are offensive, false and malicious.

Their articles are not above the law, and nor should they be.

Chris O’Regan writes: Margaret Simons wrote:

“The judgment means that journalists, particularly well-read, influential journalists, are to be held to higher standards than ordinary people. That the public ‘deserves to be protected’ from them. It’s a dangerous notion.”

Not, in my opinion, as dangerous as the converse. Journalists are educated professionals, members of a profession with special rights and duties, or at least so they have traditionally been portrayed. As members of the public we have a measure of protection from medical and legal professionals who are derelict in their duty: people who are officially credited providers of high-status information surely have enforceable duties to the public as well.

We all know good-quality journalism is hard; verification is hard, fairness is hard, being able to produce enormous volumes of consistently high quality content to absurdly tight deadlines is hard. Journalists should be paid and treated a lot better for the work that they do, I have no doubt.

The strains on journalists are acute. But the profession of journalism cannot have the public prestige it deserves when its most prominent practitioners aren’t held to high standards of conduct. And for better or worse, Andrew Bolt is one of the most prominent journalists in Australia. He can afford to brush off the criticism levelled at him in outlets such as Crikey or Black Ink publications, because his own megaphone drowns out such voices of critical reflection many times over.

When you consider the enormous power Bolt wields, the idea of his not being held to a rigorous professional standard makes me very frightened.

Doug Melville writes: So Margaret Simons reckons that “the judgment means that journalists, particularly well-read, influential journalists, are to be held to higher standards than ordinary people.” Not at all. It is eminently sensible.

What I say to my audience of two or three people in the pub or my living room may have authority because of who I am, my knowledge, or the gullibility of my audience. Journalists are afforded a significantly wider platform and a significantly greater audience by virtue of their position, accordingly, they have an implied greater authority to the average consumer.

The standards of those in authority, and therefore with more ability to inflict damage are generally held to be higher. If we require a bus driver to have a 0.00 blood alcohol limit it is because of the damage he could do. As a mere member of the public I get to drive with 0.05.

In my opinion Andrew Bolt, and all other members of the media have been granted a platform that comes with an implied contract that with the additional authority comes additional responsibility, having a code of ethics, like checking sources, doing more than uncritically regurgitating a press release, or as someone candidly put it, “not writing crap”.

Unfortunately for Bolt, he got caught out writing offensive “crap” — and this is not about discussing the racial content, or the broader culture wars, this is about getting facts wrong, or not bothering to check facts, or not bothering to report inconvenient facts. That to me is the salutary part of this judgement, and why the drivel about free speech is nonsense.

To use the classic example, Bolt got caught yelling ‘Fire’ in a crowded theatre when there was no fire.

Geoff Russell writes: Margaret Simons, of course journalists should be held to higher standards than ordinary people. Just as people who design bridges deserve to be held to higher standards than ordinary people building a pergola. Ordinary people having an argument around a dinner table don’t always check their facts, but a professional journalist should always do this. I’d go further, letters and website submissions making factual claims need to be fact checked. To simplify this, letter writers making factual claims need to cite appropriate references.

We could argue about what is appropriate, but just plain making up stuff, whether in a letter to the editor or on a website comment shouldn’t be allowed. I had a letter published in The New York Times a while back, it was a short letter but I (and my co-authors) were required to provide references for every tiny mincing little claim. Quite right.

Such standards would see the demise of unmoderated website comment forums … how good would that be! Newspapers would be shorter because properly checked stories take longer to write. How good would that be.

I’d also guess that with proper controls and fact checking of news and opinion stories, the people around the Fukushima nuclear plant would have been back in their houses long ago, they wouldn’t have left their animals to die shocking deaths in their panicked haste to leave, and Germany wouldn’t be ramping up its CO2 emissions in its haste to shut down its cleanest power plants. How good would that be!

The public does indeed need protection.

Catherine Smithson writes: At last there is accountability delivered to a journalist who has published a factually incorrect, sloppily researched story that attacks people based on their racial membership. Imagine if you were on the receiving end of this crap, with no ability to defend yourself.

Journalists can’t keep hiding behind freedom of speech to excuse them from publishing factually incorrect material that vilifies people based on their race. Their access to wide distribution of their stories gives them a power to damage others and it’s about time that some accountability was delivered. Anyone else doing a job is held accountable, yet journalists who have so much power to wound and damage people for life, and damage society itself, are a protected species. Freedom of speech, so important for a democracy, should not  be invoked to protect  journalists. It’s demeaning to the true value of freedom of speech.

The media coverage of this ruling has been very revealing. Except for David Marr, the journalists I’ve heard on the subject have excused Bolt’s discredited story with the free speech defence. He’s a mate! One of us! They’re closing ranks — so much for independent thought!

Of course Bolt isn’t worthy of the title of  journalist. He’s a ranter, someone who shouts ill-thought-out hysterical opinions that distort facts and ignore other viewpoints  to promote his own view of the world. Maybe we need a warning  sign on his articles like on cigarettes?

Sharon Segler writes: I am utterly gobsmacked that an academic such as Margaret Simons can take issue with the judgment against Andrew Bolt, describing it as a “dangerous notion” that “journalists, particularly well-read, influential journalists, are to be held to higher standards than ordinary people.”

One only needs to take a cursory glance at the hot button political issues of “boat people”, the carbon tax and the mining tax to see the devastating consequences of bad journalism upon the public consciousness.

Well-read journalists are paid inordinate sums of money precisely because of their reach and influence into the minds of readers. And yet like so many others, these shock jocks embrace their right to freedom of speech while decrying the profound responsibilities that come with such power.

I am delighted that Bolt has been put in his place.  I hope it serves as a stern warning to other influential writers who think it’s appropriate to peddle their prejudices without any regard to the facts, while hiding beneath the guise of op-ed journalism.

Kevin Tyerman writes: Re. “Media briefs: Good Living’s reheated dish … Carr on Foxtel … Hun mum on source …” (yesterday, item 16). While it irked me on several levels, you were right to deem Thursday’s Herald Sun your front page of the day, as it formed part of a fascinating spectacle. The story of a powerless middle-aged white man rendered voiceless by a court decision.

Thankfully someone with a by-line, and enough power to get the story onto the front page of Australia’s largest selling daily newspaper, was able to briefly give a voice to this victim of the courts … or something like that.

And they say that the power of the press and free speech are dead!

Bill Chandler writes: I presume you will close correspondence on Andrew Bolt soon. Just before you do, it is worthwhile considering the observation that accusing Bolt of being an unprofessional journalist is unfair. Has he ever claimed to be a professional journalist? Is he claiming to be a professional journalist now? I have had a quick scan of his entry in Wikipedia and didn’t see any reference to him being a professional journalist.

Bolt is first and foremost an entertainer who writes and talks, and his standards should be judged in that light.

Don Dowell writes: Its evidently a myth that one can see The Great Wall of China from the moon’s surface. I’m not so sure if that’s true about Andrew Bolt’s ego.

Forget about freedom of speech, the downside of this court case is that we will all have to endure witnessing the inevitable melodramatic martyrdom. It will be worse than a bad opera.

Asia White Paper:

Niall Clugston writes: Re. Yesterday’s Editorial. Your editorial on the proposed white paper, “Australia in the Asian Century”, points to the lack of action on the perennial policy goal of engagement with Asia.

But why is it the responsibility of government? Society as a whole is uninterested in Asia, as shown by the lack of enrolment in Asian studies (not just languages) and the lack of media coverage.

Secondly, why should Australia be engaged with Asia? Nearness is often cited. But Australia isn’t really that close, and distance ceased to be factor in global trade in the time of the clipper ships. Trade with China and Japan is obviously important, but this is about Australia’s raw materials supplying their factories, and nothing else.

Arguably, Australia was more engaged with Asia in the time of the White Australia Policy, with Australia troops supporting Asian governments from Korea to Vietnam. This is not desirable, but it was real. Beside it, the current discussion is a daydream, an ambition without practicality.

The NT News:

Dave Lennon writes: Re. “Media briefs: Good Living’s reheated dish … Carr on Foxtel … Hun mum on source …” (yesterday, item 16). I am outraged at the continued bias against News Limited shown by your less-than-impressive organ.

In yesterday’s The NT News, there was a perfectly good “couple have public s-x” complete with a link to a video of the said couple having said s-x, (well I think they were there was some pretty spectacular blocking of the vision going on) which I know is checked daily by your staff.

But apparently this is not good enough to make your media section. Typical of the southern media, if it’s not a croc story then the NT doesn’t exist.

I concede neither of the participants appeared to be wearing a croc suit.

Try harder, the Territory feels neglected.

Peter Fray

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