TV news and current affairs:

A former political media adviser writes: Re. “TV current affairs hack: why we’re bastards to grieving families” (yesterday, item 2).  I agree with everything your hack wrote about yesterday. I would also add that cameramen and stringers are under pressure to deliver for networks. The longer they “stake out” targets — sometimes for days living in a station wagon on the street — the more inclined/obligated they are to behave outrageously to get “something”.

This leads to cameramen/journos cat-calling and provoking, in the hope the target will strike back. The viewer never gets to learn that the cameraman parked across the driveway to block access and force a confrontation, or turned off the power, or asked the target’s children how often their parents hit each other. But this vile behaviour is rewarded because we all click on angry outbursts at news sites online.

Catherine Luu writes: As a young crew member assigned to a “death knock” for TV news in the late 1990s, I was lucky to be shielded from the worst by an experienced cameraman and a good-natured chief-of-staff.

When the death knock came up, we were instructed to go to the house. But even though we had a journo in the back seat who was champing at the bit to get to that front door, the cameraman explained calmly to everyone in the car that “we knocked and no one answered, agreed?” And then we drove back to the station, never leaving the car.

I consider myself very, very lucky that I didn’t have to face the family at such a terrible time. And at the end of the day, it didn’t matter. Like one wise cameraman I worked with said: “It’s only television.”

Jim Hart writes: It’s the grubby journo’s justification: “And let’s not forget the audience also plays a part. If they didn’t watch, this stuff wouldn’t get to air.” Even Rupert and his mob ultimately had to admit some things are over the line, so just because millions do watch that kind of stuff doesn’t mean it should be shown.

This kind of arrogant self-importance is just one reason I never watch commercial current affairs programs.

Julian Assange:

Bill Williams writes: Re. “On Assange, government defiant in face of reality” (yesterday, item 3). Congratulations to Bernard Keane for his willingness to criticise the government’s untenable position with respect to Julian Assange. If the commentators on Keane’s article are representative of Crikey‘s readership it seems you can say anything you like as long as you don’t criticise the Labor government … especially on the grounds of morality or loyalty to its citizens.

It’s hard to imagine that any Crikey reader capable of independent thought would even dare to suggest the world isn’t a better place for knowing “the truth” on so many subjects as reported by WikiLeaks. Surely Crikey itself is proof of the importance to a democracy of a free press? Assange is a national hero, perhaps the greatest journalist of a generation. The Australian government’s meek gutlessness in not defending him absolutely confirms the total lack of good authority possessed by this Labor government.

Julia Gillard’s initial declaration that Assange had committed an illegal act and her suggestion that his Australian passport should be withdrawn revealed her total lack of a sense of natural justice — innocent until proven guilty — not to mention her poor political judgment. Subsequent professional legal opinion questions whether Assange has broken any Australian or US laws anyway. Even the narcissistic Rudd supports Assange despite the fact that we all learnt, via WikiLeaks, that Rudd (as PM) was regarded by the Americans as an incompetent, micro-managing, control freak.

Gillard’s government sets a terrible example of how to manage bullies — in this case the US’ “McCarthy-style” witch-hunt for Assange. Imagine if we had a government with the courage to send in the SAS and get Assange home where we could protect him or at least one that would stand up to the British and demand that he be allowed to return to Australia where we could find a way to protect him from the Swedish collaborators against justice for Assange.

Anyway, at least Crikey‘s Bernard Keane isn’t afraid to call the Gillard government to account. Well said, Bernard.


David Edmunds writes: Re. “Education and even Gonski is getting out of political reach” (yesterday, item 10). While I am sure that in the short term Dean Ashenden is correct in his assertion that there can be no big pay rise for teachers, this statement needs to be qualified.

The suggestions on the table for teacher pay rise are not related to productivity. Over my long teaching career I have seen several such attempts, but they all failed. First, the pay rises proposed rarely beat the CPI, and so the assessment for qualifying teachers was treated with contempt.  Secondly, the state gained absolutely nothing through these pay rises in terms of productivity. But in a way this doesn’t help. Education is one of the two things Australia must get right to set us up for a post-mining boom world, the other being infrastructure.

Marcus L’Estrange (yesterday, comments) is correct in suggesting that the national curriculum and associated assessment is a way forward. The Labor government has instituted a form of accountability through the My Schools data, and there is no reason why the results from assessment associated with the national curriculum could not be included. The qualification systems offered by a range of IT vendors, particularly Cisco show what can be achieved. These systems couple curriculum, resources, teacher pre-qualification, student assessment and analysis of that assessment. I have taught in this environment and it was a revelation.

There are, of course, savings if Australia moves to one curriculum system rather than the current eight.

While Australia spends below the OECD average on school education an argument can be made for increased expenditure, if it is directly coupled to improved outcomes. That is, the data needs to be there. This data can be directly related to individual teachers, and along with other indicators such as student attendance, student enrolments and staff churn can be used to develop a picture of the performance of individual schools, educational districts and systems. Currently there are no such accountability measures.

Currently, the least appropriate teachers, those with the least experience and those with no choices do the most difficult teaching work. In the absence of an extrinsic reward, teachers who perform well gravitate to schools in places where they would like to live, or to schools with a demonstrably easier working environment. This can only be changed if teacher pay is coupled to the difficulty of the work. That is, schools with big problems need to be able to offer big salaries to proven teachers, and attract such teachers on an open market.  This will cost more, but is probably politically palatable.

Unfortunately, none of this is likely to happen in the next few years. If Christopher Pyne becomes education minister, he will no doubt continue to place Commonwealth money for schools precisely where it will do the least good. The Coalition supports the national curriculum, but if Queensland is any guide, their interest will be more in redressing perceived socialist tendencies in the subject matter than driving change.


David Hand writes: Re. “‘On shaky ground’: Australians hate coal, so what do we do now?” (yesterday, item 4). After being told just about every week for the past 10 years by the Greens and their mates that coal is poisoning everyone, we get a breathless article from a propaganda group that they’ve persuaded most Australians to agree with them. This opinion becomes the story and is then used as the “source” of pressure to take action on climate change.

Opinion manipulation like that is exactly the behaviour Crikey acolytes believe Murdoch and News Ltd does though I don’t expect many to see the irony in it.

Any objective observer knows Australians don’t hate coal that much. I see plenty of lights on round where I live.