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Media briefs

May 1, 2014

Media briefs: debt shame … RIP Hoskins … Time bombs …

Greg Sheridan has a moral problem with debt (and a kneejerk love of the Liberals). Plus other media tidbits of the day.

Rundle: who’s afraid of debt? Tony Abbott’s new deficit levy — well, “levy” is one term for it, and “one term” could be one term associated with Tony from now on — has been excoriated by the Right as a betrayal, and by the Left as a desperate insult to the intelligence of the voter. Will no one defend our paladin Lord? Step forward faithful retainer (i.e. human mouthguard) and economics expert Greg Sheridan. When you’ve claimed that WMDs were a certainty, called John Howard a racist in 2001 and then demanded, in 2012, an apology from people who called him a racist, while defending Dubya as a great American president, a non-taxy tax is necessary. He does not disappoint. The Western world has to pay down its debt because Kissinger — as conveyed by Bob Carr — says:

“On Europe, he says we are witnessing a loss of capa­city of governments to demand sacrifices of their people.”

That’s paragraph three. In paragraph eight:

“So far the most troubled European economies have been bailed out by the Germans and the other northern Europeans.”

So all Europe’s an undisciplined basket case — except the top half, which bails out the bottom half? Very cogent. Nevertheless, things are worrying:

“Our gross government debt, at $360 billion, is more than 22 per cent of GDP. This is modest by some international comparisons …”

What comparisons? Well, Germany perhaps — you know, the bailer-outer — which has an 80% gross public debt to GDP. Must be running a hell of a deficit. Oh 0.1% of the budget. OK. Still, back in Australia:

“Already, because of the debt incurred under Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard, we pay $12 billion a year in interest on government debt … At $12 billion, interest payments are more than twice our aid budget, nearly half our defence budget. A country can easily end up running a primary surplus — taking in more tax than it spends on programs — but still being in deficit …”

That’s alarming, because $12 billion is … oh, around 2.4% of government spending. Is that per se a problem? Anyone? Yes, you in the back, every small business owner? That’s right, the cost of servicing debt is relative to what else you are doing with the money, compared to interest rates.

No wonder Sheridan, the old Grouper, has volunteered for this mission. It’s Santamarianomics. It’s a joke, Barnaby Joyce style — the idea that debt is inherently, morally bad. It plays well with the punters, who think debt is bad — unless it’s the million bucks they owe the bank for their renovators’ delight weatherboard in Ashburton/Petersham/Launceston (adjusted figure: $8.97, and you get a Village cinemas movie pass as well) — and persist in such because Labor never tries to educate them.

Will Labor have the guts to talk back to this mediaeval nonsense and attack the levy on “the rich” — i.e. senior primary school teacher ($90,000), electrician ($80,000) emergency nurse ($85,000)? Or will we get more hara-kiri about how bad the trade unions are? The only question is whether Sheridan knows all this and dissembles in service to the ancient Catholic art of propaganda, or whether he keeps himself stupid in order to thus be of use, when even daddy’s girl Miranda Devine has deserted One Term Tony? — Guy Rundle

Whoa, JJ on the radio. A crowd of Australia’s independent music luminaries, including Gotye, Kate Miller-Heidke, Kevin Mitchell, Ella Hooper and Paul Dempsey, yesterday joined ABC staff and managing director Mark Scott at Melbourne’s elegantly disheveled Kelvin Club to eat vegetarian spring rolls, toast champagne and launch ABC’s new digital-only station, Double J.

Double J replaces ABC’s Dig Music, and takes its name and attitude from the original, radical ABC radio station Double J, which was on air from 1975 to 1980. The new Double J is designed to be a mesh of the old and new, and it hopes to capture those listeners who grew up with Triple J, are still passionate about Australian music, but have outgrown the station. It will feature 70% new music, and will delve deep into the Triple J sound archives. The station went live at midday yesterday.

Scott took to the Kelvin Club stage to introduce the station and its leading presenter, “Australia’s best friend”, Myf Warhurst. He said the station was “reinventing a bit of history”, and was focused on providing broader services to the ABC’s audience via digital radio sets, online and mobiles. Although critics have pointed out that digital radio hasn’t exactly taken off in Australia, Scott said listeners would be able to hear Double J “anytime, any way and anywhere”. Ben Neutze (more at Daily Review)

Time’s a ticking for media giant. Time Warner failed to update the market overnight on the timing of the planned spin-off of its magazine business housed in Time Inc, and looking at the quarterly results overnight, you can find the reason for that reticence. In short, Time is a loss-making sinkhole that is not getting better. All Time Warner said was that it expects to do the spin off “this quarter”, which has been the corporate line since late last year. The magazine business had an operating loss of US$120 million in the quarter, a US$111 million increase on the US$9 million loss in the March quarter of 2013. The latest loss includes US$26 million of impairment write-downs on a building owned by the magazine business, and the impact of job cuts and other restructuring charges, which have become a recurrent cost of late.

While revenues rose 1%, that improvement was due to the purchase and inclusion of the results from the old American Express Publishing business, and the fact that several magazines had one extra issue in the quarter. Time Warner said that excluding the impact of those factors, total revenues were down 5%, while subscription revenues would have been flat instead of up US$12 million. In fact, ad revenues would have been down 7% for the quarter, and other revenues (subscriptions, etc) would have fallen a worrying 16%.

Time has already cut 500 jobs so far this year and, based on these results, more losses are likely. Time Inc can’t be sold to the market as a standalone company, so it is being spun off to shareholders of the parent company. Time Inc is based on three titles: Time, Sports Illustrated and People. Based on the latest quarter, it will have revenue of around US$2.9 billion this year, down sharply from the $US3.3 billion in 2013. Time Inc’s 2013 earnings fell 24% to only US$201 million. It’s already US$120 million behind this year, and with the impact of the higher interest bill to come. — Glenn Dyer

Video of the day. Your correspondent was down in Fleet Street today when the news of Bob Hoskins’ death, from pneumonia, at 71, came across the wires — so there seemed no alternative but to go down to the Savoy Hotel on the Strand, where the extraordinary final scene of The Long Good Friday (1981) was shot. Hoskins plays Harold Shand, a London gangster who thinks he’s made the big score — going legit with shady backing to get in on the redevelopment of the Docklands (when they were still working docks — the movie is an archive of lost London). But he’s been done, and the car he gets into is no taxi. When it pulls away, he sees his lover (Helen Mirren) screaming as she’s taken in another car. Then a gunman (Pierce Brosnan) covers him with a silenced pistol from the front seat.

The rainy night-streets of London streak past, and we watch Hoskins’ face for two full minutes as he is drawn to his death through the city he could not make his own — and it’s just about the most extraordinary acting performance on celluloid, a man coming to terms with his imminent extinction played without a word. The best movie about London, about Thatcherism, and chillingly prescient about what was to come. Ah Hoskins, role model for, and patron saint of, short fat bald men willing to go up against long odds everywhere, rest at peace in the mud of the Thames. — Guy Rundle

Front page of the day. The Los Angeles Clippers’ owner’s racism has come back to bite him on his old, white arse. The hometown paper splashes the story …

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5 thoughts on “Media briefs: debt shame … RIP Hoskins … Time bombs …

  1. paul noonan

    Thanks Guy Rundle for the elegant and apt tribute to Bob Hoskins. Compare The Age’s effort: which of his films did they mention? “Who Killed Roger Rabbit?”.

  2. zut alors

    The Hoskins video is appreciated, Guy. A superb piece of acting.

  3. klewso

    Does Miranda go out to dinner with Toady?

  4. klewso

    Bob Hoskins – “Pennies from Heaven”!

  5. max steinman

    Double J sounds like a good idea, Triple J has been playing hipsterish but otherwise mainstream garbage for years, it’ll be nice to hear some new sounds.