How SBS scored Assad. It might be the night before the election, but SBS has something rather different planned for prime time tonight.

It will air a world exclusive interview with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. The Syrian President has overseen a five-year civil war in the country that has killed half a million people and displaced 10 million more. His tactics against rebels have been widely condemned. Malcolm Turnbull has called Assad a murderous tyrant, while Bill Shorten has called him a butcher.

Which begs the question: how did he come to give an exclusive interview to an Australian public broadcaster?

TV news reporter Luke Waters started working at SBS around the time the crisis started and visited refugee camps in Lebanon in 2013. “I was told by a source that the President was open to being interviewed by foreign media — so I first approached the consulate in Sydney,” he told Crikey from Lebanon this morning. “That approach was accompanied by approaches to the Syrian Ministry For Information and Press Offices. As I was never given an outright ‘no’ I sent follow-up emails on a semi-regular basis ever since.”

Assad hasn’t spoken to the media in some months, though for the length of the war, he has popped his head up a few times a year. His last interview was in April with Sputnik, an agency controlled by the Russian government which allowed him plenty of leeway to talk about his war on “terror” in Syria.

An interview with SBS is rather different to that. Waters says it’s difficult to say why Assad agreed. “Perhaps it was a combination of things — a series of annoying emails from an Australian journalist, the fact that we are a dedicated world news broadcaster (which they indicated was appealing) and perhaps even some luck plays into these things. My last email or letter may have come at the time they were considering another round of interviews and therefore my name and SBS was front-of-mind at the right time.”

The interview was held at the President’s Damascus offices. Waters describes it as looking more like a “grand old home” than an office complex, though he and producer Meggie Palmer had to do a pre-interview meeting with press officials at the more modern, imposing palace. It was at this pre-interview meeting that the logistics were nutted out — the time, location, and the like.

“The interview room furnished with just two chairs facing each other and the four cameras were set up ready to begin filming. Make-up was hastily applied and we got underway with a clock set up in my view. We were instructed that the interview was to run 25 minutes.

“There is so much to ask this man I found it difficult covering it all in the allotted time. There are many many more questions I planned to ask but the clock hit the 25-minute mark far too quickly!”

SBS’s interview with Bashar al-Assad airs at 7.30pm tonight. — Myriam Robin

Ads keep coming. We may be well into the election ad blackout, but as Harold Mitchell says, it doesn’t apply to digital media.

Here’s what Albury Wodonga’s Border Mail website looked like yesterday afternoon. Its Victorian readers vote in Indi, where Sophie Mirabella is trying to take back the seat from independent Cathy McGowan …


It’s far from alone in featuring heavy advertising today. The Launceston Examiner‘s readers are in Bass, held by the Liberal’s Andrew Nikolic with a 4.04% margin. The Liberal Party has bought the front page.


In case readers think the Examiner is turning into The Daily Telegraph, an editor’s note this morning explains the wrap-around isn’t an endorsement.


The Nationals are also buying up a lot of space


— Myriam Robin

The slowest death. The 2015 annual World Press Trends survey by the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers, (WAN-IFRA) has again underlined the steady erosion of print media’s viability with another fall in revenue last year. And for the second year in a row, Australian newspapers saw the biggest fall in circulation (including Oceania, i.e. NZ) of all regions covered in the survey. That also saw Australian and papers in Oceania suffering the biggest fall in circulation over the five years to last December.

“Circulation rose +7.8 percent in Asia in 2015 from a year earlier; it fell -2.4 percent in North America, -2.7 percent in Latin America, -2.6 percent in the Middle East and Africa, -4.7 percent in Europe and -5.4 percent in Australia and Oceania. Over five years, newspaper print unit circulations rose +38.6 percent in Asia but fell elsewhere: -1.2 percent in the Middle East and Africa, -1.5 percent in Latin America, -10.9 percent in North America, -23.8 percent in Europe, and -22.3 percent in Australia and Oceania.”

And looking at print ads (the second major source of revenue for the sector after circulation. In fact newspaper readers are contributing an increasing share of the total revenue at many of the world’s newspapers. The survey showed that newspaper circulation revenue represented 53% of the overall industry revenue in 2015 as print ad and digital revenue growth continued to wane. — Glenn Dyer

TV Ratings. Malcolm Turnbull did not do himself any favours by his performance on Kitchen Cabinet last night — not relaxed (and suffering from a horrendous head cold or flu). But he seemed to bristle and not understand that the program was about a chat and not proselytising. At the next election Masterchef (if it is still going), should have a crack at the PM and Opposition leader for an episode — decide the poll over a hot stove or oven, see if one can win “immunity” with a fab meal, or a taste/pressure test, or better still, a mystery box that their handlers do not see?

Rake, ah, Rake. In the pointers to next week’s episode and the closing minutes of last night’s episode, we got more interesting ideas than we have seen in eight weeks of campaigning. Cleaver is thinking of trying for the Senate, and he is being seduced into it by that wicked rival for Wendy’s body, Blackie. And don’t tell me this is fiction. If I had suggested that we could see the sorts of stories and headlines we have seen from London in the past seven days, you’d claim that was just ‘friction’as well. But as we know it has been very real, including last night’s amazing events which saw newspaper websites change their front pages and stories repeatedly in a space of a few hours (a bit like last Friday and the coverage of the Brexit vote).

Sunrise (320,000) scored a narrow metro breakfast win over Today (313,000) yesterday.

On Tuesday morning I suggested that Nine’s program, The Briefcase would be shifted to a later time slot after its ratings collapsed in week two from week one. It averaged 733,000 metro viewers last Monday week, but that slumped to 491,000 metro viewers on Monday night, which is not good enough. It is being pushed to 9.40pm on Mondays (up against Q&A on the ABC, which dominates that time slot). Replacing The Briefcase is the clip show 20 to 1 which has been switched from Tuesdays at 7.30pm to Mondays at the same time. The Briefcase joins Reno Rumble on the duds list of 2016, along with Kiss Bang Love from Seven.

Viewing Note: And for everyone in the regions not watching the Seven Network tonight, don’t go and get all testy and send in emails complaining about how you can’t watch what on Nine or Ten. Remember they have swapped and Nine is now Ten and Ten is now Nine, well in most markets. In Tasmania and some small areas of the mainland, things may be clarified today. So Today was on Ten (Southern Cross, now Nine’s new dance partner in the regions) this morning, and Studio Ten on Nine (WIN, which is Ten’s new partner). And tonight the NRL will be on Southern Cross (the old Ten) and whatever Ten has will be on WIN (the old Nine). Masterchef shifts, as does The Voice, Nine News, The Project and everything else. The change seems to have disrupted the combined national figures last night for some programs.

*Read the rest of Glenn Dyer’s TV ratings on the website

Front page(s) of the day. The British press digests an extraordinary day of politics …


Peter Fray

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