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Media

Jul 26, 2017

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Like so many love stories, this one starts the same, once a year. A handsome, inoffensive man chosen as The Bachelor is matched with a couple of dozen beautiful ladies who are all on journey to find love. They compete through each episode for his affection — demonstrated with a rose at a dramatic ceremony.

Or, as University of Melbourne social and political sciences senior lecturer Lauren Rosewarne puts it: “Women catfighting their way to the affections of a generally underwhelming man.”

The gender stereotypes the show portrays are similar to what you’d see elsewhere in popular media, but they’d have to be among the most overt on The Bachelor, where conflict between the women is played up, and all power and decision-making is handed over to the man.

Rosewarne told Crikey the story that The Bachelor tells about gender can be seen in other reality TV shows, soaps and romantic comedies. “The show — like much reality TV — makes a variety of assumptions about gender: that a woman’s worth is defined by how much a man wants her; that a little of a man is better that none; that women are in a lifelong battle with one another for the affections of men. Such shows place disproportionate worth on the man — often as related to income — and elevate him as the one who decides a woman’s fate and worth.”

It’s a popular show — the troubled Ten network has been relentlessly promoting it for weeks in the lead-up to this season’s premiere, with publicity stories running on all major (and some minor) news websites. It launched to 1.108 million viewers last night — down on last year, but still a strong performer for the network.

There was a Bachelor party pack ready for download from Ten’s website, which includes Bachelor bunting, ready-to-print emojis to show your reactions for the “OMG moments” and Bachelor bingo. The show has spawned a whole genre of Bachelor recaps over the four seasons of The Bachelor, and three of The Bachelorette (you can’t help but think the show is edited especially for gifs). News and gossip websites have writers dedicated to recapping and writing up quick reports and reviews, ready for sharing. Intelligent women watch it, chatter about it on social media and then follow the recaps that make fun of the show.

ABC Radio National’s Life Matters asked three Australian feminists in 2015 how they could watch the show when it had such an anti-feminist premise.

ABC Tasmania radio presenter Melanie Tait told the program she felt guilty watching it and donated $10 to a feminist organisation or cause for each episode she watched. Rosie Waterland, who became known for her popular Mamamia recaps, put the appeal of the show down to escapism, as well as it being a community event to talk about during and after.

And Rosewarne agreed, saying everyone likes escapism. “Equally, it would be erroneous to assume that viewers aren’t capable of watching critically, cynically or even mockingly,” she said.

The show promotes a stereotypical narrative of love and relationships, with stereotypical gender roles.

Even before this year’s season started, it was panned for its lack of diversity. This is a common refrain in commentary of the original US version of the show, too, which only this year after 21 seasons of The Bachelor and 12 of The Bachelorette had a black bachelor or bachelorette.

This year’s cast is extremely white — in a nod to diversity, one contestant, Elora, is from Tahiti and ads for the program labelled her as “exotic”. She was one of the lucky ladies to receive a rose. The Bachelor himself, Matty J, told news.com.au the diversity issue is a question for Ten.

Rosewarne says the whitewashing of The Bachelor is just another element of the gender narrative that the show promotes.

“The lack of diversity reminds us that non-white, non-thin, non-cookie cutter ‘beautiful’ women are never going to be the ‘chosen ones’ in this culture,” she said.

A common defence of the show is that there is also The Bachelorette, where the gender roles are reversed. But that is an oversimplification of a problematic premise, Rosewarne says.

“Inserting a woman into a role that is fundamentally problematic doesn’t make that role any better,” she said.

But all this is not to overstate the impact shows like The Bachelor. It might be popular, but it’s only one among many messages we get about gender roles.

“I think the impact is low,” Rosewarne said. “We’re saturated with a deluge of mixed messages about gender relations; assuming that The Bachelor is more persuasive than any other is hyperbole.”

Victoria

Jul 26, 2017

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“Don’t you feel sorry for anyone who’s just here to get their drunk driving charge overturned?” I overhear one of the ABC crew say from within the throng of journalists, protesters, supporters and onlookers gathered at Melbourne Magistrates’ Court to see Cardinal George Pell arrive for his filing hearing for charges of historical sex offences. 

“Oh, good old Crikey, well, you’ll get a picture,” says the Reuters photographer. For most of the media — Pell is in court for roughly 10 minutes, and outside it for collectively maybe another 10 — the amount of coverage a brief filing hearing has attracted is itself the main topic of coverage.

The line of journalists is already snaking around the front of the building as Crikey arrives a little before 8am. No surprises that Herald Sun court reporter Shannon Deery is at the front. He tweeted his disbelief that today’s event wasn’t being held in the biggest courtroom available a few days ago. A few places back is David Marr, whose Quarterly Essay “The Prince” is currently nestled against the laptop in my bag. He’s perpetually on his phone, like all high-profile people in public places. 

“The TV guys were here at 5am to do their crosses to Sunrise and Today,” a photographer for The Age tells me. “Our journo got here about 6.30am to line up. I got here about 6.45am.”

The TV crews zigzag between the pavement and the road, cordoned off by traffic cones. Sky, then Channel Ten, then Nine, the ABC and finally Seven. The crews swap places throughout the morning, getting different framing and coverage. The TV reporters are serious and slightly insular, retreating to their phones when not setting up or doing their pieces to camera. The camera operators and photographers are more amiable.

[Pell freezes over]

At about 8.15 the scrum tightens around the first of the visible protesters. He’s wearing one of those creepy white masks, painted with streaks of blue and yellow, his spiky blond hair receding. He’s interviewed by some of the networks, but the mask gives his words an echoey buzz and he’s impossible to make out from even a few feet away. He’s joined throughout the morning by a modest group (10, maybe 15) from the child sex abuse survivors advocacy group; there’s no shouting, no anger, not yet. Just solemn silence and signs with statistics and a number for Operation SANO. Later, supporters of Pell, about as many as the protesters, set up a little way away. They are both mature groups, quiet, serious. There’s no hint that they are going to clash.

The parameters of what’s known publicly means certain phrases come up from every TV reporter — “… multiple allegations …” “… strenuously denies” “… the highest-ranking Catholic to have had charges brought against him …” “… he says he’s looking forward to clearing his name …”  “… not just Australian media, but the eyes of the world are on Melbourne …”

Another photographer from The Age is sceptical about this claim: “Look, if the trial progresses then you’ll see a lot more people here, but for a 10-minute hearing, people aren’t going to send a bunch of journalists unless they already have a base here, or it’s easy for them to hire someone — I reckon it’s been a bit of a boon for freelancers, but …” His phone goes “‘Scuse me.” He walks briskly to the corner where William Street hits Londsdale. It’s just before 9am.

[Victoria Police raise Pell, cardinal pontificates impending See change]

A few seconds later, there’s a scramble of photographers, cameras flashing like a firing squad, crawling down the street around a ring of police, within which is Cardinal George Pell and his QC Robert Richter. Journalists shout questions — rendered incomprehensible by the tangle — presumably just so they can say they did. A policeman shouts, low and rhythmic and steady. “Move. Move. Move.” People walking backwards, looking at their cameras, fall. I move a few steps up towards the courthouse, and raise my phone to take pictures, thinking the crowd will pass to the main door, but it follows me. There’s a moment of panic as we hit the stair banister, nowhere further to go, and the scrum continues to swell. I get off relatively lightly, the poor AFP journo next to me forced to limbo backward over the railing, “I can’t go any further, I can’t go any further.” The police continue to push. It’s only after the major swell is past that I can actually see Pell. The adrenaline and tension of the moment passes as quickly as it arrived and gives way to laughter. The AFP journo is unhurt. 

And then we return to the crowded but relatively relaxed atmosphere we had before Pell’s arrival — everyone retreats to their phones, people who’ve been here since 6am go to get food. The pack thins slightly, or maybe it just feels that way because we aren’t swelling every few minutes with annoyed commuters. More civilians arrive, these guys seemingly having no particular attachment to the case, just drawn by the crowd itself.

There is none of the mad dash to capture Pell’s exit — while there was conjecture about whether Pell would arrive by car or by foot, from his lawyer’s office or from another direction, there’s only one door through which he can exit and the thrum are gathered at that door from about 10am. At 10.11am, the madness repeats — the explosion of camera flashes, the tangle of questions, and this time, as the wave rolls around the corner to his lawyer’s office, growing yells, both from supporters and detractors. One woman, holding a sign that says “Thank you George Pell for helping our family” actually lets out a whoop of joy when she sees him. The group stays, clogging the entrance to building containing Richter’s office, interviewing protesters and supporters.

Slowly, the pack scatters. An employee from the cafe next door walks out on the street, grumpily picks up the sandwich board the media knocked over, and the madness, for now, has passed.

Film & TV

Jul 26, 2017

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Today in Media Files, the ABC is merging its news and radio divisions in the ACT, as it announces the winners of its content fund.

ABC’s news and radio divisions merge. The ABC is to merge its news and radio divisions in Canberra. The roles of news editor and ABC Local manager — where the former is, obviously, head of the news division, and the latter is head of the radio division for the ACT — will be combined into the single new role of editor, Canberra. In a message to staff yesterday, ABC management said it “made sense” for the news and radio divisions to “come together as one team”.

An ABC spokeswoman told Crikey the merge would only occur in the Northbourne Avenue office in Canberra, with no plans to do the same at any other sites.

ABC content fund winners announced. The ABC has announced the first projects it will fund under its content fund (called the Great Ideas Grant), with lifestyle and digital projects featuring heavily. The projects include a new lifestyle “coordinated approach” to content, a true crime podcast brand, and an ABC Parents project. In an announcement to staff, managing director Michelle Guthrie said the ideas “truly demonstrate what collaborative and multi-platform ideas look like”.

A plan to share content from the ABC archives, a content strategy for a digital-first approach to scripted content and health projects across platforms will also be funded.

Applications for a Great Ideas Grant were open exclusively to ABC staff. All staff could pitch ideas to be funded from a total pool of $20 million this year, which will increase to $50 million per year in following years. The GIG is funded by cuts announced in March this year, mostly to middle management roles. The winners were chosen by an “audience committee”, made up of Guthrie, head of news Gaven Morris, head of TV David Anderson, head of radio Michael Mason, head of ABC regional Fiona Reynolds, and the head of Audiences Leisa Bacon.

Mamma Mia! What a great headline! As noted in Crikey Worm this morning, the obvious headline was hard to resist for newspapers covering Matt Canavan’s dual citizenship revelation yesterday. The Herald Sun, The Mercury, the NT News and The Australian Financial Review all managed hold themselves back.

 

Struggling Guardian cuts losses by a third, quadruples memberships. At last some good news about the financial health of The Guardian and Observer newspapers in London. After two years of big losses and more than 300 job cuts — including halving the size of the US news operation — it seems the financial position of the Guardian Media Group (GMG) is slowing rightsizing itself.

Losses from running the business, excluding exceptional items such as severance pay and depreciation, were 44.7 million pounds in the year to April 2, down from 68.7 million pounds in 2015-16. Staff costs fell from 150.8 million pounds to 136.2 million pounds year on year. The sale of the shareholding in publicly-listed Ascential (a business to business services company) has boosted GMG’s endowment fund, which absorbs the newspapers’ losses, from 765 million pounds ($A1.25 billion) to 1.03 billion pounds. At the same time the company is eating into this cash pile at a slower rate than the year before.

The company trimmed its cash burn to 67.3 million pounds from 72.3 million pounds, the company’s cost base fell from 298.8 million pounds to 268.8 million pounds, including almost 10 million pounds provision for future restructuring. Overall GMG cut its losses by more than a third. Total revenues rose 2% to 214.5 million pounds in the year to April 2. Total digital revenues (including income from memberships) rose 15% to 94.1 million pounds. The most heartening part of the report released yesterday shows the number of paid for memberships rose from 50,000 to more than 230,000. Including regular subscribers, the figure rose to more than 400,000.

Membership is the company’s way of substituting a paywall for a free website. The fee is graduated according to access and what the member wants to pay. GMG CEO David Pemsel said the growth in membership, subscriptions and contributions was helping to build a strong foundation from which the company can invest in journalism.

The company is still planning to be break even in two years, which will mean more than 40 million pounds a year in new cost cuts will be needed, according to UK media analysts. As part of that plan The Guardian will move to a tabloid size, junking or selling three presses designed to produce the so-called Berliner-sized paper (halfway between a broadsheet and a tabloid). 

In the year to June The Guardian’s daily sales fell 7.4% to 159,007. The Observer’s sales fell 5.9% to 192,889. — Glenn Dyer

Glenn Dyer’s TV Ratings. So did anyone win Australian Ninja Warrior last night? I don’t think so, but does Nine know? Its retrospective explanations of how the Ninjas finished last night left a lot to be desired; its ex ante briefing of the audience was non-existent. It was a very confusing end and, judging by social media, it was a bit of a let down or a disappointment. The program was the most watched no-news program of the year so far with 3.087 million national viewers — 2.145 million metro and 942,000 regional viewers for the final stage, which no one won. That’s the situation with the format offshore — such as the US, but it is inconclusive. Nine’s win had Ten fall to fourth behind the ABC in third and Seven in a very distant second.

The rest of the program averaged 2.921 million nationally (2.038 million metros and 833,000 in the regions). And that was the night with Nine a winner and a grinner. — Read the rest on the Crikey website

Tips and rumours

Jul 26, 2017

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From the Crikey grapevine, the latest tips and rumours …

Deflating statistics. Inflation for the June quarter is likely to get the pessimists going again — it was well below expectations at 0.2%, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics this morning. In the year to June, headline inflation was 1.9%, down from 2.1% in the year to March. Both of the Reserve Bank’s preferred inflation measures, the trimmed mean and the weighed median, came in at 1.8%. Forecasters had expected a result of around 0.4%; the result was driven by falls in fuel and clothing; only health insurance premium rises showed strong positive growth. On the bright side, that means it’ll be harder for wages to slip into negative real growth territory. The March Wage Price Index was 1.9%; if continued in the June quarter, that’ll mean that wages are only stagnant, not falling. Celebrate!

Was our invitation lost in the post? A caller to 3AW says a government agency spent $43,500 on a going-away party for its CEO, which sounds like a hefty price tag. So who was the event for? Could it have been Australia Post’s shindig to farewell Ahmed Fahour? If you know more, drop us a line.

Good on you Mum, tip top’s the one. The political world is still saying “Mamma mia!” about the resignation of Senator Matt Canavan from the ministry after it turned out his mum signed him up as an Italian citizen without his knowledge when he was 25. The case will now go to the High Court, as Canavan believes he couldn’t renounce citizenship he didn’t know he had. So it got us thinking in the Crikey bunker — what have other people’s mums signed them up for? For most of us, once we were past school our mums stopped with surprises such as that. Ms Tips’ mum is more likely to visit with a shopping bag of vegetables and a lecture than a new passport. Let us know, what has your mum signed you up for well after you were old enough to be doing it yourself? Drop us a line.

Surely this is a porky. The world of Aussie rules football is often quite weird, but this story from the last weekend of footy has taken the world of sledging to a new level. Adelaide forward Josh Jenkins told FIVEaa radio in Adelaide last night he had been the victim of a prank by his Geelong opponent Harry Taylor after Friday night’s match. Jenkins almost missed the game after some dodgy ham left him bedridden with food poisoning for two days, but he managed to get on the field for the win. Jenkins said Taylor used the incident as inspiration for a joke at the end of the match: “He shook my hands and when we separated there was ham in my hand — probably 25gms worth from the deli. I don’t think it was smoked. I wasn’t getting too close to it … I was going to throw up.”

We just want to know where Taylor kept the ham during the match. Or maybe we don’t.

Don’t mention coal. Indian coal-mining giant Adani is starting a public relations assault in Australia, full of smiling faces so glad to have jobs. After a four-page spread in The Sydney Morning Herald on Sunday, the company is back at it, this time with a spread in The Australian. “You might have heard of us,” the glowing copy reads as it explains “when you hear ‘Adani’ think ‘energy’, think ‘future’ and think ‘long term’.”

As pointed out in Junkee over the weekend, nowhere does the advertisement mention the word coal — while it talks about the Galillee mine, there’s nothing about what will actually be mined. It does mention that the company is planning solar projects in Queensland and South Australia though. If coal is “good for humanity” as former PM Tony Abbott said, we’re surprised it didn’t get more of a run in the ad.

*Heard anything that might interest Crikey? Send your tips to boss@crikey.com.auuse our guaranteed anonymous form or leak to us securely

Why can’t we be friends? News Corp executive chairman Michael Miller (right), with Foxtel CEO Peter Tonagh, Seven West Media CEO Tim Worner and Nine Entertainment CEO Hugh Marks.

Please excuse us, we’re falling about laughing.

Michael Miller, executive chairman of News Corp Australia, wants Australian media to stop turning on each other, telling the Melbourne Press Club, “We need to stop revelling in each other’s problems and publish less negative articles about rival newsrooms being gutted”. And then this follow-up joke, when asked if this proposed ceasefire would extend to the ABC: “[nothing is] off the table in terms of what we can potentially share together … Competition is strong and I think the ABC gives as good as it gets,” he added.

Hypocrisy and nothing more, given this man runs a company whose newspapers have regularly disparaged the ABC over any number of issues in recent years (too many to mention), has bagged Fairfax Media on the same basis, Crikey, Seven West Media and the Seven Network, Nine (but not Foxtel, which is controlled by News). The Australian even had a go at the board of the Ten Network, and was forced to apologise to it and chairman David Gordon as a result. Foxtel CEO Peter Tonagh was a member of the Ten board criticised by the report in the paper. Foxtel is 50% owned by News Corp.

Indeed, one of the co-authors of The Australian’s story today on Miller’s speech is Darren Davidson, who was the author of the story that disparaged the Ten board and Gordon.

“’We are now globally having more productive conversations with both those companies around removal of first click free and also developing a subscription platform with Facebook,’ News Corp Australasia executive chairman Michael Miller said. ‘Those conversations are a few weeks old now. We are glad to be at the table having those conversations which are industry ­solutions.'”

This is, in effect, News Corp running up the white flag after months of bagging Google and Facebook for placing ads on pornographic and/or politically extreme websites and doing nothing to help print media companies survive. Alphabet (which owns Google) revealed the futility of that approach this week with a 52% year-over-year rise in paid clicks (an advertiser pays only if a user clicks on the ad). The company said revenue was boosted by robust demand for advertising on mobile and on YouTube. (The campaign against Google concentrated heavily on ad placements on YouTube).

According to the Fairfax report, Miller said media reform is needed to give publishers greater clout with potential advertisers, and he urged federal Parliament to pass the government’s proposed media reform laws, which would ease ownership restrictions. But if you use Miller’s words in his speech (which is not on the News Corp Australia website) News Corp is not in any need of help.

Fairfax reported that Miller had boasted that News Corp’s combined outlets — including Sky News and all its print and online news — have a monthly audience of 16 million Australians, which is “more than Facebook”. He said The Australian’s revenues from subscriptions are now greater than its advertising revenue.

News Corp is blocked from owning a commercial TV broadcaster in capital cities because it would breach rules preventing a single company controlling TV, print, and radio in a licence area. News’ co-chair Lachlan Murdoch owns the Nova radio network, and News prints newspapers in every capital city. Fairfax said Miller clarified that the scale News Corp could get from further acquisitions would be more about increasing audience reach than content sharing.

“It is the scale to achieve advertising outcomes that we are currently lacking,” he said.

This is nothing but corporate greed. News wants a TV network to give it more clout in trying to control the shrinking pool of ad revenues going to legacy media like print, TV and radio. News Corp currently controls more than 70% of Australian newspaper sales; it owns the only local commercial news organisation on Foxtel (and every Foxtel subscriber has to take Sky News); Foxtel is the monopoly pay-TV business, 50% owned by News, which has management control as well; it is one of two regional newspaper groups (Fairfax is the other).

Australia

Jul 26, 2017

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Before the Coalition’s Canavan of Covfefe mucked things up somewhat, the right, and a lot of the centre was having a high old time with the Greens. For years, the party has been trying to reshape its image, getting away from the happy hippie activist thing, donning the grey suit and open-necked white shirt “sent from the future to save you” look, or the black skivvy Newport Jazz Festival ’65 alternative. In one bad week, a lot of that got blown away, with not one but two resignations on the grounds of section 44 dual citizenship, and the possibility that others might follow, including some of those lined up to replace the departing senators Scott Ludlam and Larissa Waters.

To cap it all off, the latter appeared at a press conference in a park with — “Who was that guy?” everyone asked, “the one in the relief map scarf and the little glasses, was it her guru?” Was it that De Rucci guy who advertises furniture at the airport? No, it was Jonathan Sri, a Greens councillor (not counselor), fresh from his audition for the George Harrison biopic apparently, and landing the Greens squarely in hippie territory once again. News Corpse had fun, with poor old Lobbecke having to crank out a fairies down the garden pic, and Chris Kenny having a culture wargasm about the imminent demise of the party. Laura Tingle’s focus on the party room relations was simply rendering the issue in the only terms she knows how to talk about. Peter van Onselen wrote a sensible piece in The Australian, which sounded like a surviving sailor tapping out an SOS from inside an upturned hull. It was left to our own William Bowe to make the obvious sensible point — the Greens vote appears to be holding at 9 or 10%, but the changing nature of parliamentary politics makes it unlikely that that will guarantee nine or 10 senators in the future.

For those watching the situation dispassionately, it was clear that the “Greens in disarray” line was the opposite of the truth. They had had a sharp internal conflict arising from the Gonski 2.0 vote, which had been resolved after some confusion, and they had suffered a blow due to hard-to-forgive slackness in procedural matters. Not good in either case, but what was noticeable was that the party apparatus was able to regroup and move forward. Compare and contrast Chris Kenny’s beloved Liberals, who market themselves as the sensible party of government, and who have been beset by an actual party split outside — the energetic Cory Bernardi making a reasonable go of establishing an independent conservative force — a rogue element inside, a split on the right between Abbott supporters and those who describe them as “delcons“, a PM who thinks that not mentioning his nemesis’s name is a good look, procedural rebellion at state conferences, and the distortion of governance to create a super-ministry to satisfy factional demands. And then the Canavan of covfefe, with the possibility of more section 44 chaos on the way, maybe in the Reps. The Libs are not in the crisis that headline writers would like them to be, but they’re in a lot worse shape than the Greens.

[Care about asylum seekers or climate change? Don’t vote Greens]

No, the challenges the Greens face are more long term and structural. The first problem is one of success. Though it might not look it from some of the appalling decisions, the political framework in the West has been greened. Thirty years ago, Western political discourse constructed the polity as an economy-society, with the environment as a separate externality/intangible/free good, to be shown the same regard as a farm dog: look after it and love it when you can, then shoot it if you need to. Now, the idea that the polity is an economic-social system situated within a wider and essential environmental system has become the general rule. The true insanity of the US political system and its wider culture is measured by its failure to full incorporate such an understanding, when even authoritarian and neoliberal states such as China, Russia, and India are doing so, whatever else they do.

This is a tremendous, epochal achievement by the global green movement, and difficult for those who did not live through it to appreciate day by day. The fact that every party has to go through arabesques of bullshit to justify something like the Carmichael mine, rather than just making a joke about saving the ring-tailed potoroo fnarr fnarr, means that the entire debate is being held on green terrain.

But it also means that centre-left parties are taking on increasingly large amounts of the program, and increasingly grand promises, and fusing it to a social democratic program. Since such parties can form government, implement and deliver, they can draw support back from a party whose chance to be in, on near, government pretty much relies on a hung parliament. The Greens only need to lose a couple of percent in that manner to be in some trouble. If Labor has decided, strategically, that there is now a wedge of suburban, one-time working-class voters who are now sufficiently propertied and culturally conservative that they will never get them back from the Coalition, then raiding the Greens may make sense.

But the response by the Greens to such a threat can’t be conducted simply in a corporate manner, like a company looking for a variant product in new markets. After all, if progressive mainstream parties were genuinely “greened”, there would be an argument for simply dissolving the Greens back into them, to strengthen the left that was already there, and create a genuinely progressive behemoth. That, it should be said, is not a strategy I’m recommending.

The only way in which the Greens can respond to the shift in politics must be to reflect deeply on what the essence of their politics is, and why members of such a party are in it in the first place. That reflection can only come to one conclusion: the Greens cannot be a party that is primarily about same-sex marriage or refugees, or sexist advertising, or a hundred other causes, no matter how compelling the moral claims, or the electoral advantage of such. The Greens have to be a party centred on the single fact that the current global political-economic-cultural system is undermining the possibility of human (and much other) life on this planet, that it has opened up the possibility of human extinction in real time, through creating 8 degrees+ temperature rise, and oceanic system collapse and other processes. There is also opened up the possibility of minimal survival, in which we inhabit a planet of wrecked habitats, invariant polluted environments, one choked with garbage everywhere.

[Why I’ll never vote for the Greens]

This world crisis has to be at the centre of green politics, and the party’s unenviable role is to body this forth into every political discussion, and to disrupt the notion that we can simply sort wildly differing political causes as equivalent, and off-the-rack: regional library services/Israel-Palestine/extinction of major fish species/unisex toilets on interstate rail/etc … The Greens have to propose solutions that are integrated with global equality and social justice, and the prospering of communities. But they, we, can’t hide behind notions that all interconnected causes are of equal weighting or significance, either.

The “unenviability” of this is because the Greens get much of their support from exactly the opposite sort of politics: that of maintenance and representation of base-class values and imperatives, through issues such as same-sex marriage and refugees. But at some point a focus on such issues becomes not merely beside the main point of what a global green movement has to be about, it becomes positively politically regressive, because it obscures the depth and reality of the global crisis.

The advantage of this dilemma is that it makes things simple: the Greens have no choice but to find a way of being a party of dual character — one whose purpose, within a mildly greened, and green-washed, politics is to present the nature of the crisis afresh, at the same time as proposing bold solutions to it, which encompass many of the more particular causes it takes on (and without pretending that some triage must not take place — some prioritisation is long overdue). Put simply, if the Greens aren’t doing that, there’s no point being in politics. One might as well return to social activism — or abandon political concern and turn to selfish hedonism on a time-limited planet. The latter choice is no real one for most. The other way is a hard road, and it turns upwards — but there is no other way forward, and no one else who will take it. 

Federal

Jul 26, 2017

5 comments

There are no winners, only losers, out of the current debate over NBN’s pricing model. Now that the national broadband network is available to about half of all Australian premises, Labor’s chickens are coming home to roost for the Coalition government. 

The Australian and The Australian Financial Review have run stories over the past few weeks about how users aren’t getting the download speeds on the NBN that they were promised — not because of the multi-technology mix model used by the current government, but because it is too expensive.

They’re right, but this is nothing new. Six years ago, the tech press — myself included — reported warnings from internet service providers that NBN Co’s pricing model would be an issue. It is now bearing fruit in masses of complaints from customers of slower speeds, with some complaints it is slower than an existing ADSL connection.

It is a complex issue to explain, but essentially NBN Co’s pricing model has two factors: the wholesale price charged to each premises, and then a bandwidth capacity charge for internet service providers to guarantee the promised speeds to each of its customers. A regulatory decision aimed at making it easier for smaller internet service providers to compete with the big ones in regional locations around Australia has had the effect of making the bandwidth charge incredibly expensive in order to meet both the speed and download demands of customers.

[Essential: it’s agreed — NBN officially a dud]

It means that internet service providers, rather than passing on higher internet costs to customers, are not buying enough capacity and users are finding that their speeds during peak hour (when everyone is home and streaming Netflix or Game of Thrones) aren’t as good as they had hoped.

The problem is, there isn’t a simple solution. The government can try to get the ACCC involved to force the internet service providers to guarantee certain speeds, but if that means buying more capacity, it will lead to significant price rises for broadband in Australia. When it comes time for people to switch over from ADSL to the NBN, those facing higher costs will just opt to disconnect or switch to mobile. If you think the fight over electricity prices is bad now, this will be much worse.

The other option is that NBN Co cuts the broadband charge, but then the delicate model of the NBN would tip over, and the commercial return for the NBN would disappear. The cost overrun would be made up in the federal budget, and the government would find itself in much more debt — even if it is, as Scott Morrison says, good debt.

The problem with the NBN, from the get-go, is that Labor tried to have it both ways. A fibre-to-the-premises network out to 93% of Australian premises is nation building, but, we were told at the time to try to depoliticise the issue, it would make a commercial return so it wouldn’t affect the federal budget bottom line. Labor now seeking to make political capital out of the issue it created is too cute by half, but Malcolm Turnbull has had almost four years to try and fix this looming crisis.

Part of Turnbull’s platform for changing the NBN model was that he warned that the structure of NBN pricing would lead to higher prices for broadband. His whole premise for shifting the NBN to a fibre-to-the-node network was that users weren’t willing to pay for higher speeds. Those higher speeds that were supposed to pay off the network. The problem was, he didn’t do anything to fix the problem of higher costs. He shifted to a model he claimed would be rolled out quicker and cheaper (but has now almost taken as long as Labor’s original plan and costs as much) but didn’t address the underlying cause of higher costs on the NBN, in order to prevent an NBN write-down.

[You, yes YOU, own the NBN, so demand a higher goddamn standard]

A report in The Australian claiming that speeds would be even slower and prices even higher under the old Labor model was an interesting intervention. The report author is Ian Martin. According to his LinkedIn (but not disclosed in The Australian‘s story), he worked on the NBN Strategic Review, a now widely discredit document delivered in just six weeks that the government relied on in late 2013 to justify the shift from fibre-to-the-premises to the multi-technology mix model. That document heavily promoted the use of cable, much of which NBN Co is now abandoning, and said the network would be done by 2020.

It is a piece of fiction, in any case. We can’t go back in time and see what would have happened if the old model had been allowed to continue, and Labor has not announced its policy, but at the last election Labor did not promise a full return to the model that was running before 2013 because of all the disruption it would cause to construction contracts and getting people connected. So saying Labor’s version would be more expensive and slower is entirely hypothetical and like Malcolm Turnbull saying he could finish the roll-out of his version of the NBN by 2016.

At some point, a government is going to have to bite the bullet and decide: is the NBN a nation-building piece of infrastructure that should be on budget, or is it merely an asset to get done as quickly as possible and then flog off to cover the costs?

Unfortunately, while all this goes on, Australian broadband users are the losers.

Federal

Jul 26, 2017

5 comments

If the L’Estrange-Merchant review demonstrated the narrow, empire-building mentality of Australia’s national security bureaucracy — both those currently in office, and those who have since left — its coverage has demonstrated the shallow gene pool of Australian national security commentary.

Detailed coverage of the report in the media has been paltry, and has relied heavily on the usual suspects from the national security and defence commentariat. Thus, the Financial Review today offers a review of former senior bureaucrats Michael L’Estrange and Stephen Merchant’s report, from Rory Medcalf and offsider Jay Caldwell. Medcalf, who these days heads ANU’s National Security College, is a former Office of National Assessments officer, diplomat and Defence White paper panellist. Caldwell is a former security bureaucrat from, inter alia, the Office of National Assessments.

What did these two former national security bureaucrats think of the work of the two former national security bureaucrats who conducted the review? You’ll be surprised to know they gave it a glowing endorsement.

On Saturday, The Australian ran a piece by Peter Jennings, head of the taxpayer and defence company-funded military thinktank ASPI, on the review. Jennings is a former national security bureaucrat who still thinks the Iraq war was a good idea and wanted Australian troops to get back to Iraq to help fight Islamic State. Shockingly, he, too, thought the work of L’Estrange and Merchant was superb, and lamented that we were too distracted by the Dutton super-ministry to realise how wonderful it was.

Meantime, at the Lowy Institute — which also receives a generous whack of taxpayer money via a number of security agencies — Allen Gyngell reviewed the report. Gyngell is a former national security bureaucrat; he even headed — you guessed it — the Office of National Assessments. And you’ll never pick it, but this former national security bureaucrat thinks the former national security bureaucrats had done a wonderful job, too.

Any serious questioning of the nature of the national security and intelligence bureaucracy we’ve built, and the desire of L’Estrange and Merchant to expand it, give it more power and more funding, entrenching its power vis-a-vis the passing parade of politicians, has been absent.

It’s a bit different on defence and foreign policy: there, there are widespread disagreements on some major issues within the defence commentariat; if nothing else, Hugh White is always around to wonder how we can better serve the interests of Beijing.

But not, seemingly, in intelligence.

While Jennings was a Liberal staffer, all of the commentators listed here have worked under governments of both sides. There’s no question of partisanship. Or, possibly, there’s no question of political partisanship. Their partisanship, perhaps, is for the bureaucracy that they worked in, that they continue to operate in the orbit of, in thinktanks, and academia. There’s nothing particularly wrong with that — that’s the way of most major industries in Australia. But with a shrinking media, when that’s all that is on offer, the quality of public debate is demonstrably the poorer.

Glenn Dyer's TV Ratings

Jul 26, 2017

5 comments

So did anyone win Australian Ninja Warrior last night? I don’t think so, but does Nine know? Its retrospective explanations of how the Ninjas finished last night left a lot to be desired; its ex ante briefing of the audience was non-existent. It was a very confusing end and, judging by social media, it was a bit of a let down or a disappointment. The program was the most watched no-news program of the year so far with 3.087 million national viewers — 2.145 million metro and 942,000 regional viewers for the final stage, which no one won. That’s the situation with the format offshore – such as the US, but it is inconclusive. Nine’s win had Ten fall to fourth behind the ABC in third and Seven in a very distant second.

The rest of the program averaged 2.921 million nationally (2.038 million metros and 833,000 in the regions). And that was the night with Nine a winner and a grinner.

Seven very quietly axed Behave Yourself (which had been in its regular spot of 7.30pm in early guides) and dropped in the weak Mighty Cruise Ships as ratings filler against the Ninjas. It left in the appallingly bad Yummy Mummies, which continues to die a miserable but deserved death on air. Mighty Cruise Ships averaged 594,000, which is understandable, and 431,000 watched the Yummies around the country — oddballs.

Tonight, The Bachelor returns with the still unanswered question: if the Bach is so hot, why is he still free? What’s wrong with him? After this painful program, Offspring, the “reality” of trying to do something about bachelorhood/spinsterdom (that’s The Bachelorette). Of course, the new conga line of roses and sweet nothings pales besides the real entertainment: Shaun Micallef who is still Mad As Hell — at least until 9pm, followed by Utopia, which is what Ten is trying to sell us that the Bach and a lucky spinster will find at the end of the series. When the reality is that it will probably end like the Ninjas: dazed and confused and no result.

Network channel share:

  1. Nine (44.2%)
  2. Seven (27.8%)
  3. ABC (14.7%)
  4. Ten (12.6%)
  5. SBS (5.7%)

Network main channels:

  1. Nine (36.6%)
  2. Seven (13.9%)
  3. ABC (10.0%)
  4. Ten (7.1%)
  5. SBS ONE (4.2%)

Top 5 digital channels: 

  1. 7mate (3.4%)
  2. Gem (3.3%)
  3. ABC 2, ONE (2.9%)
  4. Eleven (2.6%)

Top 10 national programs:

  1. Australian Ninja Warrior Final Stage (Nine) — 3.087 million
  2. Australian Ninja Warrior Final (Nine) — 2.921 million
  3. Seven News  — 1.738 million
  4. Seven News/Today Tonight — 1.585 million
  5. A Current Affair (Nine) — 1.429 million
  6. Nine/NBN News (6.30pm) — 1.365 million
  7. Nine/NBN News — 1.325 million
  8. Home and Away (Seven) — 1.196 million
  9. The Chase Australia 5.30pm (Seven) — 1.103 million
  10. 7pm ABC News — 1.058 million

Top metro programs:

  1. Australian Ninja Warrior Final Stage (Nine) — 2.145 million
  2. Australian Ninja Warrior Final (Nine) — 2.038 million
  3. Seven News — 1.067 million
  4. Seven News/Today Tonight — 1.034 million
  5. A Current Affair (Nine) — 1.011 million
  6. Nine News 6.30 — 1.010 million

Losers: Every contestant in the Ninja Warrior final? Or Seven, because it yanked Behave Yourself and left Yummy Mummies.

Metro news and current affairs:

  1. Seven News — 1.067 million
  2. Seven News/Today Tonight — 1.034 million
  3. A Current Affair (Nine) – 1.011 million
  4. Nine News (6.30pm) — 1.010 million
  5. Nine News — 998,000
  6. 7pm ABC News – 691,000
  7. 7.30 (ABC) — 570,000
  8. The Project 7pm (Ten) — 540,000
  9. Ten Eyewitness News — 441,000
  10. The Project 6.30pm (Ten) — 387,000

Morning (National) TV:

  1. Sunrise (Seven) – 494,000
  2. Today (Nine) – 438,000
  3. News Breakfast (ABC, 185,000 + 83,000 on News 24) — 268,000
  4. The Morning Show (Seven) — 232,000
  5. Today Extra (Nine) — 201,000
  6. Studio 10 (Ten) — 10 5,000

Top five pay TV channels:

  1. Fox 8  (%)
  2. LifeStyle  (%)
  3. TVHITS  (%)
  4. UKTV, Fox Classics (%)

Top five pay TV programs:

  1. Game of Thrones (showcase) — 90,000
  2. AFL: 360 (Fox Footy) – 70,000
  3. Paul Murray Live (Sky News) — 57,000
  4. Back Page (Fox Sports) — 52,000
  5. Selling Houses Australia (LifeStyle) – 48,000

*Data © OzTAM Pty Limited 2013. The data may not be reproduced, published or communicated (electronically or in hard copy) in whole or in part, without the prior written consent of OzTAM. (All shares on the basis of combined overnight 6pm to midnight all people.) and network reports.

Federal

Jul 26, 2017

5 comments

There’s been much beard-stroking in the media coverage about why senator-perhaps Matt Canavan is a special case compared to former senators Scott Ludlam and Larissa Waters, so it’s fair that, instead of resigning, the High Court should consider his position. It’s more of the charmed media life that Canavan seems to lead. His extremism on coal (he called for a boycott of Westpac for not wasting enough shareholders’ money on unviable coal projects) and on abortion (he stood up for the rights of those nutjobs who harass women outside reproductive health clinics) rarely seem to get mentioned in media coverage. Instead, Canavan is portrayed as an energetic rising star of the LNP. And now, here he is, a victim of his mother’s application for Italian citizenship — he didn’t even know and he’s never even been there. Surely it’s just a minor hurdle in his ever-upward career trajectory? Not like those sloppy Greens senators.

In fact, Canavan’s case compares poorly with those of Ludlam and Waters. They, too, didn’t know they were citizens of New Zealand and Canada, respectively, courtesy of their parents. Ludlam at least was a kid when he was brought by his family to live in Australia, where he was naturalised as an Australian. He can remember being in New Zealand. Waters was a baby, the child of Australians temporarily in Canada who moved back home soon after. Waters acquired Canadian citizenship like you’d pick up a cold while travelling. Indeed, the relevant Canadian laws were changed just after her birth — as the law stood when she was born, she wouldn’t have been a Canadian, but the new law was retroactive.

Canavan, however, can’t blame being a baby or a kid. He was an adult, in his 20s , when in circumstances that are difficult to quite work out, his mother acquired Italian citizenship — possibly something to do with Canavan’s father pleading guilty to a major theft — and in doing so, somehow, acquired it for him as well.

[EXCLUSIVE: every single Greens member has just resigned]

All three cases illustrate that section 44 of the constitution is so broadly cast, and so widely interpreted, as to be absurd — three capable politicians who are Australian citizens, who weren’t even aware they “owed allegiance” to another power (as it turns out in the case of Ludlam and Waters, exactly the same “power” as the one that rules over us), who acquired or retained citizenship in circumstances they had no awareness of, who can’t do their jobs because notionally they’re in the thrall of some rival state.

But only one of those has decided not to cop it sweet, but to call in the lawyers, at government expense, to save himself. In retrospect, there was a certain refreshing quality to Ludlam and Waters declaring they’d screwed up and were quitting. Both made clear the fault was theirs and theirs alone. “This is on me,” Ludlam said. “It was my fault and my fault alone,” Waters said. And they went.

[Poll Bludger: who will replace Scott Ludlam?]

It’s so rare to hear that in politics now. In an era when ministers refuse to take responsibility for even the most egregious debacles in their portfolios, when public servants who’ve committed appalling blunders hide behind “we’ve learnt valuable lessons” and dodge estimates questions under ministerial cover — in short, when responsibility has become a nebulous quality that exists in the abstract (“I take full responsibility”) but never has any actual consequences — someone saying “I messed up, so I’m quitting” is like a gale of fresh air.

But not for major parties, it seems, and not for ministers. They might mock the Greens for their “extraordinary sloppiness”, but it’s a different story when they’re caught out. It’s not even fair to single Canavan out, really — standing next to him yesterday at his media conference was George Brandis. How many times has Brandis comprehensively stuffed up, in ways that even according to the current abysmally low standards of ministerial responsibility he should be sacked, and then deployed some elaborate, nonsensical, justification for why it wasn’t his fault? At least Canavan had the grace to quit the ministry — Brandis didn’t even do that after he misled the Senate.

Wondering why voters are so disengaged with politics and so suspicious of the political class? Politicians keep serving up any number of reasons, but the failure to take responsibility is up there, too.