Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Newsstand up and running for a media inquiry

I got an email tonight from grass roots campaigners Getup advertising the existence of a new organisation called NewsStand. It is little surprise Getup would promote NewsStand; the newbie is moulded in Getup’s image (and uses former Getup staff) but with a narrower focus in the media. The main purpose of NewsStand is to demand a parliamentary inquiry into Australian media and they want people to sign an e-petition. “We believe Australia needs a full parliamentary inquiry to publicly scrutinise the media landscape as a whole: what’s working, what’s not and what we can do to change things for the better,” NewsStand said.

The site’s about page said it was inspired by the Murdoch UK hacking scandal. NewsStand was born out of the revelations of unethical and illegal practices which showed the “extent of the power and influence that individuals and companies can have over the news industry”. It quoted a Lenore Taylor article in the Sydney Morning Herald which mentioned NewsStand’s first market research which showed 60 percent support for a media inquiry.

NewsStand’s board consists of five members. They are journalism professor and investigative journalist Wendy Bacon, Ben Brandzel who has done fundraising for Barack Obama and worked at Moveon.org, Australia Institute executive director, economist and Greens strategy adviser Richard Denniss, Centre for Policy Development executive director Miriam Lyons and communications consultant Nick Moriatis. They provide direction to a staff of two led by US political strategist Kate Walsh and supported by former Getup campaign director Ed Coper.

Like Getup, it hopes to have a blog up and running but it has not yet been launched. The idea is to encourage conversations, assess the validity of sensationalist news, conduct interviews with experts and shed light on the inner workings of the media industry. This is all laudable but it should have been up and running with the launch of the website. A blog desperately needs content to survive, not just promises. Like Getup, NewsStand is shilling for donations and is also attempting to harness social media. The @Newsstandau twitter feed has quickly built up 400 followers but disappointingly is following none of them back.

There is little doubt the Australia media is in poor shape. The flabby Murdoch empire will say or do anything to keep its power. Just today, artist Robert Crumb wrote an open letter to the Sydney Morning Herald saying why he was not coming to a Sydney festival. The fault belongs to the other Sydney rag, the Murdoch Daily Telegraph which published a shocker of an article bylined by Jesse Phillips which described Crumb primarily as a “self confessed sex pervert whose explicit drawings cannot be shown in Australia”. The article cited rent-a-quote moral crusader Hetty Johnson who gave the predictably juicy line about the “depraved thought processes of this very warped human being".

No effort was made to talk to Crumb or anyone who might have had a different view. The article was pure trollumnism. Crumb pulled the pin on the trip after the article and made some pertinent observations in his SMH letter. “One can see in this example how skilled media professionals with low standards of integrity are able to mould and manipulate public opinion, popular beliefs and, ultimately, the direction of politics," Crumb wrote. “The majority of the population in most places is not alert to this kind of deceptive manipulation. They are more or less defenceless against such clever 'perception management’”.

A reminder why NewsStand wants a media inquiry is pertinent: “The inquiry must examine how to promote higher standards, protect people’s privacy while guaranteeing the freedom of the press, stimulate a more diverse media marketplace, and ensure that problems and complaints can be handled simply, fairly and effectively.” Watching the Telegraph at work, it’s no wonder the Murdoch publications don’t want a bar of it.

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