Sunday, January 13, 2013

On Jonathan Moylan and the Whitehaven coal hoax

The latest in a long line of Aussie hoaxes was perpetrated to great effect this week though its creator might yet pay a penalty of ten years and half a million bucks. Anti-coal activist Jonathan Moylan is in the wars for putting out a press release in the name of ANZ Bank on Tuesday. The release said the bank was divesting its $1.2b loan to Whitehaven Coal for its Maules Creek Coal Project. It was an important announcement. In Whitehaven’s own words, Maules Creek is “one of only a few remaining tier 1 undeveloped coal assets in Australia. It is also one of the largest coal deposits in Australia with 362 Mt of recoverable reserves.”

Photo credit: ABC TV News
Before it could be exposed as a hoax, it triggered a stock market collapse for the coal company. While almost all of the losses were subsequently recovered before the day was out, Moylan’s actions raises serious political as well as ethical and legal issues. Using dubious means, he focussed attention on the important question about whether we should be investing in major coal projects in a time when fossil fuel emission is the biggest issue we face as a species.

Maules Creek is in the heart of the rich Gunnedah Basin in NSW. That state and Queensland produce 97 percent of Australia’s black coal. It is an industry in decline with Australia producing 405 million tonnes of raw black coal in 2010-11 down from 471 Mt. in 2009-10. Yet Australia remains the world’s fourth largest coal producer and the world’s leading exporter with markets in Japan, South Korea, China, India and Europe. Coal fired generators are leading contributors (20 percent) to a greenhouse effect as heavy-grade emitters of carbon dioxide and methane into the atmosphere.

The Centre for Climate and Energy Solutions acknowledges fixing the coal issue will be difficult. Coal is cheap, is important for meeting energy needs in the developing countries, and has good lobby groups in countries like the US, which is the “Saudi Arabia of coal.”  Coal-fired generators could still play a role if carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology ever takes off, possibly 10-15 years away.  There would also be a need for a carbon market, priced at around $30 a ton of CO2 and a way of retrofitting CCS into existing technology.  An ANZ that truly considered its customers interests, would ensure such boxes were being ticked. But it has no plans to do so and there is no scrutiny of whether such interests are considered.

Instead, the argument focussed on Moylan with those dividing into two sides on whether his hoax ends justified the means. Those that supported him like Bob Brown identified Moylan’s action as a necessary civil disobedience that brought out in the open ANZ’s investment in coal.  That brought out the coalition’s Eric Abetz saying the ends did not justify the means. He turned it into an attack on Lee Rhiannon and the Greens’ “extreme political tendencies.”

Whoever is right, there is one thing for certain - Moylan planned his attack well. He put together a fake ANZ press template, a website and dummy email inbox online. The press release was a remarkable use of managerial language to frame an argument that would be quite unusual and brave in an Australian business context. Moylan used the voice of ANZ Corporate Communications to announce the bank would not support the project. Toby Kent, “Group head of corporate sustainability” was quoted to say the company wouldn’t invest in coal projects that cause “significant dislocation of farmers, unacceptable damage to the environment, or social conflict." The decision was made after “a careful analysis of reputational risks and analysis of the returns on this mine in the current climate of high volatility in the coal export market.”  The released concluded with the statement ANZ was undertaking “a review of coal and gas investments on productive agricultural lands and areas of high biodiversity.”

Moylan’s fake ANZ release was quickly picked up by AAP Newswire who failed to conduct any of the basic identity checks that would have exposed the hoax. At the bottom of the emails are phone numbers for Toby Kent and Joanne McCulloch “Media Relations Advisor” which if anyone had bothering phoning would have quickly exposed this email as a hoax.  Either that or a quick check of ANZ’s database of media releases would have been enough to dispel, or at least doubt, the information.

Instead AAP swallowed the news whole and provided it directly to the markets. When traders in the Australian Stock Exchange saw the newswires shortly after midday Tuesday, they went ballistic. Whitehaven bore the brunt as 85% owners of Maules Creek Coal. Maules Creek is 18km north-east of Boggabri on the Kamilaroi Highway between Narrabri and Gunndah. It is also just 16km from the railway line servicing the coal terminals at the Port of Newcastle, 360km to the south-east. Maules Creek’s current resources are expected to support a large open cut mining operation for 30 years at an average saleable coal production rate of 10.8 million tonnes per annum (Mtpa). Subject to approvals, the first coal production will commence in mid 2013, with saleable production exceeding 10Mtpa from 2016 onwards.

But it was a dead duck without ANZ’s investment, and within minutes Whitehaven shares plunged almost 10 percent from $3.52 to $3.21. Whitehaven Coal lost more than $276 million in market value. It capped off a bad year for the company since it merged with Nathan Tinkler’s Aston last April giving him 19.4 percent ownership. The share price has lost over half its value since then with CEO Tony Haggarty and the board blaming it on uncertainty due to Tinkler’s financial woes  - they want him to divest to institutions. Tinkler was quick to return fire on Haggarty and the board saying he wanted to increase his holding not decrease it.

That plan may be in tatters after Tuesday. The price did not recover until the real ANZ responded with a media release (pdf) entitled “Fraudulent media release regarding Whitehaven Coal”. This release (which looked remarkably like the fraudulent one) said ANZ remained “fully supportive of Whitehaven Coal.”
At the end of trading, Whitehaven was just 2c down on the day reflecting the fact there were other issues with the project. The damage done to Tinkler, was variously estimated to be anywhere between $50m and $180m (assuming it wasn’t him who picked up the shares when they were on the rebound).

Whatever the damage to Tinkler or Whitehaven, Moylan will suffer significant collateral damage. There is a strong prima facie case his actions were illegal according to Section 1041E of the Corporations Act 2001 (Cth).  That act states it is an offence if a person makes a knowingly false statement that is likely to make people dispose of shares. The maximum jail term for individuals is 10 years, with fines of up to $495,000. Organisations face fines of up to $4.6 million.

The Australian Securities Investment Commission said it would be investigating whether there had been a breach of Corporations Act rules on false or misleading statements. According to dean of law at the University of Western Sydney Michael Adams the legislation that deals with corporate fraud imposes a high penalty on false or misleading statements about traded securities on the ASX. Adams believes a successful prosecution will hang on the difference between a public nuisance and civil disobedience. “A protest normally provides publicity for a cause and brings the matter to the general public’s attention, but causes little harm to the community,” Adams said. “A fraud – and in particular one that impacts on the share market – has huge consequences”.

Research fellow on ethics Edward Spence picked up on Abetz’s argument about the ends and the means. Spence said Moylan’s ethical failings were harmful to the “integrity of the digital informational environment”. This is the environment whose trustworthiness, Spence said “we all rely on to conduct our legitimate informational transactions.” We are not only biological beings, he said but also and increasingly informational beings. “When the informational environment is harmed we are also harmed.”

Spence may be exaggerating the harm here as it ignores the fact that checks and balances such as AAP did not do its job properly. Nor did any of the rest of the media use the hoax to expose ANZ's dealings with the coal industry. Why didn't anyone ask the bank if they would do "a review of coal and gas investments on productive agricultural lands and areas of high biodiversity".Why is it acceptable for the bank to continue to invest in projects that cause "significant dislocation of farmers, unacceptable damage to the environment, or social conflict?"

We're waiting.

Thursday, January 03, 2013

A new start it ain't: Jenny Macklin and unemployment

The new Australian political (and election) year did not get off to an auspicious start with the Macklin affair though some good might yet come of it. The affair has seen a government minister tied up in knots about a nonsensical hypothesis, the media whipped up in frenzies of righteous wrath, and the leader of another party now wanting to live out the nonsense.

The problem occur on New Year’s Day. Families Minister Jenny Macklin held a door-stop media conference at a Melbourne hospital to promote the government’s Dad and Partner Pay scheme introduced on January 1. The scheme brings in government-funded paternity leave for two weeks so it should have been a good news story for Macklin to deliver.

However the journalists there were not interested in the good news, they were more interested in a bad news change that came in on January 1. This change was a follow on from a change John Howard made in 2006 which was to end the supporting parent allowance when the child turned eight. Howard exempted those already receiving the parenting payment before July 2006 who were able to keep it until their youngest turned 16. This meant there would be exemptions until 2014. However the Gillard Government has now ended that immediately, saving $728 million over four years.

This change shifts 80,000 single parents from the parenting payment to the Newstart allowance when their youngest child turns eight.  Some parents will be up to $110 a week worse off with the new arrangements and it was this issue that journalists turned to when one asked Macklin if she could live on the dole on $246 a week. Macklin could have done many things at this point, including refusing to answer on the grounds it was a very stupid question. Fellow Minister Tanya Plibersek would later answer the question “properly” by saying "I don't think anyone thinks it's easy."

But no such luck for Macklin, who gave the worst possible answer. “Yes I could”.  Macklin then made matters worse by omitting her answer from the transcript issued by her office. Macklin tried to push on by telling journalists they had simply applied existing rules to people who had on the payment since 2006. “What’s important for people who are unemployed is that we do everything possible to do everything we can to help people get into work and that’s what we’ll be doing with these single parents as well,” she said.

But it was too late. The damage was done by the killer quote. TV cameras captured that answer which immediately provided the headline for broadcast and print media and the subsequent non-appearance in the transcript merely fuelled speculation of a cover-up. Susie O’Brien in the Herald Sun went so far as to call it “obscene”.  Australian Council of Social Service chief executive Cassandra Goldie also took Macklin to task, but ridiculed calls for the minister to try surviving on the Newstart allowance. “You can't replicate that experience if you are a senior member of government,” she said.

Goldie’s comment came as Greens’ leader Adam Bandt  repeated tragedy as farce by announcing he would live on the $246 allowance for one week, challenging Macklin to do the same. "Once you take into account your rent your bills, your food, there's not much change left over from $35 a day,” he told reporters in Melbourne, but didn’t elaborate how much of his modern lifestyle and well-tailored suits would be pushed to one side to make ends meet in that week.

Bandt’s stunt had little to do with the Newstart Allowance and everything to do with his struggle to retain Melbourne at the next election. But the whole affair does highlight issues with the low benefit rate when there are systemic problems of under-employment Australia has not solved. While the current rate of unemployment is low at 5.2 per cent by historic and international standards there is a high degree of volatility within this rate. In March 2012 the unemployment rate in Tasmania was 7.0 per cent, nearly twice the 3.7 per cent rate in the Northern Territory. Similarly, in March 2012 the unemployment rate for those aged 15-19 is 18 per cent, more than three times the national average.

There are “dole cheats” but for the vast majority, the dole queue remains a humiliating experience  for most people. Economist John Quiggan said that instead of completing the Howard agenda, the Gillard government ought to be looking at increasing the real value of benefits, “allowing the unemployed to share in some of the growth in incomes for the community as a whole”.  Even thinking about the absurdity of living on $246 a week, reminds us that many people have to do exactly that and some parents of those aged eight and over will now pay the price for the Government’s budget balance obsession.

Meanwhile Prime Minister Julia Gillard preferred to focus on solving the inequities of employment in the “patchwork economy” rather than increasing dole payments. “Some today see a problem, they offer blame”, Gillard told the Sydney Institute last year. “I see a person, a person who can work. I offer only opportunity, I ask only responsibility in return.”  If Gillard gets the public space to tackle that agenda, she might yet be grateful for Macklin’s mistake.

Tuesday, January 01, 2013

Should people be free to bushwalk unprepared?

A Victorian bushwalker in NSW has been fined on charges of “lack of planning or preparation”. The 29-year-old man, name unknown, went off on a long walk last Saturday  in the Blue Mountains, west of Sydney. He was leaving from Newnes and heading east across the rugged Wollemi National Park to Colo Heights. He carried a kilo of potatoes and an unknown quantity of naan bread which he estimated would last him three days.

He told friends who dropped him off he would meet them at the other end on Wednesday at 3pm. When he didn’t rendezvous at the appointed time, his friends alerted authorities who mounted a search and rescue operation. With the help of two helicopters, they found him just four hours later on the track. The first helicopter spotted him and the second winched him out of the Wolgan Valley. According to Police, the man had suffered a minor ankle injury and declined treatment. Police took him to Katoomba station for questioning before giving him a $500 infringement notice.

None of the media covering the story stated why this was an offence (they were all too obsessed with the spuds and naan) but they did quote NSW Police Force Rescue commander Brenton Charlton who said the route through remote terrain was extremely difficult to complete safely and had taken much longer than estimated. "Getting the basics right with trekking is so easy - all people have to do is notify the police or other responsible person of their trip intention and carry a personal locator beacon," Charlton said. "Making use of available technology, together with some commonsense trip preparation, could mean the difference between life or death."

Whatever about that quantity of food being sufficient for three days,  it is clear the man was underprepared. Though some people on that bushwalk forum said the walk was possible in three days, even a modicum of research would have uncovered it was likely to take much longer. According to this site devoted to walks at Newnes, the track to Upper Colo is listed as a very hard grade walk that takes seven days. The walk “ is for experienced and well prepared walkers only! Country traversed is rugged and there are no tracks beyond Annie Rowan Creek.” Its advice is “Check with your local bushwalking club before attempting this one.”

Clearly the Victorian did not take this into account. But should that be an offence? And should all bushwalkers be forced to take a “personal locator beam”?  PLBs are distress radio beacons which transmit location information about individuals directly to Search and Rescue forces letting them know that the owner is in grave and imminent danger. They retail on Gumtree for around $225 second hand though Blue Mountains police apparently do give them out for free. When Briton Jamie Neale was found alive after being missing in 2009 for 12 nights, Blue Mountains police superintendent Tony McWhirter told media they have free PLB for bushwalkers so they can locate them. However since then, the law has changed.

The NSW police media release (which was the basis for all media stories - no journalist did original research) did state why the fine was activated. It was issued under the National Parks and Wildlife Regulations of 2009 for engaging "in activity that risks the safety of self/others". The relevant clause is 22(1)(d) which reads “Sporting, recreational and other activities
(1) A person must not in a park:
(d) engage in any activity or recreational pursuit that involves risking the safety of the person or the safety of other persons or damaging the environment.
Maximum penalty: 30 penalty units.”

As a contributor to a NSW buskwalk forum said, the fine was troubling. “Guy sounds like an idiot", said colinm, “but I don't see that it necessarily warrants a fine. Since he's a Victorian, I bet he doesn't contest the charge, so is a bit of a soft target.” So should bushwalkers be forced to be prepared or should anyone have the right to go out and do what they want? Was it necessary for an expensive search and rescue operation to be mounted when the man was just four hours late? And what equipment should be compulsory on any trip? These angles were not covered by media. In their efforts to make the trekker look like a fool, the naan bread proved more alluring than the nanny state.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Bonds of Love and Hate: a review of Skyfall

The real James Bond was an American ornithologist and a world renowned expert on the birds of the Caribbean.  When author Ian Fleming was birdwatching in Jamaica, his guide would have been Bond’s Birds of the West Indies, the definitive textbook of avifauna in the region.  In 1953, Fleming wrote the spy novel Casino Royale and gave his hero the “brief, unromantic, Anglo-Saxon” name of the ornithologist.  James Bond, he said, was the dullest name he had ever heard and a suitable one for the “anonymous blunt instrument” of state policy.

By the time Fleming died in 1964, the Bond character had featured in 12 novels and two short stories. Perhaps more importantly he had made a successful transition to the big screen in three movies. Fleming didn’t immediately like the look of the little known Sean Connery before the filming of Dr No in 1962. “I’m looking for Commander Bond and not an overgrown stunt-man,” Fleming said.  Connery’s casting as the first Bond owed much to Dana Broccoli, wife of producer Albert “Cubby” Broccoli. Broccoli was convinced of Connery’s sex appeal and a new image was born. In the end Fleming was so impressed by Connery he added a Scottish back story in the later novels.

Fifty years on, the writers of the latest Bond film have added a further Scottish twist in Skyfall, the 32nd entry in the durable franchise. The current Bond, Daniel Craig is from Cheshire (a fact perhaps responsible for his statement in the film during the word association when he equates Country with England) but the Bond character supposedly grew up on the remote Scottish property of Skyfall. Either way the Bond series has become a classic British institution and Bond himself the embodiment of British stiff upper lip and never say die exemplified by the Queen's complicity in the Olympic opening ceremony parachute landing.

And despite the confusion over nationality, Craig is a classic Fleming Bond. Craig is a silent, often morose, blunt instrument, or as Fleming put it “Exotic things would happen to and around him, but he would be a neutral figure”.  Skyfall captures most of the Bond nuances. There is the classy, brassy theme music, the femme fatale Bond girls, the malevolent hero, the vintage cars and suits, the “before I kill you, Mr Bond" moments and the usual spats with authority. As M (an almost wistful Judi Dench in her final outing in the role) noted, “orphans make the best agents” and no challenge is too big or too dangerous for our hero, who always retains a sense of style and dignity no matter how hairy the situation.

And matters do become extremely hairy when the lead villain is finally introduced 70 minutes into the film in a memorable long-take entrance.  Spanish actor Javier Bardem has already brilliantly played one baddie. His psychopathic assassin Anton Chigurh in No Country for Old Men won him a best supporting Oscar in 2007. Bardem’s CV is impressive and he wasn’t immediately sold on the idea of becoming a Bond villain. Director Sam Mendes promised Bardem he could develop the character and said the ideas about the way he looked and the hair colour -were Bardem's own. "I thought they weren't going to work," Mendes said.  "All of them worked.”

In one of Bardem’s most famous film performances, he plays the Cuban homosexual author Reinaldo Arenas in Julian Knabel’s Before Night Falls. Bardem recreates some of the sexual tension in that film when as Skyfall villain Silva, he interrogates Bond and runs his fingers across Bond's bare chest, before parting his legs. "What's your regulation training for this?" Silva asked him. Bond’s wisecrack "What makes you think it's my first time?" does nothing to dispel the notion a gay Bond might be possible.

If such a prospect would leave Fleming turning in his grave, he would be little happier with the other major sexual relationship in the film, that of Bond and M (or “Emma” as Albert Finch's gamekeeper Kincade insisted on calling her). Dench is a convincing hard-nosed matriarch whose tears for a supposedly dead Bond she cannot shed are instead provided by the rain outside her Millbank window. If it is love, it must remain a taboo as her firm insistence he could not sleep at her house showed. The oedipal undertones are underscored by the baddie Silva’s referral to her as “mother” and “mummy”. Bond shows more ornithological reserve but the tenderness in their relationship is obvious all the same.

With car chases and spectacular action sequences, Skyfall remains a commercial product designed to sell lots of theatre tickets. And though it has succeeded in being the best selling Bond movie yet, it is not the only attraction. As the minimalist gadgets supplied by Q show, Bond is a killing machine who must do most of the legwork himself. The audience is forced to either work backwards from Silva’s taunts or fill in the gaps themselves to put a human face on the enduring anonymous blunt hero.Craig’s “unromantic Anglo-Saxon” Bond remains, like the original’s birds, an enigma we never tire of watching.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Brian Leveson - media personality 2012

The 2012 Woolly Days media person of the year is Brian Leveson. Leveson is a jurist not a journalist but his impact on journalism and the world of media this year has been profound. 

The year 2012 will not go down as a great year for the world’s media. While the world’s business-as-usual pattern of production and consumption sees it barrelling down a path towards a 4 degree increase in temperature by 2100, the focus of most media attention is ever increasingly the deeply superficial.  

Commercial media have always fulfilled two purposes: to make money and to inform but it is the profit imperative which is winning clearly at the moment. The large multi-national conglomerates that own media stock look no further than the bottom line when it comes to meeting deadlines. Issues like news values and ethics are a poor second if there is no payback. Meanwhile shareholder disquiet of falling ratings or circulations can be managed quarter to quarter by cost cutting and doing more with less.  There is as a result according to Michael Mandel, a “shift in journalistic employment to non-traditional industries, an increased in the self-employed, a delayering of journalism, and perhaps lower pay.”

Brian Leveson admitted as much on his recent visit to Melbourne. The closure of a large number of newspapers has reduced the extent to which local government, health, education and the courts can be held to account. “Society will be less well served as a result”, he said. Yet Leveson was aware that even if journalism jobs are becoming diffused and of less value, the media they serve remain powerful players as editorialists, chroniclers, sensemakers, muckrakers and watchdogs. 

Their contract with the public to perform these roles is based on trust. The one-to-many broadcast model of television and the major papers ensured they always had the microphone to drown dissent. The internet and web2.0 changed all that and disapproval can amplify virally if compelling enough. The web further undermined the media’s privileged modus operandi by allowing a multiplicity of blog voices harvesting free online content often with more sagacity and insight than the journalists. Social media has forced big media to become more humble in their dealings with the public they profess to “serve”.

There remains pockets of strong resistance, with Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp leading the counter-assault. This old fashioned news and entertainment empire (one of the few not owned by a non-news company) remains convinced it does not need to answer its critics. China is a rare failure but In the US, Fox News is highly successful while his 2011 plan to buy the 60.9 percent of British cable company BSkyB it did not own was just a whisker away from being successful when undone by fine journalism. 

Revelations by the Guardian journalist Nick Davies and his editor Alan Rusbridger brought the sordid hacking affair to light. The shadowy practices not only showed the need for profit greatly exceeded all other motives but described the contempt News had for its own audience. With the weight of evidence growing Prime Minister David Cameron appointed Justice Leveson in June 2011 to investigate the culture, practices and ethics of the British press as well as the dealings between the press, politicians and the police.

As testimony followed testimony, it was clear much was rotten in Murdoch’s hamlet.  It wasn’t just the attitude that privacy was for paedo’s as former News of the World journalist Paul McMullan espoused, it was the scene of serious crime. As November 2012, there had been 90 arrests on charges of interception of mobile phone messages, payment to public officials, data intrusion. The Inquiry would expose potentially corrupt dealings between senior members of the media, political parties and the police.

In nearly nine months of oral hearings, almost all available to transcript or watch online, involving 337 witnesses and 300 statements, the Inquiry became “the most public and most concentrated look at the press” Britain had ever seen. It enormous resonance not only in Britain but wherever British legal, ethical and press traditions operate, such as Australia. The numerous celebrities who portrayed themselves as “fair game” to an uncaring media, added to the notoriety of the charges. Australian media were quick to distance themselves from the phone hacking but there but for the grace of god go they at any lengths for a story. 

With such a wide ranging brief, Leveson’s Inquiry had important things to say about plurality of ownership, privacy laws, and regulation of the press, all of which got the media companies quivering in their boots. Leveson was at pains to stress his inquiry was not an attack on press freedom. However, he said, with rights came responsibilities and all too often the press has simply ignored them. Neither the press or the press council ever launched investigations into allegations of serious misdoings such as breaches of data protection or trade in private and confidential information. Indeed when the phone hacking issue was raised, police executing a warrant were driven off the News of the World premises while the Press Complaints Commission criticised the Guardian for publishing the results of their investigations into the cover-up. 

In November 2012 Leveson released his findings in a 2000 page report and 48-page executive summary.   Leveson proposed an independent replacement for the Press Complaints Commission which he said had no regulatory powers. It would have a dual role of promoting high standards of journalism while protecting the role of the individual. The new body would not include serving editors or politicians and it could impose fines and direct the appearance of corrections. 

Leveson said participation needed to be universal for the body to be properly funded and succeed in its purpose. Those that declined to be involved would forfeit the right to the in-built arbitration process and therefore could not claim costs of any civil action even if they won because they had refused the cheaper route to justice. Leveson said such a body would not regulate the press.  He did not advocate prior restraint (a point of honour with the British press since Milton’s Areopagitica in 1644). He acknowledged how the important role media plays in society “as a critical witness of events” and accepted that media and journalists have several necessary privileges under the law as “one of the true safeguards of our democracy”. Leveson said his legislation would in fact enshrine “for the first time, a legal duty on the Government to protect the freedom of the press”.

However, the media did not see it that way.  Every newspaper in Britain except the Guardian rushed to denounce Leveson’s key recommendation. Biggest selling paper The Sun said it was “deeply alarmed” by the prospect of “State control of newspapers.” “Such a law could allow State officials to walk into papers like The Sun and censor stories,” it said. The Express also worried about political aprons: “To put politicians in ultimate regulatory control of newspapers and then expect them never to seek to use that power to constrain criticism or scrutiny is to place in them a degree of trust they frankly do not deserve.” 

Prime Minister David Cameron – himself implicated by the evidence of the over-close relationship between press and politics – plumped for the press over Leveson. He expressed his reservations over the legislation for the independent process to recognise the new self-regulatory body.  “For the first time we would have crossed the Rubicon of writing elements of press regulation into the law of the land,” Cameron said. “We should I believe be wary of any legislation that has the potential to infringe free speech and a free press.”

High profile hacking victims such as JK Rowling expressed dismay at Cameron’s speech. “"Having taken David Cameron's assurances in good faith at the outset of the inquiry he set up, I am merely one among many who feel duped and angry in its wake," she said. The Hacked Off coalition gained 100,000 signatures calling on the government to comply with Leveson’s findings. Cameron’s coalition partners the Lib Dems are among them, so the matter rolls on, awaiting further political arbitration in the new year.

If Cameron didn’t reckon for the public outcry, then Leveson certainly did. He predicted the victims and the public would not accept the outcome “if the industry did not grasp the opportunity”. Following seven inquiries into the British press in 70 years, it “did not make sense to contemplate an eighth.” Whether short-term interest will prevail is a moot point, as is the longevity of the media’s powers of influence. What is not in doubt is that Brian Leveson has done us all a favour by pointing a strong light on its problems. Maybe then, the media can return to the problems that affect the rest of us. 

Previous Woolly Days media personalities of the year

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Allan Macpherson and Mt Abundance

The first European in the Maranoa was likely either Thomas Mitchell or his son Roderick in 1846 (though Finney Eldershaw claims he beat both Mitchells by four years in his journey of 1842).

Roderick Mitchell was the deputy Crown Commissioner for Lands in NSW who charted several branches of the Balonne River and may have got as far as the Bungil and Bungeworgorai Creeks. His journeys, and probably his maps, undoubtedly helped his father Sir Thomas Mitchell, then surveyor-general of NSW on his trip to the Maranoa in 1846. Sir Thomas Mitchell took the same route up the Darling River system into Queensland. He was the first person to describe Mt Abundance and the rich area around it.  He called it the Fitz Roy Downs in honour of the then Governor of New South Wales, Sir Charles Fitz Roy.
It was no coincidence it was Mitchell followed his son, nor was there a coincidence about the man that followed Sir Thomas to become the first white settler of the Maranoa.

His name was Allan Macpherson.

Macpherson's father William was the clerk of the NSW parliament and just as important as Mitchell.
They were both from Scotland and good friends too. Mitchell was also fond of William’s son Allan, a determined and ambitious young man. Allan was an adventurer who ran cattle and sheep on his Keera property in the remote Gwydir district of northern NSW. While the hilly country reminded him of his native Scotland, it wasn't profitable. Macpherson was captivated by Mitchell's description of Mt Abundance as "champaign country" and was determined to claim it for himself.

Knowing that "first come first served" meant possession under British law, he set off north-west along the river system for the promised land in July 1847. Macpherson had more than just Mitchell's maps, he had an armada of help: ten thousand sheep, hundreds of cattle, dozens of horses and drays and twenty men. The going was slow - they travelled just 60km in the first two weeks - but by the end of September his team was at the natural ford or "rocky bar" on the Balonne that Mitchell (senior) called St George's Bridge because he arrived there on the saint’s day,  April 23.

St George was not just the patron saint of England, it was also the last settled part of the English realm.
Not a single white man or woman lived north of the bridge. MacPherson crossed his Rubicon but was forced to halt for lambing season. Leaving the sheep behind, he finally gazed on Mt Abundance on Friday, October 15, 1847. Macpherson found Mitchell had not exaggerated about the quality of the land. "A glorious prospect!" he enthused.

He claimed a farm 30km across from the Cogoon River (now Muckadilla Creek) in the west to Bungeworgorai Creek in the east. The sight of the first natives two weeks later scared his men witless. Macpherson shamed them as cowards and he spent the following months building huts, cattle and sheep yards and fencing. Macpherson built several outstations including a cattle station on the spot of what would later become Roma.

The distance to the port of Newcastle was forbidding and Macpherson hoped to find a closer route to Brisbane via the Darling Downs. Urgent farmwork tied him down at Mt Abundance and after Christmas he went back to Keera for more supplies and drays. In January 1848, Macpherson got caught up in what would be a formidable foe for all who would live in the area: summer floods. Macpherson was constantly wet and bogged in heavy and impassable country with swollen fast-moving creeks.

He eventually made it to Keera but his return to the Maranoa was also delayed by floods. It was again a fleeting visit as Keera and Sydney demanded his presence on urgent family business. It was on his third return to St George's Bridge, Macpherson received the bad news Mt Abundance had been attacked.
Two men in outstations were speared to death and the rest were fleeing south.

Macpherson found them where the Cogoon met the Balonne but was able to convince only one of his men to accompany him back to Mt Abundance. The blacks were gone but there was a lot to be fixed. The experience redoubled his efforts to find a more direct route to the Darling Downs. The furthest he got was to a nearby station east of the Bungil owned by James Alexander Blythe.

Blythe was one of the earliest travellers to the Maranoa after Mitchell and had come back to establish a property between Roma and Wallumbilla. Macpherson was also fortunate to survive a skirmish with Aboriginals on his return home to Mt Abundance but his servant Charley was missing presumed dead. By the end of 1848, Macpherson became convinced it was too unprofitable to run sheep due to "blacks, losses, native dogs and overcrowding."

He turned Mt Abundance into a cattle property but the native attacks continued and three of his workers were speared in March 1849.After two more wool-carriers were killed, Macpherson and the new Commissioner of Crown Lands John Durbin patrolled the area with mounted troopers gathering the wool and taking it south. But Macpherson had had enough.

He went off to Scotland to get married and Mt Abundance remained an expensive and unprofitable out station. He sold it on his return “for a song". As Macpherson said, "it was by no means the first pioneers that reaped the golden returns, but those who were prudent enough to follow in their wake."

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Business Issues: On 2DayFM and the death of a woman in London.

When looking for culprits in any suspicious death,  it is safe to assume someone running away from the scene, has something to hide. On Saturday, two of Australia’s largest companies,  Coles and Telstra were seen running away from Southern Cross Austereo’s radio station 2Day FM with indecent haste after one of Sydney station’s prank calls apparently led to the suicide death of a nurse in a faraway London four days later.

It is safe to assume that despite their infantile behaviour with the prank, 2Day FM DJs Michael “MC” Christian and Mel Greig never intended to cause harm to any of the participants. After being hiding for several days, the company wheeled them out to tell their stories to Channel's 7 and 9 tonight. They have both apologised which is more than can be said  of station management and its legal advisers who reviewed and approved the tape before it was played on air. No doubt the justification for not spiking it was the media attention it was going to get for so easily breaching royal security.

Today seems so far from last Wednesday, when two jolly 2Day FM station hosts were conducting the breezy on air patter beloved of  morning FM radio stations across the planet, They told listeners they had hold of the telephone number at King Edward VII Hospital in London where Kate Middleton was  staying. Michael “MC” Christian informed listeners they would “try and get Kate Middleton or even Prince Wills on the line”. They did not tell listeners this was not live.

Michael was to act the role of Prince Charles, Mel was the Queen and another staff member provided the yelps for a royal corgi.  How the hospital did not see beyond this half-baked plot remains a mystery especially when the fake upper class accent of Greig (supposedly the Queen) asks to speak for “Kate, my granddaughter.”
Nurse Jacintha Saldanha  didn’t ask for any further proof of identification (glossing over the fact the Queen is not Kate’s grandmother) and passed the caller onto Kate’s ward. There another nurse was further duped by Mel, Michael and the corgi’s increasing ludicrous vaudeville acting into revealing matters of the patient’s health.

Saldanha may have died of the shame of being so duped and breaching a trust of confidence but no one comes out of this smelling of roses.

This is astonishingly poor risk management by Austereo, particularly as they must have known they were dealing with material of international important given the worldwide prurient interest in the Royal Couple and their future baby.  There is a case the material should be in the public domain, particularly as an expose of poor hospital security protocols but Austereo presumably didn’t think they could make money that way.

So they played it for laughs.  There was some negative reaction in the days that followed but mostly they got away with  it.  Grandfather-to-be Prince Charles joked about it asking newspaper reporters “How do you know I’m not a radio station?  Meanwhile British newspapers gleefully repeated  some of the juicy titbits the second nurse gave to 2Day FM.

Then Saldanha died on Saturday, and no one was laughing. British media  and social networks became holier than thou and launched a firestorm of protest against the station and its two DJs. Mel and Michael were whisked away into hiding and their twitter accounts summarily deleted.

Others fled quickly too with reports of Telstra and Coles speedily ceasing their advertising with 2DayFM (but not Southern Cross Austereo’s other stations).  Telstra told AAP they had suspended “advertising on the station until an investigation into the issue has concluded”. Neither they nor Coles issued media releases to confirm their actions. A check of Coles newsroom boasts “there’s always something new happening at Coles,” but they didn’t see their abandonment of 2DayFM in their moment of crisis newsworthy of a media release.

What Coles did do was put their justification on Facebook.
We understand Australians are clearly angry and upset by what appear to be tragic consequences of the 2Day FM UK hospital prank,” the retailer wrote.
“We have wanted to let you know we have instructed 2Day FM to remove all Coles group advertising from the station as soon as possible.”

That post brought almost 2000 comments with also half the respondents thinking Coles’ reaction was over the top.
 “It was a funny joke, get over it", said Anthony Paino before reminding Coles of other things they should boycott. ‘ How about your remove all caged eggs and pork from your shelves," he said.

Helz Jessop asked would they stop selling alcohol if they killed someone drink driving while Abbi Hamilton was looking for patriotism: “Why not do something proper and remove all imported food and drinks from your aisles?" she said.

Phil Young said it was advertisers like Coles that  made the radio stations "untouchable and unaccountable,” Young said. “Now that Coles have suddenly got a conscience they might look at some of the other stuff they are involved in that causes harm.”

Coles can attempt to take the high ground with their move. But the fact remains they only boycotted it after Saldanha’s death - they presumably thought the content was not objectionable at the time as it was played.

The big companies' rapid stampede to the exit after the media firestorm on Saturday caused the station to cover their tracks similar to the way it handled stablemate Alan Jones’s “died of shame” comment. A spokeswoman for Austereo, Sandy Kay,let the cat out of the bag when she confirmed to AAP that there would be no advertising on 2Day FM over the weekend. 

"We have suspended advertising at least until Monday on that radio station in Sydney out of respect to advertisers until business issues can really be addressed,' Kay said.  It was respect to advertisers Austereo was worried about, not respect to the dead woman.

And what did Kay mean by “business issues” that could be resolved in a couple of days? Perhaps she was thinking the Jones boycott lasted only a couple of weeks and advertisers were desperate to be associated with their high-rating product no matter how juvenile or crass the consequences.

Mel and Michael were idiots but they were just doing what the station and their advertisers expected of them. As radio DJ Jason ‘Jabba’ Davis said audiences want to be in on the joke.
“As broadcasters we want to make people laugh, but we need to pull it off without dishing out grief to the undeserving,” Davis said.
 If you are feeling suicidal, don’t mess around. Call Lifeline on 13 11 14

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Major Mitchell and the Maranoa

The Maranoa is far from Stirlingshire but it was the fertile woody lands west of what is now Roma that most appealed to the Scottish-born surveyor-general of NSW, Thomas Mitchell. 

Sir Thomas Livingstone Mitchell was a Lieutenant Colonel in the British Army who earned his stripes with Wellington in the 1811 Iberian Campaign against Napoleon. The Duke was so impressed by the young Scot, barely 19, he commissioned him to survey the battlefields. After 16 years of military service he was head-hunted by the Crown to perform the same duties for the young colony of New South Wales as Deputy Surveyor-General.

Mitchell’s boss was John Oxley who had opened up several areas to white settlers including the Lachlan, Macquarie and Tweed Rivers. With Allan Cunningham, Oxley beat an inland path to what would become Queensland via the Brisbane River But the difficulties of his explorations led to an early death. John Oxley died in 1828 aged just 45. Hired just a year earlier, Oxley’s ill-health was always at the back of Mitchell’s mind and suddenly he was promoted into the role he would keep for the next 27 years and four major explorations.

The first of those in 1831 took Mitchell directly due north of Sydney towards Tamworth. He found the Gwydir River and turned inland till he found the Darling. After natives killed two of three helpers, Mitchell returned to Sydney to plan his next sortie. It took four years to return to the Darling but he was determined to find out where this long meandering river emptied into the sea. His botanist Richard Cunningham was killed by the Aborigines and Mitchell was forced to withdraw again after a skirmish.

Undaunted, he was back a year later to try again. There was more battles with natives and he killed seven of a large posse of 200 that were attacking him. This time he followed the Darling until it joined the Murray near Wentworth. Mitchell went on to see the Grampians and he followed the Glenelg River to the Bass Strait coast (where Nelson is now). Mitchell returned to Sydney a hero after opening up this vast stretch of Australia Felix to the Europeans.

It led to a relative semi-retirement and there was no more expeditions for nine years. Having mapped much of what would become Victoria, he would do the same for what would become Queensland. With fellow explorer Edmund Kennedy he set off north on December 15, 1845, aged 54. Mitchell called on familiar routines striking out north-west for the Darling, as he had done three times before. But this time he continued north to the Narran River, to the Balonne, and to the Culgoa. Near the junction of the Maranoa and Balonne rivers, Mitchell found a natural bridge on April 23, 1846. He named the bridge for the auspicious saint's day he found it, St George’s Bridge.

Crossing the bridge Mitchell followed the Cogoon Creek which he renamed what he thought the natives called it: Muckadilla Creek. This took him into great pastoral country west of what is now Roma. He christened a hill in the region Mt Abundance and from its top, marvelled over what he called a “a champaign region, spotted with wood, stretching as far as human vision or even the telescope would reach.” Mitchell would continue west to find the Warrego and Barcoo Rivers but it was his description of Mt Abundance that resonated. By champaign, Mitchell meant undulating country, but many who followed in his path were made drunk by his vision. It was to be his final exploration.

When he returned to Sydney, he told his friend and fellow Scot William MacPherson about his discoveries. His son Allan MacPherson held lands at Keera in New England and Mitchell encouraged him to try his luck at Mount Abundance. Heading north-west and crossing St George’s Bridge in the path of Mitchell, MacPherson was the first white settler of the Maranoa in 1847 just a year after his mentor, bringing with him his workers, cattle and sheep.

Watched closely by the Mandandanji whose lands he craved, MacPherson was fearless and carried guns to enforce his law. Ultimately he was not successful but he laid open the path for others to follow both from the south and from the east to the Darling Downs.

Thanks to his mentor Mitchell, MacPherson had changed the region forever.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

A new news beast: Newsweek goes digital

In an interview that could easily have passed for Fox talking to Murdoch, the Newsweek Daily Beast Company sat down with its editor-and-chief and founder Tina Brown to discuss the end of print at the venerable magazine Newsweek.  Newsweek fell into the hands of Brown and Beast two years ago but have been unable to resist sliding circulation and rising costs. The last print edition will be December 31.

Brown was on “Newsbeast” this week seated next to the company’s new CEO Baba Shetty as they said why Newsweek was shedding staff and its print publication.  For Brown, it about protection, both of journalists and content. Senior suited-up columnist John Avlon lollypopped his bosses with the opening question phrased as a statement: “So we are taking the bull by the horns, going all digital…”
“We are,” replied Brown.  “We must embrace the future.”  
Newsweek was 80 years old, she said. and it was time to start looking at the next 80 years.  

Brown, like many editors before her, conceded defeat for print.  

The industry has reached a tipping point and it was no longer a case if but when, she said.

And “when” said Brown, might as well be “now”.
“We decided to take away the when and…embrace it, be ready for it.”

Avlon turned the discussion to Shetty with management speak.
“Being proactive not reactive is always a good idea…”
“Yes,” replied Shetty, who unlike Avlon, was dressed down with a jumper and shirt.
The new CEO, a “brand guru”, said Newsweek was a great brand and a powerful media icon but was encumbered by “the form factor” and its economics. Taking away issues of physical printing distribution and circulation by porting the core product to digital would be “incredibly liberating”, Shetty said.

Consumers were moving to digital and advertisers would want to be there to grab these audiences, he said. Tablet devices, web usage for news, and social news meant it made perfect sense for Newsweek to now go “completely native on digital”. 

Brown gave an economic rationale to back it up. She said it cost Newsweek $42m a year to print, manufacture and distribute "before you’ve even paid one writer or one intern".
“That’s an enormous albatross,” Brown said.
“We thought it was more important to protect the journalists, the contents, the photographers, the ideas.” 
Brown said she wanted a digital Newsweek to focus on the marketplace of ideas.

But how then, would it be different to the Daily Beast, also entirely online, asked Avlon.
Shetty said they were “incredibly complementary".
In four years, the Beast had gone from a start-up to a site with 15 million visitors a month, up 70 percent since 2011, a huge spike in readership and engagement.
Many were “lean forward, participatory, multiple visits a day,” Shetty said. “The Daily Beast is indispensable in many people’s information diet.”
A healthy portion of this traffic was generated each week by Newsweek’s strong original journalism. Newsweek, said Shetty, “a step removed”,  offered more considered, thoughtful, long-form journalism. 

Brown said the the Daily Beast and Newsweek spoke to “the same reader in different moods”.  The Daily Beast offered news that was “hot and happening” while Newsweek appealed to the ipad reader on the train home. But, she said, they offered the same sensibility: reflection, context and “a thorough look at what was happening in the world”. 

Avlon steered the conversation to the new brand: Newsweek Global.  CEO Shetty called it a terrific new perspective and described who the product would appeal to: “The mobile, highly informed, highly engaged, person very aware of what is happening over the globe.”
He said removing legacy print, meant Newsweek could re-interpret what it could be in pure digital form. Brown said the Daily Beast now appealed to a similar global reader who lived in India, London or Brazil.

Brown said one of the focuses was on “really powerful live events” including ones they had organised like Women in the World. which has an associated foundation which last week launched a campaign for education of girls in Pakistan with Angelina Jolie, hot on the heels of the shooting of 14-year-old education campaigner Malala Yousafzai.

All aspects of the company, said Brown were “now playing together” but print was the anomaly. Getting rid of it went with “enormous regret” as some “incredible brilliant talent” would be leaving the company but it was “the right decision for the company.” Avlon concluded that in terms of content that was “good news for journalists” and an exciting new opportunity” before nodding to the camera to end the interview.

The Daily Beast article that went with the video, gave some statistics to back up the “tipping point” :
There are now 70m tablet users in the US, up from 13m in two years. A further explosion of use is likely, especially as two in five Americans get their news online, a number that is also growing.
“Exiting print is an extremely difficult moment for all of us who love the romance of print and the unique weekly camaraderie of those hectic hours before the close on Friday night,” the article concluded. "But as we head for the 80th anniversary of Newsweek next year we must sustain the journalism that gives the magazine its purpose—and embrace the all-digital future.”