Save 6Music

Posted on March 12, 2010. Filed under: BBC, media |

It seems the very reasons given for axing 6Music and the Asian Network could be more accurately described as reasons not to. The strategic review, which calls for the BBC to save money and focus on quality rather than quantity, seems to be doing just the opposite; keeping the popular and replicated formats, while forgoing genuine quality and originality. It makes little sense for the BBC to lose these stations in name of quality improvements and fair competition.There is no commercial competition for 6Music, which is what will make its proposed closure so devastating. Surely it would make more sense to cut a station like BBC1, which has little place in an overcrowded commercial network, and is not offering something people cannot get elsewhere.

6Music has a large and dedicated fan base, which includes many respected musicians, and people in the music industry. 6Music has such a following because it is the only widely accessible alternative music station in Britain. Cutting the only source of alternative and obscure music, and a place for emerging bands and for genuine music fans, will leave a gaping hole in radio, and in the music worlike ld. It will not lead to a more robust and competitive radio market.

A new suggestion that spin-off 6Music content could be added to other stations such as Radio2 using the money saved makes even less sense. I would suspect that Radio 2 and 6Music fans would have little in common and would resent being thrown together, at the expense of mutual satisfaction. BBC chief operating officer Caroline Thomson defended the decision by suggesting the average age of the 6Music fan is 37, the heartland age-group for commercial radio. Reducing radio devotees to commonalities such as age belittles both the station and music lovers – people do not listen to it because they are a certain age, but because they are interested in the music it plays.

The public broadcaster is under enormous pressure from all sides to justify its spending and meet its obligations. It seems these cuts are the quickest, and perhaps easiest way for it to demonstrate it is listening to this criticism and is prepared to do something about it.

The quality programming 6Music provides fits exactly with the content it is obligated to provide.

As Steve Lamacq has publically said, the arguments don’t all stack up. If we could really believe these changes would lead to greater quality and better services, that would be one thing, but as it stands it is hard to see the move as anything other than acquiescing to corporate and political pressure. The BBC must strive to represent all voices in society and cutting two of its most unique and specialised services flies in this face of this.

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Journalism to migrate to Iceland?

Posted on February 16, 2010. Filed under: Freedom of information, Journalism, media |

Iceland’s move to create a haven for investigative journalism is welcome news, particularly as things seem to be moving in the reverse direction locally.

The Icelandic Modern Media Initiative was filed as a resolution at the Icelandic Parliament today, led by opposition MPs frustrated at the country’s recent economic crippling, and the distinct lack of public forewarning. The proposal is based on the idea that rigorous journalism would lead to greater accountability in the financial sector, and therefore a healthier, more robust democracy.

It is envisaged the scheme would encourage media organisations, data centres and human rights bodies to set up in Iceland, spurring a new type of economic growth and extensive employment opportunities. While improving the situation in Iceland, the proponents are also hoping it would encourage greater press freedom around the world.

Wikileaks editor Julian Assange has been a strong supporter of the proposal, which would provide source and legal protection to journalists. He has spent the past few weeks advising parliamentarians on how to best protect whistleblowers and support investigative journalism. Assange said Wikileaks works long and hard to protect sources and keep data safe, but few organisations have the time, or make the effort to go to the same lengths. He said the initiative is an exciting part of the country’s mini-revolution over the past year.

Meanwhile at home, journalists are finding themselves subject to a growing array of barriers to freeing information. The so-called super-injunction, which limits the publishing of the very existence of the injunction, and the matter it concerns, is being used more frequently; photographers, and even public snappers, are being stopped for photographing public buildings, (the European Court of Human Rights deemed this illegal last week, but the government is appealing), and ministers are seemingly finding it more difficult, time consuming and costly to attend to freedom of information requests.

Let’s hope this bold initiative encourages a review of freedom of information laws closer to home, lest we witness a mass exodus of talented and frustrated journalists.

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Cutting the BBC not the answer

Posted on February 2, 2010. Filed under: BBC, media, Rupert Murdoch |

The Conservative’s plan to top-slice or freeze the BBC’s licence fee sends warning signs about the future of the broadcaster under its governance.

Shadow Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, Jeremy Hunt said the savings could be used to fund a new “superfast” broadband network.

This effectively allows him to kill two birds with one stone; appearing to address Britain’s lagging broadband speeds, while acquiescing to the Murdochs.

Rupert Murdoch has openly supported a Tory government for the next election. While James has made unsubtle swipes at the BBC, and what he sees as its over-blown proportions.

The trouble is, there is some truth in claims the BBC has got grown beyond its purpose. There is repetition across channels, and in some instances, BBC content does not vary greatly from its commercial counterparts. And what was the justification for Worldwide’s 2008 snap-up of independent travel guide, Lonely Planet?

When compared to the starved Australian Broadcasting Corporation, the BBC appears a domineering monster. However, it is the one organisation that can continually fund serious journalism, culture and the arts, while fostering new talent.

The BBC must be accountable to the tax payer and continue to deliver unique, representative and quality broadcasting for the populace. However, it could not better serve the public with a reduction in the licence fee. It would better serve Murdoch, and hence, the likely new government.

We do need faster broadband, but it should not come at the cost of a diverse and robust public broadcaster.

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Google to leave China?

Posted on January 16, 2010. Filed under: Freedom of information, Google, media |

Google’s recent threat to withdraw from China over the alleged hacking of human rights activists’ emails raises many questions about the role of the search engine giant in the free flow of information.

The company was accused of abandoning it’s ethical ethos in 2006 when it agreed to operate a censored service in China. However it did state it would reassess its policy if it couldn’t meet its objectives  of broadening the freedom of information for Chinese citizens:

“We will carefully monitor conditions in China, including new laws and other restrictions on our services,” it said.

If we determine that we are unable to achieve the objectives outlined we will not hesitate to reconsider our approach to China.”

Google now states it will not continue to operate a censored service in China, and if it cannot operate an uncensored service, it will withdraw its business.

Is this proof of the company’s commitment to the freedom of speech or part of a wider business plan?

Where will Google’s withdrawal leave its Chinese users, and what will it mean for the future of information accessibility in China?

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New Media in 2010

Posted on January 11, 2010. Filed under: media, Twitter |

While journalists’ use of social and new media is now little more than standard, it is interesting to remember that at the beginning of last century, even email was  relatively cutting edge.

Can we predict how the media will change this decade or have we already seen the most significant changes?

According to Jeff Jarvis 2010 will be the year that new media finally eclipses the old. asked some of the experts in the field for their predictions on how new media will change in 2010. While Gary Hayes has made a useful widget with a similar theme.

These are probably some of the more significant events in the growth of social and new media over the last decade:

  • The growth of mobile phones as cameras. In 2003 the media published some of the first pictures taken on mobile phones submitted by the public at the mass anti-Iraq war demonstrations. In 2004, some of the most vivid and haunting images of the devastating 2004 Boxing Day Tsunami were taken on mobile phone cameras and in 2005 pictures eye-witness photographs of the London bombings were captured with the same tool. With almost all mobiles now equipped with cameras a large number of the world’s population is a possible citizen journalist.
  • Facebook – launched in 2006 by then Havard student Mark Zuckerberg, it now has more than 350 million worldwide users and has been the subject of more than a little controversy. Recently a Dutch media group has launched a social media suicide application to allow people to ride themselves of their parasitic addictions and young people are being increasingly warned of the potential dangers of social media. Zuckerberg spoke to the people at Mashable about his site and privacy.
  • Twitter – launched in 2006 and now has over 44 million users, with favourite twitters from celebrities to presidents and certain Prime Minister’s wives. The micro-blogging tool is now considered a must for many businesses, journalists and politicos.

How do you think the media will change this year?

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The desperate moves of an empire in decline?

Posted on November 18, 2009. Filed under: Blogroll, media, Rupert Murdoch, This Week in the News |

ABC’s Mark Scott recently took a swipe at Rupert Murdoch, labelling his latest move to charge for online content as the signs of a flailing ruler desperate to maintain his power.

“It strikes me as a classic play of old empire, of empire in decline. Believing that because you once controlled the world you can continue to do so, because you once set the rules, you can do so again,” he said at the A.N Smith Memorial Lecutre in Journalism.

And certainly, Murdoch’s long-interview with Sky Australia (of which he owns a third) revealed a man grappling with an uncertain future.

In thinly veiled threats to those that dare to threaten his dynasty including the BBC, the ABC, Microsoft and Google, Murdoch let his insecurities known.

Commentators have been unsure of how to respond to his plans to put a stop to free online content. On the one hand, few can see it working, but on the other, many journalists hope it will work if only so they can keep their jobs a little longer.

You can’t help but hope he does succeed, if it means a lifeline for the industry, but at what cost to the egalitarian and open nature which has so far defined the web? It would be more comforting if you could believe Murdoch genuinely cared about journalism and the industry and not just his own coffers.

Few too are willing to doubt Murdoch’s business sense too loudly; this is a man who has single-handedly managed to create a global media empire dominant in Australia, Britain and America, with a strong hold on parts of Asia.

However, it is hard to see how removing NewsCorp’s news from Google’s index would be beneficial. Would readers be so loyal as to only look at one news site, which they must pay for not use a search engine? As interviewer Sky News Australia’s political editor David Speers said, Google does drive traffic to News Corp, but “if they are not paying”, said Murdoch, “we don’t want them”. Murdoch is only interested in “serious money” which he argued, cannot be made online with free content. However Times editor James Harding hinted this week the paper may take a softer approach.

However the story unfolds now, it will help define the future of journalism and online content.

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The Rise of Twitter

Posted on October 30, 2009. Filed under: media, Twitter |

While just 14 per cent of the general population are regular Twitterers, the collective speed and force of their tweets has proved more powerful than established media in recent weeks. It was the Twitterati that launched an all out attack on Jan Moir’s distasteful article on the death of Stephen Gately and helped the Guardian trump the ‘super injunction’ and bring Triafagura’s deceit to light.

Meanwhile, organisations such as Wikileak, Digiactive and Engagemedia are helping the public mobilise strategic online campaigns with significant consequences.

Increasingly, Twitter is becoming a subject of the news and an agenda-setter in its own right. Gone are the days when the morning newspaper could dictate the days news agenda, and  as Emily Bell pointed out, it was failure to realise this that landed Moir in such trouble. Putting vehement words in the inflexibility and permanency of print is now like playing all your cards at once, only to stand by as others play long into the night without you. There is no entry point for the print journalist into the rapid exchange of ideas which swarm and morph almost as soon as the paper comes off the press. Of course many journalists are now avid Twitter users and most publish online, but increasingly it is the collective force of comments, lead by high-profile thinkers such as Stephen Fry that have the upper hand.

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Many questions, but few answers from Question Time.

Posted on October 23, 2009. Filed under: media, This Week in the News |

BNP leader Nick Griffin’s much anticipated appearance on BBC’s Question Time did not give the party legitimacy as many feared, but allowed all others to bask in comparative glory. And how could they not? Griffin appeared impish, weak, inconsistent and deceptive, nodding along with the audience when it suited him and laughing strangely when it didn’t.

“I can’t tell you why I used to say those things any more than I can tell you why I have changed my mind,” he said in response to a Jewish audience member’s question as to why he once equated the “myth of the holocaust” with the myth of the earth’s flatness. His blatant lies, strange facial expressions and obvious discomfort roused the audience into camaraderie-amusement and mounted anger interchangeably, allowing other panellists to sit in benign smugness, like school children praised for their good behaviour.

Leftist viewers may have been surprised to find themselves nodding along with Conservative spokeswoman for community cohesion and crowned most powerful Muslim woman in Britain, Sayeeda Warsi, who perhaps came off best on the show. Time and time again Warsi articulately debunked the BNP in a calm and measured tone. She challenged Jack Straw to have “an honest debate about immigration,” which he seemed unable to do. She said political parties must engage with BNP voters and address their feelings of disenfranchisement.

In a way it was a shame that the whole attention was on Nick Griffin because it conveniently allowed other panellists, who actually have a direct bearing on policy, to dodge the questions. As much as a chance to denounce the BNP,  it was a chance for others to pose and posture. Even those that weren’t on the show generated their own publicity. Welsh MP, Peter Hain, has become a household name for his vocal opposition to the program.

It was only historian, playwright and author Bonnie Greer, who refreshingly unconcerned with her own public appearance, addressed the issues in a human and witty fashion.

“I am not a politician, I don’t know anything about politics,” she said unapologetically, by way of opening and later, turning to Griffin, “You have to change your constitution now, that will be interesting. You can laugh,” she said as he nervously giggled beside her, “but if I was a BNP member, I’d be scared.”  To which, strangely, he began clapping.

She later said the experience was “one of the weirdest and most creepy experiences” in her life.”

The BBC has also created its own publicity, generating a huge leap in ratings and unprecedented news coverage. The Guardian devoted its front page and a two page spread were devoted to the topic while it unleashed a Twitter storm.

In the end the show was an opportunity for the audience and the impressively measured panel members to hold the BNP to account. It did hold an uncompromising mirror to the BNP and forced Nick Griffin to explain his party’s views. But it was the claps, though small, of support for his anti-Islamic and anti-immigration spiels that we must be most concerned with. The BNP has been publicly ridiculed, but it is the supporters that need to be challenged and given an alternative, if it is to be defeated.

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The BBC and the BNP

Posted on October 16, 2009. Filed under: This Week in the News |

The furore over the BNP and its various planned and past appearances on the BBC raise many questions about the role of the public broadcaster and the nature of free speech.

The appearance of BNP representatives, party publicity director, Mark Collett, 28, and Joseph Barber, 24, who runs the BNP record label, Great White Records, on Radio 1 may not be cause for concern in itself (if you ignore the fact that the radio station essentially operates as a top 40 commercial station with government funding, and is not generally interested in politics). However the presenters handling of the interview was alarming. The introduction of the guests as “Mark and Joey” not only deliberately concealed their identities and roles in the party, but suggests a matey-jokey relationship which surely should not feature on air between any BBC presenter and political party member. The New Statesman has published the transcript here.

Meanwhile the party’s planned appearance on the BBC’s Question Time has caused MP Peter Hain to make a formal complaint to the broadcaster and the program will be filmed at a secret location due to security concerns. The BBC maintains it is its duty to subject all political parties to rigorous and impartial interrogation, which begs the question when does a point of view become legitimate and who should decide? Hain said this week the exposure of the party on the public broadcaster gives its views legitimacy and is fundamentally wrong.

The election of two BNP members to the European Parliament in June suggests that to many, the party does have legitimacy and while to a majority of people its views are abhorrent, anti-social and fascist, can we ignore this gain? Is it the BBC’s role to shut out those it does not agree with no matter how distasteful? Surely it would be more effective to denounce the party live and on air and in a sustained campaign to show the BNP its views are not acceptable in modern society.

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Journalism: a wise choice?

Posted on September 22, 2008. Filed under: Journalism education | Tags: |

Recent staff cuts at Fairfax (for which I work) and at other mastheads around the world do not bode well for journalists such as myself just setting out in the world of media.

During a recent trip to the UK I met a veteran journalist for an evening newspaper, (something that never took off in Australia), who along with the whole editorial team has been asked to consider voluntary reduncy. At a sister newspaper a complete ban on recruitment has been put in place. He told me it was the worst possible time ever to be starting out as a journalist and suggested I should consider working in public relations instead, afterall, he said, the pay is better.

In Britain several evening newspapers now print a morning edition and are moving away from the evening format. At a time when morning newspapers are often on the back foot alongside up-to-the-minute news availbale on line, waiting until the end of the day until publishing no longer makes much sense.

I told him I would not give up and cross to the “other side” before I’d given it a good go and this has been further impetus to forge an online presence. Despite having written an honours thesis on citizen journalism and the future of media, beginning work at a small time newspaper in country NSW has allowed me to re-cacoon myself into previous ideas of face to face interviews, lengthy deadlines and hand written stamp posted letters to the editor. So it is partly with the knowledge that I am in danger of being as out-dated as some of the old school editors I have previously derided that I try again to launch a blog.

I am anticipating that gradually a theme will emerge and I will write more regularly with startling incisive commentary on the new media environment, society and politics.

But for now these rough drafts of ill-thought out ramblings will stand in place of anything of the sort.

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