The Null Device
Posts matching tags 'spin'
Handily printable journalism warning labels, for putting on newspapers with dubious journalism in public places:
A study by the Australian Centre for Independent Journalism has revealed that more than half of news stories in Australia were spin, driven by public relations. The Murdoch tabloids were the worst, with 70% of stories in the Daily Telegraph being PR-driven, while the Fairfax "quality" papers are as good as it gets; only 42% (only 42%!) of stories in the Sydney Morning Herald were PR-driven.
These statistics probably say as much about the Australian media landscape as anything else. Australia's media is quite homogenised and uncompetitive; a handful of proprietors have the mass media sewn up (there are two newspaper proprietors and about three commercial TV networks). The lack of competition has resulted in low standards of quality; for example, the Fairfax papers (The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald are the biggest ones) are generally regarded to be the "quality" papers, but compared to the British equivalents (such as The Guardian and The Independent), they come out poorly, heavy on the sex, sensationalism and celebrity gossip and light on content and analysis. (The effect gets worse as one moves away from Sydney and Melbourne; for several weeks a few years ago, the most-read story on the front page of Fairfax's Perth paper was "Man gets penis stuck in pasta jar".) Or compare The Australian (Murdoch's "serious" paper in Australia) to its UK equivalent, The Times: The Australian is more nakedly biased.
The Australian press, controlled by an incestuous oligopoly and not subjected to the indignity of competition, has become a stagnant pond. (Australian television, mind you, is much worse.) This is bad news for the kind of discourse required to sustain a mature democracy; a public fed simplified half-truths leavened with gratuitous doses of sensationalism will be in no state to engage on a meaningful level in debate about where their country is heading, leaving all that boring stuff to technocrats and vested interests. The internet provides some competition, but the alarming open-ended censorship firewall plans (all content "refused classification" will be filtered; this includes sites advocating euthanasia, illegal drug use (including offering safety advice) or video games unsuitable for children; the list itself will be a state secret, giving plenty of scope for other sites to be "accidentally" banned if convenient to do so) which look set to become law before the next election, leave a lot of scope for rival sources to be nobbled. (Not surprisingly, the Australian press has been quiet about the plans, echoing the official line that the plans are to "combat paedophilia" and are opposed only by some anarchistic extremists.) As such, it doesn't surprise me if Australia's press oligarchs make the most of their privileged position and cut costs by bulking their papers out with press releases to a greater extent than in more competitive markets.
(via Boing Boing)
Rumours are abounding that last.fm, a music-based social networking website which voluntarily collects music-listening data from users, has been voluntarily handing data concerning unreleased albums to the RIAA, allowing their search-and-seizure SWAT teams to track down the criminals listening to unreleased U2 albums. Well, some anonymous tipster says that some guy who works for CBS (the Big Copyright corporation which owns last.fm) told them that this is the case, whereas last.fm and various last.fm people (including co-founder and executive Richard Jones) have emphatically denied this. (Which, of course, they could be expected to, as if this turned out to be true, the bad PR would effectively kill last.fm as it currently is (as a social networking site for those passionate about music).)
Of course, even if this isn't true, it could happen; it could be one directive from head office or bad "war on piracy" law away. As such, if you're listening to anything you could be prosecuted for the possession of, turn off your last.fm scrobbler. Or set it to a different account with the identity of the CEO of the RIAA or something. (Hypothetically speaking, of course; The Null Device does not condone identity theft, or, for that matter, listening to U2.)
I wonder how long until some hacktivist writes a bot that is fed with the track listings of unreleased recordings and, when run by a user, automatically reports to last.fm that the tracks had been listened to as an act of anonymous protest. After all, they can't raid everyone, can they; and the existence of such a bot would make the "evidence" useless for prosecution or search warrants.
Seeing his fortunes in the opinion polls plummet, Australia's militaristic Prime Minister, John Howard, made an impromptu visit to the troops in Iraq. All was going smoothly, when the Air Force C-130 he was travelling on filled with smoke, it had to make an emergency landing. Cue footage of the PM looking unflappable and heroic, and hopefully bouncing back in the polls. Except that, on closer inspection, the whole thing begins to look rather fishy:
I wonder whether the Australian media will pick this up (can the government slap a D-notice on such stories?), and whether Howard's poll ratings will actually improve.
- One cameraman got out of the aircraft before the PM, in sufficient time to capture him exiting the aircraft. Another cameraman was inside the aircraft, near the rear ramp, and panned with the PM's party as they ran from the aircraft. However, cut to the second camera as the PM exits the plane, and the first cameraman inside the plane is nowhere to be seen. Very strange -- or were there several takes of this?
- Camera on ground pans with PM and bodyguard as they run past, and we then see numerous passengers calmly walking away from the aircraft with their baggage -- so they must have exited the aircraft well ahead of the PM and escort. Which, given the apparent emergency, is unlikely.
- If you look at the aircraft's engines in the background, the propellers have almost come to a halt when the PM and bodyguard emerge running down the ramp. As anyone familiar with C-130 aircraft will know, it takes well over a minute from the time that the pilot cuts the engines until the propellers actually stop. So the aircraft was stopped on the ground for some time, and had initiated normal engine shutdown, well before the PM was bundled off.
- Add to that the fact that only the PM and escort are running -- everybody else in shot appears calm and relaxed -- and the odour of rodent becomes overwhelming.
Whilst visiting California, Tony Blair has have signed signed a pact to tackle climate change with the state's governor, Hummer-driving environmentalist Arnold Schwarzenegger. The pact, whilst careful to avoid anything binding or concrete, calls on both states to think positive thoughts about the environment, "find new solutions", "work together" and, in a very Californian fashion, "share experiences". The UK, spinning its hardest, has specifically denied that this pact sidesteps the Whitehouse.
In an attempt to shed the image of being "the Nasty Party", Britain's Tories have been bending over backwards to espouse un-Tory-like positions, without going so far as to make any concrete promises that might actually adversely affect profits. First they attempted to greenwash themselves with their "go green, vote blue" campaign, and had their charismatic new leader, David Cameron, very publically cycle to his office (with a staffer following discreetly in a car, carrying paperwork); and now, they're borrowing an idea from Bhutan (or at least borrowing its overall appearance) and promising to make national happiness a priority:
In the first of several speeches on families and community, Mr Cameron told a conference organised by Google: "It's time we admitted that there's more to life than money, and it's time we focused not just on GDP but on GWB - General Wellbeing.
"It's about the beauty of our surroundings, the quality of our culture and above all the strength of our relationships. There is a deep satisfaction which comes from belonging to someone and to some place. There comes a point when you can't keep on choosing; you have to commit."
Mr Cameron's speech, seen as an attempt both to distance the party from its Thatcherite past and to underline its portrayal of the chancellor as obsessed with work and regulation, said Britain should "move beyond a belief in the Protestant work ethic alone". But he added that regulation could make business less competitive and that the key was to educate companies and encourage good practice.Of course, promises are cheap, and policies are another thing. Whether, when push comes to shove, the Tories would translate all their happy talk of leisure and work-life balance into concrete policies that might adversely affect profits (such as, for example, ending Britain's opting out from the European working time directive, which would limit work week lengths, averaged over a period, to an indolently un-Anglo-Saxon 48 hours), or just borrow New Labour's trick of frantically spinning in one direction whilst legislating in the opposite, is another matter.
Meanwhile, the Graun's Nick Pearce argues that focussing on happiness is inherently right-wing and regressive:
Happiness also has little to tell us about some of the most difficult issues of our times. Because it places a particular vision of the good life above procedural fairness, it is largely silent on human rights and constitutional government. It struggles to tell us anything useful about what morally to value in life and has little to say about the red-green agenda of marrying ecological sustainability and social justice concerns.
Happiness is therefore a flexible friend for the political right. It can provide a veneer of radicalism to a project that eschews difficult trade offs and policy choices. In the wrong hands, it appeals to a stressed out, downshifting middle class but speaks less to those suffering the misery of poverty.
Former Blair spin doctor Alastair Campbell has condemned a reality TV show based on selecting potential MPs. Campbell has denounced ITV's "Vote For Me" series (or "Political Idol", as some call it), in which an "independent" political candidate is selected and groomed from a field of contestants, as exploiting youth cynicism and undermining the importance of politics. Which is all a bit rich, coming from the architect of Cool Britannia and Teflon Tony's image-conscious, style-over-substance media strategy.
An Independent piece claiming similarities between Tony Blair and Mussolini:
For a start, Blair extols the virtues of the Third Way, which was the phrase coined by the Fascists, no less, to describe their alternative to capitalism and communism. Blair began as a left-wing pacifist and became a right-wing warmonger. He is dictatorial and ignores Parliament if he can and he is a master of propaganda (spin). He is also a bit of a musician - always a dangerous sign in a politician - and plays the electric guitar. So was Mussolini. He played the violin.
People, especially people on the left, tend to forget - presumably because it is inconvenient to remember - that Mussolini was a revolutionary socialist before he was anything else. They forget, too, that he founded Fascism not as a right-wing dictatorship but as a left-wing revolutionary movement that provided an alternative first to socialism then to communism.
It then goes on to compare Mussolini's Corporate State with the New Labour Third Way of corporatisation and neo-liberal economics. And then there's both statesmen's gift for spin:
A phrase Mussolini often used to describe the Italian parliament was that it was "invincibly nauseous". Fascism transformed political participation from an isolated act involving the ballot box into a daily act of religious faith. Blair has not - heavens, no - abolished democracy as Mussolini did, but democracy has diminished under Blair. The Opposition languishes in torpid impotence. The Prime Minister appears increasingly to resemble some whacky kind of cult leader. He avoids debate in Parliament if he can. He talks to the people direct, via television, as Mussolini did via the piazza. Mussolini was famous for his balcony speeches - his "dialogues with the crowd". A modern Mussolini would not need to do anything so obvious as to tackle democracy head on. He could just side-step it with spin.
Brand America update:
Madison Avenue advertising/branding guru Charlotte Beers is quitting her job as the Whitehouse's image czar for selling Brand USA™ to the Islamic world, after acknowledging that "the gap between who we are and how we wish to be seen and how we are in fact seen is frighteningly wide". Her appointment is expected to be
Tony Blair's spin doctor Alastair "Cool Brittannia" Campbell State Department official Patricia Harrison.