Twitter’s anonymous racist underbelly is a parody account.

********Spoiler alert: @ozprotectionistparty is a parody**************

If you ever want to pick up the mood among Australia’s racist underbelly,  then Twitter is a great place to start.

Some of the vilest guff comes out the mouths of anonymous twitter accounts, racist cowards not brave enough to sign their name to their bile.

Take for example I wrongly picked this fella:

ozprotectpartyI recently came across his account as part of a Twitter war involving Wendy Bacon, an academic and journalist ( , Sharri Markson, media editor of The Australian () and News Corp ultra conservative columnist Miranda Devine ().

It was a classic lefty journalist criticising a News Corp editor, which descended into a slanging match.

The fuse seems to have been lit by Wendy Bacon. She tweeted in response to an article by Sharri Markson about how journalists that tweeted their own opinions (examples included Bacon herself, Crikey star writer Bernard Keane, former Channel Ten broadcaster Paul Bongiorno and journalist and blogger Margo Kingston) were putting journalism at risk.

sharri
It was a provocative tweet no doubt – Bacon was clearly incensed that her opinions had been cast as a threat to journalism.

Miranda Devine leapt to Sharri Markson’s defence in typical fashion:

devineAnd then it all erupted as you can see with all the retweets and favourites.

I won’t go into all the comments – it was essentially a slanging match between ultra-conservative tweeters and left-leaning thinkers.

Amongst it all,  @ozProtectionistParty caught my eye with this bogan-esque comment:

ozprotect1Then I read through OzProtectionistParty’s Twitter feed. These are just a few highlights:

On refugees:

ozprotect2Homosexuals and same-sex marriage (SSM):

ozprotect3
Women:

ozprotect4Renewable energy

ozprotect5
And so it goes on…

The twitter account is a  parody – which I understand to be that he is actually mocking the right wing/racist elements in Australian society.

Otherwise and were it not for the spelling mistakes, it seemed would be an almost perfect synthesis of all the worst right-wing stereotypes – refugees are illegal queue jumpers, feminists are power-hungry bitches, students are bludgers – cloaked behind an anonymous Twitter handle.

Ten years ago, this fellow – were he real – would be spewing this stuff down at the pub with his mates rather than on the public forum that is Twitter.

There’s thousand of REAL PEOPLE out there who are not a parody like this account, barometers of what’s lurking beneath the surface of people you might stand next to on the train on the way into work or who are in front of you in the queue at Hungry Jacks.

Eager funnels for every right wing ideology and stereotype that comes out of the mouths of white/male/conservative/bigots.

Just hope you don’t bump into one of these REAL PEOPLE on a bus or train:

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Back to print: Is the Saturday Paper any good?

The_Saturday_Paper_-_Front_Cover_1_241_338_85_sThere were more than a few raised eyebrows (and conservative commentators choking on their muesli) when property developer and left-wing publisher Morry Schwartz launched The Saturday Paper roughly six months ago.

Schwartz, who also publishes features magazine The Monthly and long-form politics bible The Quarterly Essay (and in his spare time runs developer Pan Urban) said in March he saw an opportunity to enter the newspaper space with Fairfax and News Corp Australia “at their weakest”.

He said The Saturday Paper would target “readers like me”  meaning presumably forward thinking, inner city liberals with good jobs and good educations and that its launch fulfilled a 40 year ambition to have his own newspaper.

But is it any good?

Last week, I picked up a copy in Readings bookshop on Lygon Street, Carlton and ready it cover to cover.

Schwartz has hired an impressive stable of former ABC and Fairfax journalists including Mike Seccombe, who is the paper’s Sydney editor, Richard Ackland, its diarist and legal affairs editor and Helen Razor (Crikey among others) who is the paper’s television and gardening critic.

There’s also a whole bunch of “star” freelance writers including David Marr, Guy Rundle and ‘The Slap’ author Chris Tsiolkas.

As for the content, there was a lot to admire about the package of stories in the issue I read. Even if you’re political persuasions are right leaning, you’d find a number of articles of interest.

morry schwartz with erik jensen
The two front page articles were knock-outs.

The lead story was about the Essendon drugs saga and ensuing court room battle as told by chief correspondent  Martin Mckenzie-Murray. Schwartz has talked about “narrative” journalism and this was the first article I had read on the subject that actually told the story of how James Hird became the Essendon golden boy and his dramatic fall from grace. Having only come to Australia in 2004, I finally understood the hero-worship.

The second cover story was about the battle to usurp power from Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore. Written by Mike Seccombe, it’s the classic ‘People’ versus “Big Business’ tale with Moore pitched against right-wing adversaries including shock jock Alan Jones and ultra-conservative homophobe the Reverend Fred Niles. It’s a ripping yarn about power, influence and revenge.

Canberra journalist Chris Wallace provided thought-provoking analysis of the recent troubles of Federal Treasurer Joe Hockey, arguing convincingly that Hockey is part of a new breed of privileged Liberal politician, who unlike John Howard, are out of touch with the Australian public because they’ve never had a non-political job in their lives or ever known what its like to be a battler.

David Marr’s comment piece on asylum seeker rights – centred around a Pakistani shopkeeper thrown into detention following a negative ASIO assessment – was as expected, eloquent and powerful. Guy Rundle did a good job savaging the recent gaffs by government ministers.

Another standout was Chris Tsiolkas’s tribute to Robin Williams, which dispensed with the gushing praise, highlighting instead the many bad films Williams made and pointing the finger at Hollywood  for lacking the courage to give him roles that showcased his prodigious talent. It’s the kind of observation that alone justifies the $3.50 cover price.

Just to prove that The Saturday Paper is not just full of the “usual mawkish left-wing pieties” as The Australian’s editor, Chris Mitchell suggested it would be when it launched, there  was also a very interesting profile of Anthony Cappello, Australia’s most successful publisher of ultra conservative books.

Thankfully, not everything had a serious tone. Helen Razor wrote hilariously about the challenges and obsessions of those that grow their own tasty tomatoes  while basketball star Liz Campage made a good Q&A subject. There was a recipe for shakshouka and observations about the dish from chef Andrew McConnell plus book reviews and other bits and pieces. The cryptic crossword by Mungo MacCallum was beyond my abilities.

There are disappointments too.

Romy Ash’s on-set interview with actress Sigrid Thornton was pretentious, dull, waffly and full of self-important actorly observations that made you wince while Richard Ackland’s diary piece was too insidery and obscure to be of any interest to this humble reader.

Overall though, I’d say The Saturday Paper is definitely worth picking up on a Saturday morning to dip in and out of over coffee over the weekend. It was quite harshly judged when it launched in March, but editor Erik Jensen said it would take time to find its feet, and it appears to have done so (with plenty of high-end advertising thrown in too.)

Overall, I give The Saturday Paper 8/10 for the quality of the writing, choice and range of subjects and knowledge imparted  – or 6.5/10 if you’re a conservative reader.

The Australian (and Australia’s) propaganda war against boat people

boat peopleI was dismayed – no gutted – to read a story in The Australian newspaper last week.

The story ran under the headline “Lowy Institute poll shows strong support for asylum-seeker policies”.

It’s first paragraph said: “More than 70 per cent of Australians support the Abbott government’s Sovereign Borders Policy, including the idea that boats should be turned back when safe to do so.”

This information was correctly reported and seemed to confirm that, depressingly, most Australians have bought the propaganda – dished out regularly from both sides of politics about asylum seekers.

This is, that asylum seekers are queue jumpers, possibly terrorists and that if they want to come to this country, they should get in line and wait their turn – regardless of the circumstances in their home country. If they arrive by boat, they should be sent back to where they came from.

This sentiment was spelled out 13 years ago when former prime minister John Howard said in his election victory speech: “We will decide who comes here and the circumstances under which they come.”

He was referencing the Tampa affair, where a Norwegian freighter carrying rescued asylum seekers was denied access to Australia. This hard line attitude has been stamped into the heads of the voting public ever since.

But The Australian article conveniently forgot to mention another finding of the same Lowy Institute survey.

This was that the majority of Australians (57%) polled disagreed with the former Rudd government and current Liberal Party government policy that ‘no asylum seeker coming to Australia by boat should be allowed to settle in Australia’.

This statistic is nowhere to be found in Rowan Callick’s article – and which, if it were included, might have led to a different headline or at least told the full story.

Now, the margin of error in the poll was 3% so it could be that as many as 60% of Australians believe that asylum seekers who arrive by boat should be allowed to come and live in Australia, should there claims be genuine.

At worst 54% of Australians are opposed to the policy which is seeking to settle asylum seekers who arrive by boat on Papa New Guinea, Nauru or possibly even Cambodia in grubby cash-for-people deals.

So the end result is that I feel a little bit better about my country (of adoption) and my fellow countrymen.

But then again, reading numerous other articles and following the social media conversations, it is clear there are many Australians who feel like I do – that we are behaving abominably to the most desperate and needy in society.

For more balanced views, try:

Sadly though too many people appear to have been brainwashed following years of propaganda and believe – against all factual evidence – that asylum seekers arriving by boat are the first wave of potential invading hoards.

boatproportion

Source: Crikey.com.au

This is in no part due to the aforementioned article in The Australian, but also do to News Corp popular columnists like Andrew Bolt who regularly rounds of his tirades against Labor, the ABC, Fairfax, the Greens etc with thoughts like: “it is grossly irresponsible to allow thousands of illegal immigrants from countries very different from our own to crash our borders when we know it exposes Australians to extra risks they don’t want and never accepted.”

Or comments like this: ” Tens of thousands of ‘refugees’ would swarm each year through the Greens’ open door, more than we could safely accept, and the thousands rejected as refugees would not just go home.

All designed to stir up fear and hysteria of invading hoards and keeping John Howard’s 2001 message alive and well.

Reject the propaganda and form you own, educated view. Don’t be an ignorant fool.

(For more of my articles on this topic, go here.)

Naming Rolf Harris and Sunil Tripathi: mainstream media’s troubled relationship with social media

Last weekend, The Saturday Age splashed this Facebook photo of Sunil Tripathi (below) a missing university student incorrectly identified by bloggers as a possible suspect in the Boston Marathon bombings across its front cover.

The story has been removed from The Age website, but can be read here in its online archives.

MissingStudentUpdate_Sangeeta-Tripathi

The photo of a smiling Tripathi was splashed on the front page of The Saturday Age below a now notorious grainy photo of the two suspects at the marathon just before the bombs went off:

0419-motives-Boston-bombing-suspects_full_600

The caption below Tripathi’s photo read: “Sunil Tripathi was reported missing by his family. He is pictured in a Facebook page set up to find the Brown University student. Sunil is reported to have been named on a police scanner as one of the suspects.”

At the very top of the same page, above the masthead, was another headline in large font and in bold:

Rolf Harris linked to UK sex abuse inquiry

The Australian entertainer’s arrest over sex crime allegations was a poorly guarded secret since November last year, with his name revealed by many bloggers.

The story that mentioned Sunil Tripathi, written by respected journalist Paul McGeough, a former editor of the Sydney Morning Herald now based in Washington D.C., detailed the events leading up to the capture and death of one of the suspects, while the other was still at large at the time.

McGeough wrote: “Police did not confirm the names being ascribed to the two men in the blogosphere – Suspect One as Mike Mulugeta and Suspect Two as Sunil Tripathi.” – contradicting what was said in the photo caption.

Tripathi had been named as a suspect on blogging aggregator news website, Reddit, after users said they thought they recognised him as the suspect wearing a white baseball cap.

That man turned out to be Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, now an alleged Chechen terrorist, who along with brother Tamerlan Tsarnaev, killed in a police gun fight after the bombing, are believed to be the sole perpetrators of the attack.

Sunil Tripahti and “Mike Mulugeta” (even less has been reported of him) had nothing to do with the Boston bombings.

Tragically, the body of Sunil Tripathi, missing since last month, was found in the Providence River on Friday (April 20), much to the anguish of his grief-stricken family.

A day after the Saturday Age story appeared, the following day’s Sunday Age ran with the correct story about the Tsarnaev brothers as the Boston bombers.

There was no mention at all of the misidentification of Sunil Tripathi.

At first I thought I’d mis-read the Saturday Age story, but pulling out the paper from the recycling bin, proved that I wasn’t going crazy.

So I emailed The Age‘s editor Andrew Holden to ask him if he could clear up the confusion.

I received a response from Steve Foley, The Age‘s news director, who confirmed that the newspaper did publish the two names (Tripathi and Mulugeta) “that were circulating on Friday evening (Saturday morning Australian time) in our first edition”.

“As we went to press the story was still unfolding at rapid speed. The updated story for our second edition of the Saturday paper did not mention them. By then it was being reported that two Chechens were the Boston bombing suspects,” said Foley

“On Saturday morning, by which time our coverage was all online, we acknowledged our error – stating that we had published incorrect information on Friday night.

“We aim to get it right, every time, and despite all precautions, lapses do occur,” he added.

As I mentioned earlier, the Fairfax print archives only references the first, erroneous story about Tripathi being a suspect.

Online, there is no mention of  Tripathi being incorrectly identified by the newspaper.

However, The Age and other Fairfax websites have since published two follow-up stories about Tripathi: one under the headline “Student wrongly named as Boston bomber found dead” and another is about Reddit apologising for the grief it caused the Tripathi family for naming their son as a suspect” “Reddit apologises for Boston online witch hunts”.

(This is the official Reddit apology)

Incredibly, neither of these stories acknowledge the fact that The Saturday Age, which has a readership of 227,000, splashed Tripathi’s name and photo across its front page in error, nor has an apology been issued either publicly or privately to the family of Sunil Tripathi for suggesting their son might be a terrorist.

Is this just arrogance on the part of Fairfax or does the media giant really believe it’s entirely the fault of Reddit users for suggesting Tripathi may have been Dzhokhar Tsarnaev?

I should point out that Fairfax was not the only mainstream media organisation to get this wrong.

According to The Australian‘s media writer Nick Leys, both Channel Nine and Channel Seven named Tripathi in their 6pm news bulletins, relying on the “blogosphere” as a reliable source.

“Journalists here and in the US threw the rule books out the window on Friday night choosing to use social media as a reliable source…journalists were blindly repeating those names with no reliable source….” wrote Leys in his Media Diary wrap last week.

This of course brings me back to the other heading on the front page of that ill-fated Saturday Age edition.

The story about Rolf Harris.

Why is that The Saturday Age found it acceptable to print Sunil Tripathi’s name and photograph based on entirely unverified accusations almost the moment they became known but waited six months to print Rolf Harris’s name, when it had been splashed across countless blogs?

Steve Foley did not respond to my questions about this issue so all I  can do is speculate.

Was it to give Rolf Harris the benefit of the doubt because he’s one of Australia’s most famous and much-loved entertainers? Was it because they feared a costly and embarrassing lawsuit if the arrest proved untrue?

Possibly both explanation are true.

So why wasn’t a young US student afforded the same duty of care?

And why has The Age not deemed it necessary to apologise to his family?

Getting it right: Is the internet killing good journalism?

A story appeared on the front page of The Age (Melbourne’s only broadsheet newspaper) last week written by one of Australia’s most respected and well-known journalists, Adele Ferguson.

The story was about the death of the former chairman of a collapsed mortgage lender called Banksia, which has left thousands of small investors (families and pensioners) out of pocket with $660 million owed.

Ferguson reported that the Banksia chairman – Ian Hankin – had died in a head-on collision with a truck just three months before Banksia went bust.

“Ian Hankin, 59, died on August 8 when his BMW and a truck collided on the Western Highway at Burrumbeet, about 25 kilometres west of Ballarat.”

The story then went on to say that three weeks earlier, “on July 18, Hankin drove his Mercedes-Benz into the path of an oncoming truck on the Midland Highway near Scotsburn, 18 kilometres south of Ballarat”.

In the first crash Hanking escaped with minor injuries though the car was written-off.

Clearly, what was being implied was that Hankin had taken his own life after learning that Banksia was heading into financial failure and having failed the first time, he did a better job of it the second time.

Except, as was later pointed out by rival Melbourne newspaper the Herald Sun (owned by Rupert Murdoch) Hankin had stepped down from his role as chairman of Banksia three years ago and had no association with the company, making it highly unlikely his death and the previous collision was in anyway related to the mortgage lender’s sudden collapse on 25 October this year.

The chairman of Banksia is Peter Keating, who is very much alive.

The Age did print an update to the story, but only to add the word “former”  in front Ian Hankin’s title of ‘chairman’. (I have since discovered that The Age apologised to Ian Hankin’s family, but the story remains unchanged except for the addition of the extra word)

The error was reported in the media section of The Australian (another Murdoch-owned paper, but a broadsheet, with more gravitas than the Herald Sun) under the heading “Page one howler”

The Australian pointed out that “The Age ran a correction on Saturday on page two, one strangely lacking any apology to Hankin’s family who are understandably distraught.

“Journalists are not infallible. But the correction does appear buried and insubstantial given the size of the error,” The Australian went on to say.

Hankin’s colleagues at the law firm where he worked until his sudden death have spoken out against the insinuations in the article, though this hasn’t stopped controversial radio DJ Derryn Hinch (famous for naming convicted sex offenders on air against court orders) from labelling Hankin’s death a “coward’s exit” on his own website.

The Age’s error was indeed a bad one  (made worse by the lack of an apology)  and should have been avoided by some simple fact checking, something you would have thought would have been given extra priority, since the story was destined for the front page of the newspaper.

But this should all be put into the context of the challenges facing Fairfax – publisher of The Age and rival newspaper publisher Rupert Murdoch’s News Limited as well as other newspaper groups all round the world.

Fairfax is currently in the process of getting rid of 1,900 employees, many of them journalists, in an effort to cut costs and deal with a loss of print advertising revenue as readers shift to getting their knews online and via mobile devices (where advertising revenues are much smaller).

Fewer journalists mean fewer sub-editors checking articles before they go to print and less time spent by journalists themselves reasearching their articles.

Making things worse is the fact that Fairfax has outsourced most of its sub-editing to an external company called Pagemasters.

A sub-editor is not just a spelling and grammar checker. A good sub-editor understands the subject matter they are reading and the context and history behind the article.

A good sub-editor would have asked the question: Was Ian Hankin the chairman of Banksia at the time of his death?

These sorts of mistakes are likely to become more frequent as publishers scramble to find a way to scrape a profit.

In the online age of the 24 hour news cycle, smaller teams of journalists must produce more content at a faster rate with less time for research and few pairs of eyes to check facts and ask important questions.

Out of curiosity, I took a look at the jobs currently advertised on the New York Times media group website, publisher of the venerated New York Times, International Herald Tribune and Boston Globe.

There are currently 54 jobs advertised.

Not one of them is a journalism role.

Travel journalism, junkets + dwindling media budgets: are you getting the true picture?

In 2010 my wife and I, newly married and kids-free, embarked on a dream back-packing trip around the world starting in Thailand and ending in the USA (with Malaysia, Singapore, East and West Europe, Morocco, India, Egypt, Turkey and Mexico in between).

When we returned to Australia, I was eager and hopeful of writing a few freelance travel pieces about some of the more exotic places we had visited for the travel sections of newspapers and travel magazines.

I submitted a number of story ideas and photographs but no editor would bite.

I was a bit disappointed but not entirely surprised since I’d submitted what I thought were interesting ideas in the past (a story about why tourists should visit my hometown of Johannesburg was one of them) but had received polite “no thank you’s”.

Since then I’ve read, with envy, the stories written by travel writers, some about the places I have visited and many other destinations I would love to saviour for myself one day.

However, what I have also noticed, with greater and greater frequency is that so many of them end with the following:

“The writer flew with…”

0r, “The writer was a guest of…”

Most pieces of travel journalism, I’ve discovered, are paid for or part paid-for by either an airline, resort or tourism bureau and it got me wondering what sort of impact this had on the objectivity of these “hosted” writers.

So I put the question to the Fiona Carruthers, editor of the Australian Financial Review’s Sophisticated Traveller magazine and to Susan Kurosawa, editor of The Weekend Australian’s Travel and Indulgence section.

Both are excellent publications with great photos and stories – but many of their articles are funded by what Carruthers calls “famils” – “travel familiarisation” trips, where the expense is borne by the person or organisation extending the invitation.

“Also known more cynically in the trade as “junkets,” Carruthers tells me.

She estimates that due to the expense (and no doubt dwindling budgets) about 85% of travel writing is paid for through these hosted visits.

“It’s a shame this is the case – I would dearly love for us to pay our own way – and sometimes we do or we pay part of the trip or media rates,” she says.

“But the problem is that most media organisations simply cannot afford to pay for these travel experiences and given travel is so popular, we don’t want to short change our readers by not offering travel content. So this is our compromise – and as I say, most media outlets compromise.”

So what does this compromise entail? Does it mean giving favourable coverage, not reporting on bad experiences and potentially giving readers a less than fair picture of a travel destination?

Is it just advertorial disguised as a travel review with out the advertorial “label”?

Both Carruthers and Kurosawa firmly deny this and maintain that objectivity is always maintained.

“Famils/hosted trips are not advertorial and the hosts know we are free to write whatever we like,” says Carruthers.

Kurosawa says The Australian responds to “invitations for selected trips”, but does not “actively seek hosting of any kind, whether from airlines, hotels, operators or national tourist offices”.

“We maintain our independence at all times and reserve the right to be critical where appropriate.”

Carruthers though does say that “most journos are keen to give a good write up in return for hospitality.

“And given the standard of travel is so high these days, nine times out of 10 any experience we do is fantastic”.

That so many hosted trips should result in a “fantastic” experience is not surprising, given that many involve luxury getaways, private lodges and top end of town hotels and restaurants.

But also, due to the hosted nature of journalist’s visits, resorts would have ample warning and all staff would surely be briefed, to provide these ‘special guests’ with extra special care and assistance.

One of the articles in the September issue of Sophisticated Traveller is about the Banyan Tree resort in the city of Lijiang, in China’s Yunnan province.

While Carruthers points out that the writers were critical of the resort’s food and the fact that is “very quiet at night and locked away behind high walls”, I do wonder if the fact that staff at the resort delivered “toasted sandwiches and warm glasses of milk” to the reviewer’s villa and “never tired of feeding the fish” with their three-year-old had anything to do with the fact that the writers Angus Grigg and Fiona Murray were journalists on a “famils” trip.

I have some personal experience of this phenomenon having undertaken a number of restaurant reviews at some of the Sydney’s finest eating establishments, when I edited a mortgage broking magazine. The meals were organised through a PR agency and were free (with unrestricted menu access).

What I recall most vividly, besides the mostly exquisite food, was staff going out of there way to be helpful.

On one occasion the maître d’ at a Surrey Hills restaurant i was reviewing offered to adjust the temperature because my wife had a cold.

There is of course, the option of making up your own mind about any resort, hotel or restaurant or airline by reading some of the reviews on traveller’s bible, Trip Advisor.

There are 485 reviews of the Banyan Tree resort in Lijiang on Trip Advisor.

None of these people stayed for free, but equally, it could be argued that because they have paid their own way, they could be motivated by spite to write something nasty or out of proportion to a bad experience.

Among the few critical reviews on Trip Advisor for the Banyan Tree Lijiang is one that occurred during a BMW event (when staff may not have been at their attentive best) and while another unhappy reviewer mentions that their booking was lost and they had to find proof their booking by finding it on their laptop.

Most agree with the Sophisticated Traveller writers.

In the case of the Banyan Tree Trip Advisor ranks it 6th out of 296 hotels in Lijian with 94% of 485 reviews rating the stay as either “excellent” or “very good”.

So what to make of articles that arise from a hosted visit?

I’d say take them mostly at face value (providing its a reputable publication), but with the tiniest pinch of salt.

As with most new experiences, having lower expectations usually results in a more enjoyable holiday – so best not to set the bar based on what you read.

Or, if you want top notch service, you could try hinting to the staff that you’re writing a review for a major publication.

This may result in an experience that matches the newspaper write-up.

This post was subsequently published in Crikey (subscription required)