Posts Tagged ‘Australian media’

This is a blog I originally wrote for SBS News

Modern sport means big business.

Long gone are the days when a few cents got you in the stadium to cheer on your team of part-time amateurs, who did it for love, in their spare time. Well, I’m not sure when it only cost a few cents. But just take a look at England’s bloated Premier League to see where money gets you.

Here in Australia, our sports are not as affected by the big bucks. For starters, noone else is really that interested in our multiple codes of football; even we can’t seem to agree on one.

But selling the rights to NRL and AFL football matches is certainly big money in local terms. And for the last few decades, it’s been all about TV rights.

With the latest landmark case, however, mobile streaming technologies are the new battleground.

Telstra’s deal with the AFL is worth $153 million. Well, strictly speaking it cost them $153m; what it’s worth is another matter entirely.

Nonetheless, the fact that Optus customers are able to watch the big matches just a few minutes behind their screening on terrestrial TV is obviously a  concern for Telstra, and thus came the court case.

And it was Optus that won this landmark proceeding against the AFL, NRL and Telstra in relation to its TV Now service. The app enables Optus user to  watch TV shows just a few minutes after they’ve gone to air (whether it should be called ‘TV just after’ is up for debate), and obviously,  there’s value in this for sports fans.

But value is what drives sports broadcasting rights. Why pay big money for mobile rights to a game if it’s not exclusive?

The judge in the case said it was not Optus making the ‘recording’, it was the individual who was ‘shifting’ their viewing, so 2006 amendments  to the 1968 copyright act held.

“Even though Optus provided all the significant technology for making, keeping and playing the recording, I considered that in substance this was no different to a person using equipment or technology in his or her own home or elsewhere to copy or record a broadcast”, he said.

So, even though the recording was done in the cloud, it’s the same as using your VCR to tape your favourite show; no copyright breaching here.

Naturally, there are big implications for sports. How can sports bodies establish a value for internet rights with rulings like this?

The football codes say they are likely to appeal, but, of course, victory is not guaranteed.

“If it ultimately is held, what will the major sporting codes do in response given sales of mobile rights is becoming an important revenue stream?” asked Ian Robertson, a Managing Partner at Holding Redlich lawyers.

“Running these sports is an expensive operation.”

And he’s right. You only have to look at the AFL’s recruitment of former NRL star Israel Folau. $4.3m was coughed up for a three-year deal. The average AFL player is set to earn over $300,000 a year by 2016,according to The Herald Sun.

Sport is becoming more, and more of a business. They’ll always be looking for new revenue streams.

It’s a vicious circle. A more entertaining match requires more money to fund it. But ultimately, that money comes from sports fans, with higher ground fees and ever bigger broadcasting deals, via whatever medium. Tack on to that more charges to watch and more Burger King advertising in your life (‘the Whopper has also celebrated being the Official Burger of the AFL ‘). Fantastic. Give me the leagues of 50 years ago.

In the strange universe of English football, television revenue has gone hand in hand with the fortunes of Russian oligarchs and Gulf Sheikhs to transform the league beyond recognition, catapulting average teams to the top of the league. Manchester City? Are you joking? A generation of  millionaires created while working fans cough up small fortunes to watch games in the stadium or at home.

Money has brought the world’s stars together to create beautiful football – but how much more beautiful, and bloated – can it get?

While we’re not there yet in Australia, for Ian Robertson, should the AFL and NRL not be victorious against Telstra in protecting their new cashflow portal – your mobile handset – there’s likely to be a knock at the government’s door.

“Sponsorship and sales is a very important part of their revenue stream…the question is what are they going to do about it? I’d say they’re likely to lobby the government”, he told SBS.

In the unlikely event that this new revenue stream is not protected for the money machine that is professional sport, revenue will be hit.

But you know what? I’m pretty sure those players aren’t going to go hungry any time soon.

They’re up to their necks in official burgers, for starters.

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It’s been a very intriguing 24 hours for anyone with a passing interest in indigenous politics in this land we call Australia. The 40th anniversary of the tent embassy in Canberra (on Australia/Invasion/Survival Day) was attended by a number of people who vocally approached the PM and Opposition Leader after the latter made some insensitive remarks about ‘moving on’.  Abbott figured that because Aboriginal people obviously have it so good now –  only making up quarter of the prison population, dying only a few years younger than everyone else, suffering, well, much higher rates of trachoma, that sort of thing – that calling an end to this form of protest is warranted. Well, that’s obviously how they saw it.

The event highlighted the vast, vast majority of the national media ready to brand the altercation ‘violent’ (although there was limited evidence for this) and, of course, unacceptable – particularly on Australia Day, Channel Seven’s David Koch usefully pointed out. From the tabloids on the right to the ABC and Fairfax opinion pieces, everyone was having a go at the fact some people banged on the window of the restaurant the PM was in, forcing her security detail to drag her out of there.  Falluja it was not.

But all of that reaction is predictable. What was most interesting is what seemed like the disbelief amongst many media commentators that there could be more than one viewpoint amongst indigenous Australians. Establishment figures Warren Mundine and Mick Gooda were wheeled out to denounce in pretty strong terms what happened – thank goodness! – and maybe a lot of people felt a bit better. But what a shock that black politics might have a Left and a Right as well as anyone else’s. You can be outraged all you like, but please don’t act surprised. So perhaps it was a watershed moment – but only because something finally clicked in a few non-indigenous heads.

Anyway, I wrapped up some of the early reaction in a formulaic but hopefully balanced package today, above.

It’s been called the beige election.

The K-Mart election, for its array of pick and choose policies.

Renowned historian Niall Ferguson told Radio National that  the bickering and petulance reminded him of council politics in Scotland.

So what’s wrong with Gillard v Abbott 2010?

Is it a lack of leadership?

By almost all accounts, this is an election short on major themes. The kind of narratives that grab you by the lapels and demand you to get off your (mortgage-belt?) picket fence.

2007 was surely what they call a ‘change’ election. More of the suffocating conservatism that had held sway for over a decade, or Kevin Rudd’s brand of progress?

In the other Anglo-Saxon dominated democracies we so often look to for inspiration, the UK’s last election was a thriller. As for the US, well, no hyperbole here, but you’d be hard pressed to find someone totally disinterested in that one.

But in this election, the defining feature so far is the mud that is being slung. And it is being slung relentlessly. Particularly, it has to be said, by the Coalition.  There’s a perfectly good reason for that. The lack of cohesion in the Labor camp is, to say the very least, highly unusual. Abbott could be on to a winner.

To say that Gillard has been presented with hurdles is an understatement. The shadow of Rudd, not to mention Mark Latham, perhaps the most bitter politician in the country, are obstacles that the Coalition is more than happy to talk about.

This is because, according to some commentators, partisan, and less partisan, they are low on policies. We’re told this is a boring election. A ruthless (foolish?) Labor machine held hostage by dark union forces, up against a Coalition with a leader who snuck into the job by one vote, in order to get rid of a man who wanted Labor’s emissions trading scheme enacted.

With the political execution of Kevin Rudd (ignoring the tragi-comic resurrection), and the fall of Malcolm Turnbull, we were denied an election which surely would have had more of an eye on the macro than the micro. But maybe I’m kidding myself.

It is to see a man who has called himself John Howard’s ideological offspring leading in the polls, three years after Howard-era politics was said to be dead and buried.

As such, Abbott and his minders are keeping a fair bit under wraps. Part of the charm, for want of a better term, of Tony Abbott, was always his forthrightness. His ‘fair dinkumness’, perhaps. He is likely to the right of most Australians on a range of issues. We’ve known this for a while. And it is in Labor’s interest to highlight this, but at the moment, they don’t look to be doing to good a job of it, so entrenched as they currently are in their own civil strife.

When it comes to policies, it’s perhaps easier for the incumbent to present, in a timely fashion, policies to the electorate before the election date. And the Coalition has been slow bringing policies on a number of issues to the table.

The election was branded ‘beige’ due to an apparent lack substance, and little differentiation, between the major parties. No policies on the things that mattered, apparently.

But is it true? The fact of the matter is that despite the fact that issues which, according to pollsters, people want discussed missing from the agenca- and the elephant in the room is of course climate change – the media and the campaign trails are almost one.

And so there is a lack of questioning.

Seen through the media, a modern Australian election is a cacophony of gaffes, leaks, sloganeering, polarised personalities, he-said she-said tit for tat, and photo opportunities. Just count the baby-hugs.

Of course, the commercial networks and tabloid newspapers play their part. But, unfortunately, the ‘quality’ papers (shrinking in number, and quality) and state-funded broadcasters are at the same game.

In an interesting post, Laura Tingle goes someway to outlining how this happened throughout the nineties.

Politics, not policy, now rule in Canberra, she points out.

In particular, the media has become fascinated with the Kevin Rudd issue. Watching the Canberra press pack on the campaign trail, it is hard not, in some strange way, to feel sorry for the actual politicians.  They come with their new policy, focus-grouped to the teeth to swing those swing voters in those swing seats into their grasp, and the journalist wants to know about Kevin Rudd. Why Abbott won’t debate Gillard for a second time. Why Abbott used the term ‘no means no.’  About Gillard being an atheist. Whether Mark Latham is annoying the hell out of Gillard. And it goes on.

This is partly down to the fact that the big-dog journalists are often not on the trail.

These older guys are more experienced in combing through policy documents, looking at the detail and running costings themselves.

But they’re also, it has to be said, given more of the freedom and liberty to get away from the constant churn and sit down and read the pages of announcements and detail that pour into any journalists email account during a campaign.  I’ve tried to read what I think are the major announcements – but leave your desk for twenty minutes and you’re inundated on your return.

There are policies coming out on a daily basis, and they’re hardly being tested when there is the chance at the press conference, where there is also the chance to ask about the issues which are not even being debated.

As well as climate change, there is the question as to whether we want to remain, and grow in our role as, the world’s quarry. Surely we cannot be serious about acting on climate change when we do not consider the coal that we sell to be burnt overseas as something we’re responsible for?

There is a war in Afghanistan which Australia troops are dying in, but the term ‘Afghan’ only makes the agenda when it is a refugee fleeing that same war. There is a looming agricultural challenge over whether to lease fertile Australian land to overseas companies, which the Nationals are keen on discussing but, one can be fairly sure, won’t become a big issue in the next fortnight.  There is a potential to join an Asian trade bloc, to actually consider where we want to look, and be, in an increasingly globalised world.  There is a debate over population growth focusing on relatively small amounts of arrivals by boat, but barely any mention about Australia’s ailing transport network, beset in the cities by chronic overcrowding, and, if the Greens are to be believed, held back at the interstate level due to the interests of the trucking lobby. There are pledges of money for the tourism industry, made on the Barrier Reef, but no action on what we are doing to destroy the reef with silting, and of course, rising sea temperatures. If it aint there, tourists won’t come.  And closing the gap with indigenous Australians? Ha! 2007 seems like decades ago.

All of these issues come down to where Australia wants to be in twenty, thirty, forty years time.

But strangely, parents have been targeted in this election. Families, and communities, those two old catchphrases. The cynics say (that would be us journalists) that this is to convince the breeders in the mortgage belt (disclaimer – I’m a parent, but mortgage-free) that $500 here or there means one major party is better than the other.

But surely parents of all people have an eye on what they would like this still-fairly lucky country to be like in forty years time?

There is no doubting that to get there, to get anywhere, we need leaders.

Rudd seemed to have an idea. Little Johnny too. But it’s hard to know what the real Julia and Tony want. If she’s a puppet, and he’s been gagged, we’re not going to find out.

Sadly, this election has shown a failure of leadership in the mainstream media, as much as from the leaders of the main political parties.

Take it as a devastating critique of democracy.

In 2010, our leaders are failing us,

I haven’t blogged for over a month, and the reason for that is that we’ve been on the road. Or in the air, or on a train. Lots of trains.

We’ve returned to Sydney after London and Berlin, and I’ve been out of Australia for 3 years. A lot can change in 1 year, let alone 3. As it happens, not much has happened in the Australian media landscape. Of course, a couple of things have come and gone.  Digital TV has expanded, slowly, leaving us with a few more offerings. The Sydney Morning Herald, the only intelligent paper not owned by Rupert Murdoch here in Australia’s biggest city, has lost a little quality. Online offerings of broadcasters have improved a little, of course.

But the overwhelming feature of Australian free to air TV remains – the enormous gulf in quality between the commercial TV networks, and the public service offerings of the ABC and SBS.

Last week, Channel Nine’s Hey Hey It’s Saturday made headlines in the rest of the English-speaking world for a piss-poor black and white minstrels routine. Never mind the shocking cultural insensitivity – the fact that Hey Hey’s comeback won the ratings battle on the night beggars belief. Marina Hyde in the Guardian used it as a stick to beat Australia with, a land which she suggested brings very little to the world of intelligent popular culture. (note; can’t for the life of me find a link for this. Have they taken it down?) Watching Channel Nine, or for that matter Channel Ten, and certainly Channel Seven, it would be entirely fair to come to this conclusion.

What has not changed in the last 3 years is the programming divide. In the UK, the debate around dumbing down has been going on for years. The once proud BBC current affairs strand Panorama is a shell of its former self. But quality factual TV – in the form of documentary and investigative journalism – is alive and well in Australia, on the ABC and SBS.  The current affairs shows screened on Channels 7 and 9 each weeknight, Today Tonight and A Current Affair, are some of the most vile programming I’ve come across. Dishonest, lazy and frequently bigoted attempts at ‘journalism’ might rate well – but any country’s media professionals would be proud of the work going on at the ABC and SBS.

This evening on ABC 1, the flagship news bulletin was followed by the solid current affairs 7.30 Report, which was followed by a typically thorough Four Corners film on businessman James Packer, which was followed by the ever-reliable spotlight of Media Watch. A break for the ever-present BBC drama (no changes there), and it’s back to serious business with Lateline, then Lateline Business. SBS went in with Indigenous current affairs show Living Black at 6pm, followed by an hour of the editorially-sound World News Australia, before Top Gear and Bear Grylls relapses, then the 9.30 World News. Tomorrow night they’ll be showing the outstanding Dateline international affairs show – which the ABC will match with Foreign Correspondent later in the week.

It’s often said that the US’s ‘culture wars’ might have come to an end with the presidency of Barack Obama. With Fox News around, that’s unlikely. What is interesting, though, is that this can be seen in Australia too; for the unibigotted, curious and intelligent television viewer, there’s plenty going on. There’s also plenty of crap on TV here, worse than Britain can serve up. And it’s mostly confined to the commercial networks, unlike Britain where commercial Channel 4, despite a lot of its own tosh, leads the way in news and current affairs (although receiving public money), while BBC One hardly deals with anything intelligent.

Yet the difference between the types of network in Australia is profound. There is barely a reason to grab the remote and leave ABC or SBS. It can’t be a good thing – but it’s the same as 3 years ago.

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