Posts Tagged ‘media’

Illustration: Edd Aragon

Cane toads of the air thrive on stupidity

Elizabeth Farrelly, Sydney Morning Herald

I’m always amazed by how readily we let our buttons be pushed. It’s almost as though we want them to manipulate us. As though we like it. “Them”, here, obviously includes politicians, advertisers and spin merchants, but the worst offenders, partly because they’re the least explicit, are “shock jocks”.

They are the cane toads of contemporary culture: ugly, ubiquitous, toxic to most other life forms and adept at using their peculiar behaviour to force change in ours.

It’s not so much that they’re rude, lowbrow or just plain wrong, although these, too, are often the case. The most destructive effect of the shock-jockariat is the poisoning of the logic-well itself; followed by the incremental death of the argument tree that is root and branch of intelligent civilisation.

Take Alan Jones. Though it pains me to say it, he is forcing me to change my mind. Not on climate change, or cycling, or the right to public protest, all of which he opposes, but on censorship.

Foucault argued that unreason died with the enlightenment. But the shock-jock phenomenon proves repeatedly that if you make an argument sufficiently idiotic, the sheer scale of stupidity makes it hard to defeat. It was highlighted for me this week by a letter that argued, as Jones does, that anything so small as 0.04 per cent – the proportion of CO2 in the atmosphere – couldn’t possibly matter. “Please let me know,” concluded my correspondent, “how anyone could believe that CO2 is responsible for climate change?”

It’s like arguing that a virus is too small to give you AIDS. Or that a lethal dose of heroin, at about 0.0007 per cent of your body weight, couldn’t possibly kill.

Never mind that applying the same logic to asylum seekers would make you wonder what all the fuss was about (our total asylum applications – 8150 last year, including dependants – being a mere 0.04 per cent of the population.)

These climate-change rants deliberately ignore everything about eco-balance, homeostasis, the greenhouse effect and tipping points we’ve all been taught since primary school and instead raucously promote a red herring.

Yet it’s neither stupidity nor ignorance on Jones’s part. Quite likely he’s read Robert Thouless’s list of dishonest tricks in argument, including caricature, anecdote and non sequitur. Or even Schopenhauer’s list. Bombast, hyperbole, personal insult; certainly he employs most of them.

No, Jones’s position is more cynical. It’s a deliberate appeal to (our) stupidity by (his) intelligence. And it’s not just Jones, or just Sydney, or just climate change.

What’s truly alarming is how accepted it has become that these popular voices deliberately flout the rules of argument. And that, in doing this, they so manipulate the vote that politicians move to appease.

The Adelaide author Ruth Starke has written of her encounter with a South Australian shock jock, Ray Fewings. At issue was a book – Nicki Gemmel’s Cleave. Written for adults, it contained sexuality and was selected by a 12-year-old from the school library. Mother appalled. Controversy ensued.

“Porn!” screamed the jocks. When Starke suggested the mother might have discussed the book with her daughter, Fewings cut her short for “attacking the mother” and accused her of wanting “open slather” so that “12-year-olds could read filth”.

Fewings then twisted this into “What gives Ruth Starke the right to dictate to parents what they should discuss with their children?” and “You heard from a writer who wants open slather to write whatever she wants”. Caricature, insult, emotive language; all core shock-jock stock.

Jones’s infamous carbon tax interview with Julia Gillard in February was scarily similar. First he repeatedly reprimanded the Prime Minister for being 10 minutes late. “I’ve got my job and you’ve got your job . . . 7.10 is 7.10 isn’t it? . . . We’re all busy.” This was followed by dozens of cuttings-in and talkings-over, plus an outright accusation of lying: “There are people now saying your name is not Julia but Ju-liar, and . . . we’ve got a liar running the country.”

Ditto with Clover Moore last May. As the lord mayor arrived Jones was already in a lather, voice raised, epithets at the ready, describing Sydney’s new cycleway as “the virtual destruction” of the city. “Thirty-four thousand votes,” he told her, “you virtually speak for nobody . . . Clover, you haven’t got a clue what you’re talking about . . . For godsake, Clover Moore, can’t you read?”

If all else fails, Schopenhauer recommends clouding the issue through bluff, confusion and induced anger. But beneath the barrage of emotion and insult, the technique here is to make scapegoats of cyclists as the cause of all that angers motorists (when in truth, every bike is a car taken off the road).

Why do politicians tolerate it? Why do we? My theory is this. Most shock jocks, and their audiences, are pretty long in the tooth. Perhaps there’s just a certain kind of person who, as the hormones start to recede, needs this pseudo-emotion to feel alive.

Yet it’s dangerous. We’re used to arguments about civilisation but seldom do we notice just how deeply argument itself underpins civilised life. In the classical tradition, this – rhetoric – was taught in schools. As a basic thinking skill, it came to govern public discussion and debate.

We could do the same. The rules of logic are not difficult. As taught to philosophy sophomores, they cover deductive and inductive reasoning, true and false syllogisms, building arguments with consistency, validity and soundness and – crucially – how to spot a fallacy. Pretty basic.

Without them, however, parliamentary democracy would be impossible. We’d never have risen from the yah-boo of the playground or the might-is-right jungle of silverback tribalism.

You don’t have to look far to see what happens without logic’s civilising structures; it’s the cultural equivalent of those Indonesian abattoirs. Yet this is where shock jocks are coming from and where, if they had their way, they would take us, forcing me to wonder whether censorship mightn’t be reasonable after all.

But there is hope.

Last week, after my cane toads column, several Queenslanders wrote in to say they hadn’t actually seen serious toad numbers for some time. Something, they inferred, is killing them off.

Maybe it’s the same with shock-jockery. We can only hope it happens before it irreparably harms our civilisation, as well as our climate.

Sydney Morning Herald columnist, author and architect
More Elizabeth Farrelly articles

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The following article is  a bit imbalanced – for example by focusing on that one individual and not highlighting the role of the major parties in creating the media billionaires in the first place, even long before that incompetent media tart Fielding appeared on the scene.

Nevertheless, his conservative presence was part of pushing further the process of demolishing freedom the press and the production of balanced information – in the same way he supported anti-gay, law and order, and zero-tolerance drug policies as well as christian indoctrination at schools.

On the other hand: he and the billionaires are just another expression of the system overall, which is not a people’s democracy, doesn’t stand for social and economic justice, doesn’t promote by example ethics of peace, harmony, equality, respect and tolerance, ravages the environment, and so on.

Having said all that: despite the article’s narrow focus it gives a good overview of how the media in Australia are concentrated in whose few hands.

By Stephen Mayne for Crikey

Steve Fielding retires from the Senate on June 30, but one of his lasting legacies will be the continuing flow of media deals triggered by John Howard’s liberalisation of foreign and cross-media ownership laws in 2005.

With Austar set to be swallowed by Foxtel, WA News now merged with Seven and Southern Cross Media consuming Austereo, it is worth reflecting on just how far the media landscape has changed since Fielding provided that key vote.

Former Fairfax Media chairman Ron Walker lead that company on a debt-funded takeover binge as it bought Rural Press and Southern Cross Broadcasting’s radio assets, wiping out two independent players. Today Fairfax is capitalised at $3 billion, although it somehow claims to have net assets worth $5.3 billion, suggesting new CEO Greg Hywood needs to ‘do a Leighton’ and take some write-downs.

WA News also joined the “no longer independent” club and foreign private equity firms enriched James Packer and Kerry Stokes beyond their wildest dreams, although both partially squandered their windfalls.

The media industry globally retains unusually high levels of family ownership and this is especially so in Australia, where billionaires remain as dominant as ever, even after considering the influx of private equity.

After factoring in Monday’s WA News vote approving the $4 billion Seven Media Group purchase and Southern Cross Media’s fully committed $471 million capital raising to fund the Austereo acquisition, this is how the 12 most valuable Australian media companies stack up in terms of market capitalisation and billionaire influence:

  1. News Corp:$44 billion; Murdoch family controls through a gerrymander which allows a $6 billion stake to translate into four family members on the 17-person board because 70% of the shares can’t vote.
  2. Telstra: $35 billion; Future Fund now under 5% and no billionaires with influence.
  3. Fairfax Media: $3 billion; Fairfax family has second largest shareholder with 10% and one board seat.
  4. Seven Group Holdings: $2.86 billion; Kerry Stokes owns 67.8% and Westrac is now a dominant asset although pay-TV investment remains.
  5. Seven West Media: $2.4 billion; Seven Group Holdings owns 29.6% which equates to a direct stake for Kerry Stokes of 20%. Kohlberg Kravis Roberts is the second largest shareholder with 13%.
  6. Seek: $2.25 billion; founding Bassat brothers’ share is down below 5% and James Packer sold out so register is wide open.
  7. REA Group: $1.78 billion; value of News Ltd’s 61% stake has just gone past $1 billion for first time.
  8. Austar: $1.7 billion; John Malone’s Liberty Media owns 55% (worth $935 million), most of which is profit.
  9. Consolidated Media Holdings: $1.6 billion; James Packer privately controls 47% and Kerry Stokes has 23% through Seven Group Holdings.
  10. Ten Network: $1.45 billion; three billionaires plus Lachlan Murdoch are sharing control with 40%.
  11. Carsales.com: $1.21 billion; CVC just sold controlling interest so register now wide open.
  12. Southern Cross Media: $1.2 billion; Macquarie Group is largest shareholder with 25% worth $350 million. They are a seller in time so control is open for any billionaire who wishes to step in.
  13. APN News & Media: $977 million; embattled Irish player Independent Newspapers still hanging on with controlling 30% stake but O’Reilly family influence has waned.

The only big player missing from all this is PBL Media, although private equity firm CVC is still hoping it can float the Nine Network and ACP later this year. Bermuda-based billionaire Bruce Gordon also has a big business in his privately owned WIN Group which owns Channel Nine in Perth and Adelaide, plus several regional affiliates. He also happens to be the largest shareholder in Ten Network Holdings, with a representative on the board despite the conflict.

Interestingly, there aren’t too many mid-cap media companies once you move beyond the 12 companies listed above.

You could try investing in Macquarie Radio (market cap $89 million) if you fancy some exposure to Alan Jones or Seven regional affiliate Prime Media, which is worth $286 million and controlled by healthcare billionaire Paul Ramsay. After that, you are looking at smaller advertising and marketing plays such as Photon, Hyro, Facilitate and STW Holdings.

Billionaires are clearly more attracted to media assets with political influence, which might explain why Carsales and Seek have wide open registers.

Online classified advertising has been hugely lucrative for those cutting the lunch of the old newspaper companies but it is neither s-xy, prestigious or powerful for those wanting influence. That said, News Ltd is now enjoying paper profits of about $900 million on its 61% stake in REA Group which more than offsets all the losses from its disastrous MySpace internet adventure.

The Murdochs remain the most powerful media family in the Australian market because News Corp owns more than 60% of Australia’s newspapers, the third biggest magazine business and has management control of Foxtel. Then you have Lachlan Murdoch who personally owns 50% of radio operator DMG and almost 10% of Ten Network Holdings, where he is making a hash of things as acting CEO.

Look no further than the resignation this morning of former Ten CEO Paul Viner, who has clearly had enough of the “buy 10% and get a board seat” billionaires club who now control Australia’s third biggest television network.

Sifting through some of my mail after what seems to be quite a long holiday, I found this amusing image. While it first conjured up images of Riders On The Storm, the journey into the apocalypse proved to be the same dead-end like notions of a holy rod of peace.

While Friede Sei Mit Dir translates to May Peace Be With You, Friede is unfortunately also the first name of Friede Springer, publisher of Germany’s biggest and right-wing tabloid Die Bildzeitung. And the relief above  decorates the eastern wall of the Rudi-Dutschke-Haus, which happens to be the main office of Germany’s largest left-leaning newspaper Die Tageszeitung.

The artwork by sculptor Peter Lenk is a satirical statement on the trashy headlines and content the tabloid produces to sell its irrelevant news to the masses (like “First goal kicked with penis”, “Emasculated by mother in law’s dachshund” or “Now everyone can use the word ‘dick'”). The guy with the dick is Kai Diekmann, chief editor of Die Bildzeitung, while the reference to his male organ does not only relate to the trash he produces but also provides a link to a Bildzeitung’s-style satire in Die Tageszeitung, which imputed to Diekmann that he was subject a penis extension gone wrong ;).

There’s much more to this story, including court procedures and internal fights in Die Tageszeitung over the artwork’s installation – quite funny really, especially considering how seriously many Germans took the whole issue of installing the artwork. For those understanding German, here’s a link for further informative amusement.

Rupert Murdoch geography

Crooks and Liars

There is no such thing as objectivity in the media, and especially not when it comes to Israel’s role in Middle-East conflicts. Probably nowhere in the Western world is political interference in this context as systemic as in the US.  And it’s the US press that helps shaping the American soul and that floods the globe with the empire’s culture and ideology. No wonder we live in such a troubled world.

On June 16, Pak Alert Press reported of having done some digging on the Iran Twitter campaign after having felt suspicious about its sudden explosive occurrence on June 13. The result of the research strongly indicates that at least some of the major Twitter accounts were set up by the same source. And even more interesting, there seems to be link to the right wing Israeli newspaper, the Jerusalem Post.

Proof: Israeli Effort to Destabilize Iran Via Twitter

Right-wing Israeli interests are engaged in an all out Twitter attack with hopes of delegitimizing the Iranian election and causing political instability within Iran.

Anyone using Twitter over the past few days knows that the topic of the Iranian election has been the most popular. Thousands of tweets and retweets alleging that the election was a fraud, calling for protests in Iran, and even urging followers hack various Iranian news websites (which they did successfully). The Twitter popularity caught the eye of various blogs such as Mashable and TechCrunch and even made its way to mainstream news media sites.

BBC Caught In Mass Public Deception With Iran Propaganda

Were these legitimate Iranian people or the works of a propaganda machine? I became curious and decided to investigate the origins of the information. In doing so, I narrowed it down to a handful of people who have accounted for 30,000 Iran related  tweets in the past few days. Each of them had some striking similarities –

1.  They each created their twitter accounts on Saturday June 13th.
2.  Each had extremely high number of Tweets since creating their profiles.
3. “IranElection” was each of their most popular keyword
4.  With some very small exceptions, each were posting in ENGLISH.
5.  Half of them had the exact same profile photo
6.  Each had thousands of followers, with only a few friends. Most of their friends were EACH OTHER.

Why were these tweets in English? Why were all of these profiles OBSESSED with Iran? It became obvious that this was the work of a team of people with an interest in destabilizing Iran. The profiles are phonies and were created with the sole intention of destabilizing Iran and effecting public opinion as to the legitimacy of Iran’s election.

I narrowed the spammers down to three of the most persistent – @StopAhmadi @IranRiggedElect @Change_For_Iran

I decided to do a google search for 2 of the 3 – @StopAhmadi and @IranRiggedElect. The first page to come up was JPost (Jerusalem Post) which is a right wing newspaper pro-Israeli newspaper.

JPost actually ran a story about 3 people “who joined the social network mere hours ago have already amassed thousands of followers.” Why would a news organization post a story about 3 people who JUST JOINED TWITTER hours earlier? Is that newsworthy? Jpost was the first (and only to my knowledge) major news source that mentioned these 3 spammers.

The fact that JPost promoted these three Twitterers who went on the be the source of the IranElection Twitter bombardment is, unfortunately, evidence that this was an Israeli propaganda campaign against Iran. I must admit that I had my suspiscions. After all, Que Bono?  (latin for “Who Benefits). There’s no question that Israel perceives Iran as an enemy, more so than any other nation. Destabilizing the country would benefit them.

Further proof below

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ahmadinejad

I’m not comfortable with Western media reports on Iran for a number of reasons. First: I don’t know anything about the country, its culture or history, and I’m sure neither do most of the Western journalists and bloggers who provide us with their opinions. Second: we can’t claim that our governance institutions are the shining example for democracy that countries like Iran should follow: our politicians are corrupt and don’t do what the people want them to, our governments treat human rights often with disrespect, we wage war for selfish reasons on other countries who have not attacked us, we have no social justice within our own boundaries, and so on. Third: with the Guardian Council having seemingly acknowledged serious irregularities, it might be true that Ahmadinejad might not have had the overwhelming majority of votes he claimed. But: does that mean he lost the elections? Most likely not. Pre-election polls, including one conducted by a US pollster, had him leading by a long shot. There is no evidence for a stolen election (there was evidence for an election stolen by G.W. Bush from Al Gore, but the US media didn’t make much fuss over that theft).

So, maybe the West and the Iranian progressives with a Western bent just have to learn to accept two things: the basic democratic principle that if a majority has spoken the reaction needs to be acceptance, and the fact that Iran might just be a very conservative country. Maybe the latter is what the progressives should really focus on changing – that certainly would take take a much deeper commitment to democracy and change than superficial desires for Western lifestyles.

The following article comes from VDARE and was written a week ago by Paul Craig Roberts, former Assistant Secretary of the Treasury during President Reagan’s first term. He was Associate Editor of the Wall Street Journal. He has held numerous academic appointments, including the William E. Simon Chair, Center for Strategic and International Studies, Georgetown University, and Senior Research Fellow, Hoover Institution, Stanford University. He was awarded the Legion of Honor by French President Francois Mitterrand.  With such track record I would not take Robert’s opinion lightly in which he argues for a more informed view on what is happening in Iran right now. He also ponders whether the current Western media propaganda is a precursor to a US involvement in military action against Iran. Its purpose would be to overthrow the political rulers that replaced the US puppet dictator in the 1970’s, a man who brutally ruled the country for more than two decades after coming to power in the 1950s with the help of the CIA. America is known to harbour resentment for a long time when its interests were defeated.

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