Quick Post: Akerman shouldn’t be wrong about #PeppaPig (#auspol)

In (yet another) post bemoaning bias at the ABC, Piers Akerman has exposed himself to ridicule by claiming that children’s programme Peppa Pig pushes a ‘weird feminist line’.

There’s a lot that’s wrong with the statement, up to and including the adjective ‘weird’ to describe a ‘feminist line’.  That it descends further into a claim about ‘Labor’s Handbag Hit Squad’ should reveal that this is Piers seeking attention rather than making a serious point.

But here’s the thing: both Akerman and the people who are criticising his comment are tacitly agreeing that there would be something wrong about Peppa Pig taking a feminist angle in its show.  ‘Don’t be ridiculous, Piers!’ say the nay-sayers, ‘It is a children’s show and therefore isn’t feminist.’

Why shouldn’t Peppa Pig take a feminist angle?  What would actually be so wrong with a programme that lays the groundwork for indoctrinating children in a particular political construct? Continue reading

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Quick Post: Government Secrets and the Conservative Credibility Gap #auspol

When it comes to the State, I am pro-secrecy.  I think it’s much better to jaw-jaw than to war-war, as it were, and secrecy allows governments to talk more openly in negotiations, in information exchanges, and in collaborations.  Leaking information makes it more difficult to conduct the business of government. and making the business of government more difficult isn’t in a country’s best interests.

Of course, if you’re going to have government secrecy, you need a robust system to reduce the scope for inappropriate use.  There are models for how to govern secret State actions such that you don’t have to rely on trust and Australia is a long way away from being a model secret citizen.  As a public, we have a genuine interest in those discussions being conducted sensibly and rationally — away from the megaphones who scream ‘THE GOVERNMENT SHOULD HAVE NO SECRETS’ and who shout ‘IF YOU DON’T LIKE GOVERNMENT SECRETS, YOU’RE AN ALLY FOR TERRORISTS’.

But, alas, the Outrage Economy is too profitable and so we don’t get anything resembling the sort of debate that we should have.  This has been comprehensively proven by News Corp and Fairfax following the revelations by the ABC and the Guardian that Australia had been accessing the telephone metadata of Indonesian officials (and family) and, it seems, trying to listen in on particular calls made by the President of Indonesia.  Instead of opening up a conversation about government secrecy, whose responsibility it is to protect Government secrets, and how do Australians feel about their Government operating in this way, we have our two largest private media companies venting old grudges about the ABC.

It is shameful.

Worse, it reveals the Conservative Credibility Gap in Australia: instead of having the intellectual heavyweights contribute to the discussion, we get nothing but the petty moaning, the personality politics, the vendettas, and the feuds.  Where were the rightwing tut-tutters when News Ltd’s Cameron Stewart filed a story which contained leaked information about an upcoming raid on terrorists operating in Australia?  So the ABC should have suppressed a story about spying on Indonesia, but the Murdoch Press was justified in jeopardising a raid on terrorists operating in Australia?

Continue reading

I like the autumn but this place is getting old… Reassessing #BananasInPyjamas

The announcement by the ABC today that they are axing Bananas in Pyjamas is a reason to pause and reflect on this culturally significant show about bananas who wear pyjamas.

The show is based on a nursery rhyme about bananas in pyjamas called Bananas in Pyjamas.  The protagonists of the tale are bananas who wear pyjamas:

Bananas in pyjamas,

Are coming down the stairs.

Bananas in pyjamas,

Are coming down in pairs.

Bananas in pyjamas,

Are chasing teddy bears.

“Cos on Tuesday they all like

To catch you unawares!”

As we all know, bananas cannot wear pyjamas.  As such, we are compelled to look for the actual meaning of this metaphor — the most likely candidate being Asians.  When the song was popular, it was common to refer to all things Asiatic as being ‘yellow’ (after Linnaeus’ classification) and to characterise the fashion sense as being like pyjamas.

Notice the militancy with which bananas in pyjamas march: ‘in pairs’.  This is a nursery rhyme championing yellow peril.  Asians sit to the north (up the ‘stairs’) and will, with militant ruthlessness, proceed down the stairs towards us (noting that it’s ‘coming’ in the rhyme and not ‘going’.  This indicates a motion towards the narrator).

The rhyme calls for us to be alert, lest we are caught ‘unawares’ but also makes a subtle hint to the regularity of the threat — we know that they like to attack, but our complacency allows us to be taken unawares.

It’s difficult to make sense of the ‘teddy bears’ reference.  The television show based on the nursery rhyme appears to suggest that they represent children (teddy bears are a popular children’s toy).  Although we could see this as a literal hunt for children, it could also be read as an ideological hunt for children.  Although derogatory, the bananas in pyjamas label also makes them seem attractive to children (bananas are a popular food for children).

This allows us a neat segue into a discussion of the show itself.  Characters of the show included three teddy bears (representing the viewpoint of the children who were hunted by Asians), two bananas in pyjamas who were indistinguishable to the audience except through the labels printed on their shirts (because all bananas look the same), and a rat in a hat.

The Rat in the Hat is clearly a reference to shonky Asian businesses.  When the song was first written by Enid Blyton’s nephew in the 1960s, Asia was mostly closed off and under the thrall of Communism.  Between the time of the song’s popularity and the television show being produced, Asia had begun to open up its markets.  This resulted in a flood of shonky goods flooding the market from Asia’s sweatshop factories.  For a while, ‘Made in Japan’ was a reference to poorly made goods, but this soon swapped to ‘Made in China’, ‘Made in Korea’, and ‘Made in Taiwan’.  The cheap goods from these markets was permitted with the acknowledgement that they were inferior goods.  The Rat in the Hat is clearly a knock off product of the American Cat in the Hat.  In many episodes, this shonky character attempts to scam the teddies and the bananas.  The scams often end in the bananas and the teddies becoming closer friends, representing the reaction of ordinary workers in Asia to embrace Communist values as a result of Capitalist failures.

Although the nursery rhyme is clearly menacing, the show represented the bananas as bumbling, good natured, friendly characters with whom the audience (children)  felt safe.  This twist on the original rhyme (sung on the Australian television show Play School) demonstrates the extent to which the ABC has become a pro-Communist broadcasting organisation.

The axing of the show leaves a space in the ABC lineup for more appropriate, pro-Capitalist children’s shows such as Old Mother Hubbard (who can’t afford welfare handouts to her dog), Rub-a-dub-dub, Three Men in Tub (which is all about suppressing your individuality in favour of your occupation), and Atlas Shrugged (which is clearly unadulterated propaganda).

(In case it isn’t obvious, this is a joke.  Vale Bananas in Pyjamas).

Quickpost: A plea to #Insiders – no more Piers #auspol

This morning’s episode of Insiders on ABC was flatly embarrassing.  I don’t say this as a crybaby lefty who always whines that the ABC is far too right wing and has been infiltrated by right wing spies.  I say this as a conservative who is genuinely interested in good political debate where people from both sides of the political ‘divide’ contribute to meaningful dialogue.

The concept behind Insiders has been under some scrutiny this year after New York Uuniversity academic, Jay Rosen, said:

I then mentioned the ABC’s Sunday morning program, The Insiders. And I asked Leigh Sales if it was true that the insiders were, on that program, the journalists. She said: “That is right.” I said: “That’s remarkable.” She… well, she changed the subject. And let me add right away that Leigh Sales is one of the most intelligent journalists I have ever had the pleasure to meet.

So this is my theme tonight: how did we get to the point where it seems entirely natural for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation to describe political journalists appearing on its air as “the insiders?” Don’t you think that’s a little strange? I do. Promoting journalists as insiders in front of the outsiders, the viewers, the electorate… this is a clue to what’s broken about political coverage in the US and Australia. Here’s how I would summarise it: things are out of alignment. Journalists are identifying with the wrong people. Therefore the kind of work they are doing is not as useful as we need it to be. [Source: ‘Why political coverage is broken‘, The Drum]

Insiders has tacitly declared that it has no interest in changing the context of its show.  The best people, it thinks, to analyse the news are the people who are part of the news production cycle: political correspondents and columnists.

For what it’s worth, I don’t think it’s inherently a terrible thing.  Rosen’s argument relies on a particular view of what people want the media to do: namely, to be a vital part of the democracy machine.  I don’t share that view.  I want good opinion writers who can digest the huge amount of information on a topic and present it as an argument which will challenge my views.

As a literate conservative who wants high quality dialogue, this means most of my news comes from left wing sources.  There are very few right wing writers that I enjoy.

Insiders tries to present balance in the same way that the rest of the media tries to present balance: three white guys arguing, moderated by another white guy.

In order to get that argument, you need people who hold quite different opinions to come to the conversation.  All too frequently, this means getting the people with the opinions but not getting the people who can turn those opinions into a conversation.

What’s the difference?  Take the podcast that I’m in.  We have three white guys (but no white guy moderator): two are partisan left wing (one more centrist than the other), one is non-partisan right wing.  Even though we have very different perspectives, the conversation is usually good because we can critique each other’s ideas.

Piers Ackerman demonstrated this morning that he is incapable of critiquing the ideas of others.  After interrupting with mostly incoherent interjections, here’s this morning’s conversation about the Energy White Paper.

Piers Ackerman: ‘I thought the word “bullshit” was the one that Labor got so offended by when Tony Abbott said it to Nicola Roxon.

[…]

Malcolm Farr: What do you think about the content of what he had to say?

Piers Ackerman: Combet?  I think he’s a joke.

Does Ackerman not understand the definition of the word ‘content’?

As I see it, the problem is that there are very few right wing commentators in Australia who aren’t just trolling for attention.  Ackerman’s performance this morning showed that he was more interested in maximising his air time at the expense of a sensible conversation about politics.

At the end of the day, having commentators like Ackerman (and, previously, Andrew Bolt) on the show seemed more like the ABC trying to trivialise and ridicule right wingers than include them in mainstream political conversation.  News Ltd papers use Ackerman and Bolt (and the myriad of others) for linkbait.  They say outrageous things and all the lefties click on the links just for the experience of being outraged.  The left is the profitable target audience for Ackerman and Bolt.  After all, not many rednecks who hold those views are picking up the newspaper…

More from Ackerman:

Ackerman: In the last month, in this country, the only appeal to the extremists has come from Julia Gillard with her ridiculous misogynist speech in Parliament, and that was a shrieking cry for the endorsement from a group of radical activists — feminists — we haven’t seen since the bloody seventies.

If Ackerman isn’t contributing to the conversation — which he isn’t — he shouldn’t be given air time.  Not only does it trash the conversation, but it presents the image to the audience that all right wingers are fringe lunatics who think Cory Bernardi’s speech on marriage equality —

There are even some creepy people out there—and I say ‘creepy’ deliberately—who are unfortunately afforded a great deal more respect than I believe they deserve. These creepy people say it is okay to have consensual sexual relations between humans and animals. Will that be a future step? In the future will we say, ‘These two creatures love each other and maybe they should be able to be joined in a union.’ It is extraordinary that these sorts of suggestions are put forward in the public sphere and are not howled down right at the very start. We can talk about people like Professor Peter Singer who was, I think, a founder of the Greens or who wrote a book about the Greens. Professor Singer has appeared on Q & A on the ABC, the national broadcaster. He has endorsed such ideas as these. I reject them. I think that these things are the next step.

— is less offensive than the Prime Minister’s acclaimed speech (which, although it had an unfortunate context, resonated with the genuine experiences of women across the western world).

Insiders got rid of Glenn Milne.  Bolt went on to his own television show on a different channel.  For the sake of Australian conservatives, it’s time to get rid of Ackerman.

Don’t you want to be a big time entity? #TheirABC is biased and that’s fine #auspol #ausmedia #qanda

The summer silly season is over and it’s time for television viewing to get back to normal.  For politics junkies nationwide, that means a return to ABC’s Monday night line up: Australian Story, Four Corners, Media Watch, and Q&A.  For all our grizzles and groans about Q&A, Monday night ABC presents some of the best television journalism available in Australia.

But not everybody’s happy with the ABC.  In 2011, GetUp! found itself in a media storm when the ‘Suggest a Campaign’ tool (now defunct) was used to vent frustrations about rightwing bias on the ABC.  The chief culprit was Chris Uhlmann, co-host of 7.30 who, in interviews with Senator Bob Brown and Prime Minister Gillard, was perceived as “childish” and “aggressively interruptive”.  Although both ABC’s Audience and Consumer Affairs and ACMA cleared Uhlmann, the findings have done little to soothe the rage.

Meanwhile, the feelings of Coalition supporters towards Aunty are well known.  Perhaps surprisingly, at the exact same time the Left were crying foul over Uhlmann’s style, there were complaints from the Right about the lack of Coalition-friendly voices on The Drum.  As a rightwinger myself, I find it difficult to take the complaint seriously. Exactly how many times do you need to present articles which say ‘I’m not a scientist, but I checked the science and climate change is garbage’ before you’ve reached balance?

There have been attempts to settle the discussion.  In 2009, then Professor of Economics (now federal ALP parliamentarian) Andrew Leigh co-authored a paper which tried to demonstrate “media slant” (rather than bias) in Australian journalism.  The study used intuitively unusual methods for detecting slant:

“First, we use parliamentary mentions to code over 100 public intellectuals on a left-right scale. We then estimate slant by using the number of mentions that each public intellectual receives in each media outlet. Second, we have independent raters separately code front-page election stories and headlines. Third, we tabulate the number of electoral endorsements that newspapers give to each side of politics in federal elections. Overall, we find that the Australian media are quite centrist, with very few outlets being statistically distinguishable from the middle of Australian politics.”

The methods were modified from US studies into media slants which, as noted in the paper, had a larger sample.  Despite the caveats, one metric revealed something interesting about the ABC:

“All but one media outlet is within two standard errors of the center position, 0.47. On this metric, the only media outlet that is significantly slanted is the ABC Channel 2 television station, which is significantly pro-Coalition during the period in question. However, even here the difference is relatively small, with ABC television’s estimate being 0.51.”

Instead of being an “Aha!” moment, the paper concluded on a temperate note:

“To the extent that cross-country comparisons are possible, our results suggest that the Australian media – at least in terms of news content – are less partisan than their United States counterparts.”

And that – I would have thought – was that.  2009 was the year we finally put the question to bed.  Is the media biased?  Computer says ‘Not particularly’.

And yet here we are, at the start of 2012, still worried that the ABC is biased against whichever end of the political spectrum we’re haunting.  Part of that might have something to do with our inability to get over our intuitions.  In response to the paper on media slant, Chris Berg of the Institute for Public Affairs responded to all the complicated maths and long words with: “I don’t agree with the results and I think there’s a deep problem with the results in that it doesn’t really pass the laughter test.

Because that’s how you test academic research: “Did you laugh at it?  If so, it’s probably incorrect.”

But there might be another reason why we are here in 2012 pondering the question of ABC bias.  Do we suffer from a socio-cultural inability to discuss concepts like “bias”, “prejudice”, and “balance” meaningfully?

We characterise “unbiased” as being factual, balanced, and impartial as if these are unproblematic terms with which we would all agree if we are not being duplicitous or suffering from a bone growing through our brains.  Worse, we characterise our own opinions as being unbiased.  After all, we are rational, fair-minded people.  It therefore follows – as the night the day – that we have balanced, evidence-based opinions and that people who disagree with us are unbalanced or unhinged.

But we can do better than this.  Bias is currently seen as a pejorative, the white ant infestation in the architraves of the Cathedral of Good Journalism.  This brutal view ignores that language itself is biased.  If we try to convey any fact with language, we are wrapping an objective truth in the foggy cloud of language’s subjectivity.  And that’s even assuming that we directly experience the untarnished and untainted facts that we are trying to convey to others.

Bias is the price we pay for language which can incense, inspire, and insinuate, which can seduce with sublime subtlety, and which can order pizza.  A Faustian trade, perhaps.

On this understanding of bias, we get an easy answer to our questions: yes, the ABC is biased because all language is biased.  A journalist interpreted the scene and is now trying to communicate that information using an inescapably biased toolkit.

If I’m correct – and I think I am, because I’m biased – we should not see bias as an evil to overcome but an occupational hazard of the writing craft.  We’re no longer trying to count empirically the units of bias in an article in metric KiloBolts, and it’s no longer a game of “Bias = Boo! Objective = Yay!”  Instead, we are asking more complicated questions: Is the article being unreasonable?  Is the author trying to render their biases invisible?  Am I reacting to the content or the way the content is presented?

By 2012, we ought to have tamed the bias beast and made peace with how ABC handles its bias.  Alas, empirical studies do not satiate our inner conspiracy theorists, and so we have to turn to our cultural difficulties understanding bias and balance.  We will at last be able to to enjoy our regularly scheduled hit of Monday night political entertainment without the nagging feeling that the television is prejudiced against our political opinions.

As he came into the window, it was the sound of a crescendo… the other side of #Chasergate

I, like so many others, was disappointed that The Chaser will no longer be able to provide their commentary of the royal wedding on ABC2.  The royal family apparently intervened.  It’s a shame.

The blogosphere’s narrative about this turn of events is utterly ridiculous.  AnonymousLefty, for example, wrote:

The ABC is supposed to be an independent public broadcaster. So is the BBC. And yet the royall (sic) family – our royal family, still – can apparently exert so much pressure over the two public broadcasters that they will cancel a program that might satirise a public event [Source]

This is probably the more eloquent of the rage yet it still falls into the tired entitlement complex of those with an internet connexion: how dare anybody tell me that I’m not allowed to get what I want?!interrobang?!  I have a blog!

Sure, it sucks that The Chaser won’t be able to screen their commentary but, at the same time, it should be remembered that this is somebody’s wedding.  A family ought to have the right to determine the extent to which their privacy is invaded, even if it’s a ‘public’ family like the Windsors.

The requests aren’t even that unreasonable.  Australian Parliament House provides live broadcasts of parliamentary events, and even they stipulate that the material broadcasted is not to be used for ‘satire and ridicule’.  These are our politicians who are allowed to put limits on broadcasts, and yet we get uppity and outraged when limits are put on broadcasts of a wedding.  Seriously?

The absurd posturing that a public broadcaster (or the media in general) should be permitted (if not obliged) to invade a family’s life for our shits and giggles is adolescent at best.  It’s not ‘craven caving’ to respect the wishes of people generous enough to allow the event to be broadcast at all.  Grow up.

I’m grown up now, but refuse to learn… So I enjoyed awesome things today

I spent the better chunk of today in the park.  It was magic.  My home town swings between the very beautiful (open parks, hills and valleys, gravel footpaths, &c.) and the very ugly (I received more than a few scathing looks for wearing this shirt…).

… I love the description of that shirt, by the way… ‘It’s a situation all too familiar. Your parents taught you how to walk, eat, drive and in most respects fend for yourself — with one key exception. They never taught you Arabic.

And while sitting in the park, copping abuse from the local 12-year olds because I look like Harry Potter (apparently) and being completely unable to return fire (and I am quite ashamed that I had to fight the urge), I realised that I’ve managed to come across some incredibly awesome things.

Lately, this blog has been unabashedly critical of things.  Looking back over recent posts, there hasn’t been a lot of positive posts about how great things are.  So this post is about some things I love.

Topatoco

The only shirts I have which I didn’t order from Topatoco.com were given to me by other people.  When I become mega-famous, I’m going to endorse their clothes, that’s how awesome they are.

I remember the first package I ordered from them because they forgot to include a few items which had been ordered.  It was when they were still fairly new and I felt really bad for saying: ‘Oh, hey.  I’m in the far off land of Australia and things have gone so wrong that the Jedis are going to feel it.’  Instead, they were incredibly lovely about the whole thing and worked with me to find a solution.  Now, I buy all of my t-shirts there and get mega praise from family and friends.  Also, I get to feel good about supporting creative people from the internet (like Chris Hastings and David Malki!).

Paper.li

I’m not sure how to describe this, except in terms of what it could be.  Paper.li creates ‘newspapers’ out of Twitter links.

While I’m not cool with ‘Hey, the internet makes news spread faster’ because it seems that the internet just promotes disinformation, I am cool with networking opinions.  With journalism facing a need to reform in order to deal with the new structures and frameworks, it looks like we could be turning to the internet to provide us with better quality opinions rather than better quality facts.  Paper.li could establish a positive and flexible platform for those opinions to find receptive audiences.

And this is where it gets into what it could be…  At the moment, it’s a little bit limited (it’s really new) but the possibilities of where it might go are quite exciting.  I like the idea of slowing down my Twitter stream into a page where I get an overview of interesting things.  The jump from there to new media experiences of the news is not a large one: an app for an iPad would mean I could download updates before I board a flight and be able to read through a host of opinion pieces in the air.

There’s also room for ‘top level’ newspapers: instead of waiting for somebody to create something based on a trending topic, Paper.li could provide an overview of the trending subject, including backgrounds and the latest commentary.

It also provides a platform for relevant and targeted advertising: adverts could be linked to a topic or idea which would allow them to be embedded along with the newspaper relevant to the topic or idea.  If you have a Paper.li account about, say, movies and theatre, adverts about upcoming films and plays would find the relevant audience.

It’s really awesome.  I hope things go well for it.

Star Wars: The Clone Wars

This blog started out discussing nerdcraft.  The Clone Wars started out with a fizzle.  The movie (which was just three episodes smashed together) really, really sucked.  Holy crap, it sucked so hard.  The television series has finally found its feet (by the time Aayla Secura arrived on the scene, things were going well for the series).  Season Two has been awesome (I’m about half way through) and I’m really pleased that season three is on its way.

Given that Lucas has said that he considers the films unfinished works continually updating, it would be good to see if he’ll get around to digitally remastering the prequels such that they follow entirely different plots and have different actors.  I’m such an optimist.  SW:TCW is the best thing to come from the prequels.

Triple J: Unearthed

This site is my home away from home.  Though it was a bit fiddly at first, the app is also epic. The key difficulty is downloading from the app to your iPod’s music file. I tend to feel like I’ve got two playlists: my regular music and my Unearthed playlist.

I’m in love. I’m in love with a strict machine… and ACMA investigation reports

I love reading reports about investigation into complaints.  The ABC lists upheld complaints here.  You can even find stats.

While it’s probably adding to the idea that I should get a life, I couldn’t help but note that the percentage of upheld complaints in 2009 was a massive increase over previous years.

2003: 4.8%

2004: 2.8%

2005: 4.7%

2006: 2.5%

2007: 2.6%

2008: 2.9%

2009: 13.5%

It seems like the last quarter was a bit of a bastard for the ABC.  I initially thought it was because 20.7% of complaints about violence were upheld… but 73.4% of complaints about anti-opposition bias were upheld.  I’m not going to go on a rant about ABC bias because I love the ABC (I look forward to the day that it demonstrates to everybody that commercial news is yet another example of market failure). Continue reading