Australian News of the Day Media-Watch
2nd December 1996

With Jean-Georges Estiot

JG Estiot is the President of TELNEM, a media-watch group based in Melbourne, Australia. His weekly column below is posted every Monday by 9pm and reflects on news coverage from the preceding week. Unless otherwise specified, his comments are based on the daily monitoring of ABC, Nine and Seven TV news in Victoria. JG is not a member of a political party, special interest group, sporting or professional association other than TELNEM.

Many thanks for the good feedback I received last week about this column. If you have any comments or questions, contact me by email.

In this edition:

The Ebola virus is not contagious enough
A flaw in the Hanson debate
Keep blaming the Internet
A Chipp on the shoulder

In brief

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The Ebola virus is not contagious enough

Although deadly and contagious, the Ebola virus has failed to spread to the Australian media. It is unclear whether the news media's reluctance to devote any substantial coverage to African issues is to blame. The fact remains: a major epidemic fails to make the news in Australia. Some newspapers published a small report, a couple of radio stations made a mention of it but the TV news were not interested.

The Ebola virus has the potential to wipe out ninety percent of the human population in a matter of months. There is no medical cure for the disease, and the only ones to survive are those with a strong enough immune system, around one in ten.

A recent article in the Capes Times described the Ebola horror:

Ebola is one of the most nightmarish diseases ever to afflict humanity. Named after the river in Zaire near which the first major outbreak occurred in 1976, Ebola is a filovirus, a thread-like package of genetic material barely visible under an electron microscope. Inside its shepherd's-crook-like body lies a strip of RNA, a primitive cousin of DNA, which gives the virus the instructions it needs to make just seven proteins. It is these that give Ebola its fearsome reputation: some help it reproduce, the role of others is unknown. Their end effect is perfectly clear, however: an appalling, agonising death within 10 days of the virus entering the body. Like the AIDS virus, Ebola is transmitted via blood and body fluids. Once inside, it rapidly replicates and sets about destroying organs. Victims bleed from every pore. Their eyes fill with blood and their skin tears apart at the slightest touch. Internal organs are turned to mush, the brain becomes choked with clots. Victims often die after one final, massive seizure spraying blood and virus over anyone and everything nearby.

Recent developments are of great concern. For the first time, a victim in a major city has been fatally infected. Johannesburg in South Africa is serviced by 72 international airlines with hundreds of flights a day. Nowhere else in Africa is a better location to help spread Ebola to another continent.

Marilyn Lahana, a Nurse at the Johannesburg Hospital was infected by a doctor from Gabon who survived. She died after having been in contact with over 200 people; mostly doctors, nurses and other health workers who participated in her care. They had no idea they were dealing with Ebola, and did not always take the meticulous protective measures the infection demands.

The tragedy unfolded between November 16 and November 26. At the time, the Australian public was kept in the dark. As the South African media put it, Ebola is now just a flight away from anywhere in the world. What will it take for the TV news and the mainstream Australian media to properly cover the spread of the Ebola virus?

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A flaw in the Hanson debate

Are you pro or anti-Pauline Hanson? This is the question you should not have to answer. In the midst of the media-manufactured "race debate" the main points continue to be = overlooked.

The news media is well known for failing miserably when dealing with anything other than black and white issues. This lack of ability to handle shades of grey is evident in the reporting of the Pauline Hanson saga. Many times before, the media's all-or-nothing approach has divided the country on issues which are best discussed with a cool head.

Those sharing some of Pauline Hanson's views or ideas are the pro-Hanson, the biggots, the racists. The others are the anti-Hanson, the politically correct, the good guys. In between, there is nothing because the news media would not be able to fit such hybrids into one of their stereotypes. You either are a supporter or an opponent. This is the flag-waving culture in a society dominated by sport. It is the Blues versus the Reds, us against them and of course, we are right, mostly because we have never considered the alternative.

As analysts scramble for the sensational, the most obvious explanations remain unexplored. I dare say Pauline Hanson has a following because she is not a slick and polished politician. If she were, nobody would pay attention. It is the differences which make her what she is today. She is not a great public-speaker, she is not as fast and witty as Canberra's top guns. She is just like the people she represents. This may be one of the keys to the Pauline Hanson phenomenon. People may be sick of a bunch of elitist megalomaniacs shaping society without a mandate. Many say Multiculturalism and the Asianisation of Australia were achieved without due consultation or implied consent. This could explain the deep resentment that is now coming out of the closet.

Instead of promoting a fair debate, the media are largely drifting into inconsequential issues. In the broad picture, how important is Dr Mahatir calling Pauline Hanson "moronic"? Not at all. And yet, this rubbish becomes the news at the expense of what really matters.

This week saw a shameful beat-up by the ABC on the "race debate." Fueled by master of ceremony Craig McMurtrie, the daily servings were closer to an anti-Hanson campaign than proper journalism. Out of context quotes and biased reporting were the basic tools of deception. It is the propagandists who push their agenda. journalists are supposed to deal fairly with news. The ABC News team will have to sort itself out before long.

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Keep blaming the Internet

This week, another piece in the "blame the = Internet" series. This time it was aired on the current affairs program Today Tonight (Seven Network.) These stories make the news on a regular basis and have a tendency to be neither factually accurate nor fair in their portrayal of the Internet.

The opening comments by the reporter set the tone for the remainder of the story: "The Internet is providing an ever expanding menu of sleaze, drugs, theft and destruction. And those logging on are often kids."

The morale of the story was predictable. If it wasn't for this big bad Internet, our kids would not have access to all this bomb-making stuff, drugs, how to steal a car and more importantly, "how to kill someone with your bare hands." Yes, you need the Internet for that one.

These news or currrent affairs items are an excuse for pushing regulations and ultimately censorship of the Internet, something which would tragically affect the net as we know it today. As I understand it, the idea would be to turn Webmasters into cybercops and make them responsible for policing contents.

In one of my previous columns, I explained how some of the information in question has been available for years in encyclopedias and public libraries. Still, the negative coverage of the Internet by the television news continues. It is partly explained by the obvious competition between the two medium.

In a recent Internet post, Wayne McGuire captured well the desperation of the big media corporations:

The chasm between the Internet and the traditional big media continues to widen with each and every day. The Internet is growing in power and influence; the traditional big media are shrinking and dying.

On the Internet you can find a significant percentage of highly educated, well-informed and independent-minded people who are capable of discussing public issues in depth and analyzing source documents in an original way.

In the traditional big media you find a small group of boring and unoriginal company men and women who are completely subservient to the political agendas of the billionaires who own their companies. Nothing makes the big media establishment happier than an audience of passive and mindless robots who can't and won't talk back.

The Internet is a free and open medium which encourages and rewards intellectual excellence. If you make posts of substance, you will acquire a following. If you babble or rant, you will be kill-filed.

The traditional big media establishment is a closed and censored medium which is terrified of free and open inquiry, and which encourages and rewards mediocrity and intellectual sloppiness and cowardice.

Take the Patrick Knowlton story and the Fostergate scandal in general: if you are relying on the big media for your news, you will have no idea what this major story is about. If you are relying on the Internet for your news, you will already have had an opportunity to examine all the source documents concerning the story for yourself, and to witness a full, fair and open debate about the story.

Those who have built their lives on an association with the big media should be hanging their heads in shame. The Internet is exposing just how shallow they really are. They are passengers on a sinking ship.

(Reproduced with permission)

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A Chipp on the shoulder

On Monday, heroin addict Gregory Chipp faced the Courts over the fraudulent medicare claim of $20,000. What made this case unusual in terms of media coverage is the relation of the defendant with former Senator Don Chipp, the founder of the Australian Democrat Party. He is his son. The commercial stations used this angle and dragged Don Chipp into the mud. It was irrelevant to the case and revealling the relationship between Gregory and Don Chipp served no justifiable community interest. If it is fair game to name the relatives of defendants, where do we stop? Is it fair to associate a rapist with a leading politician because he is the relative of a relative of a relative …?

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In brief

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