Australian News of the Day Media-Watch
9th 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:

Life on Mars, Ice on the moon and McDonalds on Pluto

The Qantas cover-up continues

When lobbyists own the media

News or commercial?

The trivia files

In brief

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Life on Mars, Ice on the moon and McDonalds on Pluto

After recent news stories reported signs of life on Mars, news this week of the discovery of ice on the moon. At this pace, reports of a McDonalds on Pluto are imminent.

Media reports on space exploration are un-ashamedly one-sided. They never give voice to scientific opinion which may challenge the wild claims of the NASA media releases. Whatever the debate may be, there is always one certainty: these claims always surface before a NASA budget review. What a coincidence!

Upon examination of last week's reports of the NASA discovery of "ice" on the moon, it is obvious the TV newsrooms have no intention to research or challenge any of the facts contained in such stories. The straight dumping of NASA's propaganda on your screens is the extent of their journalistic obligations.

Consider the way Nine, Seven and the ABC broke the news:

National Nine News (full story)

An American military probe has made one of the most startling discovery in the history of space exploration. The rocket named "Clementine" has accidentally found a deposit of ice on the dark side of the moon. It's at the bottom of a 12km deep crater and was probably left there by a crashing comet. But scientists are excited, saying there is now a real chance for human colonisation of our nearest neighbour. However, future moon-dwellers will have to be tough, the temperature of the ice is around 232 degrees.

ABC News (introduction)

The dark side of the moon has revealed one of its secrets which scientists say may make human colonisation more feasible. A survey of the moon's south pole has revealed a massive crater full of ice which could be used to sustain human life.

The ABC report went on suggesting the water could be used for growing food or make rocket fuel on he moon . It did however say that some scientists were urging caution in interpreting the data. A very late and very small inclusion in an otherwise one-sided report.

Seven Nightly News (full story)

In what could be one of the most important discoveries of the space age, scientists think they have found ice on the moon. Images from the unmanned probe "Clementine" suggests the lunar surface could eventually sustain life. The deep ice-filled crater on the unexplorer south pole could prompt new missions to the moon and beyond.

The above three stories do not offer any balance and are highly misleading. The use of words such as "images" in conjunction with "ice-filled crater" (Seven News) is highly suggestive of the ice being visible to the naked eye. The truth is that there is no evidence of water being present in large quantities on the moon. The Clementine mission conducted a bistatic radar experiment. It measured the magnitude and polarisation of the radar echo and the results were interpreted by NASA as indicating there was an icy deposit on the moon. Some scientists have questioned the underlying mathematical model whilst others have offered other interpretations to the data collected. In any event, it is far from the one-sided argument put by the Australian media.

The hype about the colonisation of the moon is in fact unrelated to the story. When questioned by the media, NASA said that human presence on the moon was possible within a couple of decades. It did however refrain from suggesting the ice discovery would facilitate such colonisation. The media linked the two to concoct a fantasy story. I can't wait to order my Mc Pluto.

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The Qantas cover-up continues

In recent columns I revealed how the Seven news systematically eliminates negative Qantas news stories. This trend continued this week with neither Nine nor Seven reporting the dispute between Qantas and Aussie Air, a would-be competitor. By law, Qantas is supposed to enter sub-lease negotiations with new entrants into the domestic aviation industry. According to Aussie Air chief Bryan Gray (the former head of the now defunct Compass airline), Qantas has failed to do so and may be in breach of its own lease of terminal space at several major Australian airports. Qantas is disputing its obligation to enter such negotiations. However, a Federal Court ruling found earlier this year that Aussie Air was eligible for the concession as a new entrant. As the ABC reported, Qantas is technically facing eviction from five of the largest airports in Australia and has been ordered to comply by the 9th of December. If it refuses, the airline be effectively be grounded.

Whatever the legal wrestling and the eventual outcome, it is in the public interest to know whether or not healthy competition is being barred by illegal means. It is not the role of the media to shield their advertisers from public scrutiny. If there was room on the Monday's news for plugging the new Qantas sight-seing tours over Antartica, there is room for other Qantas news.

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When lobbyists own the media.

Among the regulars who enjoy free access to the TV news, Businessman Isi Leibler features prominently. Whenever the political interests of Mr Leibler are directly or indirectly threatened, he always gets a chance to voice his opinion on prime-time television or in well-exposed newspaper articles.

There is no doubt Mr Leibler is a community leader and as official representative should be given air-time. There is however a conflict of interest when his company, Liebler Media Holdings, accumulates a sizeable number of shares into the very media he lobbies after hours. The public no longer knows whether Mr Liebler makes the news on merit or simply because he may have voting rights on the board of the TV station he partly owns. One wonders how well the public is served when special interest groups and watchdogs organisations also own the media.

Mr. Liebler's media involvement surfaced this week with the Australian Broadcasting Authority investigating a Network Ten shares transaction involving one of his companies. Under the Broadcasting Act, a foreign person should not be in a position to control a commercial television licence. It would be nice if foreigners did not devote much time and money in controlling public opinion either.

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News or commercial?

Here is the transcript of a news story aired by the Seven Nightly News on Saturday 7/12/96. Is it a news story or a commercial?

The hottest fashion item this Christmas isn't clothing but the world's smallest mobile phone. Slightly bigger than a credit card, the Motorolla Star hand-phone is guaranteed to fit any stockings and is the perfect solution for these unexpected cat-walk calls.

This was obviously targeting the fashion-conscious female, complete with glamour cat-walk pictures. Nothing wrong with commercials as long as they are shown during the add-breaks.

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The trivia files

Here is my selection of the most trivial news stories broadcast this week:

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In Brief

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