No journalist should have to report on their friend’s murder.

JILL Meagher’s death is an unfathomable tragedy. Her family remains in a state of shock and despair. My heart goes out to them.

But I want to pay tribute to Jill’s ABC colleagues. My former colleagues.

This has undoubtedly been one of the toughest weeks of their lives – both personally and professionally.

Journalists deal with tragedy on a regular basis. Road deaths, street crimes and a seemingly endless supply of harrowing stories retold in the
courtroom.

But rarely are they so close to the victims of these traumas.

“It’s hard to walk both sides of the street on this one,” 774 mornings host Jon Faine told listeners today.

As perhaps ABC Victoria’s most well known personality, Faine’s reactions and remarks have been instructive. He has given a voice to the whole ABC Radio team.

Days after Jill vanished police made repeated visits to the home she shared with her husband, Tom. They took away bags and cases filled with undisclosed belongings.

Unfounded mutterings began to surface on social media suggesting Tom was perhaps involved in some kind of foul play. Why else would they search the home.

Faine took to the airwaves to defend Tom. In doing so, the radio veteran acknowledged he was probably overstepping a line.

Perhaps he did go too far, perhaps not. But all the ‘lines’ which define acceptable behaviour have been blurred this week

The MEAA journalists Code of Ethics compel reporters to “respect private grief and personal privacy”.

Which is all very well – except when the grief is the reporter’s own.

The Code also says journalists should “not allow personal interest … to undermine [their] accuracy, fairness or independence”.

Which is fine, except when your “personal interest” is only in your mate’s safety, against all the odds.

774 Radio manager Cath Hurley paid tribute to her staff this morning, saying they have covered the issue “straight up and down” and she was “proud” of them.

She is right. They have been stoic. They have been brave. They have been exactly what they needed to be.

It’s all too easy for reporters to become desensitized to trauma and loss. To the trauma and loss of others. It’s natural, and often necessary.

This week’s events will have shattered any emotional barriers that ABC reporters may have built up over the years.

And the next time a woman is abducted, raped or murdered on the streets of Melbourne – and sadly, there will be a next time – the events of the past week will come flooding back.

There is a lot of grieving to be done, a lot of questing why and a lot of healing.

My thoughts are with everybody in the ABC family.

PM Julia Gillard’s unspoken ACL speech.

Julia Gillard: The great explainer.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard has been widely applauded for cancelling an appearance at an Australian Christian Lobby event because its leader controversially claimed a homosexual ”lifestyle” was more dangerous than smoking.

But I think this is a missed opportunity.

Instead of playing it safe, Ms Gillard could have attended the function and used it to explain why she didn’t agree with the remarks.

Here is the central component of the speech Ms Gillard still could deliver:

Everyone has their own view of what constitutes a family.

It doesn’t have to be a man and woman with two-point-four kids.

Tim and I are no less a family than anybody else because we don’t have children.

And the Finance Minister Penny Wong, her partner Sophie and their beautiful daughter Alexandra are no less a family because of their choices.

Like love, families and family values are very hard to define — but you know them when you see them. Coincidence? Perhaps not.

Yesterday, I stood before the national media and condemned some remarks made by the leader of your organisation, Jim Wallace.

Jim is a man I respect, but we don’t agree on everything. He had compared the ill effects of passive smoking on children to the perceived impacts on a child of being raised by a gay couple.

I think this is a grossly offensive comparison.

To compare the health effects of smoking cigarettes with the many struggles gay and lesbian Australians endure in contemporary society is heartless and wrong.

We live in a world where many people — men and women — make the brave decision to be single parents.

We live in a world where divorce is common. And sadly, we live in a world where children are sometimes abused in their family homes.

If new born babies could choose their parents, they would want somebody who is loving and protective.

Somebody who will always have their best interests at heart. Sexual preference wouldn’t come into it.

This is not to say that I have changed my position on gay marriage.

I still believe the institution of marriage is a solemn union between a man and a woman.

But I don’t believe that men and men or women and women, brought together by love and willing to embark on the great journey or parenthood should be considered ‘lesser parents’.

They’re not.

My long lost TV debut, age 11.

My mum recently digitised all our home videos. Gone are all those boxes of VHS tapes — my entire childhood now fits on a single external hard drive.

Amid the tedious hours of birthdays and backyard working bees, I found my very first ‘TV appearance’.

The year was 1995, I would have been about 11.

My voice was clearly yet to break, and I was looking for a good time at the Royal Melbourne Show.

The rest is cringeworthy, Sheales-family history.

Fathers – a tribute in image, text and song.

PLEASE excuse this break in regular programming as I tip my hat to the fathers of the world.

The below image is a beautiful representation of the father-child relationship that requires little explanation.

Keep scrolling down for A Letter To My Hypothetically Gay Son, a heartwarming note penned earlier this year by John Kinnear.

Dear hypothetically gay son,

You’re gay. Obviously you already know that, because you told us at the dinner table last night. I apologize for the awkward silence afterwards, but I was chewing. It was like when we’re at a restaurant and the waiter comes up mid-bite and asks how the meal is, only in this metaphor you are the waiter, and instead of asking me about my meal, you said you were gay.

I don’t know why I needed to explain that. I think I needed to find a funny way to repeat the fact that you’re gay… because that is what it sounds like in my head right now: “My son is gay. My son is gay. My son is gay.”

Let me be perfectly clear: I love you. I will always love you. Since being gay is part of who you are, I love that you’re gay. I’m just trying to wrap my head around the idea. If you sensed any sadness in my silence last night, it was because I was surprised that I was surprised.

Ideally, I would have already known. Since you were an embryo, my intent has always been to really know you for who you are and not who I expect you to be. And yet, I was taken by surprise at last night’s dinner. Have I said “surprise” enough in this paragraph? One more time: Surprise!

OK. Let’s get a few things straight about how things are going to be.

  1. Our home is a place of safety and love. The world has dealt you a difficult card. While LGBT people are becoming more accepted, it is still a difficult path to walk. You’re going to experience hate and anger and misunderstandings about who you are out in the world. That will not happen here. You need to know with every fiber of who you are that when you walk in the front door of your home, you are safe, and you are loved. Your mother is in complete agreement with me on this.
  2. I am still, as always, your biggest defender. Just because you’re gay doesn’t mean you’re any less capable of taking care of and defending yourself. That said, if you need me to stand next to you or in front of you, write letters, sign petitions, advocate, or anything else, I am here. I would go to war for you.
  3. If you’re going to have boys over, you now need to leave your bedroom door open. Sorry, kiddo. Them’s the breaks. I couldn’t have girls in my room with the door shut, so you don’t get to have boys.
  4. You and I are going to revisit that talk we had about safe sex. I know it’s going to be awkward for both of us, but it is important. I need to do some research first, so let’s give it a few weeks. If you have questions or concerns before then, let me know.

That’s enough for now. Feel free to view this letter as a contract. If I ever fail to meet any of the commitments made herein, pull it out and hold me to account.

I’ll end with this: You are not broken. You are whole, and beautiful. You are capable and compassionate. You and your sister are the best things I have ever done with my life, and I couldn’t be prouder of the people you’ve become.

Love,
Dad

P.S. Thanks to a few key Supreme Court decisions and the Marriage Equality Act of 2020, you’re legally able to get married. When I was your age, that was just an idea. Pretty cool, huh?

If you’ve read this far – well done. But you should know that some fathers are still rubbish. And, frankly, If Your Dad Doesn’t Have A Beard You’ve Got Two Mums:

But seriously… Happy Fathers Day, to all the dads.

RS

The courtroom Twitter ban sham

I AM eagerly awaiting the Victorian Magistrates’ Court’s comprehensive strategy to hold back the tides and unscramble eggs, after today announcing a ban on journalists tweeting from court.

The court’s new Use of Electronic Devices Policy prohibits the use of “any electronic device where such use constitutes instantaneous publication (for example social media, such as Twitter or live blogging)”.

Offenders may be booted from court or have their phones confiscated (and hopefully tucked in the Magistrate’s top draw, like a school teacher might).

This is an astounding policy which seems impractical and unwarranted, and goes against what the rest of the world is doing.

Lets start with the hypothetical of a journalist sitting in a big case and wanting to ‘break’ some news (which isn’t really hypothetical at all, it happens every day).

Like Jurassic Park dinosaurs finding a way to breed, it’s safe to assume our resourceful journalist will find a way to break the story on social media.

After all, that’s part of their job.

It might be they compose a tweet while sitting in court and then step out the door to ‘publish’ it. Or message it to somebody else via an entirly different method. Or just ignore the ban entirely.

It’s already customary for radio journalists (and those writing for online) to run out of court and file as son as they have something to report. With social media increasingly becoming a central part of a journalist’s toolkit, Magistrates might now have a hoard of journalists heading for the door.

Surely this won’t help ease the digital ‘disruption’ the new guidelines seek to avoid.

Melbourne lawyer Kyle McDonald argues the ban is a “welcome development”:

It could be possible for one witness, or observer, to tweet messages to future witnesses about the proceedings, undermining an order-out for witnesses. Or a voir dire ruling on admissibility or privilege would be effectively undermined if the argument was published online. Similarly too, restrictions on identification of witnesses could compromised either deliberately or unwittingly by a courtroom tweeter.

But again, if a witness wanted to do any of these things they could do it via email, text message, a message board post or by simply walking out of the courtroom and unleashing a carrier pigeon.

Likewise, if a court reporter was foolish enough to defame somebody, publish contemptuous material or jeopardise a legal proceeding in some other means, they would probably do it the old fashioned way.

Tweeting is the medium, not the message.

‘Not only must justice be done; it must also be seen to be done’, the cliche tells us.

This must include on social media.

When journalists become the story, only their egos win.

So 3AW heavyweights Derryn Hinch and Neil Mitchell have come out swinging over the decision of their employer to give Steve Vizard some temp work.

Vizard, you’ll recall, is spending 10 years in the company director’s sin bin after being found guilty of abusing his position as a Telstra director.

“If he’s not a fit and proper person under the law to be a director,” Neil MItchell thundered, “he’s not a fit and proper person to have the privilege of using a 3AW microphone”

Fairfax stablemate The Age quoted Derryn Hinch in viscous agreement with his morning show colleague.

“Vizard is not considered a fit and proper person to qualify to be a director of Fairfax, the company that owns this radio station. Yet he can go on air on 3AW.”

Where does one start?

It seems the internal machinations of 3AW have, themselves, become news. Why else would Mitchell and Hinch devote time to them?

Both agree being on air (especially behind a 3AW microphone) is a great privilege. But surely that privilege comes with an inherent responsibility to discuss serious news issues.

With debate raging over how to fund our schools, how to tackle carbon emissions, with scandals in the Reserve Bank, Olympic Dam sinking, the resources boom busting, newspapers looking in danger of folding, companies wiping billions off their balance sheets, war raging in Syria, Europe still teetering on the edge of financial meltdown and a million other things — who cares whether a veteran comedian who torpedoed his own corporate career will be telling jokes and taking talkback in the early afternoon?

Oh, silly me. I have missed the big picture. Vizard now lacks integrity because he almost went to jail!

“Many commentators, me included, said he should have gone to jail,” Hinch told listeners. “He knows he was lucky to strike the money deal that kept him out of clink”

Perhaps Hinch has forgotten he himself spent time in the clink and under house arrest (admittedly for different reasons).

And you can argue Hinch had his heart in the right place when he publicly named child sex offenders in defiance of the law, while Vizard’s wrongdoing was motivated by personal gain.

You can argue Vizard has ‘done the crime and done the time’, or that his 3AW exile should remain.

These are all valid arguments to make, but my original point remains — the whole debate is unworthy of a place on primetime radio.

No other workplace would allow it’s employees to so publicly waffle and fight.

Of course, this is nothing new. Mitchell and Hinch took to the airwaves just last week to (rightfully) condemn a Nazi rant by presenter John Michael Howson.

And the two bearded broadcasters have even been known to take aim at each other over journalistic standards, most recently over waiting times at the Royal Children’s Hospital.

Nobody really wins when journalists becomes the story, except their egos.

C’mon fellas, why not return to what you do best? And that’s turning the power of your venerated 3Aw microphones on the big issues — and not each other.

Welcome

THIS website will soon be filled with the media and musings that fill my life, including from my time in various positions across the Melbourne media sector.

I’ve worked as a political and general reporter across TV, print and online for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, in communications at the University of Melbourne and as a private social media consultant.

(VEXNEWS once labelled me “intrepid”, which I decide to take on face value.)

As former British Labour MP Harold Wilson once said,

“He who rejects change is the architect of decay.”

RS

Crimes in the home, lessons in the newsroom?

  • This article and image first appeared on the ABC’s The Drum.

Many Victorians were surprised when that state’s latest crime statistics showed a dramatic, 15 per cent increase in domestic violence.

Many journalists were not. And the media must shoulder some of the blame for that disconnect.

One of the first tasks for a journalist working an early morning shift is to “do emergencies”. That means ringing the police, fire and ambulance services and asking “what’s happened overnight?”

The police offer a shopping list of incidents: a car crash here, a petrol station hold-up there and some booze bus results for good measure. The reporter will often ask about some activity they’ve noticed on the police scanner, or heard about elsewhere, and the reply will come: “Oh, that’s just a domestic”.

Somehow, because those magic words have been uttered, we journalists hesitate.

Much like the reporting of suicides, the rough rule is not to report “a domestic” unless it was somehow exceptional – like the case of James Ramage.

Ramage was released from jail last month, after serving time for strangling his wife and then claiming self-defence because she “provoked” him.

The defence was used successfully and Ramage was convicted of manslaughter, not murder. The defence of provocation has since been abolished.

Alternatively, instances of domestic violence must have broader effects (a stand-off forcing the closure of a busy road) or involve somebody prominent enough to make their behaviour a matter of public interest (say, if a prominent anti-violence campaigner was charged for hitting his wife).

But most times incidents don’t meet these criteria and, regardless, the reporter finds it difficult to verify the behind-closed-door details.

The net result is they don’t get reported.

The same applies for reporters sitting in court listening to cases of domestic violence while they wait for a more ‘news-friendly’ matter to be called.

It should be noted the media does write many exceptional stories exposing the scourge of abuse within families and the fight against it. ABC senior reporter Kerri Ritchie’s story on 7:30 this week about the B-Safe program is a case in point.

But it’s almost undeniable that the media’s coverage of domestic violence is biased.

We are much more likely to report a drunken punch in a Melbourne laneway than a drunken punch in a suburban kitchen.

It’s sometimes argued a ‘Mean World Syndrome’ is at play in Australia, because of our nation’s obsession with violent crime.

The theory is that the reporting of these crimes is disproportionate to the reality, and creates the impression the world is more dangerous than it truly is.

“People are seen to overestimate the prevalence of crime in the community… perceiving increases in crime that are not supported by official statistics,” is how a Victorian Parliamentary Inquiry described the phenomenon last year.

Melbourne’s tabloid newspaper the Herald Sun even has a “Streets of Fear” logo for its stories on public assaults.

The media’s reporting of domestic violence seems to be going in the other direction.

Through underreporting we appear to be creating a ‘Safe Home Syndrome’, and inadvertently telling the community that domestic violence isn’t so prevalent.

This would explain why so many Victorians were surprised by the latest crime statistics.

Perhaps we in the media owe it to everybody to turn that around.

Meanwhile in Victoria the old paradigm rules

  • This article and image first appeared on the ABC’s The Drum.

I have a breaking news story. Make sure you’re sitting down. Here it is: governments spin, twist and contort events to suit their party political ends.

OK, so it mightn’t be a huge revelation.

But what’s interesting is that a senior Labor spin doctor has been forced, under oath, to confirm this is how their murky profession works.

The accidental release of a Victorian government ministerial ‘media plan’ in February caused huge embarrassment for the state’s Labor administration.

Many have since tried, and failed, to access other ‘media plans’, under the state’s freedom of information (FOI) legislation.

The State Government claims the media plans are “political” and unrelated to policy or governance, and therefore shouldn’t have to be released.

But Victoria’s FOI laws have a presumption of release. This means the Government must prove the documents’ political nature, for them to be kept secret.

“They are entirely political,” senior Victorian government media adviser Alison Crosweller told the state’s Civil and Administrative Tribunal this morning.

She went further, explaining that if a minister’s busy day is to be interrupted by a media engagement, “there needs to be a political purpose as to why the Minister should be committing to that event.”

Normally governments spend huge amounts of time and energy arguing that their actions aren’t politically motivated, but driven by the desire for good policy.

It must have felt strange then for Ms Crosweller, a very experienced operative who worked for federal Labor during the Howard government, to now be arguing the opposite.

Ms Crosweller was asked to explain how events listed in the leaked February document – such as the Planning Minister’s attendance at the launch of a street revitalisation project – could be deemed “political”.

“The fact that they are going to do it on a Sunday, the use of the Minister’s time is only best served if there is a political element to it,” she said.

“So it is in Frankston, which is a marginal seat. Alistair Harkness is a marginal MP … so by getting the Minister down to Frankston … serves a political purpose.

“While it might look like an opening, a speech or a conference … there must be a reason the media adviser has suggested the Minister do it.”

After all, she added, “the Minister doesn’t necessarily need to go and launch an $8 million boulevard.”

Get that?

So when you next glimpse a politician or political candidate smiling in the TV news, chances are they’re only acting for political purposes.

And when you hear a minister angrily denying something is being launched in a marginal electorate for political purposes, don’t believe them.

Ms Crosweller made the point even more succinctly in her written statement to the tribunal.

The document indicated that media advisers must act with regard to “the impact of various matters on the Government’s election prospects [and] the election prospects of individual Members of Parliament.”

And let’s not forget these media advisers are funded by the taxpayers, not the ALP.

The State Opposition’s scrutiny of government spokesman, David Davis, thinks Ms Crosweller’s evidence is extraordinary.

“The Government’s actions are simply driven by re-election,” he said.

Victorians want a government which is acting in “the public interest … [and] delivering for the public benefit, rather than its own.”

But the sad facts are these: every government uses spin, and every minister is motivated by politics.

The Victorian Government has just been kind enough to admit it.

Brumby’s weaving has journalists seething

  • This article and image first appeared on the ABC’s The Drum.

Dodging journalists’ questions is an art practised by most politicians, as they climb the slippery ladder to leadership.

Some, like Prime Minister Julia Gillard, do it with a disarming giggle, while others simply talk (and talk) until the pesky reporter has forgotten what they asked (read; Kevin Rudd).

But in the lead-up to November’s Victorian election, the Premier John Brumby has adopted a more blatant approach.

Increasingly, Mr Brumby will refuse to answer questions, referring them in their entirety to the relevant minister.

Melbourne’s Herald Sun this week ran a story critical of a planned new pokies venue, where children will be kept in a sound-proof room within view of the gaming floor.

On the same day, the state’s Auditor-General released a report which found no evidence the Government’s strategies to reduce problem gambling were working.

At his morning press event John Brumby was asked for a response.

“The Gaming Minister, I understand, will be commenting later today,” he weaved.

But do you think the strategies have been effective? the press pack persisted.

“Well again, Minister [Tony] Robinson will be out on this,” came the reply.

The media soldiered on; But do you have a view as Premier? Do you have a personal view? Would you want a “pokies creche” in your electorate? Etc.

“He’ll [the minister] be out later, and he’ll give you all of the information you need.”

On the face of it this may seem uncontroversial. After all, ministers are responsible for their portfolios and their advisers are more authoritative on specific policy areas.

And it should be noted that Mr Brumby is a highly accessible politician. He will ‘doorstop’ most days and always attends parliamentary Question Time.

But the duck-and-weave technique is being used inconsistently.

When Mr Brumby is making a ‘good news’ announcement, or fielding welcome questions, he’s more than happy to answer at length. It doesn’t matter if the relevant minister is standing beside him, the Premier takes charge.

Often, as with the recent release of the Government’s Climate Change White Paper, the relevant minister (in this case, Gavin Jennings) said only a few words at the tail end of a lengthy media conference.

And well-trained ministers normally preface their remarks with,”well just to back up what the Premier has said…”.

This inconsistency suggests the evasion of questions isn’t out of respect to the relevant minister’s autonomy or policy expertise, but motivated by other considerations.

On the eve of a close election, and with campaigning becoming increasingly presidential in nature, political considerations can’t be ruled out.

If John Brumby can minimise how often he appears under pressure and in ‘negative stories’ on the nightly news, it may be a win for his strategists.

But how does the public benefit?