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A model the rest of the media would do well to adopt

Guest Editor Polly Bush: Journalist, author and academic Catharine Lumby recently discovered the refreshing response from an independent media outlet when she lodged a complaint against a comment one of their writers had made about her. To their credit, the outlet Crikey swiftly corrected the record and issued an apology. Catharine has documented this experience for Margo Kingston’s Webdiary. This is her debut piece  – thank you Catharine.

By Catharine Lumby

Anyone worth their salt who's worked in journalism for more than a couple of years has probably had at least one close brush with Australia's defamation laws. Investigative reporters can literally spend years of their lives defending stories and compiling dossiers for lawyers.

Of course, journalists don't always get it right - and sometimes they get it spectacularly wrong. Sometimes they write things that really do seriously misrepresent someone and do genuine harm to their reputation (as opposed to their pride). The problem is that defamation laws, at their best, only protect the reputations of people who are rich enough to pay lawyers good enough for long enough to get a result.

As everyone working in the media knows, unless the defamation is beyond dispute, media organisations are often willing to gamble on the notion that the other party will blink first. It's only when you get them to the courthouse steps that they'll often back down. It's a policy which can cut both ways. Sometimes plaintiffs get settlements they don't really deserve because the lawyers figure it's cheaper to avoid the gamble of court. At other times, plaintiffs feel obliged to back down because their pockets aren't deep enough.

Either way, defamation law is not a law which offers a rational, expedient and democratic remedy. It's a law which is fundamentally out of step with modern life and the modern media.

So what's the sensible alternative? Well, last week I had the chance to find out.

I was browsing the Crikey website when I came across a piece by a former tv arts reporter which took issue with an interview Crikey did with me.

His problem was that they'd referred to me as a "media operator". This, he decided, was "way too generous" because, he claimed, I'd spent "very little time as a working journalist". In fact, I worked as a print journalist consistently between 1986 and 2004 writing news, feature articles and opinion columns for all of Australia's major broadsheet newspapers and for magazines such as The Independent Monthly and the Bulletin magazine. The former arts reporter had got his facts very wrong. What's more, it wasn't just my professional reputation at stake. It was potentially the reputation of the Media and Communications degree I head up at the University of Sydney. Students come to us partly on the basis that all the staff teaching professional skills subjects have high profile and extensive experience in the mainstream media.

As much as I'd love a beach house down the coast, I had no interest in pursuing a defamation action. All I wanted was an immediate correction.

I doubted I get one and geared myself up with a heavy heart to go and consult the lawyers. To my surprise, the editor Misha Ketchell responded to my email about the error of fact within two minutes. We had a very civil conversation on the phone and he cheerfully agreed to publish a correction. He also offered me space to write a response - which I did. He published that. And that was that.
The whole process took five minutes to negotiate.

I'm entirely happy with the outcome. And I'm extremely impressed with the professional way Crikey dealt with the issue. And I think it's a model the rest of the media would do well to adopt.

Catharine Lumby has worked as a print journalist for two decades in Australia and the US. She is the Chair of the Media and Communications Department at the University of Sydney. Her most recent book, coedited with Elspeth Probyn, is Remote Control: New Media, New Ethics published by Cambridge University Press.

Disclosure: Catharine is a friend of Margo’s and former Fairfax colleague.

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re: A model the rest of the media would do well to adopt

Crikey has to do that sort of thing, considering the number of cases that have been bought against it in Court. I guess mistakes teach you to be much more transparent, especially when there isn't much of a cash buffer against that sort of thing to begin with.

Guest Ed Polly: Hi Stuart. Interesting take - am just wondering if you know how many cases there have been? And, any comparison in numbers to other media outlets and legal action? I know of a few high profile cases against Crikey (not sure how many made it to court), but I don't know if this is disproportionate to other media outlets and legal action - be interesting to find out.

re: A model the rest of the media would do well to adopt

It's good to see a news and current affair conglomerate taking assertive account for their actions.

Like Julianne Schultz (2002) says, the maintenance of responsibility will have to come from journalists, editors and producers.

I think they all need a hearty kick in the bot-bot.

Guest Ed Polly: Thanks for posting your comment Chris. Please post a surname next time as per Webdiary's guidelines (or watch your bot-bot).

re: A model the rest of the media would do well to adopt

The media defamation case that I best remember is one from a few years ago when a certain colourful racing identity and his son were fingered on a current affairs TV program for some rather doggy dealings.

The father went all the way past the courthouse steps with his lawsuit, but the son declined to go through with it when he found out that in order to do so he would have to deny the allegations that were made about him on the said TV program.

No names used here, of course. Wouldn't want to face a defamation suit myself!

re: A model the rest of the media would do well to adopt

And on the other hand Catharine, there are the media outlets that get it spectacularly wrong and don't print a suitable apology or clarification.

We are representing a client whose reputation was undeservedly maligned by a major media outlet.

Our advice to the client is to sue and not back down for an apology. Fortunately the client is in a financial position to do so.

The media gets away with too much inaccuracy, malice and bias. Penalising in the hip pocket may help some newsrooms exercise greater caution.

re: A model the rest of the media would do well to adopt

Gee, Cathy, er... sorry... Prof, how well it works for you in the know. All I wanted in Duncan v Allen & Unwin was an apology and it took about six months including the media coverage of an injunction which I falied to obtain to restrain publication - nothing more than a necessary prophylactic step in the litigation - totally misunderstood by the journalists happily feeding on what they thought was my carcass.

I'd be happy to send you a copy of the apology I finally got and the consent orders because, despite the time, the effort and the filing fee, as what you journalists like to call us citizens these days, 'a consumer of legal services' I thought the new Defamation Act worked reasonably well in a litigious context.

By the way, don't you owe me lunch?

re: A model the rest of the media would do well to adopt

Oscar: "Problem is, how many readers saw the slur but missed the apology?"

It would have been hard to miss it. It was given plenty of space in Crikey's email edition, as was Catherine's follow up piece.

re: A model the rest of the media would do well to adopt

At least Crikey, unlike nearly every newspaper in Australia, are happy to admit fault. Problem is, how many readers saw the slur but missed the apology? Some simple fact-checking would have avoided the whole situation.

re: A model the rest of the media would do well to adopt

Dee Bayliss, if we are talking about the same family, and I think we must be (clue: not quite a 'shit' house, but much closer to a lake, river, stream or ocean), I would contend that he could be termed either a 'businessman' or a 'colourful racing identity' considering the business they were in. Actually, they could be mistaken for lots of other things.

re: A model the rest of the media would do well to adopt

Steve Turbit, actually haven't they all got it in their woolly heads that everyone in Australia knows who the 'colourful racing identity' and his son are? In fact I am always amazed when I realise the old bastard is still alive.

And you are wrong mate. The 'colourful racing identity' is in fact a 'well-known Sydney business man'. It would never do for you to get your well-known businessmen and colourful racing identities mixed up. A good police roundsman in the days of 'Bumper' Farrell would never have gotten away with that.

Lately the wordsmiths of the Age for the sake of economy when dealing with certain families in Melbourne have been simply referring to people as 'identities'.

The 'confirmed bachelors' who used to be seen on the arms of society grande dames have likewise disappeared... or come out of the closet.

Geez if 'Hollywood' George Edser were still alive he'd sue you.

re: A model the rest of the media would do well to adopt

Actually Steve I was talking about a "well-known Sydney businessman" with a son, an interest in several business undertakings around the King's Cross area and a penchant for litigation when journalists quote the facts.

Of course you are correct in describing the other family as "colourful racing identities" and indeed they could be "well-known Sydney business people" as well. Unlike many such families they seem to be equal opportunity as well.

A question to ponder. How would one refer to certain prominent gentlemen who some years back were involved in the wine industry?

Between us, and given Australia's libel laws we could end up producing an array of descriptors for keen crime journalists and investigative reporters which would rival such monumental authorities as the Macquarie Dictionary, Odger's Guide to Senate Practice, the ABC Style Guide and most importantly, Richard Glover's Dag's Dictionary.

re: A model the rest of the media would do well to adopt

For safety's sake Dee Bayliss we at the Cross refer to them as benefactors.

re: A model the rest of the media would do well to adopt

Yes Steve glad I was able to be not so cryptic that you still know what I was on about.

Now as for the constabulary...one must be careful even in these days of political correctness, ICAC and PIC.

Shall we refer to them as the "alleged wallopers with the alleged brown paper bags"? Doncha just love that "alleged" weasel word?

re: A model the rest of the media would do well to adopt

Dee Bayliss, ah the penny has dropped! You are talking about that 'businessman' who had interests in both the nightclub and insurance industries. He also had some very good connections with the NSW constabulary?

re: A model the rest of the media would do well to adopt

Ho hum. It's the we small hours and insomnia dogs a soul like a dog.
So having read the above from Catharine Lumby and then the responses, the Linda Stanhope response gets closest to engaging with the Lumby piece, as far as this writer can see.

This is partly because Lumby is just too vague at the core of her essay, when she says of defamation law that it is: "...fundamentally out of step with modern life and modern media".
Is it really "out of step"?
Or is this only in a vaguely juvenile, bourgeois, post mod, "transgressive" sense? Ho hum, very witty; (yawn).

Actually, many think vice-versa, although the ASIO laws probably bolster the broadsheet case, as Kingston and others have tried to warn us.
Stanhope's summing-up seems more in tune with the realities when she talks of media getting away with "too much innacuracy, malice and bias". Exhibit one- John Brogden and the tabloids?

Lumby mentions Crikey editor Misha Ketchell in her piece, but this fellow is responsible for some of the silliest stuff I've ever read concerning the "rights" of tabloids to be tabloids. As if simply by calling themselves tabloids they are thus then exonerated from the conventions that represent the moral licence for broadsheet media to do genuine investigative journalism.

I thought the Murdoch press op eds were the only outlets to write things this dense. It's like me being exempt from the consequences of committing murder because I first put on a T-shirt saying " warning: I'm a murderer". Duh!
It's a real drag when tabloids keep going piggy-back on the broadsheets, who actually seek workable processes to seek legitimate answers to legitimate situations (say, like Telstra), since everyone knows the basis for their desire as far as this is concerned (Refer once again to Stanhope).

Lumby's example for the need for press freedom is found in her own piece in Crikey, where she cites her doctoral thesis work on the Clinton affair, where she is critical of Clinton for lying.
But the Clinton affair was a classic piece of media abuse of broadsheet investigative rights, and so similar to the Brogden affair. Clinton was honour-bound to deny his involvement, which had no relevance to his role in public affairs except as a cat's paw for the Right.

Since the affair was only an attempt to incapacitate him politically, rather than an attempt to put right an injustice. There was never an injustice in the first place, at least concerning the Clinton/Lewinsky behaviours (consenting adults- apart from the despicable one of Clinton's confiding over Hilary in his pillow conversations with Lewinsky).
If Clinton had been jailed for lying about having sex with Lewinsky, would not all the right-wing political and media organisations who beat up the story for their own base motives have to have been jailed, for lying about the "public interest" being their first concern? Tripp is surely the REAL paradigmatic example of criminality here.

No, the laws exist because the tabloid media and press are just plain amoral and have too much "form" to ever be trusted- and this is tragic for those who seek to know and relay to adults what occurs in the "real" world.
Besides, do people really believe so-called journalists who are only hired-guns, for objective comments about their employers.

Say people who represent sporting organisations who need a PR job done for them? I'll give Lumby her due though in one respect. At least she repudiated the sanctimonious blither adopted by some journos, concerning Brogden having a "wife and children at home" and the concurrent notion of feminists as "God's police"; a la "Blessed Miranda of the 'Burbs" and the ilk.
The press was right to report Brogden's nonsense, but not to carry on a subsequent smear campaign.

For neolib readers, I'm NOT interested in tabloids so-called obligations to their shareholders, either, when they publicly claim to be interested, first and foremost, in objective news gathering "without fear or favour". At least not anymore any more than I am interested in a Mafia gunman's excuse that he was paid by his bosses to do murder.

No, What I need is a legal framework that helps me differentiate between genuine journalism on one hand and salacious profiteering or political smear-campaigns, on the other. That is, as well as encouraging a little honesty in the world of journalism.

re: A model the rest of the media would do well to adopt

Solomon, you poor beggar. So you do things like walk around in the pitch black of night too, do you? Am REALLY smiling at your post. You have probably done a far heavier study load than me as well. You'll get there.

I just hope the world doesn't deteriorate too quickly, as it probably already has done for hundereds of millions in the developing world. My betters have given me a good life and I hope the next Aussie generation at least, if not everyone, gets its crack at life as well. At least the well-meaning ones, that is.

Me old nana said, "it's great life if you don't weaken".

Then she fixed me with a hard stare and said:" but ya don't want to weaken!"

re: A model the rest of the media would do well to adopt

Paul, insomnia is a devil. I had trouble sleeping all throughout my first year or so of uni. Nearly lost my head completely, trying to stay awake and pass Constitutional law. Was wandering around the streets at night because I couldn't stand to be inside. Right now is like waking up out of a nightmare, only to find that things are worse than I thought. I wish I'd never picked up a newspaper. I've learned much more about the way governments and the media operate than I really think I want to.

re: A model the rest of the media would do well to adopt

Can anybody explain to me what Catherine Lumby actually stands for? Every time she opens her mouth all I hear is a garbled spray of contradictions gift-wrapped in post-modernist gobbledegook. How on Earth is she a 'Professor' for goodness sakes?

Margo: Noelene, have you followed Catharine's career? She is a Professor because she's earned the title. I'd like a piece from you about what you believe "Catharine Lumby actually stands for" after you've read her body of work, which spans more than 15 years. BTW, where is the piece you promised me? Take your time, of course, but I'm awaiting your piece with trepdidation and excitement.

re: A model the rest of the media would do well to adopt

G'day. Would a Webdiarist be interested in writing an appraisal of Donald Horne's work and themes and his contribution to Australia? Ramsey opened the batting at Second-raters are still in charge. Donald wrote a piece for Webdiary, published on September 3, 2001, called Looking for leadership. A life well lived, was Donald Horne's. He spoke to Phillip Adams about his book Looking for leadership on September 4, 2001. Australia's leading historian of the Liberal Party, Judith Brett, reviewed Looking for leadership for Australian Review here. Donald's last book was 10 Steps to a More Tolerant Australia, which I read when it came out and is on my bookshelf. Here is the text of Donald's Webdiary piece:

Dear Margo,

Attached, a piece from me. I'm sorry my book's deadlines didn't give me a chance to do a paragraph on the psychology of Howard's panicky side - the panic of fear when he tossed all that money around earlier in the year (petrol etc) and the panic of elation when, as the Napoleon of Kirribilli House, he thinks he sees a main chance, as in the present mess - which I hope will turn into the panic of fear if, having sent in the SAS, he has to send them out again. Please, God - you owe us one.

Looking for Leadership

When I was in hospital about a year ago recovering from a bowel cancer operation I decided it was time to write the book I had been thinking about writing for several years - giving my views about how things are going in Australia these days. It comes out this week as Looking for Leadership: Australia in the Howard Years and it's published by Viking Press.

The way in which I decided to do this reminded me of two other books I've written. One was called The Lucky Country. It came out in 1964 (published by Penguin Books, who own Viking Press) and both the book and the phrase are still around.

Writing Looking for Leadership reminded me of writing The Lucky Country because that book was written near the end of the Menzies years and it was a time when political leadership had rusted into immobility - to the prickly and enervating frustration of a great number of Australians who felt the country's potential was being clogged up. We're going through one of a time of clog again - but there is one defining difference.

Menzies' fault was that he didn't want to move forward. John Howard's fault is that not only does he not want to move forward. In a number of things he wants to move backwards, even if it means we fall over.

The other book was Death of the Lucky Country (also published by Penguin), written at the time of Gough Whitlam's dismissal, in 1975. That wasn't a time of rusting up. It was a time when for a while it looked as if things might burst into flames. There are no flames around now (although there are a lot of smokescreens) but I remembered Death of the Lucky Country because I also thought it up in a hospital, that time an eye hospital, with my eyes bandaged after an operation on one of my retinas.

That was one reason for recalling it. The other was that in 1975 as in 1964 I thought I had some things to say that many people believed, and that putting all this together in a book might encourage them. In the mid-1960s they had to speak up. In the mid-1970s they had to remember. I think that hundreds of thousands of Australians now have convictions about lack of leadership in Australia in general and the Howard years in particular.

There should be a continued discussion well beyond the trivialities of parliamentary question time and the revolving news cycles. I hope this book will help concentration on what might really be going wrong with Australia and how, as it turned out after the mid-sixties and the mid-seventies, we might again get the chance to set things right.

First, and it doesn't make much sense without it, Looking for Leadership is a clinical report on the significant oddities of the Howard years ...

On the oddities of Howard himself as a kind of parody of history, a small prophet in his mini akubra of 'the Dreamtime Fifties', now lost, with no real sense of the past and no sense at all of the future. (After being a critic of R.G.Menzies for decades, I suddenly found some good words for him in a comparison I made with John Howard.)

And on the oddities of the characteristic vocabulary of Howard and of his intellectual palace guard. On the little phrases that say so much about a time of endless irrelevance - 'political correctness', 'mandate', 'the elites', 'black armband history', 'the mainstream', 'rural and regional', 'shareholders' democracy', and so forth - including continuing chatter about 'egalitarianism' by which they mean making the world look small and ordinary so that Howard can look large and significant.

Above all, on Howard's singular oddity of spreading around what I call 'itching powder' - a continuing scratching at some of the tolerance that developed under both Liberal and Labor governments for thirty or so years. A scratching and itching that set off Australians against Australians in ways that have put back many of the clocks of tolerance and (probably) set off the running infestations of Hansonism.

In a section called 'John Howard's loyal opposition', I've made Kim Beazley's Labor Party one of the essential features of the Howard years.

But the book's not all Howard. It has a look at Howard to the background of the Hawke and Keating years when politicians first lost the talent of talking to their fellow-citizens about what was happening in the economy in words they could understand. Look at all the words that have blown up - 'globalisation', 'information society', 'new technology', 'knowledge nation' and so forth - and those endless recitals of economic statistics that don't tell us what we want to know.

Here we are going through what is probably the greatest turning upside down of the labour market since the industrial revolution and for a quarter of a century not one Australian leader has been able to talk sense about it. We have lost our single most important faith - a faith in national development - with not a signpost in sight.

And here we are, also, going through an 'economisation' of our lives that may even take over the arts and the universities.

There's a lot of other stuff in the book - how we relate to the rest of the world, how we relate to each other, how 'the bush' isn't a single unit, how almost no one has learned lessons from the republic fiasco, how no one talks about what it means to be a services economy, how we are subjected to endless claptrap about 'national identity', and also how we can often be good citizens without knowing it.

And I wanted to do it with glimpses of history - prime ministers and so forth, but even the histories of the suburban street where I was born and of the country town where I spent my boyhood

Much of it is optimistic, because that's how I think. But there are times when I'm not so sure ...


You'll find a selection of Donald's favourite classical music here:

* Desprez Motet: Salve Regina - La Chapelle Royale / Philippe Herrewghe Harmonia Mundi HMC 901243 4'

*Weill Mack the Knife from The Threepenny Opera - Lotte Lenya
Sony Clasical MHK63222 [Lotte Lenya Sings Kurt Weill] 3'

*Purcell Dido's Lament: When I Am Laid In Earth - Catherone Bott, s; Academy of Ancient Music / Christopher Hogwood L'Oiseau-Lyre 444 620-2 3'

Trad St. James Infirmary - Cab Calloway
Jass Records JASS-J-CD626 [Street Walking Blues] 3'

Satie Gnosienne No.5 - Pascal Rogé, p
Decca 410 220-2 4'

re: A model the rest of the media would do well to adopt

Not anymore, Paul. I'm giving up my wanderings and settling down. Took me a while but I've more or less shaken my insomnia. I've also left the worst of my degree behind me; I had some troubles do to re-structuring, meaning I was lumped with an unusually heavy load for a while there, but I'm through with all that.

The only trouble I have with this little world, is getting people to co-operate with me when I need something; past a certain point that will cease to be a problem, since I'm trying to find a way to make myself useful. If I can figure out how the tax system works, I'll be a prize.

Your nan sounds like a fine woman.

re: A model the rest of the media would do well to adopt

In reply to Paul Walter's comments: Paul, hi. You say what we need to do is to make a distinctinon between "genuine journalism on one hand and salacious profiteering or political smear-campaigns, on the other". I agree that Clinton was very much a target of a right wing campaign against him. I lived in New York in the mid-90s and saw the Culture Wars first hand (and came back here just in time to see the whole thing reheated and served up as though it was all new in the late 90s). The point I make in my analysis of the Clinton case is that the left as much as the right have been party to expanding the boundaries of what is seen as properly political. Sexual harasssment is a case in point - behaviour which was once seen as purely a private or perhaps moral issue - has become the subject of regulation and is now seen as a matter of public interest. There are good reasons for this - I'm a feminist of course and I am not suggesting we wind back sexual harassment law (although I do think we need to precise about what we term sexual harassment). My point is simply that one the byproducts of the feminist movement is the politicisation of attitudes and behaviours which were once seen as private. The boundaries between the private and the public are, of course, cultural and political. They shift. You could do a lot of things in the Greek agora which you'd get arrested for doing in Martin Place today. Privacy was certainly a lot less valued then - or certainly defined very differently. So one of my interests in my thesis - published as book called Gotcha: Life in Tabloid World - was in exploring the way both contemporary political movements and the tabloidisation of the media were influencing the framing of our public sphere and of public debate. Ultimately, what I'm arguing is that "genuine" or "good" journalism is not a universal. You can't draw a hard and fast line between decent journalism and muckraking which will always be true in advance because what is and isn't in the public interest is a matter of ongoing negotiation. Thanks for your comments by the way.

Noelene - I was wondering if you could explain what part of the piece I posted read like postmodern gobbledygook to you? I'm always happy to clarify anything I've written.

re: A model the rest of the media would do well to adopt

Hi, Catharine, to you too.

Heartening to see that the person who conjured the substance for the thread has considered the comments offered concerning herself and her thoughts and offered a corollary for our benefit.

You talk of Agoras, which are places where people the like of Diogenes have been known to hang out, but you have given us the time of day, unlike the worst type of cynics, although you sound world-weary.

It's true we haven't observed first-hand what you have observed, and are probably many good IQ points behind you, as per comprehension. And the last person I know who completed a doctorate all but ended up in the fruitcake house.

So all the more meritorious that we are offered the insights of person with state of the art insights into public affairs and media.

The effort of mine you read was a reaction to something that genuinely aroused my suspicions, namely the Brogden event. These things raise a person's hackles, be they significant or otherwise, so I was a bit "noisy" in my post. I can't cope with tabloid media all that well, although that's partly snobbishness. Got to compensate somehow.

Best of luck, look forward to more pieces like the one from you a few months ago, on the deterioration of universities.

re: A model the rest of the media would do well to adopt

Noelene, a good media degree will teach you how to sell things. Most students will major in advertising, PR or design. I was taught PR by a young man from the Liberal party. I don't understand the angst. Good, solid, materialism and self-interest. There is a critical element too but that is no different to any degree and I found it politically balanced, overall. Occasional intensity, like when I was subjected to watching a video of Iraqi terrorists beheading someone.

Mostly there were just pretty girls wandering around, reading magazines and talking about fashion. Nice people. I'm not convinced anymore that there is anything more in life than pretty girls, a good library and a place where I don't fear being assaulted.

re: A model the rest of the media would do well to adopt

I thought Catharine's post was exuberant, rather than world-weary. You certainly sound world-weary, Paul , especially these past few days. Do you like Auden? I'll link this poem in tribute to you and insomnia.

re: A model the rest of the media would do well to adopt

Paul Walter, even the proper universities are dumbing down at an alarming rate. I nearly cried when I found out that even Sydney Uni has become infected with the "Cultural Studies" cancer. Culti-Studi is for those too dumb to handle History. At Sydney Uni. they call it "Gender Studies" and "Media Studies."


re: A model the rest of the media would do well to adopt

Catharine Lumby responds:

Paul and Noelene, hi.

There's a whole other conversation lurking inside the one we've been having - in very different ways - about the uses of the contemporary humanities. I have to say that contrary to Noelene's perception - and perhaps that of others - I am quite a traditionalist when it comes to tertiary education.

The media degree I helped put together is very much grounded (as much as possible) in a liberal arts tradition. I positively encourage my students to do two extra majors in history, philosophy, classics etc. My own undergrad arts background was very focused on ethics and aesthetics and I really worry about the potential for these forms of knowledge being lost in an increasingly utilitarian approach to education.

Would be interested to hear others thoughts on this - maybe someone wants to write an article?

Thanks for your thoughts - both of you.


re: A model the rest of the media would do well to adopt

Paul Walter. Oh stop! Please! All that garbage polluting the innocent minds of young girls. I talk to them at uni, and they find it all so meaningless, but write what the gender feminists want in order to get good grades. Reading Lumby, Elspeth and the gang's contortions and confabulations over issues like Big Brother and the footy molls is as painful as listening to nails go down a blackboard.

re: A model the rest of the media would do well to adopt

Noelene, you have been lurking!
You waited 'til the big nasty Lumby shuffled off and then you popped up, like that naughty sprite you are.

Did you know that someone in another thread called you "nasty"?. They ain't seen nuttin' yet, eh?

Yes, lots of postmodernism, hermeneutics, cultural studies, discursive fields, Foucault, Derrida, more Foucault, queer theory, deconstruction, Kristeva and worst of all, the "critiquing which doth scarce darest speak its own name"- crit theory! (and more Foucault).

Poor old Marx hardly gets a look-in these day, or Adam Smith (thanks, John Henry Calvinist). Not a dicky-bird about the worker's struggle or F.R. Leavis or T.S. Elliot.

Instead you get to learn about diachronic and synchronic, "refusals", transgressions, signifier and signified, the "other", dissonance, bildungsromans, narratology, doing injury to the ‘Text’ (good fun), "the two that is one (or is that vice versa- where's that old note sheet on Cixous?), tropes, memes and epochs, and Reclaiming Woman's Experience. No, I've not even touched some it.

And probably most of it fell on deaf ears.

Particularly courses involving a fair whack of feminism where one was sternly lectured concerning Patriarchy, by earnest and sombre sisters, both tiny solemn undergrads and take-no-prisoners tutors, before a "full sitting".
Seriously, though. I reckon I was taught more in a single day of "19th Century Woman Writers" than in the entire forty plus years preceding uni. I can't understand how they managed it- amazing people. Even more amazing is that getting to uni itself happened only more or less by accident. But that's a story for a different time.

re: A model the rest of the media would do well to adopt

Catharine, I realise now that I'm a militant utilitarian. I think the education system, from kindergarten to university, institutionalises young people and fails to give them any proper career-skilling. This can lead to suicides, nearing graduation, as happened to a friend of a friend of mine.

My concern is not over utilitarianism, it is over tokenism; Many subjects require you just to turn up, do minimal amount of work/thinking, then leave. I don't do pointless busy work. In first year I played along; I used to get up at 5am in the morning to travel to attend non-compulsoty advertising lectures.

However I learnt very early on that many subjects require mere token work, without enough time to actually look in to anything properly. Lecturers give students kindergarten excercises to do and get frustrated when they don't do them. It's stressful and not conducive to learning.

If a course contains real academic/intellectual work then I enjoy it, though, if it is mere indulgence I find it hard to hold back my contempt. I wasn't always as black as this, however I've been sheep-dogged around long enough in university, now, to treat each subject with suspicion, hunting around for what is useful to me and ignoring what isn't. It is harder and harder to do that, with the increasing regimentation of university study, due to paranoia over plagiarism.

As such I'm now a media dropout, having lost faith in both my degree and in the Australian media as an institution that I would want to devote any portion of my life to. Whilst my law degree is no better and no worse, my intention is to take it on part time, so that I can properly find time to learn something. It will require a change in attitude, too, as I've discovered this semester. I need to be less ruthless and try and give the poor fools some slack.

re: A model the rest of the media would do well to adopt

Catharine Lumby responds:

Solomon, this is quite weird for me. A short article I posted about defamation has led me into a discussion I am particularly passionate about - and live from day to day in my role as an academic. I agree that education needs to have clear outcomes - that students need to leave with generic and specific skills - we expend enormous amounts of time thinking about how we are teaching those skills. But we also need to frame the vocational/professional skills in an historical, cultural and political context - if we dont, we may as well decide we're a Technical College.

The issue that really looms - and in some cases is already upon us - is that there are a growing number of students who come to university seeing it as a kind elevated private school - ie a place where you pay to get information delivered to you with a more or less guaranteed outcome (a degree and a job).

At its best, university is not about transferring knowledge, it is about transformation of self. And that's not a privileged view of things - it's people like me who came from backgrounds with limited cultural capital who have often benefited the most from the liberal arts experience

The split between an academically excellent education and a professionally useful one seems to me, and is in my experience, way too simple.

re: A model the rest of the media would do well to adopt

Well, well. A conversation seems to be starting here.

Firstly Noelene, I know you are only twenty one. Where did you get such a thick hide, given your tender years. Do I have half as thick a skin at 50-years odd. Seem to remember you informing someone of your own degree in a post a little while back.

Secondly Dr Lumby. I am a bit like Solomon actually. Am a fitful one subject off a degree, done slowly, part-time. I enjoyed the European Studies subjects I did, or half-did, including intros to Ancient Philosophy, Death of God and problems concerning Good and Evil, which are intros to modern European and continental thought, as you would know.

Am relating to your comments concerning these sorts of subjects. I'm thinking of Hellenism evolving out of the participatory, for purposes of this chat, Agora of Athens, the morphing through into Roman ascendancy and hegemony, described in Cicero's account of his term as Governor of Cilicia, oddly familiar when held up against the worst excesses of Pax Americana.
Seems, after the rise of Roman hegemony and heterogony, to be a sense of atomisation/alienation similar to our times. I then think of St.Paul at Athens, described in the New Testament and the people dwarfed by their era trying to regain a sense of community lost, that could relate to changes in the last generation or two involving 'globalisation' involving the ability or feeling of some people in our time also to 'belong'. I could start waffling about Nietzsche, Arendt and Heideggerfrom here but apart from not being qualified to discuss such things in depth, I realise this operates best as a brief chat.

Solomon, thanks for the poem by Auden. Actually reading it was a relief. Your last post has me inevitably thinking on things generational, too (Proust?). You were right the other night, I am more world weary than Catharine and this is both a function and privilege of old(er) age.

re: A model the rest of the media would do well to adopt

Catharine, the worth of media et al degrees has been a long-running debate on Webdiary. I think it has its roots in the fact that Howard has been mutilating ‘non-essential’ degrees, for the sake of cutting costs. I don't know, maybe Miranda has been mouthing off at it. Don't be surprised, it's part of the Right's dislike of all things ambiguous and not tied to money-making. I expect this to continue, forever, without any resolution.

I want both professional skills and some kind of context put to it. Whilst I can and have done my own reading, to explore some of the historical basis of the law, I'm in a much more vulnerable position in regards to the professional side; I simply wouldn't know what is required or expected. I lose all sympathy when I see this vulnerability exploited with threats of professional failure, as I've seen done occasionally by insecure tutors, that don't know how to manage a class.

One of the major problems, as I see it, is in the shift from lecturing to tutorials and the emphasis on ‘class participation’. It's very involved and can create some quite distressing silences, when no-one is in the mood to participate, or few have done their readings (usually because they are focusing on their next assignment and nothing else). The best tutors are those with infinite patience or some kind of teaching qualification. The best I've ever had was an high school teacher.

I listen hard to personal accounts of professional experience. I also listen hard to real, strongly-held opinions. The fact that you mean what you say and have some academic work to your name, marks you as a real academic to me, so I'd want to be in your class.

Of course, some students - some students concern me, I'll put it that way. I know university study was once much rarer than it is now and many with older degrees, despair at the lack of enthusiasm some students seem to feel towards learning. I'm cynical about many aspects of university management and culture, however I'm not cynical about learning and I don't intend to ever stop.

I don't think I want information merely transferred to me. I enjoyed the freedom of ‘self-directed learning’ that was present in my communications degree and only left when it became clear that was disappearing and I was expected to follow a kindergarten regimen. What I want is more, rather than less control, over my own learning, which is why I'm frustrated at the moment.

Other students are precisely the opposite and like to know exactly what they have to do, not necessarily because they can't direct their own learning, but because they are ambitious or competitive and want a clear idea of what they have to do to get good marks.

I've had courses where I knew from the very first few weeks, that the exam would be based around lecture notes, and that despite the fact that you're not allowed to ‘plagiarise’ from them, not having them with you would be disastrous. I have absolutely no respect for that kind of garbage, especially when strict attendance requirements mean that the course gobbles up time that I could better spend elsewhere.

In this context, it's actually quite painful to listen to some accounts of how university used to be, or how it is supposed to be, especially if it descends in to petty student-bashing or generational jealousies. There is also the spectre of John Howard and his economic rationalism, underlying everything, which means that I've usually got to fight through layers of anti-materialism to get through the message I'm trying to get across.

I'm sure you still won’t be convinced, but that's alright, I'd rather have you defending free thought and transformation of self, than have Brendan Nelson (whom I've threatened with violence if he ever comes to UWS) teach me about how to be an ignorant, self-serving puppet.

re: A model the rest of the media would do well to adopt

Paul, it's my favourite poem. The site doesn't say, but it was written in 1948. Beyond that I've no idea of the context but it is equally relevant now. A friend of mine likes Auden and I miss him. The lines "myself at seventeen" and the final line, are the parts that strike me the most.

re: A model the rest of the media would do well to adopt

Paul Walter, 21? As Michael Park would say, 'strike me bloody pink!' I'm far from 21. I'm that bete noir of all 21 year uni students. I'm a 'mature-aged' student. LOL!

re: A model the rest of the media would do well to adopt

Catharine Lumby, hi Catharine. I didn't realise that you were going to pull up a pew; otherwise I would have been a little more circumspect in my postings. I am not really as much of a bitch as many here claim, but I do like to mix things up a bit among the many fundies (left and right).

I went and checked out your Sydney Uni course, and to my delight and surprise, you are correct: The Media and Communications degree at Sydney seems to require only 35% of courses be from "Media & Communcations."

The remaining 2/3 from conventional Science or Arts degrees. I was especially impressed with Science as a possible co-major, as "Media and Communications" graduates tend to be woefully ignorant of even basic Statistics, Economics, Biology, Physics, Logic, History, and so on.

I also give you a tick for the Media/Comm courses, which seem to be much more about actually writing a news report, producing a short radio piece, using a camera and audio equipment for a TV news report and so on. I saw little evidence of the almost two years of Foucault and Lacan-inpspired garbage that pollutes most other courses such as the UTS degree.

Your courses that DO put "media and communications" in a broader sociological context seem acceptable also. Basic Law, Australian politics and so on.

I approve!

re: A model the rest of the media would do well to adopt

Hi web diarists!

I thought some may be interested in this...

The Hunter community has decided to take things into their own hands!

We're kicking off a new newspaper that is
progressive. "The Hunter Advocate" (a non-confronting title don't you think?) is published by a collective of people ("grassroots media inc")
who wish to provide a media forum for public discussion of issues of
concern to the Hunter community.

This Friday 30th September, as part of the This Is Not Art (TINA) festival, the first edition of the new community newspaper will be launched.

Where: Watt Space Gallery, Auckland St, Newcastle
When: 5.30pm for 6pm start

The organisers have done a marvellous job organising the launch - there'll be food, drink and entertainment, we've got half a dozen great
businesses who have sponsored the event so we can launch the paper as it should be!

If you're in Newcastle, you're invited (and so are your friends and family!)

it'll be great to see you there


re: A model the rest of the media would do well to adopt

From the High Court of Australia today (judgement not yet available):

Favell & Anor v Queensland Newspapers Pty Ltd & Anor

A story in Brisbane’s Sunday Mail newspaper was capable of bearing the defamatory meanings complained of by Mr and Mrs Favell, the High Court of Australia held today.

The story, written by Ms Lawrence and published on 19 January 2003, reported that a fire had destroyed a riverside Brisbane home on a site where the Favells hoped to build a five-storey block of units. The Favell family was holidaying overseas and house-sitting relatives were absent at the time of the fire. The story quoted neighbours opposed to the development while Mrs Favell was quoted as saying that neighbours had been given the plans and “were fine about it”. A detective from the arson squad was quoted as saying all fires were treated as suspicious until proven otherwise. The link between the house burning down and what the story said was the controversial plan to redevelop the New Farm site was at the centre of the Favells’ defamation action. The headline was “Development site destroyed – Fire guts riverside mansion”.

In the Queensland Supreme Court Justice John Helman struck out a large number of imputations that could not easily be differentiated from each other. He also rejected the claim that the story was capable of conveying the imputations that the Favells committed the crime of arson, that they were reasonably suspected by the police of committing arson, and that Mrs Favell lied about neighbourhood reaction to the proposed development. The Court of Appeal dismissed an appeal by the Favells, although it held that the story was capable of conveying an imputation similar to the second imputation. They appealed to the High Court.

The Court held that Justice Helman was incorrect to hold that the article reported the fire and the circumstances surrounding it without comment and went no further that recording that the fire was under investigation. It unanimously allowed the appeal and held that the story was capable of conveying all three meanings complained of. It is now for a jury to determine whether the story did in fact convey those meanings. The Court held that factors which a jury could find pointed to the Favells being responsible for the fire included: the headline; opposition to the plan to build the block of units; the prospect of getting approval for the plan improving if the site were vacant; the unexplained absence of the house-sitters; the fire starting at 4am; security gates preventing access to strangers; Mrs Favell creating the impression that the development was not controversial; and the Favells’ absence overseas. The Court ordered that Queensland Newspapers’ application be remitted to the Supreme Court for further consideration of other unresolved issues about the pleading.

(This statement is not intended to be a substitute for the reasons of the High Court or to be used in any later consideration of the Court’s reasons.)

re: A model the rest of the media would do well to adopt

Catharine, I had a lot of affection for that particular flamer. Now she's gone and it broke my heart. Perhaps you could clarify the situation, here.

Also: for the historical record, since you've now raised the profile of this thread, when I say I've threatened Brendan Nelson with violence, it's based on a facetious comment I made on Webdiary about smacking him in the face "like a true westie", prior to the police warning Abbott/Nelson not to attend universities. I hope I had absolutely nothing to do with that decision! I'm not going to attack anybody. They'd never admit me to practice law. I suspect though it had more to do with the danger that VSU protestors could erupt. Since I've tried to encourage people not to go to protests, at the present time, they can hardly accuse me of trying to "incite violence" and arrest me as a potential terrorist.

But, you never know. Watch this space!

Your talk of online engagement is interesting. I've made plenty of critiques here about my university and academia, though I've kept it anonymous and vague, since it would be inappropriate to do otherwise. It still creates professional dilemmas, though, since I'm currently in exile from my communications degree there is less of it.

Most of the problems I've encountered have not been because of specific people, but rather specific types of people, or of specific conditions, and any critique I make is on that basis.

A university is an institution lording power over others and is worthy of critique. Personal attacks on particular academics, is very different.

I've sort of found myself acting as de facto student representative here, at times, which is not a role I wanted or sought, but felt compelled towards, essentially out of anger at lack of adequate voices from young people and the kind of slander I was seeing written in the press.

The internet is near instantaneous communication and an unfortunate aspect of this is that you can sometimes get near instantaneous expressions of a person, warts and all. The medium being the message and all, sometimes the 'message', is very raw.

Responsible editors should understand this. Webdiary is stuck in the dark ages in that it thinks the issue is about "free speech". In some ways I think it should be about protecting people from themselves. I've been most angry at webdiary for not censoring me, rather than for any act of censorship. It's possible to remedy a refusal to publish, but far more difficult to remedy the fact of publication.


To quote Huxley: "Chronic remorse, as all the moralists are agreed, is a most undesirable sentiment. If you have behaved badly, repent, make what amends you can and address yourself to the task of behaving better next time. On no account brood over your wrongdoing. Rolling in the muck is not the best way of getting clean."

Words to live by, especially in the 'digital age'.

Please come back. You're the only one that can act as circuit-breaker here. I do intend to purchase a copy of "Bad girls", even though I expect the contents might not live up to the title.

re: A model the rest of the media would do well to adopt

Ok, reading over 'Bad Girls', tonight, I'm struck by how much time is spent attacking the easy prey. It's the kind of thing that used to disappoint me in Devine/Albrechtsen, but which they seem to have progressed past, or which I've learnt to accept. I suppose in '97 it wouldn't have seemed like easy prey. Beyond that it reminds me vaguely of the post-modernist HSC curriculum as well as my time as a media student, as well as of the nineties generally, so I'm full of nostalgia for things past. Why I couldn't tell you, but as a teenager during the nineties I was constantly wading through feminist literature and this makes me feel rather missive for those days.

This piece from Albrechtsen is brutally contemporary in contrast. I hate the violence of the post 9/11 world, but it is the kind of thing that can't in good conscience be ignored or forgotten.

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