The most ridiculous op-ed you will read this week

Society must, at some stage, accept that not only is there a widespread demand for pornography, but that it also has the potential, in the process of adhering to certain values, to aid healthy adolescent sexual development. It may seem ludicrous to envision government-funded pornography, but there is no reason why such an enlightened initiative would not be theoretically feasible. …

Such an alternative could take many forms. A government-funded website or periodical aimed at adolescents between the ages of 13 and 18, for example, containing erotic and/or informative sexual content (written as well as visual); a high standard of journalism that is simultaneously accessible to the demographics in question; a feminist, but not misandrist, bent; a diverse, open-minded and celebratory view of sex; at least a small quota of queer material; healthy and realistic depictions of the human form, both male and female; opportunities for reader feedback; and rigorous production and employment standards that guard against exploitation.

– Monash University journalism student David Heslin, published this morning in The Age. He makes a sensible point that boys looking at pornography is no inherent cause for concern, but draws the ridiculous conclusion that government should pay for the kind of porn he prefers. There is no ‘market failure’ in the porn industry. And if people really want the nasty, non-NVE stuff a free alternative will not stop them.

Why has the left turned on Rudd more than the right did on Howard?

Tim Dunlop kindly exempts me from his argument that the right’s commentators generally gave the Howard government a soft time, while the left’s commentators have turned on Rudd.

Some theories:

* Right-wingers typically have low expectations of what politics can achieve, and so were not so disappointed with the Howard government. Left-wingers have high expectations – higher than is realistic – so are inevitably disappointed. There was a huge expectations and popularity bubble around Rudd that in my view was always absurdly out of line with the fundamentals. It had to burst and it has.

* Labor governments try to do more than Liberal governments, and given the inherent limitations of state action are therefore more likely to stuff things up. The national broadband network looks like the next big Rudd fiasco, if he survives the 2010 election. Blunders put both left and right commentators on the attack.

* The views of right-wing commentators were closer to those of Howard than the views of the broad left were to Rudd. Most wouldn’t regard the examples Dunlop gives of failed Howard policies – Iraq, WorkChoices – as failed policies. Continue reading “Why has the left turned on Rudd more than the right did on Howard?”

Can public intellectuals be used to assess partisan media slant?

Andrew Leigh and Joshua Gans have a new paper out on media ‘slant’ (which they prefer to ‘bias’, given that reporting can be negative or positive for reasons unrelated to prior partisan feelings).

One of their methodologies for assessing ‘slant’, getting five people to code article and editorial content, seems sensible – though it would be good to extend the analysis beyond the 2004 election campaign, given that it would be quite possible that leadership issues in that campaign made some papers appear more anti-Labor than they are on ideological grounds alone.

But another methodology using public intellectuals, as Sinclair Davidson has argued at Catallaxy, just isn’t going to work.

They’ve rated the partisan nature of various public intellectuals according to whether they are most mentioned by Coalition or Labor politicians in a positive or neutral way. As Sinc points out, this immediately starts to get some very counter-intuitive results:

Does anyone really believe that Philip Adams (26 mentions, 65% Coalition) is a right-winger? Other right-wingers include Eva Cox (9 mentions, 56% Coalition), Germaine Greer (4 mentions, 75% Coalition) and Hugh MacKay (18 mentions, 78% Coalition). Kevin Rudd’s best friend Glyn Davis (18 mentions, 56% Coalition) looks to be a tory too.

Continue reading “Can public intellectuals be used to assess partisan media slant?”

More political donations innuendo

An AFR op-ed last Friday cited an anonymous corporate affairs head giving as one reason for ceasing political donations ‘some fear around our reputation’.

And little wonder, given the flimsy grounds on which businesspeople are subject to political donations innuendo.

A page one story in The Weekend Australian did at least – unlike other political donations investigations – start with something that looked a bit suspicious, a favourable deal for Credit Suisse in the now-infamous OzCar scheme.

But from there we head off on a particularly tenuous drawing of links:

The Weekend Australian can reveal that John O’Sullivan, the chairman of investment banking for Credit Suisse, donated more than $20,000 to the Wentworth Forum, the Opposition Leader’s political fighting fund.

But why is this relevant? The Opposition was working to discredit a Labor scheme that benefited Credit Suisse, a funny kind of buying influence for a Credit Suisse executive.
Continue reading “More political donations innuendo”

Media 101

Over the weekend, I lamented to friends that I did not get much media coverage for my paper on political expenditure laws. I thought I had a good argument and had exposed many previously unreported negative consequences of the electoral law reform bill.

But while many days research and writing yielded only a handful of low-profile news reports (though also some opinion pieces), a couple of five minute conversations on Friday with journalists from The Australian about the protential financial woes of universities yielded me a page one top-of-the-fold story with my name in the second paragraph. (My comments were just an updated version of this April post).

Perhaps the lesson is that while carefully-researched papers are a necessary part of building credibility as a dial-a-quote media source, saying something colorful or sensasationalist is the key to actually getting good coverage.

Commentators and ‘conflict of interest’

The idea that decision-makers have conflicts of interest is well established in law and the governance of private organisations. Those who have a direct or indirect (say, through a relative) financial interest in a decision usually have to excuse themselves from the decision-making process or at least declare their interest.

Though formal rules are less common than for decision-makers, the idea of a conflict of interest has spread into public debate and commentary. Two recent examples of a potential ‘conflict of interest’:

In a recent episode of The Gruen Transfer, an ABC TV panel show that discusses advertising, regular panel member Todd Sampson expressed strong views against an ad from a child abuse charity. Last Monday, the Fairfax press ran a story reporting that Sampson’s agency had done work for that child abuse charity, until they had a falling out in 2003. The reported claim was that this was a conflict of interest that Sampson should have disclosed.

Today, The Age ran a story about the departure of Monthly editor Sally Warhaft, reportedly over excessive meddling by editorial board chair Robert Manne. The report contains these paragraphs, emphasis added:

Monthly contributors contacted by The Age, most of whom declined to be identified, expressed shock at Dr Warhaft’s departure and praised her abilities as an editor.

“I’m deeply disappointed by what has transpired,” said regular contributor Gideon Haigh. “It does change my attitude to the magazine. Sally was a very good editor, as good an editor as I’ve worked with in 25 years as a journalist.”

What isn’t mentioned in the report is that Haigh is was Warhaft’s partner. Continue reading “Commentators and ‘conflict of interest’”

How newspapers report old news

In the SMH this morning, there is a story on the rorting of Youth Allowance. With an added error*, it is the same story reported on this blog several weeks ago. We both got it from the Bradley report.

But because the Bradley report is old news, we get this formulation:

There was “strong evidence” that the allowance was “quite poorly targeted and inequitable”, the authors of the Bradley review into higher education told the Federal Government.

Leaving vague when they told the federal government, and by what means they told the federal government.

If something is important, I don’t think there is a great problem in reporting it later if it was missed the first time. But I dislike media reports that make the original source unclear.

* The error is this: “The Government is considering a significant tightening of the payment to bring it in line with the Family Benefit payment. The change would mean some 27,000 students now receiving it would be ineligible.” In fact, this is a reference to making more students eligible (not ineligible) by lifting the amount parents can earn before students start losing their benefit. The added ineligibility would come from tightening the “independence” criteria.

How bad is my quality of life?

According to this Bankwest quality of life ranking, the Melbourne local government area, which includes Carlton, has the lowest quality of life in Victoria, and one of the lowest rankings in the whole country.

But I don’ t want to live anywhere else. Am I mad, or is this research bad?

To be sure, city living is not perfect. It can be a bit noisy. In Carlton, the presence of public housing, charities, and hospitals serving the mentally ill means that observance of the social niceties is not as high as it might be in Ku-ring-gai, the top ranked local government area in the country. And of course deeply unsound political views prevail (though it is not as bad as the city of Yarra across the road).

But inner Melbourne has a huge amount going for it too. The mix of cafes, bars and restuarants is the best in the country. There is a an excellent selection of shops. I’m not a sports fan, but for those who are there is an unmatched concentration of sporting venues around the CBD. There are beautiful 19th century gardens (including one just down the street from me). There are plenty of cinemas and theatres. There are two good universities in or near the CBD.
Continue reading “How bad is my quality of life?”

Yet another student prostitute story

HUNDREDS of university students in Victoria have turned to prostitution to pay their way through higher education, The Sunday Age has learnt. (emphasis added)

What does the Sunday Age mean it has ‘learnt’ that some prostitutes are students?

A quick search of the files would reveal that this is old news, a repeatedly re-discovered ‘finding’. That a few hundred of Victoria’s 180,000 or so university students are sex workers is no more surprising than that thousands of them are waiters.

As is usual when the media follows up on the student sex workers, they are far more level-headed about it than the people who think it is a problem:

For 18 months Amy has been combining her studies for a science-based degree with evening work in the city’s brothels.

“I’m sure that some people would be shocked at what I do, but in my mind it really is just a job,” she says.

As I have argued in the past, student prostitution is no cause for policy action. Most students work, and if some choose to work fewer hours for more money in less-pleasant jobs this is no cause for concern.

Student prostitute stories:

From the Uniting Church – Herald Sun, 10 October 2008.

Media payback

Newspapers are never at their best in campaign mode. Today’s Age leads with a story headed ‘Judge savages Andrews’. The article begins:

A FEDERAL Court judge has launched an extraordinary attack on Kevin Andrews over the involuntary removal of a man to New Zealand, claiming the Immigration Minister’s behaviour had been “truly disgraceful”.

The Immigration Department yesterday removed Timothy John Borstrok from Australia, even though he had lodged an application to appeal to the Federal Court over a decision to cancel his visa on character grounds

Only a dozen paragraphs in, long after most people have stopped reading, are we informed:

But a spokeswoman for Mr Andrews said: “While the …removal was done by the authority of the Immigration Department, the minister had no knowledge of, or involvement with the court hearing or the removal.”

Continue reading “Media payback”