Thursday, February 18, 2010

Stephen Conroy, Chairman Rudd, Tony Abbott, and a gaggle of media moguls with paws held out for cash ...

(Above: Kerry Stokes' humble shack up Broome way).

Let's pause for a moment's silence.

Miranda the Devine has gone socialist. How else to explain this conclusion to Spin and silver tongues can't hide an empty morality as she berates the shiny domed one for the incompetence of the insulation batts roll out?

In the end, the only clarity comes from the grieving families. Sunny Barnes, the sister of another electrocuted roof insulator , 16-year-old Rueben Barnes, told The Australian: ''If someone gives people the opportunity to be dodgy, they'll be dodgy.''

That comes from the moral universe most people live in.

Most people!?

Then more government regulation is surely required!

And speaking of government regulation - let the shiny domed one save himself from the slavering Devine wolverine by himself - how rich is the moral universe of Stephen Conroy?

Well indeed, how rich is the moral universe of all federal politicians?

Conroy excelled himself with his bribe to free to air stations, and then Tony Abbott excelled himself by calling it a bribe, and then refusing to call it a bribe, and then Rudd demanded that he explain how it was a bribe, and then the commercial broadcasters, who had been bribed, somehow strangely discovered it wasn't a bribe at all, just a generous way to continue their good work without actually doing anything more towards Australian content, but instead offering relief for the blood sucking vampires who'd invested in their establishments, and leveraged them to the hilt.

Here's a bit of the argy bargy, as noted by Michelle Grattan in Rudd demands 'bribe' proof:

He (Rudd) said Senator Conroy, who in January went skiing with Seven's mogul Kerry Stokes in Colorado, had conducted himself in an entirely proper manner. At a doorstop in Geelong, Mr Abbott took a more cautious position than he had on radio earlier and in his comments on Tuesday. Asked what evidence he had for his claim of an election bribe, he said ''this is a quarter of a billion dollar handout to media companies that is unconditional''.

Pressed on whether he was still calling it a bribe he said: ''it's up to the government to justify on public policy grounds what earthly reason there is for giving $250 million'' away.

On Sunday morning Mr Abbott had breakfast in Sydney with Rupert Murdoch.

Skiing with Kerry, breakfast with Chairman Rupert! Ah the tough life of gadabout politicians. And not so long ago, Kevin Rudd was shacking up with Kerry Stokes in his humble Broome compound (Prime Minister Kevin Rudd stays at Kerry Stokes Broome mansion).

Back then, there were the usual denials. The visit was never secret, it was part of a trip to Broome, the accommodation was to be declared on the pecuniary interests register, and so on. All jolly good fun, and so totally above board, only a cynic might seem some fault lines below the surface of the earth.

Oh there were a few rumbles, but who knew what kind of wheeling and dealing might have been discussed by the good sleep over buddies:

Political analyst Wayne Errington said he was surprised by Mr Rudd's decision to stay with Mr Stokes, given he was such a "careful manager of his image'' and "would want to avoid the appearance of impropriety''.

"Kevin Rudd puts himself forward as a moral fellow,'' said Dr Errington, a politics lecturer at Australian National University.

"The Rudd Government is trying to change the rules about political donations and those sorts of things and trying to tar the Liberal Party with that sort of a brush, so he should be more careful.

"It's not a good look. It certainly appears as though he's pretty close to Stokes.

"If he was in more trouble as a leader, it would cause him more problems.''

Well that was October 2009, and what do you know, ever so slowly things rumble to the surface.

Since those halycon days, the talk of bribes has allowed Chairman Rudd to sound positively indignant, conflating a 'scratch your back help out to good media buddies' look like a sordid reflection on the righteousness of the commercial networks:

Speaking to reporters in Canberra, Mr Rudd seized on Mr Abbott's suggestion this week that a recent multi-million handout to the three commercial television stations had been made in order to garner favour from network bosses in an election year.

Mr Rudd warned that if Mr Abbott was accusing the Government of making such a bribe, then in turn he was suggesting the major networks and senior press gallery reporters were also corrupt.

"He has made these allegations without a skerrick of evidence, not one skerrick of evidence, and also based on a hunch," Mr Rudd said.

Well actually in a strictly limited sense, bribery, a form of pecuniary corruption, is an act implying money or gift given that alters the behaviour of the recipient (or so the wiki tells me here).

It is of course flim flam of the highest order to drag in journalists and news rooms as a way of interpreting the concept of 'bribe' in this context, when a strict and simple reading would be that the networks told the government they were in pain, that Australian content would suffer, that things would be grim in the transfer to the digital future, with maybe some blowback to government, that the digital dividend might not be so handsome, that the deferral of consideration of Australian content on multichanneling might turn into an issue, and so on and on, and all this in an election year, until a simple solution was reached - revenue foregone for government, blather about how in Britain broadcasters pay 1.45 per cent of revenue for their licences, while it's 9 per cent here, and meanwhile a bit of cash in paw for the long suffering moguls and owners.

The irony is that the usual programs - like Underbelly, or Packed to the Rafters - are cited as splendid examples, when many such programs wouldn't be made if they didn't already receive subsidy, either through Screen Australia, or through the producer offset. There's little love for high end content in the networks per se, because high end means high cost and high licence fees, so they take the subsidy, and now they take the cash, and still they don't have to do anything more.

The mistake Abbott made was to extend the debate in to the question of coverage:

Nine Network boss David Gyngell hit out at Mr Abbott’s comments this week in which he said the license fee decision looked “dodgy”, saying “maybe there is more to this, which the government hasn’t told us about, but … it looks like they’re buying favourable coverage.’’ (TV networks slam Tony Abbott over license fee bribe claim).

It allowed plenty of high horses:

Gyngell said: “we show no fear no favour at Channel Nine we will never do that and to suggest that is an insult to our journalists."

At the Seven Network, chief executive David Leckie was quoted on the 6pm news regarding Abbott’s comments: “It is an outrageous statement that hurts everybody at the Seven Network. It is completely incorrect."

But of course the bottom line for the whole affair is that there is no actual commitment required of the networks in relation to the bribe to do anything more. No new content, of even an Underbelly kind, not a jot or a whit to Australian programming. Or taking steps to sorting out Australian content on FTA multichannels. It's just steady as she goes don't rock the network boat in election year.

Yep, the only commitment is that things will keep on keeping on, while the networks slip the licence fee cash rebate into their back pocket.

The poor old production industry - where, unlike the feature film cottage industry, the product is successful and watched - as usual have been the last to know, and the last to be consulted. Yet there are many issues - like the status of Australian content in the new world of multichanneling, and intertubes delivery - where things have become incredibly complicated by the free trade agreement with the United States.

A sensible government with its eye to the future would have thought a little bit more about these matters before deciding to give the FTA sector a free kick. In the game of back scratching, even amongst the monkeys, the idea is if you hand out a back scratch, you get a back scratch back. Here it's Conroy picking out the nits for free. Some nits, some nitpicker.

Conroy is incapable of such careful consideration. As with the internet filter, he's more comfortable being a numbers man and a head kicker; as with the NBN, it's hard to work out whether his main inspiration is to deliver head kicks to Telstra or work out a viable national strategy to drag Australia into the new world of fast broadband in an efficient and economic way.

There's plenty more you can read about with links here at Conroy and Rudd's $250m headache,

Well while the likes of the Devine remain besotted with the shiny pated one's incompetence, Conroy's carry on capers have escaped the scrutiny of the commentariat columnists, because after all, he's going to save the children with his internet filter.

How long before they turn on their hero?

Because the real scandal is the lack of planning, lack of thought for the digital future, and the use of a cash dispensation to fix up things for powerful mates.

So it was and will always be in politics, but when it's too naked, the stench can draw attention to the garbage bin.

Is it a bribe, when somebody hands over cash in the hope that nothing will happen, and things will just keep trotting along quietly, and no one will notice? A bribe for the indolent status quo?

You betcha. In a land where media moguls act in ways not worthy of the Moghuls we should expect a little more of the politicians.

(Below: Vail, Colorado, where humble media moguls and hard-working politicians sojourn to discuss life, media, and the meaning of everything).

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