Wednesday, September 08, 2004

The wheels on the bus are made of spam

I caught a bit of SBS’s Insight last night – it carried an interesting short following Misha Schubert, a journalist from The Age on Latham’s campaign bus. We followed the bus to a school in Melbourne, where Latham was to make a policy announcement on education.

Of particular interest to me in this story was its illustration of how journalists on the campaign bus access information. I wrote earlier indicating that the parties' release of information would be a point of interest for me in this campaign, and while the practices outlined on last night’s show are certainly nothing new, learning about them in more detail will allow an ordinary observer like myself to soak up news and comment with increased understanding of the context in which they are developed.

In this instance, we learned that Latham’s policy was released to the journalists on the campaign bus minutes before the scheduled press conference:

MISHA SCHUBERT: Part of the great frustration about covering a campaign like his is the excessive secrecy that happens on both sides. Its deliberately designed that way to try and keep us from having research or other questions we can come along and ask.

A great little aspect of this story was its depiction of a practice I was first made aware of through Crikey:

It's a good thing for Liberal dirt digger Ian Hanke that the Spam Act specifically exempts political parties, as some Press Gallery hacks might have a case against him following his spamming of their mobile phones in the first week of the campaign.

It's a repeat of the tactic employed by Hanke in 2001 when he collected the mobile numbers of all the journos travelling with Kim Beazley, and bombarded them with suggested questions and information just before Kim's press conferences, obviously with the help of at least one compliant journo tipping him off about names and press conference times.

Insight was able to show us some real live spamming, the camera was on Schubert as her phone lit up with spamly goodness. One would like to think the journos might ignore the spam, but why would they? One might liken it to receiving a press release via email or fax.

MISHA SCHUBERT: Well, you never like to ask questions that have been put to you by the opposition, or the other side in either case, but if it's a matter of legitimate interest, then yeah, of course we'll ask it.

Unfortunately that's all I saw of the show, as the camera then cut back to the audience-forum and revealed the presence of John Pasquarelli, at which point I frantically stabbed at the remote seeking refuge.


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