Friday, January 27, 2012

The Frame Game

Photo: Lucas Coch, AAP
Life as a TV news cameraman in Canberra is not one normally filled with adrenalin. Most of their days are spent trudging from doorstop to doorstop. Once in a blue-moon, there's a leadership spill and they get to walk backwards down a corridor as the new leadership team promenade for the press. But riots? In their dreams only.

Filming an Australia Day awards ceremony at a glass restaurant near parliament must have beckoned as another pedestrian assignment -shooting up the nostrils of leaders at lecterns, stowing away a couple of routine cutaways of, well, other cameramen. Might have been 20 seconds at best as part of a presenter-voiced  montage at 6pm.

But then: "Extraordinary scenes in Canberra today as an angry and violent mob forced the emergency evacuation of the prime minister and opposition leader from an official function..."  Hubba Hubba. "Running the gauntlet of baying protesters, federal police bundled a clearly terrified prime minister into a waiting car."  Oh, journalistic joy: 'Anger, violence, gauntlets, terror' - don't get to use those words covering Senate Estimates. And for a Canberra cameraman - the novelty of spontaneous and unrehearsed speed, movement, colour and emotion was mana from heaven. Who can blame them for beating it up?

For a beat-up and an hysterical over-reaction this most clearly was. The game was given away at the end of the news report on Channel Nine when the reporter said there were no arrests. And for a discriminating viewer, a second or third viewing of the footage of the "frenzy" showed a dislocation between the script and the actual events. A "riot"; a "violent mob"? Well, yes, they were banging on the window, but where was the violence? This was a long way from Tripoli. And in the shot of the police bundling Gillard into the car, hardly a protester is to be seen. In fact, there are more police and media in shot than anyone else. If there is panic, it's panic on the part of the security people. And the media loved it.

Call me cynical, but for my money this was a classic case of how journalists' infatuation with "great pictures" can distort their own editorial judgement. Television newsrooms are rife with this. This is a medium, after all, that is all about visuals. And with 99 per cent of the political news out of Canberra consisting of talking heads and set-up shots, an actual spot news story involving both the PM and the Opposition Leader on an otherwise quiet public holiday was always going to get the, err, mixmaster treatment.

Newspapers do it too. And in this case, it was just too tempting for journalists to describe Julia Gillard as terrified. Well, perhaps she was. But was she frightened of the protesters or at being dragged along the ground by an over-zealous and clearly pumped up security guard? Pictures can be very malleable in the wrong hands.

My philosophy when I suspect a beat-up is to ignore the Australian media's version altogether and see how the global wires treat the story. Correspondents who work for the like of Reuters and AP know a riot when they see one and their seen-it-all-subs often have a perspective lacking locally. Their headline on the story: "Aussie PM Loses Shoe in Protest Fracas". Quite.

(See also: 'The Mob Violence that Wasn't' - Ben Eltham, New Matilda and 'Australia Day' - Mike Stutchbery)


  1. Said beat up will probably only bolster those in the racial vilification game.

  2. over here in Perth the Worst Australian devoted seven pages, yes seven starting at the front to this incident....god help us if something important happens

  3. The problem is, Mr D, if you are a TV news producer and you have these pictures, what are you going to do with them? Are you going to run them with a script that says 'the PM lost her shoe in a noisy protest in Canberra today'? Of course you won't, even if you actually realise that the story is no more than that. You are there to make the news more appealing, to rate, to hold the viewers' attention (even if you are running ABC TV News).

    I take your point completely and I think you are right, but the poor sods running our news services are stuck. They have no choice in a competitive environment, at least until the whole mindset of Australian journalism changes - and I doubt that will be in our lifetime.

  4. You've got a point Dan, but maybe they could have covered the very colourful and interesting ceremonies around the 40th Anniversary of the Tent Embassy instead of "Shoegate" instead? That would have been a really resourceful and original use of their time, and they'd have got a mainstream-scoop ~ the only newspaper to cover it was Green Left Weekly ...

    Terrific post, Mr Denmore.

  5. Yes! My thoughts exactly. The pictures were so much bigger than the moment. When people started saying they deserved a Walkley I couldn't believe it. It was demo, for God's sake. Have people actually forgotten about demos?

  6. Dear Mr D, you are right. Put simply, a media that is right some of the time is like a car speedometer that is right some of the's worthless. In fact, it's an impost.

    Does anyone think there is a monetary value to ethical, honest reporting?

  7. PS, Mr D, if the story was run in a humorous way it would have had as much appeal.

    Why is their such national single-mindedness? Alarm! is the only human emotion.

    Shock! is the only response.

    It's so consistent, that it almost seems co-ordinated.

  8. It makes one despair at the quality of news reportage. To me, and I saw it several times,as it got the flog, it looked more like Gillard was mugged by her security, with a few onlookers. Nothing like the apalling commentary.

  9. Mr D,
    On target as usual.
    My ribs are bruised from a fall and you had me laughing so hard at the thought of Canberra journos sprinting I now have to reach for the paracetamol.
    You Bastard! ;)

  10. I enjoyed seeing the goldfish spooked. Wish I was there to to tap on the fishtank. Yeah, it didn`t come across as the riot they tried to portray it as. Nice one Mr-D.

  11. Thought you might be able to help with this theory. Some quarters are asking about the interview with Tony Abbott at the Opera House - as in which media outlet, which reporter. My theory is that this is a "video news release" set up by the LOTO to appear as a genuine interview, instead of the set piece with prepared answers which it was. There is no logo on the screen e.g. ABC, 7, 9. The ubiquitious 2GB and 2UE mikes are missing and Mr Abbott at no time refers to the interviewer by name. Most odd as he usually says something like "Look Chris, Alan" etc in answering a question. Also, Mr Abbott avoids "doorstops" like the plague. This type of thing is really propaganda and enables lazy news outlets to run video that they have put no effort in to getting and treating it as if it is real news. Much the same as the ABC which virtually reads out opposition press releases verbatim. What do you think? Is this approach acceptable without attribution of source?

  12. I thought political journalism in this country couldn't possibly get more pathetic.... then last weekend happened.

  13. Hi Mr D - Great article

    For everyone's whinging about the Howard years, but the vast majority of the great unwashed think he was the best thing since sliced bread. Apparently they did a poll on it - of course. And why wouldn't they? He treated the electorate like one big Gen Y child. Every time they had a whinge, he would stuff as much money in their pocket until they would stop whinging. And now look at the electorate. They have this sense of entitlement where the great unwashed believe that a couple earning over a $150K a year and look like having their government assistance taken off them somehow have a legitimate grievance. WTF???

    Labor need to wake up to themselves. They still have grandeur ideas of playing fair with the electorate and giving them far more credit about their ability to grasp complex policy concepts than they deserve. The Coalition on the other hand get it because their heritage is from big business. They know how to play dirty, they know that anything is justified as long as someone is making money and if it is you or any of your mates even better. I don’t understand why someone in the Labor party hasn’t worked out that they have a brand issue. With TA pressing the inspirational button again, the marketing boys at LNP HQ are going back to the winning formula. No one aspires to be a blue collar worker on Struggle Street whose only joy in life is that they have a warm fuzzy feeling because they and their work mates are getting a fair go. They want success and in today’s society success is about wealth and lots of it. So let’s face it, the Labor party are the Lada of the political world and the Libs are the BMW. Who aspires to drive the pinnacle of Russian automotive engineering?

    I loathe the man but I give him credit, Abbott is no dill. JG might be a smart women but I suspect she is a manager not a leader, hence the reason why she is doing so badly. I suspect that the Labor party are like most organisations, mistaking managerial qualities as leadership.