I am guilty of it myself sometimes.
This month, I was contacted by the Age and asked to write an opinion piece about the contest to secure the contract for the Australia Television Network, Australia’s voice to Asia. I wrote a piece which described the Network, currently managed by the ABC, as “pedestrian” .
What it really offered was a sprinkling of ABC entertainment and information programs, leavened by commercial soapies and English language learning. It was really just ABC rather light. In fact, ifwere placed on a scale with those featuring high quality news, current affairs and documentaries at one end and soft program mixes at the other, BBC and al Jazeera would be among the heaviest hitters and China’s anodyne state television and the rather pedestrian Australia Network would be at the bottom.
I discovered last week that a Media writer for News Corp’s Australian newspaper, Caroline Overington, was looking for me to expose what she saw as conflicts of interest in my article. Today she published a series of allegations about me in her column in the Australian.
The article, written by one Alan Knight, referred to a “study” conducted last year that apparently found that Sky wasn’t really a news service, because it was “heavily padded with sport” and a mix of “calculated subjectivity, prurient celebrity and commercial huckstering”.
And here is what the piece did not say:
*[T]hat study, which Knight took special care not to name, was commissioned (and paid for) by the Australia Network.
It’s true the Australia Network paid for the study conducted in January 2010 and on reflection, that should have been mentioned. The unpublished study was conducted by the Australian Centre for Independent Journalism, where I was a Director in 1992 and 1996. However, I received no special payments and I received no directions from the Australia Network on what I should write. Referring to the study, I said that:
By comparison Sky News seemed hard core. A study last year of international television weekly content showed Sky News programming consisted almost entirely of News bulletins.
What really upset News and Sky was my rather acidic view of sports reporting:
But a closer look, showed that factual programming was heavily padded with sports reporting with its customary mix of calculated subjectivity, prurient celebrity and commercial huckstering.
But this didn’t come from the study at all. I just don’t like the way sport is often reported on commercial networks. It should be said that commercial investments in sport by media companies, including News Corp, are a serious issue in the debate about media quality and diversity.
*The rival bidder for the Australia Network contract is the ABC. In 2007, Alan Knight was elected to be the national spokesman of Friends of the ABC.
Correct. But it might be mentioned that I did the job for about a year and even then, it didn’t stop me from criticising the ABC.
However, there was more!
*Alan Knight’s journalism school has links with the ABC. Earlier this year, for example, Knight himself was quoted in a UTS press release saying: “This year, UTS’s relationship with the ABC will be further strengthened following negotiations to offer ABC journalists PhD positions at the university.”
I reckon the more senior journalists who do PhDs the better. Caroline Overington is welcome to apply.
Diary tried several times to reach Knight. He did not respond to email, and when Diary finally reached him on his mobile phone yesterday, it clattered to the ground and switched itself off.
Overington omitted to say that when she did get through to me, I told her I was “on the road”, driving. Rather than become lunch for a four wheel drive, I hung up. I tried calling her back that evening but the number simply dialed through to a recorded News Corporation message.
If you are still interested in finding out “Who is Alan Knight”, there is the moderately accurate biography in Wikipedia. You may find that there’s a little more to him than what you might read in the Australian.
- Sky News sell-off plan withdrawn (bbc.co.uk)
- Murdoch’s Reporters Report on Murdoch (thelede.blogs.nytimes.com)