Wednesday, April 14, 2010

#157: Gimme Some Truth

Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth. - Oscar Wilde.

Sometimes that mask might be something as simple as a camera, as shown in this video that Media Watch broke on Monday evening. To set it up, Omar Amr, who has been accused of rioting, affray and several other charges arising from the recent Bob Jane riots in Victoria, had fronted court, been given bail and had left court with his father, Gad Amr. The media descended, as they do, in an attempt to capture the images for the evening news. Generally this is enough, but in some cases, a simple screen grab is never enough. It might be a slow news day or the personnel involved might be either having a bad day or want to capture that something extra special in order to enhance their position, or, in the most extreme cases, save their job. It is hard to be sacked as a cameraman though, as even a boring, yet competent cameraman is in demand, but it does happen.

In this case the cameraman, Simon Fuller (who works at Channel 9 and not Channel 7, as stated on the YouTube video - the video was recorded by a Channel 7 cameraman though) and a sound recorder from Channel 9 chased and harassed the Amrs down the road, around the corner and beyond. Not being able to capture the footage that clearly Fuller wanted, that being a rioter going crazy and assaulting, or attempting to assault, Fuller resorted to the tried and true tactics of the tabloid media - verbal abuse.

You can read the transcript here.  It's fascinating and Media Watch have a full report of what went to air on Monday evening.

It'd be easy to say it went wrong when Fuller went after the Amrs, but where it really fell apart was when Fuller, in an insane moment, decided to call Gad Amr a "fucking terrorist". Bad move, but not unusual. You see this type of thing happens all the time, and has been happening for years now.  In fact it's so normal that it's standard operating procedure for any newsroom, albeit it an unspoken one, to go and get a story, make one up if need be, and do whatever has to be done.  If you want proof then watch any of the so called 'current affairs' programs on the TV and count how many times the reporters will break the law by entering property uninvited, harassment and, in the most extreme cases, preventing a person from leaving when they've asked, nay, pleaded, to leave the place and be left alone, and that's just the tip of the iceberg that sank the Titanic.  If you ever get to see unedited tapes you'll hear laughter and congratulations all round.  It's patheticly sad.

Go to any courthouse today and sit outside and wait. You'll find several media representatives, who hate being forced to wait and think nothing more of chasing down anyone and everyone who comes outside who they believe have a story worthy of telling. They'll shove cameras in the faces of Hells Angels and other violent criminals and then cry if the person being antagonised hit back. Frankly more people should hit back, either physically or legally. In the case of Gad Amr there are clear grounds for racial vilification. I can't help but wonder if Gad Amr was English if Fuller would have called him a "Pommie bastard", a "fucking Abo" for an Aborigine, a "fucking seppo" for an American and so on. We may never know, but then there'd be people in the Channel 9 newsrooms that do know all too well. This may not have been an isolated situation, and going on the reactions of both men from 9, I'm not entirely convinced that it was a one-off.

Time will tell what happens to Fuller. He may face the sack, but, again, if he is competent in his job he'll soon find himself working at a rival network, or as a freelancer. The media forgives a lot when it comes to their own.

When I worked in the media I was privy to one such chase. The man came out of the courtrooms in Adelaide and was chased for a good 25 minutes across the square and into the Central Markets. He then fled into the men’s toilet and slammed himself shut in the cubicle. The reporter and cameraman followed him in, occupied the surrounding cubicle and merely shoved the camera over the top. I have the whole thing here on video tape somewhere, along with some other memorable news footage that you never saw, including a staged break and enter where a cadet reporter broke into a friends house wearing a balaclava for a story on, you got it, home security. Both of these were done in the early 1990s, so that should give you an indication of how long this has been going on for. I know of newspaper reporters who think nothing of jumping onto a bus to follow people home in order to get a photo for the paper.

Seriously, it’s just not that important. Really, it isn’t. But such is the pressure of being a journalist that the more sensational a story can be made, the higher the ratings, the more conversation and as such the more secure a job then becomes. The public lap it up – “There is no such thing as bad publicity,” and, “There’s only one thing worse then being talked about and that’s not being talked about,” are clich├ęs that ring true for the media. Gone are the days when a reporter would source a story and chase it to the end. These days it’s all about the soundbite and photo opportunity. A reporter knows that the easiest way to get a sensational story is to hang around a courthouse, shove a camera in someone’s face, accuse them of a crime, abuse the supporters and families and then film the results. The manipulation that the media engage in has resulted in a general mistrust of the media. Indeed I’m always suspicious of anyone who believes what they see and read without questioning it – and if you don’t question it then more fool you.

We live in a shameful society that allows such behaviour and activities to go unchecked. I could provide several stories for the media to follow up, nice, solid stories, ranging from corruption to ineptness to outright fraud and scams, yet there’d be no interest in these at all, because they’d require some real effort and work for the reporter. The results wouldn’t be as spectacular as calling a Middle Eastern man a “fucking terrorist” and then presenting the results as an outburst from the family of an accused rioter on the steps of a courthouse, now would it?

UPDATE: Channel 9 have done the only sensible thing and sacked Fuller.  It wasn't like they really had much choice in the matter, but the other burning question from this is as follows: the editorial team at 9 must have known about this before Media Watch, so was Fuller sacked for the villification or because he got caught out?

You decide.

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