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Conroy’s Sad and Confused Mess

Those much talked about media reforms – the ones we have been concerned about since the Convergence Review and Finkelstein inquiry have finally surfaced from cabinet. Well you cannot really say they have surfaced, but rather we have some detail and a bunch of cryptic clues, some fill-in-the-blanks as to what the exact policy of the Gillard Government, and Communications Minister Stephen Conroy might actually look like. We even have a very ambitious and quite frankly ridiculous timeline for the passage of the required legislation. What we can ascertain is that the proposals look pretty ugly. It’s really a mess, the whole thing.

The reforms announced by Stephen Conroy include previously outlined local content requirement changes and the related permanent reduction in licensing fees for commercial television stations. Among the more controversial proposals is the inception of a so-called “Public Interest Media Advocate”, which would oversee the operation of the Press Council and have a say in mergers involving media corporations.

The whole thing is a complete and utter joke. After years of struggling in the polls, someone has to be blamed for the woes of the Labor Party and God forbid it be them taking a good hard look at themselves. No, instead Senator Conroy thinks that messing with the media is the one true answer to all the government’s problems.

For a start,  beefing up local content rules, despite how nice most broadcasters are being about them, is a stupid idea. Essentially it is outsourcing a chunk of the production decisions of each television broadcaster to the government. There is good local content out there, but if we continue to up the minimum amount of airtime given to local content, then viewer numbers will automatically drop away. Not all production companies are capable of a major success such as MasterChef or Underbelly and even the former was not an Australian concept in the first place. Decreasing program competition, any competition, never leads to a sound outcome.

TV stations will, for the most part, wear the new local content rules. Why wouldn’t they? They are, after all, set to receive a 50% discount on their licensing fees and permanently too. Of course companies would want to reduce costs as much as possible and that inevitably goes for those bringing us news and entertainment on the tube.

By far the most troubling concept is that of the Public Interest Media Advocate. The name alone should be warning enough that there is, at the very least, a subtle attempt to control media coverage on the way. People have been asking: what exactly is the public interest? Nobody can actually say. Even the minister with ‘communication’ in his title cannot actually explain that one, let alone why such a body is necessary.

And what about this idea about the advocate policing mergers? Hasn’t the Labor Government discovered we already have a regulator? They’ve blocked contentious merger attempts before. Why a new bureaucracy to achieve the same purpose? Only Labor would contemplate that.

The thing with companies though, is that they either respond to or think they can create markets. Media businesses are no different. They are doing one or the other, so the media landscape will only ever be as diverse as the public wants it to be. And if people are concerned, then they, like all proprietors in all fields – can take an entrepreneurial risk.

Stephen Conroy is kidding himself on the deadline for passage of the legislation too. It simply beggars belief that a package with so little detail will be given so little consideration. Then again, maybe this is an attempt to look tough on the media, leaving it up to the minority parliament to possibly vote down the legislation. But if this is true, the minister now has enough egg on his face in simply announcing intentions to pursue media reform.

A child could not have made so much of a mess if they tried their hardest to do so. Governments simply need to learn that their interference in our lives is often not welcome. Most people are rational and can make up their own minds about, well everything.

How About We Let the Sport do the Talking?

The London 2012 Paralympic Games are here, they’re finally here. The biggest ever Paralympic Games have returned to land of their spiritual birthplace, England. Over 4000 athletes have converged on the Paralympic Village, ready to compete across 21 sports, some everyday sports and some  adapted especially for athletes with a disability. This Paralympic Games has also seen the most number of tickets sold for the entire event, with 2.4 of 2.5 million tickets snapped up by sports mad people from the United Kingdom and around the world.

The television coverage domestically has also promised to be huge. The Australian Broadcasting Corporation, the perennial broadcast partner for the Paralympic Games again won the right to broadcast the event from start to finish. The ABC coverage of this year’s Paralympics has been much talked about. With the advent of digital television and the subsequent new channels allowing for greater coverage of this important sporting exhibition, more coverage, much more was promised.

Across two channels, the ABC have begun broadcasting a total of nine and a half hours daily from the Paralympic Games. This is a big shift from years previous when a highlights show and some radio commentary were the stock standard fare and the Australian Broadcasting Corporation should be congratulated for committing to such widespread coverage and the fact that the exposure of the Games is heading in the right direction, up.

Aside from the opening ceremony, which was brilliantly- read minimally narrated and impressively broadcast to the Australian people, the televising of the actual sporting prowess of our Paralympic athletes began right as the competition started.

That broadcast was headed in the studio by Stephanie Brantz, no stranger to sports commentary, as well as being co-hosted by comedian Lawrence Mooney, actor Adam Zwar and Sam Pang. Guests joined the hosts throughout four and a half hours of coverage on the ABC’s digital television channel.

A number of the finest voices of ABC Grandstand and ABC Radio  were stationed at the sporting venues across London, ready to bring the action to a curious Australian audience to a magnitude never seen before in this country.

If there was a failure of the coverage last night, it was that there was too much talk and not enough action. The stars of the Paralympics are supposed to be the athletes who’ve put in massive effort over the years and overcome more adversity than most people will ever encounter.

Instead, for much of the night, we were made familiar with the comedic exploits in particular of Lawrence Mooney and Adam Zwar, but also Sam Pang, who’ve been in the United Kingdom for some time already. The chat was interweaved with numerous introductions to the Australian team and some of its members individually, but that would ideally have taken place while there was little or no sport on, say between 6 and 7pm last night.

Oh and another thing. The only thing “live” about most of the coverage last night and yes the website says it was supposed to be live, is that the commentators were broadcasting live from London. Very little of the sport appeared live amid all the chin-wagging back in the studio. At one point the swimming heats went from one of the later heats in one event, directly to the second heat of presumably the next event. I’m sorry, but to me live coverage means footage of the actual competition is beamed to our televisions instantaneously,  not people sitting around in a studio talking about the sports we want to see as viewers.

As an indication of just how wrong they got it with the coverage last night, Twitter was abuzz with comments lamenting the lack of athletic action being displayed on televisions around Australia. One person even remarked to me that they were so disappointed they felt that switching off after a while was the only answer.

So here’s a radical thought: more sport and less talk. We know the c0-hosts are funny or at least try to be. But they’re not why we as viewers are tuning in. We want to see sporting genius, we want to share the joy of stellar efforts in the pool, on the road, the track and the other arenas. If we wanted a laugh we’d go to their gigs. To steal a line from Elvis and alter it just a bit, a little less conversation, a little more sporting action please.

It’s The Olympics, Who’s Really Putting the Pressure on Whom?

The London 2012 Olympic Games are now in full-swing. The early hiccups in the weeks prior to the games have been put behind them and the Brits are putting on a great show, albeit with crowds that have more holes than a sieve. Not all sports have started, with events like track and field and cycling yet to come where we’re in with a real shot at a number of medals, some of them quite possibly golden. The swimming, a traditional strength of Australia’s has begun though, with our athletes coming out with less of the prized gold than we’re used to and expectations dashed in some cases. We have though won silver in bronze in events we weren’t expected to with up and comer’s and dark horses stepping up when it counts.

Anyway, our performances and the reactions of varying degrees of the athletes making the massive efforts in competing at the Olympics has sparked a rather vigorous debate on social media and the opinion pages. Are we as Australian’s, are the media placing such high expectations on our athletes that they feel crushed under the pressure to deliver for a medal-hungry Australian public? Or are the athletes themselves the ones that are expecting too much of themselves? Maybe it’s a combination of all of the above?

So far Australia has won 1 gold, 6 silver and 2 bronze. So six people have come very close and further two near winning a gold medal. Our one gold came courtesy of the women’s 4x100m freestyle relay. Once again our female swimmers are the ones that are far performing their male counterparts in the pool as competition at the aquatic centre nears an end for another Olympiad.

This is the first Twitter Olympics really. Well not the first one since the social media platform has been around, but the first one where so many athletes have taken to using the medium to pass on their thoughts as the prepare to and while they compete during the London games. Twitter users have undoubtedly been putting some pressure on our athletes, sending messages to them like “go for gold” and “you can smash ’em”. So it would be easy for our athletes to get caught up in the hype and get nervous about their performances.

Although the Olympics is supposed to be about and was all about amateurs performing at their peak, these days the men and women competing are nearly all professionals competing in their chosen sport full-time. They should know or have access to tools which help them shut out the thoughts and comments of those sending messages to our Olympians, much of which is actually just hero worship, the idolising of people by the masses who’ve inspired them.

Many of these athletes have performed very well in the past to get them to the highest level of competition. A small number of them performing well enough in the lead-up to London 2012 to have that expectation of medalling, even winning put on them by all and sundry.

Are the media placing unrealistic expectations on our athletes? For the most part, no. The media have generally given athletes the “favourite” tag only if the individual athletes have performed over and above their peers in the lead-up to the event. That doesn’t excuse the over the top commentary which at times appears to shame our athletes who’ve in the eyes of the media “failed” by winning a medal of a different colour, or not at all when they’ve been expected to win a gold. Any medal, indeed just to be there is a massive effort in itself.

Could the athletes themselves be placing amazing levels of stress on themselves, such extreme expectations that they are exhausted by the stress of trying to live up to their own expectations? The answer here is likely yes. But the athletes placing such high expectations on themselves are generally those that have performed so well in the lead-in events, the heats and the semi-finals.

All athletes too expect to do their best. Those competitors that have done well at national and international events in the years and months before the Olympics will always have immense hopes for their Olympic experience. They will inevitably expect that to continue when they come to the once in four year event that is the Olympic Games. Let’s face it, with the event being that rare and the effort needed just to be able to participate in such a high level of sport being above and beyond 99.9% of the population our athletes are bound to break down to some degree if they don’t live up to their high hopes.

Truth be told, no one group is putting expectations on our Olympians above and beyond any other group. Australian’s are generally putting some level of hopes on our athletes based on past performances and the media hype. Are the media wrong in saying “hey, they’ve performed very well, they’re a great chance of a gold medal”? No. Our participants themselves are also responsible for the strain that they put on themselves knowing full well what is required and what might happen in their events.

Therefore, it seems all parties are in some part to blame for the expectations put on our athletes including in large part the athletes themselves. Much of the expectation is based on very impressive past experiences. How we as viewers and the media respond to performances which don’t live up to expectations, well that’s a different story entirely.

A Sometimes Roar Fan, But A Fan This Weekend

I must confess, I’m not much of a soccer fan, okay purists yes I mean football. I find it, for the most part a dull and boring sport where it can take an inordinate amount of time to inch the ball into even the same postcode as the goal, at which point in time many more shots miss or are saved by the “goalie” or goalkeeper, with, I concede a high degree of athleticism from time to time.That said, I am a sport lover and intent every weekend and when sport provides me an opportunity, during the week to watch as much sport as I possibly can that falls within the realms of my sporting tastes.

This weekend, the A-League football season reaches the point where all clubs in the competition want to be when they set out at the beginning of the season, hoping to win as many matches as possible to put themselves in the best position to get themselves into the grand final of their competition. The two teams that found themselves in a good enough position at the end of the regular season and won all required finals matches, a feat in itself, Brisbane Roar and Perth Glory will take to the field on Sunday, feet at the ready to run and kick themselves to the point of being able to hoist aloft the league trophy after 90 minutes.

I’m from Brisbane and even though I don’t particularly enjoy football as a sport, I will at least be listening as they try to make it two pieces of silverware in a row, just days after another Asian Champions League loss, thankfully at home, so overseas travel didn’t knock the bejesus out of them, even if the loss did have that effect. I will be cheering while listening to it on the radio, it’s not something I would go out and watch at a pub, or the ground, I would prefer to be able to potter around a do other things while keeping an ear on the unfolding events.

Being not that keen on the sport of football, I would consider myself a sometimes Roar supporter. One of those people you hear that will support their team when they are up, but happily bash them when they are down.

The Brisbane Roar started the season extraordinarily well and I thought that they would dominate throughout and back-to-back trophies were a very distinct possibility given the start. But then, from round 9 of the competition, the team began to hit that wall that a team which has performed record-breaking feats will inevitably encounter at some point.

The team lost the next 5 games in a row and looked as if exhaustion had caught up with them. It was at that point that I found myself caring less and less about my parochial support for the local team in a sport I could easily avoid. I stopped caring so much about the season and the end result, it wasn’t going to involve the Brisbane team in any capacity other than them watching at the ground or on television as far as I was concerned.

Then something extraordinary happened. All of a sudden I started hearing of wins and  the regular draws that are experienced all too often in the round ball game, though it took me a few wins to actually realise that this was occurring and my interest was piqued.

My local team could even challenge for the top spot in the competition, though they were to finish 2nd on the ladder behind the Central Coast Mariners, their very worthy and challenging opponent in last year’s championship showdown. Fortunes were switched when the Roar ended up beating the Central Coast Mariners to progress to the biggest day of the 2011-12 season.

I will be paying attention to see if the local boys can do it for Brisbane again after what sounded like an enthralling contest at the end of last season. A game that not even I as a bit of a knocker of the sport can say was anything other than an unbelievable contest between two teams with nothing between them, save for the undying determination and patience of the Roar outfit which was able to pounce twice within the last 10 minutes.

C’arn Brisbane Roar! Keep up that winning.

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