Friday, 21 December 2018

Karl Stefanovic stories on the SMH website

Channel Nine had just taken over Fairfax media’s brands, including the stately Sydney Morning Herald and The Age (of Melbourne). The SMH had been founded in 1831, so it predates Australian democracy by a generation. Since the 1970s the SMH had provided objective, unbiased coverage of national events. It is one of the top-five news websites in the country going by the metric of monthly visitors.

When Channel Nine finally got permission from the federal consumer watchdog to take over Fairfax, things moved quickly, going by reports in rival outlets. The Guardian runs reliable news about the media in this country, and reports there were that staff at the SMH were given a printed script to use when answering the phone from the day of the takeover, to make sure that all communication undertaken in a professional capacity were on-message. Some people lost their jobs. At least two mastheads were merged, at least on paper (practical separation might have taken a bit longer to achieve).

Then things carried on as normal until Wednesday 19 December when two stories about Channel Nine host Karl Stefanovic appeared on the websites of both the SMH and The Age (there were the same two stories on the website of the Brisbane Times, the Nine broadsheet outlet in that city, and one on the website of WA Today, the company’s Perth-based broadsheet). This man had been relieved of his position on the couch for a breakfast show that runs on Nine every morning. Stefanovic had been a popular presenter for Nine but he had recently divorced his wife and married a younger woman. According to the breathless coverage in the “news” stories on the two named websites, this move had damaged his brand. There were other details but it’s all just too tawdry and pointless to repeat them here. I can’t be bothered with the mindless little machinations of the TV studio that has now assumed control of the stable eminences of journalism, the two major broadsheets, the ones that are supposed to be the outlets of record and which, now, have been overrun like a sterling old family business might be overrun by a bunch of uneducated louts.

It’s sort of like the crazy drama unleashed by John Self in Martin Amis’ 1984 novel ‘Money’, a work that tore strips off the body of the crass commercialism of the era when neoliberalism emerged in the west to challenge the strong post-war counter-culture that had come out of WWII. Anti-meaning had come to challenge the creation of meaning. Cash had come to offer resistance to values. Commercial interests had come in to take away from government the responsibility for running essential services. (We have seen how privatising monopolies has worked to the detriment of the community in Australia, with rising energy prices.)

If this is how Nine intends to use the SMH and the Age – as parts of its PR effort, as vehicles to use to promote dull and useless TV shows – then my subscription will be at risk. I shall be watching the SMH closely to see if I can find signs of a deterioration in the quality of the journalism produced. So far I’d have to say that there has been. I am sure that the managers at the Guardian would be happy to receive my dollars every month.

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