Posts Tagged media

Public official makes precedented announcement

A senior public official today announced that over the coming months a large government department will be following more or less the same policy that it has been following for as long as anyone can remember.

“We are proud of our department’s record, and see no reason to change anytime soon,” said the official in the press statement accompanying the department’s quarterly report. “Over the next few months, the people of this country can expect more of the same mediocre services at the same almost-but-not-quite exorbitant prices.”

No party seems to be proposing any real changes to the current policy, however the announcement has sparked the storm of controversy in the political chattersphere that regularly follows these reports.

In response to the announcement, the Opposition’s spokesperson for the portfolio lashed-out at the government, saying that this was yet another example of the “brazen mismanagement” that we have come to expect, and warning that if something does not change soon, the fabric of our society might collapse.

The Minister responsible for the department backed the announcement and refuted the attack from the Opposition. The Minister said that the government has a “commendable record” in this area, and that the Opposition’s complaints were “nothing more than a self-serving political exercise”.

“If they don’t like it, they can come up with a better idea!” the Minister declared. “This is just empty posturing from an Opposition with no real ideas and nothing to do except attack the government.”

The department’s field has seen very little change over the past few decades, yet it has consistently been the subject of much debate amongst public figures. That debate is alive and kicking, as seen when the media’s go-to expert in the field expressed ambivalence about the recent announcement when interviewed on the evening news.

According to the expert, it is positive that the government has not gotten rid of any of the good work that the department is doing, but it is disappointing that the government has not taken the opportunity to take on board the changes that the expert has been recommending for the better part of the last decade.

“I’ve been telling them for years: listen to me,” the expert told Major Karnage, going on to lament that “my last three reports on this issue have been completely ignored, even though the government gave me million of dollars to conduct them.”

That expert’s regular sparring partners took their usual stance against the proposed changes.

“Those reports were rubbish!” said a renowned newspaper columnist, insisting that the “so-called expert” had no idea what the policy was even about.

Many other public officials made such comments as “why are we still talking about this?” and “seriously? That again? Don’t we have better things to look at?”

While no tangible change in policy is likely to eventuate, the issue is expected to fill many a newspaper column-inch over the coming days, as journalists find more and more public figures to give quotes that sound a little controversial when taken out of context.

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Max Read in Gawker  on the “race war”

Are You Prepared for the Race War?.

If nothing else you’ve probably noticed that “race relations are probably worse now among the average person on the street than they were the day President Obama was elected,” as activist Ward Connerly tells McKay Coppins in Coppins’ “In Conservative Media, A ‘Race War’ Rages,” an excellent summary of the current state of conservative journalism. Connerly is filled with pearls of wisdom: “Obama has been more racial than any white president has ever been in my lifetime,” he tells Coppins in an attempt to explain his perception of a current low ebb in American race relations. What a wonderful way of putting into words the conservative problem with Obama! He’s more racial than other presidents.

But maybe you haven’t experienced the Race War at all. Maybe you’ve somehow managed to avoid the dangerous gangs of black teens, flash-mobbing across the country in their insatiable search for white flesh. It’s okay. I myself didn’t know there was a Race War on until I read Sowell’s most recent column and learned that “the authorities and the media seem determined to suppress” the plain fact that “the hoodlum elements in many ghettoes launch coordinated attacks on whites in public places.” How frequently do these “coordinated attacks” take place? As McKay Coppins points out, Sowell’s column doesn’t “cite any statistics, relying instead on anecdotal evidence.” But what anecdotal evidence …

The local media might try to sweep these episodes under the proverbial rug, through its sophisticated false-flag tactic of “immediately and extensively covering these episodes,” but the national media will have trouble ignoring them when we have intrepid minds like Sowell (once called “our greatest contemporary philosopher” by no less a thinker than David Mamet) on the case. So long as someone is willing to do the hard, boots-on-the-ground journalistic work of visiting the Drudge Report, the truth of the Race War will never go unknown.

This brought to mind Randa Abdel-Fattah’s missive last week on The Drum:

What must Palestinians do to get your attention? – The Drum Opinion (Australian Broadcasting Corporation).

Dear Western leaders and the international media, what must a Palestinian do to get your attention?

I ask this question as I recall watching Gandhi with my parents when I was a teenager. With the confident zeal of an adolescent, I vividly recall telling my father (born in Palestine in 1945 and dispossessed of his land in 1967) that what the Palestinians needed to do to draw international attention to their plight was simply go on a mass hunger strike.

… since April 17, 2012, Palestinian Prisoners’ Day, there have been more than 2,000 Palestinian hunger strikers demanding an improvement in their living conditions in Israeli prisons, family visitations, education, an end to solitary confinement, repression and night searches.

And yet, in the face of this dramatic expression of Palestinian non-violent resistance, the media and our leaders remain unmoved.

That’s a very good question Ms Abdel-Fattah, what could Palestinians possibly do to get peoples’ attention? Because they definitely don’t have it now.

I mean, they could maybe try and get all of the major international newspapers to base their Middle East bureaus in Jerusalem. Or perhaps they could try and win sympathy from some major press outlets — like the BBC, or CNN, or our very own ABC and SBS. Maybe even that new Al Jazeera network that seems to be quite popular for its Middle East coverage — I’m sure it could be convinced to air a story or two about Palestinians.

Well yes, the Israeli/Palestinian conflict gets more media coverage than just about anything else on the planet. What Abdel-Fattah is really complaining about is that the coverage by-and-large does not reflect her worldview.

You can criticise someone for ignoring a problem (like I criticise people for ignoring Africa), but your criticism sounds a lot more hollow when you’re just complaining that no one agrees with you. It’s a common message from people on the extremes of the political spectrum — they all complain that their publications don’t sell and they aren’t given column inches in The Australian, therefore the media must be “biased”.

What never seems to occur to them is that they may just be wrong.

Think about it, Ms Abdel-Fattah. Maybe it’s not censorship. Maybe you’re being ignored because your views are based fringe ideas that people who know what they are talking about dismiss as misinformed and not worth giving a pedestal to.

I know it’s a harder truth to deal with than the idea that everyone is being sucked-in by some mass conspiracy that doesn’t want you to be heard, but it’s also far more realistic…

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If only the rest of the Arab world had Tunisia’s problems

There is a genuine confrontation going on between pro-Government protesters and the State media.

That means the State media is actually not controlled by the Government and has been reporting on flaws in Government policy. Even Al-Jazeera, which everyone keeps heralding as a “democratic force” is suspiciously silent on the leaders of the Gulf states(/often just putting out Qatari propaganda when it reports on the Middle East).

These protests in Tunisia are a sign that the country may actually pull through and establish democracy. Long may they continue.

THE DAILY STAR :: News :: Middle East :: Tunisian TV journalists in shouting match with protesters.

TUNIS: Journalists of Tunisia’s state television Wataniya had a shouting match Monday with protesters who have staged nearly two months of sit-ins outside its offices accusing it of backing the ousted Ben Ali dictatorship.

Shouting “Media of Shame!” the protesters brandished brooms and bottles of chlorine and demanded the “cleansing” of the national broadcaster, while Wataniya employees massed on the other side of the perimeter fence vented anger over the disturbance. …

Relations are strained between state media and Ennahda, a moderate Islamist party that won elections in October and now leads the governing coalition.

Wataniya is regularly accused of denigrating the work of the government and even of plotting to overthrow it. On the other hand, many in the media suspect Ennahda of wanting to keep them in check.


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Ibish attacks Stephens attacks Beinart

Only because I know you’re not sick of all this Peter Beinart business yet (I’m sorry), I just felt the need to point out that Hussein Ibish — defending Beinart against Wall Street Journal editor Brett Stephens — seems to have completely missed the point of what Stephens was saying.


Bret Stephens’ Crisis of Empathy – The Daily Beast.

Sometimes crude binaries can be instructive, and it’s possible to distinguish two different types of people: those who seek out generous and universalist empathy with others, and those who prefer the warm cocoon of tribal solidarity.

In his new book, The Crisis of Zionism, Peter Beinart very much places himself in the first category, while in his review of it for Tablet, Bret Stephens, unfortunately, demonstrates that he squarely belongs in the second. Stephens’ angry, mean-spirited tirade against Beinart begins with a frank display of this mentality. He opens his lengthy denunciation of Beinart by angrily condemning him for daring to imagine that a young Palestinian boy called Khaled Jaber “could have been my son.”

Beinart writes that the evolution of his views on Israel and its occupation was kick-started by watching a video of the child crying out in horror as his father was being hauled away by Israeli occupation forces for “stealing water.” Beinart’s innate decency and humanity were, for whatever reason, deeply touched by this highly affecting scene…

But Stephens is having none of it. How, he asks indignantly, could “someone named Khaled Jaber…have been Beinart’s son?” The answers are so simple and fundamental that they are embarrassing to posit. He could be his son because all people are brothers and sisters, and we all can and should identify with each other across ethnic, racial, religious and cultural divides. Beinart can do this. Stevens, apparently, can’t, and indeed is offended when others do. Read the rest of this entry »

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Is this the real reason people like me don’t like the #Kony campaign?

I’m inclined to say no, but I have a nagging feeling…

Think Twice Before Donating to Kony 2012, the Charitable Meme du Jour.

Okay, to be perfectly honest, I was skeptical before I even pressed play, since no less than 15 of my Facebook friends had posted about the video, beseeching everyone to “stop tweeting” and pay attention to the video’s 30 minute message. Fine, I thought, clicking on the video and wondering why the people who usually bombarded me with cat memes and status updates about getting high and eating McDonalds were suddenly fervent supporters of Ugandan children.

Visible children | Chris Blattman.

Invisible Children, as many readers may know, is less a film than a social movement in the US. Three young filmmakers set out to make a movie about the Sudan. They didn’t find their war in the Sudan, though. They found it in northern Uganda. Their movie did more to bring the Lord’s Resistance Army and the war in northern Uganda to US audiences, especially Congress, than any other advocacy organization on the planet. That deserves credit.

But why oh why, I have to ask, does it have to be in ways like this:

Last week I bemoaned the new ‘abduct yourself’ campaign and film. Many asked why, including their Mission Director. Here’s what I wrote back:

“Well, to be truthful, the hipster tie and cowboy hat was a little much. But there are more substantive things to be said about the new film.”

Should I Donate Money to Kony 2012 or Not? | VICE.

Criticism #5: Invisible Children is staffed by douchebags.

Now when I first watched the Kony 2012 video, there was a horrible pang of self-knowledge as I finally grasped quite how shallow I am. I found it impossible to completely overlook the smug indie-ness of it all. It reminded me of a manipulative technology advert, or the Kings of Leon video where they party with black families, or the 30 Seconds to Mars video where all the kids talk about how Jared Leto’s music saved their lives. I mean, watch the first few seconds of this again. It’s pompous twaddle with no relevance to fucking anything.

However, the central message – stop this cunt Kony killing and raping innocent children in their thousands – is a very powerful one. So I looked beyond my snobbery.

But, maybe I was wrong to. Chris Blattman, who’s an Assistant Professor of Political Science and Economics at Yale, wrote this blog about Invisible Children, effectively just calling them twats. He starts by dissing their “hipster tie” and cowboy hats, before moving on to accuse them of being post-colonialists.


So, now I’m in a bit of a quandary. I’m worried that the real reason I went to seek out the downsides of the Kony 2012 phenomenon was simply because I’m a snob who enjoys bursting people’s bubbles, and because I find the promotional film they made for it embarrassingly produced. What a horrible reason that would be to ignore a charity.

The film Kony 2012 began because the filmmakers went to Uganda and met a young boy so traumatised by his experiences that he was contemplating suicide. Confronted with the grotesque reality of the atrocities, the Western filmmakers did what I hope I’d do, and resolved to help. No matter what. With that in mind, does it matter if they get paid well? Does it matter if they massage the facts? Does it matter that their charity isn’t completely accountable? Does is matter that they’re naive prats who think it’s the white man’s job to save Africa? Or is that all just pompous hypothesising by Westerners with enough freedom, information and education to look down on a simple, kind act?

Isn’t it better to just stop criticising and start helping children in need? Or is that the kind of blind interventionist attitude that throws countries like Afghanistan into very, very long wars?

I don’t bloody know. Soz.

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Fair Work story breaks and I’m taking the credit

On Saturday, I published this story rebutting two pieces by Labor MP Matt Thistlethwaite trying to convince us that the Fair Work Act is working (it isn’t). In the post, I pointed out that Thistlethwaite was using ABS data on work hours lost to industrial disputes and trying to pretend that the number of hours had gone down when it had in fact gone up. Shortly thereafter — and for completely unrelated reasons — I decided to start using the Major Karnage Twitter account properly and started following a whole load of Australian journalists.

Lo and behold, a few days later the story breaks in the Australian and in the Australian Financial Review that the FWA has caused a rise in labour hours lost due to industrial disputes. I see no possible reason for that other than my blog.

Yes, of course this could in theory be because the figures for the December 2011 quarter were released yesterday, but I’m going to conveniently ignore that, seeing as conveniently ignoring facts seems to be the in thing these days.

Surge in disputes under Fair Work.

The number of working days lost to industrial disputes almost doubled in 2011, the most since 2004. There were fewer strikes, but they became more prolonged over issues beyond simply pay and conditions.

Former BHP ­Billiton chairman Don Argus told The Australian Financial Review that he saw no sign of the trend abating.

“That sort of data does not help with the productivity that is required to keep Australia competitive, it is as simple as that,” Mr Argus said.

The data fuelled the employer push for changes to Labor’s Fair Work Act, including narrowing the range of matters that can be bargained over.

Business says the data also fails to capture accurately the fallout from industrial action as it only includes actual stoppages, not overtime bans or threatened action cancelled at the last moment.

Fair Work laws blamed for lost days | The Australian.

THE number of working days lost to industrial disputes has almost doubled in the past 12 months, with business and industry sheeting home the blame to the bargaining provisions in Labor’s Fair Work laws.

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Yes, the entertainment industry is suffering and no, that is not a study

Andrew Sullivan linked to Forbes’ Timothy Lee citing a “study” called The Sky is Rising that claims to prove that the entertainment industry is not suffering.

Why We Shouldn’t Worry About The (Alleged) Decline Of The Music Industry – Forbes.

Mike Masnick (who, full disclosure, has paid me to contribute to his Techdirt blog in the past) has a great new study out today about the growth of the entertainment industry. Driven by complaints from a handful of large movie studios and record labels, there’s been a tremendous amount of discussion of the negative effects of the Internet—specifically, illegal file-sharing—on content companies. In a new study funded by the Computer and Communications Industry Association (which frequently locks horns with content companies over copyright issues), Mike nicely illustrates that if you look beyond the largest firms, the entertainment industry is in great shape by almost any measure.

Masnick himself had some very optimistic-sounding words and some impressive-looking statistics to back them up, as well as a pretty infographic to explain what he is saying.

The Sky Is Rising: The Entertainment Industry Is Large & Growing… Not Shrinking | Techdirt.

Yet, what we find when looking through the research — from a variety of sources to corroborate and back up any research we found — is that the overall entertainment ecosystem is in a real renaissance period. The sky truly is rising, not falling: the industry is growing both in terms of revenue and content.

This “study” is a great example of why you should never trust people with a clear agenda when they tell you what their research has proven. I took the step of actually downloading Masnick’s “study” and, to be blunt, it’s a load of bullshit.

I’m not sure what makes Masnick think that he is convincing, but he was obviously banking on no one who knows what they are talking about actually reading his study. He has a decent graphics designer, but even any first-year maths/economics student could tell you that his “study” is an extended polemic and not much else. For those of you out there who have never studied in this field, here’s a few of the many reasons why you should not trust a word in The Sky is Rising (aside from the fact that it’s called that, obviously):

According to who?

Take a look at this:

More recently, the movie industry has also been dubbed recession proof, due to the box office ticket sales that have held up rather well in comparison to other industries. In 2008, DreamWorks Animation CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg said, “Both traditionally as well as recently, we have seen that our product is, at worse, recession-resistant and, more optimistically and historically, has actually been recession-proof.” Additionally, according to the MPAA, total worldwide box office ticket revenues have increased by 25%, from $25.5 billion in 2006 to $31.8 billion in 2010.

According to PwC reports that include movie revenues beyond just box office ticket sales, the film industry has grown worldwide by almost 6% over the five-year period from 2005 to 2010, exceeding approximately $82 billion in value. For an industry that claims to be plagued by piracy, this steadfast level of growth during the Great Recession appears to justify the boastful statements of being recession proof.

The “PwC” referred to is presumably international accounting firm Pricewaterhouse Coopers, the issue here is that the “study” has not even said this, let alone provided a way to see the PwC data. What we do have is a nice-looking chart that doesn’t really say anything.

But wait, what about ..?

We can intimate that we are seeing the MPAA box office revenues from 2006-10, but there is a lot of information missing:

  • Obviously, the US market has been quite stagnant while the international market has been steadily growing, why is that?
  • Where has the growth been? We are told that other countries have high ticket sales, but not how they changed over the same time period.
  • How have films been doing relative to the wider world? (i.e. if Nigerian films are booming, is that a sign of films doing well or of Nigerians doing well?)

Other films that deserve to be mentioned are independent films that don’t generate mainstream box office ticket sales. In 2011, the Sundance film festival received around 4,000 entries, and independently-financed films are being produced with renewed vigor as production costs have dropped.

Again, we are not told:
  • How have production costs dropped? What are these costs? What were they before and what are they now?
  • Why don’t “independent films” achieve box office sales? Obviously they achieve some, how many do they actually get and why is it so much less than “non-independent”?
  • For that matter, what do you define as “independent”? Does that include everything outside of the major US studios? Does it exclude big Bollywood productions?
These kinds of mistakes are constantly repeated throughout the whole study. We are given results without source data and without any of the necessary context.

Oh, it’s obvious is it?

Probably the biggest error that Masnick makes repeatedly is that he simply states facts that are “clear” without any evidence to substantiate them. I have picked a few examples out, but this happens again and again (emphasis added):

In 2001, Forbes published an estimate that assumed around 13,000 video releases were created every year and pegged the entire US porn industry to be valued at less than $4 billion. The widespread piracy of these types of movies is putatively ubiquitous, but despite this copyright infringement, predictions for the demise of the adult film market seem to be dismissed easily, given that the demand for adult entertainment seems to be going strong. 

It “seems to be going strong”??? According to who? You can just “feel it”? Because the people making the movies definitely seem to think that their industry has taken a massive hit and, by the way, this has led to a competition to see who can be more “extreme” in order to capture the shrinking number of guys who actually pay for porn. This “fact” needs to have some substance, i.e. “which seems to be growing strong, as we can see from the increase in sales reported by [x]”.

Similar for these:

However, outside of advertising budgets, consumers are still willing to subscribe to television services in significant numbers even when free over-the-air broadcasts are widely available.

… These digital distribution methods for movies and shows are still in their infancy, but the convenience for viewers creates valuable services — which appear to be in growing demand as traditional television networks are beginning to provide their own online video strategies.

… A TV show or movie can be produced for a fraction of the cost compared to a decade ago, so many more kinds of shows can be developed with less risk.

What are these “significant numbers”? What is the demand for digital distribution? What fraction of the costs of a decade ago is production at now? This is actually a nice segue into my next point:

Volume published doesn’t mean anything

“Production costs” are relative, but what have undeniably dropped are distribution costs – mostly because they have gone from something (i.e. the cost of creating a physical product to distribute) to nothing (the cost of distributing a digital file). As a result, the volume of units has increased dramatically in film, publishing and music. This does not say anything about the number of people watching them or, most importantly, their quality (I have already argued that the quality of music being produced has been declining recently).

Here’s Masnick’s take:

With the cost of both production and distribution falling dramatically, different options for watching movies are more widely available than ever before, which creates an environment where a low budget film can potentially become enormously popular. Examples like Paranormal Activity, The Blair Witch Project and El Mariachi might be rare, but they also demonstrate the very real possibility for moviemakers to produce incredibly profitable films without a $200 million budget. There may be some exaggerations regarding movie budgets, but memorable (and profitable) storytelling doesn’t necessarily require an Avatar-sized budget.

Here are some numbers for you: according to IMDB, these three films, released in 2009, 1999 and 1993 have grossed $444,045,819 to date with combined budgets of $295,000 (most of which was for El Mariachi). Avatar, on the other hand, had a budget of  $237,000,000 but grossed $2,782,275,172 in two years. Even factoring in the budgets, Avatar grossed six times as much in two years than those three films did in a combined 35.

What does this say? Whatever you think about “memorable storytelling”, Avatar-style productions are immensely more profitable than their smaller, cheaper counterparts and a lot more people are willing to pay for them. If the movie industry can no longer produce the Avatars of this world, that is a problem.

Now here’s where piracy comes in: people will not be thinking long-term about the problem because we inevitably choose short-term rewards (watching Avatar for free!) over long-term ones (more Avatars being made) – see hyperbolic discounting. Ultimately, however, if we all stop paying to watch Avatar there will not be another James Cameron movie made ever.


… The line between amateur and professional video is even becoming difficult to define, as the children from the viral video “Charlie Bit My Finger” have gone on to become minor celebrities — earning enough income for Charlie’s family to afford a new house.

This proves that a 30 second video of two kids, taken with no intention of ever releasing it publicly, can now become a sensation and make a lot of money. That’s great for Charlie and his family, it is not great for film studios. I would hardly call Charlie’s parents “professionals” – they are more like the 21st Century equivalent of the winners of America’s Funniest Home Vidoes than anything else.
Personally, while I do find that video funny, I would rather watch a show like Arrested Development for laughs – you know, the one that got cancelled because it cost a lot more than ‘Charlie bit my finger’ to make and the studio could no longer afford it.

Wrapping up

I’ll stop here because this post is getting far too long, but suffice to say that I have only begun touching on the problems in Masnick’s document, it really is quite bad. I am a little angry that it was given coverage by relatively reliable media outlets given the amateurish drivel that it actually was. I know that there are some decent arguments out there for the internet having done good things for entertainment, and I will post them if/when I have time, but please do not take Masnick’s word for it.

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The world’s biggest media companies

From the Fortune 500

Interesting that only one of them is accused of “controlling the world”. Disney is bigger than News Corp and Time Warner isn’t far off.

In fact, Time Warner is the biggest magazine publisher in the US and the UK and they make most of the big Hollywood movies. They have a  HUGE amount of influence.

Everyone’s always talking about the “evil Murdoch empire”. Why is no one ever conspiracy-theorising about Time Warner’s pernicious influence in our society?

I think it’s *ahem* time for action!

Fortune 500 2011: Industry: Entertainment.

Revenues Profits
Rank Company Fortune 500 rank $ millions % change from 2009 $ millions % change from 2009
1 Walt Disney 65 38,063.0 5.3 3,963.0 19.8
2 News Corp. 83 32,778.0 7.7 2,539.0 N.A.
3 Time Warner 95 26,888.0 -6.8 2,578.0 4.5
4 CBS 174 14,059.8 8.0 724.2 219.7
5 Viacom 180 13,497.0 -0.9 1,548.0 -3.9
6 CC Media Holdings 391 5,865.7 5.7 -479.1 N.A.
7 Live Nation Entertainment 444 5,063.7 19.7 -228.4 N.A.

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Newspapers circumventing Apple. Well who didn’t see this coming?

Last year, when the iPad launched, everyone was praising Apple as the saviour of the publishing industry. Well, that was until, being Apple, they announced that they would be charging 30% of every purchase of a newspaper, ebook, magazine or subscription on an iPad and they would not share subscriber data with publishers. Not surprisingly, this sparked a significant backlash – the 30% was higher than the profit margin that many publishers made from their products and it drove a few ebook stores out of business, or at least off the iPad. It has also created huge difficulties for publishers in transferring subscribers to their iPads apps, meaning that, for instance, my New Yorker subscription is currently worthless as far as my iPad is concerned, meaning that I am required to pay $6 per issue if I want it on my iPad, even though the print version will arrive in my mailbox a few days later.

Luckily, it looks like the publishing industry Is fighting back. Hopefully, this will force Apple to re-think their ridiculous policy, otherwise the iPad will simply not be able to live-up to it’s full potential, since publishers won’t allow their products on it.

British paper cuts Apple out of app.

The app is downloaded from a web browser – side-stepping Apple’s rigid controls on crucial subscriber information as well as its hefty 30 per cent commission.

…The FT’s chief executive, John Ridding, said: ”This is not about Apple. It’s about our readers and making sure they have a consistent experience.”

The pricing in News Ltd’s recently announced pay wall will favour its website over apps sold through Apple’s iTunes, which takes $2.70 a month from every subscription to The Australian app, leaving just $6.29 for the company that makes it.

News said app subscriptions ”will not give full access” to the new web and mobile sites, while those who paid News directly would. Given the price for each will be similar, readers will get more if they pay News instead of Apple.

UPDATE: It seems Apple have already caved. Serves me right for trusting Fairfax for up-to-date news, no wonder they’re going under…

Apple loosens app rules after pressure from the media industry | The Australian.

An Apple spokesman confirmed today that the company revised its policies, loosening the rule requiring media app developers to only offer content for purchase through iTunes. Also, Apple dropped language that required media companies to offer paid content on the same or better terms than what they offer elsewhere.

The changes come as media owners resist the restrictions posed by Apple’s guidelines and some, like Pearson’s Financial Times, have experimented with ways to get around the guidelines but still make their content available on Apple’s popular devices.

Thanks News Ltd for giving today’s news, I will now buy your product and not Fairfax’s. Isn’t capitalism a beautiful thing?

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On regulation, racism and taxation, newspapers can’t do the math

A couple of articles popped-up yesterday that really showed the difference between journalists and…people who know what they’re doing when it comes to reading data. Take, for example, Tim Colebatch, writing to defend recent welfare cuts in the Sydney Morning Herald:

Tax benefit anger wasted on those earning $150,000

In 2008-09, only 3 per cent of Australians reported taxable incomes of $150,000 or more. Since then, household incomes per head have grown by 5 per cent. If evenly distributed, that would put 3.5 per cent of Australians above $150,000.

As a maths graduate, I find that calculation offensive.

But the Herald was not the only criminal here. Stephen Lunn wrote into yesterday’s Australian to try and convince us all that we want more alcohol regulation.

Nights of drunken rages | The Australian.

Yet there is a growing view that alcohol is a societal problem. The report finds “the vast majority (80 per cent) of the population [state] that Australians have a problem with excess drinking and alcohol abuse.” This is up noticeably from the 73 per cent in the AER Foundation’s initial survey a year ago. And while more people consider illicit substances than alcohol to be the most harmful drug in Australia, the gap is narrowing.

Here’s the issue: it relies on whoever was taking the survey to define “problem” – if I say that Australians have a “problem” with “excessive drinking”, that could be totally different from what anyone else means when they say the same thing. After all, how much drinking is “excessive”? Furthermore,

IT’S a paradox and a grand self-delusion. It is this: Eight in 10 Australians say there is a major alcohol problem in this country. …But despite our unambiguous acknowledgement of the problem, seven in 10 of us are comfortable with how much alcohol we personally consume. Just 7 per cent admit to being concerned about their own consumption levels, a recent survey by the Alcohol Education and Rehabilitation Foundation finds.

EXCUSE me? 7/10 of us are comfortable with how much we personally consume, but 7/100 of us are concerned about our consumption levels. Congratulations Steven Lunn, you just skipped a factor of 10. So in reality, 93% of us are satisfied with our drinking levels – which would support that, as I said before, we are not use the same definition of a “problem with excessive drinking” as the people Lunn is interviewing. That doesn’t stop suggestions like this:

Things have clearly gone backwards over the past 10 to 15 years. Governments have been spending millions on treatment, on community services, on advertising campaigns, but the policy approach has been centred too much on personal responsibility and it has failed,” Thorn says. “What we need is a more sophisticated regulatory approach to preventing alcohol having such a detrimental impact on society.”

Ahh, things have gone backwards over the past 10 to 15 years. And the esteemed Michael Thorn of the Alcohol Education and Rehabilitation Foundation knows this from a clearly flawed survey that his foundation has been doing over the last two years.

This is actually a serious problem. Misrepresenting data like this can completely change societal attitudes on certain things, once something becomes “viral” in the press (read: one journalist misreads something that sounds sensational and dozens of others re-report the mistake without bothering to really check if it’s true or not). This happened earlier in the year with some research about Australia’s racial attitude.

Nearly half of Australians are anti-Muslim: study – ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation)

A decade-long national study has found that nearly 50 per cent of Australians identify themselves as having anti-Muslim attitudes.

Luckily, there were some others in the press to pick up on the mistake a little down the track. Funnily, we did not see a huge amount of coverage of this little gold nugget.

Simple errors can exaggerate level of bigotry | The Australian.

What the journalists did not explore was how these results were obtained. Yet the answer was not hard to find. The Challenging Racism tables headed “Racist attitude indicators” provide data for specific regions and then calculate variations from state and national levels.

These tables provide the statistics on the anti sentiment and explain the methodology. Surprisingly, the calculation rests on just one question. Respondents were asked: “In your opinion, how concerned would you feel if one of your close relatives were to marry a person of Muslim faith?” The question was then repeated for the Jewish faith, Asian background, Aboriginal background and so on.

It is quite a jump from concern over marriage of a close relative to a person, for example, of Muslim faith, to labelling the result, without qualification, as anti-Muslim in a table headed “Racist attitude indicators”. A wide range of factors could explain concern over the marriage of a close relative, not least the strength of the respondent’s identity and desire for transmission of values to children, without drawing a straight line to “racist attitude”

So essentially, various media journalists mis-read a survey to create a racism problem that is not really there. Even now, someone trying to research racism in Australia would probably still use that survey because of the articles that pop-up on Google when they do a search. 

I would just like to finish by begging people to really look at the data on various issues before we start putting more tax on drinks that already cost us almost twice as much as they do in most other countries…

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