Saturday, November 03, 2012

Australian journalists could learn from India

Oh, it’s probably too late anyhow. As Mark Colvin has pointed out, we’re all on the road to hell anyway.

A while back, I was at an event in Sydney addressed by the boss of Tata.

He impressed me as being kind of cynically democratic: the very best way to make a shed-load of money is to make something everyone wants, and do it cheap so they can afford it. Which doesn’t make him an angel, but it’s at least more in line with how I see the world than “how can we rip people off with nothing more than a meaningless brand and a shoe just like every other shoe?”

Anyhow. Tata fielded some fairly strong questions from the local press after his speech. For some reason, one of the more revoltingly obsequious local journalists, whose name can remain anonymous because I don’t remember names, saw fit to apologise.

Amid cringes from other journalists present, Tata was amused. What he said was, approximately, “Impolite? Ha! You should come to Bangalore. I’ve had journalists lay hands on me to stop me leaving a press conference. Your people are the picture of propriety.”

That’s about right, really. Australian journalists can’t bear to be impolite to a CEO, unless he’s already a bleeding corpse. We don’t want to get blood on our own “At Lowes!” pinstripes.

In Vietnam, America honed the skills of media control: that access could be granted or withheld to reward or punish journalists who did or did not depart from the official line. Corporate America, quick up the uptake, systemised and perfected the technique.

“If you’re good, we’ll give you access to the CEO” – which, by the way, created a deeply unhealthy symbiosis. CEO-flattery inflated CEO income; journalists inflate the CEO’s importance to protect their access; the CEO’s profile puffs his income. The brain donors that infest the “business pages” play along with this, even if the CEO is in charge of outfits like FirePower. It’s almost always left to someone else to point out the Emperor’s nakedness (there’s a parallel here with the way sports journalists defended Lance what-me-worry Armstrong).

Australia imitated the American “journalists are nice to CEOs” so well that it took an Indian chairman to tell us that questions some of the lapdogs considered rude were nothing, compared to physical assault.

You see: journalists are easily flattered. The notion of being important still matters, even in a world where the media is happy to outsource its own leg-work to freebie amateurs under the sacred “Internet-savvy” banner of “crowdsourcing”.

But someone apologized.

This is Australia, people. Home to egalatarianism, the Eureka Stockade, and “G’day ya old bastard!” Since when were some cheap tricks of media relations sufficient to turn journalists into forelock-tugging, supine, boot-licking cheerleaders?

I should remark that I have been criticised for being rude to someone’s “honoured guest.” A minor politician giving a speech, and lacking the intellectual capacity to bridge the gap between ideology and fact, copped a roasting from me and one or two others.

The boot-licking brown-tongues, I can personally attest, are so devoted to their hostage status and servility that they consider “you can’t be serious!” to be not only a deadly insult, but a disgrace to journalism.

Whereas I merely consider them to be spineless shills whose only concern is how they can corner their next overseas junket.

If life ever gives me the chance to ply my trade in another country, I might try India. And since we’ve got the Asian Century coming, how about Australia learn from India, in this, instead of trying to teach India’s journalists to become supine shills?

CEOs should not invite journalists. They should fear them.

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