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Walk past a "Heavy Plant" warning and wonder vaguely if the trees thought it was for them; if whoever put it up had enough imag...

Friday, November 25, 2005

Nothing happens, no one notices.

Most of the news programmes over here have a section entitled ‘Around Australia’ or somesuch. Some of the channels devote a full half-hour slot to covering the news from all over the nation. The trouble is that Australia is, as has been pointed out before, quite big and has not very many people in the empty bits. This makes Australian regional news a bit like regional news from other parts of the world on a slow news day.

One particular item in the news from the ACT (hover pointer over acronym for definition) was on the fact that bushfire victims get Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. This in itself is not exactly surprising, bushfires are absolutely cataclysmic in scale and anyone caught in one could really be forgiven for thinking that nature was trying to wipe them out. The story was aimed at unpicking whether this had been acknowledged and enough support had been given.

The article had a slightly accusatory note to it and contained an interview that suggested, however subtly, that not everything had been done to support these people. However, the interviewee seemed particularly well adjusted for someone that had been trapped in their house by a gargantuan fire. She was able to articulate how she had felt at the time and that recollecting the event made her shake physically. In short she had been given two years of ongoing state funded counselling. The end of the article was essentially a voiceover from the reporter stating that an independant oversight body had concluded that the government had gone well out of its' way to make sure that everyone experiencing ill effects from being caught in the fires was well supported. Non story? Kind of.

What's being said is that bushfires have a well documented effect on people and that support has been provided in a timely and effective manner. The editorial team were trying to force a good news story (government provides excellent support to victims of bushfire) into the shape of a bad news story (government fails in duty of care to provide adequate support to victims of bushfire). The tendency towards tabloid journalism, of which this is a symptom is absolutely rife here. This seems to be a global phenomenon which is infecting every media type and angecy but the quality of investigative journalism in Australia appears particularly low and is often unnecessarily confrontational. Investigative style is often adopted to seem professional rather than because there is a specific need for it. Reportage seems unnaffected but even this isn't great. A lot of the time you get the feeling that the news format is being copied from abroad as is the stiff exterior adopted by most reporters, especially as a lot of the international news is bought from Reuters, The BBC, ABC(America) and others. This is in such sharp contrast to the character of the people that it is almost comical. Australia is still finding it's national voice but it isn't more than a few years away I think.

Even when there are genuinely large regional events the pragmatic Australian national character essentially renders them non-events. As an example a few days ago Darwin was hit by an earthquake rating 5.3 on the Richter scale. 5.3 whilst you can feel it, isn't huge but it was enough for a murder trial to be interupted and it is scientifically quite interesting. What renderred this a non-story was the fact that the editor of this piece had chosen to include a vox-pop from a very typical Aussie whose reaction to an earthquake was typically low key:
"Yeah, I felt it but to be honest it wasn't much and I wasn't sure that anything had happened. But when I looked around the office everyone else had felt it too and some of the light fittings were wobbling."
Perhaps this muted reaction is because earlier in the year Darwin had a much bigger earthquake which was some 15 times more powerful. Would you beleive it earthquake fatigue!

Other brilliant stories included, Brave Children Rewarded, Again (Melbourne) and Local Dignatory Switches on Christmas [Tree] Lights in Shopping Mall (Perth). Out of the two the Melbourne story was perhaps the worst. I couldn't help feeling sorry for the kids who were genuinely heroic in a "pull you out from under a collapsed wall" kind of way. As is usual for this kind of event there were lots of fawning adults and all the kids stood around with a look on their faces that says: 'Is all this really necessary? You'd have done what I did or you wouldn't be allowed to call youself a human being.' Funniest of all were the firemen who have to turn up to functions like this in uniform and look very solemn, pretend they aren't looking for recruits or thinking'Thank God I'm not on watch today, I am so sick of pulling kittens out of trees'.