Government shifts from media minding to media monstering

p2128-stampedePHOTO: Business event planners taking part in a mini Henley on Todd organised by Rotary competing in bottomless boats against the Drum Atweme kids on a glorious winter’s day at the famous Telegraph Station. (Redacted.)

 

By ERWIN CHLANDA

 

It was going to be an assignment – as so many are in Alice Springs – that combines work with enjoying our splendid winter weather and a great location, in this case the Telegraph Station.

 

I would get to meet some of the 20 business event planners and trade media from around Australia, here as guests of Tourism NT for what it calls the Alice Stampede.

 

My task was to make arrangements to interview some them at the end of their stay: What do they think of The Alice as a place to hold a convention, is going to be the question. They are people who can make a big difference to our ailing tourism industry.

 

They arrived at the banks of the Todd on bicycles – a great way to get there on a day like yesterday.

 

Rotary members were gearing up to involve them in a mini Henley on Todd, racing the iconic bottomless boats in the dry Todd River, competing against little Aboriginal Drum Atweme kids who are great ambassadors for the town.

 

I chose to make my own arrangements, select for myself whom I would approach, and not have my research process filtered through, and manipulated by, the NT Government’s spin machine that is becoming more odious by the day.

 

So here we were, in a public place, the visitors doing a job in the public interest, and so was I.

 

I introduced myself, stating my name and the organisation I report for, to one woman in the group and then to another. As it turned out they will be leaving on Sunday.

 

Both agreed to an interview that morning and gave me their names and mobile numbers. A third one declined, but without any animosity. Of course, these interactions were perfectly civilised and professional.

 

I began talking to a man in the group. What then unfolded can only be described as extraordinary.

 

A woman in a Convention Centre uniform interrupted our conversation, demanding to know what I was doing. She did not give her name. I told her what it was I was doing – which was patently obvious – and that I was busy. She was joined by two other women, one of them also in a Convention Centre outfit.

 

The three were now crowding around me and the man. The first woman made it clear I was not allowed to talk to him.

 

The man, possibly a journalist himself, was visibly surprised: here he was, having a professional conversation which now his hosts were preventing him from having.

 

He received no apology from the woman for her interruption. He was not given the courtesy by the woman of being asked whether he would be happy to be interviewed by me. It was simply conveyed to him that the conversation was over.

 

He raised his palms as if to say: “I give up” and stepped away, clearly bewildered.

 

Was I there in response to a media release, the woman demanded? No, I responded, I don’t need a media release to decide on doing a story, nor to give me permission to do my work.

 

It got worse. Another woman, holding a mobile phone, approached me and insisted I take the call.

 

It was from Nicole Jervis, of the NT Convention Bureau. This was a mere few minutes from my first encounter with the group. The exchange can be paraphrased as follows:-

 

She would arrange interviews for me, she said.

 

That would be fine, I replied, but I also prefer to make my own arrangements.

 

She had complaints about me from people in the group.

 

About what? She declined to answer.

 

From whom? She declined to answer.

 

I don’t have signed releases to photograph people in the group, I was told.

 

I took that as a threat of some form of legal action.

 

There are commercial arrangements about photographing the event.

 

What arrangements could stop me from doing my newsgathering work in a public place? She declined to answer.

 

She doesn’t normally mind me talking to people. (Big of her.)

 

Some people in the group may wish it not to be known that they are here.

 

Why on earth? And if so, why had they held the event in one of Alice’s most popular places for public recreation?

 

It suddenly occurred to me what Tourism Minister Matt Conlan meant when he said in a media release yesterday about the stampede: “They will see first-hand why an event in the Territory is unlike any other.”

 

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  1. Hal Duell
    Posted July 11, 2014 at 3:29 pm

    Hang in there, Erwin. You must be doing something right to have made so many minders cranky.
    Alice is lucky to have you.
    And how’s the response time? They must be tracking you. What a tell. Outstanding!

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