A few observations as the town’s longest serving journalist (since …

Comment on Federal media laws: Will we become a dictatorship? by Erwin Chlanda.

A few observations as the town’s longest serving journalist (since 1975), author of many of the six million words in the archive of the Alice Springs News Online, producer of several thousand news, current affairs, magazine and documentary stories for all Australian television networks and several overseas, and for the last 20 years as the editor of the News.
My standards haven’t changed: I try my best to get all relevant information, present it accurately and fairly, give right of reply where appropriate, avoid contamination of my work by any commercial interests of the publishers I’m supplying may be having, and by adhering to the Journalistic Code of Ethics.
But what has changed in my time (so far) are our tools. They have undergone the most amazing transformation, especially since the advent of digital technology, giving us access, at least potentially, to a vast amount of information at an incredible speed, opportunities we exploit extensively to make our reporting more detailed and faster.
Working for the Advocate in the 1970s it took us a week from taking a photo, to having a plate made in Adelaide, to finally publishing it in the “paper” newspaper circulating in Central Australia.
Now we can shoot a photo and post it in our online edition inside five minutes for the whole world to see – literally: some of our readers are overseas.
Distressingly, as the technical advances streaked ahead in the gathering and publishing of news, the sources for it became less accessible, more reliant on manipulative minders, and the news process became contaminated by demands of editorial “support”. That is a euphemism for “we’ll pay for an advert if you write a nice news story about us”. The Alice Springs News has never done a deal like that, and never will, a policy that has cost us millions in earnings we didn’t get.
I remember talking to Opposition Leader (ALP) Jon Isaacs in the mid 70s, sitting on a bench in Todd Street (not a mall then) and he gave me a juicy bit of information, can’t remember what. “Is that on the record?” I asked him. “Everything I say to you is on the record.”
Fast forward to today – and by that I mean Saturday, March 16, 2013. It may well be a red letter day for the right of people in the Northern Territory to be informed and for the freedom of the press which, I have no doubt, will continue without a censor being appointed by the Federal Government.
Could it be that one of the sea changes being brought in by the Adam Giles government is direct access for reporters to ministers, as a matter of policy and not tainted by preferential treatment for some? A dose of salts has apparently been put through the throng of media “advisers” – more soon.
Since March 8 – eight days ago – I’d been trying to get an interview with the housing minister. Yesterday I received “lines” from his minder, written by a departmental officer, giving little useful detail.
“What I asked for is an interview with the Minister,” it told his minder.
Ten minutes later: “Peter Chandler speaking.”
“Thanks for taking my call, Peter.”
“That’s what we’re here for, aren’t we?”
“Couldn’t agree with you more.”
That is a good working relationship which, if continued, will benefit journos and readers alike. Quite without the help of Conroy’s Big Brother.
ERWIN CHLANDA, Editor

Erwin Chlanda Also Commented

Federal media laws: Will we become a dictatorship?
Hi Matt,

I am looking at these issues from the perspective of the journalist who is working for a media organisation whose ownership conditions may be subject to government regulation (electronic), or not (print).
Either way, the journalist has obligations, enshrined in the Code of Ethics, and subject to a range of laws, on the one hand.
On the other he has extensive freedom to use her or his judgement in the interest of reporting the news. For example, it is not proper for the publisher – his or her employer – to direct a journalist how to write his piece. It is much less so for a government functionary.
I have a favorite example: A reporter was assigned by his editor to help out in the real estate section, where someone had called in sick, to do a story about a house. The journo wrote his piece after making proper enquiries: nice location, good views one side, a bit of rising damp in the living room, noisy intersection with heavy vehicle traffic at night, roof needs repairs, that sort of thing.
The editor was aghast: You can’t write that, he thundered, that’s for our real estate section.
I am a journalist, that’s what I saw, that’s what I reported, I was doing my job, was the journo’s reply.
He was sacked, re-instated upon appeal to the relevant authorities, and resigned 10 minutes later.
I don’t have strong views about ownership regulations – that is a different issue and the moguls will no doubt fight it out.
But if the Federal Government wants to give someone powers to control what my colleagues and I are writing then they are overstepping the line between a free country and a dictatorship.
As one cannot be a little bit pregnant, you cannot have self regulation subjected to control by a government functionary. That is a contradiction in terms. Where would it end? Senator Conroy doesn’t say, but it could end up as an unchallengeable requirement to present all copy to a government censor for approval before publication. That’s the thick end of the wedge we’re facing.


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Gareth: Thank you for your compliments about my writing.
This piece was by-lined as comment.
The Alice Springs News gives you a large platform for comment, so surely it should be availabe to me as well.
As for “fearless, honest journalism” in Central Australia, mine started full-time in December 1974.
Checking out our online story archive, some seven million words, would have assisted to make your comment better informed.
Erwin Chlanda, Editor.


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@ Rosalie Schultz: The appropriate fact check for me in this report was to ascertain Mr Snowdon’s position on the issue of gas and it is presented accurately. Google our newspaper for extensive coverage of both facts and opinion on gas issues, including the Pepper inquiry.
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Comment writers, please note: If I cannot reach you on the email address you provide, I will not publish your comment.
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Erwin Chlanda, Editor