29 June 2009

Another battle lost?

"Its time. Sorry, it's time to save the apostrophe" argues Tracy Spicer in The Punch

It’s tiny but powerful.

Its incorrect insertion could mean the difference between life and death.

And it’s fighting for its very existence.

I’m referring to the apostrophe; specifically, the possessive apostrophe.

Even its proper name – saxon genitive – sounds more like a sexually transmitted disease than the pinnacle of punctuation.

Philistines and purists are waging war on the web, about whether this much-maligned mark should be banned.

Two photos accompany her piece: one captioned "Rabbit's die on a table", the other "Rabbits die on a table". (The first actually shows a pair of dice). .

I'm sympathetic to her general thrust though I think the battle for the possessive " 's" in certain situations, notably place names and the internet, has been lost, often with, as in the example from the UK she cites, official approval.

Here in South Australia
the government has directed "In all cases the apostrophe is to be deleted" from place names.The Geographical Names Act 1991 s3 states

"place" means any area, region, locality, city, suburb, town, township, or settlement, or any geographical or topographical feature, and includes any railway station, hospital, school and any other place or building that is, or is likely to be, of public or historical interest;.

This has led to the absurd situation where the official geographical name of a prominent Adelaide school differs from what the school, retaining the apostrophe, calls itself on its website (though even here there's some hedging of bets as the apostropheless "Saints" is occasionally used).

Is, I wonder, the college commiting an offence by not using the "official" name? s13 of the Geographical Names Act 1991 suggests that it could, in certain circumstances, be. Might we expect to see the place names police investigating the matter soon?

20 June 2009

"Breath" wins Miles Franklin Prize

Tim Winton's novel Breath has won the Miles Franklin award

I've read it, as I've done many of Winton's other books, and enjoyed it, as I enjoyed them, despite sometimes taking a while to enter into the worlds he creates.

I'm neither a dancer, a surfer nor a paramedic, but do have adult children. I find the last words of the novel resonate with me. Speaking of his adult daughters, the narrator says

They probably don't understand this, but it's important for me to show them that their father is a man who dances - who saves lives and carries the wounded, yes, but who also does something competletely pointless and beautiful, and in this at least he should need no explanation.

At the award presentation ceremony Winton criticised proposed changes to Australian laws which are likely to make it harder for local authors to be published. For further information
and to see a video click here .

16 June 2009

Foxtel CEO calls for free to air TV extension in Australia

Jane Schulze in today's Australian reports

Pay-TV group Foxtel has joined the growing chorus of media companies seeking a comprehensive review of Australia's media and telecommunications regulation ahead of the $43 billion national broadband network rollout.

Speaking to the National Press Club in Canberra yesterday, Foxtel chief executive Kim Williams also said the federal government should allow a fourth digital-only free-to-air TV network as soon as possible.

"It should issue licences to new players to provide new networks, either terrestrially or via satellite. That will help to drive digital television take-up," Mr Williams said.

"Why shouldn't a company like Foxtel or others have the opportunity to offer a fourth free-to-air network or a fifth over satellite if we can make a business case work? Why shouldn't any other reputable and well-financed company be able to offer a fourth network terrestrially if it can make the business case work?"

IMO this is an excellent idea, not least because the boundaries between free to air and pay TV in Australia are artificial. In the UK there is a crossover or hybrid area where channels such as the local Sky News are available as free to air. In Australia the so-called "Freeview" has added some channels and quasi-channels but otherwise has done little to engage with the pay TV sector. (Of course, the reverse is also true).

While Foxtel could put a few rooms in its own house in order, eg by making Al - Jazeera TV available (not just as a counterweight to Fox News), it does otherwise provide a variety of programs some of which which deserve a wider audience. Sky News Australia reports on events in Canberra and Sydney in some depth (and occasionally runs an eye over happenings elsewhere) while the relatively new A-PAC channel has caught the ABC asleep at the wheel by providing live video coverage of federal parliament (check it out to see how rapidly each chamber empties after question time).

As the internet and other technology increasingly provide alternative means of viewing TV programs perhaps there's less need to bang on about this, but while my monitor is smaller than my TV screen it would be good to have the bigger, and broader, picture.

13 June 2009

Snake in Melbourne CBD in June

"Snake in the city. Reptile on the loose after attack" screamed the front page of mx, Melbourne's free commuter paper. Other outlets including the ABC and The Age reported the story less feverishly.

The victim, said The Age " was taken to St Vincent's Hospital, where a swab test confirmed he had been bitten by a brown snake, one of the deadliest snakes in the world and the leading cause of snakebite deaths in Australia. But a hospital spokesman said the snake's highly-toxic venom had not entered the man's bloodstream. He remained in a stable condition, but would be kept in hospital overnight for observation."

I was surprised by this, not only because I'd believed that snakes would find it hard to survive undetected in a busy environment like the Melbourne CBD but also because it was so cold on the day (I can confirm this as I was near the scene later in the morning).

Video of the scene of the incident shows a lot of rubbish which could harbour rodents which in turn could attract snakes. But in winter? A 20cm brown snake is a young one, and therefore probably not alone....And if it can happen in Melbourne then why not in any other Australian city?

07 June 2009

D Day 65 years on

Another anniversary : 6 June is the 65th anniversary of D-Day, the Allied landings in Normandy .

The occasion has been commemorated with a ceremony attended by several world leaders and some of the diminishing number of surviving veterans.

05 June 2009

Another 4 Sept anniversary

Philip Adams' interview of Martin Krygier on ABC RN's Late Night Live last week reminded us that 4 June is another significant anniversary. It is 20 years since the victory of Solidarity in the first round of an election which saw democracy restored to Poland.

04 June 2009

20 years on, how much has changed?

Today is the 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square "incident". Naturally the media, the non-Chinese media that is, has commented on the occasion.

This morning Stephen McDonell reported live from the Square for ABC Radio's AM.

For a video showing how the Chinese authorities muzzled the international media check out this Al Jazeera report.

I visited Tiananmen Square in late 1997. Apart from being impressed with its size I remember thinking how calm everything looked. Perhaps it was the tourists, perhaps the lack of a visible security presence, perhaps the presence of souvenir vendors (from one of whom I bought the kite in the photo above) which made the place look much like so many other global tourist focal points (Trafalgar Square minus Nelson's Column came to mind). Maybe I was just beguiled by the hospitality and friendliness of the people I met. I don't remember asking any questions about 1989. Probably I was content to be the quintessential innocent abroad who believed that because I saw no signs of dissent that all was, if not well, at least on the mend....

02 June 2009

Police reaction to Indian student protests damages Australia's reputation

Video of the - to put it mildly - vigorous police response to the protest by Indian international students in Melbourne against race motivated assaults has gone around the world.

Unfortunately the official response from authorities here has been deficient. Last night on ABC TV's Lateline Simon Overland came across more like PC Plod than the Victoria Police Chief Commissioner:

SIMON OVERLAND, CHIEF COMMISSIONER VICTORIA POLICE: There were other people who became involved, most of them weren't Indian, they were there for their own reasons, and I think the whole thing just got hijacked and got out of control.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: With international attention on his officers, Simon Overland was there this morning and personally entered the crowd.

SIMON OVERLAND: We'd been in discussions with them for a long time. It got to the point where we needed to clear the intersection. So as I say, if they've been injured, I regret that, but in terms of what I saw, the police action was entirely justified and appropriate.
SIMON OVERLAND: They've made their point, they've made it very powerfully. It's a point we already understood, but they've made it to the rest of the community, and I think the rest of the community understands it. If they're not careful they'll overplay their hand and the support for them will quickly evaporate.

Both the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition have condemned the attacks which gave rise to the protests but it's taken until tonight for the Foreign Minister to get out of the blocks and announce the establishment of a taskforce to investigate the issue . Commissioner Overland is not a member.

Better late than never but a lot of damage, some of it unnecessary, has been done to Australia's reputation as reports in, for example, The Hindu , Al Jazeera and the BBC attest.

01 June 2009

Big news day, but not for people with three university degrees

Today (give or take an hour or two) one or two new (or one new and one recycled) media outlets came on stream here.

The Punch , not to be confused with its Nigerian namesake , is a News Corp website. Its editor David Penberthy says:

The Punch is a new opinion website aimed at every Australian with a love of ideas, discussion and debate.

It’s not a fancy, la-di-dah site aimed at people with three university degrees, nor is it a site for yobbos who want to engage in mindless abuse.

It’s a place for spirited, sleeves-up, energetic, engaging commentary, written by people who enjoy writing, for people who enjoy reading.

As today’s spread of topics illustrates, The Punch is just as happy covering politics as it is covering TV, crime, music, social trends, sport, business, economics, food and fashion. Every day it will present diverse opinions from its own small team, and a rolling roster of almost 100 outside contributors, to give you real-time commentary and analysis of news and current affairs. Many of their names are published below; you will see them and others roll out over the coming fortnight.

SBS TWO (upper case) on channel 33 is the former SBS World News with some additional news, drama, documentary and (we are promised) sport content in the evenings. My EPG still confusingly lists "SBS 2" which is in fact, with channels 31, 34 and 350, an alternative SBS 1 (or ONE) : I hope the rebadging is completed soon though will visit the channel more often than I did in its previous iteration.

Several other media related stories are also worth a mention (and perhaps a post another time).

Foremost among them is Mr Murdoch's affirmation of the subscription model for online newspaper content , rather than the iTunes pay per item model which he lauded in his Boyer Lectures last year:

Rupert Murdoch has reaffirmed subscriptions, rather than pay-per-view, as his preferred future business model for online newspapers.

In an interview on the Fox Business Network, Mr Murdoch predicted newspapers would be completely digital within the next two or three years, and widely consumed on a mobile electronic device, updated every hour or two.

The chairman and chief executive of News Corporation, which owns The Weekend Australian, said newspapers would have to stop giving most of their content away online.

His comments came as two dozen or so top American newspaper executives met in Chicago this week to discuss possible online business models and the future of the troubled industry.

"There's a case that newspapers rushing on to the web to try and get a bigger audience and get more attention for themselves have damaged themselves," Mr Murdoch told Fox. "Now they're going to have to pull back from that and say, 'Hey, we're going to charge for this'."

He said one-off charges to read individual newspaper articles was not the way forward.

"I believe newspapers will be selling subscriptions on the web," Mr Murdoch said. "A (newspaper) website will be vastly improved, much more in them and you'll pay for them."

Even the sleeves up Mr Penberthy echoes the great man's voice: "If we ever did decide to charge a subscription, the fee would be reasonable, and would involve offering additional premium content, rather than blocking readers from accessing the existing site."

And another thing: The Australian's Media section reports another round in the ABC v Sky TV News war. Won't say much now except that IMO Sky has won more battles/ skirmishes than I'd have thought. More later.