Chapter 34......The Media
Recently I witnessed as many viewers would have, the spectacle of a man climbing over the wall into the lions enclosure. People screamed helplessly as the lion pounced from behind and set out to maul his victim. The unfortunate man, suffered horrendous injuries and was lucky to escape with his life.
When I spoke out about the Japanese buying up Australia, I stepped naively into the public arena, never suspecting that the media would pounce like a lion and proceed to tear me apart limb from limb. Blood sport is the very essence of their existence and if a good story gets in the road of ‘sincere endeavour’, then truth as in war ,is the first casualty.
In nearly five years of ‘dealing ‘ with the media, I have little to say of them that pleases me. Only one journalist, ever tried to understand my viewpoint. Only one journalist ever treated my wife and myself as people as opposed to subject matter. Only one journalist ever repaid a courtesy with kindness. For the past three years, that journalist has sent Christmas Greetings. That journalist was the Bureau Chief for Asahi Shimbun, in Sydney. I count Katsuhiko Futumara, among my friends. Futumara, was a credit to his profession. He was the solitary pearl, in the oyster catch. He had culture, he had integrity and he exemplified the reason why the Japanese have left the rest of us behind. Of all the media personnel I met and they hailed from all round the world, the Australians were the most boorish, rude and inconsiderate. More dangerous though, is the license they enjoy, to paint their own canvas. In the phraseology of the Prime Minister, most of them would qualify for his ‘scumbag’ trophy.
One has to challenge the role of the media, for without a doubt, they exert an influence far beyond their station in the community. Newspapers are by definition, recorders of the events of the day. Reporters therefore are responsible for representing the picture as they happen, with out the introduction of colour or the inflection of comment. The reader then by his own appreciation of the topic, must be free to draw his or her own picture. That is the way it should be, but that is not the way the media works. The medium has been bastardised because it has largely become a tool of political manoeuvring. That is not to say that newspaper proprietors necessarily push a particular party, by creating a culture that makes life easy for one and difficult for the other; the system is more subtle than that. Our major newspapers in particular, have evolved over many generations and have witnessed the rise and fall of many governments. Governments have a tendency to ‘fiddle’ with legislation when it suits their ends and the media is not exempt. But newspapers have become the domain of barons who wield tremendous power to the point where direction either implied or directed is carried out through the guise of editorial control. Editorial independence, is a matter of personal strength and relationship. It can be based on mutual respect for each others strengths or it may be that a good editor is first a good team man; even to the point of abandoning his own principles. Men like Murdoch and Packer, do not tolerate fools or insubordination lightly, but they do have the capacity to judge. They also have their finger on the pulse of lesser dailies within the family chain and this I suspect has an inhibiting effect on maverick editors. Consequently the chain of newspapers usually reflects a general theme, within keeping with the parent.
Those who are the scribes, to the days events are either reporters who set down the relevant details, or more often than not, journalists. It is the journalist, who takes the black and white picture and gives it colour. He is also the potter with the clay, the sculptor with his tools. Dangerously, he is part of the machinery that also moulds not only public opinion, but shapes and fashions our destiny.
Increasingly though the printed word is losing ground to the visual medium. If the camera doesn’t lie, then editing can equally distort the truth.
It can be argued, that any such criticism is nothing more than sour grapes. Nobody likes bad publicity and if something is printed, or a bad television clip goes to air, that causes public backlash, it is easy to blame the media. Unfortunately, it is usually a one way street, with little or no redress for the recipient.
To those who by virtue of public office or high public profile, come into daily contact with the media, this sort of thing is no more than an occupational hazard. Some become ‘fair game’ and are fodder for the media. One has only to watch Canberra’s ABC’s Paul Lineham, to fully appreciate how journalism, has become the vehicle to focus attention on the interviewer, rather than the interviewed. Jana Wendt, is another who springs to mind and it must be a reflection on the viewing public that we tolerate such ‘cheap vaudeville’.
As an ordinary citizen, who took into the public arena a concern that attracted extraordinary attention, I am better versed than most to relate some of the experiences I encountered with the media; radio, television and press. This random selection, should give readers an insight to what goes on behind the scenes and the level of integrity, that largely goes unchallenged.
I lost count of the number of times , television crews arrived at my door. For the most part you would be given ample warning and in general the arrangements to meet appointment were met. On the odd occasion I was buggerised around all day only to have the interview aborted. Hinch, comes to mind in this instance. For a long time I naively believed that reporters were ‘sympathetic’ to what I was trying to say, consequently I co-operated to the point where it actually worked against me. Honesty to me is a very basic instinct, but I learned after awhile that interviews were not all that they seemed. Topics would be canvassed in an extended conversation, that would be taken completely out of context. Here is a case in point. In the lead up to the South coast by-election, caused by the resignation of the late Russ Hinze, none of the major parties would pick up the issue of foreign land ownership. However as polling day grew near overtures were made to the people by skirting the issue. Vague references if you like to look as certain aspects. The ABC, came out to interview me on the broader complexities of what I was campaigning on; not in the election, but on the topical front. Among other things I was asked, why I thought that some politicians were suddenly becoming interested in talking about the Japanese buying our soil. My response was spontaneous and in keeping with my natural contempt for politicians, “because there are votes in it”, I said. The interview went to air with no problems, but on the eve of the election a news segment went to air. It featured ‘thumb-nail sketches of the ten candidates and their ‘barrows’. Against the backdrop of bowlers on the Burleigh greens, I was ‘painted ‘as the candidate who had exploited the fear that older people had for the Japanese. Asked why I had targeted these people I responded ‘BECAUSE THERE WERE VOTES IN IT”. That was the ABC. Not that these tactics were confined to television. Monica Attard, spent 45 minutes on the telephone in an interview that went national on the Midday PM program. Attard drew the listening audience attention to the conclusion that Heart of a Nation, was little more than a clone of the League of Rights. To say I was angry would be to understate the truth. I knew the label that was hung on Butlers organisation and I saw this attempt by the ABC as one to discredit us. I wrote to Hill. A fortnight later, I had a phone call from Monica Attard. She wanted me to withdraw the complaint. I refused, she pleaded. I hung up. She rang back. I hung up again. She rang a third time. Unless I got a retraction and apology, then I had no intention of helping her . I was told that a retraction was out of the question as the item was now ‘old news’. She would put another program to air and this time she would take into account what I had said. It didn’t work. Some weeks later a different Monica Attard interviewed me and honoured that undertaking. She had simply been a reporter, leaving the vagaries of journalism to those who took it lying down. Attard, shortly after this was sent to the Soviet Union (no not Siberia) as the regions ABC correspondent. I take my hat off to her. Through a period of great historical changes Attard's dispatches were at times quite brilliant. Fittingly she was awarded the Australian medal in the New Year honours of 1992. Nobody was more delighted than I. From memory Terry Willessee, hosted the Today Show. This was one of these programs that goes to air ‘live’. Some time earlier I had been called to one of the high rises in Surfer’s Paradise to talk ‘live’ to Terry and the lasting impression I have of that interview was standing huddled in a corner outside the building, with the wind and rain lashing round the corner. We had all sorts of technical problems , yet the finished program went to air as if it had been filmed in the comfort of a lounge. Who said the camera does not lie?
When the street march grabbed the headlines, Willessee rang me and asked would I mind appearing on the Today show, the following day. Personally I didn’t much care whether the Australian audience were interested or not. I had long since given up trying to get the message across to them . The street march through Surfer’s was designed to capture Japanese television and it was one of the few times that I was able to ‘use’ the media to my advantage. Willessee saw it as news and from the perspective of political ‘embarrassment, it served to let the politicians know that we were not lying down. At 5.30am a taxi pulled up and drove me to the Golden Gate. After considerable embarrassment one of the crew paid the fare. Having driven taxis for some years I was aware that these type of fares are normally booked out and all that is required of the passenger is his signature. Channel 10, had no such arrangement. the return fare I had to pay myself and although I was issued with a ‘chit’, it was never redeemed. Considering the millions of dollars that floated around the commercial networks in those days I found this episode absolutely untenable. Not only were you expected to make the time and effort, but also fund the costs. Taxi out of the way I was escorted through a labyrinth of corridors, only to end up sitting by a pool, under trees. Placed on a rustic table was a small monitor and behind that the television camera on a tripod. The morning was one of those rear ones when there was frost on the ground. This setting was no more than twenty odd feet from the Gold Coast Highway and the speeding traffic amplified by the freezing air made, hearing, to say nothing of concentration, nigh impossible. Eventually the cameras rolled and the program commenced with no sound from the Gold Coast. It transpired that a ‘jack’ had dislodged in Melbourne. To the uninitiated television cameras can be quite inhibiting, but when you throw in the ingredient of surprise, particularly when you realise that there is no room for error, the exercise can take on frightening dimensions. Never in all the interviews I had was I ever briefed on the format. It was often, straight in the deep end. So it was with Willessee. ‘You’re march yesterday, where did it go wrong?. Now I would liked to have seen many more take part, but there was no doubt in my mind that it had achieved its purpose. Immediately, I sensed that Willessee was using ‘live’ programming to denigrate and ridicule me. It didn’t work and of all the television clips that I made, this one I was happiest with. Candidly I have winced at some of the clips I have made, but whilst I have always acknowledged the fact that I am not television material, the important thing to me was to raise peoples awareness. When Willessee, finished the interview he turned to Kenneally and raised his eyebrow. The moving pen?
Rod Young’s wife Karen, one of the few reporters I grew to trust, once said to me, “Why is it that when ever we seek comment on Japanese activities, nobody will speak to us on camera? You’re gold Bruce.” Rick Burnett, once had me into his studio on his Brisbane Extra. I know Rick well enough to ask his opinion on what I was pursuing. “ Bruce, you’re the life blood to this industry. Its alright to sit here as we do, and record the news, but I have the greatest respect for people such as yourself. You are the news and believe me what your doing is no small thing. We need that sort of commitment in Australia”. About two years previous Rick had called to do a slot for ACA and had asked if I had any idea of what the Japanese owned. I did and gave him a list of properties, that shortly afterwards was scrolled on top of a documentary. It rolled for about two minutes and I spent the rest of the evening answering the phone. Did I see what the Japanese were buying.
Richard Carleton epitomised the very worst of all the journalist I met. Carleton’s problem, was one of ego. Carleton to Carleton was always larger than his subject. Ironically, the only person I ever saw cut him down to size was Madonna. Perhaps that says it all.
SBS television and Channel Seven both came to our home and ran in depth interviews that were to be used for a documentary. SBS when queried on when the program was going to be used told me that they had used a new camera that had caused the film to become contaminated. it was an unlikely story, but I had no way of finding out why it was not used. Channel Seven, spent a filthy wet day, using our home as a ‘studio’ and putting together a comprehensive documentary. It had an in depth segment with my wife Iris who endured much over the years, and covered angles that had not occurred to me. Seven crew were there that day, often soaked to the skin. Iris fed them, reclothed them and treated them like her own sons. After seven hours they finally left. Not only did the program not go to air but two letters seeking answers to why they had invaded our privacy, went unanswered. One phone call volunteered, that the material was gathered for their archive.
Japanese television, American television and Danish television. I had dealing with them all. They are all intrusive to the point of obscenity, a point not lost on the American marines when thy landed in secret in the dead of night on the shores of Somalia. News hounds, bloodhounds, anything is expendable for a story. Ethics and courtesies only stand in the way.
No media played a greater role in the campaign than the Gold Coast Bulletin. For it I have both bouquets and brickbats. In the final analysis, it failed in its duty to the people it serves because it simply lacked the courage to stand behind those who faced a national problem and tried to bring about change.
In a sense the GC Bulletin was a fence sitter, never really going further than dipping its toe in the water. As a small provincial daily, it had a great chance to set the agenda on this issue, for it had someone in its sphere of activities who was prepared to be at the vanguard of high controversy. Here was one of those rare chapters in the life of a newspaper when a local citizen had made not only news but national and then international news. This was hardly a case of some idiot stirring the possum. Bernard Shaw, once said ‘ nothing is ever achieved by a reasonable man’. Given the way that my naive concern subsequently involved me in a major conflict, it could have been argued that a reasonable man might have hurriedly have made an exit. Whether the newspaper saw risk in supporting a ‘crank’ who had a sound idea, as I suspect it did, or whether it buckled to advertiser pressure which I also suspect it did, will never be known. What I do know is that the it was the Gold Coast Bulletin who helped to bring the issue of foreign land ownership into the national arena. However over a period the demeanour changed, from enthusiasm to near open hostility. It is my belief that two factors played an important role in dampening down the bushfire. One was the Bulletins heavyweight advertisers, principally the real estate sector and the second was a Brisbane export Greg Chamberlain. As mentioned earlier the foreign land ownership question precipitated an unprecedented amount of mail to the local newspaper. I have to acknowledge in hindsight that I instigated that action in writing four very provocative letters that set the issue alight. In a sense I was the instrument that set off an avalanche just waiting to happen. There were locals who thought I had motives in doing so, but at the time there was no public controversy, no divisions of opinion. My motivations were fuelled by a growing concern and as the public reaction reinforced my beliefs, they gave me added strength to carry on. In those early days much of the public anger was expressed in the pages of POSTBAG and the newspaper had on its staff quite a few journalists as distinct from reporters who were sympathetic to what I had been saying. At the helm was John Burton who was not given to major controversies. Over the teapot, local tete-a tete, was his forte. His off-sider Roy Chapman, was newspaperman to the bone and although I never met him, I suspect that much of what was printed that involved Bruce Whiteside, had Roy’s hand on it. What has to be realised is that early on, it was simply letters to the editor and whilst these would have been vetted, they were not reflections of the newspapers stand. That came when I invited interested parties to contact me with a view to holding a public meeting. If there was concern among the business sector, it was dismissed. Max Christmas wrote us off as just a pack of knockers and Charles Halstead from the caterers Assn said we were harmless and five minute aberrations. We could be ignored, we would simply go away.
It was with the advent of the public meeting that battle lines were drawn and people began to take notice. The knockers and five minute wonders had stirred the dust not only on the Gold Coast but in the very corridors of power, both in Canberra and to Canberra’s chagrin Tokyo. The synthetic mask of trading niceties had been stripped away to reveal to the Japanese people, that all was not as it seemed. Official Australia, had one face, but its people had another. Whiteside had stripped away the bullshit and allowed the Japanese to peep behind the curtain. Naturally enough, that revelation brought forth cries of lynch him, deport him and that made for good copy. Those who attended the meeting at the Miami Great Hall, will recall the feeding frenzy of the media. They reminded me very much of the Americans I once took into Milford Sound on a tour. Standing before a veritable smorgasbord of every imaginable food you could think of they loaded their plates to overflowing and ended up wasting most of it. The memory was one of disgust. And so it was with the media that night. They came from everywhere, even Japan, yet each received a copy of the speech that caused the furore. Next day a hundred stories were told and the television news painted pictures of the ‘confrontation scenes’. Next day the GCBulletin came out with a front page story. ‘Japanvasion fighters may go to the polls’. The story quite unashamedly politicised the possible outcome of our concern. It tried to turn the event into an election issue, linking the timing of Russ Hinze's resignation into the fabric of intrigue. The subject was of far more importance than sheer speculation material at local level. In fact the front page could have been relegated to lesser prominence and the hard-hitting editorial given pride of place. It was a brilliant piece of writing, that gave no quarter. It should have nailed the papers commitment to the masthead, opting as it did to sound the clarion call:
“ The question unfortunately answers itself. The people we pay have shoved it into the too hard basket and left it to Mr Whiteside to arouse the conscience of a nation. Good luck...and action...to him and his People Power”.
With an Editorial like this, it should not have been difficult to throw its weight behind this maverick campaigner. There was no indication here that, this fellow was some sort of nut. Certainly he had the potential to upset businessmen who were doing nicely, thank you very much, but he was tackling an issue that had been skirted around for years. As if to give further weight to the justification for calling the public meeting the Bulletin came out the following day in awe. Horrors of horrors, Tokyo controlled 70% of Surfers Paradise! Now if an ordinary citizen with absolutely no resources had possessed the responsible attitude to go out into the community and rouse the people to what was happening, then what the hell was the newspaper about? Certainly it was not vigilance. Reporters only? Hardly, the paper had more than its fair share of journalist and some very good ones at that.
After the meeting at Miami, the subject could no longer be ignored. Wayne Goss for instance slammed‘ racism and extremism’ in the land debate, yet lacked the guts of his deputy to come and find out what the concern was all about. Goss wanted to keep his hands clean. But then, didn’t they all. Angus Innes accused Don Lane of jumping on the ‘populist bandwaggon’, yet on the matter of Aborigine land rights, as distinct from Australian land, they all milked the milch cow. One mans deep concern had now become a political football and providing it was kicked right, there would be mileage in it .
In order to give an a fresh look at this controversial campaigner the Gold Coast Bulletin, sent their latest acquisition Russell Deiley out to look at me. The result was the meeting between two people who had no previous knowledge of each other. In an article entitled ‘Bruce scorns racist tag to stand up for Australians, a full page feature on page four Deiley further underlined the papers interest in giving the campaign a gentle nudge. What I needed though was the same sort of commitment to constitutional change that I was advocating, to come from the local paper. It never happened and perhaps I was wrong to believe that it could. Slowly as businessmen on the Gold Coast began to sense the repercussions of our sustained involvement, the rapport that I had enjoyed with journalists, began to wane. On many occasions I had sat up late on Saturday evenings, preparing copy, that I would take into the chief of staff on the Sunday. Security tightened as a matter of course and suddenly the access to staff became extremely difficult. No longer were journalists ‘sympathetic’. They had a job to do and word had it that all was not happy on ‘print hill’. There were internal problems and these were coming from top management. I had been prompted to write on two occasions to the General Manager, indicating that I believed that pressure was being brought to bear on the newspaper to curtail comments that ‘alienated the Japanese situation ‘. and that if this was the case then the paper should realise that it had a role to perform within the community. That role should over-ride the momentary considerations of appeasing real estate agents and others who were feeling the winds of ‘concerned Japanese investors’. I made the point I believe to be a valid one, that when historians look back on this issue that cause so much controversy, they would delve through the pages of the newspapers of the day and glean from them, what the editor of the day, saw fit to print. In saying this I am also cognizant to the fact that I was something of a regular visitor to the Bulletin; at times I felt as though I was even getting under my own feet. There was more to the daily paper than ‘foreign land ownership’.
Whilst all this was going on another facet of the Japanese interest in Australia was taking shape,...the Multi-Function-Polis. This grand plan to spawn a hi tech city, with 21st century leisure facilities to attract the ‘worlds leading brains, fired local developers and those who were already courting wealthy Japanese investors. This proposal that had its origins in the Department of Industry and Technology in Japan, was yet another intrusion on land acquisition. It set in motion a proxy confrontation through the columns of the newspaper, between the spokesman for the group Gold Coast Planning Committee Alan Midwood and myself. Day after day Midwood, spearheaded the push for the complex to the point where I suspected that the Gold Coast Bulletin had a vested interest in the idea. Certainly a select group in support of the idea came into being which took on a high profile. In a leaked document I was not at all surprised to find that Gold Coast Publications was one of the supporters. In the end of course the whole MFP scheme fell apart as it was bound to from the start. Had the scheme been up front with genuine public participation and less oriented to the pursuit of sectorial profit, the plan might have not died at birth.
Brisbane’s Murdoch flag-ship, the Courier-Mail carries alongside it’s Editorial masthead, this little gem: Our liberty depends on the freedom of the press and that cannot be limited without being lost. Every time I see that motto I remember its editor. I never received a bouquet from any editorial, that emanated from a Murdoch gazette. I guess it would have seemed like hypocrisy, had the proprietor supported a campaigner, who advocated the abolition of land sales to foreign nationals, whilst he was quite prepared to denounce his sovereignty to acquire foreign land. Perhaps, this world citizen was beyond the simple issues that worry the man in the street, but then he unlike the rest of us had a choice that he could indulge. The Courier-Mail had lashed out at me as had the defunct Sun, through its editorials. Chamberlain had on more than one occasion, resorted to denigration to defuse our efforts. His last effort, painted us as circus clowns parading through the streets of Surfer’s, where we had been ‘pelted’ quite justifiably with eggs. This of course was the principle theme to our exotic and excessive march. The march was not staged to be the recipient of a solitary egg thrown from the Golden Gate. What was important according to Chamberlain, was that people were demanding that something be done about the high cost of home and land, in their own country. He went on to say that we should realise that this was a recent encroachment and that we should be more tolerant. Excesses like Whiteside’s party were not in the interest of Australia. This no doubt was the reason why the ABC pulled the plug at McIntosh Park, for it was busy recording the speech I had prepared, when I eluded to the antics of the media. It was too close to home, for the ABC recordist pulled the plug and left the site.
When Chamberlain came to the Gold Coast Bulletin, the letters that I had been contributing over nearly four years, ran into a very low acceptance rate. Letters that I considered well constructed were simply filed. I asked why, only to be greeted at times by some pretty cantankerous men on the other end of the line. Men I would add who were now acutely aware of their closeness to retirement and position of some delicacy. Senior journalists, fell off one by one; men who had a life of experience and who would stand firm on matters of principle. Juniors were assigned to jobs that certainly did not inspire me. If the new broom was sweeping clean, then out went those who were not compliant. Gradually the new order permeated the establishment. New faces replaced tried and trusted friends. I would be told by the chief of staff to come in, only to have some new kid who never had an inkling of who I was and what I had been doing. Interviews were submitted and subsequently shelved. Finally it was suggested that I was being placed in ‘coventry’. So I employed a simple scheme to test the theory. I wrote four letters on diverse subjects over the following fortnight. I sent them to other newspapers and all were published, the Gold Coast Bulletin filed the lot.
The newspaper that had advocated fighting the people’s fight, had finally crucified and silenced the campaigner....Our liberty depends on the freedom of the press and that cannot be limited with out being lost. Freedom of speech is another matter.