Media

In the mid twentieth century, American television was dominated by two talking horses called Mr Ed. The first, the equine hero of a sitcom also called Mr Ed (catchier than his real name, Bamboo Harvester), twisted his mouth more or less in sync with a dubbed basso profondo voice. He had lots to say, mostly preceded by an often disdainful reference to his hapless owner, Wilbur, the only person Mr Ed talked to, whose name came out as ‘Will-BURRRRRRR!’. This mildly popular series ran for six seasons.

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The SBS Story: The challenge of cultural diversity by Ien Ang, Gay Hawkins and Lamia Dabboussy

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February 2009, no. 308

Movie Of The Week. The MacNeil–Lehrer Newshour. Helen Vatsikopoulos. Andrea Stretton. Tales From a Suitcase. Pria Viswalingam. Italian Serie A Football. Annette Sun Wah. These are just a few examples of SBS programs and personalities that helped me – and no doubt many others – negotiate the fetid swamp that was Australian television in the 1980s and 1990s. Today, the swamp is a lot bigger and the stench even worse, but does SBS still provide an effective alternative?

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The Rise and Rise of Kerry Packer by Paul Barry & Who Killed Channel 9? by Gerald Stone

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November 2007, no. 296

Until recently, more Australians got their news and information from Channel Nine than from any other single source. For nearly thirty years, what Gerald Stone describes as ‘Kerry Packer’s mighty tv dream machine’ was the dominant force in Australian media and popular culture. Channel Nine was, as its promos used to say, ‘The One’.

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Margaret Simons is a writer familiar to her readers. There she was in Fit to Print: Inside the Canberra press gallery (1999), first driving with her husband and young children to the national capital, then following Michelle Grattan’s blue dress around Parliament House. Here she is again in The Content Makers: Understanding the media in Australia, telling us about her experiences in daily journalism, her move into freelance journalism, writing for the e-mail news service Crikey, and attending last year’s infamous 2006 Walkley Awards dinner.

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In October 2006, the Australian Literary Review published a list of the forty most influential Australian intellectuals, the results of a peer survey undertaken by the Australian Public Intellectual Network. Meaghan Morris ranked seventh, sharing her berth with Tim Costello and Inga Clendinnen. Leaving aside the problems, exclusions, and biases that attend the compilation of such lists, I was heartened to see Morris’s name in the top ten. Theory and cultural studies have long been demonised outside the academy, and their position within the university system remains subject to sniping. As a writer, critic and editor, Morris’s work over the last two decades has defined Australian cultural studies – indeed, she co-edited Australian Cultural Studies (1993) – and the results of this survey suggest at the very least a reluctant recognition of her contribution to Australian intellectual life. Identity Anecdotes: Translation and Media Culture is neither a defence of cultural studies nor an overview of Morris’s prodigious career. Rather, it is an eclectic collection of essays, written between 1998 and 1999, which are all more or less obliquely concerned with questions of Australian culture and history. It offers a virtuosic demonstration of the capacities of theoretically informed cultural and historical criticism.

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1980: a red-haired girl in my Year Ten art class at John Gardiner High School asked me if I knew there was a radio station that only played ‘that new wave music’. She said it with a measure of contempt in her voice – for me and for it. But I was tempted, and soon became part of 3RRR’s small, staunch audience. A quarter of a century on comes Mark Phillips’s lively, if listy (though no more than Ken Inglis’s ABC histories) narrative of this Melbourne institution’s first thirty years.

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Fremantle’s first real newspaper, The Herald, saw the light of day in a building on the corner of Cliff and High Streets on Saturday, 2 February 1867. The brainchild of two ex-convicts, James Pearce and William Beresford, it soon became the main voice of opposition to colonial autocracy, as well as the voice of Fremantle itself. 

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Switched On showcases the careers of twenty-nine ‘influential’ women who work in the media. Catherine Hanger, interviewer and former editor of Vogue Australia, believes that Switched On ‘connects two major spheres of influence in our society – the media and the women who work in it’ – and argues that the influence of these women is ‘very powerful indeed’. While the title promises ‘conversations’, Hanger, strangely, omits her questions. Perhaps she asked just one: ‘How did you become editor of Australian Women’s Weekly/an SBS news presenter/a film reviewer/a PR adviser to PBL/host of Media Watch?’

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Media history is an oddly underdeveloped area. Historians who work in media history are frequently reminded that such work exists at the margins of their discipline, and media does not feature at all in many accounts of political and social history. To take one example, Alastair Davidson’s otherwise impressive From Subject to Citizen: Australian citizenship in the twentieth century (1997) contains one reference to Rupert Murdoch’s citizenship, but none to the role of media in forming the identities of Australian citizens in the twentieth century.

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Virtual Murdoch by Neil Chenoweth & Working for Rupert by Hugh Lunn

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August 2001, no. 233

In the last week of June, after a period in the doldrums, the News Corporation share price suddenly took wing again. Buyers piled in. A lazy few hundred million dollars were added to the company’s value. The basis of the revaluation? Apparently, Rupert Murdoch himself had descended from Olympus to participate in a presentation to sharebrokers in Sydney. Enraptured at this visitation, analysts had upped their profit projections for News.

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