Friday, May 13, 2005


Molehills or Mountains?

Since we at The City just love a good old stoush we couldn’t help but be delighted by the huge storm being built up around the Amanda Vanstone – Tony Eastley edited AM transcript affair.

I’m not going to summarise the detail because you can read about it here and here and here, but I did notice that pretty much everyone was having to regurgitate from memory the interchange between the two, because the ABC had decided to edit the transcript. Edit out the bad bits.

So everyone was going by memory, everyone that is except Tim Blair, who seemed to have access to the actual transcript somehow. Indeed he confirms his source as the Department of Immigration. At the bottom of his post it says "(transcript via the Dept. of Immigration)"

So I duly went to the Department of Immigration’s website, and the Minister's website looking to see if they kept all of the media material featuring Senator Amanda Vanstone online, but be blowed if I could find it up there.

So I thought I’d give them a call, and see if they’d email me a copy. I was put though to the Public Relations and Media unit, and asked if they’d mind just emailing a copy of the transcript to me as well.

Y’know what? They asked who I was. “A concerned member of the public” was my natural and honest response.

After some confab behind the scenes, where I could hear them conferring as to whether a member of the public was allowed to have this material, they came back to the phone, and to my disappointment, told me that I was not allowed to have it.

I asked if should I speak to the Minister’s office. They said that I would get the same response, because you see, its all copyrighted. Its all owned by Media Monitors. Media Monitors record all the radio programs, turn them into transcripts and sell them to whoever needs them. Including the Department of Immigration.

So how, I ask myself, does Tim Blair manage to get hold of a transcript, not available to members of the public, but paid for by that public’s taxes, how does he manage to do this? Was his source actually Media Monitors, and he paid the necessary fee, or did someone deep within the bowels of the Department email him the transcript, which would be breaching government rules, or maybe Mr Blair's good friends with people in high places, with access to stuff not available to you and me, and who don’t mind the information being made public when it suits them?

Maybe its nothing. Maybe this is the way things work with experienced journalists like Mr. Blair. Or maybe there’s not a level playing field out there.

It does beg these questions though:

- Should the Department of Immigration be passing on material that it does not own the copyright to?
- Why is this material available so some select people but not the public at large?
- Should the Department of Immigration be providing material, paid for by the public purse, to a person known to have an idealogical hatred of the ABC, so that it can be used to embarrass the ABC, when it is clear that the ABC regrets what happened (because it edited the transcript, and Mr Eastley apologised)?
- What is the relationship between Mr. Blair and the Department of Immigration?

You be the judge!

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