Last Friday morning, on a busy street in Sydney, I hailed a cab to head back to work. Nursing a broken arm in a sling, and carrying a bag full of research for that night’s Insight, I was feeling a bit apprehensive.
I’d had five long weeks off, but the specialist treating me had warned I might need longer. “The workplace is hazardous” he’d said “and I’ve seen you on TV, you throw your arms around a lot.”
A taxi quickly pulled into the kerb and as I peered through the window, I hoped I’d see a friendly face - someone willing to help me with all my stuff and drive slowly over the bumps. A slight dark haired man looked up at me and broke into a warm smile. He was out of his cab in an instant, opening the door, taking my bag and checking to see if I was OK. “I know who you are” he said, beaming. “SBS! It’s an honour to have you in my cab.”
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Two things I hate: hunger in a world of plenty and ignorance where information is plentiful.
Waste and unfair distribution of food, energy and water are major sources of global misery, the proximate cause for the breakdown of social cohesion and the fuel of wars.
Most of us recognise this and for 60 years development agencies have been at work reshaping economies and the world trade system to reduce inequality. There is a long way to go; 2 billion of the world’s population still cling to the margins of survival, but the overall direction is positive. The same can’t be said for the eradication of ignorance in a world of plentiful information.
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A little bloke called Mohammed broke my heart. He’s 14 and his face is lit up by huge white teeth and an unfailing impish grin. It was his grin that struck me and it’s that smiling, welcoming face that’s dead-set haunting me right now.
Looking at photos I took of him and other kids when I was in his camp in Ethiopia, it is shocking to know that he’s still there - alone, in a desert tent city of about 200,000 people.
He’s got no mum or dad. One of the UN agencies is his nominal guardian. Where he lives, near the border with Somalia, the UN people arrive at nine or so in the morning and they take off to get back inside their fortified camps at three in the afternoon. There are no police. There’s no government in the camp.
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“Two people posing as journalists tried to kill him, you won’t get access to him.” I’m sitting in a Sydney coffee shop with a Syrian contact. “Nobody knows anything about him.” I retort.
He slowly sips on his coffee, one of the many he’s had since I first proposed getting access to the leader of the Free Syrian Army. “OK, let me see what I can do.”
A few months later I am in Antakya, Turkey, interviewing the almost anonymous Colonel Riad al-Asaad. Reporting for SBS’s Dateline program, I have been granted rare access to him at a military camp where he is protected by Turkish security forces after several attempts on his life. The camp is meant to be strictly off limits to journalists.
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So SBS plans to “rest” letters and numbers, which is TV speak for unceremoniously killing it and buying a cheaper British version. No. This cannot be happening. Say it ain’t so, SBS.
There are the things in life which deserve a rest, like a nice rump steak, or Black Caviar, or a football team the week before it plays Greater Western Sydney.
Letters and Numbers needs nothing of the sort. What it needs is a big fat contract guaranteeing its existence for years, so the nerds and dorks of Australia can come together each night at 6pm and revel – unashamed and unclothed – in their glorious dorkdom and nerddom.
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Marc Glasby has been married to his wife Belle for over thirty years. Three years ago, Belle was reunited with her identical twin sister, Dorothy Loader, who had been separated from her at birth. Soon after, Marc fell in love with Dorothy and the three have lived in a polygamous relationship ever since. The trio will appear on tonight’s Insight program at 8.30pm on SBS.
Until the poly relationship I am now involved in, I was completely faithful to my wife for the 30 years that we have been together. I know that if we had not met her sister and if the unique set of circumstances that we found had not been present, then I would have continued to be a happy, faithful, monogamous husband, until the day I died.
I think perhaps that being in a poly relationship with identical twins is quite different to trying the same thing with two entirely different individuals.
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How does a journalist do a story on a subject they know nothing about?
This is a question which has long intrigued me. Most journalists have to cover all kinds of issues. Many don’t have the luxury of specialising in things they know about. I eventually worked out the basic technique for TV journalists.
First, make sure the names and titles are spelled correctly and assigned to the right people on the bottom of the screen, then stuff the story full of quotes. Try not to actually write anything yourself except vacuous little linking sentences.
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It is often stated that history is written by the victors, a matter of perspective, rather than of fact. In an age, however, where freedom of speech and of press are sacred, where books are published on merit, and where the Internet has merged the Speakers’ Corners of the world into a conglomerate, perspectives are so abundant that the content of “history” is increasingly difficult to settle.
There is no longer, you might say, an “agreed” history, though this is not say bile is treated anymore seriously than before, for example, Michael Leunig’s 2005 outburst against ANZAC Day, which the cartoonist labelled as “shameful” and as glorifying war.
There is a difference, however, between bona fide perspective and malevolent falsehoods. The Jewish people have long been stuck with instances of the latter, such as the Passover Blood Libel and the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Into this category, too, falls historical revision, such as Holocaust Denial. While British drama The Promise might not be considered so sinister, the series’ “fictional” portrayal of real-life events must be treated with great concern.
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Les Murray was doing what Les Murray does better than anyone last weekend.
On SBS’s Women’s World Cup Show, he was pronouncing the unpronounceable, and enthusing over the prospects of one of Australia’s national teams – in this case, our women’s team, the Matildas.
In the ad breaks, there he was again, promoting his latest book. That book has gotten him into all sorts of trouble lately, due to alleged inaccuracies surrounding Murray’s claim that Socceroos skipper Lucas Neill led a players’ revolt against coach Pim Verbeek at the 2010 World Cup.
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Asylum seekers are back on top of the news cycle again. It’s almost like those heady days when MV Tampa was anchored threateningly off Christmas Island. This time round there is a delightful little twist.
Rather than anxiously imagining the horrible wretches that threaten to penetrate our sovereign territory, viewers are instead invited to ponder the imagination - or lack thereof - amongst a representative sample of middle Australians who suffer from refugee anxiety.
The most interesting aspect of this undertaking is that Go Back To Where You Came From resembles an Escher engraving. All those years ago, the Howard government recognised that boat-borne asylum seekers could be used to stage an extremely successful political pantomime. It had pirate-like people smugglers, captured cargo ships, illegal immigrants, the Navy, the Army: a great ensemble by any measure.
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I’ve always half-liked the Labor Government’s Malaysian solution on asylum seekers. I like the half that involves bringing an additional 4000 refugees from Malaysia to Australia. It’s a small additional burden that our rich little country is very capable of bearing.
It’s quite a clever strategy, too, in light of new research showing humanitarian arrivals are generally younger and more likely to live in regional areas, thereby helping to counter our rapidly ageing, urbanised population.
But I abhor the other half of the equation – the part that involves sending 800 asylum seekers to Kuala Lumpur, where 90,000 mostly Burmese are already rotting in a refugee quagmire in the hope of a better life they’ll never get.
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Hot on the heels of its successful documentary about asylum seekers, Go Back to Where You Came From, SBS will soon be broadcasting the sequel.
Entitled Go Back to Suburbia You Stinking Racist Bogan, this innovative program will shatter the myths surrounding low-income Australians in marginal seats and their attitudes towards asylum seekers.
In a ground-breaking journalistic exercise five university-educated reporters who live in the inner city will be given a packed lunch and a GPS and deployed to suburbs such as Penrith, Frankston, Logan, Rockingham and Salisbury, where they will meet “real people” and get “the real stories” behind the brick veneers.
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Roderick Schneider was one of six participants in the ground-breaking SBS show Go Back To Where You Came From, the first episode of which screened last night. In a Punch exclusive, he shares some of his thoughts on the experience of completing an asylum seeker’s journey in reverse:
When setting out on the refugee journey in reverse for SBS’s “Go Back To Where You Came From”, all we were told was that we would be following the path of refugees who come to Australia.
I anticipated exposure to extreme poverty and people who had been subject to persecution in their home country while on the journey. What I didn’t anticipate was the undertone of the questions asked of me when I returned.
First, there was a comment made (and it’s been made repeatedly since) that as the documentary is on SBS it will merely be “preaching to the choir”. The premise of this statement is that SBS viewers are all better educated on refugee issues, and people who only watch commercial television are ignorant. It’s ironic that people who generalise that others are ignorant do so based on something as insubstantial as a person’s preferred television channel.
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Lying in front of the first stage of the Tour De France in a semi-catatonic state on Saturday night I found myself wondering why I was watching this thing. I love Le Tour de France more every year, but why?
Having just come from watching Germany’s spectacular destruction of Argentina in the World Cup, it was clear I wasn’t watching these guys in lycra and creepy sperm shaped helmets like I had been watching the soccer. It was sport but didn’t feel like sport. In fact it wasn’t even called the first stage, like a book or an opera, Le Tour has a prologue.
When Gabriel Gate appeared on the screen in his tour cooking segment with some Dutch dessert it dawned on me how this telecast was actually being consumed: it was in fact a really good lifestyle show.
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