President’s Notes on the News

Colin ChapmanNOTES ON THE NEWS: Not long ago, I received a letter from the Canberra bureaucracy that advised the government on who should be in the New Year’s honors list. I can’t write about the subject because the communication was sent in strictest confidence. In any case I had never met, communicated with, or even heard of the person who someone has clearly nominated for a gong.

There did not seem to be any good reason why this person should benefit from such an award, but, in this country at least, the people on the list do not get to use the nomenclature ‘sir’ or ‘lady’, as they do in Britain, where anyone with a title receives routine ingratiation at hotels or on British Airways, even if they have just come out of prison.
I’ve long been suspicious of awards of all kinds , especially when you look at the long list of deserving people who never get them, despite a record of high achievement. There also seems a reluctance to repeat awards, especially in commercial or cultural life. Last year’s ‘person of the year’ , ‘actor of the year’ may well be best qualified this year, but organisers of awards – and more particularly their sponsors – want someone fresh.
I have to confess to a very bad experience of awards. When I was a host on BBC TV’s The Money Program I had to present our Business of the Year award in the very grand and historic Guildhall in the City of London. The judges were exceptionally distinguished men with an unequalled experience of business – they included one of the world’s best known bankers, the principal of a leading management consultancy, and the City’s leading liquidator. The winner of the award filed for bankruptcy within six months, and the runners-up also went into decline.
Recently we had the Walkley Awards, and while I don’t want to get into trouble with my friend and AIIA NSW councilor Louisa Graham, general manager of the Walkley Foundation, you have to wonder why two journalists from The Australian, editor-at-large Paul Kelly, and contributing editor Peter van Onselin did not feature.
Paul continues to maintain a forensic watch on national politics, while Peter’s impeccable presentation and interrogation of guests on Sky News’ Australian Agenda puts to shame the tired formula of its ABC competitor, Insiders.
The Walkley judges made a good call in giving an award to retiring foreign editor Peter Cave, but this year has not been a particularly good one for foreign correspondents who made a wrong call on the Arab spring and tended to accept the spin of governments and international organizations on the unraveling European mess and G20.
The year may be limping to an end in Canberra, but the rest of the world goes on.
There is an uneasy truce between the Muslim Brotherhood and the generals in Cairo, with the latter having the upper hand, as they always have done. In Syria the al Assad regime is on its last legs, but what replaces it is less certain. Elections in Korea and Japan are pending: the one in Japan in the coming few days is especially significant and has been given almost no coverage in the Australian media and on our ABC. You have to turn to foreign media to find out what is going on.
I started these notes by talking about awards. Here are a few of my own. They all come from the mind of someone who has a deep interest in international affairs, has little time for the political bickering that is an Australian media obsession, and has no political axe to grind.
Best news media for international news and comment: Financial Times (print and multimedia), Al Jazeera (broadcast). Runner up: New York Times. The FT has more correspondents than anyone else in the English-language, they are well-educated and incisive and unbiased. In broadcasting, the BBC has lost its number one position. Our ABC has some good correspondents, but they are not well-organised.
Best Australian daily news /issues program. ABC’s PM, with Mark Colvin. It’s a pity this has been cut back to 30-minutes on Radio National, as this has reduced the time available to explore international issues,. Runner up: ABC’s The Business, with Ticky Fullerton. It’s a financial program, but often has an international perspective, and Ms Fullerton is one of the ABC’s most reliable and unbiased anchors.
Best Australian news/issues program. ABC’s Saturday Briefing, with Geraldine Doogue. Geraldine has a wide knowledge of international affairs, researches her subjects well, and is articulate.
Best international affairs commentators. Gideon Rachman and Phillip Stephens, Financial Times(www.ft.com); Robert Caplan, STRATFOR.(www.stratfor.com), Read these three regularly, and you will be well-informed. You can view my interview with Bob Kaplan on the future of the Middle East here.
Colin Chapman is the President of the AIIA (NSW)

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