Dec 29, 2008

Mainstream Media Came to the Party – Lateish

On December 19 near Kings Cross in Sydney a man was detained and threatened with arrest under the Terrorism Act. How do we know? Not thanks to the mainstream media, but because of Tw

Margaret Simons

Journalist, author and director of the Centre for Advanced Journalism

On December 19 near Kings Cross in Sydney a man was detained and threatened with arrest under the Terrorism Act.

How do we know? Not thanks to the mainstream media, but because of Twitter and the blogosphere, including young media workers who are below the radar of most mainstream journalists.

The person who was threatened, new-media-man-about-the-web Nick Holmes a Court, is not the first nor the most vulnerable citizen ever to have alleged police abuse of power.  Yet the way this story broke is not only an interesting example of how new media can work faster than some journalists. More important, it shows that in this new world we are not alone any more, even late at night and on the street. We are not only citizens, we are networked citizens, or can choose to be so, and this is a powerful thing.

So what happened? Holmes a Court was near his Potts Point apartment when he saw police apparently conducting a search. He started to film them on his Blackberry, and they responded by threatening him with arrest, seizing his Blackberry, deleting the video and scanning his emails, text messages and contacts.

Initially shocked, Holmes a Court told his extended online network about this experience almost straight away – by posting a message on Twitter, where he writes as @nickhac. If you are on Twitterh and follow nickhac, you can read that Tweet, lodged at 10.42pm on December 19, here.

From here, his story was picked up by his fellows interested in new media. I first heard about it when Ben Grubb, an eighteen year old who runs a web hosting business on the Sunshine Coast, blogged about it here. He followed up with a podcast interview of Holmes a Court. (Today, Grubb is boasting that his coverage of the issue has led to 10,522 unique visitors to his site.)

I knew Grubb slightly, having met him at a Future of Journalism conference in Melbourne a few weeks ago. While middle aged journos like me were winging about our disappearing jobs, he gave us an example of someone acting as a journalist and with a job in new media without ever having been on the payroll of a mainstream organisation. I am not even sure he has left school yet.

Having been alerted by Grubb, and on the eve of going on holiday, I posted about the story here and here, encouraging journos to follow up.

I am glad to say they did – not thanks to me necessarily, but simply because they were linked and networked with the places where the story was being discussed.  Fellow Twitterer and Courier Mail journalist  David Earley was first and fastest. Despite holidays and the like, he did this story, which got on to

The Sydney Morning Herald then did this follow up a day later, written by another young journo with a presence on Facebook, the blogosphere and elsewhere. (Sadly it managed to get Holmes a Court’s name wrong, calling him Nick Hac, which is a version of his Twitter username.  Strange, given that his family of origin – yes, those Holmes a Courts – is surely one of the potential news angles.)

Holmes a Court has lodged a formal complaint with police, and doubtless we will hear more – if we Twitter and read blogs.

In his latest comment on Grubb’s site Holmes a Court says:

You are right in many regards, my story is representative of only one side of the event. And I’m sure the officer on the other side of the table would say i was being a jerk. Quite frankly i wasn’t respecting their “authoritah” and probably valued my own civil liberties above them getting the job done. A debatable topic.

I wholly admit – was probably being a bit cheeky when i decided to film them. And to be honest I was deliberately making a point about the rights of the citizens to “police the police”. I didn’t expect the reaction I received though.…

All this has caused me to reflect. I have written elsewhere about other people – neighbours of mine –  who allege police abuse of power, and who have been terribly badly treated at the hands of the media.

So much so, in fact, that I have at timeshaad to remind myself of what is good about journalism.

Now I am wondering if my neighbours would have emerged in better shape had they been on Twitter, armed with a mobile phone that also took video, and with a bevy of media-savvy young people among their followers.

In other words, with the ability to get their story out there before the network of professional copy-hungry journos and their too-close-for-comfort police sources get to work.


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4 thoughts on “Mainstream Media Came to the Party – Lateish

  1. Tom McLoughlin

    Oh, and Cameron Murphy of NSW Civil Liberties, perhaps in the SMH story Marg mentiones also referred to about 45 or so reports a year coming to them. So that’s quite a pattern of behaviour of Police tendency to censoring coming to them.

    Methinks the Daily Tele story about police profit from filming is actually trumps. Credit where it’s due. And not that isn’t a free pass for fatty Piers.

  2. Tom McLoughlin

    While generally agreeing with the explanation of the dynamic above, new media back to old in a mutualistic way. Actually I believe my contribution was also pivotal in amplifying the story, and yes I suppose I would say that. Not for reportage but for legal and political analytical dimensions.

    To omit these two elements would be to misunderstand the phalanx of factors needed to DO good community or any media. I am a bit weak on production values no doubt (though always improving) but I’m pretty good on legals and political analysis having done it at the coal face for years and years. So here in is a little lecture:

    My reasoning: The big media already have the structure for Right to Know. Once I put the civil liberties issue in that politically loaded framework here on your blog and the Holmes a Court blog it effectively ‘gives permission’ to big press to go for it within their existing hierarchy. Beyond the frame at that early time. That early frame was “it really happened”, “it’s news” “the complainant has credibility” as asserted by Marg in her pre holiday heartfelt post.

    The second crucial factor is that there is a fairly worn legal path now this last 6 to 9 months of recognised journos like Matt Khoury of News Corp doing freelance or out of hours news gathering and getting done over by the police in the same way. Khoury wrote it up in Media in The Oz. Chris Merrit then wrote about my bloke Oliver Hopes as legal editor for The Oz, that I helped run a case for the son of an abc staffer, all embarrassing to the police. In conclusion: the legals had been flushed out as favouring the citizen journalist. This was hard coal face grind. It didn’t just happen. People like Khoury and Hopes and yes me deserve credit for that hard work.

    A sub set of the legal/political analysis of this story is that the NSW Police Assistant Commissioner has literally called for citizens to be cyber deputies so it’s pretty inconsistent to now say they should self censor. Hence the SMH from memory actually carried in their recent story the Police bosses have decided to tell their mob the public have the right to film them doing their work.

    (Also a similar type of scenario – was being blacklisted for 12 months off Sydney Uni campus for daring to report an education rally pre federal election – by pseudo police namely contract security, some literally off duty coppers apparently, not beloved of the tenured security on campus either.)

    Now the latest impacting development. Over the holiday break. News Corp Sydney Daily Telegraph splash with the ulterior motive angle – police in nsw are selling access for filming of dramatic events to tv entertainment shows. That is protecting their franchise. Ah ha. Follow the money eh? Can’t have bloggers giving it away for free. Here’s the story, and it’s a damn fine bit of work if you ask me in the bundle:

    Police profit as TV pays up for reality crime shows | The Daily Telegraph 29 Dec 2008


    So my summary of viable and good citizen reportage taking on state power includes – legal back up, good Right to Know moral principles, quality production skills, solidarity amongst practitioners in the public interest. All necessary, one or two likely way insufficient.

    Like Marg the guru here, I would say good job folks, little and big media. One could say even the police will benefit from the discipline in time. Transparency is ‘a good thing’ like that.

  3. Why the NT needs an independent Police & Corruption watchdog…Part 1 - The Northern Myth

    […] to the recent example discussed by Margaret Simons’ at The Content Makers of Police misbehaviour in New South Wales, the NT Ombudsman’s Report for 2007/2008 details a […]

  4. William Blackburn

    He’s not one of those Holmes a Courts. Robert HaC had four kids, Peter, Simon, Paul and Catherine. NOT a Nick.

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