Hollywood Tsar Sam Goldwyn once famously said: ‘If you want to send a message, use Western Union’.
But then Mr. Malaprop also made this comment about movies with a meaning: ‘Anyone who wants to learn about psychiatry from the movies should have their head examined’.
These days the movie mogul could use a myriad of message delivery systems: Twitter, email, Facebook or write ‘Sam’s LA blog’ on his own web page.
The world has changed that much. Nothing illustrates this more than the fact that we now all know that the letters ‘MSM’ stand for Mainstream Media – the old-fashioned way (considered for more than a century to be the only way) to receive and impart news.
(Even old Sam’s Western Union has given up the telegram business).
I remember as a callow journo in Canada interviewing Marshall McLuhan for Time magazine. I didn’t quite grasp then that the medium was the message but I understood his soon-to-be-realised prediction that this world would become ‘a global village’ with millions of us as members of technological tribes.
McLuhan prophesied in his book The Gutenberg Galaxy how that would change our brains.
‘…if a new technology extends one or more of our senses outside us into the social world, then new ratios among all of our senses will occur in that particular culture. It is comparable to what happens when a new note is added to a melody. And when the sense ratios alter in any culture then what had appeared lucid before may suddenly become opaque, and what had been vague or opaque will become translucent’.
Mention of the Gutenberg Press (and that global village) gives me a good segue into Twitter. I have long argued that I believe Twitter is the biggest breakthrough in media since moving type. The world was alerted to the pending assassination of Osama Bin Laden because a man with an iPad in a Pakistani village sent a tweet saying: ‘Helicopter hovering above Abbotabad at 1AM ‘. They didn’t consider that at the Pentagon.
Three years ago I thought Twitter was a time-wasting, inconsequential wank. I said on 3AW that I didn’t give a tinker’s cuss if Shane Warne had baked beans for breakfast and why didn’t he and Liz Hurley get a room? Why didn’t they at least use the phone or even direct tweets to play out their affair?
I joined Twitter when I realised how useful it could be as a working tool in the 2010 federal election. My twitter handle @humanheadline came about because @hinch and @derrynhinch had been taken. I now have 42,000 followers.
My Warne/ baked beans trivial argument still holds. I was surprised recently to see respected journalist @RitaPanahi tweet a banal ‘Brunch of champions. Poached pear & sago pudding with coconut cream & ginger syrup’. Complete with pic. Who cares?
— Rita Panahi (@RitaPanahi) October 29, 2013
It is also poor Twitter etiquette to ask for followers. The day before the Ten Network launched its new breakfast fare WakeUp, producer Adam Boland begged for an extra 50 followers to get to his 5000 target. I did respond and asked if that was one for every expected viewer.
But there is a far more serious issue about the new media and its far-reaching social and legal implications. The brave launch of The Big Smoke is an opportune time to discuss it.
It is a big, frightening issue in which I happen to be professionally and financially enmeshed.
I was recently convicted of contempt of court by the Victorian Supreme Court over an editorial I posted on my Human Headline website about the Adrian Bayley/ Jill Meagher murder case. I was fined $100,000 and incurred about an additional $150,000 in court-ordered costs and legal fees.
Now, that is my problem, but it poses an even bigger long-term one for anybody who posts blogs on the Internet instead of using MSM in this country.
To put it succinctly: My blog was posted five hours before a Supreme Court judge issued a suppression order banning publication of information about Bayley, even though he had pleaded guilty to the murder of Jill Meagher.
Judge Stephen Kaye ruled that I was in contempt because I did not remove (or redact as they now say) that offending editorial quickly enough. He ruled I should have contacted lawyers on the Monday — when I heard about the suppression order. As it happened, 12 hours prior to the judgement, I did seek legal advice and censored that blog.
The main worry here for bloggers and online editors is this: The judge ruled that even though my story was posted hours before the gag, it was still online and available to anyone who went looking for it after the gag, even though only 221 people did read it in that time window.
Compare that to the one million readers of the Melbourne Herald Sun. That paper had a page one screamer about Jill Meagher’s killer that same morning of my offence.
Their story even predicted that Bayley would plead guilty. A bombshell I avoided because I thought it was in contempt of court.
News Ltd wasn’t charged. Nobody ordered the Editor to burn all copies of that edition. You could still go into the office and read it – and presumably still can online.
My case raises this very real future scenario: you could write and publish online a totally safe story. If a judge, two years down the track issued a suppression order about somebody mentioned in that story and somebody (or, say, 221 somebodies) went back and accessed that yarn ,you could be charged with contempt.
To all of you at The Big Smoke, I wish you well, but tread carefully. The courts don’t yet know how to handle the simple tweet or social media more generally – which I do believe at times behaved abominably and recklessly in the Meagher case.
And if they train their guns on you as an example or as a ‘whipping boy’ or ‘scapegoat’ (my terms, which admittedly riled my judge), it could get expensive.