COMMENT by ERWIN CHLANDA
The doubtlessly biggest news story in Alice Springs was when – as it is now official – the dingo took baby Azaria Chamberlain.
The Liam Jurrah story is also pretty big but there are other significant differences.
If we manage to leave aside the unspeakable stupidity of Territory officialdom, and the almost biblical pain it inflicted on the Chamberlains, we can observe that their story put The Centre, The Rock, The Alice into the public view.
That had its good side.
I remember TV networks, to which we supplied stories, ringing us up and saying: “You need to do something with your camera filters. The ground’s all red.”
A lot more is now known about our patch.
The Chamberlains’ suffering was pretty well confined to them, to their close friends and relatives, their fellows in faith.
Their story didn’t give us the feeling of being in peril.
The Jurrah media coverage, albeit much smaller in scale, was different in message, volume, speed and reach.
Unless you take the show biz view that any publicity is good so long as they spell the name right, you’d have to conclude that Alice just got another hammering – and the fault was largely its own.
Here is Melbourne’s fabled footballer – “Isn’t he handsome!” – who returns to his homeland, joins a drunken mob and assaults a family member with a machete. His mate was using an axe. That’s what the court was told inside.
“They chased Basil Jurrah to the edge of the house and then … they both [Liam Jurrah and Christopher Walker] hit him at the same time to the head,” Melbourne’s The Age reported.
Outside another mob gathered. Ten Network News reported heavy police presence: “Square-off between rival factions in the main street outside the courthouse.”
“Inside a story of tribal feuding and warring factions emerged.”
Get it? They’re talking about the main street of Alice Springs, which is the town where factions fight wars.
A nice place to spend a holiday?
What have our leaders done to get the message out to people prepared to riot in the streets that such behaviour will not be tolerated? This will take more than a so-called education campaign. It requires person-to-person contact, a prolonged effort of sitting down and talking to people across the region about bottom line, shared standards and goals. It may also require sanctions.
The massive difference in technology – as well as the choice of images, of course – allowed the coverage to intensify the picture of lawlessness.
The main media in town were The Age, Sydney Morning Herald, Australian, and the Ten, Nine and Seven TV networks. The ABC has a local crew which fed the story out nationally (pictured is an image from their coverage on Monday). They also assigned their Darwin-based current affairs reporter to feed AM and PM.
The TV crews had a satellite dish for live crosses which started before daylight, for the morning shows. Each did several updates during the day, and a major story for the evening bulletin.
When we were covering the Azaria story the phones at The Rock were so unreliable that we mostly had to fly back to Alice (75 minutes each way) to file a story.
Back then we shot on film, had to fly the cans to Alice, meet up with a south-bound jet, despatch them to Adelaide of Sydney where the film had to be processed before being edited and put to air.
There was a feeding frenzy on the Azaria story but it paled in comparison with what is possible now.
In later years we had a permanent microwave or fibre optic feed point, courtesy Telstra (which later still, unexplicably, closed it down), or a satellite dish flown in. We’d shoot on analogue video and “feed out the vision” worldwide in real time, going to air live for many stories.
What’s now becoming more important by the day is the collaboration between the media: read The Age story online and you can click on a video segment shot by the Ten crew.
While a print reporter can write graphically about the yelling by angry people from behind a police cordon, it’s nothing like seeing the melee, and hearing the screaming.
On your computer, tablet, mobile phone you can consume all forms of media, all in one hit.
More and more, the tussle between newspapers is not who is first out in print, but who’s first online – and the score isn’t measured in hours but in minutes.
The viewer is captivated, the story absorbed by all his senses will leave a far more powerful impression.
For The Alice this is great when the story puts it in a good light, but when did that last happen? It’s devastating when the story is bad.
Stand by for more when Liam Jurrah is brought before the Supreme Court?