Australian tech start-ups stand to lose out in proposed copyright reforms



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YouTube and Facebook are protected from Australia’s copyright laws, since they already operate within the US safe harbours.
from www.shutterstock.com

Kylie Pappalardo, Queensland University of Technology

The Australian government quietly introduced the Copyright Amendment (Service Providers) Bill 2017 to the Senate on Wednesday. If enacted, the bill will extend the scope of Australia’s copyright safe harbours – very slightly.

Safe harbours protect internet hosts and platform providers from monetary liability for copyright-infringing content posted or shared by their users. For example, if you post the latest Thor movie to YouTube, YouTube won’t be responsible for copyright infringement if it takes down that video. In Australia, we only extend this protection to internet services providers, not general purpose websites.

This matters because technology firms rely on limits to liability to manage their risks. Companies like Facebook or YouTube, which host millions of pieces of user content, would face serious difficulty starting in Australia because our laws on copyright infringement are so strict.


Read more: It’s time to future-proof Australia’s copyright laws for the 21st century


The new legislation is a step in the right direction, but it doesn’t go far enough to create an environment that fosters Australian innovation.

Excluding platforms from safe harbours doesn’t make much difference to tech giants like YouTube and Facebook, since they already operate within the United States safe harbours. But it does discourage Australian tech start-ups from the chance to experiment in a reduced-risk environment.

It is not just the US with broader copyright safe harbours than Australia – jurisdictions around the world extend safe harbours to internet intermediaries beyond ISPs.

The European Union, for example, provides that member states must ensure that any hosting provider will not be liable for unlawful content posted by users, provided it acts quickly to remove the content upon notice.

Low hanging fruit

It’s the second time this year that the government has amended Australia’s copyright laws. The first was the Copyright Amendment (Disability Access and Other Measures) Act 2017, passed in June, which provides greater access to copyrighted content for people with disabilities such as vision impairment.

Both measures are low hanging fruit for the government. They improve our existing copyright law, but they don’t advance us far from the status quo.

The government is staying well clear of the more contentious, though far more impactful, potential reforms to the Copyright Act recommended by bodies such as the Australian Law Reform Commission and the Productivity Commission.

What are the copyright safe harbours?

The copyright safe harbours came about as a result of the US Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) in 1998. The DMCA represented an important bargain struck between the established content industry, such as big film and TV studios, and the burgeoning tech industry.

The content industry got a “notice-and-takedown” regime that required online service providers to remove material that infringes copyright. In exchange, the tech industry got copyright safe harbours.

Under this system, the service provider must quickly and efficiently remove infringing content if they are informed about it by the copyright owner. This notice-and-takedown scheme has become fundamentally important to the way the internet works today.

Why are Australian safe harbours so limited?

In the 2005 Australia-US Free Trade Agreement, Australia agreed to adopt these provisions into Australian domestic law.

But in enacting the copyright safe harbours, parliament made a drafting error. Instead of extending protection to “service providers”, as the US law does, we gave protection to “carriage service providers” as defined in the Telecommunications Act.

Essentially, Australia only gave protection to internet service providers like Telstra, Optus and TPG, and not to platform providers like Whirlpool, RedBubble, YouTube or Facebook. For more than a decade, this has been a critical difference between US and Australian copyright law.

What’s changing?

The new bill appears to close the glaring gap between US and Australian law by replacing the term “carriage service provider” with, simply, “service provider”.

But the bill defines “service provider” to be either a carriage service provider; an organisation assisting persons with a disability; or a body administering a library, archives, cultural institution or educational institution.

It does not extend the safe harbour to those who actually need it the most – Australia’s internet hosts and platform providers.

This is a seriously missed opportunity for Australian innovators. There is a real risk for businesses, both large and small, who want to provide online spaces for people to communicate.


Read more: Australian copyright laws have questionable benefits


Our copyright laws potentially make hosts liable for much of the copyright infringing content that users may upload or share. But it can be prohibitively expensive and time-consuming to pre-screen all content before it is uploaded.

This is one of the reasons why many large social media platforms don’t base their operations in countries like Australia, and why Australian businesses are at a major competitive disadvantage compared to those in other countries.

Why not extend the safe harbour to Australian innovators?

There were early indications that the Australian government intended to extend the safe harbours to all online service providers, but these amendments were shelved.

Entertainment industry groups have been lobbying hard in recent years for measures that go beyond the notice-and-takedown scheme that the safe harbours provide. They want what they call notice-and-staydown: proactive filtering of unlicensed copyright content by service providers.


Read more: Explainer: what is ‘fair dealing’ and when can you copy without permission?


At the same time, copyright owners want higher payments. They use the term “value gap” to describe what they see as the difference between sites like Spotify that pay hefty licence fees to make content available to users and sites like YouTube that do not.

Content owners are no longer happy with the bargain they struck in the DMCA – they allege that sites like YouTube are gaming the system of the safe harbours.

There is a false equivalency at work here. Spotify is not a site for user-generated content and does not purport to be; sites like YouTube have everyday users at their core. If we believe that creative discourse, engagement and play matters then there is a cogent reason why sites that facilitate user-generated content might need some legal latitude.

However, this debate misses a more fundamental point. Limited safe harbour provisions hurt Australian creators and innovators. They increase the risk to innovators developing new technology products and platforms.

The ConversationAnd, importantly, Australian creators miss the opportunity to exercise greater control over their creations through notice-and-takedown mechanisms that are easy to use and far cheaper than copyright lawsuits.

Kylie Pappalardo, Lecturer, School of Law, Queensland University of Technology

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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International study shows many Australian children are still struggling with reading



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Despite improvements in the national average score, the 2016 PIRLS report confirms many Australian children continue to be left behind.
wavebreakmedia/Shutterstock

Jennifer Buckingham, Macquarie University

The results of an international study into the reading skills of Year 4 students offer reason for optimism for Australian children.

The latest Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS) shows that, on average, reading achievement among the Australian children surveyed improved significantly between 2011 and 2016. This is excellent news.

However, there is still cause for concern about Australia’s literacy standards, with the PIRLS study showing that a substantial minority of Year 4 children continue to struggle with reading.

The Progress in International Reading Literacy Study

The study has been running internationally every five years since 2001. In 2016, it encompassed 50 countries. Australia has participated twice – in 2011 and 2016.

In 2016, 6,341 Year 4 students from 286 Australian primary schools took part.

The study focuses on two reading abilities – reading for literary experience, and reading to acquire and use information. Students were given texts to read and then asked to answer multiple choice and short answer questions. Example questions include:

How does the author show you what the red hen is like?

According to the article, what is one way people have made the sea more dangerous for turtles?

Signs of improvement

The results show Australia’s national average performance improved significantly between 2011 and 2016.

With the exception of the Australian Capital Territory, all the states and territories showed an improvement. The improvement was statistically significant in Western Australia, Queensland and Victoria.


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The increase in the average scores in many states is due to better performance by students at the top end of the scale. This is a wonderful outcome for those students.

While the 2016 PIRLS results run counter to the trends in the most recent PISA and TIMSS international assessments, the improvement isn’t entirely unexpected. Recent years of NAPLAN results have shown an improvement in average reading scores for Year 3 students.

It’s difficult to draw any firm conclusions about the reason for this improvement. But it’s fair to say there has been a strong focus on early reading since NAPLAN was introduced in 2008, putting a spotlight on progress in this vital area of education.

Indeed, the PIRLS results provide a very useful external validation of the reliability of the NAPLAN results, as they report similar trends in reading over similar periods.

The sting in the (long) tail

The improvement in average scores is certainly heartening. But the PIRLS data also show that when it comes to reading, many Australian children are still being left behind.

In 2016, 6% of Australian children did not meet the minimum (low) international benchmark for Year 4 reading. This is only a very small improvement from the 2011 figure of 7%.


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Some 19% of Australian children in Year 4 did not achieve the intermediate benchmark. To reach this benchmark, children needed to be able to:

  • make straightforward inferences about things that weren’t explicitly stated in the text
  • work out the order of events in the text, and/or
  • find and repeat explicitly stated actions, events, and feelings in the text.

PIRLS describes this benchmark as a “challenging but reasonable expectation”.

In 2011, 24% of Australian children in Year 4 did not achieve this benchmark. So the figure of 19% in 2016 is an improvement. But it’s a poor outcome compared to other countries, including England, Canada, and the United States.

Despite some improvements, Australia still has the second-largest proportion of children below the international intermediate benchmark for reading among English-speaking countries.


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Early identification of low progress readers

Research shows that children who struggle with reading in their early school years are unlikely to ever catch up. These children need to be identified and supported much earlier.

This year, an expert advisory panel to the Australian government (which I chaired) reviewed early years reading assessments used around Australia. We found a deficit in the assessment of phonics skills in particular.

Phonics is the ability to translate the letters on a page into their respective sounds. It’s a skill that children (and adults) need so they can read and learn unfamiliar words. Without the ability to read and learn unfamiliar words, children have little hope of reading for meaning.

Based on the outcome of the review, the panel recommended (as have other experts) a trial and possible subsequent adoption of the Year 1 Phonics Check that has been statutory in English primary schools since 2012.

In this context, it’s worth noting that England’s results in PIRLS 2016 – the first group to take the Year 1 Phonics Check – are the best they have ever been.


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The Phonics Check is a quick (five-minute) and effective reading check. It’s neither stressful for children nor onerous for teachers, and provides immediate information to teachers about this fundamental aspect of literacy development.

The expert panel acknowledged that phonics is one of five essential components, alongside:

But of those five components, there is good reason to believe that phonics isn’t being taught effectively or assessed consistently in many schools. For the children most at-risk of reading failure – including those from socioeconomically or language impoverished homes, and children with learning difficulties – the consequences are devastating.

Literacy on the agenda

This Friday, Australia’s federal, state and territory education ministers will come together for the year’s final Education Council meeting. Their agenda will include the need for a national Year 1 literacy and numeracy check.

The PIRLS statistics will be thoroughly dissected and debated. But it’s important to remember these statistics represent real children.

What does it mean to be unable to read? One mother of a Year 6 child poignantly described it as “not being able read the jokes in Christmas crackers around the table at Christmas lunch”.

The ConversationThis should not be the case for a child who has spent seven years at school. A literacy check in Year 1 could prevent many Australian children from falling through the cracks, and facing a lifetime of disadvantage.

Jennifer Buckingham, Senior Research Fellow, The Centre for Independent Studies; Associate Investigator, ARC Centre of Excellence in Cognition and its Disorders, Macquarie University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Stories of sex, stars and sharks amongst the best Australian science writing in 2017



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Everyone loves a story about giant sharks.
from www.shutterstock.com

Sarah Keenihan, The Conversation

We’re proud to have five The Conversation authors featured in the The Best Australian Science Writing 2017, edited by Michael Slezak, and with a foreword by Emma Johnston.

The book was launched at The Australian Museum. The blurb says:

Good writing about science can be moving, funny, exhilarating, or poetic, but it will always be honest and rigorous about the research that underlies it.

This is what we’re all about at The Conversation – making sure that all our articles are supported by evidence, and at the same time helping readers see the relevance, the importance, the nuances but also the joy of science and technology.

Our selected authors are good examples.

In Peter Ellerton’s What exactly is the scientific method and why do so many people get it wrong?, he explains there’s a big difference between science and pseudoscience. But if people don’t understand how science works in the first place, it’s very easy for them to fall for the pseudoscience.

In Gender equity can cause sex differences to grow bigger, Rob Brooks writes that moves toward gender equity in opportunity – including the dismantling of patriarchal power structures – might, paradoxically, also widen sex differences.

Robert Fuller’s piece How ancient Aboriginal star maps have shaped Australia’s highway network likens many thousand year old Indigenous travel techniques with modern day GPS tracking. Aboriginal people have long used the stars to help remember routes between distant locations, and these routes are still alive in our highway networks today.

John Long tackles the myth that giant predators might still be cruising around our oceans in Giant monster Megalodon sharks lurking in our oceans: be serious!. Yes, giant sharks did once exist in our oceans – but these went extinct many millions of years ago.

Also included in the book is regular The Conversation author Alice Gorman, with her piece Trace Fossils: The Silence of Ediacara, the Shadow of Uranium, which we republished from Griffith Review State of Hope. The essay won the Bragg UNSW Press Prize for Science Writing 2017, which recognises the best short, non-fiction piece of science writing for a general audience.

These The Conversation pieces are presented in the book alongside 27 other selected science essays published in Australia during 2017, and written by scientists, journalists, philosophers and writers.

The ConversationScience writer and artist Margaret Wertheim received the UNSW Scientia Medal for Science Communication at the book launch, and prizes for science writing by students in years 7-10 were also awarded.

Sarah Keenihan, Section Editor: Science + Technology, The Conversation

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

A criminal record: women and Australian true crime stories


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The pyjama girl mystery, as featured in Famous Detective Stories no. 6.
State Library of New South Whales, CC BY-ND

Rachel Franks, University of Newcastle

Women have always been central to true crime stories: as victims, perpetrators, readers, and (increasingly) as tellers of these tales. Indeed, these tales, often dismissed as sensationalised violence, offer important opportunities to reflect on crime and crime control.

Many true crime writers today – including numerous women, working in a once male-dominated market – have been biographers, coroners, detectives, historians, journalists, lawyers, and psychologists. These backgrounds bring a style of storytelling that educates us about, not just merely entertains us with, crime. Importantly, many privilege complex and nuanced storytelling over simplistic stereotypes of women as just “bad” or just “good”.

The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser Vol. 1, No. 1, 5 March 1803 (Front Page).
Call number: DL F8/50, Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales, CC BY

The first Australian true crime stories were transmitted orally, jotted down in journals, and entered into official records. George Howe, editor of our first newspaper, The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser, enthusiastically embraced the topic of crime: the paper’s first issue in 1803 included stories of fraud, attempted murder, and the brutal rape of 17-year-old Rose Bean.

The first Australian publication dedicated to true crime is Michael Howe: The Last and the Worst of the Bushrangers of Van Diemen’s Land (1818), by T.E. Wells. This short work is also the story of Howe’s companion, then victim, Mary Cockerill a young Indigenous woman. Cockerill supported Howe in a landscape forbidding and wild to the European settlers. After being betrayed by Howe – he shot her as they were being pursued, facilitating his own escape – Cockerill then used her knowledge of the bush to help authorities. Howe was captured and killed in 1818, bringing his bushranging career to an end.

In the colonial era, a woman’s status as a victim was upheld, or denied, based on her character and her ability to conform to social mores of the time. Today, women are often still judged by what they say and what they wear; their education and their occupation. How many sexual partners have they had? Are they too emotional? Are they not emotional enough? Likewise, some perpetrators have been seen as more heinous because they are women.

Women as perpetrators

In Captain Thunderbolt & His Lady (2011), Carol Baxter skilfully tells the story of Frederick Ward (“Captain Thunderbolt”), a bushranger in the mid-1800s, and his Indigenous partner-in-crime Mary Ann Bugg (“Mrs Thunderbolt”). Bugg – an intelligent, gutsy, trouser-wearing woman – is brought vividly to life, as she breaks the law and defies the feminine expectations of her time.

As Baxter notes, Bugg was dissatisfied with the social status quo, and, like many bushrangers, she received support and sympathy from the wider population. She was not all “bad” but not all “good” either. Indeed, some suggested Mrs Thunderbolt was merely blamed for the deeds of her husband. Bugg outlived her outlaw partner by 35 years, dying in obscurity in Mudgee in 1905.

One of the more dramatic true crime tales of the late colonial period, is the story of Louisa Collins. Caroline Overington looks at the life, and death, of Collins in Last Woman Hanged (2014). Accused of murder, Collins famously endured four trials in 1888, which, as Overington argues, were effectively trials of all Australian women. If women wanted equal rights, including the right to vote, “then, such equality had to be universal: women, too, would hang for murder”. In the first three trials, the juries failed to deliver a verdict. In the fourth trial, the jury found her guilty and Collins was hanged in 1889.

Kate Leigh’s mugshots and prison form.
State Archives of New South Wales, CC BY

The Worst Woman in Sydney (2016) by Leigh Straw documents the life of Kate Leigh, born Kathleen Beahan, an icon of Sydney’s underworld from the 1920s through to the 1950s. A “famed brothel madam, sly-grog seller and drug dealer”, she is best known for her involvement in the “Razor Wars” when Sydney gangs used razors instead of guns. Leigh could handle a rifle (or any other weapon) and was “an intelligent criminal entrepreneur” who quickly capitalised on opportunities as they emerged. A hardened crook (who was in and out of prison), Leigh was also very generous; her Christmas parties for poor children, in Surry Hills, were legendary for the food and presents given out.

In Nice Girl (2011), Rachael Jane Chin looks at the many dreadful secrets kept by Keli Lane. Found guilty of murder and of lying under oath, Lane’s case is one that is still difficult to believe. Gender, and gendered ideals, stand out within it. Chin unpacks how Lane was a solid, middle-class young woman. She had her boyfriends but was not promiscuous. She was a teacher and had worked hard to become an elite athlete.

But underneath Lane’s “good upbringing and clean-cut appearance”, which earned her the benefit of the doubt from those around her, were five secret pregnancies during the 1990s. Two pregnancies were terminated, two infants were put up for adoption and one baby, Tegan, was murdered. Lane is serving her prison sentence, the crimes she committed as shocking now as when they were discovered. She will be eligible for parole in 2023.

Women as victims

In 1921 the body of 12-year-old schoolgirl Alma Tirtschke was found in an inner-Melbourne alleyway. Colin Campbell Ross was charged with rape and murder, as described in Kevin Morgan’s Gun Alley (2005, updated 2012). We learn the victim, just a child, was quiet but also clever and creative. As readers, we cannot help but speculate who Tirtschke could have grown up to be.

Ross was hanged in 1922: a result of false allegations, a flawed investigation, and a trial held in the press and in the courtroom. He received a posthumous pardon in 2008. This case is particularly important in the history of Australian true crime writing because, as Tom Roberts explains, it highlights the commercialisation of crime, focusing on the headline of the defenceless female, and media-driven moral panics.

Florence Linda Agostini (née Platt; 12 September 1905 – 27 August 1934) was known posthumously as the Pyjama Girl.
Wikimedia Commons, CC BY

One of Australia’s most famous crimes is the “Pyjama Girl Case”. In 1934 the remains of Linda Agostini, born Florence Platt, was found. She had been shot, beaten, and burnt. Most notably, Agostini was wearing yellow, silk pyjamas, patterned with a dragon: a flamboyant garment in Depression-era Australia. Agostini’s body was placed on public display in an attempt by the police to discover the name of the murdered woman but it took 10 years to identify the victim. In the 1940s and 1950s, Frank Johnson published his Famous Detective Stories series, which included The Pyjama Girl Mystery. Like many of Johnson’s true crime storytelling efforts, the woman at the centre of the criminal case is presented as a sexual object.

The story of Anita Cobby, born Anita Lynch, has been told many times. The first major telling of the brutal rape and murder of the 26-year-old in 1986, is Julia Sheppard’s Someone Else’s Daughter (1991). Sheppard contrasts Cobby and her numerous contributions to the community, as a charity worker as well as a nurse, with the senseless cruelty of the men who took Cobby’s life. Stories like this one, which have stayed in the public imagination over decades, highlight how the impacts of crime extend beyond the victim, family, and friends. They also show how women can be victims of completely random acts of violence.

Many women are victims of domestic violence. The murder of Lisa Harnum, by her fiancé Simon Gittany, is described by Amy Dale in The Fall (2014). Gittany threw Harnum to her death from their apartment balcony, situated on the 15th floor of an inner-Sydney building in 2011. This is a story of control, surveillance, and toxicity. Harnum was trapped in an untenable position: too frightened to leave but also too frightened to stay. When she did try to escape, the result was tragic. Gittany was sentenced to 26 years in prison, with a non-parole period of 18 years.

Changing true crime narratives

The once “either/or” binary of “bad/good” women has given way to demands from readers to see women as complex figures within these works. As a result, more and more writers are now increasingly focussed on the human cost of crime.

Kerry Greenwood, known for crime fiction and true crime, has curated two important volumes On Murder (2000) and On Murder II (2002). Rachael Weaver, in The Criminal of the Century (2006), offers a rigorous exploration of colonial serial killer Frederick Deeming. More recently Alecia Simmonds has written on the terrible consequences seen when drug use, violence, masculinity, and psychosis collide in Wildman: The True Story of a Police Killing, Mental Illness and the Law (2015). A dominant force on the landscape of true crime writing is Helen Garner with several compelling works including Joe Cinque’s Consolation (2004) and This House of Grief: The Story of a Murder Trial (2014).

Women are also telling their own stories, as seen in Lindy Chamberlain’s work Through My Eyes (1990). Chamberlain was falsely imprisoned for the murder of her baby daughter, Azaria, at Uluru in 1980. This book delivers a very personal account of one of the greatest miscarriages of justice in Australian history.

The ConversationCrime is never without context and is never straightforward. Many writers – women and men – know that simplifying these stories with stereotypes, female or male, is just not good enough: for the innocent, for the guilty, or for readers.

Rachel Franks, Conjoint Fellow, School of Humanities and Social Science, University of Newcastle

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

New phonics test will do nothing to improve Australian children’s literacy



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Research in England has found that the proposed test was no more accurate than the teacher’s judgement in identifying children with reading difficulties.
Shutterstock

Misty Adoniou, University of Canberra

Minister Birmingham released a report today recommending that all Year 1 students in Australia complete a phonics test. The panel responsible for the report has recommended that Australia adopt the Year 1 phonics screening check that has been used in England since 2011.

What is phonics?

Phonics is the process of matching sounds to letters. It is an important skill when learning to read and write in English. There are two main approaches to teaching children phonics – synthetic phonics and analytic phonics.

Analytic phonics starts with taking a word that children know the meaning of, and then analysing it to see how the sounds in the word match the letters we see within the word. So five-year-old Emma will learn that her name starts with the sound “e” which is represented by the capital letter E, followed by the sound “m” which is represented by the two letters “mm”, and ends with the sound “u”, which is represented by the letter a.

Synthetic phonics starts with letters which the children learn to match with sounds. The meaning of the words are irrelevant, and indeed, inconsequential. The theory is that the children should master letter/sound matches first before trying to attend to meaning.

Which phonics method is better?

There is no evidence that one phonics approach is better than the other. In England, the US and Australia, there have been major inquiries into reading and all have concluded that systematic and explicit phonics teaching is a crucial part of effective reading instruction. But none have found any evidence that synthetic phonics approaches are better than analytic phonics approaches, or vice versa.

All inquiries have concluded that whatever phonic instruction method is chosen, it should be one part of a suite of skills children should have when learning to read.

What is the phonics test?

The phonics test is based on synthetic phonics. The children are given 40 words on a computer screen, with no context. The words are not put in a sentence, or given any meaning. This is deliberate, and an important feature of a synthetic phonics approach, as the children must show they are not relying on meaning or prior experience with the word in order to successfully decode it.

To this end, 20 of the words the children are given are nonsense words, like “thrand”, “poth” and “froom”, to ensure they are not using meaning to decode the words.

Why are we introducing it?

Minister Birmingham is concerned about the numbers of students in Australia who are struggling with literacy. The decline in literacy standards of Year 9 students is very concerning, and he is right to be looking for solutions. But the solution will not be found in this phonics test for six-year-olds.

As the test has been has already been in use for six years in England we are fortunate to be able to learn from their experience. A major evaluation of the test conducted by the Department for Education in England found that the test is not delivering improvements in literacy capabilities, and in fact, is delivering some unwanted side effects, like class time being spent learning to read nonsense words rather than real words.

Numerous other recent studies of the implementation of the phonics test in England provide valuable information that allow us to test the claims for the test against research evidence.

What does the research say?

Claim: The phonics test has improved reading results in England since its introduction.

Evidence: Year 1 children in England are certainly getting better at passing the phonics test. Over the past six years, pass rates have increased by 23%. This means around 90% of Year 1 children in England can now successfully read nonsense words like “yune” and “thrand”.

However research has found that the ability to read nonsense words is an unreliable predictor of later reading success.

And so far, the phonics test in England has not improved reading comprehension scores.

As the test only tests single syllable words with regular phonic patterns, it is not possible to know how many English children can read words like “one”, “was”, “two”, “love”, “what”, “who”, or “because”, as such words are not included in the test. This is unfortunate because these are amongst the 100 most common words in the English language, which in turn make up 50% of the words we read everyday – whether in a novel, a newspaper article or a government form.

“Yune”, “thrand” and “poth”, on the other hand, make 0% of the words we read.

Claim: The phonics test will pick up children who are having reading difficulties. Birmingham has stated “the idea behind these checks is to ensure students don’t slip through the cracks”.

Evidence: Research in England has found that the test was no more accurate than the teacher’s judgement in identifying children with reading difficulties. Teachers already know which children struggle. As researchers, teachers and principals
have all said – teachers need more support in knowing how to support those struggling children.

Claim: The phonics test will provide detailed diagnostics to support teachers to make effective interventions. The chair of the panel recommending the test says that the phonics test will drill into the detail of phonics to establish what children know.

Evidence: A thorough analysis of the test’s components found it fails to test some of the most common sound/letter matches in English, and indeed screens for a very limited number of the hundreds of sound/letter matches in English. They found that children can achieve the pass grade of 32 from 40 with only limited phonic knowledge.

Other research found the test fails to give any information about what the specific phonic struggles of a child might be , or whether the struggles are indeed with phonics.

These limitations mean the check has negligible diagnostic or instructional use for classroom teachers.

Learning lessons

Australia is in the fortunate position of being able to learn from the research that has been conducted since the implementation of the phonics test and mandatory synthetic phonics teaching in England. The lesson is clear. The test is unable to deliver what was hoped. Australia should look elsewhere for answers to its literacy challenges.

Already state Education Ministers have begun to let Birmingham know that they will not be taking up the offer of the national phonics test.

The ConversationThis may be an issue where Australia is able to overcome its intellectual cringe, and act on the research evidence rather than old colonial ties.

Misty Adoniou, Associate Professor in Language, Literacy and TESL, University of Canberra

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Beyond cats and Kardashians: can journalism satisfy audiences without dumbing down?


Peter Fray, University of Technology Sydney

Jeff Jarvis, director of the Tow-Knight Center for Entrepreneurial Journalism speaking with Peter Fray.

As the Federal government attempts to reform Australia’s media ownership laws, evidence is emerging that journalists are moving away from the traditional watchdog role of the press towards satisfying the demands of audiences.

Decades of debate about whether journalists ought to give audiences what they like rather than what journalists think they need is being resolved in favour of what US journalism thinker Jeff Jarvis dismisses as the “cats and Kardashians” model of digital journalism.

But is giving audiences what they want the same as dumbing down?

Results from a recently published study of Australian journalists indicate that journalists are shifting their thinking away from the “citizen orientation” typically associated with the watchdog role of the press to a more consumer focus.

Senior editors say that understanding what audiences want — as recorded by clicks and other forms of web-based feedback — is an essential part of contemporary journalism.

Growing advertising revenues on the basis of audience reach and volume remains the dominant journalism business model.

As Kate de Brito, the editor-in-chief of the country’s most visited news website, news.com.au, puts it, if no one clicks, “you may as well have just emailed it to your mum”.

But Jarvis, the director of the Tow-Knight Center for Entrepreneurial Journalism at City University New York, argues news organisations need to understand that getting more clicks isn’t the same as listening to your audience.

The price of advertising is going down, desperation up. Journalism gets cheapened in the process.

Efforts to reshape how journalism survives and makes money — and serves its multiple roles in society — has emerged as a key sticking point in Federal government moves to change Australia’s media ownership laws.

Reform of the media ownership laws that restrict any one person controlling radio, TV and a newspaper in the same market hinges on the government’s willingness to back measures promoted by Senator Nick Xenophon to support public interest journalism.

Xenophon, a key member of a current senate journalism inquiry, has supported tax breaks to small media companies and other ways to develop new business models for journalism.

The government has been reluctant to support tax relief but reportedly has a more positive attitude to other measures to boost journalism jobs and explore new business models.

Without support from Labor or the Greens, Team Xenophon’s votes will be crucial to the passage of any deal that would also end restrictions on any one person controlling TV licenses that reach more than 75% of the population.

Indications from Canberra are that a compromise deal could be close.

Alternatives to one-size-fits-all mass audience model are under trial or development across the journalism sector, from experiments in surfacing quality journalism using artificial intelligence to moves to personalise news and information feeds.

The New York Times, for instance, has stated it wants to deliver individualised news based on what individuals read, where they live and how often they come to the site.

Given the NYT has 2.3 million digital-only subscribers, this is perhaps the most ambitious attempt yet at active audience listening.

Jarvis calls on media companies of all sizes to recreate journalism as a service based on “relevance and value”; cast aside the idea of mass, rethink audiences as communities and individuals.

But, as he concedes, media companies are understandably finding it hard to build a new house (based on his notion of service) when the old one (based on volume) is burning down.

Audience reach and volume — and the constant flow of metrics that reveal them — drive the news agenda for most media companies. Ratings always have in commercial radio and TV.

But now few media outlets can afford to ignore what audiences are doing (or not) with their content. Advertisers won’t let them.

In the recently published study of Australian journalists, Folker Hanusch, from the University of Vienna, and Edson Tandoc, from Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, explored the impact of audience feedback via readers’ comments, Twitter and web analytics on journalists’ thinking.

In a survey of 358 journalists, they found a marked shift towards providing “the kind of news that attracts the largest audience” as opposed to the more traditional role of holding the politicians and business to account.

This especially held true for journalists working in competitive markets; those freed from market pressures were “able to prioritize their normative functions of being watchdogs and shaping public opinion”.

Even so, most Australian media companies, including the national broadcaster, are enamoured by the sugar hit of audience reach.

In the most recent Nielsen digital ratings, the closest competitor to news.com.au, with its 5,905,000 unique visitors a month, is the ABC. Its combined news sites reach 4,651,000 Australians a month.

Little wonder then that Fairfax chief Greg Hywood gets so upset about the ABC using taxpayers’ money to buy Google ads: smh.com.au is about half a million behind the ABC and no other Fairfax site is in the current top 10.

Hanusch and Tandoc’s work indicates that a radical reshaping of how journalists see their roles is underway.

“Seeing the number of unique visitors to the site, the number of page views a page gets, and the amount of time readers spend on a story, among others, easily and regularly, could be socializing journalists into prioritizing these metrics.”

But what do clicks actually mean?

Results of a recently published Dutch study of news consumers indicate that the act of clicking — or not — is more complex than like or not and driven by a host of considerations. The study also makes the obvious but useful observation: clicks do not account for the preference of consumers who browse without clicking.

The study by Tim Groot Kormelink and Irene Costera Meijer, both from Vrije University in Amsterdam, described 30 considerations for clicking or not clicking among a group of 56 news consumers.

Reasons for not clicking included supersaturation (“not another story about Syria”, said one participant) to “bullshit”: the users instantly dismissed the “pettiness of the headline”.

The study’s participants often engaged in “online browsing patterns that did express interest in news, yet did not necessitate a click”. The authors conclude that “even if one seeks a rough estimate of people’s news interests, clicks are a flawed instrument”.

The ConversationTherein lies a pressing conundrum for the online news industry: if not clicks, what? If audiences — and advertisers — are going to be fully served, there needs to be better way.


CC BY-ND

Peter Fray, Professor of Journalism Practice, University of Technology Sydney

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Refuge in a harsh landscape – Australian novels and our changing relationship to the bush



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Summer afternoon, Templestowe by Louis Buvelot, 1866. The bush was commonly seen by 19th-century writers as a place of despair.
Wikimedia Commons

Margaret Hickey, La Trobe University

In 1790, Watkin Tench, the first officer with the First Fleet and a member of the fledgling British colony, stood on what we now know to be “The Heads” of Sydney, hungry and pining for news of England:

Here on the summit of the hill, every morning from daylight until sun sunk, did we sweep the horizon in hope of seeing a sail. At every fleeting speck which arose from the bosom of the sea, the heart pounded and a telescope lifted to the eye…

Tench’s palpable yearning for the mother country is an early account of British despair upon first settlement in Australia. One hundred years later, the sentiment remained. Many settlers were still unhappy with their surrounds, as evidenced in Edward Dyson’s musings in his 1898 short story The Conquering Bush:

The bush is sad, heavy, desparing; delightful for a month, perhaps, but terrible for a year.

In Barbara Baynton’s works, meanwhile, tales of harsh female experiences were set against even harsher Australian landscapes, devoid of respite or pleasure. In her 1896 short story The Chosen Vessel, a young wife and mother left alone in her bush home is stalked, raped and murdered by a swagman:

More than once she thought of taking her baby and going to her husband.
But in the past, when she had dared to speak of the dangers to which
her loneliness exposed her, he had taunted and sneered at her.

For over 200 years, the white sentiment of desolation and anxiety about this “untamed” land has pervaded much of Australian literature. Children went missing, men went mad, and women suffered what writer Henry Lawson called the “maddening sameness” in The Drover’s Wife and Others Stories. “Oh, if only I could go away from the bush!” wails Lawson’s central character in The Selector’s Daughter.

Desolate refuge

The works of these early writers did much to reveal the challenging realities of the bush. Those eking out an existence in a land where soil and weather disagreed with European sensibilities and practices were met with hard work. And what a place to work! There was little room for bucolic tranquillity in a land of drought, flood and searing heat.

Tim Winton’s Dirt Music.
Picador

But, in the 21st century, there has been a change in how Australians read and write about the bush. Author and ecologist Tim Flannery, for one, urged his fellow country men and women to “develop deep, sustaining roots in the land” in his address as Australian of the Year in 2002 – which is what many of our contemporary writers seek to do. Unlike their predecessors, they’re increasingly likely to write about the bush as a destination for escape, rather than a place from which to flee.

Author Tim Winton’s Dirt Music does exactly that, as told through the tribulations of protagonist Luther Fox. After being forced out of his small south-west Australian town White Point for the crime of theft, he does not flee to the city; instead he journeys to a more remote region: the Kimberley.

Lost, injured and starving, Fox does not curse the land for his fate. Rather, he accepts his minor place in the universe and begins to come to terms with his family history through listening to and appreciating the powerful land:

He knows he lives and that the world lives in him. And for him and because of him. Because and despite and regardless of him.

Others, like Peter Temple in the The Broken Shore, highlight the beauteous potential of working with the land, as opposed to fighting it.

When the novel’s protagonist, Joe Cashin, leaves the city to return to his home town on the cold, south-west coast of Victoria, he does so a shattered man. With only the battering winds, shrieking cold and his dogs as company, Joe attempts to rebuild the home of his ancestors. He does not curse the sea for the death of his father or bemoan the land or its conditions. Rather, he finds a way to live in it alongside the people he grew up with:

Cashin walked around the hill, into the wind from the sea. It was cold, late autumn, last glowing leaves clinging to the liquid ambers and maples his great-grandfather’s brother had planted, their surrender close. He loved this time, the morning stillness…

Other authors such as Robert Drewe, Kate Grenville, Cate Kennedy, Murray Bail and Jenny Spence also create plots that entail leaving the city and finding refuge and peace in the Australian bush. This is a markedly different trajectory from that of Lawson’s The Drover’s Wife or even the doomed schoolgirls in Joan Lindsay’s Picnic at Hanging Rock, who journey through the scrub and rock to never return.

For the love of farmland

This sentiment toward the land does not aim to romanticise one’s “return” to nature. Rather, it’s as much concerned with exploring the cultural practices intrinsic to Australian land.

This is most apparent in literary interpretations of farming, or “pastoral” literature (writing that idealises country life). UK scholar Terry Gifford has coined a key term to consider here: “post-pastoral”, which is a “discourse that can both celebrate and take responsibility for nature without false consciousness”.

Gifford’s view is that post-pastoral is provisional and can be adapted to different regions. It does not idealise rural life. Nor does it exist only to highlight the harsh realities of life on the land. Rather, it seeks new ways of looking at the pastoral in all its forms.

In Australian writing, we appear to have an emerging “co-pastoral” discourse – a place where humans and the land co-exist. Humans do not, after all, always have to be the agents of disaster, and the land does not always have to be mundane and unforgiving.

Christie Nieman’s 2014 novel As Stars Fall.
Pan Macmillan Australia

This is the case for Winton’s follow-up play to Dirt Music, Signs of Life, where we learn that Luther Fox and his partner Georgie return from the Kimberley to live and work on the Fox family farm. At the end of the play, Georgie resolves to harvest olives on the land.

Christie Nieman’s 2014 novel, As Stars Fall, follows the story of a family stricken with grief after the death of a mother in a bushfire. The children and their new friend, a daughter of farmers, begin to heal by uniting to save an endangered bush stone-curlew – an injured bird whose chicks also perished in the flames. The farming father is an avid birdwatcher who, in the end, suggests building a native refuge for the stone-curlew on his property.

“Farmers aren’t what a lot of people think they are,” writes the mother who dies in the fire.

They care a lot about their land and the wild animals that live there. They really do want to know the best things to do, and how to help the natural environment in a way that doesn’t hurt their own livelihoods.

Here, Nieman attempts to cast new light on farm culture, as one deserved of respect rather than contempt.

Another key figure is Australian bush romance writer Rachael Treasure, whose work fits firmly in the co-pastoral lens. The bestselling author of five books and self-confessed “bushland babe” supports sustainable farming and partly uses her work for advocacy. Treasure says she “consciously writes for a wide audience, because storytelling is the most powerful vehicle to convey your message”.

The Farmer’s Wife by Rachael Treasure.
HarperCollins

Her message is that regenerative agricultural practices, such as pasture cropping, are the only way forward – not only to feed the country, but to heal a damaged land. If this needs to be told with a healthy mix of humour, tragedy and passion under the gum trees, then so be it.

“For the first time in her life, she saw the land with clear vision,” Treasure writes of her main character, Bec Saunders, in The Farmer’s Wife – who against the wishes of her husband and father, begins to farm without fertiliser, pasture crop, and build ground cover. Bec hopes that her children will “never see a sod turned again in their lifetime” and vows to “celebrate the seasons, not fight them”.

In this sense, Treasure’s work in The Farmer’s Wife is not environmentalist “green” literature. Farms mean clearing, crops, machinery, pesticides and animals whose hooves destroy the fragile landscape and whose methane contributes to greenhouse gases.

Co-pastoral literature does not dismiss the manufactured gardens, the introduced plants or the people who admit to wanting to work the land for profit. Nor does it forget the original Aboriginal landowners whose agricultural practices we now value. It does, however, seek to establish harmony between humans and the land.

Australian literature has long straddled this line between interpretations of bush life as harsh and incompatible, or of mutual benefit and interconnectedness.

The ConversationBut in fleeing to it, seeking refuge from it and working with it, our authors allow us, unlike the homesick Tench, to turn the telescope inward, toward the land and to ourselves.

Margaret Hickey, Lecturer in Academic Communication, La Trobe University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Explainer: what is ‘fair dealing’ and when can you copy without permission?



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Fair dealing allows Australians to use copyrighted content for news and reporting.
antb/Shutterstock

Nicolas Suzor, Queensland University of Technology

Copyright law sometimes allows you to use someone else’s work – as long as it’s fair. In Australia this is called “fair dealing”, and it’s different to the law in the US, which is called “fair use”.

These exceptions are safety valves in copyright law – they allow lots of beneficial uses that society has agreed copyright owners should not be able to charge for, or worse, prevent.

There’s a serious ongoing debate about whether Australia should update its copyright laws and introduce fair use. The current law is not easy to understand – our research shows that Australian creators are often confused about their rights – and many think we already have fair use.

Fair dealing: What can you do in Australia?

The key difference between “fair use” and “fair dealing” is that Australia’s “fair dealing” laws set out defined categories of acceptable uses. As we will see, “fair use” in the US is much more flexible.

Australian copyright law sets out five situations where use of copyrighted material without permission may be allowed:

  • research or study
  • criticism or review
  • parody or satire
  • reporting the news
  • provision of legal advice.

We’ll explain the first four, as they’re most useful to the average Australian.

Research or study

You do not need permission to copy a reasonable portion of copyrighted material if you are studying it or using it for research. You do not have to be enrolled in school or a university course to rely on the research or study exception.

For example:

  • you can make a copy of a chapter of a book to study it
  • you can print or take screenshots of content you find on the web for your research
  • you can include quotes or extracts of other work when you publish your research.

The main thing to watch out for is how much you copy. It’s fair to photocopy a book chapter but not the whole book.

Criticism or review

It is lawful to use a work without permission in order to critique or review it.

Criticism or review involves making an analysis or judgement of the material or its underlying ideas. It may be expressed in an entertaining way, or with strong opinion, and does not need to be a balanced expression to be fair.

For example, a film critic does not need permission to play a short clip from a film they are reviewing. They may also use film clips from other movies to compare or contrast.

Ozzy Man Reviews runs a popular channel that reviews existing material, relying on the fair dealing exceptions.

It’s also legal to quote an excerpt of a book or song lyrics, or to reference a photograph in another publication as part of a review or critique of the work.

You need to be really critiquing your source material. So, for example, a review video that is really just the highlights of a film or show probably won’t be fair.

This is something that tripped up Channel 10 in its clip show, The Panel. When the panellists discussed and critiqued the clips they showed, it was generally fair dealing. But when they just showed clips that were funny, a court found them liable for copyright infringement.

Reporting the news

You don’t need permission to use existing copyrighted material while reporting on current or historic events. The law is designed to ensure that people can’t use copyright to stifle the flow of information on matters of public interest.

The key issue to check here is whether a work has been used in a way that is necessary to report the news. If the material is just used incidentally, to illustrate a story or provide entertainment, it won’t count as fair dealing.

Parody or satire

It is legal to use another person’s copyrighted material without their permission to make fun of them, or to make fun of another person or issue.

Making something funny is not sufficient to rely on this exception. The use must be part of some commentary (express or implied) on the material or some broader aspect of society.

FriendlyJordies is known for his satirical videos that comment on and criticise politics and everyday life in Australia.

When is a use ‘fair’?

Fair dealing only applies when the use is “fair”.

When assessing fairness in Australia, there are a number of relevant considerations, including:

  • how important copying is to your work (“nature and purpose of the use”)
  • the type of work being copied (less original works may not be protected as strongly as more creative works)
  • whether it is easily possible to get a licence within a reasonable time at an ordinary commercial price
  • the effect of your copying on the potential market for the original
  • the amount taken from the original work
  • whether attribution has been given to the original author.

Generally, a use will be fair if you are copying for a valid reason, you don’t copy more than you need, you give attribution where possible, and your work is not directly competing in the market against the original.

Things to remember:

  • Is copying necessary? Copying has to be necessary for one of the purposes above. This means that it might be fair to copy part of a song to review it, but it won’t be fair if you’re just using the song as background music.
  • Copy no more than you need. Sometimes you need to copy the entirety of an existing work – if you’re critiquing a photograph, for example. Usually, though, you should only copy the parts that are necessary. You can’t get away with showing a whole TV episode in order to critique one scene.
  • It’s usually not fair if you’re competing with the original. This is often the most important factor. When you copy existing material for your own study, to report on the news, or to create a parody, you usually won’t be undercutting the market for the original. But if you’re just repackaging the original material in a way that might substitute for it – a consumer might be satisfied with your work instead of the original – then your use probably won’t be fair.

How is ‘fair use’ different – what can’t you do with fair dealing?

In the United States, the law is more flexible, because it can adapt to allow fair use for purposes that lawmakers hadn’t thought of in advance.

Some of the things that are legal without getting permission in the US but not in Australia include:

Adapting to new technologies: Fair use is flexible enough to adapt to change, but fair dealing is not. For example, in the US, fair use made it legal to use a VCR to record television at home in 1984. In Australia, this wasn’t legal until parliament created a specific exception in 2006 – just about the time VCRs became obsolete.

Artistic use: In Australia, it’s legal to create a parody or a critique, but not to use existing works for purely artistic purposes. For example, Australian law makes it largely unlawful for a collage artist to reuse existing copyright material to create something new.

Machinima uses game environments to create new stories – but is not legal in Australia without permission from the game’s publisher.

Uses that document our experiences: Media forms a big part of our lives, and when we share our daily experiences, we will often include copyright material in some way. Without fair use, even capturing a poster on a wall behind you when you take a selfie could infringe copyright.

In a famous example, Stephanie Lenz originally had an adorable 29-second clip of her baby dancing to a Prince song removed from YouTube, due to her use of the song. She was able to get it put back up under US fair use law – but an Australian wouldn’t have that right.

Stephanie Lenz’s “dancing baby” video is legal under US “fair use”, but would likely infringe copyright in Australia.

Technical and non-consumptive uses: The internet we love today is built on fair use. When search engines crawl the web, making a copy of every page they can in order to help us find relevant information, they’re relying on fair use.

Under Australian law, even forwarding an email without permission could be an infringement of copyright.

The copyright reform debate

Two recent government reports, from the Australian Law Reform Commission and the Productivity Commission, have recommended that Australia simplify its copyright law by introducing fair use.

Many of us copyright academics have written here extensively in support of fair use over the past few years, but there are still many myths about what the law would do.

It’s been suggested that introducing fair use here would provoke a “free for all” use of copyrighted work, but that hasn’t happened in the US. In fact, some of the same major studios that oppose fair use in Australia are at pains to point out that they support fair use in the US because it is vital to commercial production that happens there.

The Motion Picture Association of America, for example, says that “Our members rely on the fair use doctrine every day when producing their movies and television shows”.

To put it simply: we don’t think that fair use will harm creators.

The “fair” in fair use means that it’s not about ripping off creators – it mainly allows uses that are not harmful. But we do think that fair use would provide an important benefit for ordinary Australians – both creators and users.

The ConversationKatherine Gough, a musician and law student at Queensland University of Technology, co-authored this article.

Nicolas Suzor, Associate professor, Queensland University of Technology

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Read, listen, understand: why non-Indigenous Australians should read First Nations writing



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Alexis Wright won the Miles Franklin award for her 2006 novel Carpentaria.
AAP Image/Dean Lewins

Meera Atkinson, University of Sydney

Do you read Australia’s First Nations (Indigenous) writers? If not, why not? People read for many reasons: information, entertainment, escape, to contemplate in company, to be moved. Reading can also be a political act, an act of solidarity, an expression of willingness to listen and to learn from others with radically different histories and lives.

In his new book, Australia’s Unthinkable Genocide, professor Colin Tatz writes that Australia suffers from “wilful amnesia”; storytelling is a way of remembering.

Despite good intentions, Royal Commissions, and endless policy initiatives such as Closing the Gap, conditions for many First Nations people remain unacceptable. During National Reconciliation Week, the Uluru Statement from the Heart was released, calling for “the establishment of a First Nations Voice enshrined in the Constitution”. Even if there remain differences of opinion within First Nations communities as to process and aims, the onus is on non-Indigenous Australians to respect First Nations demands to speak and be heard.

The time is well overdue for non-Indigenous Australians to engage with the First Nations of this country, and their narratives, on their terms. Interest in the experience and concerns of others is crucial to combating social ills like racism. Writing and reading literature can be acts of intimacy, and as such reading can be a vital form of listening.

Where to start?

In Australia, white writers and scholars are more read than writers and scholars of colour. Non-Indigenous Australians often simply fail to seek out other voices and perspectives. Sometimes it’s a case of not knowing where to start.

Tony Birch and Sandra Phillips have offered excellent suggestions for those keen to explore First Nations writing, and as Michelle Cahill points out, literary journals are also a rich source of discovery.

My own list is by no means definitive or exhaustive. It is but a handful of books I view as important reading. These are unique literary voices that command attention.

Don’t Take Your Love to Town
Ruby Langford Ginibi (Penguin Books 1988, UQP 2007)


Goodreads

This bestselling autobiography precedes the impressive entries into the emerging 21st century First Nations canon that follow. It is a contemporary classic of Australian literature, and it was the first book I read by a First Nations writer. Published the same year of Australia’s contested “bicentenary”, Langford Ginibi’s story continues to test the learned indifference of white Australians. Written during the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, Don’t Take Your Love to Town tells the tale of a woman caught at the intersection of gendered and raced injustice with admirable and endearing honesty.

Carpentaria and The Swan Book
Alexis Wright (Giramondo 2006, 2013)


Goodreads

I’ve written about Carpentaria in an essay for Reading Australia, and I discuss both books at length in my forthcoming academic book The Poetics of Transgenerational Trauma. In short, these books matter. This is innovative writing forging cross-cultural trauma testimony that portrays a country in crisis and in desperate need of recovery from the devastating realities of colonialism and racism. There’s no way around it, Wright is not an easy read. These two novels are as far from literary comfort food as it gets. But those able to relax into Wright’s wildly experimental world-making are rewarded with insights and nothing less than a renewed vision of this land and appreciation for the complex communities that inhabit it.

Dirty Words
Natalie Harkin (Cordite Books 2015)

One of my favourite books of recent years, Dirty Words is a whip-smart conceptual collection of poems about the state of the nation and the spectre of its shameful history. Authored by a Narungga scholar and creative practitioner, this slim volume may well knock your socks off and leave you questioning everything you read and hear. Harkin’s poems about the domestic servitude of her Narungga forebears might even move you to tears.

Smoke Encrypted Whispers
Samuel Wagan Watson (UQP 2004)

“Childhood anxieties would eventually help me realise the power of imagination”, writes Wagan Watson in “author’s notes # 1”. This generous, award-winning collection of poems later became a multi-modal arts project when its cycle of 23 poems served as inspiration for musical compositions. Poems like “white stucco dreaming” evoke familial ties within societal divides and the daily rituals of suburbia, while “a verse for the cheated” depicts the hidden tragedies of Queensland’s glamorous coastal tourist traps. At times Wagan Watson turns his muscular lyricism outward to consider the world at large, but he soon circles back to home-grown griefs and wonders.

Other highly recommended titles

Heat and Light
Ellen van Neerven (UQP 2014); Inside my Mother
Ali Cobby Eckermann (Giramondo Poets 2015); Mogwie-Idan: Stories of the Land
Lionel Fogarty (Vagabond Press 2012)

These books do the crucial work of testifying to transgenerational trauma and representing and celebrating surviving First Nations cultures and peoples. Each demonstrates, as Tony Birch puts it, the “potential for Aboriginal writing to productively shift the national story”.

Witnessing trauma

Australians, generally speaking, have an inadequate understanding of transgenerational trauma and underestimate the effects of the extreme and sustained traumas experienced by First Nations communities. Transgenerational trauma is the process by which trauma is passed down through successive generations.

There is some debate about if and how this takes place, but transmission likely has various pathways through families, individuals, and culture at large. Colonialism and its aftermath – frontier wars, slavery, dispossession, and stolen children – proved a hotbed for severe traumas and legacies of transmission. The challenge is for non-Indigenous Australians to take responsibility for their own education and become familiar with the voices and concerns of those who have peopled this continent for eons.

Given the depth and scope of the inequity, clearly much more than reading alone is called for. But reading truth-telling accounts of our history and contemporary Australia by First Nations writers is one way of participating in a national dialogue.


What’s your favourite book by a First Nations writer? Leave your recommendations in the comments below.

The ConversationRead also: a Warlpiri translation of ‘Dreamtime’ and ‘The Dreaming’ – an introduction.

Meera Atkinson, Sessional Tutor, Creative Writing, University of Sydney

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Science journalism is in Australia’s interest, but needs support to thrive



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Interviewing scientists – shown here is physicist Louise Harra – is a skill that takes experience and in depth knowledge on the part of the journalist.
uclmaps/flickr , CC BY-SA

Joan Leach, Australian National University

The oldest known human bones; the first detection of gravitational waves; the successful landing of a rover on Mars, and the discovery of the Higgs boson particle: all of these highly read global science stories illustrate the public’s thirst for the latest research and technological innovations.

But is science journalism in the public interest?

Specialist science journalists are vital in our society in a few key ways. These include as public disseminators of sound science that can lead to policy, as identifiers of flawed journalism and “dodgy” (even life-threatening) science, and as gatekeepers between public relations departments in research institutions and the general media.

And yet the number of specialist science reporters in Australia is in serious decline.

Journalism can drive science policy

Over 2012 and 2013 a range of media outlets teamed up with the Australian Medical Association and the Australian Academy of Science to coordinate a national immunisation campaign.

Channel 10’s The Project presented evidence-based coverage of the science of vaccination. The Roast (ABC TV) also took a humorous approach to covering the story.

Not only was the story given robust and prominent coverage across Australian news media platforms, the Daily Telegraph and news site MamaMia also ran campaigns encouraging readers to pledge to immunise their children.

In 2013 the Daily Telegraph followed up with a “No jab, no play” concept, promoting the idea that childcare centres should ban children who had not been immunised. State and federal governments have subsequently introduced legislation to effect this proposal. The program is still being monitored.

Linked to this coverage, a successful case was mounted in the NSW Office of Fair Trading against anti-immunisation activist group the Australian Vaccination Network. The network’s name was found to be misleading and the group has now re-badged itself as the “Australian Vaccination-Skeptics Network”.

Journalism as a gatekeeper for “bad” science

Sound peer review and editorial procedures are in place in many research journals, but sometimes what can best be described as “dodgy” science is published, and this can lead to disastrous results.

The classic example is the (now falsified) study in 1998 that reported on autism-like symptoms and gastrointestinal abnormalities in children associated with the MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccination. The study was small (only 12 children), observational, and submitted for publication without key disclosures from lead author Andrew Wakefield.

In a subsequent press conference, Wakefield expressed his concerns about the MMR vaccine. The media’s enthusiastic reporting and less than critical response to these claims took an ethically and scientifically unsound report and turned it into what has been described as “perhaps the most damaging medical hoax of the last 100 years”. In 2008 measles was reported to be once again endemic in the UK, a development that has been linked to reduced MMR take-up.

Don’t open the floodgate! Not all science deserves media attention.
from www.shutterstock.com

Had the journalists at that initial press conference been equipped to appraise the findings critically, the poor science may have been revealed from the start. The paper was later found to be fraudulent by investigative journalist Brian Deer, who published stories in print and made a documentary revealing the hoax.

Science journalism vs science PR

Science journalism and science public relations (PR) can be difficult to distinguish. The job of the PR specialist is to maximise eyeballs on each story. The job of the journalist is to find the story and report the evidence behind it, no matter whose story it is.

Stories that are written with a university press release – rather than a peer-reviewed science paper – as the main source of evidence can easily cross the line into infotainment rather than independent reporting.

It’s also the case that some stories that look like science journalism are heavily sponsored by universities and research institutions. This so-called “native content” – in that it looks appropriate for its context – is becoming more prevalent.

It’s a trend exacerbated by the movement of journalists from media organisations into communication roles in academic and research institutions. While the writing style is journalistic, the focus is to promote the science from the institutions that employ them. This bypasses robust and independent examination of the evidence.

There may be more of this to come as science journalists become an endangered species.

An endangered species

Embedded in Australian news rooms, the investigative science journalist is a rare beast; the most recent in a long line of casualties are Marcus Strom from The Sydney Morning Herald, and Bridie Smith of Melbourne’s The Age, who left Fairfax last week after 16 years.

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It seems the ABC is the only mainstream media outlet with a science unit. Here, specialists Anna Salleh and Jake Sturmer along with experienced science journalists, communicators and broadcasters (Robyn Williams, Natasha Mitchell, Joel Werner, Bernie Hobbs, Ruben Meerman and Dr Karl amongst others) present regular science content on various platforms.

Journalists in specialities such as environment, health and technology do still hold positions at major media platforms, and Cosmos Magazine provides another platform for science content in Australia. Freelance science journalists including Bianca Nogrady, Leigh Dayton and Graham Readfearn work on specific projects across a variety of platforms.

Specialist correspondents develop a deep and complex understanding of their round over time, and carry a knowledge of what’s gone before that surpasses a quick internet search. They might, for instance, recognise that a particular “breakthrough” is simply an old study repackaged, that a study is very small, or that its promises have been made before without amounting to much. Or that the “faster than light” neutrinos were a statistical anomaly (and an error) rather than a tested matter of fact.

The disappearance of the specialist science correspondent means a loss of personnel with the time and the expertise to probe deeply and to ask uncomfortable questions. The consequences are declines in the breadth, depth and quality of science coverage. Pair this with an increased workload, the need for journalists to apply multimedia skills and the constant pressure to publish (driven by the 24-hour news cycle), and the opportunities for genuine investigation are slim.

New ways to cover science

As the number of science correspondents has fallen, the science sector has rushed in to fill the online void with blogs and social media sites (some terrifically successful).

Facilities such as the Australian Science Media Centre now work to support and facilitate evidence-based science journalism. The Centre boasts 1,600 subscribers and informs hundreds of reporters who attend regular briefings.

According to chief executive Susannah Elliot:

When the Australian Science Media Centre started in 2005, there were around 35 specialist science reporters in mainstream newsrooms around the country. Now you need less than one hand to count them.

This loss of specialist reporters means that there is no one to fight for good science in editorial meetings or look for science angles in everyday news stories.

We’re all going to have to do everything we can to help general reporters cover science and make sure they don’t miss the important stuff.

The Australian Science Media Centre is a not-for-profit resource that supports evidence-based science coverage.

The future of science journalism

It may be that science journalism has never enjoyed a consistent position in media outlets – some report that “peak science journalism” happened in 1987. In an important review of the history of popular science, writer Martin Bauer points out that science journalism is prone to a “boom and bust cycle”.

The call for more and improved science journalism is based on an assumption that lives are worse off without it. This is an easy leap for academics to make; after all, our very existence is based on the idea that more knowledge is better than less knowledge.

But how can we convince the general public this is the case? Studying the “decline of science journalism” – fewer numbers of journalists, diffuse science reporting, the rise of branded and native content – will not be enough to show that we need more science journalists. We must be able to clearly identify a public good, and convince media-saturated consumers that science deserves a place in their lives.

We must also develop a clear business case that supports science journalism. Relatively new media platforms such as Nautilus and narrative.ly provide some evidence that blending science with creative nonfiction, philanthropic funding, subscription services, paywalls, and hybrid models of journalism and public relations are worth further exploration.

Supported primarily by the university sector, The Conversation publishes science, technology, environment and energy stories that are written by academics.

However there has yet to be a convincing case of overwhelming public support for robust science journalism. In our view, this is a shame. We think academic and media groups, and those private sectors that rely on science and technology, should start articulating the public value of science journalism.

A colleague in New Zealand, Rebecca Priestly, has put some money behind finding out, though establishing a fund for science journalism. Perhaps it’s time to do the same in Australia.


The ConversationThis article was co-authored with Kylie Walker, Chief Executive Officer of Science and Technology Australia, and Visiting Fellow at the Australian National Centre for the Public Awareness of Science, Australian National University.

Joan Leach, Professor, Australian National University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.