සිවුමංසල කොලූගැටයා #39: පුවත්පතේ අනාගතේ ඩයිනසෝර් මාවත ද?

This is the Sinhala text of my weekend column in Ravaya, published on 6 Nov 2011. To mark the newspapers’s 25th anniversary that falls this month, I begin some reflections on the future of newspapers. In this first piece, I discuss how science fiction and thriller writer Michael Crichton (1942-2008) once foresaw the fate of what he called ‘Mediasaurus’.

Who succeeds mediasaurus?

Who succeeds mediasaurus?

රාවයට වසර 25ක් සපිරෙන්නේ 2011 නොවැම්බර් මාසයේ. මගේ මාධ්‍ය හා සන්නිවේදන ජීවිතයට වසර 25ක් පිරුණේ 2011 සැප්තැම්බරයේ. මේ පිය සටහන් දෙක නිමිති කර ගෙන එක්කෝ මට යටගිය දවස් ගැන ආවර්ණය කළ හැකියි. නොඑසේ නම් මේ සංධිස්ථානයේ කෙටි විරාමයක් ගනිමින් ගනිමින් ඉදිරිය ගැන මෙනෙහි කළ හැකියි. මා කවදත් අනාගතය දෙස එබී බලන්නට කැමැති නිසා පුවත්පත් කලාවේ හා මාධ්‍ය කර්මාන්තයේ හෙට දවස ගැන කථා කරමු.

අද ලොව බහුවිධ ජනමාධ්‍ය අතරින් සංවිධානාත්මකව පවතින පැරණිතම ජන මාධ්‍යය පුවත්පත හෙවත් මුද්‍රිත මාධ්‍යයයි. මුද්‍රණ යන්ත්‍ර මගින් පිටපත් මුද්‍රණය කොට අලෙවි කළ, කාලීන තොරතුරු රැගත් වාරික ප්‍රකාශනයක් ලෙස දැනට හදුනාගෙන ඇති පැරණිතම පුවත්පත මුල් වරට එළි දැක්කේ 1605දී ජර්මනියේ. මේ අනුව වසර 400කට වැඩි ඉතිහාසයක් පුවත්පත්වලට තිඛෙනවා. මේ සියවස් හතරක කාලය තුළ සිනමාව, රේඩියෝව, ටෙලිවිෂනය හා ඉන්ටර්නෙට් මාධ්‍යවල බිහි වීමත් සමග නව අභියෝගවලට මුහුණ දෙමින් පරිනාමය වී ආ පුවත්පතේ ඉතිහාසය විචිත්‍රයි.

21 වන සියවසේ නූතන තොරතුරු සමාජයේ ප්‍රවණතා හා ග්‍රාහක බලාපොරොත්තුවලට ප්‍රතිචාර දක්වමින් හැඩ ගැසෙන්නට පුවත්පත් කලාවට හා කර්මාන්තයට හැකි ද? නැත්නම් ඉදිරි වසර හෝ දශක කිහිපය තුළ පුවත්පත් වද වී යාමේ තර්ජනයක් ඇත් ද?

මුද්‍රිත මාධ්‍යයේ අනාගතය ගැන සුභවාදීව මෙන්ම අසුභවාදීව කැරෙන විග්‍රහයන් තිඛෙනවා. පත්තර කියවමින් හැදී වැඩී, පත්තරවලට දැඩි ඇල්මකින් යුතුව මාධ්‍ය ලෝකයට පිවිසී, කලක් පත්තරවල වැඩ කළ මට මේ ෙක‍ෂත්‍රය ගැන ලෙන්ගතුකමක් හා බැදීමක් තිඛෙනවා. එහෙත් ඒ බැදීම්වලින් මදකට දුරස් වී තුලනාත්මකව හා යථාර්ථවාදීව පුවත්පතේ අනාගතේ දෙස බැලීමට මා උත්සාහ කරනවා.

සොබා දහමේ නොනවතින පරිනාමීය කි්‍රයාදාමයක් පවතින බව (evolutionary process) අප දන්නවා. ඒ පරිනාමයේදී වඩාත් සවිමත්, උපක්‍රමශීලී හා ආක්‍රමණශීලී ජීවීන් ඉතිරි වන අතර අනෙක් ජීවීන් මුළු ගැන්වී, ව`ද වී යනවා. මෙයට සමාන ප්‍රවාහයන් මානව සමාජය හා වෙළ`දපොල ආර්ථීකය තුළත් ක්‍රියාත්මක වනවා. කාලානුරූපව හැඩ ගැසෙන්නට නොහැකි හෝ නොකැමැති හෝ කර්මාන්ත, ආයතන හා සම්ප්‍රදායයන් කල් පවතින්නේ නැහැ. ජනමාධ්‍ය ෙක‍ෂත්‍රයටත් මෙය අදාලයි.

මේ බව ප්‍රබලව අපට කියා දුන් එක් අයකු වූයේ අමෙරිකානු විද්‍යා ප්‍රබන්ධ හා ත්‍රාසජනක කථා රචක මයිකල් ක්‍රයිටන් (Michael Crichton). වෘත්තියෙන් වෛද්‍යවරයකු වූ ඔහු ජුරාසික් පාක් (Jurassic Park) පොත් පෙළ ලිවීම නිසා ලෝප්‍රකට වුණා. ජෛවීය ඉතිහාසයේ වසර මිලියන් 165ක පමණ කාලයක් තිස්සේ මහ පොළවේ ප්‍රබලතම සත්ත්ව කොට්ඨාශය වූ ඩයිනසෝරයන් (dinosaurs) නැවත බිහි කිරීමේ භයානක විද්‍යාත්මක අත්හදා බැලීමක් පාදක කර ගත් ඒ කථා, ස්ටීවන් ස්පිල්බර්ග් විසින් ජනප්‍රිය චිත්‍රපට මාලාවක් බවටත් පත් කළා.

ඩයිනෝසරයන් වද වී යාමට හේතු ගැන විද්‍යාඥයන් තවමත් තර්ක විතර්ක කරනවා. ඩයනසෝරයන් පමණක් නොවෙයි වෙනත් සත්ත්ව කොට්ඨාශයනුත් කලින් කලට වද වී යාම ජෛව පරිනාමයේ හොදින් දන්නා, පාෂාණභූත සාක‍ෂීන්ගෙන් ද ඔප්පු වන සත්‍යයක්.

1993 සැප්තැම්බර් මාසයේ Wired ගරාවේ කලාපයට මයිකල් ක්‍රයිටන් ‘Mediasaurus’ නමින් අනාගතවේදී ලිපියක් ලිව්වා. එහි මුඛ්‍ය අදහස වුණේ එදා ඩයිනසෝරයන් මෙන් ම ප්‍රධාන ප්‍රවාහයේ ජනමාධ්‍ය ද පරිනාමීයව හැඩ ගැසීමට නොහැකි වීම නිසා නුදුරු අනාගතයේදී වද වී යනු ඇති බවයි.

එහි එක් තැනෙක ඔහු මෙසේ කීවා: “මෑත සමීක‍ෂණ කිහිපයකින් හෙළි වූ පරිදි අමෙරිකානු මාධ්‍ය බහුතරයක් මහජනයාට සැබැවින් ම අදාල හා වැදගත් කරුණු ගැන වාර්තා කිරීම හා ගවේෂණය වෙනුවට වල්පල් හා ඕපාදූපවලට වැඩි අවධානයක් යොමු කරනවා. රටේ ප්‍රශ්න ගැන විග්‍රහ කරනවා වෙනුවට අපේ මාධ්‍ය කරන්නේ ඒ දැවෙන ප්‍රශ්නවලට තව ටිකක් ඉන්ධන එකතු කිරීමයි. තමන්ගේ ලොකුකම ගැන අධිතක්සේරුවක් හා ස්වයංරාගයක් ((Narcissistic) ඇති මාධ්‍යවේදීන් හා දේශපාලකයන් දෙපසකට වී කරන ක්‍රීඩා තරගයක් බදු මේ විකාරය දෙස මාධ්‍ය ග්‍රාහකයන් බලා සිටින්නේ පිළිකුලෙන් හා කලකිරීමෙන් යුතුවයි. මේ තත්වය දිගට ම පවතින්නට බැහැ!”

ක්‍රයිටන් සැබෑ ලෝකයෙන් දුරස්ථ වූ දවල් හීන බලන්නකු නොවෙයි. වෙළදපොල ආර්ථීකය තුළ තමන්ගේ පැවැත්ම සදහා මාධ්‍ය ආයතන තරගකාරීව නිරන්තර අරගලයක යෙදෙන බව ඔහු පිළි ගත්තා. (මාධ්‍යවල සමාජ වගකීම ගැන සරසවි දේශනාගාර හා විසිත්ත කාමරවල සිට බණ කියන පර්යේෂකයන්ට හසු නොවන යථාර්ථයත් එයයි.)

ඔහු තව දුරටත් මෙසේ තර්ක කළා: “වර්තමානයේ මාධ්‍ය යනු කර්මාන්තයක්. ඒ කර්මාන්තය සමාජයට සපයන නිෂ්පාදනය නම් තොරතුරුයි (information). බාල බඩු නිපදවන හා අලෙවි කරන සමාගම් පාරිභෝගිකයන් විසින් ප්‍රතිෙක‍ෂප කරනවා. අපේ මාධ්‍ය කර්මාන්තය මෑතක පටන් නොවැදගත්, වැරදි සහගත, විකෘති වූ හා වෙනත් අන්දමින් බාල මට්ටමේ තොරතුරු අපට අලෙවි කරනවා. සරුව පිත්තල දවටනවල අසුරා තිබුණත් බය නැතිව පාවිච්චි කළ නොහැකි තරමට අපේ මාධ්‍ය අපට දෙන තොරතුරුවල ප්‍රමිතියක් නැහැ. මේ නිසා ටිකෙන් ටික පාරිභෝගිකයන් මේ ‘බාල බඩු’ මිළට ගැනීම අඩු කරනවා. නොබෝ කලෙකින් අමෙරිකානු මාධ්‍ය කර්මාන්තයට ඇති තරම් පාරිභෝගිකයන් සොයා ගන්නට බැරි වේවි. එවිට ඒ මාධ්‍ය, වෙළදපොල ප්‍රවාහයන් විසින් ගසා ගෙන ගොස් අතුරුදහන් වෙනු ඇති.”

ඔහු කීවේ නිව්යෝක් ටයිම්ස් පත්‍රය වැනි මුද්‍රිත ලෝකයේ මහා බලකණු මෙන් ම ABC, NBC සහ CBS වැනි අමෙරිකානු ටෙලිවිෂන් නාලිකා ද දශකයක් ඇතුළත වෙළ`දපොලෙන් ඉවතට විසි වීල වද වී යනු ඇති බවයි.

මේ අතර සියළු මාධ්‍යයන් යටිකුරු කරන නව තාක‍ෂණයක් ද මතුව ඇති බව ක්‍රයිටන් සිය ලිපියේ සදහන් කළා. ඒ තමා ඉන්ටර්නෙට්. 1993දී ඉන්ටර්නෙට් මාධ්‍යය දියුණු රටවල පවා එතරම් ප්‍රචලිත වී තිබුණේ නැහැ. එහෙත් තොරතුරු ගලනයට එයින් ඇති කළ හැකි ප්‍රබල බලපෑම ක්‍රයිටන් කල් තබා දුටුවා.

ක්‍රයිටන්ගේ විද්‍යාත්මක චින්තනය හා පරිකල්පන ශක්තිය ගැන ලොකු පිළිගැනීමක් පැවති නිසා ඔහුගේ ලිපිය මාධ්‍ය ආයතන හා පර්යේෂකයන් අතර වාද විවාද ඇති කළා. එතැන් පටන් ගෙවී ගිය දශකය (1993-2003) කාලයේ ඉන්ටර්නෙට් මාධ්‍යයේ සීඝ්‍ර ප්‍රගමනයක් සිදු වුණා. 1995දී ලොව පුරා ඉන්ටර්නෙට් පරිහරණය කළේ මිලියන 16යි. එය 2003 අගදී මිලියන් 719 දක්වා ඉහළ ගියා. (2011 මැද වන විට මේ සංඛ්‍යාව මිලියන් 2ල110 යි) ඉන්ටර්නෙට් ප්‍රචලිත වීම සම කළ හැක්කේ 1447 දී යොහාන් ගුටන්බර්ග් විසින් මුද්‍රණ ශිල්පයේ වර්තමාන තාක‍ෂණ සම්ප්‍රදාය ඇරඹීමටයි. ඒ දක්වා ඉතා සීමිතව කෙරුණු තොරතුරු හුවමාරුවට හා දැනුම ඛෙදා හැරීමට විශාල ඉදිරි පිම්මක් පනින්නට මුද්‍රණ ශිල්පය ඉඩ සැළැස්වූවා. (ඒ දක්වා සිදු වූයේ පොත් හා වෙනත් ලේඛනවල පිටපත් තනි තනිව අතින් පිටපත් කිරීමයි.)

Mediasaurus - courtesy Slate

Mediasaurus - courtesy Slate

ඉන්ටර්නෙට් ප්‍රචලිත වීම සමග ඒ නව මාධ්‍යයට බද්ධවීමේ ක්‍රම සොයන්නට පුවත්පත්, සගරා, රේඩියෝ හා ටෙලිවිෂන් ආයතනවලට සිදු වුණා. 2003 වන විට ප්‍රධාන පෙළේ මාධ්‍ය ආයතන තමන්ගේ වෙබ් අඩවි අරඹා සයිබර් අවකාශයේ තම ලකුණ යම් තරමකට සටහන් කර තිබුණා. ක්‍රයිටන්ගේ අනාවැකියට දශකයක් පිරෙන්නට ආසන්න වන විට අමෙරිකාවේ Slate නම් වෙබ් අඩවියේ මාධ්‍යවේදියෙක් ඒ ගැන ඔහුගෙන් විමසුවා. ඒ වන විටත් මාධ්‍ය ආයතන බරපතල ගරා වැටීමකට ලක් වී තිබුණේ නැහැ. ඔහුගේ උත්තරය: “අනාගතය පිළිබදව ඉලක්කගතව අනාවැකි කියන්නට කාටවත් බැහැ. මා අනතුරු ඇග වූ මාධ්‍ය ගරා වැටීම සිදු විය හැකි බව මා තවමත් විශ්වාස කරනවා. එහෙත් එයට දශකයකට වැඩි කාලයක් ගත වන හැඩයි!”

2000 දශකය තුළ අමෙරිකාව, කැනඩාව සහ යුරෝපයේ රටවල් ගණනාවක මුද්‍රිත මාධ්‍යය විශාල වෙළදපොල අර්බුදයකට ලක් වුණා. 2008 නොවැම්බර් 4 වනදා ක්‍රයිටන් මිය යන විට ඔහු අනතුරු ඇග වූ තත්ත්වය සැබෑවට ම ඉස්මතු වෙමින් තිබුණා. බටහිර රටවල පුවත්පත් සහ සගරා මිළදී ගැනීම සැළකිය යුතු අන්දමින් අඩු වී තිඛෙනවා. අලෙවි වන පිටපත් ගණන අඩු වූ විට දැන්වීම් ලැබීම ද පහත වැටෙනවා. පත්තර හා ස`ගරා කර්මාන්තය පදනම් වී ඇත්තේ දැන්වීම් ආදායමින් තම නිෂ්පාදන වියදමෙන් වැඩි කොටසක් පියවා ගන්නා අතර ඉතිරි ආදායම පිටපත් අලෙවියෙන් ලබා ගැනීමේ ආකෘතිය තුළයි. (දැන්වීම්වලට අප පෞද්ගලිකව කැමති වූවත් නැතත් මාධ්‍ය කර්මාන්තයට ඒවා නැතුව ම බැහැ. සරල උදාහරණයක් ගත්තොත් රු. 50කට විකිණෙන පත්තර පිටපතක නිෂ්පාදන වියදම එමෙන් දෙතුන් ගුණයක් වෙනවා. මේ වෙනස පියවා ගන්නේ දැන්වීම්වලින් ලැඛෙන ආදායමින්.)

බටහිර රටවල පත්තර සගරා පමණක් නොවෙයි. ප්‍රධාන පෙළේ ටෙලිවිෂන් හා රේඩියෝ සමාගම් ද අද වන විට දැඩි ආර්ථීක කුණාටුවකට හසු වී සිටිනවා. එයට හේතු වූ සාධක ගැන පොදු එකගතාවයක් නැහැ. ඇතැම් විචාරකයන් කියන්නේ ලොව පුරා 2008 සිට පැතිර ගිය ආර්ථීක අවපාතය එයට දායක වූ බවයි.
එහෙත් තවත් පර්යේෂකයන් පෙන්වා දෙන්නේ වාණිජමය මාධ්‍ය ෙක‍ෂත්‍රයේ – විශේෂයෙන්ම පත්තර හා සගරාවල – පිරිහීම 2008 පෙර පටන් ම ඇරඹී තිබුණු බවත්, එයට එම ෙක‍ෂත්‍රය තුළින් ම මතු වූ සාධක වැඩියෙන් හේතු වූ බවත්. මයිකල් ක්‍රයිටන්ගේ 1993 විග්‍රහය සිහිපත් කරමින් ඔවුන් කියන්නේ පාරිභෝගික සමාජය විසින් මාධ්‍ය ප්‍රතිෙක‍ෂප කිරීමට වගකිව යුත්තේ මාධ්‍ය ආයතන හා මාධ්‍යවේදීන් ම බවයි.

මීට අමතරව ඉන්ටර්නෙට් මාධ්‍යයේ ව්‍යාප්ත වීම නිසා තනිකර ම ඉන්ටර්නෙට් හරහා එසැනින් ප්‍රවෘත්ති ඛෙදාහරින නව මාධ්‍ය සේවා බිහි වුණා. ඒවාත් සමග තරග කිරීම සාම්ප්‍රදායික පුවත්පත්වලට හෝ එම පුවත්පත්වල වෙබ් අඩවිවලට ලෙහෙසි වූයේ නැහැ. පත්තර කර්මාන්තයේ පසුබෑමට මේ සාධක සියල්ල අඩු වැඩි පමණින් දායක වී තිඛෙනවා. නමුත් මේ ගෝලීය ප්‍රවණතාවයට වෙනස් තත්ත්වයක් ආසියාවේ රටවල දක්නට තිඛෙනවා.

පාඨක විශ්වාසය රැක ගනිමින්, නව තාක‍ෂණයන්ගේ අභියෝගවලට මුහුණ දෙමින් වාණිජමය වශයෙන් සාර්ථක පුවත්පත් හා සගරා පවත්වා ගත හැකි ද? එසේ නැතිනම් සහනාධාර ලබන හෝ විකල්ප ආදායම් මත යැපෙන ආර්ථීක මොඩලයකට මාරු වීමට ලොව පුරා පුවත්පත්වලට ළගදී ම සිදු වෙයි ද? පුරවැසි මාධ්‍යවේදීන් හා වැටුප් ලබන මාධ්‍යවේදීන් අතර පරතරය අඩු වී යන විට මාධ්‍ය ලෝකයේ කුමන විපර්යාස සිදු වේද? මේ ප්‍රශ්නවලට අපි එළඹෙන සතිවල පිළිතුරු සොයා යමු!

News wrapped in laughter: Is this the future of current affairs journalism?

Who can follow these footsteps?

Who can follow these footsteps?

In an excellent op ed essay assessing the lasting value and meaning of Walter Cronkite to the world of journalism, Frank Rich wrote in The New York Times on 26 July 2009:

“What matters about Cronkite is that he knew when to stop being reassuring Uncle Walter and to challenge those who betrayed his audience’s trust. He had the guts to confront not only those in power but his own bosses. Given the American press’s catastrophe of our own day — its failure to unmask and often even to question the White House propaganda campaign that plunged us into Iraq — these attributes are as timely as ever.

“That’s why the past week’s debate about whether there could ever again be a father-figure anchor with Cronkite’s everyman looks and sonorous delivery is an escapist parlor game. What matters is content, not style. The real question is this: How many of those with similarly exalted perches in the news media today — and those perches, however diminished, still do exist in the multichannel digital age — will speak truth to power when the country is on the line? This journalistic responsibility cannot be outsourced to Comedy Central and Jon Stewart.”

I cannot agree more with the premise and arguments in this essay, which is well worth a careful, slow read by everyone, everywhere who cares for good journalism — either as practitioners or consumers (and in this media saturated age, don’t we all fall into one or both categories?).

At the same time, without detracting from the value of — and the crying need for — investigative, reflective and ‘serious’ journalism, I believe comedy and especially political satire play a key role today in analysing and critiquing politicians, businessmen and others whose decisions and actions impact public policy and public life.

Anchor, anchor, burning bright...

Anchor, anchor, burning bright...

Political satire is nothing new: it’s been around for as long as organised government. Over the centuries, it has manifested in many oral, literary or theatrical traditions, some more memorable and enduring – such as Gulliver’s Travels and Animal Farm. And for over a century, political cartoonists have been doing it with brilliant economy of words – as I have said more than once on this blog, they are among the finest social philosophers of our times.

In the age of electronic media, it’s only natural that the tradition of satire thrives on the airwaves and online. In fact, there is a rich and diverse offering of politically sensitive and/or active satire in the mainstream and online media that we can consider it a genre of its own. Some of it is so clever, authentic and appealing that we might momentarily forget that we are experiencing a work of satire.
Purists might decry this blurring of traditional demarcations between information, commentary and entertainment — but does that really matter?

When we survey the media and cultural scenes in our globalised world, we see things getting hopelessly entangled and mixed up everywhere. Nothing is quite what they seem – or claim – to be anymore. Content that is explicitly labelled as pure news and current affairs is looking more and more like entertainment. My friend Kunda Dixit, who edits the Nepali Times, says this is inevitable when the same mega corporations own both cartoon networks and news channels.

No news is good news -- for whom?

No news is good news -- for whom?

If the mainstream news organisations don’t quite live up to our expectations to gather, analyse and reflect on the current affairs of the day, we should at least be grateful that some comedians are stepping into that void. We must welcome, celebrate and wish their tribe would increase!

The rise and rise of political satire is also being chronicled and analysed. A new book tells us why we now have to take satire TV seriously — it turns out to be the bearer of the democratic spirit for the post-broadcast age. Titled Satire TV: Politics and Comedy in the Post-Network Era, the book is co-edited by Jonathan Gray, Jeffrey Jones and Ethan Thompson (NYU Press, April 2009).

Here’s the blurb introducing the book: “Satirical TV has become mandatory viewing for citizens wishing to make sense of the bizarre contemporary state of political life. Shifts in industry economics and audience tastes have re-made television comedy, once considered a wasteland of escapist humor, into what is arguably the most popular source of political critique. From fake news and pundit shows to animated sitcoms and mash-up videos, satire has become an important avenue for processing politics in informative and entertaining ways, and satire TV is now its own thriving, viable television genre. Satire TV examines what happens when comedy becomes political, and politics become funny.”

The book contains a series of original essays focus on a range of popular shows, from The Daily Show to South Park, Da Ali G Show to The Colbert Report, The Boondocks to Saturday Night Live, Lil’ Bush to Chappelle’s Show, along with Internet D.I.Y. satire and essays on British and Canadian satire. “They all offer insights into what today’s class of satire tells us about the current state of politics, of television, of citizenship, all the while suggesting what satire adds to the political realm that news and documentaries cannot.”

Let me summarise the news so far. Intentionally or otherwise, some news anchors and politicians are increasingly behaving like comedians. Meanwhile, a few professional comedians are talking serious politics and current affairs in a genre of media that is growing in popularity by the day.

Are you confused yet? Well, get used to it. This is the shape of things to come.

In such topsy-turvy times, we need more Jon Stewarts to puncture the bloated egos and images of not only elected and other public officials, but also of our larger-than-life news anchors, editors and media tycoons. I would any day have conscientious comedians doubling as social and political commentators than suffer shallow, glib newscasters trying to be entertainers. That’s what you call laughing for a good cause.

Parting thought: There is another dimension to satirising the news in immature democracies as well as in outright autocracies where media freedoms are suppressed or denied. When open dissent is akin to signing your own death warrant, and investigative journalists risk their lives on a daily basis, satire and comedy becomes an important, creative – and often the only – way to comment on matters of public interest. It’s how public-spirited journalists and their courageous publishers get around draconian laws, stifling regulations and trigger-happy goon squads. This is precisely what is happening right now in countries like Kenya and Sri Lanka, and it’s certainly no laughing matter. More about this soon.

Backgrounder:

The news as you never saw it before...

The news as you never saw it before...

The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, is an American late night satirical television programme, airing on Comedy Central, a cable/satellite channel. The half-hour long show is presented as a (fake) newscast. In their own words, the Daily Show team “bring you the news like you’ve never seen it before — unburdened by objectivity, journalistic integrity or even accuracy.” It “takes a reality-based look at news, trends, pop culture, current events, politics, sports and entertainment with an alternative point of view.”

The show premiered in July 1996, and was initially hosted by Craig Kilborn. Jon Stewart took over as host in January 1999, and made it more strongly focused on politics. In each show, anchorman Jon Stewart and his team of correspondents, comment on the day’s stories, employing actual news footage, taped field pieces, in-studio guests and on-the-spot coverage of important news events.

This is what the Wikipedia says: “The program has grown in popularity since Jon Stewart took over hosting, with organizations such as the Pew Research Center claiming that it has become a primary source of news for many young people, an assertion the show’s staff have repeatedly rejected. Critics, including series co-creator Lizz Winstead, have chastised Stewart for not conducting hard-hitting enough interviews with his political guests, some of whom he may have previously lampooned in other segments; while others have criticized the show as having a liberal bias. Stewart and other Daily Show writers have responded to both criticisms by saying that they do not have any journalistic responsibility and that as comedians their only duty is to provide entertainment.”

OK, The Daily Show may not be intentionally serious journalism, anymore than mainstream news channels are intentionally funny. But a significant number of American TV viewers and TV critics, as well as media researchers, have found the analysis and commentary to be highly insightful and incisive. It has won many awards including an Emmy and Peabody Award. It’s been on the cover of Newsweek for its outstanding elections coverage and serious journalism. It’s not to be laughed off easily.

After the Last Newspaper...

After the Last Newspaper...

‘Live from the Moon’…and then Lost on Earth: Story of Apollo broadcasts

Apollo still photos were much better than broadcast images: how come?

Apollo still photos were much better than broadcast images: how come?

In theory, it can happen to anyone recording moving images on tape or digital media: absent-mindedly or carelessly re-use the recording media, and thus lose the original content. If no copy exists, such an accident means an irrevocable loss.

But if the images were the most expensively shot in the whole of human history — literally costing billions of dollars and involving the genius and labour of half a million people over several years — we would expect these to be archived and preserved with great care, right?

Well, not necessarily — if the custodian is a government agency. On eve of the 40th anniversary of the first Moon landing by Apollo 11, the US space agency NASA dropped a bombshell: it admitted that the original recordings of that historic moment were accidentally erased years later.

One British newspaper called it “the scientific equivalent of recording an old episode of EastEnders over the prized video of your daughter’s wedding day”.

Can you see the men on the Moon? Well, only just...

Can you see the Moon on the Moon? Well, only just...

The loss became public when the Sydney Morning Herald broke the story in August 2096. “A desperate search has begun amid concerns the tapes will disintegrate to dust before they can be found,” it said.

While the media rushed with oops-style headlines like ‘One giant blunder for mankind’, NASA quietly investigated what really happened. Last week, they revealed the hard truth: the tapes were part of a batch of 200,000 that were degaussed – or magnetically erased — and re-used. It was a standard money-saving measure at NASA in those pre-digital days to reuse the 14-inch tape reels after several years in storage. Agency officials fear that the original Apollo 11 tapes were buried among an estimated 350,000 that were recycled in the 1970s and 1980s and the data was lost for ever.

But the historic visuals are not entirely lost: luckily, broadcasters who used NASA’s expensively obtained footage had archived their transmissions for posterity. For many months, NASA has worked with a leading digital imaging company in Hollywood to restore good copies of the Apollo 11 broadcast found in the archives of CBS News and some recordings called kinescopes found in film vaults at Johnson Space Center.

On 16 July 2009, NASA released the first glimpses of a complete digital make-over of the original landing footage that looked decidedly sharper and clearer than the blurry and grainy images of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walking on the Moon.

And we have to admit, the new video is definitely better than the ones we’ve seen for 40 years!

Raw Video: Restored Video of Apollo 11 Moonwalk

Another montage of digitally restored Apollo 11 mission highlights:

The full set of recordings, being cleaned up by Burbank, California-based Lowry Digital, are to be released in September 2009.

Read technical details of how Lowry Digital is restoring NASA’s original footage of the Apollo 11 mission

I had often wondered why the original images from the Moon were so grainy: it wasn’t typical even for that time. And if NASA spent between US$ 22 to 25 billion on landing men on the Moon, surely they’d have harnessed the best available technology to capture and share their moments of triumph, I assumed.

Actually, the video coverage that was broadcast around the world — to an estimated audience of 500 to 750 million people — and has since been endlessly redistributed was not quite what came from the Moon. It was a diluted version. Stanley Lebar, the NASA engineer in charge of developing the lunar camera, now calls a “bastardized” version of the actual footage.

Here is the “as-it-happened” broadcast from CBS News that day, with the legendary Walter Cronkite anchoring to the biggest TV audience the world had known. (Footnote: You’ll see the first electronic “character generators” in use.)

The story is technically complex, but here’s the essence: live images from the Moon couldn’t be fed directly to the American TV networks using the NTSC broadcast standard. Audiences worldwide would be holding their breath that a delayed broadcast, even by a few minutes, would not have been as effective as ‘live from the Moon’. Under such time pressures, no conversions could be attempted. So a regular TV camera was pointed at the huge wall monitor at mission control in Houston.

This is known as kinescope, or telerecording: a recording of a television program made by filming the picture from a video monitor. That resulted in the grayish, blotchy images that everyone saw on their home TV sets. In other words, It was a copy of a copy, with significant quality losses in that process!

And what is now lost, permanently, are the tapes containing the original Slow-Scan Television (SSTV) tapes. Digitally remastering the CBS broadcast tapes is now offering us better images than we’ve been used to for 40 years, for sure, but they stem from an already adulterated source.

Scan-converted broadcast image of Armstrong descending the lunar module ladder taken at Goldstone tracking station. This was the image the world saw of the first human on the Moon. But a Polaroid picture of the Slow-Scan television image of Armstrong coming down the ladder reveals far greater detail. Image Courtesy: John Sarkissian/CSIRO Parkes Radio Observatory

Scan-converted broadcast image of Armstrong descending the lunar module ladder taken at Goldstone tracking station. This was the image the world saw of the first human on the Moon. But a Polaroid picture of the Slow-Scan television image of Armstrong coming down the ladder reveals far greater detail. Image Courtesy: John Sarkissian/CSIRO Parkes Radio Observatory

A new documentary, released in January 2009, offers new insights into one of the most challenging feats in international live broadcasting – how those images from the Moon were delivered to TV audiences around the world. Produced by Spacecraft Films and directed by Mark Gray Live from the Moon: The Story of Apollo Television

It tells how for the first time in history millions of people could share, in real time, the experience of frontier exploration.

The story behind the camera...finally!

The story behind the camera...finally!

“Placing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the Earth was hard enough in 1969,” says Gray. “‘Live From The Moon’ tells the story of how television, still a technological toddler, was developed for space flight, and examines the impact of the iconic passages that were returned.”

Here’s an excerpt from Space.com that reviewed the film:

To tell that story, Gray literally circled the Earth, shooting interviews at the deep space communication stations in California and Australia, as well as at space facilities and museums in Houston, Baltimore, Los Angeles, Princeton, Kennedy Space Center, Huntsville, Ala., Washington, DC and Weatherford, Oklahoma.

Along the way, he interviewed astronauts, flight directors, mission controllers, tracking station operators, historians and those who built the television cameras for the space program…. “Live from the Moon” is told with the insight of moonwalker Alan Bean; Apollo 10 commander Tom Stafford; flight director Chris Kraft; Neil Mason, who drove the Parkes Telescope; Westinghouse camera team leader Stan Lebar; and the voice of mission control Jack King, among others.

“Every single one of them believed that the TV was one of the most important legacies of Apollo. And many of them admitted candidly that they didn’t give the TV much thought during the actual missions,” recalled Gray.

Walter Cronkite (1916 – 2009): And that’s the way it was…

Walter Cronkite (1916 - 2009): The man who ruled American airwaves

Walter Cronkite (1916 - 2009): The man who ruled American airwaves

Walter Cronkite, the broadcast journalist and newscaster who redefined television news of his generation, has just signed off for the very last time. A leading light in the history of moving images is gone. What a light…and what a voice.

The New York Times reported the loss as its front page lead: “Walter Cronkite, who pioneered and then mastered the role of television news anchorman with such plain-spoken grace that he was called the most trusted man in America, died Friday at his home in New York. He was 92.”

Cronkite was best known as anchorman for the CBS Evening News for 19 years (1962–81). He was at the helm at a time when television became the dominant news medium of the United States. His influence spread well beyond one network, one medium and one generation.

America's favourite uncle...

America's favourite uncle...

Danny Schechter, the News Dissector and head of MediaChannel.org, said in a tribute: “He figuratively held the hand of the American public during the civil rights movement, the space race, the Vietnam war, and the impeachment of Richard Nixon.”

His own former network, CBS, noted in a tribute: “Known for his steady and straightforward delivery, his trim moustache, and his iconic sign-off line – ‘That’s the way it is’ – Cronkite dominated the television news industry during one of the most volatile periods of American history. He broke the news of the Kennedy assassination, reported extensively on Vietnam and Civil Rights and Watergate, and seemed to be the very embodiment of TV journalism.”

The New York Times report added: “On the day President John F. Kennedy was assassinated, Mr. Cronkite briefly lost his composure in announcing that the president had been pronounced dead at Parkland Memorial Hospital in Dallas. Taking off his black-framed glasses and blinking back tears, he registered the emotions of millions.”

Walter Cronkite announces death of President John F Kennedy: 22 November 1963

He is especially remembered for publicly opposing the Vietnam War. In 1968, he traveled to Vietnam, where he called the war a stalemate and advocated a negotiated peace. “If I’ve lost Cronkite, I’ve lost middle America,” President Lyndon B. Johnson said after seeing the broadcast, according to Bill Moyers, an aide to the president at the time.

In July 1969, Cronkite anchored the historic 32-hour CBS broadcast that covered the first Moon landing, which became the most widely watched live broadcast event worldwide up to that time. When Neil Armstrong stepped on the moon, Cronkite exclaimed, “Oh, boy!” — another rare show of emotion for the leading anchorman of his era who chose to keep his opinions separate from the news he covered and presented.

Cronkite missed the 40th anniversary of Apollo only by a few days. He will be sadly missed when astronauts and space buffs mark the event.

In this excerpt from for a 4-hour interview filmed for the Archive of American Television in 1998, Cronkite explains the origin of “That’s the way it is”– his signature sign-off:

New York Times has compiled some of his most memorable TV News moments.

The true professional he was, he never retired. Long after leaving CBS News, he remained fully active, engaged and supportive of good journalism in the United States and around the world. He lent his name to educational and charitable causes nurturing investigative journalism.

Danny Schechter writes in his blog: “In his later years, Walter Cronkite abandoned the pretense of only being above the fray and started speaking out as an internationalist for arms control and world federalism, and on many other global issues. He supported progressive causes but never too blatantly. He was very conscious of his image and reputation and identification with the media and power elite. He lived up the street from the United Nations and was often a speaker at UN events.”

Reproduced in full below is the endorsement Walter Cronkite gave our friends at MediaChannel.org, an online media activist group that keeps the spotlight on the media. In the dark during our own war, and in the days since the war ended, I have often found solace, inspiration and courage in his words.

* * * * * *

Walter Cronkite On The Media­ And The MediaChannel.


Good evening, I’m Walter Cronkite. I really wanted to be with you in person tonight for Globalvision New Media’s launch of the new Internet site the Media Channel, but unfortunately I was called out of the country. Yet the issues that led to the creation of this unique global resource, and the crisis that’s facing all of us who work in and care about journalism and the media, are so profound that I simply felt compelled to tape this message so that you would know that I am with you in spirit at least.

As you know, I’ve been increasingly and publicly critical of the direction that journalism has taken of late, and of the impact on democratic discourse and principles. Like you, I’m deeply concerned about the merger mania that has swept our industry, diluting standards, dumbing down the news, and making the bottom line sometimes seem like the only line. It isn’t and it shouldn’t be.

We report, you decide...

We report, you decide...

At the same time, I’m impressed that so many other serious and concerned people around the world are also becoming interested in holding media companies accountable and upholding the highest standards of journalism.

The Media Channel will undoubtedly be worth watching and taking part in. I am intrigued by its potential, and its global reach. The idea that so many leading groups and individuals around the whole world have come together to share resources and information about a wide range of media concerns is very promising, and I urge you to make the Media Channel your media ‘bookmark’ and your portal to the Internet.

I’m particularly excited about one aspect of the Media’s Channel’s work: its encouragement to people inside the media to speak up ­to speak out about their own experiences. Corporate censorship is just as dangerous as government censorship, you know, and self-censorship can be the most insidious form of pulling punches. Pressures to go along, to get along, or to place the needs of advertisers or companies above the public’s need for reliable information distort a free press and threaten democracy itself.

I’m pleased that the Media Channel opens an immediately available resource for media whistle-blowers. Anonymity will be protected, of course­ if their stories check out, of course. And, of course, are backed up with the facts.

We have all been supportive for years of dissidents around the world who take great risks to stand up for what they believe in. But here at home, in our own industry, we need to make it possible for people to speak out when they feel they’ve been wronged, even if it means shaming newsrooms to do the right thing. Journalists shouldn’t have to check their consciences at the door when they go to work for a media company. It ought to be just the reverse.

As I’ve said on other occasions, the strength of the American system is possible and can be nurtured only if there is lively and provocative dissent. In a healthy environment dissent is encouraged and considered essential to feed a cross-fertilization of ideas and thwart the incestuous growth of stultifying uniformity.

We need to encourage and support those among us who face either overt or covert threats­ or even a more subtle absence of encouragement to search out the truth. We all know that economic pressures and insecurities within news organizations have reduced the scope and range of investigative reporting. Sometimes projects are spiked with just a simple phrase: “It’s not for us.”

We’re always ready to speak out when journalists are at risk. But today we must speak out because journalism itself is at risk. That’s why I’m speaking out and reaching out to you tonight, to tell you that I like the idea of the Media Channel and want to encourage your participation.

And that’s the way it is.

Walter Cronkite interviews President Kennedy - Photo courtesy Associated Press

Walter Cronkite interviews President Kennedy - Photo courtesy Associated Press

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