Stiletto by Max Kolbe – September, 2008

Making It & Breaking, Media on the Move

Splitting-up, breaking up, it may not be that hard to do after all. Across East Asia and the Pacific the media game is changing.

The takeover of Reuters by Thomson is obviously having an enormous impact and was particularly felt down under where Australian Associated Press (AAP) with Clive Marshall at the helm has ended its long-standing and exclusive arrangements with Reuters after the British-based agency upped its prices.

It was an historical decision, given that AAP led the syndicate made up of Commonwealth wire services that bailed Reuters out of bankruptcy at the end of World War II.

New Zealand Press Association, South African Press Association and Canadian Press were also in on the initial deal that paved the way for Reuter’s enormous success, stock market float and the eventual busting of the bubble as newcomers like Bloomberg made their presence felt.

Reuters — it would appear — was also hoping to sell exclusively to the major newspaper groups in Australia as opposed to dealing solely through AAP.

A terse statement was released. It said: “From today AAP wire copy provided to newspaper groups Fairfax Media and News Limited will not include any Reuters stories. After Reuters increased its price, AAP dropped the contract and the newspapers have chosen not to buy the service directly.”

As one insider put it: “Clive Marshall is, I’m told, furious.”

Old allegiances rarely count these days although one exception remains The Phnom Penh Post, widely regarded ‘as the best little newspaper on the planet’ has dropped its once every two week format and gone daily.

This was made possible after founder and publisher Michael Hayes sold the paper to a group of Australian businessmen headed by Ross Dunkley.

Hayes will remain editor-in-chief while Seth Meixner has left his position as Cambodian bureau chief for Agence France-Presse (AFP), taken up the reins as managing editor and immediately gone on a hiring binge, much to the displeasure of the folks who run the Cambodia Daily.

Dunkley, who has faced critics for operating newspapers in Burma and Vietnam, is well aware of the PPPost’s reputation and has a battle plan, along with some deep pockets.

Speculation includes a possible Khmer edition, and development of radio and televisions interests but for the critics Dunkley has one piece of advice, “you can’t kick goals by screaming from the sidelines.”

At least he says, his interests past and present in Burma, Vietnam and now Cambodia had put the Australian on the football field where goals can be kicked.

“I don’t like all the rules, I abide by them,” he recently said about operating under a junta in Burma.

At least he’s there. No points for the Australian film crew who so badly wanted a journalist visa stamp for Burma on their passports they actually applied for one — as hacks were tripping over each other while trying to get in after that cyclone ripped through the heart of the country.

The lame Aussies were actually miffed when told they would have been granted a visa if they listed anything other than journalist on their application forms. They never made it in.

The decision to take PPPost daily was also timed to coincide with national elections. As a once in five year event, Cambodian polls have a habit of attracting die hards and are as popular as fifth-year Vietnam War reunions among the more seasoned hands.

Former DPA hand Pat Falby returned from New York and the Canadian has taken up Meixner’s old job at AFP. Brian Calvert and Chris Decherd were back from the US with Voice of America and freelancer Liam Cochrane rolled in from his dig in Nepal, as did the documentary makers Bradley Cox from Loud Mouth Films, James Gerrand and Paul Roy of Iguana Films who enjoyed a nosh-up of fresh catfish at Peter Starr’s village estate on the banks of the Mekong River.

Roy’s daughter Ellie hungout with dad and wrote for newspapers in New Zealand while the roll call, or party line-up, also include Jim Pringle, Seth Mydans, Patrick Barta of the Wall Street Journal and Luke Hunt who has gone freelancing after 19 years on wires, and was last spotted at a beach on Borneo.

Across the Pacific and American journalists Guy Taylor of World Politics Review and Dan Boylan an occasional contributor to the South China Morning Post over the years, have turned their talents to film making and recently debuted at Cannes where two shorts were, as one critic put it “warmly received”.

One character includes Nib Nedal, a terrorist struggling to make a name for himself, apparently raised a belly full of laughs. It helps if you spell his name backwards. There’s also talk of a screening in Hong Kong, if an appropriate venue can be arranged.

In China, International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge seems to think Beijing has enabled greater press freedoms for foreign media due to the Olympic Games.

“The regulations might not be perfect but they are a sea-change compared to the situation before. We hope that they will continue,” he told reporters on the final day of the Games.

Chinese rules for foreign journalists are suppose  to allow them freedom to conduct interviews with Chinese people as opposed to first seeking government permission while also being able to move freely outside of the capital.

One senior correspondent was heard to say “woopy doo!”

A final stop in Indonesia where all eyes are planted on the new publication Jakarta Globe which is initially being put together by a team headed by David Plott, but his Deputy Chief Editor Joe Cochrane deserves an accolade or two after announcing his pending marriage to Ana.

The nuptials are planned for October 18 and one suspects a few beers will be thrown down ahead of the big day with an attending line-up to rival a Cambodian election.

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Luke Hunt is a foreign correspondent, author and occasional photographer who has covered much of Asia fr the last 30 years.

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