Sucker punched

21 01 2014

Well played, dickheads.

The new offence & mandatory minimum sentence for so-called ‘one-punch’ assaults occasioning death, announced today by the O’Farrell Government is poor public policy on several counts. I don’t have time to pretty this up, I want to put a few thoughts out there & some links. You can chew my argument up & spit it out, but bring your A game. I worked for a government which made similarly populist decisions & they sucked arse. This one bites because it’s not only bad policy, it’s bad politics.

1/. What has the NSW Government done?

See the fact sheet released by the government here. In addition to the new ‘one punch’ offence, the government will:

  • increase maximum sentences by two years and introduced mandatory minimum sentences for serious assaults committed under the influence of drugs and alcohol;
  • create a new ‘CBD precinct’ stretching from Kings Cross to Cockle Bay, The Rocks to Haymarket and Darlinghurst which will be subject to 1.30am lockouts and no alcohol sales after 3am;
  • not approve new liquor licenses for pubs and clubs within the precinct;
  • run free buses from Kings Cross to the city every 10 minutes;
  • give police the power to ban ‘troublemakers’ from the precinct for up to 48 hours and the Police Commissioner the power to ban persons from the precinct for extended periods of time;
  • introduce a periodic ‘risk-based’ licensing system, based on the Victorian model (higher fees based on poor compliance);
  • change closing times for liquor stores to 10pm Statewide;
  • increase on-the-spot fines for anti-social behaviour;
  • toughen penalties for the possession of steroids;
  • suspend online Responsible Service of Alcohol (RSA) certification until changes are made to protect their integrity;
  • continue covert police surveillance to prevent sales of alcohol to minors; and
  • run a social media and advertising campaign.

2/. Why has the O’Farrell government acted?

The new ‘one punch’ offence is a reaction to a handful of high-profile cases and a sustained campaign by both the Sydney Morning Herald and the Daily Telegraph. The moral hazards or unintended consequences this moralising presents will come back and bite us all on the bum. You’ve got 150,000 signatures on a petition? I reckon I could do a whip count and match it with people who think this is at best unhelpful, creates different classes of victims of crime and could make a situation inflated by the media worse. When the State Government body which collects crime statistics tells you last week that the facts do not bear out the media campaign, you know you’re on a loser. Here is the latest NSW quarterly crime report. Violent crime is falling or stable in the City of Sydney. Crimes, as reported to police and passed to the Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research, but no, let’s go and set our hair on fire over a catch phrase.

One Australian woman a week is killed by a current or former partner. ONE A WEEK, but you’re most likely to read about it if the Governor-General speaks about it, or the victim is a beautiful young woman. I live for the day either of these rags passionately advocates for a ‘safer Sydney’ for women and children murdered by their partners. White Ribbon Day is a fantastic initiative, but it’s not in the same league as the ‘one punch’ mission the newspapers went on. Why choose to crusade over the tragic deaths of a few young men when BOCSAR research indicates domestic violence is grossly under reported. If Dr Don Weatherburn & his team is right, you could look at doubling the recorded number of assaults in a domestic setting. There were 27,000 in the 12 months to September 2013.

  • The recorded number of assaults in the domestic setting in the City of Sydney LGA in the year ending September 2013? 905
  • The recorded number of assaults in the domestic setting in the City of Sydney LGA in the year ending September 2012? 874

(I.E. UP)

  • The recorded number of non-domestic related assaults in the City of Sydney LGA in the year ending September 2013? 3583
  • The recorded number of non-domestic related assaults in the City of Sydney LGA in the year ending September 2012? 3737

(I.E. DOWN)

This data is published quarterly by BOCSAR. It is freely available & I strongly encourage you to refer to it whenever you read about what constitutes or provides for ‘a scared community with the succour and support it needs’. Also, listen to the Governor-General’s second Boyer Lecture in full. If her words on the Convention on the Elimination of Violence Against Women (CEDAW) and its Australian context doesn’t blow your socks off, I don’t know what will. How dearly I will miss Her Excellency. I’m not big on titles, but Quentin Bryce deserves that one.

3/. Why am I angry?

  • I am terribly sorry for the loss of these young men’s lives. The grief of their families and friends … I’ve never known it. I don’t question the push for sentencing reviews. A life lost in circumstances such as Thomas Kelly’s is worth more than the four-year sentence handed down to the man who punched him. I just don’t believe that a new offence needs to be created, or that one life ended at the hands of a violent drunk is worth more or less than another’s. A person who is stabbed to death is not any more of less dead than a ‘one punch’ victim. The person who stabbed them might be up for murder, found guilty, be sentenced to life and get a non-parole period of 10 years. Excellent. Reverse the situation. The 25 year old man charged with murder following the death of Daniel Christie on 11 January 2014 faces life imprisonment if the Crown proves his intent was to kill Mr Christie, or that he acted with reckless indifference to human life. If the charge of murder is proven, it serves as a precedent for charges to be laid in future cases. That’s a life sentence, which carries a standard non-parole period of 25 years. The maximum sentence under the new offence (if the offender is intoxicated by drugs or alcohol) is 25 years. The call to ‘get tough on thugs’ could result in a plea bargain for the lesser offence, and wind up before a judiciary chafing at the bit to tell the executive branch of government exactly what they think of mandatory minimums by handing out custodial sentences of 10-12 years. Well played.
  • Voluntary intoxication will be removed as a mitigating factor in hearing such cases, but the ‘vulnerability’ of the victim (such as age) is still taken into account as an aggravating factor. What happens if an 18-year-old man (they’re not ‘boys’, so let’s stop with that right now) physically attempts to restrain you to further unwanted sexual advances? Say the man is pissed out of his brain and falls like a sack of spuds if, in desperation, you hit them with an open backhander? Is it a WFA title bout? What constitutes ‘one punch’? What happens if two people each throw one punch, and only one connects, or as Ed Butler writes today, a person reacts to seeing a male or female friend being threatened or assaulted, lands one punch on the instigator, who then falls and dies? How do you treat the death of someone after a ‘brawl’, such as Daniel Cassai? Does anyone deserve a mandatory minimum of eight years’ jail because they’ve clocked someone on the back of the head in an effort to stop a rape? Removing judicial discretion – the idea that judges and magistrates have the wisdom, experience and knowledge of the law to give proper consideration to all evidence presented in court – is just a nonsense; as is the implication that a jury of our peers can’t understand or execute their role, one of the most important in our society. It’s a bloody insult to our collective intelligence. In the United States,the introduction of mandatory minimums for dealing in crack cocaine – but not powder cocaine resulted in one thing: disproportionate incarceration rates among young men from minority and lower socio-economic backgrounds. It’s the same drug, just presented in a different form. This is what I mean when I talk about creating classes of victims. Are the Christie and Cassai cases so different? All people who die during, or following a violent assault should be treated with the same dignity.
  • Mandatory minimum sentencing laws do not work, here or abroad. As Declan Roche wrote in a 1999 Australian Institute of Criminology report;
  1. they are not a general deterrent to crime – deterrence implies that people are rational actors when considering committing a crime when much crime (especially crimes such as ‘one punch’ assaults’) is impulsive and involves limited deliberation;
  2. they are not cost-effective – in fact, they are the opposite of a cost-effective solution to fighting crime. Consider the increased costs in the court system as more defendants contest charges to try to avoid the mandatory penalty that follows conviction, where they otherwise may have entered a plea of guilty; cost of housing large numbers of offenders imprisoned under mandatory sentencing laws. In Australia it is estimated that it costs up to $60,000 to keep a prisoner imprisoned for a year and approximately $200,000 to build a new cell;
  3. they do not promote consistency in sentencing – statutory definition of offences is inherently imprecise. Very unequal offenders can receive the same sentence when convicted under mandatory sentencing. Secondly, mandatory sentences may encourage judges to circumvent the mandatory penalties imposed by legislation. Judges and juries may “nullify” laws or penalties that seem to them unjust. Thirdly, rather than eliminating discretion it simply displaces it to other parts of the criminal justice system, most notably, prosecutors. Discretion is unavoidable in the criminal justice system. When that discretion is left in the hands of judges they are in a position to attempt to achieve consistency by taking into account all the relevant circumstances of the offence. Moreover, judges’ decisions are publicly accountable through their visibility, which provides some safeguards against inconsistency. By contrast, displacing that power & putting it in the hands of prosecutors means that discretion is being exercised in a less considered, and certainly less accountable way.
  • The new ‘CBD precinct’ just pushes the ‘problem’ elsewhere. What about Bondi, Coogee, Manly – all ‘notorious’ trouble spots for ‘alcohol-fuelled’ violence. I live two blocks outside the Darlinghurst suburb boundary, near other pubs in Surry Hills. Are those pubs going to adhere to the 1.30am lockouts because they want to be good neighbours? YA THINK? I look forward to the locked out masses trying to get into pubs 500 metres down the road. Fun times.
  • NEW ANGER: You know loses out here? The large pubs & clubs on Oxford Street, safe places for LGBTQI people, all with 5am licences. Odds on an upsurge in gay bashings because people who choose to switch nightclubs themselves are locked-out after standing in a queue for 30min & are vulnerable to homophobic fucks? THAT. THAT RIGHT THERE IS AN UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCE.
  • Here comes another ring stinger:  small bars (yay, civility and $20 cocktails in Mason jars); restaurants and ‘tourist accommodation establishments’ are exempt from the CBD precinct rules on lockouts and new liquor licence applications. Excellent. Sounds reasonable, doesn’t it? Think hard. It lets James Packer’s Barangaroo casino development go ahead. No worries.
  • The ‘bans’ on ‘troublemakers’? WHAT THE ACTUAL EFF? ‘Hey, pissed up suit! Don’t bother rolling up to the office after you’ve been arrested?’ How is this even going to work?
  • 10pm closing times for bottle-os? Get fucked. Just fuck right off. How many off-licences are open after 10pm? I know of two. The others are hotels which sell takeaways during opening hours. ‘Pre-loading’ doesn’t begin at 9pm. If you’ve ever caught a train from Newcastle to, or from Sydney on a Saturday afternoon, you’ll see it in full flight.
  • WARNING: OFFENSIVE LANGUAGE – call a cunt a cunt and there’s a good chance some cunt will hand you a cunning $500 fine because that cunt can;
  • The ‘roid angle is interesting for singling out the stereotypical ‘one punch’ deliverer – a pumped up mid-20s bloke trained in mixed martial arts. What about the ‘one punch’ puncher who really is a coward & doesn’t have the self-discipline the vast majority of people who are trained in any martial art or boxing possess?
  • OH FINALLY SOMEONE HAS REALISED THAT ONLINE RSA TESTS ARE RORTED AND EVEN WHEN PEOPLE HAVE RSA CERTIFICATES THEY KEEP SERVING ALCOHOL BECAUSE MONEY.
  • Covert surveillance – I think this means young cops hanging out at Liquorland but I’m not entirely sure.
  • Bring forth the ad blitz. If it’s one thing Australia does well, it’s PSAs (no sarcasm; we really are very good at creating and heeding them. I just wish they’d run ‘DON’T HIT OR RAPE PEOPLE EVER’ on loop.

I know police are sick of seeing punch ons, but pro-tip from an inner-Sydney resident: I have seen police sending eight to 10 officers into nightclubs with sniffer dogs, or squad cars and paddy wagons parked outside one or two pubs, 20-30 police milling about, then walked 250 metres to my street and found a group of young blokes kicking a homeless person, or a man pushing a woman around. I’ve stepped in, because I always think, ‘what if that was me’? I’ve seen a bouncer drag a young kid from a club around into a lane way & beat the shit out of him & was too scared to intervene. I shouted at him & went into the club to tell the manager; the bouncer came in & dragged me off the premises. The manager told me to fuck off. I called the police, when they arrived they said there was no point taking the matter further because I’d had wine over dinner & the kid was a meth-addicted rent boy. I’ve seen a young woman thrown into a cab by two bouncers. When people who saw what happened tried to give the young cops a different story, they became belligerent. I’ve seen a bouncer hit a bloke, then lie about it to the cops, backed up by eight other bouncers. There is a plethora of existing law under the Crimes Act 1900 for NSW Police to enforce. There are City of Sydney bans on public drinking – in 12 years living here, I’m yet to see the bans in action. The laws & by-laws exist. They just aren’t enforced.

Finally (!) … as well as making no sense from a public policy perspective, it’s just really poor politics. I would be tempted to vote Liberal if Barry O’Farrell had stood up to the papers and their combined circulation of the population of Elizabeth Bay and led. Instead, the Premier did as he has done from 25 March 2011. He squibbed it. Small target politics is O’Farrell’s comfort zone. With the ALP unlikely to make a comeback for the next two, even three elections and a thumping majority, O’Farrell made the mistake of treating the NSW parliamentary press gallery with contempt. Ministers rarely hold press conferences or throw the lazy sods an ‘announceable’, so the media set itself as the Opposition. In a salutary lesson for the Abbott government, it shows that playing Sergeant Schultz, issuing statements instead of facing the cameras and not having the common courtesy to return calls before deadlines is a dangerous play. Sure, you can avoid the relentless questions on topics from Britney Spears to bikie shootings, but the habit of saying nothing can easily be turned into the perception of doing nothing, until you cut your losses and announce poor policy written on the back of a beer coaster, sponsored by the all-mighty liquor industry lobby. Instead of looking at the multiple causes and victims of violent assaults, Barry O’Farrell handed the papers their win. Really, the gloating is unseemly. Rather than ask the people of NSW to take a long, hard look at the way our casual acceptance of cultural norms not only around alcohol, but ego, as detailed here by Brandon Jack, followed up with this and this by Dane Rampe (which I might not agree with entirely, but I’ll take the lived experience of men of the same generation as the ones punching and dying as more relevant), the Premier folded, earned the plaudits of the crusaders and blamed one factor for an upsurge drop in violent assaults outside the domestic setting.

This is a Government creating new law in a category where crime rates are falling and introducing mandatory minimum sentences that will increase the cost of our criminal justice system and are unlikely to be at the forefront of a drunk’s mind when they throw a punch.

We’re the biggest state in Australia and we’re being governed by the Beverly Hillbillies.

Disclosure: after the Sydney Morning Herald’s deputy editor, Ben Cubby, tweeted this today, I thought I would add the following, even though my family’s financial interests and the occupations of people I talk to when I am not writing for five hours are none of your damned business. My parents are part-owners of a pub in Muswellbrook. My sister manages a pub in Newcastle. My parents are not members of the AHA. I have friends who work for the major liquor industry lobby groups. They might want to throttle me for a few of these points. I have not been paid, encouraged or influenced to write this or any other form of written or oral communication on this issue by my parents’ financial interests OR my relationship with anyone else. These are my thoughts on a media crusade I believe is unwarranted and a Government reaction to that campaign which I see as unwise and unworkable. You’re welcome.

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None of the News

14 07 2011

I was a ‘copykid’ at News Limited’s Holt Street, Surry Hills, headquarters in the early 1990s. I have written previously, & very briefly about my experience there, on a rare journalistic duty known as a ‘deathknock’. What I haven’t written – or ranted about – is the sum of that experience; how it opened my eyes to the guts of an industry from the way that I think has fallen by the wayside – interacting with everyone on staff, from the ‘Brothers’ in the printing room, to the drivers; the late night paper runs, where we swapped bundles of the Daily Telegraph-Mirror (as it was then) and The Australian in return for the Sydney Morning Herald and Australian Financial Review – a cute little deal that meant if one had a great splash, the other could write a few pars & get the Day Editor & Chief-of-Staff onto the yarn so they could report how it was progressing at the morning’s news conference. We rotated shifts: mid –dawns; 7am-3pm; 3pm-midnight, seven days a week; we rotated desks – from the radio room, an airless goldfish bowl where you listened to police scanners for breaking stories; to general news (generally shit, the editorial floor’s dogs body, with tasks ranging from getting then-DTM Editor, Col Allan’s cigarettes, to ploughing through the newspapers’ photo library and paper files for back stories and pix. Oh, and buying Ray Chesterton’s chips). I was lucky; my starting roster was on the Weekend Australian Magazine. They were a good crew, and the pace was, well, I started at nine and finished at five, bought coffees, did the file gathering and sometimes some proof-reading. It was great. It was also sheltered from the maelstrom of the editorial floors.

When you work shifts, your body and mind inevitably rebel. As soon as the rosters went up – unless we were on a regular assignment such as the magazine – 20 plus copykids, almost all with degrees and aching with ability – zoomed to the ‘head of the copykids’ office to check it out. Invariably, there would be a week of 7-3s followed by a mid-dawn week in the radio room, starting Sunday night. The worst weeks involved changing shifts daily. 7-3, 3-7, 9-5, 11-7 … a 40 hour week, without scheduled breaks, for $17,000 a year. Raised in a union household, I was shocked to learn that because we weren’t on a recognised award, the Australian Journalists’ Association (now the Media, Arts and Entertainment Alliance) would not accept us as members, or fight for even the most basic of rights. It turned me off unionism for life (despite working for Labor governments, I have never joined a union). Again, if you were working on a good desk, like the DTM features desk (my all-time favourite; bursting with talent and sound people to work alongside), it was a case of, ‘hey, do you need me for 15 minutes? I just want to go out and grab something to eat, I’ll be straight back’, and eating without interruption. If you were on a shithouse roster, like the newsdesk, there would be two copykids so you could at least take a piss, and cover for each other while you saw what delights the canteen held for you. Invariably, it was hot chips. Invariably, you inhaled them or ate them cold, with the shout, ‘COPY!’ snapping you to attention and ensuring you were beside the person who called before the shout came again.

After two cadet exams and two failures to escape the ‘copy’ grind for a prized cadetship, I bid Holt Street farewell. My desire to change the world with electronic typewriter (yes, I am that old) and SLR steadily eroded by seeing the way shit worked: the nepotism; the sensationalism; seeing good journos doing good things, knowing they were capable of much more (many of them have gone on to prove me right). It was also an exciting time – the merger of Sydney’s two tabloids into one; being part of the end of an era – the last of the copy runners, the last of the trucks leaving Holt Street as the presses moved to Chullora and the sub-editors got to grips with doing their normal jobs as fact checkers, word-slashers & general layout to becoming the new ‘band of brothers’.

OK, so this is a rambling way of getting to the biggest media story of the year: the implosion of News International. I’ve eaten this up, just because I left News Ltd almost 20 years ago doesn’t mean I don’t care about the company. Care is the wrong word. There were (and are) plenty of good people at News. I have never worked at Fairfax but I have had a decade’s worth of liaising with both Fairfax and News and they are both employers of writers capable of fine journalism and scum producing real bottom of the barrel tat and opinion dressed as news.

The only thing I can add to the debate about whether the British disease may have spread to Australia (much of it quite spiteful, ill-founded and agenda-focused from a variety of players – not all of them News Ltd employees) is another of the tasks performed by the 3-11pm or 4pm to midnight copykids: faxing the first couple of pages to each of Mr Murdoch’s offices, so that wherever he was, he knew exactly what was in every one of his papers. In those days, there was only one Mr Murdoch. AsI fed the fax machine a page at a time to Mr Murdoch on a regular basis, I often wondered how he had the time and energy to read every title owned by News Corporation and its subsidiaries – I think there are about 170 (from the suburbs of Sydney to the Wall Street Journal; excluding minority shareholdings in Fijian, PNG, and Russian titles). I wondered, but always went back to the adage that Mr Murdoch had ink in his veins. He loved newspapers the same way Kerry Packer loved Channel 9. He famously parlayed the legacy of his father, Sir Keith, (main asset? The now-defunct Adelaide News) into the world’s second-largest media and entertainment conglomerate. It takes balls of steel. As we have seen in the case of News International, it means that the ink in his veins appears to have dried.

Yet, I have this gnawing suspicion that he still gets the first five pages of his titles sent to an iPad somewhere in the world; dictators may look upon their chosen successors benignly, but they remain dictators to the very end. The Mr Murdoch that I worked for, all those years ago, knew what was going on in Holt Street. Why would Fleet Street (or Wapping) be any different? I am not buying the Sergeant Schultz defence that Andy Coulson and Rebekah Brooks are selling. I don’t care how much Mr Murdoch may care for Rebekah Brooks (some say she is viewed as another Murdoch child), the man we all knew as ruthless when it came to business (and he viewed editorial as business), would never have suffered an editor who said, ‘sorry about that guy busted for phone hacking, I didn’t know it was happening’. Their heels wouldn’t have touched the floor on the way out. James Murdoch’s tortuously crafted statements about standards don’t cut the ice with me, either; if he didn’t know what was happening on his watch, then he’s either incompetent, a fool or both. I don’t believe he is. His father’s refusal to address the issue publicly to any greater extent than a terse sentence (even on his own Fox News Network, with a business reporter who called him Mr Chairman, which made me snort water out of my nose as I imagined Mr Murdoch waving his mighty ‘red tops’, a version of Mao with Little Red Book in hand) is the ultimate con. He is a man with a compulsive desire to know things. He was bidding for the greatest prize, 100 per cent ownership of BSkyB, which would stamp his name in history as the greatest of the great media tycoons (they have always existed: people who believe The Australian is a poisonous vessel of the right under the Twitter #auspol hashtag probably don’t remember the UK Mirror Group pensions scandal under Robert Maxwell, poor Czech immigrant turned MP and media proprietor, let alone have any notion of the influence wielded by Max Aitken (the 1st Baron Beaverbrook – indeed, ‘the first Baron of Fleet Street’) who published every morsel of King Edward VIII’s affair with Mrs Wallis Simpson, while personally imploring him to give up her up. His friend, Churchill made him a Minister during World War II; he met with Roosevelt and Stalin; Evelyn Waugh thinly-disguised the media tycoon in his triumph, Scoop, Lord Cooper, on Beaverbrook. Murdoch is not the first, he won’t be the last. However, Mr Murdoch is looking a little fragile. As King of kings, more Ozymandias than Ramses the Great.

Why have I written this? For almost 20 years, I have felt very guilty about something I did to further my career at News Limited. While working on the DTM features desk on Good Friday (can you imagine, the slowest of slow news days), I went out to grab some coffees for the skeleton crew. I happened to spot the notoriously private film director, Jane Campion. Ms Campion was hot property, having just returned from Cannes, with the Palme d’Or for The Piano. I loved the film. I came back, and with a studied insouciance, dropped the tidbit as I put down the coffees. The CoS loved it, a photographer was dispatched and boy was I feeling good about providing a lead that would fill a story-sized hole in the paper. The snapper came back, unhappy. Ms Campion’s partner had lost his temper, their quiet party of four was ruined and the photos were awful. The reason? Jane Campion’s first baby, 12-days-old, had recently died. The story was published, and must have been incredibly hurtful to her & her partner, and it was my fault. There was no public interest in pursuing a woman who had not pursued personal fame; let alone snapping her having what may have appeared as a nice little chat about her French triumph, but was possibly a first outing with friends as they struggled with their grief. To my shame and regret (knowingly, or unknowingly, it doesn’t matter), I caused someone else pain to advance my stocks at News Limited because as a ‘celebrity’ she was fair game. I believe it was that single event which made me reassess what I wanted to do with my life. Telling tittle-tattle wasn’t it.

For the record, I despise what News International has done. I also loathe that while it was ‘just’ affecting celebrities and politicians, the status quo prevailed; there was no groundswell of anger when the News of the World was literally, The News of the Screws – only when it became about real people. My experience with Jane Campion made me relate to the pain inflicted on former British Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, and his wife, Sarah, by Rebekah Brooks, who personally saw that News International’s Sun newspaper broke the news that their baby son had cystic fibrosis. I cried when I read it in The Guardian. I’ve worked for some monumentally self-serving people in politics and in business. I’ve seen first-hand some who I consider to be morally bankrupt; people who bully others in a manner bordering on sociopathic. I’ve known people who have been dragged before, or deserved to front, the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption. I’ve also had stand-up brawls with journalists who will stoop to innuendo and float base lies to fool people. I have seen people hurt, careers ended, by stories that served no public interest. I have had lazy hacks call for stories they can present at news conference, written a press release ‘exclusively’ for them and seen my words printed verbatim, with their name attached to it. In the same edition of the paper, they will roll out a bullshit yarn about the millions of dollars spent by governments on ‘spin’, which always included the salaries of secretaries, receptionists and policy advisers. I have personally had the staff of ‘shock jocks’ call me – a Ministerial press secretary – to resolve the problems of their callers – basically ‘queue jumpers’ – and then take the credit for it on air. The lives of ‘spin doctors’ and journalists are symbiotic; we, accused of being all-powerful, deceitful obfuscants of the truth; they, facile hacks who struggle to write a decent lead and selectively use one quote or statistic to suit their agenda, even when third parties object in Letters to the Editor. I have heard off-the-record phone calls between a Minister and an Editor which haven’t even finished before their press gallery reporter is on the phone, demanding a statement from me about what my boss genuinely believed was a personal conversation. I have had the threat, ‘we’re running this anyway’. I’ve also developed relationships with journalists to the point that they will tell me what pages their stories are running on, so a Minister can piggy-back off tomorrow’s unpublished headline, pre-record radio news grabs and know that TV crews will turn up for the vision we lovingly put together for them to fill their bulletins; or alternately, craft an ‘appropriate’ response to a shit sandwich. Anyone who thinks for one moment that one or the other has the complete upper hand on a positive or negative story is deluding themselves. Their news, your news … a lot of it is not news.