December 13th 2003

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY : Does a new ALP leader mean a new direction?

EDITORIAL: More Australian industries to be sacrificed

HONG KONG: Pro-democracy party triumphs in HK election

DRUGS: Parliamentary Committee recommends dumping Harm Minimisation

COMMENT: Internet porn's innocent victims

STRAWS IN THE WIND : Somnambulists at the wheel / West and rest / Knopfelmacher's view

LETTERS: Who's looking after NSW's water?

LETTERS: Cane farmers feel 'alienated'

LETTERS: Prohibition never works - says who?

LETTERS: The morning-after pill in schools

LETTERS: Tariff cuts and unemployment

LETTERS: Good counsel

MEDIA: The blindness of the affluent

TRADE: US-China exchange rate battle to affect Australian exporters

WTO: International trade policy: where to next?

BOOKS: AN AUSTRALIAN IN ASIA: Cities of the Hot Zone, by Greg Sheridan

BOOKS: Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar, by Simon Sebag Montefiore

BOOKS: The Fields of Coleraine, by Frank Gardiner

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The blindness of the affluent

by Tim Wallace

News Weekly, December 13, 2003
A "googlewhack" is what you get when you type two words into the Google search engine and turn up one solitary result - as opposed to the 1.3 million you get from "Kylie" and "Minogue".

Niche internet journals reported Googlewhacking was "spreading like wildfire" as far back as January 2002.

Nearly two years later it has come to the attention of the popular media.

The spin is substantially the same: this is the craze that has just taken the world by storm.

Now, there's no point getting too indignant about the old being passed off in the media as new.

In fact, to spot a fad less than two years after it has surfaced is a comparative media coup. If only there was that incisiveness in the coverage of politics or economics!

This week, in the great media tradition of being off the pace, I've been indulging in some googlewhacking of my own - inspired by the spirit, if not the exact letter, of the game and two items in the media section in The Australian.

There was Mark Day's regular column, in which he explained why he takes with a grain of salt the common conservative complaint that the media is dominated by lefties:

"What I find interesting in the current left-right media arm wrestle is what I see as editorial indifference across the media spectrum to news that might be described as from the left, or of interest to those who follow the ideologies of the left," he wrote.

Day pointed to media indifference to the Anti-Poverty Week that had recently passed.

He quoted a speech by the Opposition spokesman on Family and Community Services, Wayne Swan, who pointed to the widening gap between rich and poor.

Over the past decade, while the wages of the bottom 20 per cent rose $3 a week, the top 20 per cent got an extra $109.

The income of the top 5 per cent is now equal to the bottom 45 per cent. Day noted that the Swan speech wasn't reported.

He suggested that might have been because it castigated editors for having the "blindness of the affluent".

When I typed "Anti-Poverty Week + Australia" into the Google news search bar, I came up with just one result - a googlewhack of sorts.

On the other hand, I got 49 results for "Paris Hilton + Australia".

Paris, 22, and her sister, Nicky, 20, were brought to Australia for the Melbourne Cup by Channel Seven, which in September announced plans to lay off 250 workers but thought picking up the tab for the American party girls to go to the bathroom rather a lot as a reported $75,000 well spent.

Now the Hilton sisters are about the last two girls on earth who need to be bought a drink, let alone a holiday.

The great-granddaughters of hotel baron Conrad Hilton are heirs to a $US300 million fortune, growing up amid luxury - first in a 40-room LA mansion, and then in the penthouse suite of the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York, and being waited on by nannies, personal chefs and chauffeurs.

Neither sister has (or needs) a job in the sense most of us understand.

Their life revolves around attending parties in skimpy outfits they dare to almost wear. And by the sheer fact of being beautiful and rich, they get lots of things laid on for free.

But the sisters do work, in a manner. Paris has done modelling and stars in a new reality TV show, The Simple Life, in which she is sent to a farm in Arkansas to milk cows and eat fried squirrel. "I never realised people work for their money," she reveals.

Nicky, meanwhile, has a job designing handbags.

Perhaps the employment opportunities of the Hilton sisters were on the mind of the Treasurer, Peter Costello, when he announced the drop in Australia's official jobless rate on November 9.

"With a 5.6 per cent unemployment rate you basically saw a statement that nearly everybody in Australia who wants to work can now find an opportunity," he declared. "I think we could be looking at full employment."

That's not what the research from the University of Newcastle's Centre of Full Employment and Equity (CofFEE) shows.

Using measures that go beyond the narrow focus on "official" unemployment , CofFEE paints a picture that director Bill Mitchell describes, with some understatement, as "not pretty".

CofFEE takes into account that a person is officially employed if he/she works at least one hour in the survey week, and that a person who wants to work but has given up looking is classified as "not in the labour force" and is therefore hidden from the unemployment data.

In May 2002, when the behind the official unemployment rate was 6.3 per cent, CofFEE estimated that, if hidden unemployment was counted, the rate of labour wastage was more like 8.6 per cent; and with underemployment factored in, it was up to 12.5 per cent.

Earth calling Peter, come in Peter. You seem to be orbiting the Hilton sisters. Lucky for you, so is much of the media.

  • Tim Wallace -

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