From “jingeri” to “jingoism”, how the Australian media turned the Commonwealth Games into their personal backyard party.
PHILIP BARKER, still soaking up the rays in the Gold Coast, reflects on his experiences down under.
To report the Commonwealth Games in the Gold Coast proved an instructive insight into the ways of Australian media.
The first five pages of the local Gold Coast Bulletin were devoted to the closing ceremony and lampooned organising committee chairman Peter Beattie. He had trumpeted “athlete-centred Games” throughout, yet the grand entry of the athletes was not televised and there were no fewer than 10 long speeches, mostly from politicians. including Gold Coast and Birmingham mayors. It was little wonder the athletes had tuned out.
To be fair, Australian Channel Seven who televised the ceremony here were highly critical. Presenter Jo Griggs, a former swimmer, accused organisers of “wrecking a tradition”. The athletes have entered without distinction of nationality since the 1956 Melbourne Olympics as a symbolic gesture of the unity of mankind. Channel Seven did show their own footage of athletes shuffling in before the world television feed began.
“Jingeri”, the Yugambeh word for “hello friends” was heard a lot here but most of Channel Seven’s coverage took jingoism to a whole new level. “We’ve won another gold” they screeched and to judge by their coverage, only a team called ‘Straya was taking part.
It is hard to imagine the great Richie Benaud or, for that matter, Alan McGilvray using the word ”we”. Both maintained a dignified impartiality even when describing Australian victories.
What would either have made of sandpapergate, which dominated the media agenda in the days before the Games? The crocodile tears from Messrs Warner and Smith were replayed over and over again and a national inquest was held in the press.
Channel Seven also showed live wall-to-wall coverage of the Queen’s baton relay in Queensland. All day every day, runner after runner. All were worthy bearers. There were big names including swimming legend Dawn Fraser and soon to be 2018 marathon champion Michael Shelley. A daily wrap of these, and unusual set pieces, such as the flotilla of surf rescue boats at Surfers Paradise would have been fine. Even for the greatest fan of the Queen’s Baton relay, this was excessive.
What will they do after the Games, live coverage of kangaroos crossing the road?
Rival broadcasters Channel Nine had their accreditation temporarily suspended after revealing confidential details of the opening ceremony on social media. Not a good fortnight for them. They later lost broadcast rights for Test Cricket to Channel Seven.
Other non rights-holding media were unhappy about restrictions and stayed away altogether, though there were still plenty of Australian journalists and big contingents from Malaysia , India and other Asian countries.
It must be said that all were looked after superbly by a team with many familiar faces from London. Led by Mandy Keegan, it included SJA Committee member Mary Fitzhenry, in charge of the aquatic centre.
In Glasgow she’d had to look after The Queen. Here there were other challenges but getting to the venues was not one of them. Sure there were delays on big nights but it was generally accomplished with efficiency, comfort and a liberal dose of Aussie humour.
The nature of a multi-sport Games covered by small teams means that the Info news system is invaluable. The trouble was, information technology suppliers Atos seemed blithely unaware that the essence of the system is quick and easy access. That was a pity because once in, previews, reviews, biographies, flash quotes and the rest were a godsend, except that a printout included a mass of computer gobbledegook and wasted sheets.
At each media conference, the Commonwealth Games Federation and organisers thanked the host Yugambeh people. They also offered the journalists a document as “a committed partner for balanced gender portrayal”.
It said: “The CGF respects that the media retains full editorial independence” but noted research which had shown imbalance in coverage of men’s and women’s sport and asked that “frequency, prominence and placement of coverage is proportionate to athletic performance.
“Women are given the opportunity to speak for themselves rather than as a collective. Narratives and language on male and female athletes are focused on sport and athletic achievement rather than appearance and marital status.”
Tom Daley won diving gold and used his platform to highlight the plight of LBGT people.
“There are 37 countries in the Commonwealth where it is illegal to be who I am,” said Daley as he made a plea for persecution to cease.
Not the normal stuff of sporting media conferences but his words received extensive coverage.
The sport took place in stunning settings, against impossibly blue skies, apart from two or three huge downpours. There were magical moments. Where else would you see Norfolk Islands play England and win? In another first for the mixed zone, their bronze medallist Teddy Evans revealed they were all descended from the Mutiny on the Bounty.
There was the truly humbling experience of interviewing para power lifter Esther Oyema. Funny that all technical problems fade into insignificance after that.
Forty years ago at the Games in Edmonton, the great Ian Wooldridge marched as a ringer with the Cayman Islands team and headlined his preview piece “Relax, sport is now among friends.”
That certainly was the case here. I shall be sorry to leave.