Thursday, October 25, 2007

The Worm That Turned

Politics. A can of worms. If someone tells The Guru they positively worship Philip Ruddock and Kevin Andrews, should he set them a koan (a Zen riddle designed to expand the mind), or simply convince them they have powers of levitation and direct them to the nearest cliff?

Party politics is an emotive issue; partisan attitudes are rife, and free thinkers are in short supply. George Washington warned of the dangers of partisan allegiance over 200 years ago, in his Farewell Address:

Let me...warn you in the most solemn manner against the baneful effects of the spirit of party, generally.

If Washington were alive today he’d be turning in his grave!

Anyway, Australia is in the midst of a Federal Election campaign, and the 21st saw the only leadership head-to-head Howard would agree to. And who would have thought the evening would see such high drama thanks to Howard The Worm? I mean Howard and The Worm.

Howard insisted no ‘worm’ tracking real-time audience preference be used. Network 9 did use one, later claiming that their agreement, being with the Press Club and not the Liberal Party, allowed it. However, the warning to them at the time from the control room was unambiguous: “Ah, Channel 9, you are in breach of the licensing agreement; if you continue to use the worm we will pull the feed.” 9 ignored the warning and their feed was cut, leaving viewers with a test pattern and sine wave tone on their TVs! 9 acquired an alternative feed from Pay TV co, Sky, and continued broadcasting — still using The Worm. The control room edited the master feed (used by the ABC, 9 and Sky) so that any time the Channel 9 journalist on the questioners’ panel spoke his face wasn’t shown. The whole debacle sparked more media interest that the debate itself.

Worm approves of Kevin Rudd
The worm is ‘switched on’ (unlike the pundits!)
and moves up to show Rudd well ahead of Howard

And when pundits were discussing the debate, The Worm remained centre stage. They were bemused by how The Worm would swing sharply towards Rudd immediately he began to speak, and questioned the neutrality of the audience. Commentators on both 2 and 9 took this line, missing the blindingly obvious:

The Worm wasn’t on-screen continuously. Now the people responsible for the Worm graphics had evidently decided that it would look slick for the worm trail to start on the centre line each time it was ‘switched on’, taking half a second or so to move to the correct part of the graph. The audience was giving feedback all the time. So if the debate was currently going in Rudd’s favour (which it was almost the entire time), obviously when they started up the Worm it was going to move up off the centre line to show that.

It’s a scary thought that some of the Country’s best political commentators should be capable of such woolly thinking...

Update: (16/11/07) New screen-grab posted, showing the worm being ‘switched on’ at the start of Rudd’s closing statement. (Source: Four Corners, ABC TV)  Text on the circumstances of the feed being pulled has been edited to reflect new revelations that 9 knew very well they were in breach of their terms.

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