All bets are off as rumour mill sends bookies into a panic

Bookmakers reacted swiftly to the crisis engulfing Cronulla, suspending betting on the club’s round-one clash with Gold Coast as well as other markets.
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While the bookies maintained they did so as a precaution, they were quick to halt betting on Sunday’s game, as well as the markets on most losses and to miss the top eight. TAB Sportsbet spokesman Glenn Munsie stressed the measure was precautionary only after the rumour mill went into overdrive on Wednesday.

“All we’re hearing is there are investigations and they (ASADA) are interviewing people at Cronulla,” Munsie said. “We’re not saying there’s anything wrong there, but we need to protect people who don’t know what’s going on. It’s suspended until we find out some further information.”

Tattsbet’s Gerard Daffy told AAP his agency had suspended betting on the Sharks game and a number of its futures markets at 4.30pm on Wednesday. “There’s a lot of rumour and innuendo, particularly about one side, the Sharks,” he said. “There’s rumours a lot of players are going to be stood down, and not all from the one club.”

Sportingbet Australia spokesman Bill Richmond said his agency had also stopped betting on the Sharks-Titans game. “We stopped all markets associated with the Sharks game,” Richmond said. “We have calls from people already wanting to back the Gold Coast.”

The Sharks, still without a stadium sponsor and the only club without a major backer, had just secured a sleeve sponsor. However, plans for an announcement are likely to now be on hold. The timing couldn’t be any worse for the club or the game. The Sharks were expected to be major contenders for the 2013 title, and heading into the season were $11 to win the grand final

after adding Luke Lewis, Michael Gordon, Chris Heighington, Beau Ryan and Jonathan Wright to an already impressive roster.

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Hangzhou Night Net.

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League shock as Sharks hunted

Rugby league has been thrown into chaos on the eve of the season after speculation Cronulla were to become the first big victim of the Australian Crime Commission’s investigation into drugs in sport. Up to 14 players are believed to have been told they are facing a minimum six-month ban.
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Fairfax Media understands the players have received legal advice suggesting they admit to taking performance-enhancing drugs in the hope of avoiding longer suspensions. It is understood the players refused.

Devastated Sharks officials are resigned to being without a host of star players for the season, some of whom could be suspended before their season-opening match against the Gold Coast on Sunday.

Bookmakers suspended betting on the game amid speculation Cronulla were negotiating with Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority officials to cut a deal which would result in bans of just six months. Eight players from other clubs have also been implicated. The NRL refused to comment.

Sharks insiders believe a former staffer has turned whistleblower on the Shire club, one of six rugby league teams named in the ACC’s report into the integrity of Australian sport, alongside Newcastle, Manly, Penrith, Canberra and the North Queensland Cowboys.

ASADA officials interviewed staff from the club during the week and are expected to continue their inquiries in the coming days. Sharks players, some accompanied by their agents, were summoned to a meeting on Tuesday night to discuss the situation. Coach Shane Flanagan cancelled media engagements and a planned store appearance as the club locked down. Wednesday’s training session was held behind locked doors.

There were reports an emergency Sharks board meeting was called on Wednesday night to decide the club’s fate but club spokesman Rob Willis denied this.

The Cronulla club operates without a chief executive, and its chairman, Damian Irvine, is overseas.

It is understood the focus of ASADA’s investigations revolve around the time sports scientist Stephen Dank spent at the club in 2011. He was at Cronulla only a short while, falling out with team doctor Dave Givney. Sources said some players were concerned they were being investigated for their dealings with Dank after he left the club. Dank has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing.

”Sharks fans and all rugby league supporters can be assured the club has been very proactive in fully co-operating with ASADA and taking other measures that prioritise the integrity of our club and the welfare of our playing group,” the club said in a statement.

”While there are strict boundaries around what we can say while the ASADA investigation is ongoing, fans should be assured that as soon as there is an opportunity to provide further information we will do so.”

An ASADA representative refused to comment on the latest developments and wouldn’t confirm the meetings with the Sharks.

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Hangzhou Night Net.

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Big dreams, but little tribes rule the roost

It’s the last Friday of a soggy pre-season, and again the northern beaches are flooded. Instead of jumping castles and kicking games at Brookie, the Sea Eagles’ launch has been moved to the leagues club. Undaunted, hundreds of supporters press in to have their photos taken and jerseys signed. Here are the Stewart brothers, Jamie Lyon, some unfamiliar young guys, Igor the Eagle, as the players come in from afternoon visits to hospitals and schools.
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There are the trademarks of the ad hoc event: a dodgy microphone, a late-running schedule and, Manly being Manly, some officials giving others a wide berth. But no amount of rain or mayhem can douse the defiant excitement you get in a community club at its season launch. It might be damp, but here and in 15 other clubs, this is the smell of hope.

Though its central administration is corporate, rugby league is a fundamentally local game. In cricket, Michael Clarke and Shane Watson appear for their clubs once. The endless cricket summer has no linear narrative. With league, the heroes of the sport are locally embedded, and the season has a clear ending, which 15 clubs prefer to forget, and a beginning, which is now.

Manly chief executive David Perry sums it up: “When you finish the season in October it feels like a long period for fans and players to wait. Everyone’s a bit restless now.”

The coach, Geoff Toovey, describes his mood as one of “nervous excitement”. “The players are chomping at the bit. They’re well and truly over running around the oval. Bring on Brisbane.”

Halfback Daly Cherry-Evans, who became a father last month, is ready. “To be honest, my partner’s doing most of the work getting up through the night. I’m looking forward to getting out there and doing my bit to support her.”

This is the tingling of early autumn. Manly, twice premiers in the past four seasons, have a dozen new players to inject hunger. In Brad Arthur and Andrew Johns, it has two high-profile new assistant coaches. Every start is a fresh one, for every player and every club. But in the bigger picture, 2013 is truly fresh, with a new broadcast deal and new chief executive, and the first fully prepared season of the Australian Rugby League Commission.

The commission was designed to shift power to the clubs. This is significant, because so many of the clubs face uncertainty that can only be alleviated by unity. “The clubs are the key stakeholders, and we’re hoping the new money and resources will be used wisely,” Perry says.

Toovey says: “We’re hoping to see positive changes. It’s such a great game, we believe it can be even greater. We’re excited at the possibilities of the commission doing it for us.” And yes, there is a new referees’ administration. Rugby league has always been the game that will change itself for the sake of the spectacle, and of the fans.

League is a fans’ game, which creates a tension between the aims of the centre and the needs of the local.

Adam Muyt, a Manly supporter, says the league is “chugging along beautifully as a game to watch. Its simplicity is its advantage. In the last few years the standard has got better and better.” But as a Manly fan, there is the constant spectre of nationalisation and rationalisation. Broadcasters have not paid millions to please northern beaches locals; the aims of the game’s chiefs are distinctly anti-local.

Keeping the big picture and the small linked is the challenge facing not only Manly, Muyt says, but all clubs. “The demographic shifts concern me,” he says. “Manly is not the same place as in the 1960s and ’70s. No place is, but that’s Manly’s biggest problem long term. Add in the push to rationalise the grounds. Brookie feels like it’s still 1978. The problem with rationalising is that Sydney is much more geographically decentralised than Melbourne, with the clubs a long way out and people strongly identified with them.”

Muyt says he would not follow league if Manly were rationalised – as they were, into the ill-fated Northern Eagles, 13 years ago. But the perennial tide keeps moving against Sydney community clubs. “The heart and soul of rugby league has shifted 1500 kilometres north,” Muyt says. “The strength of the game is its Queensland base. It might not sit well with Sydney, but Queensland could support two more teams at least. Papua New Guinea and New Zealand could probably have more teams. Does going national and international mean going back to the push to rationalise the Sydney teams?”

Up in Queensland, Matt O’Hanlon has been involved as a player, coach, even ground announcer, for decades. When Manly travel north this week, he will be with a thousand others at the Beenleigh Annual Prawn Luncheon, the appetiser for a trip to Lang Park. O’Hanlon is a “bigoted rugby league follower – there’s no other game”, though he does not follow any club. “I was a Newtown supporter, then Wests, then the South Queensland Crushers. Clubs are happy for me not to support them,” he says. He is a season ticket-holder at Lang Park, and goes to Gold Coast matches. A high school teacher, O’Hanlon agrees on the game’s northern strength. “Junior numbers are up in south-east Queensland. The kids at school are a barometer, and every Monday they’re talking about league.”

Anti-Sydney feeling has made the game national. O’Hanlon says: “Hardly a Queenslander wouldn’t say Melbourne is their second team.” The Storm, with its Queensland Origin stars and Super League foundations, is the league’s southern shopfront. Yet the local-national tension also complicates the Storm’s position. Paul Dalligan, a South Sydney supporter who moved to Melbourne seven years ago, says: “Melbourne people are never going to get better rugby league than this Storm team produces. That’s what worries me.” The game is still battling in the AFL stronghold, where, Dalligan says, “they wouldn’t know Gorden Tallis from Gordon Ramsay”.

AFL’s crowds dwarf rugby league’s. Dalligan says he is often asked ” ‘If your sport’s so good, why are your crowds so low?’ My response is, first, NRL’s a much better television sport than AFL, which is shown in the NRL’s television rights being worth $50 a minute more. And second, Sydney is not as centralised as Melbourne. People want to watch their team locally, whereas in Melbourne they’re happy to come to the MCG.”

Dalligan, like O’Hanlon and Muyt, belong to a community of league tragics who contributed to the inaugural Rugby League Almanac, a publishing idea imported from the AFL this year, in which fans write reports on every match. Dalligan supports South Sydney, and on Thursday will travel north to see his team play the Roosters. “I’m more confident than I have been, which is dangerous,” he says. But a Rabbitoh fan bears too many scars to be complacent. Dalligan says league wrecked his first marriage. “Souths were leading against the Broncos, and Gorden Tallis scored in the last minute. I was in the foetal position in the shower. My then wife walked in and saw me, and the look on her face said, ‘No . . .’ “

Hoping to prolong Dalligan’s agony will be Roosters diehard Brett Oaten, also an Almanac writer. “Ever since I was a kid I’ve hated Souths, as is required. The Roosters and Souths have never had good years at the same time. That makes this year particularly interesting,” he says.

Being a glamour team sits more easily with the Roosters, but Oaten has had his share of heartbreak. “I think I’ve loved them more than they’ve loved me back . . . I’ve had the same season tickets for 15 years. I like going to the footie even when we lose. I get angry, but keep coming back.” For this week, he says: “I’m nervous. All my mates are nervous. And we’re not even playing.”

That nervousness is all about to come to a head, from all corners of the rugby league nation. Matt Tedeschi, who lives in Orange and supports the Canberra Raiders, will travel to Penrith for their first game. “I’ve been counting down the weeks and days. It’s been a boring summer waiting,” he says.

It’s been even longer for Peta Bryant, who epitomises the transcendence of league fandom. Last year, Bryant lived in Cambodia and was only able to follow league online. “I was coming last in the family tipping comp,” she says. “I’m just looking forward to seeing any game live, it doesn’t matter who.”

Bryant is club-agnostic; she just loves her league. “Some families go to church on Sundays. For us it was going to the grandparents’ for lunch, then settling down to watch the Sunday afternoon league game.” Who she follows “depends on which family member I’m watching with. There are Bulldogs, Knights and Dragons fans among us. They get into me for my lack of loyalty, but it’s the game I love, not a team. I know that’s unusual.” It is her own way of conquering the local-national tension: support the game itself. Back in league civilisation, she will spend the 2013 winter in Canberra. “I’ll be going to watch Raiders games, for sure. That’ll give me a fourth team.”

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Hangzhou Night Net.

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Pay TV show of the week

Buckwild is the redneck version of Jersey Shore.Buckwild, Tuesday, MTV, 9.30pm
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Take Jersey Shore, give it a redneck makeover, throw in a bunch of hair-raising Jackass-style stunts, and you’ve got MTV’s latest drinking-shouting-shagging ”reality” sensation.

Buckwild follows the rather contrived adventures of eight young people (five girls, three boys) who live up in the hollows outside the teeming metropolis of Sissonville, West Virginia (population about 4000).

The main difference between this show and the previous iterations of the format is the outdoorsiness and inventiveness of the boys, be it in turning a dump truck into a swimming pool or misusing earthmoving equipment as makeshift fun-fair rides.

Tonight Anna (”the Ringleader”) is still angry at Cara (”the Firecracker”) for having sex with Tyler (”the Pretty Boy”) in her bed. Shae (”the Spicy Southern Belle”) is sticking with her boyfriend, even though he has been trying to have sex with her friends.

The main story, though, involves the gang heading out to a nightclub in the big smoke. This is a first for yokel Shain, who doesn’t leave the hollow much – in fact, he agrees to go only on the condition that Cara stick her finger in his bug zapper.

Once in town, the girls get a body painter to completely cover their torsos so they can get away with dancing around topless inside the club. Must be the new fashion, I suppose. Apart from that, we’ve seen it all before.

The one bright spot is the unpretentious, unselfconscious Shain, who is unencumbered by book learnin’ and happier than a hog in slop. He’s also the only one who has a real job. Well, MTV is pretending he does – it turns out he was fired from his job on the garbage trucks before filming began. Reality just ain’t reality no more.

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Shanghai Night Net.

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Sponsors get on the brand wagon

Ads up: Phil & Amity do the logo motion in The Block: All Stars.MEMO From: Product placement and marketing initiative division, Nine Network. To: The producers, The Block and The Block: All Stars. Subject: Increased product placement strategies.
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Good morning all. Before we begin, we’d like to acknowledge the sponsors of this memo, Microsoft Office Works and Canon, while our treats of choice while preparing this document were from Cadbury. If this memo was human and had a driver’s licence, it would drive a Suzuki Swift Sport.

First, congratulations on achieving new highs with The Block: All Stars. Sure, the ratings are down on 2012 and, basically, we’re occasionally cracking the 1 million mark even when My Kitchen Rules is on but, in terms of product placement and leveraged sponsor presence, we’ve never managed to squeeze more clients into a single episode.

When it comes to promoting our commercial partners we are killing it; although if you look at the ratings we’re also killing those.

When the show began in the prehistoric age of product placement (i.e. 2003) we didn’t have much to work with other than Jamie Durie religiously mentioning the ”beefy Toyota RAV4” and visits to a hardware store. A decade on and The Block has its own hardware store on site, with 24-hour branding opportunities. No hammer handle need go bare; no ladder leg should lack a bright sticker.

By the way, you know what else is great? Getting a 30-year mortgage to buy a property whose renovation was rushed for commercial television. This memo’s home lender of choice is the Commonwealth Bank.

We’ve had great success this year with the dressing of our eight mobile advertising displays, which some of you might know better as the contestants. In previous years they’ve been allowed to choose their own clothing, which was wasteful.

This year we have them in branded T-shirts and baseball caps, because the viewing audience would never be suspicious that couples who are constantly talking about bettering their interior designs wouldn’t choose to view a T-shirt with Wattyl or Pacific Blue Design and Construction plastered across it.

The success of the T-shirts and caps has got us thinking. If we had larger mobile advertising displays – that is, fuller-figured contestants – we would have more space for logos on their clothes. We could get two companies on one T-shirt (synergy!). Another option? Branded neck tattoos. What hip homeboy wouldn’t want iiNet inked across their throat?

Stop reading this memo for a moment and think about your health and well-being.

Wouldn’t your life benefit from Swisse, Australia’s No.1 multivitamin? We also need to apply a horizontal approach to marketing, not just vertical.

Recently Dan managed to put a nail from a nail gun through his hand and, while it was first-rate work to make sure the public never saw the brand of nail gun he was using (not all product placements are desired), we really missed out in not being able to associate designated brands with his situation. Where were the close-ups of the medicinal dressing box and the private hospital sign?

Aside from that, let’s just keep the ”casual” placements flowing. Making the contestants find their new complimentary car every week or two courtesy of ”the Suzuki Fairy” is genius, and those positive testimonials as they drive across Sydney to select throw cushions are invaluable. Same with Mark buying Duncan a ”treat” from our friends at McDonald’s when they went shopping.

One last suggestion: Josh and Jenna announce she’s pregnant and we name the baby Wattyl Samsung Densten if it’s a boy, or iSelect Swisse Densten for a girl. Or the other way around.

Keep placing, your pals at the product placement and marketing initiative division.

P.S. We’re always open to fresh concepts, but we need to stamp out loose talk about one initiative that goes beyond the pale. Under no circumstances will Amity be recording another album.

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Shanghai Night Net.

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Sex, lies and political types

Digging deep: Annabel Crabb explores the underbelly of Canberra.Should any current politicians be worried about what will be revealed on your new show, Canberra Confidential?
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All politicians past, present and future should be worried about how easily – as history demonstrates in Canberra Confidential – covert operations and intrigues can detonate, with disastrous effects.

Which skeletons to emerge from the proverbial closet most intrigued you, and why?

I knew that Canberra had a history full of secrets. But I didn’t know much about what an erotic secret life the city had until we made this show. That’s all I’ll say.

Should we really be surprised that Canberra’s political scene has a history of skulduggery and subterfuge?

Human beings love secrets. The thrill of being privy to something is a perfectly unsurprising human instinct. What surprised me is how much Australian politicians will excuse in the name of intelligence gathering; it’s as though they all had childhood dreams of espionage and haven’t entirely grown out of them.

What are your fondest memories of working in Canberra?

I am a sucker for secrets too. My favourite memory of working in Canberra is the day a politician leaked me a document by taping it to the underside of the giant billiard table that used to be in an annex to the Parliament House cafeteria.

And what memory would you rather forget?

I would rather forget the moment that Philip Ruddock walked into the room when I was loudly telling the story of the gorgeous security officer who had just been assigned to accompany him on his morning jog. The temperature in the room fell about 10 degrees. Later, I got a call from the security services warning me not to publish details of the minister’s movements. Awkward.

Which politicians, past and present, would be on your ultimate dinner party guest list, and why?

Fred Daly, for anecdotes. Amanda Vanstone, for cooking and outrage. Tony Abbott, to annoy Amanda. Colin Powell, for his mimicry. Harold Holt, for sheer surprise value. But if I could invite only one, it would be the former Thatcher-era minister Alan Clark. He was fearless, erudite, hopelessly optimistic as to his own abilities, and an extraordinary chronicler of his times. His diaries are among the best books on politics I’ve read. Sadly, his career never quite recovered from when he was caught bedding the wife and two daughters of a judge. But we might not mention that at dinner.

Why is politics so entertaining?

The same things that make it crucial that politicians are closely monitored: human relationships, secrets and intrigues that change the course of history.

What can we expect before the election?

Human relationships, secrets and intrigues that change the course of history.

Canberra Confidential screens on Thursday, March 14 at 8.30pm on ABC1.

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Shanghai Night Net.

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Green Guide letters

My Kitchen Rules’ Anglo male nasties, Peter and Gary.LETTER OF THE WEEKIndiscriminate idiocy
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My Kitchen Rules has had plenty of Anglo villains, so stop stirring the racist pot and suggesting minorities are being targeted, Craig Mathieson (Hindsight, GG 28/02). The latest pair are incredibly unlikeable, nasty and rude, just like the mother-daughter pair before them, the ”wicked witches of the West” Lisa and Candice; and 2012 contestants Peter and Gary, to name other Anglo (male) nasties.

Trish Bunworth, Thornbury

Seven’s race to the bottom

Channel Seven is doing a great job of promoting racial prejudice when they depict an Asian couple, an Indian couple and an Italian couple as bitchy, nasty people designed to attract adverse attitudes. There is no doubt all three couples are behaving only in accordance with scripted direction.

John Woolley, Ringwood

Giving the forks to class

I am sick of all the bitchiness, nastiness and the inconsistency of the judges on MKR. We all know that they have been given scripts and that they are following them to the letter. But really! The catalyst for me was watching Pete Evans pushing the dessert onto his spoon with his fingers. Haven’t any of these people seen a dessert fork?

Jenny Doreian, Box Hill

The case of the missing show

We had been enjoying Vera on 7TWO on Wednesday nights, but Channel Seven screened the last episode of series two on a Thursday night when Rebus was advertised in the schedule.

Elizabeth Foster, Box Hill

Missed Mardi opportunity

Why didn’t Foxtel or another media outlet telecast the Mardi Gras this year? What a missed opportunity for advertisers and other groups to promote and showcase our tolerant and progressive country. It’s a great party for many people and their gay families in celebrating their loved ones.

Pamela Papadopoulos, Prahran

Don’t stoop, SBS

Lee Lin Chin can report the news on Saturdays all by herself for one hour. I’m sure Anton Enus and Janice Peterson could do the same if given the chance. Come on SBS: why lower yourself to the lowest common denominator and copy the rest of the commercial channels with multiple news presenters?

Charles Scott, Harcourt North

Wrecking Rex

Dear Inspector Rex … Not content with pushing your timeslot around from pillar to post, you’ve now been sent to Coventry! Who’s around to watch their favourite crime canine at 5.35pm on a Sunday? What dreadful, dead-end programming. Bite a few bums will you, Rex, and get things sorted.

Gloria (Tracy) Guest, Yallambie

Hard work murdered

So it’s not enough that the networks minimise end credits to flog their other shows, Channel Ten has taken the next step with Mr & Mrs Murder and virtually eliminated crew credits altogether, directing viewers to their website. Don’t those who worked on this Australian-made comedy deserve on-air recognition, too?

Kym Cross, Campbells Creek

Real Mad talent, to be frank

Although Shaun Micallef has the funniest eyebrows in Australian television, the real comedy talent of Mad as Hell has to be Francis Greenslade.

James Adams, Preston

Professional all round

Three cheers for MasterChef: The Professionals, the reality show where everyone is a winner. The contestants learn things even from their mistakes, no one is mocked, positive things are emphasised. Viewers can enjoy new ideas and ways of working with food, and the ultimate winner obtains recognition within their chosen profession.

Christine E. Gray, Grovedale

Superior Safari

There is no competition about the best food/cooking show on TV. It is Food Safari on SBS. All class with a real love of the food from real people showing off their origin with pride.

Geoff Burston, Tullamarine

Pro-Catalyst camp

So what’s the problem with Catalyst? It’s not research done in a lab or buzz-word technology. It’s the science of outdoor Australia, including comments from scientists living and working there. I emphasis ”living”, because for the secondary students I used to teach, and me, it provides a rich context for scientific thinking and exploration. Childish? Critics, please explain what you mean!

Frank Bremner, Colonel Light Gardens

Not authentic but healthy

We have been enjoying The Doctor Blake Mysteries and don’t feel it loses any of its authenticity by not showing people smoking, as mentioned by Luke Strevens in his review of the show (GG, February 28). I don’t notice if people are not smoking on TV but I had to stop watching Mad Men because of the constant smoking.

Jo Prendergast, Sandringham

Give Aunty credit

Your report ”Seven News redraws battle lines” (February 28) says Seven’s News is ”sometimes drawing fewer viewers than the ABC’s 7pm bulletin”. For the record, in 2012 ABC News Victoria averaged an audience of 309,313 compared with 297,936 for Seven News. In the first eight weeks of this year ABC News has averaged 291,679 compared with 287,801 for Seven.

Shane Castleman, Victorian news editor, ABC News, Melbourne

Wiener’s a winner

Am I alone in appreciating the excellent Sarah Wiener, 6.40pm weekdays on SBS Two? She is an innovative chef from Berlin who visits areas of Italy, exploring the cuisine before cooking up an original interpretation of the fare. Her friendly, unassuming manner contrast to the confrontational ”cooking soaps” on the commercial channels.

Bruce Boldner, Brighton

No Lynx effect for Joe

May I politely offer some deodorant to Joe Hildebrand while debating issues on The Drum. He needs to have a change of shirt during the show as all that passionate debate seems to have side effects. I’m sure he can sweat it out with my criticism as well. Poor man … someone please assist him.

James Smith, Melbourne

Can’t of Worms

I’ve tried to put up with the latest series of Can of Worms, but enough is enough. They used to ask contentious questions, have meaningful debates and make the audience laugh. Now it’s just as annoying as Chrissie Swan herself. Goodbye Can of Worms.

Joshua Gray, Wodonga

HAVE YOUR SAY Email letters, including your name, address and daytime phone number, to  [email protected]上海夜网m.au. Letters must be 75 words or fewer and may be edited.

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Shanghai Night Net.

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Political thriller retains its slimy appeal in the US

First look: House of Cards
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Depending on your age, you might remember Ian Richardson in the original House of Cards playing Francis Urquhart, a slimy British politician who redefined television’s portrayal of politicians. That is, it brought slimy truth to the fore and exposed politics for the shallow and inhuman house of cards it is.

The thought of taking something so definitive and fashioning an American remake might be enough to turn your hair white. It verges on sacrilege, particularly when you consider the American television market’s imperfect record.

But the American version of House of Cards, produced by Sony for on-demand TV service Netflix, is complex enough to earn a second glance. And once you’ve seen one riveting, sickening and illuminating episode, you’ll likely stay the course.

In a sense, Australian audiences have the toughest call here. As with shows such as The Office, we have the advantage of having seen the original before the copy. And the original House of Cards was, and is, a sight to behold. Richardson’s performance is exquisite, the observations in the writing devastating.

Kevin Spacey, with smooth charm, is strangely likeable in a way Richardson was not. And his character, Frank Underwood, is a far more modern politician, alternately captivating and disgusting.

House of Cards is Shakespeare, retold and laced with the bard at his political best. Spacey is moments out of his thrilling Richard III, and that heightened sense of stage play is felt loud and hard here.

He talks to the camera like an actor glancing at the audience, while Robin Wright’s Claire Underwood circles her husband with the sultry, luxuriant thrill of Lady Macbeth.

Much kudos should go to the director, David Fincher. This is a big drama told in small, sharp notes, and its velvet texture belies the taut, muscular motion of the story.

House of Cards launched in the US on February 1. It has not yet been sold to an Australian broadcaster.

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Shanghai Night Net.

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New look, same great TV coverage

What excites you about TV? Maybe it’s Walter White (Bryan Cranston) or Hannah Horvath (Lena Dunham) behaving badly on Breaking Bad and Girls. Or Don Draper (Jon Hamm) brooding on Mad Men.
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Maybe it’s Tony Jones grilling a guest on Lateline or velvet-voiced Dennis Cometti calling an AFL game. What about Scandinavian crime thrillers, Israeli dramas and English cooking shows? What about a newcomer who sends the judges on The Voice spinning in their chairs, or a culinary triumph on My Kitchen Rules?

Television offers a smorgasbord of riches and, in terms of flexibility and variety, there’s never been a better time to view. What was once a limited diet provided by a handful of mainstream channels has grown into a feast. You can watch on a super-sized screen in the lounge room, a phone on the tram, a computer at your desk or a tablet in a cafe tuned to a catch-up website.

However you choose to watch, if you choose well, the experience can be rewarding. That’s where we come in. At the Green Guide, we know there’s a lot to love about TV. And, yes, there’s also shabby stuff that deserves to be rubbished. We can do that too.

For decades, the Green Guide has been an institution at The Age and in Melbourne. It’s celebrated accomplishments in TV and radio, criticised the duds, profiled those who make a difference and analysed industry trends.

The new-look Green Guide will continue to provide the features that readers value: a lively Letters page, a Livewire section looking at the latest in entertainment technology, the Hindsight column, radio and sports columns on alternate weeks, and radio listings.

There’s also the country’s best viewing guide with previews from our experienced team, authoritative film reviews and pay TV highlights.

We don’t always agree about what we like, and you might not always agree with us. But we do know this: when TV is good, it can be great. And that keeps us all coming back for more.

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Shanghai Night Net.

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Narratives share the indigenous story

For a television show to clock up 10 years on air is no mean feat. For an indigenous current affairs program plagued by budget cuts, network management shuffles and a prevailing misconception that viewers aren’t all that interested, a decade on air is cause for celebration.
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As SBS’s Living Black celebrates its milestone with a prime-time slot on indigenous network NITV, its face and founder, Karla Grant, reflects on a decade of stories that would otherwise have remained untold.

”It’s been quite a journey,” Grant says from the SBS studios in Sydney. ”When we started, there was no program like ours on television, so we were trying to cover everything – news, art, sport, music, everything under the sun to do with indigenous people and indigenous life and issues. We started doing mini-documentaries and over the years we’ve evolved into a harder-edged current affairs program.”

The 2004 move from SBS’s now-defunct local productions department to news and current affairs was the beginning of a new era for Living Black, and saved it from the axe.

”I really had to fight for the survival of the show,” Grant says. ”I entered into talks with the then head of news and current affairs at SBS, Phil Martin, and I’m forever grateful to him for getting behind me.”

Adopting video-journalism at a time when the only other Australian current affairs show to do so was Dateline, Living Black reporters were able to work within budget restraints and tread softly in media-shy communities.

”We’ve built up a pretty good reputation over the past 10 years,” she says. ”People know we’re not going to just breeze in and breeze out and have no respect. That’s been part of the problem in the past and it still exists. A lot of commercial stations and people from print go into remote communities and they leave a sour taste.”

With family members spread across the Northern Territory and the Tiwi Islands, Grant is welcomed into communities that are often closed to other reporters. Of course, with such privilege comes responsibility.

”I love getting out on location and meeting people at the grassroots,” she says. ”You learn so much and you meet some really lovely people … The show has an important role to play in our society in creating an awareness and understanding of indigenous issues and culture, especially as we head towards constitutional recognition.”

Grant wishes more Australians could see for themselves the plight of Aboriginal people in remote areas.

”When I visit a community and I see 20 people living in a house, I think, ‘What on earth is going on?’ All this money is put into indigenous housing yet we’re seeing people living in overcrowded situations that breed arguments, violence and drinking.

”Then there’s no work in the town, so there’s no employment or education opportunities for these people. It’s a vicious cycle, and that makes me angry. People shouldn’t be living like that in this day and age.”

That it has taken until 2012 for Australians to have a free-to-air indigenous TV network is a matter that still confounds Grant.

”There hasn’t been that commitment from governments in the past to fund a channel like NITV,” she says. ”You don’t see a lot of indigenous stories on mainstream networks because programmers think they don’t rate. There’s been a hesitation to take a chance, but in fact people are interested in indigenous stories – they want to know more.”

Living Black returns on Tuesday, March 12, at 7.30pm on NITV, and is repeated on SBS One at 2.30pm on Fridays and 4.30pm on Sundays.

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Shanghai Night Net.

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Inquiry finds flaws in legend of Simpson

An official inquiry has punctured the most popular legend of the Gallipoli campaign by declaring Simpson – the man with the donkey – was not exceptionally brave.
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A Defence Department committee last week found there were no grounds to justify the demand of a long-running public campaign that John Simpson Kirkpatrick be awarded a posthumous Victoria Cross.

But the committee went further to rule that the British-born private was no more gallant than scores of other stretcher-bearers who transported wounded soldiers in the first weeks after the Gallipoli landing in April 1915.

“The tribunal found that Simpson’s initiative and bravery were representative of all other stretcher-bearers of the 3rd Field Ambulance,” the report said.

Simpson – who enlisted under his middle name to hide the fact that he was a deserter from the merchant navy – spent several weeks ferrying wounded soldiers on a stray donkey before he was killed on May 19.

His story captured the imagination of war correspondents and the Australian public, which came to regard his selfless bravery as exemplifying the Anzac spirit. His deeds have since been celebrated in a series of books, films and plays.

But a year-long inquiry by the Defence Honours and Awards Appeals Tribunal heard detailed evidence it was impossible for Simpson to have rescued the more than 300 wounded soldiers whose lives he is widely credited with saving.

Instead, it was estimated he ferried fewer than half that number before his death, all of them lightly wounded and none with life-threatening injuries.

The tribunal was told that there was no evidence in military archives to support the popular belief that Simpson had repeatedly ventured into no-man’s land under Turkish fire to rescue badly wounded soldiers.

One submission detailed how several witnesses whose vivid accounts of Simpson’s bravery have reinforced the legend of the man with the donkey were not even at Gallipoli at the time.

The tribunal ruled Simpson’s bravery had been “appropriately recognised” by a Mentioned-in-Dispatches award made to him and seven other members of the 3rd Field Ambulance in early May 1915. It concluded there were no grounds for him to receive a VC or any other gallantry medal.

Tribunal chairman Alan Rose told a news conference last week that Simpson was “a curiosity” who, having chosen a donkey as his method of transport, was “largely only able to bring lightly wounded men” down from the front lines to the beach at Anzac Cove.

“The judgment by his peers, by his commanders at the time, was that he had displayed considerable bravery but that it didn’t reach the very high levels either for the award of a second or third-level award – a Distinguished Conduct Medal or a Military Medal – much less a Victoria Cross,” he said.

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Shanghai Night Net.

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Officials broke rules on Zygier as case was flicked to ASIO

Two of Australia’s highest ranking foreign affairs officials knew of the jailing of Melbourne man Ben Zygier – dubbed ”Prisoner X” – in Israel but left his consular care in the hands of spy agency ASIO in clear breach of the department’s own rules.
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An internal investigation by the Department of Foreign Affairs revealed on Wednesday that Dennis Richardson, then head of the department, and then first assistant secretary Greg Moriarty, were briefed by ASIO of Mr Zygier’s arrest on February 24, 2010, but failed to directly inform their then minister, Stephen Smith, or Prime Minister Kevin Rudd.

”I don’t think that’s satisfactory. I don’t think it’s remotely satisfactory,” Senator Carr said of Mr Zygier’s welfare being left to ASIO.

The reliance on ASIO to handle the case came despite the agency’s deeply strained relations with Israeli counterpart Mossad – for whom Mr Zygier was working – at the time.

Fairfax Media understands that ASIO and Mossad had a deal not to use each other’s nationals as spies but that the Israelis broke the agreement by recruiting Mr Zygier and at least two other dual citizens. Relations had also plummeted because of Israel’s use of forged Australian passports in the assassination in Dubai of Hamas commander Mahmoud al Mabhouh.

Mr Zygier reportedly killed

himself in December 2010 in Israel’s high-security Ayalon prison, where he was being held in extraordinary secrecy on charges he broke Israeli national security laws.

Foreign Minister Bob Carr, who ordered the investigation after news of the Prisoner X case broke, admitted that DFAT had been wrong to rely on ASIO, which was in turn accepting the assurances of the Israeli government that Mr Zygier was being well-treated.

While Mr Zygier had 50 visits from his family in prison, and had regular access to his lawyer, DFAT ”did not follow up on the assurances received about Mr Zygier”, other than a brief inquiry by Mr Moriarty, the report states.

Mr Moriarty told the inquiry that Mr Zygier’s dual nationality was ”one, but not the sole, factor in the decision not to make diplomatic inquiries on his behalf”.

Australia’s embassy regulations make clear that the government offers dual nationals such as Mr Zygier the same level of protection as anyone else, stating that ”consular officials are charged with protecting Australians even if they hold another nationality”.

Mr Richardson, a former ASIO director-general who is now head of the Defence Department, declined to comment on Wednesday. Mr Moriarty, who is now ambassador to Indonesia, could not be reached for comment.

The investigation report also raises questions about who in the office of the then prime minister, Mr Rudd, as well Mr Smith’s office, knew of the Zygier case. Both said on Wednesday they had ”no recollection” of being briefed, though the investigation states ASIO informed Mr Rudd’s office and that Mr Smith’s chief of staff, Frances Adamson, who is now ambassador to China, was briefed by Mr Moriarty.

Senator Carr said he accepted the report’s recommendations that there be a clearer set of protocols as to which branch of government would be responsible for helping Australians in such cases in future.

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Shanghai Night Net.

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A lack of clarity of vision

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W e’ve been living with a full install of Windows 8 for three weeks, running on our oldish NEC laptop. There is good news and you know what else. The good news is that 8 has breathed new life into the NEC. It is now up and running in seconds, rather than minutes. If we had a new ultrabook equipped with a solid-state drive, we imagine there would be no lag between pushing the On button and being able to get to work.

All the standard photo-editing programs also run faster, but in appearance and use they are no different from Windows 7 or Vista. There are no native Windows 8 versions of Photoshop, Lightroom or the freebie IrfanView.

This means it is like working in two operating systems simultaneously. One is the new-look ”Modern” Windows interface and the other is the old-style desktop. Microsoft’s attempt to create an interface that functions across all devices – laptops, tablets, phones and desktops – doesn’t really work. But Microsoft is to be thanked for treating customers with respect. We don’t need to buy software for the new operating system.

But that is where the good news ends. Image file handling is a big disappointment. Windows Photo Gallery is supposed to be a match for Apple’s iPhoto but it falls down at the first hurdle. You can’t open a RAW file in Photo Gallery without converting it to JPEG. On a Mac, RAW files are displayed in Preview and iPhoto, can be opened in iPhoto, and after editing can be saved in the original format.

The photo-viewing app in 8 doesn’t even show a thumbnail of a RAW file. And right-clicking on a thumbnail in the photo viewer doesn’t lead to any useful options, such as the elementary choice to open the file in Photo Gallery.

Photo Gallery itself is no match for iPhoto. It conforms to the overly automated conventions of the Modern user interface. There is an editing module with a reasonable degree of user control but the assumption is you can’t be bothered with that – just press Auto-Fix and hope for the best.

So, iPhoto looks and works like a photo-editing program for grown-ups.

The one thing about Windows 8 that is superior to the Apple alternative is no thanks to Microsoft. IrfanView is a free image-viewing file that beats the Mac’s Preview in every way. Unfortunately, there is no Mac version of IrfanView but XnView is almost as good.

Windows Photo Gallery seems to assume a user who is not a serious photographer and thinks shooting RAW means doing it in the nude; their ambition stops at Facebook or Twitter; iPhoto assumes a serious user who wants the on-the-go convenience of a friendly, well-featured photo editor to use as a quick Photoshop alternative. Apple’s way is better.

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Shanghai Night Net.

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