Thursday, January 29, 2004

The road toll and the till

From impending international conflict between two nuclear powers, to Australia’s small and incestuous media - boy, is this blog on fire this morning! Picking up a copy of “Large”, a free mini-magazine aimed at disposing most of the disposable income of inner-city 18-30 y.o.’s, I was struck by its near-reverse takeover by its centre insert – separately branded as CitySearch (a Fairfax property). Sure enough, the loss-making “Large” was published by Text Media, which in turn was recently acquired by Fairfax. Not that there’s too much exciting per se in this, apart from the joy of watching Fairfax try to squeeze some last drips of value out of the CitySearch brand – one of its expensive dotcom flops.

What also caught my eye in the January “Large” was a rare editorial (the mag is 95%+ ads) titled “Life and Death”. A short piece on the effectiveness of shock-style government campaigns in reducing the road toll, it cites road toll stats, and ends:

The results speak for themselves . . . Clearly this mode of communication is an incredibly effective toll and while there has been a great deal of controversy over the method, graphic nature and tone of the campaigns, they have saved lives, justifying the means by which they did.

Say what? The exact same argument, of course, has been used in defence of speed cameras, only with the “graphic and controversial” bit replaced by “revenue raising is a by-product only”. More worrying, in the end, than “Large’s” whoring of its owner’s broader media interests under the guise of a worthy message to the yoof, is the double-counting of the reasons for the road toll’s lowering.

Once this double-counting is institutionalised – and it would seem that it already has been – the original nexus becomes a mere pretence. Public-minded government rationales provide flimsy cover for juicy private sector monopolies, of which the speed camera business in Victoria is a particularly mature and glaring example.

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