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The Media Collective: The greatest advertising campaign this country's ever known.



The Media Collective:

Sam Bienstock; Alessandro Cavadini; Fabio Cavadini; Lee Chittick; Paul Frame; Debbie Michaels; Carolyn Strachan; Suzie Walker; Tom Zubrycki.

[From the catalogue of Videotapes From Australia1]

On November 11, 1975, the then Prime Minister of Australia, Gough Whitlam, was dismissed from his position by the Queen's representative, the Governor General, Sir John Kerr, and his Labor government replaced by a caretaker Liberal government.

This was the culmination of many months of intensive political manoeuvring by the opposition Liberal Party and Liberal supporters. Foremost among these sympathisers were the four media barons, who between them control all press, radio and T.V. in Australia with the exception of the government-run A.B.C.

Since Labor's initial victory at the polls in December 1972 (the first Labor win in 23 years) and its re-election with a reduced majority in May 1974, through to the government's dismissal in November and its eventual loss at the ballot box a month later, it became evident that a concerted effort of almost conspirational magnitude by the media barons was being waged in order to propagandise and sway the Australian electorate away from the Labor Party and to the side of the Liberal Party.

In Sydney, a few days before the first anniversary of the coup, a group of about 10 or so socially concerned filmmakers met to discuss the necessity of collective production, especially in the realm of social documentary. Out of these initial discussions it became evident that there was not only an interest, but a real need to discuss the media and its role in the events of one year before. Using as a backdrop a rally held on the anniversary of the coup, in which more than 18,000 people in Sydney called for the abolition of the system which allowed for events of the previous year to occur, a film for discussion of the media was produced.

Because of the immediacy of the event and a sufficiently large lack of capital, it was decided to shoot the event mostly on 1/2and 3/4video tape. The remaining material shot on film was itself transferred to video tape for editing. At the completion of editing it was then transferred to 16mm film for distribution.

What emerged as a final product is a skilfully woven tapestry of an actual event, the media coverage of the event, the media workers talking about their role as a social force and their responsibility and people in the street discussing the media's role as a social force and to a large degree their lack of responsibility.

This film provides more than adequate background for discussion of the media even with very little knowledge of the Australian situation in particular.

In discussing the media the film successfully breaks out of the traditional role of media reportage and brings to the screen a feeling of real people giving views and not just snippets of conversation that fit into an allocated time or opinion slot.


An article appeared in City Video, vol.1, no.3, 1977.2

"The greatest advertising campaign this country's ever known."

The making of a video-film

Carolyn Strachan

The making of the social and political documentary has been a frustrating process for filmmakers in Australia. Government sponsorship rides the waves of the precariously successful feature film. Independent socially concerned filmmakers however have traditionally struggled to make ends meet through being denied any formal recognition. That the videotape, cameras and filmmakers got together to make a tape/film happened rather by

accident. The interesting result could set a precedent for future productions.

In early November last year an 'ad hoc' group got together with a common project in mind: to document a rally commemorating the anniversary of the Canberra "Coup" - the Governor General's overthrow of the former Labor Government. However the idea of not simply recording the rally but exploring the implications of the commercial TV coverage emerged very quickly in original discussions. We all strongly felt it was the media that was in a major way responsible for moulding people's attitudes and allowing Kerr's arbitrary intervention into party politics. The next step was to choose the medium. Even with pooled resources, the cost of raw 16mm stock, lab and editing facilities made us realise that 16mm was out of the question. Video was the only logical alternative.

Equipment was gathered from all sources: from video access centres, personal portapaks plus cine equipment from the Film and Television School. A second meeting was held to check collected equipment and allocate camera areas:

Cam.1 - cover the speakers

Cam.2 - interview the medias: journos, technicians, directors

Cam.3 - interview people about the media coverage

Cam.4 - cine cam. interview people

Cam.5 - trade union march to Town Hall and crowd reactions

2 Nagra sound recorders

1 Uher sound tape recorder

1 still camera

1 off-air recorder

The six hours of original tape we shot that day were dubbed and the 20 min. of film stock transferred. From this material a rough edit was assembled on the press-button EDITAPE system. A collective of nine people worked solidly for one week on this rough edit.

It was here that the benefits of group work paid off. Apart from replays on physical editing, stylistic and ideological discussions remained a driving force throughout editing. In 'on the street' interviews people had told our cameras that you couldn't believe what was in the newspapers but you could believe anything on television. It was our aim to record the event and compare this with what went to air that evening. Secondly we wanted to talk to the media men about their role in the message-machine and its significance. Interestingly, many discussed the tight control imposed by their bosses. Some technicians clearly showed no interest in anything at all - "it was just a job". Most importantly even when a reporter is trying to convey something more than a sensational tidbit his 60 sec. time slot will always disallow anything of real substance to emerge. A very strong reason for having a video coverage of every news event to be made into an 'in depth' news report or at least stored for future use.

Throughout the editing the question of style and the nature of video became an important talking point. For example one member of our group worked alone with his interviews and achieved a certain intimacy with the people interviewed. The people seemed to move into the camera as one tends to do in normal conversation when getting warmed up. The interviews possessed the quality of human contact absent in the superficial structure of commercial television and we were therefore loathe to cut any of it.

However, random people were selected to view the rough-cut and many saw the interviews as far too long and boring. A compromise was reached. Some of our material was edited fast and punchy while at important moments we opened out the structure to give the people a chance to expand. One will always come up against the same problem. Are we going to break the barriers of style and offer a new medium and therefore new conception or do we conform to the present dictates of style, convention, quality so that the message for the “less avant garde" is clear and acceptable? For the filmmakers of the group the video editing process was a revelation. Considering even small films can take up to a year to complete, having the rough-cut of a 40 min. tape after one week was indeed remarkable.

The next step was to go back to the original video footage and do a fine cut. A song composed by a local group of Irish folkies, implicating the media barons in the November coup, was dubbed over a collage sequence at the end. All this was accomplished 'in spite of the nightmare of inserting stable edits on the Editape system. Much more temperamental than the tangible old film editing bench the cine people were used to. We then completed the job on a 3/4 " U-matic edit system kindly loaned to us by the Architecture School at Sydney University. This allowed us to assemble colour off-air segments with our portapak recorded tape.

Apart from distributing on ½" and ¾" videotape this edited tape will be transferred to 16mm film, a process to our knowledge that has only been attempted in Australia before by a few, e.g. Mick Glasheen and Willy Young, mainly because of previously unobtainable technological facilities. It is still a fact of life that distribution is still much easier for film than video and the big screen of the cinema cannot be matched for impact.

The video process has developed a new approach to filmmaking. The film tradition carries with it a mystique, generated by high cost and large expensive specialized equipment. It has developed a well defined hierarchy and its qualities are physical and clinical. Video has de-mystified this process. No longer are the production and post production crews sharply divided, no longer is the editor a separate entity. In a medium where there are less traditions and less inhibitions group work can easily take place.

The video camera is unobtrusive and is used more like a microphone than a cine camera. Because it shoots reusable tape the tendency is to keep the camera running which allows a greater opportunity to explore and expand the subject. But its record remains clean and simple. A new style is developing which avoids the prettiness of the cine camera and reinforces that movement towards the straight and simple social document.

If the group continues with as much enthusiasm, and other groups decide to do the same thing and the filmmakers and the videos continue to combine ideas and techniques then we have an ongoing revolution in the media business.

The collective:

Sam Bienstock, Alessandro Cavadini, Fabio Cavadini, Lee Chittick, Paul Frame, Debbie Michaels, Carolyn Strachan, Suzie Walker, Tom Zubrycki.

It's often not what you say, but what you leave out that really makes your case.

Donald Horne interviewed after the rally by a TDT Current Affairs journalist.

TDT: They were very anti ... (referring to demonstrators supporting a democratic constitution).

DH: Very anti what?

TDT: Very anti the government.

DH: Of course they should be anti the government.

TDT: I'm not saying they shouldn't be, but I'm saying aren't they unnecessarily perhaps provocative.

DH: I don't see why they should be necessarily provocative to be anti the government.

TDT: But to ...

DH: Look here I don't know what you're talking about.

TDT: Alright, let's leave that point there.

DH: I don't know what you're bloody well talking about.

TDT: Alright, well let's leave that point ...

TDT: Do you feel at this stage that demonstrations like this, when we do need perhaps a solid country, are somewhat devisive?

DH: I think that what we need is a democratic constitution. There were eighteen thousand people here today engaged in peaceful protest. The only violence that's been produced so far is in your question.

DH: You're reaction to it! ... I'm sorry, I thought it was very unfair to ask me about something I haven't heard.

TDT: Do you think it will achieve anything?

DH: I think it will begin to achieve something, for God's sake. One can't expect the entire constitution to change after one meeting. I've just come from meetings in Adelaide, Melbourne, Brisbane - they've all had the same peaceful enthusiasm. They were entirely peaceful meetings. Do you mean to tell me you don't believe at all in public protest!

TDT: Not at all. I'm just putting questions to you. Questions that shall be put to you by other people surely. People who aren't here surely will question the violence, the potential violence. You've deliberately chosen a couple of phrases and put them to me in a most dishonest manner.

[This should probably read as “DH: You've deliberately chosen a couple of phrases and put them to me in a most dishonest manner.”]

TDT: Well we'll leave it there. But you did say at this stage the right to question! People outside who aren't at this rally may question the fact that the rally just held was divisive.

DH: Look, look. I'm terribly sorry you seem to have no understanding whatsoever of a basic tenet of democracy - and that is, one which allows for a basic division of opinion ... how on earth can it be considered divisive if we should sit here today and put up certain types of views just because other people disagree with us.

TDT: Well then you've answered the question sir. It's not divisive, thank you very much.

DH: Well, it is divisive in the sense that there is a division of opinion and it's being exposed.

TDT: It has been, thank you sir.

DH: Thank you ... I don't mind if you cut out the stuff about ... It's not possible for people to comment on things they haven't heard.

TDT: Well that is true ... (relieved, mopping his brow).

1Stephen Jones and Bernice Murphy (eds), Videotapes from Australia, Sydney: The Australian Gallery Directors Council Ltd.

2Carolyn Strachan, "The greatest advertising campaign this country's ever known." City Video, vol.1, no.3, 1977.

Crowd scene at the 1st anniversary rally from The Greatest Advertising Campaign ... [from the video]
Crowd scene at the 1st anniversary rally from The Greatest Advertising Campaign ... [from the video]  
A member of the public expressing her views at the 1st anniversary rally. From The Greatest Advertising Campaign ... [from the video]
A member of the public expressing her views at the 1st anniversary rally. From The Greatest Advertising Campaign ... [from the video]  
Media tech (camera operator) at the 1st anniversary rally from The Greatest Advertising Campaign ... [from the video]
Media tech (camera operator) at the 1st anniversary rally from The Greatest Advertising Campaign ... [from the video]  
Media activist at the 1st anniversary rally from The Greatest Advertising Campaign ... [from the video]
Media activist at the 1st anniversary rally from The Greatest Advertising Campaign ... [from the video]  
Images accompanying the feature in Access Video vol.1, no.3.
Images accompanying the feature in Access Video vol.1, no.3.