Louie the Fly added to Sounds of Australia collection

Updated October 24, 2017 13:22:21

From the rubbish tip to the archives, Louie the Fly has made his mark on the National Film and Sound Archive’s iconic Sounds of Australia collection.

Australia’s longest running ad campaign, for pest control product maker Mortein, has landed on the iconic list recognising recordings that have had an impact on Australian culture.

Bad and mean and mighty unclean, Louie landed on our screens, and hearts, 60 years ago.

The song was sung by the late Ross Higgins, also the star of 1980s sitcom Kingswood Country.

“I think he’d be surprised and amazed that an ad like that becomes historically and culturally important, and he’d be very pleased,” Scott Higgins, Ross’s son, told the NFSA.

The blowfly is the embodiment of the Australian character: a larrikin and an underdog, his buzzing wings themselves a sound that reminds Australians of home.

Louie has so endeared himself to the nation that his Facebook page has more likes than Federal Opposition Leader Bill Shorten’s.

In fact, when Mortein announced they would be giving Louie the spray a few years ago there was a public campaign to save it.

Now Louie’s legacy is safe for good, with his 1962 jingle joining Slim Dusty, The Easybeats and Gough Whitlam’s dismissal speech as sounds that have changed Australia’s history.

Late John Paul Young also honoured in 2017 list

Love Is In The Air, the 1977 disco number late George Young penned alongside Harry Vanda for late John Paul Young, also scored a spot in this year’s collection.

This year’s Sounds of Australia:

  • 1910: Sweet Spirit Hear My Prayer – Marie Narelle
  • 1930: Our Don Bradman – Len Maurice
  • 1940-58: Australia’s Amateur Hour – AWA
  • 1957: ‘Louie the Fly’ Mortein Advertisement – Ross Higgins
  • 1962: I Remember You – Frank Ifield
  • 1966: Play School Theme (There’s a Bear in There) – Various Performers
  • 1977: Love Is In The Air – John Paul Young
  • 1981: Brand New Day (Milliya Rumarra) – Kuckles
  • 1982: Don’t Change – INXS
  • 2001: Not Pretty Enough – Kasey Chambers

George Young, a pioneer of Australian music as a member of The Easybeats and producer for AC/DC, died this week aged 70.

Speaking about the hit’s honourable recognition, John Paul Young said it was the cherry on top of its long-lasting success.

“I can only thank Harry Vanda and George Young for their hard work during my association with them and for giving me a lasting career,” he said in a statement.

Each year since 2007, the Australian public had nominated potential additions to the Sounds of Australia collection, with a panel of industry experts determining final selections.

Other recordings that made the 2017 list include Our Don Bradman by Len Maurice, the Play School Theme and Kasey Chambers’ Not Pretty Enough.

Topics: television-broadcasting, broadcasting, television, information-and-communication, arts-and-entertainment, music-industry, industry, canberra-2600, act, australia

First posted October 24, 2017 13:10:54

Trump threatens NBC’s licence over nuclear story he says was ‘pure fiction’

Updated October 12, 2017 09:32:29

United States President Donald Trump has threatened NBC’s broadcast licences because he is not happy with how its news division has covered him.

But experts say his threats are not likely to lead to any action.

The NBC network itself does not need a licence to operate, but individual stations do.

NBC owns several stations in major cities.

Stations owned by other companies such as Tribune and Cox carry NBC’s news shows and other programs elsewhere.

Licences come from the Federal Communications Commission, an independent government agency whose chairman is a Trump appointee.

Mr Trump said NBC “made up” a story about the President’s plans for the country’s nuclear arsenal.

He tweeted that the broadcaster “made up a story that I wanted a ‘tenfold’ increase in our US nuclear arsenal. Pure fiction, made up to demean. NBC = CNN!”

NBC spokeswoman Hilary Smith had no comment.

The FCC did not respond to messages seeking comment.

Licences are rarely stripped

These days, licence renewals are fairly routine.

A station could be deemed unfit and have its licence stripped if it were telling lies and spreading fake news, as Mr Trump claims.

But Harold Feld of the consumer group Public Knowledge said that was tough to prove.

“The reality is it is just about impossible to make that showing,” he said.

“All this stuff is opinion.”

As long as someone can demonstrate a reason to believe something is true, it is not a character issue, he said.

Mr Feld said he could recall just two instances in the past 20 years when there had been a renewal challenge.

One involved an owner of radio stations who was convicted of child molestation, and the other when someone died as part of a radio station’s contest. Both lost their licences.

Although yanking a licence is rare, just the threat could put pressure on NBC’s news coverage.

“The words ‘licence renewal’ are ones which have had a chilling effect in the past on broadcasters,” said lawyer Floyd Abrams, an expert on the First Amendment, citing Richard Nixon’s attempts to sway news coverage as president.

“The threat, however unlikely, is one that broadcasters will have to take seriously.”

The National Association of Broadcasters, a trade group, said it was contrary to First Amendment principles “for any government official to threaten the revocation of an FCC licence simply because of a disagreement with the reporting of a journalist”.

Following his tweet, Mr Trump told reporters in the Oval Office, “It’s frankly disgusting the way the press is able to write whatever they want to write and people should look into it”.

The President has long railed against mainstream media organisations, deriding them as “fake news”.

Political appointees can overturn judge’s decision

FCC chairman Ajit Pai is a Trump appointee, but experts say he cannot pull a licence just because he feels like it.

Renewals come up every eight years, and challenges are heard by an administrative law judge.

The judge’s decision can be overruled by political appointees at the FCC, however.

And the agency could start a special proceeding to revoke a licence, said Erwin Krasnow, former general counsel of the National Association of Broadcasters.

Even so, Mr Krasnow said a challenge was unlikely because of the First Amendment and because the Communications Act governing the FCC does not allow for censorship.

Mr Pai’s past statements also suggest he would not use the agency’s powers to regulate news coverage.

In a September speech, Mr Pai noted that while people want the FCC to take action against cable news channels like Fox News, MSNBC, or CNN because they disagree with the coverage, “these demands are fundamentally at odds with our legal and cultural traditions”.

Mr Feld, who is a frequent critic of Mr Pai, said the chairman is a fan of deregulation and “the last person in the world who would want to revive the licence challenge process”.

“NBC can sleep easy knowing Ajit Pai is chair,” he said.


Topics: donald-trump, world-politics, television, censorship, radio-broadcasting, broadcasting, information-and-communication, united-states

First posted October 12, 2017 09:13:39

Can we replace Red Symons with a robot?

Updated October 03, 2017 09:22:45

It has been called the “robot revolution” — algorithms and artificial intelligence (AI) are automating work traditionally done by humans.

But how far has technology come? Can robots replace, for example, a radio host?

Specifically, could one replace ABC Radio Melbourne breakfast presenter Red Symons?

We decided to find out, and set about making a robot radio voice we affectionately named Redbot.

The laws of Redbot

Before we could build Redbot we had to set some ground rules.

All the components had to be available “off-the-shelf” — we couldn’t code a bespoke Red Symons robot, although we did put in a few trademark Red Symons phrases just in case they were needed.

Secondly, we wouldn’t be thrusting the robot straight into the presenter’s chair.

Future radio presenters often get their start after being identified as “good talent”, i.e. they perform well when interviewed.

If our robot wasn’t good talent, then there wasn’t much hope for it as a breakfast radio presenter.

I, Redbot

How Redbot works:

  • Speech-to-text software converts spoken questions to text, so the chatbot can understand them
  • Chatbot software Mitsuku uses artificial intelligence to formulate appropriate responses
  • Voice synthesiser Lyrebird converts the responses to audio, using recordings of Red’s voice

We constructed Redbot using three pieces of freely-available software.

A free online speech-to-text translator captured the interviewer’s questions and turned them into plain text that the chatbot would understand.

We spent a bit of time deciding which chatbot to use.

The first option we explored was Microsoft’s Zo, which the corporation released about a year after its AI predecessor Tay was pulled offline for spouting racist rhetoric.

However, in testing we found Zo had a predilection for answering questions with GIFs, which was not so great for radio.

We settled on Mitsuku, three-time winner of the international Loebner Awards, which judge chatbots according to how human they seem.

Finally, we had to give Redbot a voice, so we turned to software called Lyrebird, developed by a start-up in Montreal. Lyrebird analyses the recorded speech of an individual to produce a synthesised version of that person’s voice.

Redbot was not an entirely fair test of Lyrebird’s capabilities — we fed the system with the bare minimum required to produce an approximation of Red’s dulcet tones.

So how did it go?

Not so well. Take a listen:

Redbot was not exactly expansive in conversation, and required detailed questions to produce useful answers.

Its responses to Red’s more casual questions such as “Do you know Siri?” and “How about the footy?” lacked the human touch.

Red’s summation of the robot’s performance was that it was fine, as long as it was “reading from the brochure”.

What did we learn?

We won’t be replacing Red with a robot any time soon.

Digital personal assistants such as Alexa, Siri and Cortana may be able to provide the basics of news, weather and traffic, but humans are still better at providing informative and entertaining conversations to start your day.

Your Jobs Our Future

According to Tim Baldwin, a professor at University of Melbourne’s Computing and Information Systems department, chatbots are only useful for replacing jobs where the interaction is largely scripted.

“The next step beyond that … is a big step,” he said.

Mitsuku may have won the Loebner Prize three times, but Dr Baldwin said that contest is a “very particular setup”, with competitors learning “how to create the illusion of intelligence when there’s really not a lot there”.

“The chatbots are coded to express things in a way that they’re open to interpretation,” he said.

“That way, the judges can interpret more intelligence behind the statement than what was really there.”

While robots may replace workers doing back-office technical tasks, people in service roles are generally safe for now.

“It’s all of those human-facing jobs where people see through the technology very quickly.”

As technology disrupts many traditional industries and causes unprecedented workplace change, the ABC is exploring the future of work. Visit ABC News Digital, tune into ABC Radio Melbourne and watch ABC News Victoria on October 1–3.

Topics: robots-and-artificial-intelligence, work, radio-broadcasting, information-and-communication, broadcasting, radio, community-and-society, melbourne-3000, vic

First posted October 03, 2017 09:21:29

Seven podcasts for any family road trip

Updated October 01, 2017 09:18:13

Ah. The great Australian school holiday road trip. A time for family bonding. Fighting. And farts in small spaces.

For many parents, spending long hours on the road isn’t quite the romantic family bonding proposition it sounds; it’s a battle against boredom.

There’s a few old tricks that you can use: 20 questions, snacks to stuff into whingy mouths, or a game of Spotto to tide you over between towns.

But these days, there’s a new, modern arsenal to pass the time.

Kid-centred podcasts have seen a boom of late. Parental guilt around screen time has been met by content makers eager to respond to the need for off-screen entertainment for kids.

The result? Some of the funniest, smartest podcasts out there are now aimed squarely at your little darlings.

From science to ethics shows that will challenge tiny minds, these shows are perfect listening for kids and parents alike.

Some are so good, you might wonder if your trip could go a bit longer.

If you’re looking for something your kids can listen to that adults can also enjoy, and adults shows that are family friendly, here’s a few great options:

Wow in the World: Ages 6+

The first word in this podcast is key: Wow.

This show looks at the most amazing stories in science, technology, and history, and delivers them with more energy and fun than a toddler on five slurpees.

Curious kids will be captivated, and you’ll find it hard not to love it too.

NPR have some serious podcast chops behind them (they also make Invisibilia, and Planet Money among others), and this first foray into a kids podcast continues their track record for high-quality, energetic and engaging shows.

Listen to Wow in the World on NPR.

Brains On!: Ages 6+

Why is the ocean salty? How do elevators work? Could it rain lemonade?

All excellent questions, all answered by the brains at American Public Media. This science podcast for kids (and adults) features a fascinating range of topics.

Plus, it’s so sharp and fun that you’ll be learning without even realising it. Its delightful characters and involvement of kids’ voices mean you’ll never be bored.

Get your Brains on! on the podcast’s website.

Story Pirates: Ages 3+

If you’ve ever listened to one of your kid’s stories and thought “well, that’s a bit bonkers” — this is your show.

Children submit their story, and then the Story Pirates — made up of comedians, improvisers, singers and actors — adapt it into a radio play.

After the final flourish, they then phone the original author to get them to weigh in on the result.

Find the Story Pirates on iTunes.

Short and Curly: Ages 6+

For when you’re done with US accents, this ABC show is a fast-paced, fun-filled ethics podcast that asks children the curliest questions from everyday life.

With subtle nods to pop culture, topics range from: “Should pugs exist?” and “Is Dumbledore as good as he seems?” to “Why can’t children vote?”

Hosts Carl and Mollie provide guiding questions too, so you can continue the ethical conversations in the car.

Ponder a Short and Curly on the ABC.

The Unexplainable Disappearance of Mars Patel: Ages 8+

For anyone that devoured Choose Your Own Adventure Books, The Goonies, or Enid Blyton’s Famous Five, this Peabody Award winning show will propel you straight back into those worlds.

In this mystery adventure podcast, kids are going missing from school, and the adults don’t seem to care all that much. It’s up to Mars Patel and his pals to solve it.

Voiced by primary school kids, it’s fun, high quality, and will keep kids quiet for hours.

Find out more about Mars Patel on the website.

Off Track: Ages 6+

This show could be the soundtrack to any Australian road trip. While not particularly aimed at kids, it’s like a nature exercise for the brain.

Another ABC offering, it combines the sounds of nature with amazing stories of wildlife and the environment.

So while you’re barrelling along the wide open roads, you’ll be transported into the great outdoors; lakes, rivers, rock formations, and the poetry of Australia’s distinctive landscape.

The sound design is beautiful, and the content will remind you to feel the earth under your feet, to listen to the birds, and to sometimes stop and stare at the sky.

Get outside and go Off Track on Radio National.

Stuff You Should Know: Ages 8+

Disclaimer: not every episode of this show is going to be suitable for little ears.

But among the hundreds of episodes, there will be plenty that are family friendly.

Hosts Josh and Chuck take a mix of history, fun facts, or theories about one topic at a time, and summarise them in an easy-to-follow format.

It’s like listening to your smart friends chat at your kitchen table. Or in the car seat next to you.

Learn more Stuff You Should Know on their website.

Topics: information-and-communication, family-and-children, children, arts-and-entertainment, australia, united-states

First posted October 01, 2017 09:12:39

Yoko Ono won’t let it be, forces ‘John Lemon’ drink to re-brand

Updated September 21, 2017 11:18:42

Artist Yoko Ono has forced a Polish beverage company to rename its new drink, called John Lemon, after threatening legal action.

The widow of Beatles great John Lennon alleged the soft drink infringed on the trademark of her late husband and his rights.

The company has now agreed to change the drink’s name to On Lemon, reaching a settlement so that they could continue their business.

Karol Chamera, the founder of Mr Lemonade Alternative Drinks, which distributed the John Lemon beverage in the UK, told the East London Advertiser newspaper that they could not afford to keep up the battle.

“All of us involved with this product are start-ups and we couldn’t take on someone who is worth many, many millions,” she said.

Lawyers acting for Ono wrote to distributors warning the company faced costs of up to 5,000 euros ($7,401) a day and 500 euros ($739) for every bottle sold if they infringed the trademark.

Lawyers acting for the beverage firm denied it had infringed the late star’s rights.

But Ono’s lawyers pointed to a Facebook post from John Lemon Ireland, which featured an image of the iconic singer.

Other marketing materials included the brand’s logo next to the words “let it be” and a pair of round glasses, both closely associated with Lennon.

John Lemon’s lawyers pointed out that their EU trademark had been registered in 2014, two years earlier than the John Lennon trademark, which was registered in 2016.


Topics: arts-and-entertainment, business-economics-and-finance, information-and-communication, copyright, beverages, lifestyle-and-leisure, england

First posted September 21, 2017 10:43:41

Rebel Wilson’s massive defamation win is an opportunity for publishers and readers

By Alana Schetzer

Posted September 14, 2017 16:52:54

Australia’s tabloid magazines received a massive blow when Rebel Wilson was awarded a whopping $4.5 million in damages over a series of articles in 2015 that were found to be defamatory.

But it’s also an opportunity for publishers and readers to say goodbye to an out-moded product.

The sheer size of the payout — which could be the subject of an appeal — sets a legal and social precedent in what magazines cannot get away with printing about people. In this case, a jury decided that Woman’s Day had damaged Wilson’s career with “a campaign designed to cast a slur on Ms Wilson, that would attract interest”.

The question now is how will magazines such as Woman’s Day, NW, New Idea and others respond to this? Will they keep exaggerating stories and using dodgy, anonymous sources or will they change tactics in order to avoid such stiff consequences again?

The holy trinity of gossip

Many gossip magazines are built on the premise of untruths and exaggerated tales, especially around the holy trinity of marriage, babies and divorce.

They buy photos from paparazzi photographers and build a narrative around that image.

Did a famous actor took grumpy while they’re eating at a cafe with their boyfriend? Must be relationship troubles!

Has a singer been snapped after eating a meal and looks a bit bloated? She must be eating for two!

Trust isn’t a factor

While many are predicting that the tabloid industry will now need to straighten up and stop printing falsehoods and stories built on flimsy premises and dodgy sources, that is not necessarily the case.

Trust has never been an ingredient needed for gossip magazine success; readers are often well aware that what they are reading is at the very least exaggerations and hyperbole, and Wilson’s win doesn’t change that.

Instead, readers will need to decide whether they want to continue to support an industry that profits off harming people’s reputations, career opportunities and relationship stability.

As long as people keep buying these magazines, it will be considered an endorsement of their actions. After all, aren’t they just supplying what their audience demands?

Money talks for cash-strapped companies

What could change the industry is money. Wilson’s payout is the biggest in Australian legal history; it is an eye-watering sum for the Australian magazine industry.

Wilson v Bauer

Such a hefty payout could have been absorbed by a magazine company’s equally hefty wallets a few years ago, but magazines are now struggling. A flux of title closures, staff redundancies and other cost cuts has removed the financial cushion needed to soften the blow of some of their more reckless actions.

Bauer Media, the German owner of Woman’s Day, has already had to drastically cut staff and use more content from its overseas publications following a drop in sales across most of its titles. It can ill-afford to have further defamation cases brought against it.

If it doesn’t make financial sense for a magazine to print nonsense, this could bring about a significant change in editorial approach.

Take Who for example, a tabloid magazine published by Pacific Magazines, but which has a editorial policy of not publishing known falsehoods or sleazy photographs. A recent Roy Morgan survey of magazine sales reveal that Who is performing better than Woman’s Day in terms of readership loss, but only by a tiny margin.

Struggling to keep up with online

Many former tabloid magazine readers have ditched print in favour for online gossip in recent years. Online, stories are instant and by the time a magazine is printed days later they are likely to be woefully out-out-date.

The need for fresh stories and angles in this hyper-competitive market could be a significant driving force for the creative licence used by these magazines.

Wilson is far from the first celebrity or high-profile person who’s been targeted by a tabloid magazine, having lies printed about their private lives.

TV presenter Fifi Box and actress Bec Hewitt are regular targets on the front pages of these magazines, an appearance they neither seek nor are happy with. On numerous occasions, these women have publicly called out the fake stories that are printed about them. But this didn’t stop readers from buying these magazines or reading other gossip online.

And if Wilson’s resounding win and record payout isn’t incentive enough for the tabloids to change their ways, what will it take?

Alana Schetzer is a freelance writer.

Topics: courts-and-trials, law-crime-and-justice, print-media, information-and-communication, arts-and-entertainment, melbourne-3000, australia

Online searches for ‘suicide’ rise after 13 Reasons Why release

Posted August 01, 2017 14:51:56

A study examining US Google search data after the release of TV series 13 Reasons Why has found suicide-related queries increased by nearly 20 per cent.

Key points:

  • Looked at past data on suicide search trends, forecasted out what might have been if show was not made
  • Up to 1.5 million more searches than the researchers expected
  • Most of the queries involved suicidal ideation, rather than ways to prevent it

The Netflix series features a high school student — played by Perth actress Katherine Langford — who takes her own life and leaves behind audio tapes pointing the finger at many of her peers.

Following its release earlier this year, the series was blamed for an increased number of calls to helplines in Australia.

Now a study published in the American Medical Association’s journal, JAMA Internal Medicine, found Google fielded up to 1.5 million more suicide-related searches in the 19 days after the show’s release.

Study lead author Dr John Ayers, from the Graduate School of Public Health at San Diego State University, said based on users preferences, in some cases Netflix had been “pushing this content to people who have suicidal thoughts”.

“We took all the past data on suicide search trends and forecasted out what might have been, had the show not been released,” he said.

The survey found suicide-related searches were up 19 per cent.

If you or anyone you know needs help:

The team behind the show said they wanted to raise awareness and provide an authentic glimpse of the struggles young people faced in school.

But Dr Ayers said most of the queries involved suicidal ideation, rather than ways to prevent it.

“On one hand, you can see how this would raise awareness,” Dr Ayers said.

“We would have seen a tremendous increase in people searching for how to prevent suicide, how to help out their friends with suicide.

“But we didn’t see that. Instead, what we saw was people searching for ideation. People searching for ways to kill themselves.”

Internet searches ‘reveal what people are thinking’

Just last month, a Netflix movie about a young woman’s treatment for anorexia prompted concern from support groups, and a warning was put in place about the content of the film.

The same was done for 13 Reasons Why, along with other measures, including an accompanying website with information about where to get help.

But Dr Ayers described actions like that as building a safety net, while pushing people over the ledge.

He acknowledged it was hard to tell whether any of the internet searches actually led to suicide attempts.

“We often have events happening like the release of 13 Reasons Why, where we know it’s probably impacting outcomes, but we can’t assess how because we’re waiting on traditional data,” he said.

“That’s why we’ve brought internet search queries to bear, because we can understand what the population is thinking and when they’re thinking it.

“And that’s highly actionable, and highly valuable in this particular case.”

Netflix said it believed the show would increase discussion around the issue and planned to take everything it learnt to heart as it prepared for a second season.

But some have argued more should have been done before the first season.

Dangers within new binge-watching space

Dr Fincina Hopgood is a lecturer in screen studies at the University of New England in NSW and an expert on representations of mental illness in film.

She said that in this instance, the producers were, “very cavalier in their approach to adapting the novel to the screen”.

“That said, I don’t want to suggest that we cannot be making shows about suicide, and in particular about teen suicide,” she said.

“I do think the screen media has the potential to open up really healthy and important discussions about mental health.”

But she said there were challenges in the entertainment industry that have not been seen before — such as the surge in downloading “binge-watching content.”

“When these sorts of shows were being aired on public broadcasters, I think the public broadcaster could really try and control the flow of information and the display of the programs and actually pace the watching,” she said.

“We’re now in a situation where we don’t actually have those external controls.”

Dr Hopgood said it was now beholden on the platform operator to put checks in place to ensure teenagers would not be able to binge on certain shows.

“Or if they do binge watch, actually have popup windows for, ‘Are you feeling troubled by this content? Please go to the hotline’, or those sorts of things that we see [on] the ABC, for example,” she said.

“I think we do have to think about bringing together mental health policy and broadcasting regulations to help protect the viewer from feeling overwhelmed.

“And we have to remember in this case, we’re talking about viewers who are particularly susceptible to feeling overwhelmed by these sorts of images.”

If you or anyone you know needs help, please contact Headspace, Lifeline, Kids Helpline, or Beyond Blue.

Topics: suicide, community-and-society, information-and-communication, television-broadcasting, research-organisations, television, arts-and-entertainment, mental-health, united-states