In this Press the Press media interview, Tony Nicholls chats with Richard Cooke, one of Australia’s most experienced journalists.
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Tony Nicholls: Welcome to Press the Press. If you are intrigued about power and influence, this podcast aims to interview working journalists, political lobbyists and ex-government staffers. Today we are interviewing Ricardo Goncalves, a veteran reporter with SBS television in Sydney. We discuss the coronavirus and its implications on the economy and the health of all of us.
TN: Well welcome to Press the Press and of course joining us is David Latham. David, it’s all about coronavirus now and the media ramifications are enormous but the health ramifications are much more important. Economically it is looking extremely dangerous right now. Can you believe that Trump has put out zero percent interest rates.
David Latham: It is amazing, he has put forward a stimulus package with the hope of securing people’s hopes around the economy. And we have seen a massive drop overnight in the stock market: the SNP Index dropping 12% which is absolutely enormous, the biggest drop since 1987.
TN: Well we are joined right now by SBS reporter, veteran reporter I should say, Ricardo Goncalves. Ricardo you are seeing it unfold from the seat there in Sydney, what are your views?
Ricardo Goncalves: G’day guys, thanks for having me on. The first thing I want to correct is you said that Trump put out interest rates at zero percent. You have to remember when we talk about interest rates and central banks, they need to be independent from the government, so it’s not Trump that put interest rates at zero percent it was the Federal Reserve. So let’s just clarify that thing. As a reporter, and I’ve been a business journalist for over 20 year, I have never seen anything like this before. I can see why people are concerned, obviously when it comes to health ramifications and then business ramifications but I think my job is just to make sure I report the facts correctly and accurately. I think the only issue is we need to make sure that sources are correct if you know what I mean.
TN: Well Ricardo I think that is a good point because a lot of the circles we are moving in people are accusing us or accusing the media of being very sensationalist at the moment. David in reflecting on the crisis and leadership right now, we’ve got Scott Morrison, a new Prime Minister toward the end of a conservative government. We all agree he did really poorly with the bushfires, but how do you rate his leadership now with the hottest of hot crucibles.
DL: It is very testing for Scott Morrison right now. I mean obviously the bushfire he didn’t get a bounce, which is the ABC’s of politics, but actually went backwards. Now this is a crisis of a different stripe and there is not going to be any rewards if people are dying as a result of this which is quite possible, and he is seen to be dragging the chain.
TN: I mean how can he win here? I mean the economy is set to implode; but the health crisis could be unforeseen globally. Ricardo, where do you think he is going here?
RG: As an independent reporter and to be completely upfront and fair I have no opinion on the government. It’s not my job to talk about my opinion or even the public perception of the government. Mine is to report on the facts and make sure that everything we report on the SBS is fair and balanced. One of the things I like that we are doing and it was brought up by one of my mates at the gym a couple of weeks ago. He said ’Everything sounds so sensationalised, we are hearing about all these deaths around the world but what about those that are recovering?’ And I like that we have a regular graphic on SBS World News that shows sure these amount of people have died worldwide, these are the number of people who have contracted the virus but these are the amount of people that have recovered as a result. It’s good to get that balance so that we aren’t promoting fear and panic we are just presenting the story accurately.
TN: I don’t think the media is trying to promote fear or panic. But fear or panic is simply the fear of society right now and we are all feeling it in varying degrees. But what are your thoughts on some of the more sensationalistic tabloid elements of the media.
RG: Well I think they have also got a business to run in the media. What I will say, and I actually put out a post on my Twitter and my professional Facebook saying ‘In these times, the media has probably one of the most important roles to play but is also important for the consumer that they know where this information is coming from and that the credibility and the trustworthiness of the news brand,’ especially if they are reading it online. Especially if they are getting it from Facebook and that’s where the consumer or viewer should really take responsibility in making sure they are aware of where they are getting their news from. This is why I think organisations like SBS, which is a trusted brand, will really come into our own because the viewer or the reader can go ‘yep, this information is coming from SBS I trust it and I’m going to get my information from there.’
TN: Ricardo I would have thought the broadsheets, ABC, SBS would be the go to news sources right now. David and I were actually reflecting earlier on the multicultural audience that you serve and David multicultural audiences are the more marginalised and vulnerable in society with English as a second language. Really, they are the ones that need to be looked after the most right now.
DL: Yeah look I think it’s really clear, we have talked about business confidence coming off the back of strong political leadership but we haven’t really had that communication campaign that we had off the back of the bushfire crisis. People are making their own decisions; different state governments are making different decisions. It’s absolute bedlam. So Ricardo I guess for multicultural communities there might need to be a very strong campaign that is very clear around the facts that you alluded to earlier.
RG: Absolutely and obviously SBS meets the demand of all these different language groups. All the news stories that we collate in the newsroom get shared amongst our dozens of different language groups, radio networks, radio shows in different languages so we try to serve our multicultural audiences in that way.
TN: Well of course coronavirus is dominating every news bulletin, but I mean for your one hour service it can’t be all coronavirus. Is it at all possible right now any other story to get up and I mean if that’s the case how do organisations go about it?
RG: Absolutely, that’s a very good point and we were discussing it right now just before recording this podcast about what are we going to cover in the finance or the money segment on SBS World News tonight. There is a report on house prices that is out today and we thought we need to do that for a bit of light and shade. We also need to make sure there is some sort of… not necessarily a lighter story but consumers or viewers are probably going to be overwhelmed with information that there might at some stage be a turn-off factor. What’s happening right now is we are seeing the numbers, ratings numbers coming through from all the networks and people are being drawn to news programming right now, but I still think it’s important to have that light and shade. I think for organisations and PR companies wanting to get the attention of journos right now, unfortunately it is about getting your timing right and that can be a bit of pot luck in terms of when you get the attention of a journo. Also, I think we do have a good knack for identifying a story that appeals to our audience and meets our charter. So there is obviously an opportunity to tell a different type of story right now.
TN: And David as we are reflecting on our different clients, every client is getting on right now if they have a coronavirus related angle and we are particularly concerned right now— Riccardo, you might want to watch this space – we think immunocompromised members of the community, that’s a voice not necessarily being represented right now and I think you’ll be hearing a lot more on that pretty soon. But David, when you reflect on all these other organisations that aren’t getting any air play at all. What is your advice to those groups?
DL: Well obviously you alluded to getting a hook around coronavirus but there are economic impacts as well so we want to talk about business continuity and reassure the general public that your service is still on track and you have made provisions around the coronavirus and that as an organisation you can still service those needs.
TN: And Ricardo just wrapping up, the crisis in leadership right now, I know as a working reporter you are pretty careful in the comments you want to go to air but surely you have a view on how Morrison is performing right now.
RG: I am going to respectfully decline talking about any kind of leadership, that’s not my area of speciality. Again I’m employed to report on the facts and if I was going to give some editorial opinion I wouldn’t be working at SBS. So I respectfully decline any comments on the direction of politics, that’s not my job.
TN: Okay, so let David and I have that freedom for a moment. David, I think Morrison is in the crucible right now. We know he is not a popular political leader within his own party. This potentially will be a situation that will evolve unpredictably day to day to day. Inevitably, there could be deaths and quite a number. I think his leadership will really be judged in hindsight. So we are in the thick of it right now and the opposition is sitting back and probably doing the right thing right now and not making this political. You would have to say that Morrison essentially is being Kevin Ruddesque in his approach here and he is almost acting like a Labor Prime Minister.
DL: I think reluctantly he has become a Keynesian. I think the government are coming to grips with that. Historically they have been very monetarist, focused around interest rates and not pulling other levers like fiscal stimulus measures, infrastructure rollouts to a large degree, but he is going to have to come to terms with that and there will be people in his party that will be waiting for him to trip up and to pull the knife out. As you say, he only has seven hard-core supporters within the party. There’s Dutton on the right and then there is Frydenberg on wet side of the party. So it’s very fraught for him. It could mean he acts without conviction and I think that’s the great danger. He needs to take it the bit between the teeth and run with it.
TN: It could be his making or it could be his downfall. Let’s see. It is going to be a very interesting 18 months. Ricardo, I recall way back in the day you were so kind to me, we were working in community radio, teaching me how to do a three-par copy grab for radio and how to put down a voicer. Reflecting on your career, you have done so well, how does it compare now having a top line job in Sydney compared to when you were just starting out?
RG: I think it is just as important. I think community-based news plays if not a bigger role than a national sort of news service as well because you are really getting into the guts of the community. You are reporting on issues that impact the immediate area. In saying that I started my career at WIN Television in Wollongong. Before that I was at a community-radio station called Two Box FM and I did a community based paper in Pt. Kembla. This was all as a teenager but it’s where you get your grounding as a journalist and I look back at all that experience with complete fondness. I had so much fun, learning from the ground up and it really was a wonderful experience and now I remember being very lucky to be able to read the news nationally and first of all at Sky News in my mid-twenties. I look back at it as a 39-year-old now thinking why did they let a 25/26 year old read the news? What does he know? The older you get you kind of do realise that experience pays, credibility pays and it is even more and more important as I get older. I want to know where I’m getting my news from. Do I trust this person that is reading the news? I don’t want to sound like an old man, I mean I’m still 39, I still have a lot to learn and I’m open to learning a lot more and I’m still skilling up and the one thing about this industry is that you need to stay open. I hope that all makes sense. I’m quite overwhelmed at the moment. I’ve been rushing to get into this podcast, helping mates that are self-quarantined, the market is rebounding today. There is a lot going on so I hope all of that made sense.
TN: Oh it certainly did.
RG: The only other thing I wanted to add is I didn’t want to sound wishy washy when we were talking about leadership or government or anything like that. Because there is so much information right now and there is the perception that some media can swing one way or another. This is why it is so important that there are organisations like SBS that play it straight down the line. That is why I will never talk about politics in public. I will never give my opinion on that sort of thing, that’s not my job. And that might make me boring as a commentator but that’s what I think makes me more appealing as a trusted news person. So the reader and viewer will know, he is just giving me the facts and a little bit of analysis.
TN: Fair enough Ricardo. We love your passion. We have been watching your passion for so long. You’re certainly not an old man you are a young handsome man. We love seeing you on television every night and thank you so much for joining us on Press the Press.
RG: Thanks for having me.
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