don’t call this news

The latest media proclamation from Clubs Australia raises some serious questions about accountability and the standard of journalism in some parts of the media.

Yesterday morning the Daily Telegraph ran an “exclusive” by Andrew Clennell that opened with the following bold statement:

“The poker machine restrictions on which Julia Gillard is staking her prime ministership have failed in the only country in the world to have introduced a mandatory pre-commitment spending limit.”

In case you came to the party late, the country in question is Norway. In July 2007, Norway banned slot machines (somewhat similar to our poker machines) completely; 18 months later, they were replaced by interactive video terminals (IVTs) which required a card to play. The Norwegian approach to regulating gambling in this fashion has been touted as both an abject failure (by our gambling industry) and a resounding success (by our advocates of gambling reform).

Many of the claims made by the gambling lobby about Norway’s mandatory card-based gambling system have been disproved. Yet according to Clennell’s article yesterday, an “independent study” had found that problem gambling in Norway was on the rise, and cited this as a failure of the system. Clennell went on to state that “mandatory pre-commitment on machines was introduced in Norway in January 2009”.

The problem is, Clennell has got it wrong. Completely wrong.

The “independent study” that Clennell refers to was conducted by market research company Synovate. They undertook this study for Norsk Tipping, who happen to be the sole gambling agency in Norway, and are responsible for running almost all forms of gambling in the country. Hardly “independent”.

The findings of this study, tucked away in Norsk Tipping’s 2010 annual report, were interesting, and certainly at odds with what Clennell reported. Since 2008, there has been a significant rise in the number of gamblers without problems (1.8%), while the increase in gamblers with problems (0.2%) was “within the margin of error” for the survey. The report also noted that the methods used to determine if a gambler has a problem have been revised.

In fact, over the past five years the percentage of gamblers without problems or at low risk of developing problems has increased steadily, while the percentage of gamblers with moderate to serious problems has decreased.

The report states:

“…Norsk Tipping’s measures against compulsive gaming have had the desired effect.”

And concludes:

“Synovate concluded that there appears to be a general decline in the proportion of Norwegians with a gaming problem…”

…which is a far cry from abject failure!

The problems with Clennell’s article are many, but boil down to two major points. First, it’s factually incorrect. Leaving aside for the moment that the interpretation of the Norsk Tipping study is wildly at odds with the study itself, Clennell repeatedly states that gamblers in Norway are subject to mandatory pre-commitment. He talks of Norway’s poker machines; Norway has no poker machines. Their IVTs are as similar to our pokies as a bicycle is to a car. And Norway does NOT have a system of mandatory pre-commitment.

IVT gamblers in Norway must have a card to play; that much is true. But spending limits are capped by the government, not by individuals. That is not pre-commitment, but rather a country-wide limitation on expenditure. Norsk Tipping recently introduced a system whereby players could voluntarily set their own limits within that spending cap, but again, this is not mandatory pre-commitment and the government-imposed spending cap remains in place.

Second, there is an obvious agenda to the article. It is an attack on the Gillard government’s proposed poker machine reforms that is based on an inaccurate interpretation. It’s no surprise that the publication of this article coincided with a Clubs Australia / Clubs NSW media release on the same subject; that media release, titled “Mandatory Pre-Commitment Fails To Reduce Problem Gambling” made exactly the same interpretation of the Synovate / Norsk Tipping study as Clennell’s article.

There is nothing new about this level of hysterical inaccuracy when it comes to Clubs Australia. Their agenda is clear and they will do whatever it takes, say what they need to say, to make it happen. Yesterday’s proclamation is simply the latest example of their approach; in the words of Dr Charles Livingstone, a gambling researcher and senior lecturer at Monash University: “…the Clubs NSW propaganda machine is well oiled. Unfortunately, it appears to rely on just making things up, and has no relationship with any credible research in this area.”

It is worrying, however, when that same level of inaccuracy, that same opinionated style of reporting, is coming from the state political editor of one of our country’s major daily newspapers.

Mind you, this is not the first time an Andrew Clennell “exclusive” has coincided with a Clubs Australia media release. The Clubs ruling body has previously issued media releases on the government’s plans to fingerprint pokie players (September 2010), the impending introduction of UK-style fruit machines (April 2011) and the “re-writing” of the Wilkie-Gillard agreement (May 2011), to name a few. Each one was accompanied by an Andrew Clennell “exclusive” in the Daily Telegraph.

None of the predictions made in any of these media releases and Daily Telegraph stories have come to pass. They have been wrong every time.

These days, it’s taken for granted that our major media outlets will take a position on many key topics. The days of unbiased news reporting seem to be long gone. However, the Australian public has the right to expect that this choice of agenda will not override the need to report news as news, and opinion as opinion. When facts are ignored and findings misrepresented because it suits the needs of an overarching agenda, the end result can no longer be called news… and should not be reported as such.

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3 Responses

  1. Libby Mitchell says:

    It is a pity that the media has chosen to purposefully [I believe] misreport at many times, to fuel the furor that erupts whenever such misinformation is put forth. However in all fairness Tom, I also was told by an activist that the reforms were expected to include a change to ‘UK-styled fruit machines’. She had been advised by Mr Wilkie’s office apparently, so I must say that it could be excellent to provide a very clear plan of what is intended, so that the media has a chance to get it 100% right. Various questions surrounding the reform plans, especially re consumer cards and their issue, ID standards, transaction history – reporting that is required by law, method of handling ‘wins’ and their management under pre-commitment, the use of the cards to self-exclude, the use of cards in multiple venues etc etc….these and other issues do need sorting as soon as possible. They need very clear spelling out.

    Nevertheless I do not think that the public has embraced the clubs mantra…otherwise the majority of people surveyed recently would not have stuck by Mr Wilkie. I think that the public is now well aware of the nonsense that has been spread by clubs, especially since we have heard nothing from pubs. It seems they are planning to swing through free, hanging on the clubs’ coat-tails. It has not gone unnoticed by citizens, obviously. I think that any confusions in this difficult issue will be assessed by the public patiently. It is most interesting that of 70 reader comments in a recent news article, the majority supported Mr Wilkie (42 for: 26 against) and of the 42 a significant 15 readers opted for full banning of pokies as being the best solution! That is not a sign of backing down! Not by a long shot! The call for banning if Mr Wilkie’s reforms do not pass will be huge and clubs must be seeing this now. The licence that they fear could very well be the next step that is demanded!

  2. Spin says:

    Perhaps the Tele had a copy of the actual Synovate report not just the extract in the Norsk Tipping annual report. Although it only seems to be avaialble in Norwegian.

    The Synovate report did find a statisically significant increase in the rate of problem gambling between 2007 and 2010. The 2007 study being conducted 1-month prior to the ban. It also found that problem gamblers were increasingly gambling online.

    Below is a link to a Google translation of the Norwegian media reporting on the study results back in Dec 2010. Seems they had a similar interpretation to the Tele. Ironically it seems Tom you’ve fallen for the industry spin (in this case Norsk Tipping)

    The link is here.

  3. cyenne says:

    Nice try.

    Ironic is a ClubsNSW employee calling themselves “Spin” when leaving comments. And yes, I can tell. It’s not hard; it’s a blog thing.

    Ironic is saying that a newspaper report MUST be true, and then as proof, offering up… another newspaper report.

    Ironic is that said newspaper article calls for the removal of all IVTs from Norway. Is that the kind of message you want to get across? Ban all gaming machines? Surprising.

    You cite a report that you can’t reference, yet the “extract” that you belittle had far more statistical information than the newspaper article you hang your hat on.

    As I said, nice try.

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