As the Chaser team prepares for another eight-episodes of the media-eviscerating Hamster Wheel, Chas Licciardello spoke to Joel Meares about where the news is getting it wrong, what he reads in the morning and bringing Anna Coren to the brink.
Chas, you guys came out the gates last year with The Hamster Wheel at the perfect time – the phone-hacking scandal was all over the news. What are the big media stories due for a skewering as you open season two.
We’ve been quite lucky again. All the social media campaigns against trolls, that’s been fun – we’ve got quite a bit on that. There has also been a whole spate of stories about violence, youth gone wild, both in Kings Cross and everywhere else. And in the first ep we are going to be going neck-deep into the Muslim riots. That certainly worked pretty well for us, if not for the rest of the country.
There is also a story that broke less than a month ago which you probably won’t be aware of – because you only read the quality media as opposed to almost the entire television news industry – and it’s the story of the 'buxom bandit'.
A bandit? Who is buxom? In the US?
Nah, it was Australian story about a woman who robbed a Gold Coast servo and she showed a lot of cleavage when she did it. Now, you may think to yourself, that’s not really a very big story, but over in TV news land, that was the biggest story of the week. And I think that that is as good an example as any of what is going on with the media in 2012.
I guess you guys are kicking yourselves for not coming on a few months earlier, when all people were talking about was Rinehart and Fairfax.
We are probably going to give that a mention but, as you say, unfortunately that happened a few months back and Gina’s kind of gone off the radar at the moment – but she has still got many weeks to make a comeback. I put out a plea to Gina: it’s not too late to get on The Hamster Wheel.
So there’s an open seat on the big hamster there…
A joke just occurred to me that I’m not going to make.
OK, Mr Media critic: you guys are so good at taking the piss but what do you actually trust and go to as a news source? What do you read every morning to get your news?
To be honest, when we are not making the show I’m more a consumer of American news rather than Australian news, so we have these stories where I make fun of America. I’m actually secretly American. No one knows it!
I read endless blogs – I am a creature of the blogosphere. And I am of the opinion that the independent message, the “voice of god” from the news, went a long time ago. If you really want to know what happens, you want to read as many sources as you possibly can and try to account for bias, account for incompetence and try and piece it together yourself. Now that’s not a very efficient way to consume news – I would spend maybe six hours a day reading blogs – but you certainly get a very thorough view at the end of that process.
You spoke about the voice of God and that’s a little bit like Jay Rosen’s ‘View From Nowhere’ – the completely impartial, “balanced”, he-said-she-said style of journalism. Do you think journalists have a responsibility now not just to give a balanced report, but to actually interrogate the news? Report what is truth and call out what isn’t truth?
I wouldn’t talk about “responsibility”; I wouldn’t be so smug as to suggest I should tell journalists what to do. But for my purposes I find news much more useful when the journalist doesn’t try to be balanced, per se, but tries to find what they believe is the truth, and they do their best to work out what they think is the truth. They wear their biases and their limitations on their sleeve and you as a reader can take that into account when you’re reading their version of the truth.
That’s the direction that it’s moving in when you look at American blogs like Talking Points Memo, which state their purposes from the beginning, but do some damn fine reporting.
Very much so. Which is not me saying I think people should be as biased as they can and push an agenda – I think they should try to be fair. But fair is different from neutral, and balanced. Fair is doing the best to examine all the details, and where the chips fall, as you see them, you report them.
I’m not one of those people who says the mainstream media is all crap, even though I say that on air. My actual opinion when I’m not being a hypocrite is that there are some journalists who are doing a great job and I can name some if you like. I think Lenore Taylor is an excellent writer. I think that over at The Australian, George Megalogenis is also an excellent writer. Now both these people come from the same perspective, which is left, but they put a lot of facts in their reports and I appreciate that – you can use those facts to make up your own mind.
You mentioned earlier that you don’t want to be the smug guy sitting there and telling journalists how to do their job. But is there a little bit of apprehension about taking the piss out of people you see on a regular basis?
Yes, yes there is. The world of the media is our world – the world of politics is not our world. We’re not going to come across Anthony Albanese anytime soon, but we are going to come across journalists, especially respectable journalists who we often go after.
So you have to dodge Tony Jones in the corridor after having a go at Q&A?
Yeah that’s a great example. But not just Tony Jones. The media is actually quite a small world and we do come across these people. Thankfully I am a social misfit so I don’t go out very often, but even so, you still come across them. The truth is that when you make a comedy show you make gross characterisations of people. This is not an academic exercise: in order to be funny you need to exaggerate and over simplify. If you then come across someone whom you have character-assassinated on air to a million people the day before, and they say, "Well you were completely unfair," you have to admit, "Yes we were!" And that is awkward but that is our job description. We are not Media Watch and I would like to hope that we don’t pretend to be. We are simply making comedy about the media and if we accidentally make a point or two, that’s great.
Awkward encounters – got an example?
Well this is not awkward but I can give you an example. The example is actually from way back when we first started the current affairs segment on The War on Everything. Anna Coren was always very nice to us, and we thought we were so slack to her that we actually invited her to our mid-season cast party and we had a great time and she was really lovely and we got along really well. There was no problems and then we just kept on going [picking on her show], because that’s who we are and that’s our job. We are the scorpion that stings, unfortunately – it’s our nature. Then by the end of the series she hated us, she really did. She was trying to be nice still but you could tell that she really, really hated us.
I can’t let you go without giving you a chance for another awkward encounter. Do you read Time Out? And, er… go on, do your best!
I must admit, I do not read Time Out.
But the good news for you guys is that you’re not likely to be showing up on our show anytime soon.
The Hamster Wheel airs Wednesdays 9pm on ABC1 from Sep 26.