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SURFING LIFE AUSTRALIA: UNETHICAL SURF JOURNALISM

Saturday, May 3, 2014 18 Comments 8 Likes
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Nathan Myers, surf journalist, slanders surfer and nusa’s creator Diego and excuses himself: “It’s only surfing. People grin and turn the page”
Chris Binss, SURFING LIFE AUSTRALIA’s former editor-in-chief refuses a printed retraction to not “set a precedent”.
Are these unethical practices ubiquitous in surf journalism?

Diego and nusa films create a most original surf short film featuring Mick Jagger sending a message to the wicked surf journalists.

Keep reading 

Or watch Memo From Surfing

We live in Bali. And in Bali time takes its course slightly different. It’s called Bali-time. If you live or ever lived in Bali, you know what we are talking about.

But as you also know, “better late than never”.

We hold Surfing Life Australia magazine, former Surfing Life’s editor-in-chief Chris Binns, Surfing Life’s contributing editor Nathan Meyers and Surfing Life’s contributing surf photographer Gerhard Engelbrecht, responsible for debasing surf journalism to the level of sensationalism and paparazzism, tainting it with lack of integrity and respect to fellow surfers and using its power to spread gratuitous slander.

We also hold them responsible for propagating values of the sort: I ask you for what I want, but if you respectfully decline, I take it anyway and smear you in the process while trying to look cool.

Because of all of this, we also hold them responsible for debasing and disrespecting surfing as our way of life.

Sometime in 2012 Surfing Life published a double spread of a big wipe out featuring Nusa’s creator Diego going over the falls. The picture has an extensive caption by Nathan Myers misusing, misquoting, taking out of context, omitting, deleting and making up Diego’s words, and outright lying, all without permission and with blatant ill-intention.

When contacted in regards to such slandering the culprit acknowledged the very respectful previous exchange of e-mails from Diego’s part and attributed the caption to a mistake resulting from his “unintentional” actions but dismissed any real importance to it. “It’s only surfing. People grin and turn the page”, he said.

When asked for an explanation of the use of explicitly unauthorized material, photographer Gerhard Engelbrecht did not answer.

When asked for help in making this wrong right, Chris Binns expressed regret but also dismissed the relevance of said caption in Surfing Life’s magazine, “Respectfully, I think you are far, far overestimating the reach of this one tiny mention in our magazine.” And when at his own request, we suggested a solution to right this wrong, the only grounded reason to reject it was a discomfort with setting a precedent.

Respectfully, both editors are either purposely underestimating the influence of Surfing Life on its readers and the impact on people and businesses’ image to ease their way out of the shit, which shows no integrity as journalists, surfers and men, or they actually do underestimate it, and it makes us wonder: What are two journalists that don’t understand, let alone grasp, the power of the printed media and the subliminal trait of a “small” caption to which people grin and turn the page, (and therefore have no clue of the big responsibilities that come with their profession), doing in such mighty positions? How did they get there? And worse, how come they have been there for so long?

It also makes us wonder: Does the discomfort of setting a precedent imply that this, in our view, unethical behavior, is a matter of routine? Furthermore, being Surfing Life one of the major surfing magazines in the world, wouldn’t it be not far-fetched to think that this behavior is ubiquitous in surfing mainstream media of that caliber?

And to our amazement; what is a journalist who thinks that “surfing is only surfing” doing writing about surfing? And to the height of irony in a magazine called Surfing Life?!

For us, and I believe for many other surfers, surfing is not only surfing. We and many other fellow surfers suspected a big part of mainstream surf media had forgotten what surfing means for a lot of us, and what a lot of us expect from the magazines that influenced, influence and will continue to influence surfing. I have just come to realize (uh, think Bali time here) first-hand and per chance that our suspicion was right in regards to Surfing Life.

These are sad times to surf journalism and to surfing as a whole.

You’re blowing this whole thing out of proportion,you might say. Surf journalism is not surfing as a whole, you might add. And I agree. Surfing has a multidimensional essence that goes beyond surf journalism. Yet, surf journalism attempts (or at least should attempt) to understand and apprehend the whole of surfing in all its different dimensions, conceptualize it, give it shape through writings, pictures, and videos and then present it to you and me in order to help us in turn understand and apprehend and enjoy its all-dimensionality.

In doing this, surf journalism assumes the place analogous to that of religious authorities in acting as an intermediate between the essence of God and Life and the lay men. It’s impossible to deny the tremendous power of religious authorities in shaping humans as a whole. It is, however, very possible and probably quite correct to affirm the disinterest, difficulty, or inability of a large sector of lay men to acknowledge such power.

It’s the same with surf journalism and surfers. Some are unable to see the supremacy of surf journalism in shaping their lives and minds as surfers and as people.

We are not. We acknowledge and believe in the power of surf journalism not only in steering surfing as a sport, a style, an art, a fashion, and a way of life, but also in molding attitude and ethical and aesthetic behavior as well as outlook on life, nature, society and people, and therefore we acknowledge and believe in its prime positioning in affecting and shaping the way we as surfers interact with the ocean, with life and with one another.

If you are not convinced, think about this: How many surfers do you think started surfing without previously seeing a magazine picture or a video of another surfer?

Granted, a surf magazine, once understanding surfing’s multi-dimensionality, can very well choose to focus on a limited scope of surfing’s aspects. According to some of our Australian friends, Surfing Life is renowned for its narrow interpretation of surfing that caters mostly to the young browsers that grin and turn the page. That is, however, as valid an option as any other and as enjoyable as any other according to taste. In fact, we ourselves have here and there enjoyed many of its editions.

Granted, a journalist can very well choose to cater his services to that type of publication, and that, again, it is as valid as any other professional choice in that respect.

What is not only not valid but also highly disrespectful and irresponsible is to, for lack of material to publish, decide to not barter two small visual ads for that publishable material and then in turn publish a slander using that same unauthorized material. What makes it even more irresponsible is to subliminally propagate unethical behavior to its mostly young readers with their still-in-the-making values.

Great power comes with great responsibilities. Surf journalism has great power and great responsibilities. Surf journalists should be accountable for their actions when bastardizing surfing as our way of life.

So when they gratuitously smear a man as a surfer, as a person and as a entrepreneur to make a quick buck, sincerely or cunningly fail to acknowledge their power (we are not sure which one is worse) yet use it indiscriminately, reject our thoroughly respectful and reasonable pleas to hold themselves accountable for their actions, refuse a public retraction wasting an opportunity for self-criticism putting business interest before the integrity and respect that surfing deserves and that some of us surfers still expect from them, we take it to heart. We really take it to heart. For our sake and, most importantly, for the sake of surfing.

And when this pen for hire, very short in our view of ethical values and reasoning skills, dismisses surfing as only surfing and cannot but compare surfing photojournalism to paparazzism (not even realizing that their actions fell further even below that of paparazzi), we cannot but say:

Respect our way life. Try Hollywood surf paparazzi.

(Another thing that we can do, being as little as we are in comparison to the might of printed media, and to the might of those magazine’s big sponsor is to ask our life-long friend Mick Jagger to deliver a Memo From Surfing to the wicked on behalf of surfing. We know they know who they are.

And in doing so, we set a precedent. Take that.)

If this interests you further, all e-mail records of our exchange are available upon request. Please let us know and we will send them to you. We ask you to take your time and analyze everything for yourself.

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  1. After reading this account (a few times, over a few months) and viewing the video (artistically and metaphorically very creative by the way) I have decided to respond because I believe I understand your grievances and also would propose that the accused (writer, editor) may have a small but valid rebuttal as well. I am also responding because I see one giant alarming issue here for all us non-celebrity surfers. -Most of us who surf do not and will not be published in, work for or contribute to any of the worlds surf media- let’s just say that includes the overwhelming majority of people who surf. We are the fans of and customers of all things surf related; we buy the magazines, browse the websites, buy the trunks, wetsuits, surfboards, wax, and dream and sometimes actualize a great surf adventure. Because surfing is awesome. Surf magazines, for us below-the-media-radar wave lovers, has and can be inspiring, entertaining, fun to read and look at, and influential at times. But the level of influence they have (SL A for example) is probably greater on grommets and weak-minded folks than surfers who have put years of wax and water time in their surf-trunk back pocket. Additionally the surf media, corporate surf manufacturers and even at times the ASP tour HAVE FORGOTTEN what surfing means to the vast majority of us who hover below the camera lens. It has been happening in the USA for almost 15 years- The large corporations that now own clothing, accessory and surf media outlets have lost touch with us common folk and it is to their demise. Just check the numbers. We should also recognize that surf-journalism, with a couple of golden exceptions, is in no way the pinnacle of writing and publishing. Therefore, sadly, we must lower our expectations in the quality of their material. It sucks. But that is why in a sense, real surfers (us) do not take them that seriously anymore. So on this point I am in a small, embarrassing agreement with the accused author and publisher- truly folks may turn the page and forget what they just read (as anyone does with forgettable writing). However, I take further consideration of your case because of this: As a business owner within the “surf industry”, and being located in this wonderland of amazing waves, you do have a profile that gets considered by the public and that image can influence the public’s opinion of you and by virtue of that, your business. So yes, you have that consideration professionally and it is valid and correct that you should defend any and all slanderous and inaccurate reports or remarks that can have a negative effect on that- no question. I did say that something alarmed me- so now, the hammer. The fact that SLA magazine used images without permission, miss-quoted, published slanderous comments of any person, or took out of context any or all statements with seeming impunity and then excused or refused responsibility is GROSSLY NEGLIGENT and in many places, criminal. It is also a glaring demonstration of the level of consideration they have of the surfing public that buys their magazine- We are shit to them. And that infuriates me. When the “surfers” who operate the surf media can treat us regular-types with such inconsiderate indifference, it’s time to rebel. So fuck ’em. As I said, I believe I understand your grievance. I also say to you that your character, the quality of your products and service and your devotion to surfing and what it truly means to you will (if it not already has) surpass any damages perceived or real that was done you by that article. And, thicken your skin a bit against future criticisms. Success and exposure will bring that. Plus, think about this- that photo of you on that wave, regardless that you are displayed going over the falls, is heavy! 90 % of us wouldn’t even paddle out on that day! Happy surfing to you. -Expat in paradise

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    • Thanks for the comment Charlie. We live in a world where the people and groups and organizations with power, “that infamous 1%”, use their power to their own benefit trampling whoever from the 99% is on the way. And their way of working is through deception. Sometimes well-crafted, sometimes coarse as in Chris Binns e-mail to us, a triple oxymoron worth of the best of the best politicians: “…Surfing Life never intends to insult people…” What a joke. Those surf journalists and editors are part of the 1% of the surf world. As you said, they don’t care about their readers as surfers or people at all. They don’t care about surfing. For them, surfing is only surfing. For us, surfing is not only surfing. Thick skin and all. Cheers.

  2. It looks like this whole story makes your soul unbalanced. Focus on the good sites of life. Delete all that negative stuff (including, posts, movies and so on) from your website and move on in life. Get over it dude. No offense just an advise. Cheers and see you in the water.

    • Thanks for the advise and the concern Bagus! We see the posts, movies and so on as very positive. We enjoyed making them and we hope some positive change could come off of it. Like Mr King said:”Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about the things that matter”. Cheers!

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  3. Surf journalists = mainstream media whores. Content is king, quality is a non-existent. Stopped reading it about 6 years ago, enjoy surfing a lot more! Aloha

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    • We are also discovering that all people involved in surf media belong to a click. They cover each others backs. They are self-serving and do not care about expanding and exploring new ways of surf culture expression. Aloha Steve!

    • Hey who cares?, I’m confused. Do you care? It was “unaouthorized material” becasue all parties involved had understood it was not to be published. If you care, we have the e-mnail exchange for you to corroborate. You are also misleading the main important point of the article and film which is not about the publishing of the picture but rather about the lies and lies published for no reason. That is abuse of power by the media, and we believe it should be checked. Otherwise, who knows, next time they will publish lies about you or the people you care about. We are calm but we are not sheep that will let itself be abused and do nothing. Give us another chance who cares? and care about surfing culture. Cheers!

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  4. your a fucking idiot and this story is stupid. You lucky that kook diego even got a shot. Some tourist now living in indo taking advantage. Story is from 2012 grow a pair of balls and get your shit together.

  5. It is perhaps not surprising that surf journalism lacks the same principles absent from most journalistic works these days. Still, putting things straight and trying to open up a much needed debate is a very valid cause worthy of support. It would be great if more examples like this start to appear. Good job and good luck!

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    • Good insight. Why think surf journalism different from other mainstream journalism? Are we deluded to think the industry is clean and honest? Who deludes us? The surf media? The industry? Ourselves?

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