The Age from Melbourne, Victoria, Australia on May 12, 1989 · Page 11
Get access to this page with a Free Trial

A Publisher Extra Newspaper

The Age from Melbourne, Victoria, Australia · Page 11

Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
Issue Date:
Friday, May 12, 1989
Page 11
Start Free Trial

11 Features THE AGE, Friday 12 May 1989 A study by a group of Melbourne high school students has confirmed US findings that television is a verbal wasteland, says GEOFF MASLEN. A child begins school with as many words in its head as the scriptwriters use to tell their stories-Television speech is terse, its sentences stunted and sparse. Pitman's prose on TV nightly A STUDY of some of Australia's most popular television programs has confirmed critics' beliefs that the box in the livingroom corner is home to a verbal wasteland. The investigation backed American findings that brevity is the soul of television scripts. Talk is so terse in the so-called soaps that it has become a form of Pitman's prose. Malnourished sentences lead to diminutive dialogue with a vocabulary that would suit a six-year-old. A group of students at University High School followed up a report of a researcher in the US who looked at the language used on television. The students reviewed about 20 Australian-produced programs. Each member of the class taped one of the shows, transcribed the script then analysed the content : Painstakingly, the youthful investigators counted the number of words used, how quickly they were spoken, the length of sentences, the types of vocabulary adopted and whether the scriptwriters sought complexity in the language through the use, say, of figures of speech. The programs ranged from soaps, such as 'A Country Practice' and 'Neighbours', to news and current affair programs, such as '60 Minutes' and 'The 7.30 Report. Popular variety shows, including the "Comedy Company' and 'Hey Hey It's Saturday', along with programs like 'The Investigators', 'Burke's Back Yard' and even 'Perfect Match' were subject to the students' scrutiny. THE US researcher, a Penn-sylvanian professor of English, Michael Liberman, analysed the scripts of eight different programs taken from among the 15 most popular shows watched by American teenagers in the early 1980s. All but one have appeared regularly on Australian television. They included 'Buck Rogers', 'Charlie's Angels', 'Happy Days', 'Little House on the Prairie', 'M.A.S.H. and 'Mork and Mindy'. The investigation confirmed what parents have long feared: television offers an outpouring of puny prose. The language on the box is stunted and sparse, as imaginative and full of wit as a paid political announcement Overall, Liberman found, less language was used in each of the programs than in live conversation, and markedly less than in books. On television, the characters talk at only nine to the dozen. As for variety, TV has the word-power of a grade-one reader. The total vocabulary used for all the shows amounted to about 3350 words and, according to Liberman, the lexicon for all television programming is probably below 5000 words. Children start school with that many words in their heads. Television is also subject to the tyranny of truncation. In each of the eight shows analysed by Liberman, the characters rarely spoke sentences that were more than six words long. The average sentence length in contemporary non-fiction is about 22 words, and in fiction a little more than 16. (This article averages about 21 words per sentence.) IN the shows reviewed by Liberman, the number of words spoken per minute ranged from a high of nearly 150 for 'M.A.S.H' to less than 80 in 'Buck Rogers'. In Australia, 'A Country Practice' came up with 97 words a minute, compared with 160 or so for news and current affairs programs. Both investigations confirmed the paucity of language use on television. There were almost 3400 words in the 30-minute script for 'M.A.S.H.' (nearly the same as in the entire 60 minutes of 'Buck Rogers'), but only 27 per cent of the words were different, the rest were repeats. At University High, the students counted barely 2900 words in 30 minutes of 'A Country Practice', 4900 in 'Neighbours' and 4500 in 'Home and Away'. The use of original words, however, averaged only 25 per cent. 'Neighbours' was at one extreme with 19 per cent, while SBS 'World News' sported the largest vocabulary with 32 per cent of non-repeat words. The students confirmed what Liberman found: if the language used on television is immature in its scope, the sentences that give it form are so undersized they should be thrown back. Sentence length for the Australian programs averaged just under 11 words. WIAT the students called "the abysmal game show", 'Press Your Luck', languished at the bottom with five words per sentence, just pipping 'A Country Practice' whose characters managed sentences of six words. 'Neighbours' came up with nine words to a sentence, and 'Home and Away' topped the soaps with 10. SBS 'World News' again proved to offer the most complex language with 18 words to a sentence (equalling that, amazing as it might seem, of 'Football Replay'!) As well as being brief, the scripted sentences in TV shows are grammatically simple, or just fragments of speech. But even though the sentences are short, the talk itself could become long and complex if the speakers uttered several without interruption. As it happens, though, the characters on television do not get a chance to say much. Liberman found that each person's utterances consistently averaged 1.7 sentences or a mere 12 words. Still trying to find some specks of verbal gold amid the visual gloss, Liberman looked for figures of speech that might lift TV texts above the banal. He discovered a literary desert: the shows were mostly devoid of metaphors and similes, puns and irony, even hyperbole and understatement. UNFORTUNATELY, as the University High students discovered, Australian scriptwriters seem equally short on ingenuity and sparkle. "Figures of speech of any kind were scarce," noted Simon Cave, one of the team. "They ranged from 'Press Your Luck', which boasted an impressive zero, to current affairs where, in 'Live At Five' for instance, they were fairly com-mon but still'nothing extraordinary." According to Liberman, the relative absence of figures of speech from most television shows indicates that the producers and writers feel their audience lacks the verbal background and information to process them. As well, producers may feel that figures of speech enhance the visual imagery of language and because television is visual it does not need them. Moreover, because almost every figure of speech involves an allusion, a reference to something not explicitly stated, the audience must make the connection. But this takes time and intellectual involvement. Perhaps, says Liberman, producers are unwilling to ask either of their audience. Yet the critical and ratings success of a program like 'M.A.S.H.' suggests they should expect more from those who watch their shows. Liberman's hopes that American producers, or Australians for that matter, might have reacted to his study by changing their ideas seem rather forlorn. Certainly, things here are little different. "A distinct parallel can be seen between Australian and US television matter," concluded Simon Cave. "Both produce material with alarmingly shallow language complexity thereby restricting the vocabulary growth of those who watch them." MmnrMeir w&tas tttann alt tataM rf tartar N the surface, Francis Dennis Ward and Reginald Keith Knight will be seen as tax cheats. Ward and Knight were, like Queenslander Brian James Maher and Sydney-sider John Walker Wynyard, leading lights in the bottom-of-the-harbor tax-avoidance industry: an industry which on some estimates turned over thousands of millions of dollars. But unlike Maher and Wynyard, more and more questions are being asked, and remain unanswered, about Ward and Knight. In a nutshell. Was the Ward-Knight bottom-of-the-harbor business just a sideline to what could have been a vast, flourishing criminal enterprise? Why would Ward and Knight, running a domestic tax business in Sydney and Melbourne, need to establish companies scattered throughout Asia? Why would Knight need to travel abroad almost 30 times, many of them for a few days at a time to Singapore and the Philippines, in the space of a few years? Why would a United States businessman, in an undated telex, outline to Ward and Knight a proposal to supply the Indonesian Government with 250 Corvette destroyers? Why would two supposedly smart money men buy a financially crippled fishing lodge on the tip of North Queensland where access is virtually limited to light aircraft? And why did Ward and Knight allow their Melbourne office to include corporate rogues, like Robert Sterling, convicted of fraud, and Brian Raymond Durston, once nominated as a key figure on the Melbourne waterfront, and in the painters and dockers? Knight was born in Geeveston in northern Tasmania on 26 February 1937. He was the eldest of seven children. An above-average student, he matriculated and moved into insurance before starting a wholesale vegetable business. He married on New Year's Eve 1960. He left the vegetable business to do a part-time economics course at the University of Tasmania in Hobart. He drove taxis to help support his wife and two daughters. His first brush with the law came in November 1968 when he opened bank accounts in false names and then tried to milk them through an unsophisticated round-robin. He was convicted on four charges of obtaining goods by false pretences and was given a suspended sentence of 12 months' imprisonment. Knight returned to his studies. completing the course in 1970. He then moved to Sydney, worked in an accountancy practice and studied law and accountancy part-time. TARD was born at Wel- lington in central New T T South Wales on 2 May 1937. While a toddler, his family moved to Bathurst He left school after gaining his Intermediate Certificate. At 18, he was convicted of fraudulent misappropriation while working at the local post office. He then began work with a food-processing firm, studying accountancy part-time. In 1967 he was posted to Sydney in a middle-level management position. He married in 1970. In the early 1970s, Ward was introduced to Frank Nugan, who was then trying to establish a merchant bank. In November 1974, Ward became a director and company secretary of the then fledging Nugan Hand Bank. In 1975, Ward wooed a colleague, Peter Milton Dunn, to Nugan Hand. In 1977, Ward and Dunn left the bank and a year later set up in the taxation business with Knight. It should be stressed that in no way was Dunn associated with the illegal activities of Ward and Knight. There appears to have been an arrangement, althouch not documented, whereby the Ward and Knight group took over some of the Nugan Hand clients, particularly in the tax-advice area. In late 1978, a highly unlikely character entered the scene. Brian Raymond Durston had not long been out of jail, after being convicted on a false imprisonment count. Durston, along with a then Melbourne justice of the peace and real estate agent, Guy Keith Campbell, were directors of a $2 company called Camper Timber and Trading. In October 1978 an agreement was reached between Camper Timber and Ward and Knight that the company was to "exclusively service" Ward and Knight in "washing" of income or other services. In effect. Camper Timber became Ward and Knight's "laundering agent". The agreement estimated that the amount of income to go through the businesses was expected to be not less than $150 million. A S part of the agreement it was decided that companies A. . passing through Ward and Knight which were stripped of their assets would end up with Camper Timber. Durston would then arrange for another compa ny, Wakoola Pty. Ltd., to end up with the effective company shells provided by Ward and Knight. The directors of Wakoola were well-known painters and dockers, including Johnny Johanson, a key waterfront criminal. Business boomed. Keith Knight drove a white Rolls-Royce, owned a $500,000 home in Sydney, a share in an ocean-going yacht, and in a bank statement in 1980 estimated his net worth at $1,862 million. Ward also gained sudden wealth, estimating in July 1980 his worth at $2.8 million. Durston and Campbell effectively left the tax-avoidance game by late 1979. Ward and Knight continued. In late 1979, Ward and Knight had a leading Sydney Queen's counsel examine the validity of the Camper Timber scheme. In March the following year, the QC advised that the scheme was highly illegal and Ward and Knight could be charged with conspiracy to defraud the Tax Office. To many, that might have been the end of the rort, but not to Ward and Knight. They continued to market avoidance schemes, deliberately lying to prospective clients that the QC's opinion supported the legality of the schemes. One scheme, which was at the hub of the conspiracy to defraud charges they were sentenced on yesterday, was technically called "a sluzkin". It worked by stripping the assets from companies so the companies still had tax liability but no capacity to pay. The charges against Ward and Knight centred on 71 companies being stripped of their assets between 1978 and 1980 and the Tax Office being deprived of about $21.5 million. The Crown prosecutor, Mr Nicholas Cowdery, QC, told the trial in Sydney that internal documents of Ward and Knight referred to documents being consigned to a "watery grave". Some of the documents ended up at a Sydney address which was On the surface they will be seen as tax cheats, says DAVID WILSON, but the activities of Francis Ward and Keith Knight raise many more questions than tax avoidance. Ward: first job at the Bathurst post office. a vacant block, while others were sent to two brothers, known as Johnson, in Brisbane. The Johnsons, according to evidence, did not exist. The worlds of Ward and Knight crashed in May 1983 when they were each declared bankrupt. They have since been discharged. But behind the tax schemes there emerges a shadowy world of much greater concern. Whether or not it was of their own choosing. Ward and Knight allowed well-known criminals to hold ac- Opportunity for a rising star. Financial Planning Consultant National Australia Financial Management's high-profile Financial Planning Operation is seeking Licensed Consultants to meet demand and expansion. Experienced professionals with first-rate qualifications are invited to apply now. Successful applicants will enjoy: quality lead referral, state-of-the-art computer National Australia A member dt 1 ', J-f I l j.- r i j Knight: started out in a wholesale vegetable business. counts with them. For example, a long-time convicted drug-runner, said by police to have been responsible for the importation of 12 kilograms of heroin, was found to have bank books in six different aliases with the Ward and Knight group. The assumption at first appears that the drug-runner was using the group for income tax preparation advice. But the person had not filled in a tax form for the better part of a decade and Ward and Knight did not act as tax agents, in fact, they employed an outside firm as tax agents. uii me issue ui amis aeaung, investigators, after raiding the naiu aiiigiii unices, auuiiu a iuiu- er on an Israeli aircraft deal. The folder made reference to a company, Hainan Ltd., which was registered in Hong Kong and of which Ward and Knight were both directors. ON 13 February 1980, Knight- wrote to a colleague in Hong Kong. In the letter, he said: "The negotia: tions between our Melbourne client and the Israeli arms manufacturer were discontinued and the $750,000 profit did not-eventuate. We were quite incorrectly instructed in this matter, and have voiced our protest quite cfrnnolv thranoh nnr MAlhnnmA office." : . Investigators also found documentation on a Ward-Knight com-, pany which revealed a project to develop gun racks for sale to Indonesia. Another interesting sidelight to Ward and Knight is that they dab1-bled in industrial and residential projects. On each investment. tial company was bought for $440,000, but within two years it was in liquidation and its shares were worthless. A venture into the travel agency industry also flopped. While the tax-avoidance matters were thoroughly and successfully investigated, the other more murky matters remain much of a mystery. software, proven range of investment products, subsidised loans after short qualifying period, computer leasing, excellent package with productivity incentives. Do it now. Send completed resume to David Walker, GPO Box 9895, Melbourne, Vic, 3001 OR call (03) 605 3205 or toll free (008) 331 240. FINANCIAL MANAGEMENT BADJAR NAFm 088NAT

Get access to

  • The largest online newspaper archive
  • 19,400+ newspapers from the 1700s–2000s
  • Millions of additional pages added every month

Publisher Extra Newspapers

  • Exclusive licensed content from premium publishers like the The Age
  • Archives through last month
  • Continually updated

Try it free