At yesterday’s SBS Upfronts, B&T ducked-out for a quick fag and a beer only to find incomparable media doyen Lee Lin Chin was doing the very same thing. Although she refused to be photographed or, for that matter, interviewed, we still managed this chat on her dislike of technology, her dislike of cooking and why she thinks books are the new media!
You starred in The Monkey’s lamb ad earlier this year that caused quite a bit of controversy. Did you, yourself, cop any flak?
I don’t have modern devices. I don’t have a mobile phone; I have no desire to own one and never have. Why? Because I don’t need it in my life. Social media, Facebook, Twitter, none of those things. Because I don’t need it, I’m a serious person, and life is short, and it’s all too time consuming. They can be very tricky and it doesn’t suit my personality. It’s simply something I choose not to be a part of. That’s it!
You’re a modern day contrarian?
No, I’m not. I just choose a certain way of living my life. I don’t have a microwave, I don’t drive a car… it’s just the way I choose to live my life. Am I a Luddite? No, a Luddite is a different thing and people misuse that word all the time.
SBS unveiled a raft of new shows for 2017 today which, would you agree, will do little to appease those who think the broadcaster has moved too far away from its multicultural roots?
I am not the person to ask these questions, because I am not part of the decision making process and implementing policy at that level. I am at the level where we carry out the policy, so I cannot express an opinion, because I am not part of the party that says, “This is where we are going to go or not go”.
We’ve been talking about a more multicultural voice in Australian media for almost 40 years. Do you think the battle is won?
I think if you think it is then… on the other hand there’s a lot of people who value the symbolism that we represent; “we” as in SBS.
I think it was The Australian’s Chris Kenny who said last week that the ABC wants more ethnically diverse presenters so long as they speak with a plummy British accent.
I find that quite an outdated opinion. I don’t hear anyone at the ABC speaking with a plummy British accent.
Should SBS merge with the ABC?
That idea has been in circulation for years, it’s nothing new.
It’s the great question for broadcasters – what do Australian audiences want these days? Are we heading to a more niche media?
SBS, when it first started, was niche, and that was intentional from the very beginning. It became niche by virtue of what we put in the programming.
The free-to-airs are struggling to find audiences, what’s the learning there?
I don’t think they are alone in struggling with audiences. I think, on the whole, terrestrial television, free-to-air traditional TV… it’s like print, it could be living out its final days, in this particular form.
You see an ominous future for traditional media then?
No, no, no, not like dire. It could rise and take another shape or it could introduce other elements of the character. I think that if these medias can just acknowledge that the internet even exists, that alone is undermining these traditional medias as it’s always been, it’s undermined its whole entire character. Any number of young people will say, “I want to watch things when I want to watch things, not according to a programming schedule” and that in itself is an indication of things to come.
In your 40-plus year career, how did Trump’s rise to the Presidency last week rate in terms of shockability?
It’s like Brexit. I think Brexit, as far as the people who engineered the referendum, they were 100 per cent that it was a forgone conclusion. And that was mainly those people in the Tory party to shut-up those who were Euro-sceptic. So people like David Cameron saw calling a referendum as a way of placating factions within his political party. And Trump’s victory is identical because all the opinion polls, all the public opinion, gave it to Hillary Clinton. It came as a bombshell, a bolt from the blue, and as an observer of history, it is very interesting and it sobers you up into the realisation that nobody really has the expertise, nobody is capable of seeing something that is coming.
Media is in an enormous state of flux, who do you see not surviving?
What do you mean by “won’t survive”?
Well, we’ve seen an enormous clean out of media in recent times, a number of media closing…
I think newspapers are certainly not enjoying its heyday, but on the other hand we shouldn’t write them off so quickly. History is littered with examples of people writing-off medias. When television arrived everybody was saying this it was the end of radio, who wants radio when they have a choice of listening over listening and seeing pictures. We have had a series of logical developments in the modern era of predicting the death of “old media” to be succeeded by the new and that hasn’t happened. We don’t know. I believe there is a resurgence in books, I’m a book reader, and there’s a resurgence in book reading amongst children; the kids want to read, they are going for books.
We all enjoy some sort of inane, vulgar media, be it a MasterChef or The Housewives of Melbourne. What’s your inane, vulgar media?
Top Gear. And it’s neither inane or vulgar. It’s very clever and it’s very funny.
Personally, what’s your future?
One does things. One may not have something in mind while one is still doing what one has been doing all of one’s working life. However, there’s a little more to life than just where we work.
That sounds kinda spiritual?
No, who said that? I’ve always been very spiritual.
SBS is famous for its food programs. If I went to your house for dinner could I expect some sort of multicultural feast?
I don’t cook and I can’t cook. So the possibility is more than remote. It’s so remote that there’s no horizon far away to accommodate it.
Can I get a photo to accompany this article?
You keep asking “why”.
Well, you’re a celebrity, we know you through the visual medium of television, I don’t think a photo is an odd request.
One in life has likes and dislikes and that falls into dislikes.
Ha, ha! I knew this would happen, I know of your reputation, I knew you’d smack me down.
I’m not smacking you down. You know, these days, I’m almost averse to going out simply because every second person who recognises me wants a photo and that’s keeping me from going out. It’s gotten like that.
Is that the downside to celebrity?
But I’m not a celebrity. I don’t see myself as that. It’s a confusing state of play. I’m sorry that I am not giving you the answers that you were perhaps expecting.
Are you suggesting I was trying to massage your responses in some way?
No, no, no. You clearly have an angle to your article in mind…
You’ve had a very distinguished career. What’s been the greatest, the biggest story you’ve ever been involved with?
In recent memory I’d say Brexit. As an observer and student of history I think it’s just… it says a lot… it’s so full of tricks… it says a lot about the state of the world; it’s so Shakespearean.
Shakespearean? In what way?
You’ve got this David Cameron figure…
…but he was in the ‘remain’ camp?
Yes, but he was counting on people like Boris Johnson and they told on him, they stabbed him in the back. It was all very Henry the IV.
(At this point SBS comms terminated the interview…)