First of all, wow. Yes, wow. I've been pretty quiet these past few days owing to the uproar surrounding one of my co-workers. Obviously the company radar will be dusted down and time, effort and money will be consumed either gather further evidence or looking for similar acts. No doubt this account will get glanced at and while they might not like the fact that I bypass the company propaganda mill and tell things straight up, they won't find much in the way of a smoking gun.
I'm not about to come out representing the accused or to defend his actions. I've spent some time going over his blog and having a look around, and it's very much a case of "if it's not your cup of tea, don't boil the kettle". What this entire situation appears to be is more an orchestrated attempt at character assassination. I noticed that numerous times the individual has been critical of the Herald Sun, which provides them with a certain motivation. But before we get too involved, let's look at the timeline.
On August 18th, the story was posted revealing:
"The 33-year-old faced a disciplinary hearing last month for using his phone to take pictures while at the controls of his tram and posting them online. He was not stood down"
Looking at the writing of the articles, I can't help but see that unless you visited the blog and other sites, you wouldn't know that the paper is cherry picking the most sensational aspects of this person's internet identity and "reporting" it in such a way as to paint him in the worst light possible. "Pornographic images"? I saw some rather unattractive naked women, but apart from that, I get worse stuff in my spam box. As for taking photos of sleeping passengers and making fun of them, I think if you fall asleep on a tram in
and that's the worst thing that happens to you, you're bloody lucky. Yes, it's unprofessional, but hardly dismissable offences as the person has fallen asleep in a public place and what the accused uploads to his website in terms of naked ladies is hardly an issue for the company (unless he's doing it on the company's time/bandwidth or under their name, but it appears that the truth here might be interfering with the story). Melbourne
The comments and the pictures regarding crashes are somewhat disturbing, but if this person truly took such joy out of accidents, he wouldn't have lasted ten years, let alone get voted for an OH&S role. It's clearly a coping strategy or at the very least a way of sharing what is always a traumatic event. I'd be curious to see if the company has or will offer him counselling, as it might be needed. The Herald Sun has neglected exploring this avenue for some reason. I've had accidents in the past (as have the vast majority of drivers) and the expectation is that unless you're injured physically or the tram damaged seriously, you continue your trip and the rest of your shift. You might get someone asking you how you are, but it never comes across as being company policy.
It seems as though much of the things he writes are designed to offend and shock. It might be designed to get your attention (sounds like something a newspaper might do) and leave little space for middle ground or differing points of view as it hits extreme from the first words.
On the same day, there was a small editorial that summarised the article and called for the accused's dismissal. The editorial expands a little, claiming that he "boasts of causing accidents with his tram". Interesting, as this is a pretty serious development. Once again, to last in the job ten years while taking such joy in causing accidents doesn't quite add up. If he was that keen on causing accidents, there would be ample evidence of this on his record as it's not as though we're starved of opportunity (I have roughly 4-5 near misses per half, all cars and pedestrians).
As far as the accusations of sexist and racist comments being posted online go, it appears that the news writers for the Herald Sun don't spend much time talking to the moderators of the online comments section. I find what the accused says about the gender of accident drivers a little unsavory, and in my experience there's pretty much a gender balance when it comes to bumping into the large beasts.
In an article on Yahoo7, Yarra Trams says that in light of the pornography and racist comments, it will take quick and decisive action. Unless the porn relates to his activities at work, they will probably find that what an employee does in his or her spare time that isn't related to work is their own business. The link here is rather weak and I'd be interested to see if it even gets a mention at his "meeting". As for racism, I doubt this will be the real issue either, as his views are being expressed outside of his workplace.
Phil Altieri also chimed in here in the article. Instead of keeping quiet as it appears that an investigation is either occurring or beginning, he talks about how the rest of us workers get tainted with the same brush. Wow. Someone who's effectively your own industrial lawyer when it comes to issues of discipline has publicly come out and said you're the bad paint on that brush, before you've had a chance to defend yourself or even face a formal inquiry at work regarding the "new" evidence.
Another aspect of note was that the comments section, under the articles relating to Mr Blume, while present on the page, have no comments posted. I've read on twitter that it appears to be disabled as people have complained about not being able to post. While this might simply be a case of software failure, it seems a little odd that an article skewering someone about online comments being posted would have their own comments not working (deliberate or otherwise). The argument that perhaps nobody’s commented is null and void, as regardless of the issue, there’s always some sad sack linking any current news to the glory of the Howard years or how much they hate Julia Gillard.
Another rather curious issue here is the complete lack of any comments what so ever in the letters to the editor section of the paper on any day since the original article. Not one. Either
has stopped caring about public transport altogether, or the Herald Sun is not posting comments. Once again, it seems rather one-sided and impossible to believe that not one single Herald Sun reader has used this incident as a platform to complain about the latest football coach sacking. Melbourne
One aspect I cannot let pass is the use of a mobile phone while operating a vehicle, and it should be known that this practice is dangerous and the company does have strict rules relating to the use of electrical equipment while driving the tram (ie don't do it). Seeing as this offence was dealt with a month and the punishment was not to stand the driver down, it would be easy to arrive at the conclusion that there was not enough evidence for dismissal. In order for there to be enough evidence, you would have to have a reliable witness (yes, we get plenty of dobbers complaining) or proof that those pictures were in fact taken by the driver. Just because I put a picture on my website doesn't mean I actually took it - it merely means I have sourced it. The article clearly implies, without proof, that these photographs were taken by the accused in contradiction to the Road Safety Act as well as the company rules. To use images to imply someone's guilt as opposed to establishing or prove it is not exactly the height of journalism.
Let's have a look at the sequence of events through a different light:
The accused is somehow caught using his camera while at the controls of his tram (note the absence of the word "moving" or even "occupied"). He fronts up to a panel, agrees not to do it again and, as per the instructions, doesn't do that again. If this was such a serious matter, why was this not referred to Victoria Police?
Someone at the Herald Sun catches wind of this and as they know he hates the paper via his blog, sets out to bring down this "rogue tram driver". They manage to "discover" photographs and blog entries that are, in some cases, many years old. There is no reference to any "new" blog entries or photographs submitted after the panel a month ago. Is he continuing to offend? Or has the Herald Sun simply dug a little deeper than Yarra Trams did?
He's on leave for a week, which means the media cycle will have enough time to chew him up and spit him out before he's back at work. Thousands of people will have made up their mind before the investigation has started and given the Herald Sun has made Yarra Trams look ignorant, I'm thinking they already have the result of the panel arranged as well.
He can't comment or defend himself online as these are serious charges that may have legal implications. Not only that, but what if, as part of his work punishment, he had to assure them he wasn't to post anything else work-related? That would make his situation impossible.
And all of this stems from a panel a month ago which did result in the accused not being stood down. Why wasn't the evidence, that's been online for years, brought up then?
In order for a bit of balance, it would be interesting to find out who was actually responsible for the "best collision I ever had". This happened in
Collins St several years ago (I remember as it was on the news). The context, while initially abhorrent, can be up for interpretation. Without the benefit of facts, we can only assume by the Herald Sun that Mr Blume's a horrible person. As the twitter feed is now private and I can't find the photo anywhere else, so readers have no idea if Mr Blume's best accident is because he enjoyed hitting a car breaking the law in a tram-only lane or, perhaps, Mr Blume's best accident was because there so much damage and nobody got killed. It's this sort of "journalism" that, without context or some line of proof, that is simply there to help paint the worst picture. It's this sort of "reasonable doubt" that exists in court and while as I said earlier I'm not out to defend Mr Blume, I am merely trying to illustrate that this article is poor journalism at best.
I will repeat what I said earlier so it's clear to my followers and anyone from Yarra Trams: While I don't agree with many of the posts and find them distasteful, I find the sequence of events in this situation far more disturbing than the offences, proven or otherwise. I find the fact that the company appears to be taking it's employee discipline cues from a tabloid newspaper very concerning, especially considering the amount of information they're managed to get in reference to his panel, his OH&S position, his place of work, etc. Employee history, let alone a copy of an expired work travel pass, is hardly public domain and I'd like to know where that ID card photo came from. While I can't possibly believe it's a conspiracy, it certainly seems like a very cosy group of people circling around one employee who just so happens to be on leave during the week the story "breaks" and a month after the panel. Herald Sun readers might be this easily fooled, but there are plenty of sceptics out there like me who look past the pictures and look for the sorts of things that aren't written, instead of simply lapping up this second-rate garbage as "journalism".
Oh, and finally I'd like to congratulate the Herald Sun, Yarra Trams, Transport Minister Terry Mulder and the Rail Tram and Bus Union for not letting an issue such as the 594 accidents between cars and trams this year get in the way of dealing with a single disgruntled tram driver. Hundreds of thousands of dollars in damage, injuries, interruptions to the service, costs in fines, stress to staff, etc. That statistic of 594 collisions was posted in the company's staff newsletter "The Wire" on August 16th. Two days before Mr Blume made page three.