I was astonished when I viewed a video titled Oakes hasn't lost his touch, with the byline: Laurie Oakes remains on top of his game after he dropped a bomb on PM Julia Gillard. It was a discussion between by Geoff Elliott, Media Editor and Caroline Overington, 'Media Diary' for The Australian.
Do play it through its full six and a half minutes - to do so click here.
Overington begins by describing the Oakes question to Julia Gillard at her National Press Club appearance last week as a 'bomb' and “a classical example of how journalism should work”. She goes on to describe how journalists should approach their 'target' with a question the target is not expecting and to which they won't have prepared an answer, and 'drop' it into a telecast arena so there is no way the question can be dodged. After replaying the actual question and Gillard's response, Overington goes onto advocate the use of this 'classic example' in the training of journalists. She asserts that the Oakes 'bomb' shows how on top of his game he is.
Although it may horrify you as you view this short video, it will repay your time, as it will give profound insight into how at least one journalist from The Australian believes journalism should work, how the game should be played.
I was incredulous and horrified that any journalist in this country could believe that deliberately ambushing a recently-appointed Prime Minister at a National Press Club appearance with a question not related to the prime purpose of the event - to unfold to the Australian people the vision and plans she had for the nation - was 'classic' journalism, to be copied by novitiates. As we saw, it detracted substantially from subsequent coverage of Gillard's actual address, sucking up a lot of the media exposure, thereby depriving the electorate hearing much of what Gillard proposed for the next term of Government. Calculatingly, Oakes did us great disservice by distracting us from what the media itself is screaming for from Gillard - substantial statements of policy. Why fume about lack of policy and then, when it's being delivered, in Oakes' own words, 'put a spanner in the works' and wreck the process?
Does it have to be like this? Do we the viewers have to put up with journalists like Laurie Oakes, Kerry O'Brien and Tony Jones savaging politicians from all sides of politics with aggressive, rude questions, impertinently put by people whose only claim to fame is the powerful position the media affords them? They ask questions as if they already know the answers, as if they already know what ought to have been done or said, as if their subjects are schoolchildren who have messed up, lied or have shown themselves to be incompetent or ignorant, who have not done their homework and who are unable to do what is expected of them. Tony Jones' interview of Julia Gillard about the East Timor regional asylum-seeker processing concept was disgraceful. If you want to confirm that, read the transcript here.
After some very schoolmasterly questions, Jones said, “I just can't understand why you didn't pick up the phone and speak to Xanana Gusmao, who after all is the prime minister of the government of East Timor who would be responsible, his government at least, for approving this, not the president.” Note this is not a question - it is a statement of Jones' opinion, which incidentally showed his ignorance. Gillard replied: “Well, Tony, you seem to have taken some umbrage at this….”. Exactly - the schoolmaster had taken umbrage at this schoolgirl's actions. Now what right has Jones to take umbrage? Who is he to not just question his subject, but gratuitously to tell her what she should have done?
No, it doesn't have to be like this. There are journalists, just a few, out there who conduct themselves with propriety, who are able to ask searching questions without rudeness, with respect and consideration for the interviewee's position. One who springs to mind is Channel Ten's Hugh Riminton, who, after an illustrious overseas career, is now a political journalist. His CV includes: “Riminton has won Australia's top journalism awards, the Walkley and the Logie, as well as prestigious honours from New York's Columbia University and the Asian TV Awards. In all, he has been honoured for international reportage from Iraq, Sri Lanka, PNG, French Polynesia, Fiji, Kosovo and Sudan. He holds a Masters degree from Macquarie University.”
He sometimes substitutes for Paul Bonjiorno (who is himself a sound and courteous journalist) as host of Channel Ten's Meet the Press. In case you've not witnessed Riminton's approach, you can hear his conduct of Meet the Press on 18 July when he interviewed Nicola Roxon and Galaxy's David Briggs. To hear as much as you wish of Riminton's interview, click here. You will have to endure the ad and watch the preliminaries of Meet the Press.
You can also see the transcript by clicking here and then clicking: 18 JULY 2010 - NICOLA ROXON AND DAVID BRIGGS, which you can download and open.
Let's take a couple of Riminton's questions to Nicola Roxon: “Now,can you tell us, in very simple, clear ways, how is my health, how is the health of all Australians, going to be better under Labor than it would be under the other lot?”, and later: “Okay, well, you've set out to get national health and hospital reform and, of course, WA is not part of that at the moment. Will you be able to, by election day, say that WA has moved back in with the rest of Australia?”, and further on: “Okay, now you are Minister not only of Health but also of Ageing. Of course, we know that health gets ever more expensive, and as we age, it gets ever more expensive.The Prime Minister has made it plain that we are moving forward, as she says, not to a big population but a sustainable population, but as the Minister of Health and Ageing, isn't it your job to make the case to the people that if we are going to pay for our health costs as we get older, we're going to need more children, more migrants, essentially a bigger population, to broaden the tax base?” These are all well phrased but penetrating questions, questions that require a thoughtful answer, yet courteously put with respect and consideration, without the use of abrasive words.
You may have seen him recently sensitively interviewing Blanche d'Alpuget and Bob Hawke after the telemovie Hawke. Although some of the questions were 'hard' ones, Riminton's approach was always courteous and polite, and the entire interview congenial.
Belligerence is not necessary. Rudeness should be a no, no. Discourteousness should be taboo, after all these are our elected representatives. Journalists should remember that in the 'trustworthy profession' stakes they are 35th on a list of 40 professions, just a couple of notches above politicians with real estate agents and sex workers in between. Is it any wonder that politicians rate only above car salesmen and telemarketers, treated the way they are by the media and in copycat fashion reviled by the public. Whilst acknowledging that politicians certainly contribute to their lowly position on the 'trustworthy totem pole', I believe that the media contribute profoundly to that state of affairs. Imagine how the public's opinion of its elected representatives might improve if journalists showed them respect and courtesy and approached them with intelligent but evenhanded questions. We might be surprised and delighted with their response, and the quality of political discourse might rise from the slough of despond in which it is mired most of the time.
I for one do not want Laurie Oakes 'classic' journalism - I find it repugnant. Give me Hugh Riminton any day.
What do you want?