If it doesn’t, it will become increasingly irrelevant to thoughtful people, and will serve only to provide flimflam for the unthinking, the disinterested, the feckless. In case some of you are groaning, ‘not hammering the media again’, my response is ‘yes, yet again’, for unless those of us in the Fifth Estate continue our quest for competent reporting, the poor standard we see much of the time will continue to deprive the electorate of relevant information and what it needs to know to make decisions at election time.
The media in this country fits into the ubiquitous bell shaped curve with outliers, good and bad, but the majority centered round the average. At the quality end we find fine journalists who comment competently on politics and economics such as George Megalogenis of The Australian
, Laura Tingle of The Australian Financial Review
, and Peter Martin of Fairfax media. At the appalling end of the spectrum we find Piers Akerman of The Daily Telegraph
, Andrew Bolt of the Herald Sun
, and Terry McCrann of the News Limited stable. The bulk of journalists are scattered around the average. Generally they do a very ordinary job, occasionally surprising us, but generally disappointing those who look for completeness and accuracy in the reporting of significant issues, and well-reasoned opinions. [more]
On 4 January David Horton wrote in The Drum Unleashed: Wanted: serious political reporting
: “Australian political journalism is now basing its political reporting on single minor incidents and then pretending that these encapsulate all we need to know about the politician concerned. It is political reporting totally converging on political cartooning. Here a handshake, there a slip of the tongue, a long speech, a pair of boots, a hair style, a publicity stunt, a laugh, a stumble, a sporting event. Oh it's an amusing game, no doubt, this ‘gotcha’ moment of finding an incident or accident that can be used to characterise a politician once and for all in words, just as a cartoonist does with a nose or eyebrows or ears.”
That sums up the situation pretty well. Most so-called political reporting is cartooning, presented for amusement, or to push a political line (The Australian
is often guilty of this), or to glorify the journalist who has scored a gothca moment, or spilled a leak, revealed some stunning insight, or simply wants to sound learned, even prophetic.
Horton concludes by pointedly asking: “Have political reporters become merely stand-up comedians with humorous one-liners, or do they see themselves as serving the public interest? Are they going to keep on doing the equivalent of The Guardian celebrity profile with great weight placed on how the subject holds a wine glass or folds a napkin, or will they begin reporting seriously about the qualifications, experience, interests, political beliefs, aims of the people who govern us or wish to do so in future?”
This begs the question: Can they, will they?
The phenomenon of poor or biased reporting is not peculiar to this country; indeed it is widespread, some would contend as widespread as the Murdoch Empire. Fox News in the US has become an overt propaganda machine for the conservatives – the Republicans, and now The Tea Party.
Here is what Ezra Grant had to say on January 10 on the EzKool
website in the aftermath of the Arizona shooting of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and the killing of six people in a piece titled: Rush Limbaugh Continues Without Missing A Beat
. He wrote: “But politics in America is nothing new. It’s been around since this country’s inception. But something about this cycle of politics is different. Ask any member of Congress and they will tell you that they have not seen things this bad in quite a long time. So what made it this bad?”
Grant answers his own question: “It’s the Sarah Palins, the Rush Limbaughs, the Glenn Becks, those radio and television personalities who are more concerned about dividing the country to fatten their paychecks, than they are about working together to bring the country together. These personalities are financially invested and vested in keeping this country divided.”
He goes onto say: “It is also the main stream media. These are the networks many Americans look upon to deliver ‘real news’. These new media types are more concerned with drama than they are with facts. They put two members with opposing views on their network and give them a 5-minute segment to battle things out. Gone are the days when real reporters and real anchor-persons present the unbiased facts. What we have now is reality-based media, the only difference is, no one is voted off. The more yelling in these 5-minute segments, the more news networks request their presence.
” It isn’t quite as bad as this in Australia, but don’t be surprised if Fox News and other TV channels go down this track here. America is a warning to us.
There are other changes, some of a technical nature, that complicate the media scene in Australia. In a background paper to the Government’s Convergence Review
, one paragraph stood out: “Another trend affecting business models is the trend towards the ‘granular’ nature of media consumption; for example consumers can now download songs, not albums; watch specific TV shows on demand and not the linear programming of a channel, and read a single news article through an online search engine, rather than purchase and read the day’s newspaper edition. In the online world the consumer is in the driving seat of their own media and entertainment consumption patterns with more choice and control than ever before.”
Note particularly the sentence about newspapers.
People now have a superfluity of content, more that they can cope with, and that content is often fragmented, inaccurate and confusing. But just as importantly they have choice, more than ever. They can now decide to abandon the printed papers, as I have largely done, and instead focus on specific online articles from the wide variety of online offerings now available. They can, and will pick and choose. They can decide to never again read the rantings of Akerman, Bolt and McCrann, and focus instead on the considered and balanced views of the quality journalists.
So what is the chance that the media can be changed, even prepared to be changed? The prospects are not good, but not impossible either. The way in which Greg Jericho was able to influence Mark Scott, MD of the ABC
via his blog site Grog’s Gamut
, is something we will fondly remember. We can all do a ‘Greg Jericho’. The Political Sword
has as its strapline: ‘Putting politicians and commentators to the verbal sword’
. So let us as bloggers here continue to take our swords from their scabbards and put poor journalism to the sword. Let us take any instance of inaccurate reporting, biased coverage, illogical reasoning, flawed interpretation and unsubstantiated opinion, and ruthlessly tease it apart and critique it mercilessly. We ought not to spare journalists who let this country down when they exhibit these incompetencies or worse still, exhibit malicious intent.
There will be plenty of opportunities to dissect faulty journalism. Be assured that journalists do read blog sites, just as they listen to talkback. The adverse reaction of talkback callers to the inappropriate questions of journalists at one of Julia Gillard’s press conferences at the height of the flood crisis showed how the voice of the people can and will be heard. How sensitive journalists are to it is uncertain, but persistent complaints must eventually be heeded. You will recall Dennis Shanahan’s and his editor’s defensive reaction to trenchant criticism on blog sites of his interpretation of Newspoll
results. Criticism stings. This showed that persistent criticism can erode confidence and enough of it eventually can have its effect.
Will you join us on The Political Sword
during 2011 in making a small contribution to cleaning up the political media in this country? To do nothing would be unthinkable.