Monday, November 14, 2011

Hating on the media

This was bound to happen under a relatively new minority government that needs as much positive media attention as it can get.

This year's phone hacking scandal by Murdoch's now defunct News of The World generated such a stir here in Australia that it pushed the Greens to call for an inquiry into our own media.

There were even cheeky suggestions from some quarters that Australian journalists may be employing the same dark tactics in our own local newsrooms - shock and horror ensued.

But what was really the motivating factor was the perceived damaging attacks from those in rightwing media such as 2GB's Alan Jones and The Australian, Murdoch's 'premier' paper in (you guessed it) Australia.

Both are routinely accused of stirring up controversy, running campaigns agains Labor ministers, and assorted scallywaggery that lands them the ire of the likes of the Greens.

And why do they do it?

To sell papers and ad spots on air, the same motivating factor for all forms of commercial media.

In a democracy, there's a fair chance that half of the population disagrees with whatever government is in power at the time. Wouldn't that make for a wonderful market opportunity?

Unfortunately, our government doesn't realise this, and is taking words of both the written form and broadcast, as outright slander.

The Greens more so, who recently won their push for an inquiry of sorts:

Greens welcome media inquiry

What it will achieve will be known in a few months, by which time everyone may have forgotten why we had one in the first place.

Any politician should be flattered to feature in any article or story at all, even if it is somewhat unflattering. I'd even go so far as to say if it even bends some facts: it would give them the chance to correct the record, and then they have the prospect of gaining even more airtime.

Furthermore, they should be pleased their citizens are reading news media at all. Politicians and journalists alike in Australia live in an extremely sheltered bubble existence without at all realising it.

They write to a particular audience. They never write for a wider scope, for example, anyone with an education lower than their own; make no bones about it, after spending some time in news rooms, journalists think little of the public.

Which allows us to make a reasonable conclusion: the people reading political articles in the first place would be reasonably well-off white middle class Australians that can reach reasonable, white middle class conclusions about what they are reading.

So why hold an inquiry?

I personally can't see, for instance, how an article flaming Stephen Conroy would change Jack and Jill's opinion of him. According to most journalists, they'd already be too busy in the western suburbs of Sydney cleaning up donkey droppings or the like to care, or even know who he is.

When John Howard was in government, the media had an absolute field day with his rightwing government. At the time, Australia had some very healthy political satire comedy, which today is left wanting.

Towards the end of his reign, the well-known ABC's The Chaser routinely chastised the Howard government - which was fair, the Howard government was deserving of satire, and they provided them with good material.

Once Labor was in, the show had a short run thereafter, and now they've turned to taking the piss out of the media itself instead.

Very little satire is now tolerated in Australian politics. It provided a good outlet and spoke to a wider audience, and probably helped to engage more Australians into the political conversation.

Even the website for the Australian Parliament explicitly warns that none of its audio can be used for satirical purposes - which is a shame, because Bob Katter provides plenty of fodder.

But during the Howard era, I can't recall there ever being a call for an inquiry into news media that routinely and relentlessly threw mud at them; this is where a Labor/Greens government differs, in that they can't scrape off that mud.

Labor is so twitchy and archaic in making sure they survive the polls, they'll immediately draw to it attention and put on notice anyone who disagrees with them and their policies.

Once they're voted out, I'm sure all hubbub about the media being evil will cease, and we'll see that the media is considered fair and balanced once again when they start hating on Abbott and his merry men.

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