Posted by: jkirkby8712 | December 22, 2011

Wednesday, 21December 2011 – on the media!

I referred yesterday to a monthly magazine that I read – ‘Crosslight’ [published by the UCA] –  there was another article in the December edition which I considered worthy of retaining, and sharing, and while I have some reservations as to whether the basic argument expressed in that article is as extensive as suggested [I still think there is a lot of good ‘journalism’ around, not just ‘opinion’ pieces,    there were a number of interesting points which will no doubt, in a future edition, lead to some controversial and/or  varied responses or reactions.  The following is the item I’m referring to.

Titled ‘Media – Information or misinformation’ from Crosslight, Dec, 3rd, 2011 written by Penny Mulvey

“Have you noticed a change in the way news is presented? Mainstream media no longer seeks objectivity, instead dwelling on the superficial, the argumentative – almost relishing the fight. Our media has fallen in love with combat and so too have we, the consumer. A feature article on commentator Andrew Bolt in the Good Weekend (19/11/11) neatly encapsulated the way our news media has been hijacked by opinion. No longer is news driven by beautifully researched and crafted pieces of journalism, instead it has been reduced to a series of sound bites and headlines.   Journalist John van Tiggelen, in writing about Bolt, said: “He (Bolt) became particularly adept at recasting almost any political debate, be it on reconciliation, refugee policy, conservation, multiculturalism, the judicial system or global warming, into an ‘us versus them’ conflict.”

According to the article, more than five million Australians tune into Bolt’s blog each week. He blogs all day, pouring out his opinion on everything and anything from five in the morning til midnight, each and every day. Some of those people then contribute their own strongly worded opinion on Bolt’s rant. The heat rises and rises and whatever the facts might have existed become increasingly irrelevant.

The spring edition of the Quarterly Essay featured an extended paper by academic Robert Manne titled ‘Bad News, Murdoch’s Australian and the shaping of the nation’. In it he forensically argued that the Australian newspaper had become a right wing voice piece for its owner Rupert Murdoch. Manne was one of a few academics invited to give evidence to last month’s fleeting Media enquiry in which he repeated his deeply held concerns about the News Limited empire’s near media-monopoly in Australia of.  Manne’s essay is a strongly evidence-based attack on the national paper for its perceived anti-government, anti-climate change, strongly ideological viewpoints. In his introduction, Manne writes: “The Australian is ruthless in pursuit of those who oppose its worldview – market fundamentalism, minimal action on climate change, the federal Intervention in indigenous affairs, uncritical support for the American alliance and for Israel, opposition to what it calls political correctness and moral relativism.”

At a recent conference Lachlan Harris, former press secretary to Kevin Rudd, spoke of what he described as ‘the opinion cycle’ replacing ‘the news cycle’. If you have been scratching your head wondering why it is so difficult to find news in The Saturday Age (predominantly replaced by feature, opinion and colour pieces), Harris explained why. Opinion rules.   Journalists no longer even attempt to provide objective reporting. Our politicians speak in five-second sound grabs. Policy has been replaced by entertainment. It becomes increasingly difficult to separate fantasy from reality, even our politicians become confused, as we see our Prime Minister appearing as a special guest on Junior Master Chef, and the Opposition Leader slicing fish at the fish markets or shovelling dirt at a mine just for the cameras.  Former federal minister for finance, Lindsay Tanner, in his book Sideshow, dumbing down democracy (published earlier this year), looks at the symbiotic relationship between politicians and journalists. He quotes veteran journalist, David Salter, who believes that editors don’t want to scare off readers with too much information:  “Frightened that readers and viewers might be bored by any substantial treatment of policy issues, editors and producers now reduce politics to little more than opinion polls, gossip and gaffes.” Ideas are presented in black and white terms, there is no room for nuance or shades of grey.

How does the Uniting Church, a church of nuance and complexity, present more considered thinking. The only way to be quoted is to have an extreme view and to present it in a colourful manner. If the church wants to give a more thoughtful response to such important societal issues as our response to asylum seekers and refugees; our care for the environment; or prison reform – which we all know are emotive but complex – there is no room for it. If the church tries, its views are reduced and caricatured.  Eric Beecher, chairman of Private Media, in talking about this ‘dumbing down’ of information, says it is a story of how not enough people care about ideas ahead of money.  The future of serious journalism is under threat in large part because it has been replaced by entertainment at the heart of the media power edifice,” Mr Beecher said.

Ideally, the media should act as our canary in the mine. At its best it provides the prophetic voice.  A free press plays a vital role in our society. Without it we become a China, an Egypt, or a Libya. An independent media in whatever form it might take (online, print, radio or TV), but one that has ethics and integrity and transparency, that questions and prods. I don’t want censorship; it is what makes our democratic society.

We need our media, for it is trained, articulate and independent journalists who will keep our leaders honest”

So what do we think, has the ‘news cycle’ being replaced by a constant ‘opinion cycle’  – we are no longer getting the news, but what writers think the news should be saying to those who are listening or reading?   I really don’t think it is that bad  – admittedly, the weekend papers for example do these days include  a lot of ‘opinion’ type pages and features, perhaps more so than in the past, and the writers concerned, do in many cases have considerable influence on public perceptions, etc. I don’t think that is new however – maybe a bit more prevalent, in view of the way in which the availability of news and opinions has changed with the advent of the internet, etc,  I will be interested to see what reactions there are to  Ms Mulvey’s article, although if those responses simply come from readers of Crosslight, they will probably be more prepared to accept her findings! We shall see!!

I undertook an afternoon ‘Christmas shopping’ trip across to a couple of major shopping centres today – and virtually came back frustrated and empty handed, couldn’t find what I was looking for, or more to the point, wasn’t sure what I was looking for!! [Not as unlucky as daughter Jodie – bought a few gifts this afternoon, and promptly had them stolen from her car while she and Susie were playing volleyball!!]. I also found myself getting quickly annoyed with the traffic, the parking, and a left ankle, which was not yet taking too kindly to too much ‘exercise’ after the weekend’s mishap!   So I returned to Sunbury late afternoon feeling a little dissatisfied, and determined that my Christmas shopping was going to be completed in Sunbury despite the obvious wider choice in bigger centres. Despite schools gradually winding down, this time of year meant the traffic on most of the roads was fairly chaotic, and since leaving the daily peak hour grind in October, I’m not keen on tolerating too much of it these days.  I think the only useful thing I did upon returning to Sunbury [apart from cooking a late meal for myself and Susan, who was eating at home for a change after a late game of volleyball] was another quick visit to the radio station to help out a presenter on air who had a minor technical query  – that should bring a laugh to anyone who knows me, Bill helping someone with a technical problem!!!!

I’d been up at the radio earlier this morning – quite early in fact, from just before 6am – filling in for the regular Wednesday morning presenter, from 6am to 9am. Whilst it may have been a little difficult to get up initially, after another poor and restless sleep, I thoroughly enjoyed that 3 hours – a mix of music, sport, news, weather, etc, etc!!! I didn’t have the interviews that Ron normally conducts – he had told them all that he would be away for a few weeks, and they were probably glad of a break also, and I was not too concerned either………………… readers will have gathered by now, I do enjoy my time behind the microphones at the radio station!!



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