May 052011

I’m reading “Sideshow: The Dumbing Down of Democracy” by Lindsay Tanner at the moment.

It is currently receiving a lot of media attention, particularly from the Murdoch press. The Australian is shortly to start airing a series of recorded interviews with Tanner, which will help sales of the book no doubt. I’m only keen to see how they’ll present what they have to attack the government in the all too common ideologically oriented manner of it’s Editor-in-Chief. I’m only about one-third of the way through ‘Sideshow’ so can’t really comment on the tome as a whole, but the parts I’ve covered thus far are representative of the Australian media as whole. In particular, Tanner seems to focus on Murdoch press outlets as being principal players in the infotainment, conflict-driven, “gotcha” style of journalism which requires that context and substance play second fiddle to content and emotion.

Take, for example, the deliberate defamation by inference of the CEO and CFO of NBNco by Murdoch media outlets over the past several months. Mike Quigley has taken the rather extraordinary measure today of writing an op-ed in the flagship Murdoch outlet – the same one which led the scurrilous accusatory crusade last week – setting to rights the facts that rational people would already have sorted for themselves, yet a major media outlet deliberately avoided. In not one of the articles which appear in The Australian, and other syndicated Murdoch rags, or for that matter Fairfax or ABC reports which follow the lead, has anything been stated which adds to the substance of the outrageous headlines. In fact if the various ‘yarns’ are read through, all the damage is done in the opening paragraph through implication, while the reader is quickly able to pick up on the fact that no connection between the accusations and the individuals being accused is probable. As Quigley states in his op-ed today, the entire issue had nothing to do with either him or his current CFO, other than they were instrumental in assisting the inquiry into Alcatel-Lucent in their then positions of responsibility, and were never accused of corruption in the first instance.

So, why, you might ask, are such spurious claims made, multiple columns written and so much useless media space allocated to what is essentially a beat-up? The answer is simple, as Tanner points out in his book. It makes good copy. Never mind the facts, it feeds the chooks, as John Bjelke-Petersen once stated. The chooks in this context being the easily incited, ideologically aligned and gullible conservative elements in our society who chose to believe anything which issues forth from the Murdoch stable. Never mind the quality, feel the width, as the English comedy/satire of the same name once claimed. This infotainment and sensationist approach to news reporting isn’t unique to the Murdoch stable either. It’s endemic in Australia’s media scene, with all outlets, ABC included adopting the same or similar approaches to reporting the news in a bid to excite, incite and otherwise enthuse the great unwashed into paying attention to matters which essentially have no impact on their daily lives. What does have impact on daily lives, in considering issues like the NBN, is the pros and cons of the nation’s largest ever public infrastructure project. None of that debate is ever given an airing, because it’s as boring as batshit to the average punter. $34b is the spend….so what? It’s a number. The man & woman in the street want to know (a) how is spending that sum of money over the stated period of time going to impact on the closer-to-home public policy issues like health, education and transport, and (b) what’s in it for me? Not necessarily in that order.

Consider my pet hate, that clear and present waste of online media space and bandwidth, ‘Cut and Paste’. Again resident in The Australian. Rebecca Weisser, the editor of that sorry excuse for a snark blog post, produces absolute crap on a daily basis for no other reason than to snipe at her bosses ideological opponents from the presumed safety of the fourth estate. Today’s attempt at dark humour is a particularly obvious example of how not to write if you’re after plaudits for satire. As a great many former bloggers have discovered to their chagrin, snark is not writing, nor is it humour. Snark is downright nasty, indicative of a lack of substance, integrity and usually winds up rebounding on the snarker sooner than later, much to their surprise. If this sort of trash writing is indicative of the level of journalistic professionalism some sectors of the Australian media are willingly lowering themselves to, then little wonder the unsophisticated in our society lap it up, reiterate it and yes….accept it as fact.

The lesson to be learned by consumers of media ‘news’ is simple. Read it, take a pinch of salt with what you read, then go about doing your own research if you’re genuinely interested in the issue at hand. What is patently clear to me is the movement by journalism in general away from news delivery and into something akin to I’m doing right here. Writing what I feel like writing, because I can. I do my own research into issues I’m interested in and that’s where I differ from the so-called ‘news’ media. They’re not interested in the issues, only the entertainment.

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