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"...public opinion deserves to be respected as well as despised" G.W.F. Hegel, 'Philosophy of Right'

Cracking the whip « Previous | |Next »
June 5, 2003

One of the more interesting threads running through the comments of the previous post is the one about censorship. This thread says that the left want to censor the right wing media to curb their political bias. You know muzzle them with a bit of good old-fashioned state censorship.

The spectre of totalitarianism and the end of freedom is the script. Oh I know. its melodramatic. But you do hear the echos of the Cold War resounding around the Internet. And you hear the sounds of the cogs of the spin machine grinding as the media spinners crank up the creaky machinery for another run of an old script.

Censorship? It's a pretty tired old image that is being re-run. It hasn't got much in the way of legs. to be able to shape perceptions. The reality is that the journalists in the highly competitive environment of the corporate media censor themselves. They know that dissent does not boost their careers. They know the rewards for going along to get along and they know that is the game that they have to play.

They know the hazards of failing to toe the line especially during a war. If they---I have in mind the liberal journalists---dissent, then they will be necklaced with lack of patriotism, anti-Americanism and unAustralian.

It is the fear that keeps them from asking the tough questions. So they self-censor. They know that a lot of the key information was filtered out during the war by the government. But they stay silent.

And they are staying silent as the Howard Government lines up the ABC AM program for bias. There is no defence of a questioning media that sees its job to ask the tough questions. There is no defence of the media as the Fourth Estate questioning the official pronouncements of Canberra that are shaped by media spinners.

They cannot can they? Most of their copy is recycling media releases and drip feeds in the name of a functional professionalism saturated with corporate sensibilities.

The image that comes to mind is an old one. It is from George Orwell. Some journalists are like the circus dogs that jump when the trainer cracks the whip. Others, the well trained ones, do what is required---turn the necessary somersaults---when there is no whip. These journalists do not wander far.

The left are into state censorship of the media? Nah. No chance. No need. Murdoch and Packer have done the job already. And they have done it so well. Their journalists know how they have to shape political perceptions whilst writing in an irony free zone.

And you know what? The media lap dogs have yet to realize that they've been had. The Howard Government went along with Washington and London. All three wanted the war. So they glossed up the intelligence reports and ensured that the contrary stuff went sideways. Just like Tampa.

Has the Australian media drawn the implication. That saying Saddam Hussein posed an imminent threat to Australia's national security is another example of misrepresentation and deception ---just like Tampa. And the lap dogs? Well by saying that Saddam Hussein did pose such a threat they are saying that night is day and day is night.

And they have been self-censoring themselves for so long that they just shrug when someone points out their somersaults. They whip themselves.

If you think I'm over the top, why Paul Krugman is saying it about the Americans.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 8:32 PM | | Comments (8)


Gary - I actually agree with most of this post . . . though I think that a lot of what you instinctively characterise as "self-censorship" and "lap dog" behaviour is more usually the result of straightforward poor journalism: laziness, lack of curiosity, restricted focus; than it is of Murdoch or Packer breathing down the necks of journos or editors . . . or even the fear that they might. Let's face it, the quality of Australian newspapers and TV news is abysmal, and the vast majority of Australian journalists are talentless hacks who think in cliches and hunt in a pack.

To pick up Krugman's excellent point that journalists tend to report that, for example "X said that the Adminstration's budget projections are misleading" rather than "the Administration's budget projections are misleading", the problem is that to report the second, you must actually have the technical knowledge and do the work necessary to be certain that it is so. And very few journalists can get there.

But as soon as you raise the possibility of media being "held accountable" in any official/legislative sense, you're straight into the sphere of censorship. I actually quite liked the idea that Stuart Littlemore used to push of turning journalism into a proper profession, with a self-regulatory body capable of enforcing a code of professional standards . . . as long as it is restricted to "technical" aspects of a journo's work: did they quote accurately, is the work original, etc. But as soon as you give someone the power to say "that story was too favorable to x" or "you must balance your criticism of y", I think that you're into territory that is so dangerous that no government should ever go there.

What we SHOULD do is exactly what you're doing here: promote a healthy skepticism towards media and an awareness of journalistic methods in the way that Mediawatch used to do in its Littlemore incarnation. The more discriminating we become as consumers, the more likely it is that the quality will rise to meet our taste.

Agreed and well stated, by both Gary & Mork. Excellent reasons to always form one's own opinions based on all relevant information available, regardless of it's source.

Hang on then, what about the Fairfax/abc journalists then?

of course they should be held accountable.Why suggest otherwise? Who is suggesting that they are not biased.

One way to avoid the problem Mork raises, ie., accountable =censorship, is for the different parties in the public conversation to challenge and question the biases of their opponents.

Media watch is a model here:this kind of practice should be part of the tools of trade of webloggers and journalists. That is it is not says something about the quality of the media in Australia.

I didn't argue that Fairfax isn't biased, I asked about the self-censorship thing.

Fair go. The Australian (and the SMH and the Tele) all hopped into Richard Alston with hobnail boots on over his accusations about the ABC's bias. The lack of support to his hard work has been frankly astonishing. ONly Peirs and the rather creepy Tim Blair actually supported him.

And I suspect Tim still resents being sacked.

Media watch *IS* a model? I'd use the past tense. In David Marr's hands, it seems to have turned into a soap-box from which to scold conservatives.

Hey, I like to see someone get stuck into the Parrot and the Fat Heap of Sh*t as much as the next fellow, but its failure to question left-wing bias EVER, and malpractice by left-leaning commentators rarely have cost it my trust.

apologies. I meant a Media Watch that questions the bad journalistic practices of both right and left.

Since media watch it is not going to come from the journalists it needs to come from the webloggers.