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

blogging in a media-driven culture « Previous | |Next »
April 17, 2004

After listening to this story on blogging on Radio National yesterday, I came across this media manifesto this morning. That was after I had flicked through the pro-war pages of the Weekend Australian. It was filled with the rhetoric of 'we fearless warriors gotta fight the terrorists to the death, and we have to take out all those who dare resist US power.'

Like Rebecca Blood I am 'disappointed by press coverage of current events. Too often, journalists unskeptically accept whatever "facts" are given to them by authorities without verifying that they are true.' My disappointment is more than just that. Despite the many examples of excellent journalism, many journalists often do not understand the issues they write about, and most fail to deconstruct the political rhetoric of the day.

The Alternet manifesto says that we live in a media-driven, commercial culture, where it's hard to escape the ever-increasing waves of advertising, infotainment and spin. A lot of this, it says, can be attributed to the privatization and deregulation of the public airwaves. It has lead to media moguls like Rupert Murdoch of News Corporation. News Corp has turned journalists into attack dogs for a partisan (right-wing) political cause, defines the liberal media as an enemy and sees televison as a form of entertainment that has no need for ethics.

Consequently, the media has become a battlefield for those who hold that a healthy, participatory democracy requires noncommercial access to the tools of communication. This requires battling the free marketers who want to end all restrictions on media ownership and to privatise public broadcasting. The other strategy is to create spaces for independent media (eg., online media) to produce good quality civic or public journalism and for the deliberation about public policy by citizens.

Despite some bloggers seeing themselves as proto-journalists, many of us are writing against the established journalists in the corporate media. As Jay Rosen, from the New York University Department of Journalism says we bloggers are writers in the public forum who are using a democratic media tool to participate in the formation of public opinion and shape the public conversation on public issues.

We are critical readers of the media and we do not see ourselves as working within the institutional conventional standards of professional journalism. We are more like democratic citizens deliberating on public issues, engaging in public debates and decoding the political rhetoric of the day.

Blogging is not conventional journalism, says Jay Rosen and Rebecca Blood. Yet there is a lot of mix and match going on between these different kinds of writing, as JD points out over at New Media Musings. And a lot of journalism has little to do with the conventional understanding of journalism.

What is of concern to bloggers as active citizens is the quality of political debate in Australia. As Christopher Seith, writing over at Margo Kingston's Webdiary, points out:


"Debates which appear ultimately to bog down in finger pointing do little to achieve a better world. There is a tendency to characterise political arguments as some kind of Manichean struggle, “good guy” versus “bad guy”. We seek to prove how disconnected our opponents are from us and from reality, rather than seeking to understand the points of connection. We have turned both our political and intellectual processes into adversarial forums where both sides arm themselves with their own self righteousness. We are more intent on “I told you so” than analysis. Little wonder that our “analysis” leaves us feeling more scared and alienated."


Changing that political culture in Australia is a big ask.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 11:34 AM | | Comments (11) | TrackBacks (1)
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Working late into the night, David Tiley has deposited his first blogjam at Margo's place. Strange, he seems to have ignored my rule about 11 mentions for The Road to Surfdom. One of the pieces he points to is this... [Read More]

 
Comments

Comments

Having run an Australian political forum, I have to agree with Margo Kingston's Webdiary.

I don't see any great new hope for democracy in forums, blogs and email lists.

Blogs tend to attract like-minded individuals preaching to the already-converted. A prime example is the Tim Blair blog.

Forums tend to reach people on either end of the spectrum and they tend to just yell at each other. As Margo says, 'adversarial forums where both sides arm themselves with their own self righteousness'.

Forums also attract their share of nutters who convinced there is a conspiracy in everything.

Email lists have had their day with the growth of forums and blogs.

I think the people who should be reading the blogs and participating in the forums, those who would benefit the most, are out watering their gardens or playing sport. These are the people who probably see a computer as a necessary evil, an adjunct to their jobs, not as the perceived new tool of democracy.

I doubt politicians take much notice of Internet political traffic. They seem still to be at a point where they see more weight in a snail mail letter than a well-argued email.

Perhaps things will change but I have a bleak view of the democratic process at the moment in Australia, the US and the UK: politicians no longer seem accountable to their constituencies.

I'm in fast agreement with both Ron and Margo Kingston, not only in the somewhat random quality of rational debate in the blogosphere, but in the persistence of blogs like the Tim Blair example. His view is just one view, but it seems to be defended by militia of rabid nonsense-types who 'troll' those they see as opponents to their master. Surely that is not what blogging is all about.

Hey, stupid. Margo didn't make that point. Christopher Selth did.

Tim,
Thanks for the correction.The post has been amended accordingly.

The point still stands: public debate in Australia is framed by good guy versus the bad guy and point scoring by those armed with their own self-righteousness.

Reading Blair's comment above, what more needs to be said?

With respect, I think most Australian reporters uncritically refuse to accept anything people in authority say.

Every government pronouncement, by Labor or Liberal administrations, is instantly considered evidence of corruption, lies, dissembling, incompetence and so on.

Australian papers are filled with "fears of price rises", "concerns about waste and mismanagement", "reports from anonymous sources" that the place is going to shut down, that every MP is a drunk or a criminal, etc.

Politicians as a group definitely include some people who are corript, some who are untalented and some who are bone idle. In that respect they reflect the community who elected them. But I don't believe that as a group they are any more likely to be any of these things, than a group of say, plumbers, or professors, or pharmacists.

I'd never suggest that reporters give a blindly rosy view of government, or cheerily report every press release and every statement without criticism. but it rings hollow to suggest that they are as a group mere cheerleaders for elected officials. A simple reading of any daily newspaper will reveal how rare it is for anything to be reported in a positive or even faintly positive, light.

It is true that often blogging seems to be a “good guy” versus “bad guy” debate.

However I found that since I have started blogging and reading other blogs, my skills in debating a point and support it has increased. So for instance while I disagree almost 100% with blogs like Tim Blair's or Bernard Slattery's Reading them gives me a chance of thinking 'now, how I would oppose that argument'?

Karen,
What you say is true about the scepticism of Australian reporters.

As an aside I'm not sure that I said all reporters are lapdogs. Not all are on the drip feed. Some are watchdogs whilst others are attacks dogs.

What I would say is that few reeporters ever countered or challenged the rhetoric around Tampa. The media were done badly over that.

Their performance was not that crash hot on the rhetoric of Australia going to war with Iraq; the way democracy in Iraq would bring democracy to the Middle East; or that the invasion of Iraq would help solve the Arab Israeli conflict.

Most of the examples are foreign policy ones. I geuess foreign policy is not a strong card of the Canberra Press Gallery.

You're right about the lapdog bit.

I think its the herd mentality. The Tampa story was first broken as an exclusive for a Sunday paper, if I'm not mistaken. Because it was an exclusive the reporters gave the Government side an uncritical run, and that set the tone for all subsequent coverage.

The same thing usually happens in reverse -- the first media outlet to report something usualyl does it negatively, and the tone is set forever after.

A good example is the Sunday show on Channel Nine -- whatever comes out of their Laurie Oakes interview is invariably ABC radio's afternon lead story, and will be on page one or thre of the SMH the next day. It doesn't matter if its not very interesting -- its the instinctive response. And that is a little disappointing.

On foreign news, something I've always loved is the way the new York Times prints its foreign news in the first ten pages, and puts local stuff at the back with the letters and obituaries. If an Australian paper did the same and there was a chance for foreign stories appearing early in the edition, we might see reporters taking more of an interest in what happens overseas.

Karen,
yes the Sunday morning shows do set the news, in the sense that "the news" is what politicians say is the news.

Oakes is the oracle or sphere with lots of gravitas. Hence the vehicle which people use to make their announcements or comments.

The herd mentality of the Canberra Press gallery is linked to their narrow focus.Thus there is no story of renewable energy until the government makes its announcement about energy policy or grennhouse. Until that happens there is nothing:a deafening silence

What is happening on the ground is not news. The backbench rumblings are not a real concern in terms of a story.

hence a lot of what passes for news is empty comments.The media commenting on comments by X in relation to comments by y.

Rarely do the media reflect on the media and the poverty of what passes for journalism in the corporate media.

Tim Bliar and rationality (and fairness) ... give me a break!!!