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ABC on journalism v blogging « Previous | |Next »
May 24, 2005

I haven't been watching the ABC's Media Watch of late. I've often found its critique of the media to be thin, conservative, narrow and nitpicky. It rarely uses its research resources to engage with, and help us to understand, the deeper currents transforming the media in Australia. Though their watchdog ethos promises a lot, the show delivers little of substance by way of a critical reading of the connections between the media and democracy.

I scolled through the newly designed Media Watch website this morning because I wanted to have a look see, as I'd missed the show last night. Surfing around I came across this post on blogging credibility. Now I only vaguely know the background to the tiff Media Watch is having with Janet Albrechtsen. Then I noticed this statement:

"The Australian newspaper thinks we have been unfair to Janet, but we think it's important to distinguish between blogging and journalism, and we've called in someone they know to explain it."

Yes there is a distinction between journalism and blogging and the distinction is important. So how does Media Watch understand this distinction?

They tell us by introducing a section from Rupert Murdoch's speech, rather than argue their case in their own words. Fair enough. It is a good and interesting speech. Murdoch says:

"...we may want to experiment with the concept of using bloggers to supplement our daily coverage of news on the net. There are of course inherent risks in this strategy —— chief among them maintaining our standards for accuracy and reliability ... But they may still serve a valuable purpose; broadening our coverage of the news; giving us new and fresh perspectives to issues; deepening our relationship to the communities we serve, so long as our readers understand the clear distinction between bloggers and our journalists.

What is most suprising is Media Watch's comment-- a minimal "Absolutely Rupert". That little remark amounts to an appeal to authority, as we are not even given an argument about the distinction between journalism and blogging. "Absolutely Rupert" functions to close the debate as it provides no space for us to engage.

What then is Media Watch saying is the clear distinction between bloggers and journalism? It's not clear. We have to dig. What does the "absolutely" refer to? We have to reconstruct their argument.

My interpretation of Media Watch's argument buried in its interpretation of the Murdoch paragraph is this: professional journalism operates within the values of accuracy and reliability and amateur bloggers do not. Therefore, journalism is good because it is accurate and reliable, whilst blogging is bad because bloggers are inaccurate and unreliable.

Consequently, blogs do not deserve journalistic credibility. Since blogs should not have journalistic credibility conferred upon them, it is wrong to do so. That means bloggers must work to become worthy of the same journalistic standards.

Is this plausible account of the distinction? Tim Dunlop, for one, is not convinced. I'm not persuaded either as it does not make sense of what is actually happening in the media world.

In appealing to authority--the owner of The Australian and Fox Television--to make their case for them, Media Watch shows no awareness how that appeal contradicts their "absolutely". It is well known that Fox has broken with the objectivity of reportage to embrace a partisan conservative commentary. Their coverage of the Iraq war was not known for its accuracy or reliability.

So what does accuracy or reliability mean in the light of that?

Presumably, Media Watch still thinks that journalism is reportage (mirrors the facts) whilst blogging is deception (opinionated prejudice). That claim ignores how a lot of print journalism is commentary on, not a reportage of, public issues; it ignores the way that Media Watch is a commentary on media events (interpretation) and not a reportage of them; and it overlooks the way that bloggers, as citizens, are engaged in a critical interpretation of public issues that concern them from their different perspectives or point of view.

What does accuracy and reliability mean in the light of all that interpretation? Should accuracy and reliability be the only values when a lot of journalism is interpretation?

You have to admire Media Watch's lack of self-awareness about their understanding of the media. What this episode illustrates is the deskilling and intellectual poverty of journalists. When are they going to become more critical of the gap between their positivist ideal and their actual interpretive practice?

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 12:13 PM | | Comments (4)


Mediawatch has always been like that, biffing the Illawarra Mercury while Murdoch rampages across the world.

But whoever wrote that speech of Rupert's knew what she was talking about. There is a fundamental difference in the kind of credibility brought by good bloggers compared to good journalists - we have an identity we define over time, and a comment system. They have an international network of highly paid people, huge databases, hot lawyers, and the ability to question the highest in the land.

So the "absolutely" tie off works. Ironically, of course, this is a classic piece of blogger rhetoric, though MW loves the arch one phrase trope as well.

The one bit, of course, which is flagrantly untrue in the speech is this line "maintaining our standards for accuracy and reliability".

The self deception is pitiful.

(see how useful that rhetorical trick is?)

What is astonishing is the way Media Watch falls for, and recycles, the Murdoch rhetoric about "maintaining our standards for accuracy and reliability".

Their researchers--I presume they have them--would know about the partisan approach of Fox Television and The Australian; and the way the corporate media (eg.,Daily Telegraph & Herald Sun) conduct a campaign (eg., law and order).

So why expose yourself to the ridicule of defending partisan attack- dog style commentary as objective and balanced journalism when assessing/evaluating the contributions of bloggers to the public conversation?

Clever tactics dumb strategy?
simple prejudice against bloggers?
ignorance of what bloggers are doing?

Why does Media Watch side with those corporate media who undermine democracy as opposed to those who nurture it?

Another irony, I suggest, is that the research process on Mediawatch closely resembles the bloggers. Combing the media looking for anomalies.

that implies they do not understand what it is that they do when they search the media to check for fairness & accuracy in reporting.

They say:

Media Watch turns the spotlight onto those who literally "make the news": the reporters, editors, sub-editors, producers, camera operators, sound recordists and photographers who claim to deliver the world to our doorsteps, radios, computers and living rooms. We also keep an eye on those who try to manipulate the media: the PR consultants, spin-doctors, lobbyists and "news makers" who set the agenda.

Why don't they turn their spotlight onto the ethics and legality of the government's pre-packaged "news."

What can one say about this failure? That the ethos of Mediawatch is to help ensure an informed public of citizens, and so it has a responsiblity for maintaining a liberal democratic society. Unfortunately, due to a number of pressures, Mediawatch is failing to meet this obligation.