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

the media: democracy's watchdogs? « Previous | |Next »
May 5, 2005

In her Deakin lecture Michelle Grattan writes about the relationships between information, government and the media. The issue is an important one as the media is now a part of the entertainment business. And the Murdoch media is increasingly become partisan rags disguised as news sources. These support President Bush no matter what, whilst their media dogs work away at arousing, then moulding, fear, anxiety and hate.

Grattan begins by constructing a powerful image of the Howard Government's media management:

A modern government operates like a powerful hose, designed to get the message out in a forceful, directed and managed way. Leaks are anathema, and the system is strongly reinforced to prevent them, although this never works totally.

Government's try to achieve the 'message-in-a-hose' model as best they can. One way to ensure this spin is to muzzle the bureaucracy. As Grattan points out:
Today's problem is not so much that the bureaucracy has been politicised, though there's that, but that it's had the fear of God put into it. Many professional men and women have been turned into mice, afraid of what should be a useful and non-controversial role in helping inform what the media convey.

And the media? How does it fit into the hose model? Or does it oppose it? Should it become part of the drip feed?

It should be deeply critical according to the watchdog model of the media. Grattan is critical of the media because it has accepted the muzzling of the bureaucracy:

The media must also take some blame for the failure to extract information from the public service. Once, print journalists would be constantly nagged at by head offices for not getting into the bureaucracy enough. Now, this would be seen as more likely to produce "incremental" stories, dismissed as boring and not worth space in tight newspapers.

The inference it that the media have dumped being the watch dogs of democracy. The dumbed-down media is no longer interested in providing information and knowledge for democratic citizens to make their judgements.

If the media management of the hose model is basically anti-democratic, then how can things be changed? Grattan's argument is that the media should recover its watchdog role:

I think the media should be simultaneously more constructive and more critical - and that this is not a contradiction... On the whole, I think we could do with less trashing of politicians. On the other side of the coin, eyes should be sharper and should be more rigorous...Political investigative journalism is not strong. Where, for example, is the expose of the culture of the Immigration Department?

This means that the media becomes more self-critical about its own practices and understandings.

There are gaps in Grattan's lecture. Which media are we talking about in this? Presumably the corporate media. And the mainstream media? Is it just the quality broadsheets given the partisan nature of the Murdoch Press? Does it include the tabloids who do entertainment? Where does the internet figure in this?

Suprisingly, nowhere in the lecture does Grattan link 'the media' to democracy and citizenship. These are notable by their absence. So what are the media watchogs for? Who are they defending with their sharper and more rigorous eye? Are they just watching themselves?

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 11:29 PM | | Comments (0)