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

questioning the media « Previous | |Next »
August 24, 2006

The Australia and New Zealand School of Government recently held a media conference. The talks are not online. So we have to rely on the fragments that are published by the old media. The Australian has published an extract of the talk by Tony Abbott, the federal Health Minister, which explores the relationship between politicians and the media. He says:

These days, many of the most important and difficult debates don't occur in parliament but in lengthy live media interviews where politicians are expected to have instant answers to every question and a single mistake can be disastrous.

Aren't these instant answers in live media interviews just parts of an ongoing public conversation within our political insitutions and in civil society?

Tony Abbott has been an active participant in the deabtes about biopolitics and in the debate about reproductive cloning-- or "cloning-to-produce-children"-- and therapeutic cloning--or cloning-for-biomedical-research. He has positioned himself as a conviction politician who sticks to his guns and the leading conservative voice against therapeutic cloning.

This is much broader debate than a few quips made by politicians during a live media interview as it is about the biotechnology and public policy that involves the regulation of biomedical technologies. The debate is much wider than the current narrow preoccupation with the "life issues" of embryo destruction, or the concerns over therapeutic cloning in the current public policy debate.

Abbott's central concern in this talk is the political bias in the media, by which he means the left-liberal bias of the mainstream media and its partisan stance towards conservative politicians. He says that:

It's true that there are now effective conservative voices in the Australian media, such as Piers Akerman, Andrew Bolt, Christopher Pearson, Janet Albrechtsen and Miranda Devine, with people such as Alan Jones on radio. That hasn't altered the dynamic of the newsroom and, if anything, has intensified the "give no quarter" attitude of the Left-liberal media mainstream. A media staple since the 2004 election has been the rise of the so-called religious Right. This motif testifies to the historical amnesia and cultural impoverishment of most younger journalists, in whose minds views that would have been orthodox a generation ago now seem odd or evidence of religious brainwashing.

This is onesided account. The conservative voices in the media are opinionated, politically partisan and is grounded in their prejudices. This right wing media, which has given rise to Fox News, has rejected the old liberal distinctions between fact and opinion, dumped truth and objectivity, and repudiated the ethos of the media as a fourth estate acting as a watchdog for democracy.

Secondly, the historical amnesia and cultural impoverishment of most younger journalists, is partly due to the failures of Australian conservatism to go beyond partisan journalism of ''the (academic) elites entrenched and conspiring against the best interests of the Australian people' and foster a more vibrant and diverse intellectual culture. You cannot blame the journalism schools for the intellectual poverty of the conservative culture in Australia.

An example of this poverty is Abbott's claim that the Lockheart review proposed the potential creation of human-animal hybrids---even though this scary monster claim is a misrepresentation of what the report is proposing to do, and the regulatory regime opposed to the creation of hybrids. It is an appeal to fear not reason.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 9:49 AM | | Comments (4)


Something very apparent about the Right is that they believe in total victory.

Not until every article, editorial or commentary is couched in their terms will they admit that this bias is a figment of their imagination.

Even the last bastion of left wing commentary, the ABC, has been totally neutered.

I concur with the conservatives that some of the media in Australia is left liberal--the FairFax Press (The Age and Sydney Morning Herald, though not the AFR).They also say that would-be radical reformers, some of whom believe that the ABC is a nest of left-wing journalistic vipers--when they are mostly social liberals.

The conservatives are fixated on “the sixties” with its glamour and illusion—from Swinging London to French structuralism to the student revolution. They mourn the passing of ethno-nationalism and are deeply at odds with the new Australia—multicultural, social democratic---which developed in the 1970s and 1980s.

One problem is that the left-liberal media does not acknowledge that it is soft left liberal --it's editorial culture pretends to be neutral and objective. That illusion should be dumped.

As I see it the Murdoch Press makes money from pushing the conservative viewpoint. That brings the conservative liberal clash out into the open and it is a response to w the way that newspapers, especially the broadsheets, are having difficulty in adapting to the development of the internet.

The conservatives that Abbott mentions---Piers Akerman, Andrew Bolt, Christopher Pearson, Janet Albrechtsen and Miranda Devine---do have a different style of writing. It's far more polemical and warlike towards liberalism --not just social liberalism.

Gary, One problem is that the left-liberal media does not acknowledge that it is soft left liberal --it's editorial culture pretends to be neutral and objective. That illusion should be dumped.

They are in a market though, and if their audience identifies themselves as neutral and objective when they are left-liberal, then the publishers wont change. Same with Murdoch's Fox which markets itself as fair and balanced when it is obvious that it has a Republican streak. The viewers of Fox dont want to be called wingnuts by the station, they want to believe that they are fair and balanced.

The conservatives that Abbott mentions-

They arent really conservative though, their writings are authoritarian. Conservatism isnt necessarily authoritarian or statist which is what those writers are.

I guess we have the illusions of the media. It is important for the media to continue to pay lip service to balance, neutrality, objectivity, truth even though these traditional, modernist liberal values are trashed in actual practice by bias, prejudice and partisanship.

I'm not sure I agree that the way the media presents itself can be fully explained by in consumer preferences/tastes. The argument is that what is happening in broadcasting markets is due to consumer sovereignty: the rational consumer that knows exactly what she or he wants, who seeks maximum choice, which is then equated with multiplication of media platforms, multi-channel television and so on.

The media produces audiences---isn't that what happened with Fox News? Production sets the conditions for consumption. What is made enables us all to engage with it and it has affects on our tastes. Are not witnessing a shift tin the media landscape in moves in the direction that allows low quality, very populist programming (eg., Channel 7’s Border Security: Australia’s Front Line,)which conditions to condition audience tastes and expectations then this can become a self fulfilling prophecy because it conditions tastes further in that direction. Haven't we h been witnessing this shift in direction for about ten or 15 years?