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

Sally Young on media repetition « Previous | |Next »
April 15, 2007

Sally Young, a senior lecturer in media and communications at the University of Melbourne, has an op-ed in The Age, that addresses the way that the press gallery in Australia acts as "a pack" in that it writes the same stories, using the same angles, and then reporting on one another. It's a loop.

Young's argument is that this repetition is due to the media having to rely on the same pool of material, and describes how the media coverage of federal politics in Australia now often follows a set pattern.

John Howard does a radio interview in the morning. Footage of the interview is then edited into sound bites, which are used on television news that night. The next day's newspapers also regurgitate quotes from the interview because journalists will have been supplied with the transcript but probably won't have had an opportunity to question the Prime Minister directly. They may have tried to put follow-up questions to press secretaries but these are often brushed off, with media minders directing the journalist back to the transcript.

Young, who wrote The Persuaders: Inside the hidden machine of political advertising, describes this pattern as part of the government's strategy to muzzle the media, in that as Australian journalists are less able to get an interview, they must turn to the material they receive in abundance — interview transcripts and press releases supplied by politicians and their media minders. So the Press gallery has to deal with the spin on an issue.

Young, who is associated with the Southern Review, argues that relying on interview transcripts for news reporting is problematic, as John Howard repeats one line, with only minor variations, over and over, regardless of the question being asked and even when no question had been asked at all. It is what media advisers call staying on message.This is how politicians have limited and controlled media access, and it has had a major impact on how Australian politics is reported.

I concur with Young's argument. Where to now? Well the Press Gallery could do more than 'report' the political spin. They could analyze the issue and do a bit of research on the issue. That would be helpful to citizens. The problem is that many just report on the fluff because they do not know much about the policy issue, nor are they interested in it. They could also analyse the spin, and its erosion of democracy.Or they could critique the 'way we are living in a PR state characterised by an army of media advisers and the siphoning of public money into polling, marketing, advertising and media monitoring'

Isn't that what journalists have been trained to do in their media and communication courses?

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 7:30 AM | | Comments (2)


Another flaw in our so called "democratic" processes. Very good Sally Young; but other than refusing to fall for this political propaganda routine and not publishing their cant what do you propose?
It is extremely difficult to get alternative views into the press at any time - the owners (love the origins of that word) have their own views. So the "mainstream" politics appear to many as the norm. And the "norm" is terrible.

I haven't read Sally Young's book; nor have I found anything about her media courses online. So I am not sure what she proposes to counter the growth of spin doctors industry used by politicians to tinkering with our perceptions of issues.

Young concludes her Persauders book by arguing that there is a need for urgent reforms, and she outlines them in her final chapter.This review of Young's Persuaders book states:

Rather than reiterating political advertising's damaging effects, it is refreshing to see Young act on her own call to arms — 'don't get cynical or disillusioned, get mad and do something about it'. (p 5) Young thus offers her own solutions. These eighteen concise recommendations are well reasoned and workable.

I haven't been able to find the recommendations online.

I would have thought that the huge growth in Internet use would begin to change things.