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

Gittens on the media « Previous | |Next »
June 23, 2010

In his remarks on the state of the media in The Sydney Morning Herald Ross Gittens says:

the media are tellers of stories. They're the industrialised equivalent of cavemen sitting around the fire at night swapping yarns. The telling of stories about other people meets one of our most primitive human needs. What it [the media] doesn't do, however, is give us an accurate picture of what's happening in the world.

So he feels compelled to warn us---as citizens in a democracy?--- to be careful about what we read, hear and see in the media. He gives recent examples to make his point.

Thanks for the warning Ross, but we already know that about the corporate media, and the way that it frames its stories in a crisis/crisis overcome narrative. Deception as standard practice is not news to us; nor is the way that the media uses the idea of as the fourth estate and the professionalism, fairness and objectivity of journalism to disguise or mask that deception.

We citizens realized long ago that in the market-driven media commercial interests rule, that the media have their own agenda, and that they tailor their stories to further that agenda. All this is common knowledge, as is the journalist's frame of politics as a strategic game played by individual politicians for personal advancement, gain or power.

This is one reason why we are giving up buying newspapers, scan them online, and are unwilling to pay for their digital content when they---eg., Murdoch's titles--- go behind their paywall. This is news as a business that is indifferent to, if not contemptuous of the well-being of public life and to the desire of citizens to improve their lot.

It's also why we have little time for the tabloid tendencies of television's junk news in an TV culture that is addicted to the values of “infotainment” over news. This junk has little relevance to our governance frame of politics of democracy and politicians solving the nation’s problems, because they do not address policy issues, the specifics of a reform package, or the implication for the way that Australians go about the business of governing themselves. They have little interest in the democracy deficit.

The internet is the new reality. It is not simply about putting up material, but about the relationship between the creator and the readers, between provider and consumer.The relationship between the creator and the readers in the old media is primarily one of distrust and skepticism. We citizens have inferred that public journalism, as advocated by Jay Rosen, is too much of a reach for media companies traded as part of a larger corporate holding on the stock exchange.

If journalism provides much of the vernacular for the public policy dialogue between electors and the elected, is the old media still a primary site of political discourse in any liberal democracy? Are problems that receive prominent attention on the national news still become the problems viewers regard as the nation’s most pressing and serious? That used to be the case. Is it still?

One big problem with our truncated political discourse is that the sound-bites and one-liners of today’s journalism are offered up for consumption without any context, either historical or ideological. Television’s information culture treats public utterances as raw material. Within television’s paradigm, we no longer have news coverage, we have news assembly. The end product is a completely artificial dialogue, surreal and largely unconnected to truth.

The news media, in the main, have become the chroniclers of pseudo-events and image---junk news.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 10:41 AM | | Comments (5)


Gittins is right that telling stories meets a basic human need. In fact leadership research demonstrates that leaders have this quality of making sense of the world to followers by organising events into a compelling narrative. Needless to say, the story does not have to make sense to outsiders; all that's important is that the followers believe it (which is why so many blog posts and comments are literally incomprehensible to readers with an opposing world view).

Good stories need heroes and villains, crises and excitement, and the triumph of good over evil. Which is why Gittins is correct that they are usually crap at explaining the real world.

the media's narrative form requires drama, conflict, denouement.This form is structured around the dominant “crisis” frame.This frame favours an emphasis on emotion rather than enlightenment; on conflict and confrontational debate; and on winners and losers.

I love the phrase 'junk news'.--- creating a species of information that can properly be called misinformation; and it takes ignorance to be knowledge and knowledge to be ignorance.

Junk news describes what happened in the global warming debate and the emissions trading scheme.

The entertainment narrative of television does create public emotion than public opinion. In watching commercial television's news coverage of the emission trading scheme we knew “little or nothing” about the details of that scheme despite months of saturation coverage.

The politicians were about photo-ops and snappy one-liners and only too happy to participate in the pyrotechnics of sound-bite public discourse.

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