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

Megalogenis on shock-jock journalism « Previous | |Next »
August 20, 2012

The media in Australia is very slowly coming to critically reflect on its poor performance in covering policy issues and critically analyzing the attempts by governments to reform the economy and society. Unfortunately, the media's critical reflection on its own culture and its failure to do serious, issues-based reporting and commentary is still limited. It is as if they unable to grasp the nettle of what is causing their growing lack of legitimacy.

Thus we have George Megalogenis in his How the language of shock-jocks came to drive political debate in The Australian defending the Canberra press gallery by saying that this is the wrong place to look when diagnosing our reform malaise.

The best journalists in the business still cluster in the federal parliament ...The problem [is] something deeper in our culture.....The white noise of 21st century reporting is, in fact, the language of the shock-jock. Even earnest print journalists such as myself sometimes type with the cap locks on because we have been bluffed into thinking that if we don't shout, we won't be read. The paradox is that the community, and even the politicians, still crave serious, issues-based reporting. Yet the public, and through them our leaders, also insist that everything be simple enough to fit on a T-shirt. Everyone wants more for nothing.

I guess that there is now an awareness that the sneers and jeers of the shock jocks are an integral part of the media; and that the tabloid style has both influenced the culture of the media and the way journalists currently report and comment on politics.

Megalogenis then interprets this downmarket trend to shock-jock journalism in terms of an absence of nuance, even though he acknowledges that Gillard has been verballed on carbon pricing. It's much more than an absence of nuance in the light of the media's conduct around this episode.

The fact that Megalogenis calls it a "carbon tax" rather than carbon pricing indicates the problem:---the notable failure of the Canberra Press Gallery to question the way that the Coalition has framed the policy issue of shifting to a low carbon economy. That failure is interpreted by Mark Latham as Abbott being given a free ride in the press.

Megalogenis says he's not sure about this (ie., Latham has gone too far). My judgement is that Latham didn't go far enough: most of the media --including the Canberra press gallery---have been opposed to those reforms designed to help shift Australia to a low carbon economy. In the case of News Ltd journalists they have been openly hostile. That antagonism is one explanation for the media's lack of scrutiny of the way Abbott frames policy issues in terms of slogans.

The problem goes deeper than Abbott's free ride in the press, the partisan stance of the media, or the media's big shift to infotainment. The general problem, as Freya Mathews highlights is the way that the "news" is constructed by the media. Mathews says that:

those who construct the news focus generally on items of relative triviality while ignoring the literally earth-shattering changes that are occurring at an accelerating pace all around us.... Most [of the media] carry over the 19th century assumption that the natural world, perennial and relatively unchanging, is mere backdrop to the sizzling dramas of human society. With this 19th century assumption goes the further assumption that what happens within the realm of nature is not our responsibility: nature looks after itself and we cannot intervene in its intricately ordered webs of eaters and eaten without upsetting the whole kit and caboodle.

The media's construction of the news is one that gives the impression items about the ecological collapse of the planet are on a par, in terms of moral significance, with everyday items about crime, celebrities, scandals, financial vicissitudes, trends in lifestyle. So the media has become mere “tattlers”, purveyors of tittle tattle, to which people instinctively pay little serious attention.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 9:00 AM | | Comments (14)
Comments

Comments

It is perhaps interesting to note the only journalist who worked for the Australian that used to consistently write/report (in the Weekend Oz) on matters of the environment from a sympathetic perspective was Mike Skeketee.

He no longer works there.

So the general public is entirely blameless? Far too many seem quite happy to swallow the shock-jock trash and MSM pablum. Is it just too hard for them to seek out the real news?

Mathews has it about right IMHO. There is much to criticise in the way pundits opine about politics (nobody does straight reporting anymore) but the deeper problem is the disproportionate significance the political groupies give to politics in the first place. Most of the things that happen in Canberra are truly unimportant, in any rational frame. Yet political groupies seize on every trivial event, every poll result, every slip of the tongue, and weave them into a some melodramatic narrative that they themselves have created.

Meanwhile business and the public service get pretty much a free pass to do whatever they like, unless of course their behaviour can be presented as having party-political implications. It's as if nothing is really real unless it is likely to create doubts about somebody's leadership, or threaten to bring on a by-election, or something else focused on politicians.

George, although one of the better journos out there [dog, that sets a low bar doesn't it?] still cannot understand, or at least admit to understanding, that the problem is not just the shock jocks but the essential nature of our mass media and the willing compliance of journos in distorting news and opinion in a virtually non-stop barrage of propaganda in favour of vested interests.

Who pays the piper calls the tune.

I just watched a very short news item on TV.
Abbott suspended from parliament.

The report did not say why.

Viewers watching it would get no understanding of the incident and unless they read a blog or two or watched parliament on live TV- and how many workers/carers etc out there have that much time to take out of their busy lives - they would be misinformed.

We rely on the media to act as a bridge between us and the rest of the world that we cannot experience directly.

But,from the article "The general problem, as Freya Mathews highlights is the way that the "news" is constructed by the media ..." and, I would add, in whose intersts.

The public deserve, in fact need, a better media than the one we have.

fred,
I missed Question Time today. I presume that Abbott was thrown out of question time for refusing to withdraw unparliamentary remarks.

If you turn to Katherine Murphy's Pulse blog you will find out what happened.

3.02pm Acting Speaker Anna Burke is advising her colleagues there is only one unparliamentary word: liar.
You can use another word meaning liar, but you can't use the L-word.

3.05pm Acting Speaker Anna Burke has done the birk.

Abbott has been ordered out of the chamber under standing order 94A (joining Mr Hockey, Peter Dutton and Mr Pyne.)
Mr Abbott had uttered the L-word.
He was asked to withdraw without reservation.
He withdrew, with qualification.
Mr Abbott is now cooling his heels outside.

To avoid an unseemly internal power struggle breaking out courtesy of Mr Abbott's rather startling ejection from the House, Ms Gillard calls it quits on Question Time.

3.35pm: Pulse spies inform that Mr Abbott has taken the opportunity of his ejection from the chamber to don the running gear and go for a trot.
The Opposition leader was spotted streaking past Aussies Cafe just a moment ago.

There's a a full-blown crisis in newspapers. The crisis is no longer an economic one of finding a new business model as advertising migrated online.

The crisis is also about the quality and breadth of the news and commentary due to the downward pressure on journalism standards due to declining resources, reduced staffing and ever-increasing workloads.

Gidday Gary,
I happened, dog help me, to watch the relevant portion of QT.
Firstly, from Pulse,
".05pm Acting Speaker Anna Burke has done the birk."

I have no idea what she means by that.

Secondly:
"-3.02pm Acting Speaker Anna Burke is advising her colleagues there is only one unparliamentary word: liar.
You can use another word meaning liar, but you can't use the L-word....

Mr Abbott had uttered the L-word.
He was asked to withdraw without reservation.
He withdrew, with qualification."


None of the above was mentioned in the newscast I saw.

They went for the usual
'biffo' exchange images, trivialising and distorting the event -which I may add is trivial but its treatment is indicative of what Matthews is saying in your post:
"those who construct the news focus generally on items of relative triviality ..."
With, as I saw, the focus being distorted.

"They [the media] went for the usual
'biffo' exchange images, trivialising and distorting the event"

Abbott had accused Gillard of lying in a response to a carbon price question and failed to withdraw without qualification when ordered to do so. He had flouted several similar warnings last week.

"the sneers and jeers of the shock jocks"

behind that is hate and muckraking and smearing. An example is the current pursuit of Julia Gillard over a trade union financial dispute 20 years ago involving her then boyfriend, Bruce Wilson. No one has ever been charged with an offence and, despite repeated investigations by her political opponents, there is no evidence of Gillard having broken the law.

The Australian's Hedley Thomas continues to pursue the Prime Minister on this---his job is to trawl for material with which to attack the Prime Minister, even though it is unclear exactly what Julia Gillard is being accused of having done when she worked for Slater and Gordon.

Existing newsrooms are becoming smaller and increasingly casualised as they make the shift from print-based to multimedia journalism.

Australian newspapers are not at the cutting edge of digital journalism. On the contrary, they have been reluctant to innovate, slow to make the transition to multimedia news delivery and uneasy about demands for greater reader engagement.

Clearly the money is in shock jocking or humor radio.
There is little income from serious radio. Most at the abc are on peanuts.

another example of the influence of shock-jock journalism is the AFR's systematic misrepresentations about the National Broadband Network

Just to illustrate my point earlier: today BHP Billiton announced a deferral of Olympic Dam. This was immediately seized upon as a POLITICAL issue. Lots of interviews of ministers and opposition spokespeople and so on. The idea that this was a business decision to be analysed using business principles and concepts obviously never crossed the minds of the pundits.