If you’ve been living in the western world this week you’ve probably heard of the woes with News Corporation and News International regarding the phone tapping ‘scandal’ at the News of the World newspaper. To me, the scandal itself is bad enough, but realistically it only highlights what I’ve been thinking myself for many years about journalism today.
I can only speak from my perspective lately as an Australian (previously a Briton). Not much has changed in the media over the 5 years that I’ve been here in Australia, and maybe what I’m seeing is really only because I’ve shifted continents in my midlife. But when I was growing up, journalism was a career that required an excellent grasp of English, with at least an A level pass. It required one to be objective, unbiased and report the facts. Opinion was only relevant in a column dedicated to opinion pieces. Perhaps there’s some rose coloured spectacles casting a different hue over the past, I’m not sure. I’d like to know what others think about that.
But today, I find it more and more frustrating to read anything in the traditional media. This traditional media that claims ‘new media’ will kill it off because information is available for free whereas printed news must be paid for, appears to be completely unaware that, at least for me, what is killing it off is not the new media being free, but the new media at least generally providing facts, not the opinion of the editor or owner of the media. I don’t want to read how bad government policy is, I want to read what government policy is and then form my own opinion on it.
It seems these days that media’s job is not to tell people the news, it’s to tell them how to think. The carbon tax in Australia is one giant example of this. So many newspapers (and I suspect most are owned by News Corp) are against the carbon tax, so they’ve omitted much of the detail and included much opinion. The problem is (and media moguls are well aware of this) that the phenomenon of crowd thinking is very much a real one. If you’re told lots of people think something is bad, you’re quite likely to think it’s bad too, regardless of whether you know anything about it.
I have spoken with a number of people who when asked about the carbon tax think it is bad. I ask them about details of the tax and they have no idea. They have no idea that their tax free threshold will go up to compensate them. They have no idea that the carbon tax can actually reduce emissions of larger producers through market forces because the commercial media isn’t telling them. Do you have any of the details about the tax while you’re reading this and forming opinions? Most of my friends don’t yet they’re against it.
The only person I’ve spoken to who had the facts (and was actually in favour of the new carbon tax too) watches ABC News 24 and SBS. These two channels are government owned and to a large extent better regulated than the commercial TV stations. They’re better regulated because they HAVE to provide the facts otherwise people will cry that taxpayers money is being used to fund bias. No-one seems to care that their advertising dollar is funding bias. The price you pay for everything in the shop is being used to tell you how to think by the commercial media.
I’d like to see the return of the ‘Party Political Broadcast’ – where the major political parties spend 5 or 10 minutes every so often explaining their policies, on TV – not in an advertising format but in a programmatic format. It should be a condition of a broadcasting license that these major political parties (and I’m not sure on who should qualify as major, but definitely the government of the day and the opposition) be afforded at least 30 minutes of prime time viewing per month to tell people about their policies. This is particularly true in Australia where voting is compulsory but having a clue is not.
If you force people to vote, you must force them to at least be aware of what it is they’re voting on. Most people have not got the true facts. They’ve got the facts as the commercial media wants you to have them. They’re making their vote based on some rich person’s opinion, not their own. This is true because in general most people are too lazy, too busy, or simply don’t know how to find the facts themselves. They rely on the media to tell them – and they believe what they’re seeing is unbiased. That’s the worst part, the people I’ve spoken to genuinely believe that they’re being fed the facts, not the bias.
Are you aware you can write to your politician and ask them questions? Are you aware that democracy doesn’t just happen once every 3 (or 4, depending on where you are) years?
This is a bit of a rant I know. But it scares me that the decisions that affect my future, the future of my kids and their kids are being made by an elite few who happen to own media outlets. No, I’m not singling out Rupert Murdoch, although his influence is significant he’s not the only one. But there aren’t many of the elite few, and I suspect, because of their position, their views are pretty similar. Whilst they don’t control the politicians directly, they do so by controlling the opinions of a significant proportion of the voting population.
Bring back the quality to journalism. Stop selling opinion pieces as fact.