The Parlous State of Oz Political Journalism

Murrow Real

You’d think the Wizard would have it sorted by now that he can’t control the Elphaba narrative if he doesn’t exercise proper superintendence over the flying monkeys and make them work even harder at those keyboards …

Oh, shit, sorry, wrong fictional realm.

So, Australian political journalism …

It’s probably easy to romanticise one’s perception of the quality and nature of this country’s political journalism.  Ignorance and false memories can, in so may contexts, produce false impressions of our history.  I really do think we imagine that political journalism was, in the past, different and better.  I’m not sure history devoid of romance actually provides us with a screenplay narrative that we desire and choose to remember.

One thing I believe we can observe without much fear of contradiction, however, is the intellectual and ethical entropy that has been the hallmark of the Murdoch Press regime over the past decade.  You don’t have to be a physicist to perceive this gradual mental and moral decline in energy.

For me this places News Corp in a somewhat special category when we stop and examine the status of political journalism and reportage in Australia.  Whilst they do have their place in the rubric of the “mainstream media”, I’m not sure it doesn’t constitute an injustice to every other member of that category to include them as fraternal.   The slippery slope into tabloidism that has marked the professional regress of News Corp over the last few years has been one greased almost entirely by themselves and their own bile.

My instinct, based on polls regarding the trustworthiness of news services, and my almost desperate desire to be right, is to place News Corp outlets somewhere at the periphery of any critical analysis of the condition of Australia’s political journalism.

Despite News Corp’s limpid attempts to cling to some semblance of journalistic credibility in the area of political reportage, commentary and discourse – mostly expressed through the depressingly decrepit The Australian – the flies of destiny have long since been laying their creeping little seeds in their Remingtons.

I recognise their general cultural influence, but for the purpose of this blog I’m not going to recognise them as meaningful in the realm of any scrutiny of  mainstream media politics because I don’t see them as part of it.  Destructive of it, distractive from it, demeaning and delusory to it, yes, but part of it?  I hesitate.

 I am, however, mindful that this view isn’t exactly common.  I live in Queensland where the only daily rag is a pitiful piece of fourth estate fuckwittery called The Courier Mail.

I should pause to note that there are any number of serious journalists that earn their living working for News Corp entities that value their integrity and the perception of such. We ought always avoid morality based false inductive judgements.

There was a time – and here I go being falsely nostalgic, probably – when journalists and the “media” operated as a conduit, a portal and explicator of information between the Government, or in a more general sense, power-wielding institutions, and the public.   That was the theory, and I think, the practice, more so than can be said to be the reality of today.

I remember, not so long ago that I can still see it in my mind that if you asked the average person to identify the difference between journalism, in the sense of the provision of information, and social commentary, they’d be able to do so.  Try that now. Seriously.

The provision of news, information, facts objectively acquired (yeah, I know) and provided, costs money.  Opinion is cheap.  Dirt cheap.  As cheap and ubiquitous as arseholes.  I don’t recall a time, frankly, when arseholes have been quite so ubiquitous in the media.  Hang on, I think I meant opinions, but maybe not.

The growth of social commentary masquerading and presenting itself as journalism is a deeply disturbing trend in Australian culture generally, not just in terms of the quality of its political discourse.

I mean, what the hell are journalists doing on Twitter?  Seriously, if you spend a few days there you’d lose all confidence that these people are the ones acting as your proxies to the world.

It’s difficult to make judgements of the standard of our political reportage and commentary without falling into the abyss of confirmation bias.  My primary concern is the increasingly diffuse nature of the demarcation between reporting and commentary.

The dictum that journalists, or their employers, ought report the news and not be the news is perhaps one that has never been especially meaningful, and yet, perhaps, never been more important.

There was a time, somewhere, that people trusted the fourth estate with a level of naivete that was not entirely misplaced.  It was good, had good intentions, seemed to have positive effects.  But something’s gone wrong.  A Murdoch tornado, perhaps.

Apart from specific anomalous moments in history, such as Murdoch’s support of Whitlam in 1972, the Labor Party – if I may lapse into such parochialism for a moment – has always had to navigate the forces of a generally unsupportive mainstream media.  This is unsurprising as the major media enterprises in this country, and elsewhere in the developed world, will always be owned by the wealthy who will be ostensibly conservative in their political proclivities – sometimes quite openly, if not aggressively.

Of course media outlets will always vociferously defend their independence and integrity, and it can indeed be difficult to pin them down when they appear to fail, but consistent editorial themes cannot be hidden from view.  The media is also guilty of pushing, peddling and promulgating  – without proper critical analysis – certain cultural perceptions that make life endlessly difficult for the Labor Party such as the deeply ingrained in the Australian psyche, almost as strongly as the mythical notion that John Howard was a Conservative, that the Coalition are naturally better economic managers than Labor.

There is no identifiable respite from such cultural mythology from Australia’s fourth estate so frustration from the Left is understandable and ultimately sound.

I don’t care about what some journalist “thinks”.  How is that relevant to their task and my life?  I want them to do their job, which is to provide me with information that I and my friends and family could not otherwise acquire.  I don’t need to know their view on it.  I just want the information  That’s the job they are paid and, for the most part these days, educated for.

I don’t want journalists to promote or even recognise my political agenda or ideology.  I can do that.  I don’t want journalists to speak to a particular social or political point of view.  I can do that.  Since when did journalists become proxy politicians or lobbyists? Since when?

I want journalists to be, especially in the political realm, what an idealistic notion of what a political journalist is.  They know what that means.

If you can’t do that, piss off and leave us alone.  Have some integrity.

About Dan Rowden

Dan Rowden is a freelance writer and philosopher who has been active in philosophical and political discourse since Malcolm Turnbull invented the Internet in Australia. For the last 15 years he has contributed to and administered Internet philosophy forums. Politics is a secondary interest, but he recognises moments of significance in Australia's political history.
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