The big political story of the moment revolves around the case against former Speaker Peter Slipper being thrown out of court and the possible conspiracy designed to bring down the federal government involving the staffer who took Slipper to court James Ashby, LNP candidate for the electorate of Fisher Mal Brough and journalist for The Daily Telegraph Steve Lewis who broke the story.
The political event is still in progress. That’s not what this post is about.
There is an attitude these days, mostly among progressives that journalists are for lack of a better word, idiots. This attitude includes an “us vs them” mindset which is quite hostile. It mainly comes from the view that journalists either have no backbone, buy the conservative line of argument, have commercial interests that are better served by conservative governments which leads to them writing columns and news pieces that are framed around conservative language which influences opinion polling, focus groups, “the narrative” and so on.
I’m not sure this mindset does progressives any good.
In the first post I wrote on this blog, I mentioned how little I paid attention to the media during the 2007 election campaign before I took an active interest in politics. I also wrote that the main reason I got addicted to media was because I thought it had some sort of exotic ability to persuade the public when in reality, it didn’t.
For a long time, I bought this line that journalists are idiots. It took me awhile to figure out they’re just normal people doing a job and they have the same flaws and the same inadequacies as everyone else.
Today Malcolm Farr from News Limited and Phil Coorey from the Australian Financial Review have published separate recounts of the same story involving Mal Brough losing his temper during a social cricket match between the politicians and the press gallery in 2001. They’ve clearly been waiting to release this story for years and now they’ve finally got their opportunity.
In short, journalism is a relationship game. There’s the mindset that you can slap journalists for not writing your sides press releases word for word and blaming them for the results of opinion polling and there’s the mindset that you can cut them some slack and recognise they’re in the same boat as everybody else and inspire them by showing how it’s worth their while (hint: many journalists dream of being like the two main characters in this movie).
I think it’s inconsistent for progressives to get angry at “the media preferring to cover the sideshow rather than policy issues” and then complain that this Ashby story isn’t being covered in the media when the interview is focused on the shadow minister’s policy portfolio. The anger usually stems from the perception Labor MP’s are not treated the same way. Leaving aside whether or not that’s the case, shouting in anger at what you want in my view would be the most reactive and least successful method of achieving some sort of balance.
Does this mean it’s okay for The Australian and The Daily Telegraph to get away with clear bias and inaccurate reporting? In my view they’re going to be biased regardless of what happens and paying attention to them only gives them a form of power they don’t really have with the public. It would be preferable if they weren’t so biased but I can cite poll after poll that shows trust in the media and talking heads is extremely low and getting lower. Not to mention the fact that their business models are becoming antiquated due to the democratisation of information and The Long Tail.
If I ever read these papers (nowadays, rarely), I only read the headlines as the rest is like watching a soap opera: you can’t read them for a minute without laughing at their ridiculousness and self delusion.
If there is a conspiracy involving the LNP in relation to this case regarding James Ashby, it will come out sooner or later and there will be negative consequences for the guilty parties regardless of how long it takes, how it’s spun and the predictable obfuscation from The Australian and The Daily Telegraph. It’s going to take time to investigate what has happened and while questions are being asked and journalists are doing their jobs, it’s counterproductive to mouth off at them.