Tainted JournalismPosted: May 11, 2013
Yes, I’m writing on this topic again. On the same topic that I wrote about last week in response to Mr Denmore and the same topic that my mother, Kay Rollison, has written so eloquently about today. There’s more to be said and no doubt I will keep saying more because this topic is important.
I’m talking about the quality of our mainstream press.
I’m sure mainstream journalists who write about politics in Australia have noticed how angry huge swaths of the politically engaged populace are with them and their measly efforts at ‘journalism’. I often wonder what they think about the criticism they receive, week in, week out on social media, blogs and independent news sites. But I’m not likely to find out, because to tell us, they would have to reveal what they really think, and as I’ve already established, this is a big no no. Having an opinion is akin to hysterical nonsense in their world. So they end up saying nothing at all. They end up saying ‘the Opposition Leader says’ while we all yell at our TV’s ‘so what? This is completely irrelevant!’
I’ve been thinking this week about how has this sorry situation occurred. How has it come about that we have an oversupply of right wing commentators and talking heads all over our TV, including the ABC, but we never seem to hear from anyone who is willing to go out on limb and say anything about the successes of the Labor government? There are a couple out there, I will admit. Channel 10’s Paul Bongiorno is one who battles on, giving his opinion on policy and sometimes even debating on Twitter, proudly showing off what he really thinks about political news. But the fact that Bongiorno stands out as not always negative about the Gillard government, while there are literally tens of journalists, commentators, columnists and personalities on News Ltd, Fairfax and the ABC who are openly partisan towards the right, openly hostile about the Gillard government, and completely unreasonable when it comes to balance and accuracy, shows just how slim pickings there are for a left-wing audience. And I’ve got a hypothesis about why this is the case.
The problem is, the likes of Andrew Bolt in all his revolting disrespect for facts, accuracy and balance, scares the pants off journalists who don’t want to appear to be as downright unprofessional and dodgy as this gutter dweller is. It’s like their thought process works as follows:
‘Andrew Bolt agrees with everything Abbott does, and hates everything Gillard does. He is quite obviously a terrible excuse for a journalist. He is a propagandist and is untrustworthy. If I endorse anything Gillard does, I’m just a left-wing version of Bolt and this is not the type of journalist I want to be. I’m above that’.
The whole ‘above it’ argument has been brought up again by Jonathon Green on the Drum this week. The headline is all you really need to read to understand Green’s point: Journalism tainted by conviction isn’t journalism. Conviction. Defined as “a firmly held belief or opinion”. Green’s basically saying if you have a a firmly held belief or opinion as a journalist, you are tainted. You are alike to Andrew Bolt. But here lies the problem. There are so many journalists making such an effort not to be ‘tainted’, they are missing the fact that their lack of conviction is destroying their work. Because they have no conviction, or they hide their conviction in order to make it appear they are pure and unaffected, they end up being nothing and offering their audience crap.
It’s no wonder so many of us are frustrated. Because it’s perfectly clear that while the left has this problem, the right doesn’t.
Let’s pause for a moment and think about this left/right divide. If I write that I think the Gonksi education reforms are a fantastic idea and will be good for the long term success of the Australian economy and I provide evidence for why I have this view, am I automatically ‘tainted’ as a ‘lefty’? Remember I’m analysing the policy and I’m providing evidence for why I think it’s a good policy. Does this make me a Labor stooge? Does this make me a propagandist? Does this make me a tainted ‘lefty’? No. It doesn’t. I’m not behaving like Bolt in any way shape or form. Because Bolt doesn’t use facts. He prefers to misrepresent them. He prefers to use hyperbole, mock outrage and general nastiness towards people he doesn’t agree with. He doesn’t reason. He doesn’t analyse. And his conclusions are always utterly predictable and easy to refute. But somehow, journalists have let the Bolts of the world win by using this tactic, as they have convinced themselves that if they say anything complimentary about the Gillard government, they’ll be tainted in the same way Bolt is who obviously campaigns for Abbott regardless of what he think of his policies.
It’s quite obvious that the reason there is an abundance of left wing bloggers, and a distinct shortage of right wing ones, is because the right have their opinions adequately covered in the mainstream press, and the left are screaming out for a voice. So us bloggers are doing the job of journalists in analysing policy and providing our thoughts on the impact of these policies. We can’t find this analysis elsewhere so we write it ourselves. Let’s be clear – we’re not doing this because we’re campaigning for the Labor party. We have convictions that we have no intention of hiding. We’re not in anyone’s pocket and there’s no vested interests dictating our views. Just because I’m a Labor voter, and proud to say it, does not mean I’ve given up the right to analyse with an objective eye. Each and every post I write is filtered through my view of the world – which is all any one can ask of any writer or journalists. In fact, most independent bloggers I read, who would be considered ‘left wing’, are critical of the Labor party when they feel it’s warranted. And we’re always very particular about getting our facts right. We’re doing the job of the journalists too when it comes to correcting the official trail of lies the right wingers in our press leave in their wake. For example, since journalists aren’t pulling Andrew Bolt up on his blatant misrepresentation of climate change (and his insult to mathematics), independent bloggers like Greg Jericho point out these facts instead.
Independent writers and bloggers seem to have more conviction in one post, than the mainstream media have collectively in all their work. Mainstream journalists don’t care that Abbott’s Opposition are constantly distorting the facts about the current state of the Australian economy and the size of Australia’s debt. They don’t care that a well orchestrated campaign was carried out within the Liberal National Party to force the resignation of the Speaker, to try to force an early election. They don’t care that Abbott’s Direct Action policy has been left un-scrutinised, while the story about climate change and the Carbon Price was all about Gillard’s supposed ‘lie’. If they had even an ounce of conviction (not left or right, just plain old conviction about right and wrong), how could they possibly ignore this? How can we trust what they say if they are so determined not to care about anything? Surely this is the definition of tainted; writing without conviction.
The question of balance is also one that needs to be examined. Does balance mean being negative about Gillard one day, and positive the next, while being equally negative and positive about Abbott? Do climate change deniers funded by vested interests get the same access to an audience as distinguished scientists who have proved time and time again that the deniers are wrong? Of course balance means none of these things. Gillard should only get positive coverage when her government deserves it. But when you look at the facts, and the resulting coverage, there is a huge hole when it comes to positive stories about the Gillard government. Balance is the ability to weigh up facts fairly, to report these facts fairly and to provide analysis of the impact of these facts fairly, without prejudice or dishonesty. There is no simpler way to explain it.
Frankly, I’ve had enough of the whole scene and I don’t think I’m alone. While Abbott gets a free run in a cowardly press, who refuse to question anything he does, while Gillard’s achievements are buried and her problems over-exaggerated or created, and while the right wing mouth-pieces get free rein to say anything they want without any standards of fact-checking or decency applied, we are all losers. While journalists are ducking and weaving to hide their convictions, all that is left for the thinking public is to find analysis and inspiration elsewhere. And if we can’t find it, we write it ourselves.