Wednesday, September 29, 2010

It's not just The Australian. "The ABC has a lot to answer for"

John Menadue. Listen here.

Here's an extract from his speaking notes at a New News conference.

Under-resourced mainstream media is not in a healthy state. It is failing significantly, with a few notable exceptions, in the health field as in most other fields. It is much more than just the shrillness of the Murdoch media. With so little news to break or analyse, it is not surprising that journalists spend such an inordinate amount of time-sharing opinions with each other.

Can online media fill the vacuum? Crikey/Croaky, Centre for Policy Development and others are in the field, but they will take time to grow. The important issue for online media to recognise is that technology is the easy part. The hard part is content both information and analysis.

In pay television for example, we have excellent new technology that has given us more channels and better pictures, but the improvement in content is marginal. We have more choices, but little increase in value. Online media is much cheaper to produce and deliver, but the continuing problem will be access to good content at reasonable cost. Bloggers give us worthwhile and diverse opinions, but are not particularly strong on the dissemination of factual information.

The Australian polity and the media are in a downward spiral, almost a death wish. Disappointment and disillusionment with politics and the media is widespread and growing.

Trivia and personalities prevailed in the media in the last election campaign. The best example of trivia that I can recall was the Australian Financial Review’s portrayal of Julia Gillard saying ‘Nauru’ instead of ‘East Timor’. As the AFR put it ‘Gillard’s Nauru gaff rocks asylum seekers’ stance’. Really? I have been getting my four children’s names confused for the last 50 years! Even Kerry O’Brien mis-speaks the ABC for the ALP.

Politicians are clearly running away from the big ticket issues – particularly climate change and the two or three track economy that the mining boom is foisting on Australia. Politicians listen closely to lobbyists on these big-ticket issues – 900 full-time of them, or 34 for every Cabinet minister. Journalists are under-resourced to examine policy issues and in many cases have become the mouthpiece of special interests with their well-funded public relations activities. The Australian Centre for Independent Journalism at UTS found in a survey of the 10 major metropolitan newspapers published in Crikey in March this year that 55% of content was PR driven, and 24% of content had little or no significant journalist input. In the specific field of health/science and medicine, the survey found that 52% of content was PR driven, with 23% of content having little or no significant journalist input.

Before I come specifically to health, let me mention the problem in the wider media context.

The Rudd Government introduced timid climate change proposals and then over-compensated the polluters. Frightened by a ‘big new tax’, the government ran away. The result of the power of special interests and the failure of the media to explain has resulted in what Ross Garnaut has described as a ‘diabolical problem’.

For a $7 m advertising campaign, the three wealthy foreign-owned miners saved themselves $7 b in taxes. There were some media commentators, Ross Gittins and Ian Verrender, who wrote cogently on the issues, but much of the media, which was the beneficiary of the miners’ advertising money, either diverted public attention from what was at stake or clambered in political support of the foreign miners. I wonder how those same journalists will react when Chinese state-owned enterprises follow BHP, Rio Tinto and Xstrata in running future political campaigns against the Australian government. The media was missing in action on this big-ticket item.

On asylum seekers, the government and the media, and particularly the ABC, failed to frame the debate with facts. Television news and current affairs obviously worked on the assumption that if there were no pictures, there was no news. It was easy to get pictures of asylum seekers’ boats floundering in the Arafura Sea, but it is hard to get worthwhile pictures of asylum seekers’ coming by air, despite the fact that over 90% of asylum seekers come by air and not by boat. Tony Abbott said that Australia was being ‘invaded’ by asylum seekers, yet neither the government nor the media took the trouble to point out that asylum seekers represented only 1% of our migration intake...

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