Saturday, April 30, 2011

The Sideshow zooms over the press gallery’s heads.

Yesterday I bought a copy of Lindsay Tanner’s book, Sideshow: Dumbing Down of Democracy (it only gets released officially next week, but for some reason Dymocks in Canberra already had copies of it).

The book is not a memoir, it is in fact much closer to George Megalogenis’ Quarterly Essay Trivial Pursuit, than it is some tell-all political autobiography. The book’s central thesis is that the media and politicians are locked into a dumbed-down, trivial, vicious circle, that is for the most part instigated by dumb, lazy journalism, and dumb media organisation that encourage such journalism and coverage of politics. So well argued and accurate is Tanner’s thesis that I think this may actually be the first time a book’s thesis has been completely proven correct before the book has even been officially launched.scan0028

The book is a very complex and intelligent discussion of politics and the media. It is free of the back biting shite that usually dominates ex-politicians’ books. There’s no “Rudd was this”, “Gillard was that”, and “I would have done it all better if I had been PM”. In fact Tanner often refers to times when he was as guilty of dumbing down things for the media as he was victim of bad reporting. His book is not aiming for an audience who want gossip.

As such it is something completely outside the dumbed-down vicious cycle.

But why do I suggest he has been proven correct? Well here is Tanner on page 22:

Deliberate Distortions

Mere trivia by itself, though, is not sufficient to make political content entertaining. A rather bewildering variety of devices is used by journalists and editors to spice up what would otherwise be relatively bland content. In the process, the content is often so distorted that it bears little resemblance to the substance which notionally gave birth to it.

So let’s test that thesis. Let’s see how Tanner’s book has been covered by the media (mostly by papers last Sunday by Samantha Maiden):

Maiden: Minutes will define Prime MinisterFormer finance minister Lindsay Tanner savages leaders, media in new book Tanner sitting on ticking time bombInsider lets rip on Julia Gillard, Kevin Rudd governments, labelled 'dumb democracy' Ex-minister unloads on Rudd govtFormer federal minister slams govt Labor slogan set 'new records for banality': Tanner Tanner dumps on PM

Now from a look at those headlines, you’d think Sideshow was Mark Latham Diaries Part III. Now Sam Maiden in Crikey on Thursday took issue with the suggestion her reporting of the book was lousy by asserting his publishers should be happy because of all the free publicity she gave them,which I guess means that the corollary of any publicity is good publicity, is that any journalism is good journalism.

But let’s have a look at some of the reporting:

LINDSAY Tanner could drop a bomb on the Labor Party this week by revealing once and for all whether Julia Gillard secretly pushed for an emissions trading scheme to be dumped.

Well yeah, he “could”, except he doesn’t in the book – and in fact states that he won’t in the introduction! So given that is the lead of the piece, it is rather in dire need of a point.

How about this brilliant bit from the Sunday Telegraph editorial:

…A former member of inner-Cabinet's "gang of four", Lindsay Tanner, has pole-axed Ms Gillard….

He takes veiled digs at ex-colleagues, in the guise of a critique of "shallow" media coverage: Julia Gillard dyes her hair red,

This suggestion was also included in much of Maiden’s copy:

Attacking Julia Gillard's Moving Forward election slogan and suggesting she has helped build her brand as a "ranga" by dyeing her hair…

Well now, “pole-axed”, “attacking”. Geez. Tanner must be really on the warpath. How about we let the facts (i.e. the actual book) do their work. Here is the only part in the book where Tanner refers to Gillard dying her hair:

One might think it strange that for a number of years, Julia Gillard has died her hair red. In fact, it’s perfectly sensible: it makes her more noticeable. When an ordinary voter makes disparaging references to the ‘ranga’, that’s a good thing. She has registered as an individual personality in the sideshow. The voter knows she exists.

So Tanner describing Gillard as doing something perfectly sensible within the context of how modern politics is covered by the media is now him “pole-axing” or “attacking” or “letting rip on” her?


In the desperate desire to find a story to make a splash, the Telegraph (and other papers) and Maiden proved Tanner’s point completely – they spiced it up and distorted it to the point where it bears little resemblance to the original substance.

Nice work. Such a tactic works great for New Idea and NW, but you’d hope when it comes to the pretty important issue of Australian politics and how it is covered by the media that there might be just a little bit more intelligence used.

But why would Maiden and the Telegraph get the coverage so wrong? Well a big clue lies in this fact:

The Sunday Telegraph did not obtain an embargoed copy of the book, released this week, but was briefed on key extracts,

So eager to be in first with the scoop on what would be in the book, Maiden didn’t trouble herself with actually reading it!  But that doesn’t stop her doing some in depth analysis:

The central thesis of Tanner's book is, however, that the media are to blame for modern politics' problems. By retreating from their traditional role of reporting serious political issues and replacing it with infotainment, he argues the coverage "focuses more and more on trivia, gimmicks, and personalities, politicians' behaviour".

Hang on, how does she know the central thesis if she hasn’t read the book?

"The flood of spin, 'announceables', slogans, and stunts that characterises modern politics is a direct result of these changing media dynamics," claims the promotional blurb on his book's website. "In effect, the media are turning political reporting into a sideshow driven by entertainment imperatives because of threats from intensifying competition and technological change."

Yep, she read the blurb, some extracts, and the book’s website. Outstanding work. Great reporting.

She then gives us this:

Tanner raises some legitimate points. And it's rare for such a political insider to write an account of his life in politics so soon after he departed the political stage. In my book, that is to be applauded for the insight it provides. But the weakness of his thesis is an attempt to blame the media almost entirely for the malaise. If the system is broken in Tanner's eyes, like all dysfunctional relationships all the players bear some responsibility.

Well if she had actually read the book she would see that Tanner does write that politicians bear some responsibility. In fact he even admits that he played the game, and he is pretty cutting towards the way the last election played out. But unfortunately for Maiden, he doesn’t give what she really wants – a tell-all (you know the whole “drop a bomb on the Labor Party” bit).

This view is also reflected by a vast majority of the press gallery and was most loudly stated when Tanner gave interviews this week on the 7:30 Report with Leigh Sales, and on Sky News with David Speers.

Here was ABC journalist Hayden Cooper on Twitter responding to Tanner’s interview with Leigh Sales:

So Tanner complains no serious policy coverage. Then when asked serious policy questions, he says "no comment". #abc730

Sadly, the comment just reveals that Cooper obviously has no idea of what is a serious policy question. Here were the “policy” questions Sales asked:

LEIGH SALES: To try to give an example of what you talk about in terms of the superficiality overriding policy, I want to talk about one particular policy area around climate change. We know that Labor dumped the ETS when polling got a little bit rough. Was that the right decision in a policy sense for our nation?

LINDSAY TANNER: Oh, look, I'm not going to enter into a commentary about wider contemporary politics and whether things have been done right or wrong.

LEIGH SALES: But this is actually a very important policy issue that goes to the very heart of the sorts of issues that you're raising.

Sales is right, the ETS is a serious policy issue. But she is not asking about policy – she is asking about politics. She has tried to make it seem like she is asking about policy, but dumping the ETS was political, not policy. The actual construction of the ETS – the level the carbon prise was set, the level of compensation, the various drivers and triggers within the legislation – that is policy.

LEIGH SALES: Do you think that the carbon tax is good policy?

LINDSAY TANNER: I'm not going to comment on that. I'm now a private citizen. I've put out a book that talks about a particular issue. I'm certainly going to comment on that. But I'm not going to comment on contemporary issues of the day. I'm no longer an elected person, I'm not a Labor Party spokesperson.

Again, Sales has not actually asked a policy question. Policy is not “good or bad” – certainly not policy as complex as battling climate change. All her question is after is to get him to say yes (ie agree with the Govt – but sadly, no story there) or to say, no (big splash “Tanner slams Carbon Tax!”).

Cooper followed up his tweet with this:

Sure Tanner has a point. But why didn't he speak up about slogans/dumbing down etc a year ago? #abc730

Which is a bit odd given Tanner in his book makes clear he did talk to colleagues and party insiders about this. What he didn’t do was tell the media – which in the eyes of many in the press gallery means it didn’t happen. Tanner also in the interview with Sales points out that had he written this book when in Govt, firstly he wouldn’t have had the time, and secondly he would have been criticised (rightly, he agrees) for attacking the umpire in the middle of the game.

On Friday, Tanner gave an unintentionally hilarious interview with David Speers that showed that Speers as well is as blithely ignorant of what actually constitutes “policy questions”. Speers opens with a gambit that seems to be that the media has always been crap, so what’s the problem? (Gotta love a man who regards his own profession in such poor light).

SPEERS: You could go back a hundred years and find examples of gotcha journalism and media trivialisation…”

Well I guess it’s ok then…

But the interview really got dopey when Speers asked this:

SPEERS: What about the big issue, and I know you don’t want to talk about this either, but the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme. Kevin Rudd has already said that you were one of those who wanted to push ahead you didn’t want to shelve it at the end of 2009 and the start of 2010. I mean if you are serious about trying to have a more informed public debate this is a pretty big issue that still lingers over the Gillard Government, why can’t you help inform this debate by telling us what you did?

Now just for a second, ask yourself what Lindsay Tanner could tell us about the political decision to dump the ETS that would inform us about the actual policy of the ETS? Speers hasn’t asked one thing about the actual policy. All he cares is politics. We know this because he says “ a pretty big issue that still lingers over the Gillard Government”. In other words politically hangs over the Govt. The policy of the ETS has moved on, there are different players around the table, different issues being discussed, different outcomes and outputs being sought, but Speers – and most of the press gallery – are still stuck in the politics of 2010.

Hayden Cooper again was quick to get on Twitter:

As senior minister Tanner was part of that culture just as much as anyone else in gov. No good claiming now that it's not his fault.

Well sorry Cooper – go read the book before suggesting Tanner says any such thing. Tanner in fact often says he played the game and admits he was part of the culture. He admits it wore him down, and in the end he was quite glad to be gone.

Tanner responded to Speers’s question with a lovely, and polite slap:

TANNER: Well David, I think that, with all due respect, that question is a classic example of the problem, because the question is about “the game” of politics, it’s not about the merits of how we tackle climate change…. What your question goes to is who was arguing what, who was manoeuvring against whom, who was taking this position, who was taking that position.

Speers tried to justify himself:

SPEERS: But it goes to the conviction of Julia Gillard, the Prime Minister on this issue.

Again, a politics question. Someone can be convinced that something needs to be done, but can also be a realist that now (or back in 2010) is not the time to do it. That decision is a political judgment call. Unfortunately such a position would require journalists to take a shaded view of the world. And that doesn’t sit well when you you need to come up with a “Tanner Dumps on PM” story.

Speers then tries to put the blame on politicians – that they don;t give straight answers. Tanner responds:

TANNER: Well David, the problem with that is that… if politicians had any confidence that straight answers would be reported straight then maybe you might get some more of them…. Politicians do not have confidence that things they say will not be grotesquely distorted and misrepresented, almost from the minute they’ve said them. That happens on a daily basis. That is why you get spin. That is why you get defensive robotic politicians. 

Speers’ response?

SPEERS: Well I guess if the answer is straight forward it’s pretty hard to distort it.

Geez. I don’t know to think whether Speers is just idiotically naive, or just totally ignorant of how his own profession works. 

Back during the last election the funniest question for me came from some journalist at the end of a long press conference with Julia Gillard. The press conference occurred a couple of days after the big spat between journalists and readers on Twitter about the lack of policy in the campaign. The journalist (I never found out who she was), asked this:

JOURNALIST:  On policy, did you talk to Kevin Rudd today about how he will campaign in support, or if not, for your position on asylum seekers, and also climate change?

Yep. A question of policy was about campaigning. We would laugh if it wasn’t so bloody serious – because this person is someone who provides coverage of policy to the public.

At the time I just thought the journalist in question was just inexperienced, but now I think that sadly, most journalists (but not all) in the press gallery have absolutely no idea what is policy.

Most think policy is the reaction of polls. They think policy is someone from the AWU saying Whyalla will be wiped off the map. They think policy is a disagreement in cabinet over a policy. They think policy is one line in an Auditor General’s Report. They think policy is someone talking tough on asylum seekers. They think policy is whether or not a website gets a lot of hits. They think policy is total number of fires, but not the proportion. They think policy is a few school principals complaining about poor quality workmanship, but not a report that finds 97 per cent are happy. They think policy is Joe Hockey saying the Govt is full of waste and mismanagement. They think policy is an ad campaign. They think policy is today, and not next year.

I don’t completely blame these journalists who struggle with writing about policy, or asking actual policy questions, because here’s a little bit of a tip on writing well about policy – it is bloody hard. It takes time to research that many in the press gallery don’t have, and it requires knowledge of issues that most completely lack.

When the issue of health comes up, I stay well clear of writing about policy, because health policy is incredibly complex and I am pretty ignorant of how the health system works. And so I rely on those who know what they are talking about – like Sue Dunlevy in The Oz, or Melissa Sweet at “Croaky” (Sweet by the way gets praise from Tanner in Sideshow as an example of bloggers who broaden the quality of commentary). I know a bit about telecommunications policy, but I always fear that an article by Bernard Keane (a bloke, I’d argue, who knows more about such policy than the press gallery combined) will show me up as an amateur.

Policy is hard, so too is analysing a book – you actually have to read it – just reading excerpts or the blurb ain’t going to cut it – not at least if you want to be taken seriously.

Lindsay Tanner has written a thought provoking book that does have faults – I agree he goes softer on politicians than would I were I the one writing the book. But to focus on that is to ignore that his criticism of the media is bloody well spot on. How do we know this? Well take this part from the introduction of his book:

Given the sideshow syndrome, I know that most political journalists will quickly scan this book, looking for shock revelations about the inner working of the Rudd Government . … The relatively small number of journalists who read this book will search for someone to blame for the problems it reports. Somehow or other they will be looking to create a headline that begin with “Tanner attacks…”

Well I guess he was wrong – they went with “Tanner savages…”.


Read the book. It doesn’t offer as many solutions as I would like, but it raises the issues clearly and well. It should be read by all who take politics and policy seriously (and I hope that includes most of the press gallery).


The Rev Mountain said...

Fantastic post, Grog, as always.

I'm actually writing a post on something similar around the ANU poll showing around 53% of people either frequently or regularly can't understand politics. And the media seems to continue to offer up examples in the last week of just why this happens, and is an issue.

It's good to hear that Tanner's book seems to really go to the heart of this issue (from the inside), particularly the media, and politicians' responses to the media treatment/public lack of understanding on policy.

Anonymous said...

So, from what you're saying, Samantha Maiden is a journalist? News to me.

Leslie said...

Another point to make about Gallery journos is not only their ignorance about policy, but also their ignorance about the clear lines of separation between the public service, and politics. Whether it's a consequence of 13 years' Labor rule, followed by 11 years' Coalition rule where the perception was that the bureaucracy had been totally politicised (read: neutered) -- which has some truth to it -- or whether it's a new, young and clearly less (ill-?) informed breed of Gallery media, many are the times one has to explain to journalists what the difference is: that politicians own their policies (and the politics around them), and public servants do their darndest to deliver without fear or favour.

Niall said...

as I understand Tanner from the 7:30 Report article during the week, he has no solutions and makes no pretense at offering solutions. What he said he'd done was write a book that highlights the matter, points squarely at the drive for news media 'sales' and the attendant 'consumerism' that goes hand in hand with it.

There is no immediate solution, save for that which lies with the people who pander to this garbage. The ideologues in society. The rabid partisans on both the so-called left and right for whom the pap written by the Maiden's, Bolts, Blairs, Akerman's, Marr's and Hartchers is manna. Until that sector of society wake up to the fact that their being led around by the nose, while those doing the leading are leading themselves, nothing is going to change.

Anonymous said...

Not only did most reports on the book prove him right, but they showed an amazing lack of self-awarenss in doing so. The SMH, for example, ran this on their website without the faintest trace of irony

Agnes said...

Peter van Onselen today in the Oz: since it wasn't dishing the dirt, Tanner has missed the point.

Anonymous said...

Do you need to read a whole book to understand a central thesis? Isn't that what's in the blurb? And I think your 'analysis' of Sales' interview is opinionated to fit *your* thesis. I believe Sales asked a legitimate question about the policy; no tricks. Far be it for you, lacking the considerable talent, experience and resources of a senior ABC journalist, to assess what she did and did not mean by one particular question.

Also, even I could tell from the Original piece that the Maiden story was written after she had *refused* to read a copy of the book, despite being given the opportunity. She cited that she would rather not read it, so she wouldn't be tempted to break embargo. Your contention is that she's lazy - not easily proved by your evidence.

I reckon you need to sleep on some of these for a day or two before posting.

Sandra Smith said...

As a concerned member of the public I have been alert to the problem that Tanner highlights for some time.The frustration that I feel is palpable but what to do,shout at the TV,chuck newspapers in the recycle bin with gusto.Thank goodness for my IPad at least it affords me the freedom to do my own research on world affairs but as for Aus politics finding any genuine debate on policy is almost impossible.
Now...who to blame for this sad state of affairs.The dumbing down of journalism studies at Universities?the 24hr news cycle?the over bearing media tycoons?the politicians for being lilly-livered?...who?...well all of the above really and the general public as well for allowing themselves to be dumbed down by mindless reality TV.
Let's hope this book of Tanner's promotes some serious reflection by all who care about our country.....a vain hope I fear.
A good post...nursing feelings of hope!!

Anonymous said...

Is it dumb, sloppy unprofessional journalism or purposeful distorted spin? From dawn to dusk ordinary, hardworking Aussies blithered by alarm clocks ringing at dawn are blasted by shit from a media cycle on full throttle. And it sticks because no one has time to question whether the bunkum revved by talk-back radio on behalf of their Holt Street colleagues is fact, bias or a bit of both. Yes our media is a circus - sawdust, spangles and not much else. Blood on the streets, traffic jams and shock-horror weirdo stories don’t tell more than fact. Which is presumably why our handful of media conglomerates dip into that endless supply of cheap desperate employer sycophants and political devotees. Standards, resources or skills not required nor concern for the end result. As Tanner said, its all about doing zilch for truthful, accurate journalism. This week’s release of the Gitmo documents on Hicks and Habib shows our media of the past 15-years is as gullible or prejudiced as John Howard. Someone at some stage will need to pay the Piper.

Lyn said...

Hi Grog

Your work is a never ending delight. This post is better than brilliant.

There is no more to say, except thankyou Grog for another, fantastic, clever analysis of the media coverage, not just on Lindsay Tanners book but everything political.

Greg Jericho said...

"Do you need to read a whole book to understand a central thesis? Isn't that what's in the blurb?"

You may "understand it, but you can't judge it. I may understand a what a movie is about from its preview trailer, but I sure as hell don't judge the movie by it.

My analysis is of course my opinion. But at least I read the whole book, read the whole articles and watched the whole interviews before I formed it.

Writing a piece on a book you haven't completely read is lazy journalism in my opinion.

Greg Jericho said...

Anon (and all) - let's not be nasty or personal. My criticisms of Sam Maiden here is purely on these particular pieces she wrote on Tanner's books.

I don't agree with Maiden very often, but she does break a lot of stories.

The bigger picture is the media coverage of politics as a whole, and that sure as heck can't all be laid at the feet of Sam Maiden (or in fact any journalist).

Who are the editors, the producers, the proprietors of newspapers and TV shows? What are they demanding of their journalists? Is it deep insightful analysis? I don't think so.

Sonia said...

Great post Grog. I am enjoying immensely the feedback you are receiving on twitter. Keep it up

Gordicans said...

Brilliant post Grog. Lindsay Tanner is impressive. He highlights a problem that is difficult to find corrections for, but I think that getting rid of compulsary voting would have a beneficial effect.

Of course having one proprietor owning 70%+ of the newspapers in this country and driving the agenda doesn't help.

Thirdborn said...

Love your work, I so wish the discussion would turn to real policy.

We need an hour long media watch each night to increase the level of media professionalism.

You'd think as a clever society we'd work out how to get this done instead of accepting the current situation it as a norm.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the great post Grog.

Laura Tingle seems to have read your mind. Her piece in the Weekend AFR is worth the read.

What's wrong with democracy
'If Lindsay Tanner needed any better proof that political reporting - and politics - has descended into a ludicrous sideshow, as he describes in his new book, it was unleashed the moment he appeared on ABC's 7:30 report on Thursday night.
Political reporters took to Twitter to be rude about the former Finance Minister ...
And his comments were almost immediately misreported ...'

It would be worth the trip to Canberra get an advance copy of the book :)


Anonymous said...

If more journalists were doing insightful political reporting, I would have known a lot more about Eddie Obeid, Joe Tripodi and Karl Bitar before Frank Sartor’s open letter to Obeid. I would have known about NSW opposition leader John Robertson before Paul Keating spoke about him.
Thankfully these insiders speak out.
In Federal Labor I would have known about Mark Arbib before the dramas last June.
If these factional leaders determine who becomes leader, then we need to know as much as possible about them. They will be the ones creating public policies.
Forget about decent policies when those personalities are creating the drama. They need to be exposed first.

Greg Jericho said...

Cheers DWM, I had heard she had written something on it, but didn't get round to reading it - will chase it up now.

Anonymous said...

Just seen Lindsay Tanner on the Insiders this morning, then saw the Insiders program do thier best to prove his point!
All I can hope is that Lindsay
(and others who have come to the same conclusion) keep talking and that the message can break through.

L said...

This book sounds like it's going to be great, although I'm not sure about the cover. Before I realised the black things were microphones I thought they supposed to be some kind of spider legs growing out of the clown's ribcage.

GeeForce77 said...

Tanner has a wonderfully analytical mind and a mature approach so I would have read his book anyway but your review makes me really look forward to the read.
Many journos (TV, radio & print) have turned into political ambulance chasers and aggressively negative nit pickers constantly seeking scoops (no matter how trivial)rather than allowing a pollie to display what makes him/her tick. Politicans adjust accordingly and the whole scene spirals downwards. Most probably can't change so our best hope is to encourage the good ones.

Anonymous said...

"Geez. I don’t know to think whether Speers is just idiotically naive, or just totally ignorant of how his own profession works"

Thats a really interesting thought.

Applied not just to Spears of course but virtually all journos, Tingle seems to get a bit of a pass ....this time.

But, really, are the journos that stupid?
Or ....?

In a state of denial about what their function is and how they perform it?
So entrenched in their mind set group think they are unaware of their own reality?

Is their professed and blatant ignorance feigned or real?

Do they know they are stooges?

I think Bolt and probably most of the shock jocks do but its a bit hard to tell with some of the others.

Its really sad isn't it when our assessment of [most] of our media presenters boils down to whether they are stupid or disengenuous?
Because, lets face it, the only way many of them could say and write such tansparently blatant nonsense so frequently is to have deliberately chosen to do so.


Anonymous said...

On the Federal Election 2010, the Politicians and Media were equally crap. The NSW and VIC State Elections were just as crap as Federal. Twitter, Blogs and Facebook users all were consistent in their dislike of what was on offer at the time.

Anonymous said...

Let`s face it, Strolling turtles Soar High over the heads of most media and Politicians. Seems Tanner is a bit different. Or has he just poached from a heap of blogs? I better read the sideshow.

Steve said...

Thanks for another great post Grog.

The problem is not just here in Australia. David Roberts describes our current era as Post Truth Politics, in the article below:

Policy in the Age of Post Truth Politics

As he says:

But the crucial fact of post-truth politics is that there are no more referees. There are only players.

Aocarr said...

Great piece Grog's. Made me race out to get a copy... only they've sold out everywhere.

Of interest to some of your readers, Graeme Dobell, a journalist with more experience than most of the press gallery combined has written a review for The Interpreter:

RipOffRed said...

Hello Grog
I liked the piece and not having a go, I promise -- but where you have 'in the guise of many' I think you might have meant 'in the eyes of many'. Yes?

Once a sub, always a sub...

Greg Jericho said...

Thanks Rip-Off Red. Missed that one

sam sunshine said...

In the dumbing down tradition
the late Bin Laden was living in


I am just waiting for the conspiracy theory from the Libs about the use of the name of their Dear Leader.

Michael said...

I'm sorry, Greg. I can't be convinced of "stupid or disingenuous" as explanation for our press mavens. They're doing precisely the job their owners want from them. All recognise the standard they're to meet; it's the price they'll pay to stay in the job. Those who opt out do so at a cost.

Anonymous said...

The media don't get that policy is written as legislation, it is debated inthe lower house and amended if necessary before a vote is taken on the floor. If the legislation is passed it goes to the senate.

In the senate a majority can send it to committee if there is somethings they don't like or think need further discussion.

After committee has reported it is debated in the senate, amendments are made and debated or not.

Then after a vote and it is passed it goes back to the lower house to be signed off and sent to the GG.

Only after she has given it Royal Assent can it be called law or policy.
Before that it is nothing more than a thought bubble.

A prime example in the OO yesterday from the normally excellent Paige Taylor.

Accusation that three people on Christmas Island raped another person. No charges laid yet, no court, no nothing but Taylor believed they would pass a character test change that has not yet even been written let alone debated.

The problem is they are lazy and don't bother to find out the process.

It is not rushing things through in 4 hours debate like serfchoices was.

contraptor said...

The whole discussion misses the point. It should not be about stupid journalists and politicians. They are not stupid. They all have very clear incentives to behave exactly the way they do.

TV, radio and newspapers do not exist to report news or be the channel of discussions. The exist to make money. As much money as possible for their owners

Their main source of income is advertising.They can charge more for advertisements in programs with high ratings. So, high ratings are the ultimate goal of all journalists. Some of them consider themselves entertainers rather than journalists, because it gives them more freedom in achieving better ratings.

So, the ultimate question is: what sells? And the answer is simple: sensation and controversy in 10 second sound bites. It glues people to the screen. Whether journalists like this or not, does not matter. They do not have a choice - it is a race to the bottom.

Same for politicians; they want/need presence, publicity. How can you get publicity? Give the journalists what they want/need, sensation and controversy. Policy does not fit into 10 second sound bites and does not bring rating.

Welcome to brave new world of "News for profit".

The question is: what can we do about it? I doubt that privatising and cutting the funding of ABC will fix it in a hurry. And no one is talking about a simple fact: all broadcast media is using a community resource - frequencies. In return for this resource, the community should mandate a weekly block of time from each broadcaster that is free of advertisement and dedicated to news.

Anonymous said...

Tanner was on on local radio tonight.

gxdata said...

contraptor has it 100%. Those political and social commentators and bloggers who take 'politics' seriously - ie, they think it has a point, and that the protagonists largely believe in what they're involved with - are pissing into the wind of today's mediatainment industry, which couldn't give a FF about policy, integrity, truth.

It's dis-spiriting, but your (grog's) review encourages me to read Lindsay Tanner's book, particularly the final chapter, which promises to suggest some remedies to this sorry situation.

anna said...

Anonymous 30 April 2011 has a go at Samantha Maiden. Is that sour grapes on the part of anonymous? She might be tough but she does have the track record, see of writing pieces with insight.

anna said...

Anonymous, from what I have seen Samantha Maiden can write pieces that do indicate insight on her part. Her comments
on Marr's essay on Rudd inspired me to buy the bookl
Anonymous said...
So, from what you're saying, Samantha Maiden is a journalist? News to me.

April 30, 2011 4:14 PM

NucMed said...

Good plug on Media Watch tonight Greg, hope it pushes a few more eyeballs your way.

Interesting that they mentioned that they got the idea for tonights show from your above critique.

Cheers, Peter

Dieter Fischer said...

Truth in the media or the lack thereof can make or break an issue (or a person, if they decide to do so). Without an independent, transparent media democracy won't work. Australia (at least South Australia) has neither a truthful, nor transparent media or judiciary.

Siobhan said...

Journalists seem to be reacting defensively to Tanner. It would be more in their interests to see this as analysis of one of society's structures, which they too are caught up in. Individuals are not to blame.
Both politicians and journalists get trapped by all this because it is how the game is played at the moment. And the public is complicit, as well as long-suffering recipient of all the drivel.

silkworm said...


You say the chaplaincy programme will be hated by the left, yet elsewhere you have declared youself to be a committed Christian. How are we to take this? It appears you want to dissociate from the left because of their secularism, but I can't believe you associate with the religious right. So where do you stand on funding chaplains in public schools?

Just Trolling said...

Hi Grog,

First time commenter, long time fan. I completely agree with your article, it is time the media stop trivialising politics and rather focus on policy issues. Issues such as whether the Gillard government should put more money into government advertising to justify the mining tax. You know, the big POLICY issues.

Anonymous said...

I covered politics for about six months but left the round after being dismayed at the lack of straight answers. I look back at some of my own stories and realize I was covering the politics - as I was employed to do - but also trying to find a different angle, a different voice.

That remains an issue. Journalists must find a point of difference, cut through to the strong news point. Sadly, policy doesn't always allow that. An ideal story under Tanner's analysis would start "Elected public officials continue to disagree or misunderstand serious issues relating to emissions trading schemes. Journalist representative have confirmed they continue to wait for someone to explain this to them".

Good conclusion to this post - Tanner is to be applauded for highlighting the problem, but the solution remains aloof.