Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Media


Well the book is finished with weeks to spare, so I finally have time to reflect on my stay in Brighton. Apart from the grind of writing, typing and editing, I have spent some time absorbing its culture. On the big picture, the role of the media has dominated the news during my time here, with the Murdoch press being put under the microscope for possible indiscretions.
It was interesting to observe the public reaction to these events as they have lived with a competitive, sensationalist press for many decades. As an Australian, I feel that is a direction our own press is increasingly emulating.
My view was the English drew a collective sigh of relief that the power of the media was being called to account by its politicians. I say that though, knowing that on the ‘recta-scale’ of trust, politicians and journalists run equal last. But it seems that in the last decade, the concentration of media power has allowed journalists to move up that dubious ladder, to leave the politicians floundering at the bottom, seeking favour from them, their aim to become less hated than their political competitors. Of course for the public this can be entertaining sport, helping them forget their own problems in life, but with each stab at our institutions, comes a building up of unease within our society.
For myself, I sat enthralled, watching a British Parliamentary committee attempt to gain the facts from a powerful media baron and an (ex) Australian to boot!
This debate has raged over the relationship between politicians, police and journalists, making it clear that imbalance between these areas of endeavour can have a sometimes unhealthy impact on our society. History tells us that politicians (rulers) have been the worst of the offenders and quite rightly require a vigorous press. But it seems over the last decade that the press have gained the advantage, shaping societies’ views on a whole range of subjects, including how they should be ruled.
The media is in a good position to feel the pulse of their people and their aspirations, which can be a good thing, binding society and providing a collective voice of sorts. But when this voice presumes what’s best for it by actively seeking government change, it treads dangerous ground.
The British parliamentary committee was mainly reviewing the issue of phone hacking, but the concern that politicians were courting powerful media interests to seek favour was never far from the debate.
Writing full time has afforded me many privileges (money not one of them!), one being I have the time to read and analyse the daily papers. As informative as that can sometimes be, I admit to a growing unease with the preparedness of Australian ‘commentators’ and ‘editors’ to forcefully recommend ‘regime change’.
This no doubt has been encouraged by a forceful opposition, which on the whole is a good thing for the country. But this does not mean that the media should present similar opinions in their paper, whatever political persuasion they intend to assassinate. I have been discouraged by the pro-political party stance of some newspapers, the latest climate change debate a case in point. It seems that special commentators, shock jocks and even editors have taken it upon themselves to call for a new election, not even a third of its way through what is a very small term (three years) anyway.
Somehow, they consider this a responsible way in which to inform the public. That being, if the government is not popular or does not stand by every word promised in an election campaign, it should be removed. Any long term policy, particularly those aimed at nation building, by their very nature are complex and will always upset one interest group or another. By all means, criticise the many players in these complex debates, but don’t spoil good investigative research with politicisation.       
If this type of commentary continues to dominate Australian news, I believe our nation too will draw a collective sigh of relief when our media, like the British face a strong purposeful parliamentary committee to address the imbalance between press and parliamentary power. Achieving balance between these forces is impossible to get right, but regular open and transparent reviews of that dynamic can’t hurt.
An open parliamentary committee that reviews the regulations and regulatory processes of the media is surely a good thing for democracy, particularly at a time when some sections of the media openly calls for an early election, possibly followed by another (double dissolution).
This can only be bad for a stable democracy.