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Journalism

Aug 2, 2010

This is all your fault

Yes, this election is boring and visionless rubbish. The media have to accept much responsibility for the poor state of political debate but in the end the fault lies elsewhere.

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Yes, this election is rubbish, and it represents the lowest point in policy debate since, probably, 1980.

Yes it’s boring, and visionless, and run by two parties that are entirely risk-averse and who have turned their backs on so much achieved by previous generations of leaders. Parties for whom a key campaign strategy is to explain to voters that they have no intention of carrying out reforms they have long insisted were crucial.

But bad luck – it’s your fault. Politicians, and the media, and the business community all share responsibility for this dire state of affairs, but it’s voters themselves who have ultimately brought this about.

Last week, even mainstream media journalists began complaining about how tedious the campaign was. Hitherto, their main complaints had been poor catering and a failure by the Labor campaign to give them sufficient access to Julia Gillard. When blogger Grog’s Gamut attacked the press packs accompanying the leaders for ignoring policy issues (reproduced below), it elicited a very defensive reaction from some journalists (Larvatus Prodeo covered the spat and the broader political ennui enveloping us all).

The media indeed bears some culpability for not merely the dire state of this election campaign but the dire state of politics as a delivery for quality government and public policy. But it isn’t solely or evenly mainly to blame for it.

The role of the media in relation to politics is best understood as akin to that of feeders, the parasites who encourage obese partners to grow larger to satisfy their psychological and fetishistic needs, creating a deeply unhealthy cycle of mutual dependence. The media exploits and encourages a flawed political culture, but they don’t create it or control it.

That’s not to say there isn’t much left to be desired in mainstream media political coverage (let’s leave aside for the moment News Ltd’s anti-Labor campaigning, which extends to smearing Julia Gillard over her appearance, relationships and childlessness). Most journalists indeed fail to cover policy properly, but not because they’re lazy or obsessed with trivia or think their readers and viewers are idiots — to pick three of the criticisms routinely thrown around — but because they lack the specialist skills and the time.

Few journalists have an economics background – and ultimately economics is at the heart of most government policy. Many, it appears, can’t count. More seriously, few have the time to invest in analysis of policy, as political bureaux are cut back.

Instead, they rely for policy analysis on external “expert opinion” and therefore inevitably frame policy analysis as a debate and conflict. This leads to “he said-she said” journalism which offers an easy way out for time-pressed hacks, and in the case of the ABC is actually made obligatory by editorial guidelines as part of the national broadcaster’s unthinking and unreflective quest for “balance”.

This isn’t just a recent phenomenon occasioned by the slow death of the print media. Commercial broadcasters have been cutting back on news and current affairs since the 1980s. Political coverage has slowly become niche journalism. And 24 hour news channels are not a substitute for the long-term diminution of mainstream current affairs. They rarely provide in-depth analysis, but offer instead talking-head commentary and commentary on commentary. In any event, they are only watched by political tragics anyway.

All this makes media complaints about “spin” all the more ironic: the media needs spin, both from politicians and from external experts and observers, otherwise it would have to do the heavy lifting of actual analysis. Political coverage relies on spin and fills columns and airtime analyzing spin, discussing how the spin will be perceived: spin, messaging, propaganda as it used to be called, has become the primary material of the media cycle.

The result is too much cynicism and not enough scepticism. The media not merely covers policy poorly, it covers it selectively. A remarkable feature of the last three years has been the ruthless assault on every claim advanced by the Government in relation to key policy issues such as emissions trading or the mining tax, while the claims of vested interests have been waved through and reported as fact with virtually no scrutiny.

Much of this, true, is the product of News Ltd’s war on Labor. But it isn’t confined to the pages of The Australian, by any stretch. The Financial Review was one of the worst offenders in relation to the RSPT, and the ABC is now the sort of broadcaster where it is typical, rather than a matter worthy of remark, that an irrational and discredited a figure like Chris Monckton is given extensive and high-profile airtime.

In this swirl of self-interest, credulity and inconsistency, the role of the business has unfortunately avoided scrutiny. Despite its frequent calls for economic reform, Australia’s corporate sector is one of the biggest impediments to it. It was amusing to read last Thursday in the Fin the demands of the “Business Coalition for Tax Reform” for “real reform” to be considered in the election. At the centre of those reform demands was a significant reduction in the corporate tax rate, to 25%.

Again, we’ll put aside that the Government tried to pursue a proposal to cut company tax to 28%, and received exactly zero support from corporate Australia while foreign multinationals successfully intimidated Labor into abandoning it.

Cutting the company tax rate to 25% would cost perhaps $8-10b a year. Did the BCTR, or any other of the business groups that support it, nominate what other taxes should rise to make up the shortfall? Did they nominate any area of expenditure that should be cut? And not just something generic like “government waste”, but actual programs where proposed cuts might upset people – lower school funding, fewer roads, fewer doctors and nurses, waiting longer to buy some new warplanes or frigates? No.

This isn’t serious public policy debate. It has no more validity than the bloke at the bar bitching about taxes between beers. The corporate sector, despite calling for it, provides no support for the cause of real reform. In fact it provides the opposite: individual industries or sub-sectors that may lose as a consequence of reform know they can try to derail legitimate reform without opposition from, or criticism by, the rest of corporate Australia, although the latter reserve the right to then criticise politicians for failing to show leadership.

But neither the media nor the business sector can take responsibility for the policy timidity and risk-averse nature of the current generation of politicians.

That’s where we come in.

Tomorrow: how we outsourced government to professional politicians, and are now paying the price for it.

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76 thoughts on “This is all your fault

  1. SBH

    I thought you might bring the knitting needles Venise?

  2. James McDonald

    Otherwise you know, if journalists (who like to engage in endless discussions among themselves about whether their hackwork is a “trade” or a “profession”) don’t make some token effort to adopt some hallmarks of professionalism — like having a clue what they’re talking about — then one day they may just follow the lamplighter and the elevator operator into historical oblivion.

    It’s perfectly possible to fill an entire newspaper, day after day, with op-ed contributions by people who quite often do know what they’re talking about. Especially if all journalists are offering is their opinions — like taxi drivers, except that when they’re done talking you’re still in the same place you started. And as the age of internet blogging demonstrates, people will contribute just to be heard, without expecting any payment.

  3. EngineeringReality

    @James & Mr Denmore.

    That is a very good idea.

    As I come to the end of my M.Ec. degree (in November will have been 3 years of after work night lectures) I can see that if you take out the mathematics and differing models that need so many assumptions to reconcile their distance from reality – there really isn’t much more that you couldn’t fit in a week’s worth of classes that you need to know to have a good grasp of the realities of economics.

    Forget all the jargon of basis points, marginal products, elasticities, upward pressure and exogenous shocks and you’d have a section of the media who knew what it was talking about…

  4. James McDonald

    As MR DENMORE said earlier: “So send the journos to economics night classes.”

    You know, whatever you’ve heard about economics, it is not only one of the easiest subjects to learn at the basic level, but also one of the liveliest. You don’t need to spend three years on it; you can cover a huge amount of ground in just one week — enough to understand the difference between spending and tax cuts, to explain why the war on drugs can actually increase illegal drug revenue and crime, and to spot a special-interest rentseeking argument when you see one.

    One week, and you’ll understand more about policy than you can learn from ten years reading and processing media releases from the Treasurer’s office. It’s stuff that all political journalists need to know, not the navel-gazing media-affairs crap that they teach in university journalism courses. The subject is so interesting that any good journalist would then continue studying more on their own. And it’s so easy that any who fail it should only be doing sports journalism anyway.

    As Henry Hazlitt said in his classic mass-market Economics in One Lesson:
    [Economics is haunted by more fallacies than any other study known to man. This is no accident. The inherent difficulties of the subject would be great enough in any case, but they are multiplied a thousandfold by a factor that is insignificant in, say, physics, mathematics or medicine–the special pleading of selfish interests … The group that would benefit from [rentseeking] policies, having such a direct interest in them, will argue for them plausibly and persistently. It will hire the best buyable minds to devote their whole time to presenting its case.]

    A corps of journalists relying on their own spin-meter to evaluate mountains of media releases are kidding themselves. But if news organisations could run in-house, one-week primers in economics, the rentseeking industry would be dealt a crushing blow, and politicians would have no choice but to talk real solid policy.

  5. Venise Alstergren

    FUNKY J: I’ll knock up the frame.

  6. Elan

    Sounds good to me.

    (Rushes to grab Staysharp knife-rubber gloves-and scooter helmet).

    Seriously. I bloody wish.

  7. James McDonald

    Well we’re always hearing criticism of Oppositions – Labor or Liberal – for being too “negative.” But that’s their role, to hold government to account. How are they supposed to do that, by constantly praising them?

    Government needs to concentrate on governing, not on defending itself obsessively in the polls all the time. They need to shrug most of the criticism off, like water off a ducks back, and say, “Yeah whatever you reckon, we’ll see what people think at election time.”

    Hypersensitivity to criticism is what has led the current government to work on 90 per cent spin, 10 per cent policy. “The Worm” has been the silent fifth member of the kitchen cabinet all along, chairing all the meetings and mesmerizing them with its death stare. And the press gallery have obsessed about The Worm, reporting polls on the front pages constantly since the 42nd Parliament of Australia began. It’s as if we were in a three-year election campaign.

    A study of history shows that countries and empires typically go through periods of instability when regimes or dynasties change, followed by growth if the new government is any good, then tapering off to decline and stagnation and opening the way for the next upheaval.

    By treating an entire term of government as if it were a three-year election campaign, government and media together effectively lock us in to the instability phase. The amazing thing is that any growth can occur at all.

    How about next time, the government — whoever wins — just get your damn heads down and govern. Ignore the press gallery and the Opposition except when they have something of substance to say. There’ll be plenty of time to explain yourselves when the results are in and the next election is at hand.

  8. Syd Walker

    Here’s a perspective that doesn’t seem likely to emanate from the establishment commentariat any time soon…

    Arguably the greatest failure of all on the part of our economic commentators is the failure to even discuss the proposals of economic historians such as Stephen Zarlenga

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TjyrAmiK1FI
    http://www.monetary.org/

    There is no fundamental reason why governments cannot issue debt-free money – and there are compelling reasons why it should do so.

    Indeed, this is probably the only way that we shall be able to ‘afford’ the vitally necessary re-design of our economy, transportation system, industrial system, housing stock and other infrastructure and economic activity.

    With care, socially useful work can be funded directly by governments without inflationary consequences. There are historical precedents for this. But the topic has been virtually chased out of university economics departments and mainstream economic punditry – much more than Marxism or other ‘alternative’ approaches.

    A rational and independent Australian Government would be pursuing this approach internationally via the UN, G20 and any other appropiate forum.

    As Aristotle said: “Money exists not by nature, but by law”.

    Laws CAN be framed to further the common good.

  9. FunkyJ

    Bernard is right.

    It is all our fault.

    The only way to rid ourselves of this impotent, inbred and arrogant political class in both sides of politics is to take matters in our own hands much in the same way the French did in 1788.

    I’ve got the wood… who’s got the blades?

  10. Oscar

    @Sausage Maker,

    It’s very easy to try and sheet the blame home to “stupid, fat ignorant suburbanites” – even Bernard does it (although he at least thas the grace to be slightly less offensive about it).

    But the reality is that no-one can help being at least partly influenced by what they see and read. So if EVERY news outlet – including the ABC and SBS – is peddling the same lazy and stupid crap (because they can no longer afford to do any real reporting of their own, or perhaps are simply not allowed to) why WOULDN’T their readers/viewers take note of it?

    Especially if you are working two jobs to support a family and a mortgage, and the election is just something that gets maybe a 5 minute sound bite at the end of your working day, and you know the outcome is not really going to affect you all that much – at least not for a good few years yet anyway.

    I’d be perfectly happy to rely on most Australians inbuilt bullsh*t detectors – even if they only listened to the 5 minute “sound bite” version each day it’s not really that hard to tell the difference between spin, sleaze and substance.

    But of course the Devines, Sheehans, & Hendersons of the world know this (or at least their editors do). They know that if they can effectively subvert the first 5 minutes of every source of news every day, then that’s all they have to do to disenfranchise a significant chunk of the electorate – and they do it without some people even noticing. We Crikey readers may bemoan the poor quality media coverage and spend our time on forums like these believing we are making a real difference – but we’re not. The harpies of the press have already achieved what they needed to achieve and are off to do whatever they are told to subvert next.

    They don’t even need to resort to outright lies (although some of them do) – every side of every campaign is always full of enough leaks, rumours, half-truths & speculation, backstabbing and vengeance seekers to suit their purposes.

  11. James McDonald

    Those gigantic boons to residential housing particularly gobsmacked me because I had held the ill-fated Babcock & Brown shares. Dead and gone, after BNB shares plummetted causing a breach of their debt covenants and inability to raise any more finance during the credit crunch. (Crikey writers joined in the lynching of BNB even though it was the big pioneer of Australia’s wind-farm estate, with never a single dollar of help from the government and never even qualified for “Greenpower” accreditation.) So I was just floored to learn about $16 billion of my tax dollars invested directly in an asset bubble which does not employ anybody and calling it “stimulus”.

  12. sickofitall

    The Biggest sector of the economy?: Service. Mining makes up about 8%. Making the ALP’s capitulation even more disgusting.

  13. Sausage Maker

    A large chunk of Australians are stupid, fat, ignorant suburbanite slobs and unfortunately this election is being fought in the areas where these people live.

    You can blame News Ltd, Fairfax columnists like Devine, Sheehan and Henderson and talkback radio. You can call them the Pied Piper leading innocent, intelligent Australians down the wrong path.But the majority of people reading and posting in this Crikey article can see throught the lies and manipulation by the mainstream media so why can’t the slobs out in the marginals? What, those poor people with mortgages work so HARD that they don’t have time or the energy to see past the rubbish the media and the Libs push out? Does that mean the people who read and post on Crikey are all unemployed? No.

    And I notice the slobs out in the marginals have plenty of time to watch their AFL/Rugby League and the prime time shows on commercial TV.

  14. EngineeringReality

    @James

    I wasn’t saying that BHP have done anything illegal or dodgy accounting wise – just that they have arranged their tax affairs to give their shareholders (of which I am one) the greatest tax advantage – as they should – as BHP’s main purpose is to create wealth for shareholders.

    My main point is that by taxpayers extracting value for the ore through company taxes (and to a lesser extent royalties) then it is the taxpayer who loses out when a company can and does use deductions and impairment to reduce its tax liability to a bare minimum.

    Andrew is correct in saying that mining is not a great employer. Around 2% of the workforce (as mining companies have built up a lot of capital in all the big machines and plant that they use to extract and process ore – so much so that increasingly some plant is monitored and controlled from control rooms in Perth). So I wouldn’t be so quick to dismiss his comments.

    Thanks for pointing out the RMBS issue – I was unaware of that and as you say its rather concerning. Government money is best spent to create maximum & sustainable export earnings for the country – R&D, assistance with commercialisation & business incubators rather than throwing fuel onto the housing market furnace.

  15. James McDonald

    Andrew Lewis, the only place you might pass for an “economic colossus” is at a Greens rave party, and even there you might struggle. You may have read a few Ross Gittins articles, but you seem to have missed his habit (out of fashion, I admit) of providing facts to back up assertions.

    If you understood the Gittins articles you read, you’d know that when analysts suspect dodgy profit figures, they turn to cash flow, which is not the same as profit but is a comparator that’s very hard to fudge. Net operating cash flow for 2009: US$ 18,863 million.
    Now, where’s the creative accounting in their expenses?
    Wage expense: US $3,877 — that’s the “low employment” you were talking about.
    Capital expenditure within Australia alone: $US 6,215 million — that’s payments to other companies like Leightons, and most of it goes to paying wages for employees of those other companies.
    Raw materials and consumables: US$ 6,227 million — again, that’s mostly somebody’s wages.
    Third party commodity purchases: US$ 5,785 million — same applies
    External services including transportation: US$ 9,725 million — same applies
    And so on, expenses totalling US$ 38,640, the lion’s share of which goes to wages of other companies that sell things to BHP, or to the wages of companies they buy things from, and so on.
    The only part open to creative accounting is capital impairment of US$ 4,439 million, goodwill impairment US$ 34 million, and “other operating expenses” of US$ 1,661 million. Read it yourself on page 195 of the annual report if you want to have a clue.

    “And you imply that the govt should have given miners some help during the GFC???”

    Actually I think stimulus should be done by either building real infrastructure, or broad-based tax breaks. I don’t think the government should give specific help to any particular business or business sector, GFC or not. That goes for insulation vendors, solar panel vendors, school building consultants, $16 billion worth of RMBS and $2 billion in first home owner grants to the passive housing speculation racket. So there’s a bit of a double standard when it comes to leaving exporters high and dry and then suddenly noticing them when they’re profitable again, don’t you think?

    Now let’s go back to talking about journalism, and Andrew Lewis you just keep on reading those Ross Gittins articles until you begin to understand them.

  16. davidk

    I agree with most of the above. I have no problem with blaming Murdoch for much of the anti labor sentiment. After all he’s been fostering it all his life. For that reason Labor goes out of its way to stymie his plans whenever possible. I would note however that he undoubtedly has extensive investments in the mining sector so has a vested interest.

  17. Andrew Lewis

    James McDonald, Engineering Reality has you on taost. The tax return on the revenue (which can pretty easily be assumed to be the value of the ore sold) is the one to look at. That ore is ours, not BHP’s etc. The royalty system is a colonial joke. BHP et al should be getting a reasonable return on the work done digging it out, not a windfall based on resources being virtually given away. The fact that they pay what you assert to be 45% tax on profit is a testimony to the cleverness of their accountants, and the phenomenal waste that goes on in these giant companies.

    And you imply that the govt should have given miners some help during the GFC??? They are an extraordinarily profitable low- employment industry (yes, you heard me), who happened to shed jobs with the GFC, contrary to their propaganda that they saved OZ. Spare me your BS

    Bernard, your theory is nice and all, but almost certainly simplistic crap. The lack of solid questioning, particularly of the economic variety, is lamentable. I have never studied economics, but I have a PhD from the Ross Gittins university, and I would look like an economic colossus amongst the Gallery.

    Is Joe Hockey really our prospective Treasurer? Really? He has no idea.

    What about an economic questioning of the last 5 years of the Howard govt, the waste of some $300b in mining tax windfalls, the structural deficit left to Labor. (Structural deficit, what is he talking about.)

    I know you have been on some of these things BK, but as a group, the media are far more culpable.

    As others have said, this and most elections are decided by the swinging voters. Of them, I would suggest about 1% are carefully weighing facts and philosophies, and 99% are disengaged and the chronic prevaricators, usually casting a vote with no more thought than goes into whether they have chicken for dinner or fish.

    This is the tragedy of compulsory voting. Of course non-compulsory voting has its own problems. Wish I could offer a solution.

  18. James McDonald

    ENGINEERINGREALITY – If you think there’s creative accounting going on, it’s best to supply evidence. Rather than figures which purport to represent something in black and white.

    I would have expected your last paragraph to be true …
    [As for buying shares Governments have no real business owning companies – it is a different institution that is set up to look after its citizens, regulate the structure & smooth running of markets and make laws – it has a different focus and structure to a business which is purely there to make the biggest return for its shareholders.]
    … until another blogger stunned me with this notice from the Australian Office of Financial Management (AOFM):
    [On 26 September 2008 the Treasurer announced that the AOFM would purchase RMBS to support competition in Australia’s mortgage markets, with up to $8 billion available for investment. Since then, the AOFM has invested $7.753 billion in 20 RMBS issues. Other investors have invested $3.611 billion in these issues. The RMBS issuance supported by the Program has financed mortgages over approximately 62,150 residential properties across Australia with an aggregate value of approximately $17 billion …
    Following consultations by Treasury and the AOFM with industry, on 30 November 2009 the Treasurer issued a Direction for the AOFM to invest up to an additional $8 billion in Australian RMBS, together with $0.246 billion remaining from the initial program.]
    That’s $16 billion of taxpayers’ money invested in housing mortgages — in other words, feeding the housing bubble. With a side-effect of enticing private investment to exit from the sharemarket and pile into housing, which may have actually contributed to share price collapses and loss of business investment. I find it a bit rich to invest $16 billion in the housing bubble while leaving the export industries to flounder in a depressed commodity market, and then making a grab for the exporters after their revenues recover.

    Anyway, that’s a bit of a detour. Sorry folks, I interrupted a discussion on Australia’s brilliant culture of news reportage to correct some factual errors.

  19. EngineeringReality

    @James

    I wasn’t talking about company taxes – we all know thats 30% on profit here in Australia (which is revenue-costs).

    I am talking about the return that the taxpayer gets from gifting the minerals to the mining companies.

    Yes I admit I might have gotten revenue mixed up – BHP $44B & RIO $40B around the wrong way – I looked up the annual reports several nights ago. But having a closer look now revenue that I used was Group Revenue of $44 Billion (taking out revenue from Third Party Products of $6 Bil – which I don’t consider to have come from taxpayer owned ore) Page 177 of annual report

    Page 108 of BHP annual report says “The taxation expense including tax on exceptional items was US$5,279 Million”. Dividing $5,279 by 0.89 = AUD$5,931 million which is close to what I said above strangely enough – $6 Billion. Nothing misleading here.

    The misleading part is where the miners take our minerals and through accounting sleight of hand can impair and deduct away almost all of the profits from selling our minerals so leaving the taxpayer with a very small return indeed. The misleading figure is saying the BHP paid 45% tax – which is complete rubbish compared to its income.

    Regardless my point is still the same – the taxpayer gets a very poor return on the non-renewable minerals that it gifts to the miners. The miners move their losses around the group to pay the least tax and so as you’ve pointed out only AUD$3,548 million goes to the Australian taxpayer. Of that only $500 million is royalty payments.

    As for buying shares Governments have no real business owning companies – it is a different institution that is set up to look after its citizens, regulate the structure & smooth running of markets and make laws – it has a different focus and structure to a business which is purely there to make the biggest return for its shareholders.

  20. asdusty

    @Peter Phelps

    Julia Gillard is not a leftie. Her ideology is firmly within the right wing. Why do you think this election is so stale – both parties have the same policies. The Labor Party is not left wing. The Labor Party is a centre-right party. But lets not get reality in the way of your opinion, Andrew and Piers told you what to think and they are always right.

    Say hello to Janet for us…

  21. James McDonald

    ENGINEERINGREALITY – What are you talking about here?
    [1. BHP paid $6 Billion in tax last year (on $40 Billion of revenue)
    2. RIO paid $2 Billion in tax (on $44 Billion of revenue)
    3. FMG paid $153Million tax (on $1,76 Billion revenue)]
    Are you deliberately lying or just overreaching your reading abilities?

    BHP earned $50,211 million in gross revenue globally in 2009, not $40,000.
    But tax is paid on profits (earnings), not gross revenue.
    Earnings before interest and tax (EBIT): $18,214 million globally, of which one third was exceptional items.
    Capital expenditure in Australia was $6,215 million – was that the figure you misread for tax?
    Profit before taxation: $11,617 million
    Total taxation expense: $5,279 million – of which $3,158 million was Australian taxation.
    All figures are in $US.

    So that’s an average 45 per cent rate of taxation globally, and much of it in Australia.
    I’ll leave it to you to correct all the other misleading figures you printed.

    One more thing: the government did not give miners any assistance at all during the GFC. If it wanted more revenue from minerals, it could have at least bought some shares when their prices became dirt cheap on the ASX, then it would be earning a dividend stream for the Australian people.

  22. ronin8317

    The politicians are losing the ability to get their message across without having their words distorted. This applies to both side of politics. However, the biggest issue facing Australian democracy are not apathetic voters or journalist with an axe to grind. Rather, it’s the inability of the media to call the politicians out when they ‘fudging the numbers’. The most important utility of journalism is to let the general population know when a politician is lying. If the journalist themselves are not able to discern the truth, then what hope is there for the rest of us?

  23. Elan

    1) I’m glad Phelps has the courage of his convictions. I’m bloody glad he can express himself without warnings from mods.

    Try that as a ‘Leftie’ on another ‘premier discussion’ site moderated by a Liberal Christian, and the warnings and suspensions are copious.

    Go your hardest Peter Phelps, and all others with your views. It is the way it should be.
    ____________________

    2) Bernard: you cheeky sod! It would have to be ‘our fault’ wouldn’t it?

    Sooner or later: our fault.

    LabLib:- manipulates/backstabs/preselects/ and cannot lose through a preferential voting system.

    ‘Journalists’: …….toe the line of their media ownership/ are now happy to get in bed with….oops! sorry: ’embedded’/ slant opinion rather than seeking honest answers/ are largely automaton hacks.

    Voters: must vote/such vote if not for Lab/Lib will be directed to them.

    …and it’s our fault?

    Silly of me. Of course it is.

  24. James McDonald

    SICKOFITALL – Yes, modern “journalism” is just a form of celebrity commentary.

    Twenty years ago, over-the-hill journalists who lacked the energy for editing went into semi-retirement as “columnists” on the “Opinion” page, pouring forth vapid streams of consciousness about the main news story of the week or what was on TV.

    The modern newspaper still has an “Opinion” page, but it’s hard to understand why. The “News” pages are filled up mainly with opinion pieces by those columnists, all with a touched-up photograph of themselves, reporting their own opinions on what they googled today, instead of stepping out the door to research something.

    Not just over-the-hill semi retirees — even rookie journalists go straight to being columnists without ever doing real legwork. It’s like an able-bodied 20-year-old embarking on an athletic career in lawn bowls.

    In fact, there’s very little modern journalists do that bloggers don’t do just as well. Journalists just do more of it because they don’t have another day job taking up their time.

  25. David

    Phelps do you actually have anything to add to the debate? or perhaps this is how you spend your time when you are on leave from the circus animal pen.

  26. Oscar

    @Peter Phelps,

    I never believed I would hear myself say this, but compared to the flaccid fruit loop that currently leads the opposition, John Howard was indeed a paragon of fortitude, determination, intellectual rigour and integrity.

    Fancy making a big song and dance about Labor refusing additional debates, and then (when they agree) saying “Er aaahhh I’ve just checked my aaaahhh schedule and I aaaahhhh can’t seem to aaahhh squeeze one in – sorry about that”.

    What a moron.

  27. SBH

    Why did peter phelps stop signing off as JamesK?

  28. Peter Phelps

    Gillard on John Howard:

    [”I think personally, in terms of his characteristics, he brought fortitude, determination and a lot of commonsense to the job.”]

    Yes, “a lot of commonsense”: Offshore processing, NT intervention, quarantining of benefits, no ETS, troops in Afghanistan, support for ANZUS.

    Ha, ha, Lefties. Remember – she’s one of you, from deep inside the Socialist Left.

  29. sickofitall

    ps… it’s late, point 2 above shoudl read ‘Economics is a sub-branch of political science.’ Apologies.

  30. sickofitall

    Ok. 1) All journalists are lazy/dumb and/or beyond caring. So, the public doesn’t get the full information

    2) Economics is a sub-branch of arts. I did a full economics degree as part of my honours in history and major in political science: mind, I did no economics subjects, but an understanding of economics is not exactly difficult to come by, and economics is not exactly difficult to understand

    3) Newspapers until about 15 years ago, icy.o be honest, Farfax were always hopeless, but the Daily Telegraphs’ horrors used to be in its sensationalism. When you got to p. 4, some concise, well-written factual stories used to pop up. Now, it’s all opinion piece disguiesed as ‘fact’

    4) Australia lacks a quality news service. SBS is the closest, butt noone watches. it. Noone watches he other stuff either…

  31. asdusty

    Absolutely right Acidic Muse, we live in the worlds first Murdochracy

    http://www.johnpilger.com/page.asp?partid=569

    With 70% of our media owned by the same company anyone claiming that the Australian MSM has a left wing bias is just pushing their own ideological barrow.
    However, at the end of the day, there is very little choice between the two main parties. Australian politics has moved to the right and we are left with choosing between a centre-right party and a far-right party. Inevitably there will be a split and we should see a new progressive party form to represent the left side of politics. Maybe even some of the armchair generals on Crikey might pull themselves away from the keyboard to help make it happen….

  32. Acidic Muse

    This is definitely some of your best work Bernard … well done

    I am pleased more journalists are starting to explore this stuff but the biggest WHY is still getting little coverage

    Ideology is obviously playing it’s part , but there is a much stronger commercial imperative driving NewsCorp and other major media players insatiable desire to derail Gillard’s campaign

    Ironically, it was one of Steven Conroys’ mediaspokespeople who pointed out the elephant in the room so succinctly earlier this year when the OECD was urging the government to force Telstra to sell its 50 per cent stake in pay-TV company Foxtel in the name of the cancer called competition

    She said that “the NBN would provide a platform for extraordinary media diversity”

    Diversity sounds just like blasphemy to the Media Oligopoly that not only has interests in Foxtel and Sky News, but between them, in almost every other media property worth owning in this country.

    Can anyone say “Internet TV”. A few syllables guarenteed to strike fear into the heart of any of Australia’s media mogul

  33. David

    @Robertson…stop making excuses for the unfrocked jesuit…he knows he hasn’t your chance of shaping up to Gillard in a debate on the economy, she would murder him…remember he is a self confessed ignoramus. JG called his bluff and he is so piss weak he folded rather than front up…not even his minders can get him out of that refusal he will now be seen for the remainder of the campaign as a wimp, a gutless wonder scared to debate the most important issue confronting the country and he set that, because he has raved on for months…Labor has failed, Labor has ruined the nations future for our children and their children supported by the money grabbing thieving billionaires in the mining industry. All this when we lead the world in an economic recovery unprecedented anywhere. That is why this shallow liar, this chest thumping, macho, clown is scared to debate the economy. Stroke of genius by labor, brilliant. Abbott failed the courage test. How surprising. 2 weeks to go Robertson, how you feeling about your God boy now?

  34. Venise Alstergren

    Australia is suffering from inertia of mind, spirit and energy. Whether it is the fault of this generation, or the ones that preceded it, is difficult to know. But seldom, have so many people, put so much energy into greed, envy and despair. And so little into thinking about the larger issues of life.

    Much has been made of the swinging voters who reside in marginal seats. Many of these people are the MacMansion dwellers. The ones who demand that they have the right to have everything now, at once, on the spot.

    There was a time when people saved up to buy their own homes, when they had to wait and pay off things like dish-washers and other kitchen/laundry machines. And all the other things that go with creating a home. Not so these days. The banks are dying to give these people as much money as they want-with interest. Huge houses are built with, of all things, an entertainment area which includes a mini movie-theatre.

    Are these people receiving all of life’s benefits happy? Not a bit of it. They complain when both spouses have to work to pay the mortgages off. They cluster together with all the other parvenus, in marginal seats, and they whinge.

    They whinge to their local Councils that the area isn’t green enough, the rubbish isn’t being collected on a regular basis (why can’t they take it to the tip the way their parents had to do it?). There are no schools, no public transport, no amenities, no entertainment.

    Well they knew that before they moved there. These MacMansion dwellers-and remember the size of these grotesque buildings-are by nature Liberal Party voters. But so anxious are our political masters to get our votes, that one Party which was left-wing, has now turned right-wing, in order to pander to the great middle-classes.

    The existing right-wing Party, euphemistically known as the Liberal Party, has turned further towards the right. And the only genuine left-wing Party, the Greens, would be unlikely to appeal to the MacMansion dwellers, who think Green is just another colour.

    The Media, having had a field day for the past fifty years, has turned on the very people who have been buying all their simplistic crud, their artificially structured pap, the celebrity circus, and all the political news, which, by default has become no news. Rather, during an election, do they write about the personalities of the political candidates, as opposed to writing about the different Parties’ political philosophy.

    A female political candidate is unable to get her Party’s political message across, for reasons such as all the available space in a publication is already taken up with fatuous discussions regarding her clothes, what sort of bra she wears, her choice of flowers, whether or not she is sleeping with a man, A woman? Her uncle Juniper? Or whether she is celibate.

    How can any political message get through the far, far more important news of her sex life.

    Belatedly, the Media is realising how their combined efforts have so much reduced the average intellectual intelligence of their readers, they are asking them “How is this so?”

    It is so because of the power of the Lobby groups, the tripe which is printed for the female market, and the fact ninety percent of it is owned by a right-wing dictator called Rupert Murdoch, who owns just about everything on the planet.

    One might have thought that along with the world’s population explosion, their might have been a huge surge in all niche publications, and small television stations, who, freed of eternal censorship, could have multiplied, and that their readers have been presumably better educated. Which is the opposite of what has in fact happened.People have become more greedy, sillier, and consumers of the basest crud ever put before a vacuous audience.

    Some journalists have taken to criticising the very audience they created. Could it be that they think it is all our fault that the present election coverage is a pale shadow of what used to be served up to their audience?

    In fact the Media, is as greedy and as devoid of journalistic skills, as our workforce-40% of whom are illiterate and innumerate-is devoid of work skills.

    Because of this, big business is permanently unhappy with the wretched performance of Oz workers. They tell us, they are forced to get skilled workers from overseas in order to get things done.

    For the media to blame the electorate for the collapse in their own journalistic skills is astonishing. If, for no other reason, the reflected image is the mirror image of everything which has been fed into it. And no one now knows which is the real image, and which is the reflection.

  35. Robertson

    A debate should be about all issues relevant to Australia and Australians

  36. David

    @ robertson…ok clever dik, name a topic Abbott would outdo in debate Gillard ? popes names since 2009 not allowed…..

  37. deccles

    No Bernard this is not our fault. The journalists are obsessed with process stories. Phillip Adams is sooking because his mate Kevin is no longer PM. David Marr and Piers Akerman were on Insiders arguing about Zegna versus Armani and virgin white versus the Lion tamer outfits!

    The only story the journalists and their editors are telling is the process the major parties are using to sell the candidates or discredit the opposition, not the policies. Fairfax aren’t holding News accountable, and no one seems to hold Fairfax accountable. It’s not feeding the chooks, it’s euthanasing the chooks.

    Paul Keating reduced media diversity and Howard obliterated it. Once journalists have worked for News and Fairfax where else can they go?

  38. Oscar

    @Robertson,

    If you think about it, there isn’t really an issue on which Gillard ISN’T sure to win a debate against Abbott. Economy? Health? Workplace relations? Climate change? Border control? Tax reform? You can’t blame her for choosing a topic which she’s not only is she sure to win, but which should actually be of interest to a majority of voters.

    I reckon that when Abbott challenged her to additional debates he was banking on her not accepting because she thought she could win without it. Thanks goodness things are beginning to look at least a little interesting!

  39. Robertson

    Gillard agreed to another debate with Abbott this Sunday at 6.30pm, BUT only its its ONLY about the economy.

    The econony is important, but is she scared of the other issues? Seems so

  40. John Bennetts

    @ Generic Person, Posted Monday, 2 August 2010 at 6:06 pm.

    Nice Republican symbol you have chosen to represent you. Sorry, mate, but the Government has it very close to right on the economy. The runs are on the board, with lower debt, lower unemployment, lower inflation and lower interest rates than just about anywhere else. IF you can name a country which did it better during the past several years, please do so – it most certainly will not be the US of A.

    News Ltd does not hold the government to account, as you say. News has its disconnect from reality as also do a very large number of news sources. It is pitiful that so few journalists actually do hold both the government and the Opposition to account.

    Since you have come here to spruik the anti-Government cause, I have a question for you:

    Where are the Opposition’s top 100 policies? That is about 1 policy per Opposition MP and Senator. Surely they can each think up something sensible.

  41. David

    @Generic Person

    As usual, Bernard Keane and Crikey are blaming News Ltd.

    The truth about News Ltd is that they’re the only media organization bothering to hold the Government to account, whereas the Crikey happyclappers would rather see a banal uniformity of Labor praise across all of the major news outlets.

    You wouldn’t know the truth if it smacked u in the kisser. Where is the holding of Abbott and the Coalition to account on their lack of costing of the billions of promises?? Where??
    Where is the holding to account of the blatant personal attacks on Ms Gillard, her femininity, her living arrangements, her non religious beliefs? where she lives?
    The blatant lies about Rudd?
    The non stop sesnsational anto labor headlines all over news ltd?
    The zero hard questioning of Abbott and his shadow ministry?
    Where is the balance from News Ltds
    Where are you hiding your brain and can you actually read?
    You moron.

  42. Harvey Tarvydas

    Dr Harvey M Tarvydas

    I think we could start a rebellion led by the rednecks chanting ‘greed is good’ and ‘Australia the land of milk and honey and tenders’.

  43. Harvey Tarvydas

    Dr Harvey M Tarvydas

    So right on BK.
    So a trick to even the score.
    In the name of the very oats the great Aussie and his Aus have for breakfast.
    And in the name of ‘Aussies can teach Norwegians (social democrats – pinkys) more about private enterprise, individual endeavour earning rights and wealth and liberals, government and private enterprise principles, companies and corporations working together than any Norwegian can teach us, lets apply these type of business methods and ideologies to organising not only all the great Australian businesses along these superior success lines as they are already BUT also the mining industry businesses.
    Australia owns the mineral resources so in a principled business like way if you discover some we owe you (we will work out what and be fair) then tender out the right to exploit it (the resource) to the best deal for the country. Britain, still stuck with the same resource experience we’ve inherited from them, gave their half of the North Sea oil resource to BP to exploit for a 6% royalty in return in 1975.
    Norway with zero resource experience didn’t know what to do so followed a business principle and said to the worlds oil companies ‘put in a tender’ for the reserve.
    Shell won the tender with the offer ‘for 40% of the oil we will do yours (60%) and ours.
    Those Aussie ‘red necks’ you talk about would react quicker than anyone to – ‘If Australia got deals (tenders) like that for most of its resources every redneck and every other Aussie would become multi-millionaires’.
    Beats sucking on the Private Enterprise party teat of ‘stay poor you twit the global corporations deserve to be rich’.

  44. Generic Person

    As usual, Bernard Keane and Crikey are blaming News Ltd.

    The truth about News Ltd is that they’re the only media organization bothering to hold the Government to account, whereas the Crikey happyclappers would rather see a banal uniformity of Labor praise across all of the major news outlets.

    The Government hasn’t got it all right on the economy, yet if you read Crikey, you’d be under the impression that this is the best Government in a generation.

  45. EngineeringReality

    @JamesSG at 3:15pm

    Bravo! Said things perfectly!

  46. EngineeringReality

    After hearing about RIO & BHP & FMG bleeting about all the extra tax that would cripple them I had a quick look at their annual reports.

    I was quite frankly shocked at what I found – not that they have paid b@gger all tax but that no one in the media had actually spelt out the facts.

    1. BHP paid $6 Billion in tax last year (on $40 Billion of revenue)
    2. RIO paid $2 Billion in tax (on $44 Billion of revenue)
    3. FMG paid $153Million tax (on $1,76 Billion revenue)

    All in all some pretty small amounts compared to revenue as they have deducted and impaired away their income to reduce their tax bill. Fair enough under current company tax laws but disappointingly small return to the taxpayer who’s ore it is that the mining companies are digging up and flogging off.

    The taxpayer gets about $8.2 Billion return on $85 Billion worth of minerals given to the mining companies (9.6%).

    But sadly these types of figures – freely available to the public weren’t talked about or used in any of the debate about the mining super profits tax. It degenerated into a “you’ll kill the golden goose” & “No it won’t” slanging match that had no detail to support either case.

    The worst cause is that journalists don’t check the facts for themselves – assuming that the public realise that what they are reporting are only the opinions and comments of others – whereas the vast majority of the public take it as hard facts which the journalists have checked and is more accurate than not.

  47. lindsayb

    @oscar,
    on the contrary, I am 100% behind compulsory voting, and would encourage everyone to vote. It is just that I find that there is little difference between the major parties on any issue of importance to me.
    My personal preference is that everyone vote Green until the major parties actually articulate a coherent policy position on all of the issues of substance including (but not limited to) good governance; sustainability of our energy, transport, food, water, soils, environment; human rights including government “security” legislation; equitable education and health funding; tackling the increasing percentage of tax revenue consumed by administration rather than provision of services; cracking down on looting of citizens wallets by some of our largest companies etc etc.

  48. Rupert

    Maybe we get the governments we deserve; I’m not sure we got the media we deserve. At least we can vote out governments.

  49. Chris1979

    As an economist reading this, Bernard, I would caution against the description of tax cuts as a cost. Foregone revenue, they most certainly are, but they are never a cost.

    Steven Landsburg says it best here.

    http://www.thebigquestions.com/2010/06/21/there-he-goes-again-2/

  50. Oscar

    @Lindsayb,

    The problem I have with your suggestion is that it sounds strangely like the guff we get fed by those mischievous commentators (and bloggers) who are simply trying to get as many people as possible not to vote at all.

    It is just not true to say there is no difference between the parties. Those who are most desperate to convince you of this say so just to get as many people as possible to forfeit their franchise. They are willing to win by corrupt means, and this simple expedient will reduce the cost of their victory.

    Only a fool would fall for this trick – but it is apparent that many in the media believe Australia to be chock full of such fools.

  51. oldskool

    Obviously the working definition of Leftist is Anyone who;

    a) doens’t have a Southern Cross sticker on their car
    b) Disagrees with Akerman, Bolt, Devine, et al
    c) Is capable of rational individual thought.

  52. lindsayb

    Lib/Lab have both gone out of their way to crush the voice of the people within their parties (branch stacking anyone?), and governments all around the country spend huge amounts of taxpayer money feeding spin to us with the largely uncritical support of all MSM including “our” ABC.
    And it is our fault?
    Perhaps the solution is to put the #1 spot on our ballot papers to independent or minor party candidates, and subscribe to independent news sources, preferably ones that don’t get advertising money from us via taxpayer funded propaganda units.

  53. Michael R James

    @Peter Phelps at 2.42 pm.

    Actually it is the opposite, it is you and the rednecks who should find another country to live in because you are not happy with the policies that have created a prosperous Australia and those we need to create a sustainable Australia. The 5 to 10% do NOT represent your fictional “real Australia”.

    If I recall you are exactly the kind of (insert a Marilyn expletive), like those exurban ignoramuses, who blather on about the rack and ruin Labor have brought! Oh, the debt, the financial disaster, blah, blah. Talkback was filled with it again this morning. This is not adequately described as ignorant, it is culpable stupidity.

    You probably also believe that a few boatloads of refugees (0.02% of our population) causes the high property prices and congested roads of our cities.

  54. David

    Bernard if you had any journalistic professionalism you would not be tolerating the bullsh-t and lies being written by the majority of the msm and being used as political reporting and comment. You know exactly who and what outlets I refer to but like the other wimps in your profession it seems there is this code of ‘mateship’ where it is not done, to criticise ones fellow scribe.
    I doubt very much the days of going off to the pub, standing around in groups and sharing laughs and yarns, of a collective friendly comradeship as proud members of the 4th estate still exists.
    So why this hear no evil speak no evil charade. If you consider certain jurnos and their papers are writing cr-p and bringing the profession into disrepute, why not standup and say so. there are ways to get the get the message accross without running foul of the powers that be.
    All we get are heavily disguised tut tuts and oh dear and shoudn’t really type rubbish.
    Dont blame us mate, you lot write the stuff and/or make it up.

  55. Keith Bedford

    I agree Bernard, News ltd and the Fairfax papers are to blame but so are the Libs. Remember it was the Howard Government that introduced the tactics used in elections by the American republicans and so nobody is game to say or do anything constructive. There are no constructive arguements and there will not be any until Murdoch and Faifax stop their anti Labor campaigns. I do not buy their papers anymore but this will not stop them. The ABC is as bad and I have wriitten a complaint to their General Manager but I do not expect they will change. After all who appointed him? If Australians elect Howard’s left overs they will have to suffer the consequences but so will we. Oh for an intelligent electorate!

  56. shepherdmarilyn

    I wonder when the Australian are going to stop lying about the BER. They allowed that prat Chris Pyne to whine on about the “Julia Gillard memorial halls” but they are excellent and the schools and kids alike love them.

    It’s a shocking abrogation of responsibility by a major paper when all last year that ghastly Stutchbury person was claiming the building should be stopped and that $7 billion has been wasted at the same time as only the $2 billion for painting and minor repairs had been allocated and well spent.

    The buildings, each schools costing, everything is freely available and as that report last week from John L over at pollytics pointed out the senate committee had almost no interested parties involved and almost no submissions in all the months it sat.

  57. JamesG

    What a pathetic attempt to wriggle out of journalistic responsibility Keane. No one was asking the mainstream media to cover the search for supersymmetric particles at CERN. Just to question the policy statements that were presented at press conferences. To not keep asking endless inane questions about what Kevin Rudd did or did not say.

    Here’s a thought. There are hundreds of blogs out there where people discuss political and economic ideas from the practical to the theoretical. Perhaps our journalists could set aside one night a week they currently devote to drinking and gossiping with their colleagues to educating themselves.

  58. edwaard100

    Well done Bernard,

    We are the reason this campaign is so thin skinned. Or our ignorance is at least. It’s quite easy to get the key information about policy, one just has to dig a tiny bit (god bless the internet). Then with year 1o economics under your belt and a slightly critical way of thinking it’s all there for you laid out. This little combination of attributes even gives you a chuckle at the News Limited publications.

    But unfortunately there’s a mass of swinging voters out there who apparently will vote according to who has the nicest sounding voice, or who walks a certain way or who Uncle Pigshooter votes for. Christ, I bet more than 70% of the population think we vote directly for a Prime Minister. The pollies know it, the media know it and so are feeding us our own ignorance pie and we deserve it, eat it and ask for another serve.

    Educate your kids Australia. As soon as most of us are looking just under the surface at the ‘nuts and bolts’ the pollies and Media will be caring that they look like buffoons.

  59. amy c

    Just a thought – I wonder if part of the problem might be to do with how reporting is structured, at least in newspapers. When it comes down to the daily reporting of, say, new climate policy it is the political reporters who cover it rather than environmental reporters. Same goes across health, economics, education etc.
    No wonder the focus shifts towards the politics, rather than the policy. (Obviously there are a range of causes but I think this might be one of them.)

  60. Peter Evans

    I great big chunk of the electorate would dearly love their representational democracy to deliver leadership and leaders committed to arguing the case for big reforms and the wherewithal to make them happen. Except that great big chunk is about 30% and they were smashed against the rocks by the demise of John Hewson and Paul Keating, and the success of John Howard and Bob Carr. Political orthodoxy in this country is that elections are decided by about 10-20% of voters and those voters don’t really give a shit about anything except what the government can do for them (money in pocket) and what it can do to stuff up the things causing them grievances (eg, asylum seekers). That’s it, and all the focus groups and focused polling says it’s true.

    The media’s hardly going to be wrapped in a story like that because it put’s them out of the game (Keane, to his credit, comes closer than any I can think of) and the idiotic belief a lot of journos, editors, and proprietors have that somehow they understand the voters better than the political operators.

    Oh, and the other 800lb gorilla in the room. Campaigns don’t do anything. Every election since credible polling was invented goes as the polls predict 3-6 months out.

  61. Tom Wood

    Amazingly good Bernard.

    It comes down to that most people are either unable, not interested, or don’t have the time to judge worthwhile political coverage and reject that which is not – the lowest common denominator fueling the pathetic coverage we get from almost everywhere. They aren’t the only ones responsible but that’s what it comes down to. The only way to improve it I think would be to have media analysis classes in schools to make people wiser.

  62. Mr Denmore

    Bernard, Sky News this afternoon is wetting itself because Gillard “breached official protocol” by autographing an Australian flag. How is this sort of trivial BULLS***T the public’s fault?

  63. Michael R James

    BK wrote: “Few journalists have an economics background – and ultimately economics is at the heart of most government policy.”

    No. I just think of the counter-examples. Gough Whitlam. Sure he was victim of both a world recession and incompetence in government (which I believe to this day would have worked out ok if he had fixed 4 year terms) BUT he did all the most important things. Some may blame economics on the Japanese malaise but it is really just a complex reflection of their deeper societal and cultural problems.

    The problem with putting economics at the top is you get bean-counters mentality and innate do-nothing conservatism. Even usually sensible Kenneth Davidson (an economist) gets it wrong in today’s Age. He thinks the NBN is a terrible mistake but, after using the scary $50B figure, finally admits it might only need government to borrow $14B (and therefore the cost is the interest on this amount), and has a decidedly non-tech approach to something all the smartest countries are building.

    It also reinforces the American malaise of “live to work” rather than “work to live”. The former drives the acquisitive consumerist society that convinces itself it needs a giant McMansion, two or three big cars etc.

    But then Yes! Of course all the most worthy expensive proposals (NBN, green power, education, mass transit, very-fast trains) all end up generating the best kind of economic activity and, most important can work towards sustainability. But this government with media’s help have managed to reduce the word “sustainability” to derision.

  64. Richard Green

    Further to Mr Denmore, if they aren’t hiring capable journalists and are seeking cheap content from PR spivs and rent seekers because there’s no money around to pay for competent staff with time, the problem has been self inflicted. There’s no revenue because the public (that’s us) have been active in the only way we can be in regards to the media. We exercised consumer sovereignty by not paying for a product (press releases and spin on spin). So papers have sales figures that collapse (and TV has declining viewers), and then use this as an excuse for more or the same content that caused the lack of funds in the first place. If the media neglects the lessons of the market in favour of hiring only people like themselves, brownosers and people who toe the ideological line (ironically in some cases lauding the market whose disapproval they are ignoring so steadfastly), how can we be blamed for not buying their material. If we did buy it, they’d surely take that as a sign to keep going as is. When we don’t buy it, they get propped up by the other arms of their media empires (or by non-news/current affairs programming) for the egos of management and their desire to be players.

    That said, I doubt very much that current salaries are insufficient to hire staff with an economics background considering the amount of economics bloggers who are performing the service without any access to the paper’s resources, without access to politicians and public servants etc. for exactly no money at all. Since they value policy enough to do this without any money, I’m sure they’re passionate enough to take the (far from modest) salaries being offered the current pack.
    The problem is far more likely that the people hiring are distrustful of knowledge and skills that undermine their legitimacy, in their own eyes as much as others. If you deem skills (such as knowledge of economics) to be essential in political journalism, and you lack it, then you must necessarily deem yourself unworthy of your position as editor. Instead you’ll value the talents you have yourself, which are brown nosing and race calling, and you will perpetuate your ineptitude.

  65. dogma

    I call it BS to blame the public. The only job the journo’s have in covering this election is to cover it. Mathew Franklin of The Australian complaining on Tweeter that there’s no alcohol. Jokes about Rudds Gall Bladder op. Joking now after Grog’s article about asking policy questions.

    The public have no say in whats reported and journo’s are lazy if they can’t even ask policy questions.

    Little school kids wanting to be entertained.

  66. Oscar

    Bernard,

    Sorry – I just don’t accept it. Nothing significant has changed in the electorate since the last election, or the one before that. If anything, the electorate is DESPERATE to engage on some of the big issues (climate change springs to mind). However, they are being denied the opportunity by a media that seems to be so desperate to prop up a flaccid and lacklustre opposition that they are willing to pretend that Julia’s earlobes are more newsworthy than her policies. A media willing to pretend that Kevin Rudd’s choice of language is somehow more important than pointing out that the opposition is yet to state a policy on just about anything at all.

    You can try and lay the blame eslewhere if you like, but for my money the blame lies fairly and squarely with journalists like yourself. Sure, it’s easy – and perhaps true – to say that the worst offenders are News Ltd and their supremely lazy and biased reporting.

    But where are all the “independent” journalists busily trying to make up for News Ltd’s arrant nonsense? The ABC used to partly fulfill this role, but they are simply a joke at the moment. Most of you journalists are so busy trying to make us believe there aren’t actually any real differences between the parties that I am beginning to think some of you may actually believe your own bullsh*t.

    Of course there are differences. Real and significant differences. You are simply choosing to ignore them in favor of an incessant flow of silly season stories. Sure there are some policies on which both parties are a bit lacklustre (again, climate change springs to mind). But where are the journalists insisting that the parties declare their policies, and lambasting them when they try instead skirt their way around the issue (or in the case of the Liberals, CLAIMING to have a policy when in fact their leader simply doesn’t believe in global warming at all and has a policy of doing nothing).

    This is an important election for Australia in many ways – it will determine whether we proceed to tackle and resolve difficult issues, or simply bury our heads in some illusory memories of past glory and hope other people will solve our future problems for us. Well, I can guaranteee you that they will – but we probably won’t like the solutions they will then (rightfully) impose on us.

  67. stephen_kaless

    @ Peter Phelps.

    No mention of Farifax’s editorialised Leftism?

    Is that the same policy that gives weekly column inches to Miranda Devine, Gerard Henderson and Paul Sheehan. With weekly contributions from Peter Costello, Julie Bishop and Ross Cameron?

    Oh that’s right Mike Carlton gets a go on Saturday!

  68. Liz Johnston

    I’ve seen a lot of elections and every time the commentariat proclaims it is going to be very exciting. Two weeks later they say it’s really boring. Maybe it’s really boring because journalists aren’t doing their job of asking pertinent, informed questions.

  69. Fran Barlow

    One also suspects that given the scope for most people to be engaged with matters is limited — Australians reportedly do a lot more work beyond official hours – that most people pay little attention to anything that doesn’;t fit into a headline or a grab on the radio.

    Given that most of us will never have a politician as an acquaintance nor be asked our opinion on any matter of policy, we have a context in which the tendencies that Mr Denmore spoke of above become central to how journalism gets done.

    One should also not forget that media organisations are commercial institutions in their own right. Their primary function is not to inform but to create coherent and qualified audiences to market to advertisers. It is only natural that business gets a free pass as business are the clients that pay the bills.

    They set the agenda and then the ABC follows.

    One might also bring in the arms trader analogy. An arms trader has less interest inb who wins a conflict than there should be a conflict — and ideally a prolonged one, precisely becuase that makes his or her merchandise more valuable.

    A government under pressure is going to spend up buying advertising and if a major business groups is runnign against them then that’s brilliant from a media POV.

    So quite independently of the attitude of individual journalists or the wish of the proprietor there are many converging pressures that shape the processes by which media narratives are iterated. If in addition to these things the proprietor also has a certain inclination, things may get even more obviously partisan — and The Australian is case in point here, but it is helpful not to become overly obsessed with this.

    The ALP has not done itself any favours — and has very much allowed itself to be a aprty to the narrative rather than trying to create a new and more interesting and flattering one.

  70. Peter Phelps

    [Much of this, true, is the product of News Ltd’s war on Labor.]

    No mention of Farifax’s editorialised Leftism?

    [It is a small number (5-10% ?) of ignorant bozo rednecks in a small handful of seats]

    Beautiful – neatly sums up the hatred the bougeois Left feels for real Australia. Why don’t you piss off to Cuba.

  71. Mr Denmore

    How can it be the public’s fault when they’re not getting the right information on which to make a decision. So few journalists have an economics background. So why aren’t the newspapers employing them? Why do the major papers cover economics out of Canberra and not Sydney or Melbourne?

    Why do the media play along with the politicians’ manipulative games? No-one is forcing the media to cover politics as a horse race, but they do it anyway. No-one is forcing them to just recycle press releases by vested interest groups as if they are fact.

    We’re suffering from bad and lazy journalism. There are no grumpy chiefs of staff any more sending back reporters’ copy with the line ‘well what did you expect them to say, sonny’?

    We have a total absence of decent policy debate because the media and our political leaders insist on treating the population like idiots – and because the people who advise the politicians are wet-behind-the-ears half-trained former journalists with no experience of the world.

    You’re right about cynicism over sceptism. It amuses me when I hear a world weary tone adopted by a twenty-something spoonfed press gallery hackette who never learnt to be a proper journalist and who spends her life block cutting and pasting from interest group press releases.

    So send the journos to economics night classes. Refuse to run stories that start from press release. Put a limit on time spent in the press gallery without a break. Ignore the party leaders circus and go and talk to people. Do more of the what the SMH did last week with its wraparound on the real issues facing Australia – not the bloody boats.

    Stop relying on spin doctors’ version of what focus groups are saying and go and ask them yourselves. That’s what journalists do.

  72. shepherdmarilyn

    I just phoned Newspoll and was told the Australian commissions questions about asylum seekers without context.

    The reality is only 5% of all asylum seekers arrive by sea yet that is what they whine on about incessantly.

    The question is only ever put when this tiny number of people arrive and considering we have been outside our own laws for the past 20 years one wonders why the law is never stated by newspoll.

    O’Shaughnessy refused to speak to me.

  73. John Bennetts

    “…sold their soul…”, not “sold their sold”. I am sure that the other typos can go through to the keeper.

  74. Michael R James

    Yes, yes. I have said it over and over, even here in Crikey: “…..tailor-made for Australia, the answer is in Pogo’s classic line “We have met the enemy and he is us.” ”

    But MikeM at 1.50 pm is correct. It is a small number (5-10% ?) of ignorant bozo rednecks in a small handful of seats who apparently determine policy for the rest of us. In the absence of a leader who can somehow bring these idiots along (funny enough one thinks of Latham –these morons were his electorate) one begins to think that maybe compulsory voting has this major, major undesirable feature.

  75. John Bennetts

    Bernard, I don’t buy what you are selling this time.

    What is the difference between Australian and (say) British voters’ intelligence, numeracy and so forth? Nothing much, I would suggest.

    The Brits have agreed on the need for GHG reduction, across the board. There are skirmishes about how and how fast, but not regarding the acceptance of the green house challenge.

    Australia is still mired in a sh_t fight about who is telling the most lies – on the one side, we have knowledge and on the other side, opinion. Opinion seems to be what interests our journalists, who are indeed not stupid but they are lazy, very lazy. Opinion is what gets reported. Stuff based on facts is simply not considered fit for the news.

    The difference between Britain, where policy has substance and Australia, where politicians on all three of the major parties (I exclude the Greens from this criticism) are afraid to develop and to defend their policies is the horrid negativism, lowest common denominator, follow the leader, brain dead, lazy, incompetent band of otherwise smart and intelligent folk called journatists. I exclude from this list the likes of Ross Gittins and prescious few others. The remainder appear to me to be happy to state that day is night, black is white and wrong is right, if they think that by doing so they will increase circulation and/or curry favour with their boss.

    You, Bernard, are one of a group who are, collectively, responsible for an enormous malaise which Australia is being subjected to and you cannot hide behind a “no – it’s really you” argument.

    Remember also – the “minders” of politicians are also journalists by training, in the main. Again, they have sold their sold for pieces of silver. How many such trained monkeys are employed within the Government and Opposition offices at taxpayer expense? How many more work for government departments and other arms of the public service?

    How many more journalists work for the unions of employers and of employees which infest our front pages? The MTIA or the peak business councils are nothing more or less than collective bargainers and mouthpieces for employers, just as surely as the CFMEU or the Labour Council of Victoria represent their members, the employees.

    More journalists… what a growth industry this profession represents… can be found squirrelled away in corporations large and small. Every employer worth its salt has a mouthpiece to do the lying for it. Guess what? Another journalist. The CEO and the Chair of the Board are too afraid to speak in public, because they may fall foul of the listing rules and the ACCC. Better let a journalist tell the lies for us. (S)he might not know much about the business or the technical issues, but by golly! He has a way with words! He can talk underwater with a mouth full of marbles, but commit to nothing, all the time using sweet soothing words.

    Journalists, one and all, you scream that your profession has been drained of job opportunities because the media magnates are struggling to keep their dead tree news platforms afloat, but whose fault is that?

    Show me a room full of journalists and I will show you a room full of inflated egos, useless parasites who feed the community st_t and then blame the commun ity for eating sh_t.

  76. Mike M

    Dear Bernard….your right, but most of the fault lies with the “swingers” in the outlying seats of our largest cities. These are the people that are working the long hours to meet their debt obligations, to the extent that they find it difficult to think much beyond next week, or at most next month. They are the ones that have so little time, that spin is all they have the attention span for. This election campaign is aimed at them and is pitched by both sides in a way that won’t frighten them, while appealing to their need for a simple solution to their fate …..that their circumstance is somebody else’s fault (ie immigrants, boat people or whatever)…..just stop the immigrants and everything will be all right. If only it were that simple.

    What is emerging is a big divide between the “rusted on” supporters of the two main parties of the inner/outer suburbs and the “swingers” in the outer suburbs.

    Having said all of that, what seems to be on offer are two individuals that have no/little life experience outside of “machine politics” and both will be shown to be too inexperienced for the job once (one of them) has won the top job. Perhaps its because of this that they are incapable of offering any more than spin and simplistic solutions.

    Meanwhile the potential train wreck of climate change and energy shortages are approaching, with both sides completely ignoring the enormity of these future challenges.

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