ABC’s Media Watch called to ask what I thought about media coverage of real estate issues. I said I could tell them if they had a couple of days to spare. It’s a bit like asking Greens politicians how they feel about the mining industry.
Journalistic coverage of real estate in this country is beyond dreadful. Organisations with vested interests pump out propaganda in the form of press releases and so-called journalists recycle them. No questions asked. Nothing checked. No background research. No alternative views sought.
In other words, no journalism takes place. We need a new name for the process of press release recycling that has replaced the genuine journalism that took place in former times. Journalism is no longer an accurate description.
There are “journalists” working for major metropolitan newspapers who write articles only when a press release drops on their desk. The quick re-write they throw together usually appears with a picture byline, implying that they are an authority, that the information thereunder is all their own work and that what you are reading has credibility.
People and organisations with propaganda to peddle or simply with a passion for publicity know this. Fire off a press release and “journalists” will do your marketing for you. If it’s something sensationally negative, your chances of success increase exponentially.
I’ve spoken to many of these pretend journalists. Some are so comfortable in their mediocrity they actually think they’re doing a good job. Others know that their output is garbage but they don’t care — it’s a living.
In some cases, it’s criminally negligent. Elderly people have lost their retirement savings because media misinformation led them towards disastrous investment decisions.
This is why the erosion of journalistic standards in the reporting of real estate is so serious. The financial commitment involved in a real estate purchase is huge, and consumers need good information to make sensible decisions.
Australia needs people to invest for many reasons, including to provide for their retirement so as not to burden the state in times of rising numbers of retirees. If consumers make bad decisions because their heads are full of media misinformation, their financial lives can be destroyed, and the nation suffers.
Which brings me to an annual event which illustrates the failings of real estate journalism more than any other situation: the publication of a piece of self-serving propaganda called the Demographia International Housing Affordability Survey.
This document is political posturing by vested interests and should never be featured by any media outlet in Australia. It is published by a lobby group that campaigns for the end of government regulations that restrict the activities of land developers. The group argues that regulation causes prices to rise and makes homes unaffordable. It has created a political document masquerading as research to support their views.
Members of this group are particularly feverish in their condemnation of prices in Australia and usually declare that we have the world’s most unaffordable real estate — despite the fact that their “research” features only six nations. Nowhere in Europe is included, nor any nation or city in Asia except Hong Kong. Africa and South America are ignored.
Press releases from the Demographia zealots lobbed in newspaper offices this week. Their treatment by publications around the country was scandalous. Their extreme claims were published unchallenged. No alternative views were sought. The outrageously inaccurate contention that Australia has the most unaffordable housing in the world was reported as fact.
“Australian housing tops world’s least attainable list” was typical of the headlines that appeared around the nation. Most of the headlines were, essentially, lies.
In my perfect world, there would be a commission of inquiry and the people who wrote this garbage would be charged. Journalists have an obligation to the public to present information that is fair, accurate and balanced. Failure to do so should be a criminal offence.
In essence, journalists no longer give a damn. If it’s a cheap and easy headline of the type journalists instinctively like — something sensationally negative — then no questions are asked. Is it true? Who cares? It’ll sell a few papers.
My first rule of successful property investment: stop reading newspapers.
*This article was first published at Property Observer