Media

Feb 5, 2018

The real reason Channel Seven elevated the opinion of a neo-Nazi

Seven News Melbourne's neo-Nazi interview was some pretty stomach-churning tabloid TV. But when did the commercial news bulletins start going so low?

Emily Watkins — Media reporter

Emily Watkins

Media reporter

Seven News Melbourne’s interview with a neo-Nazi amid the summer silliness of “African gang” reporting seemed like a new low for commercial TV news. Blair Cottrell gave the network an “exclusive” interview, which ran with more “exclusive” access to a “right-wing activist” meeting. News director Simon Pristel (formerly of the Herald Sun) defended the story as newsworthy, but it had all the hallmarks of a very cynical ratings-grab.

It might feel like a recent dive to the bottom of the barrel for content, but University of Queensland emeritus professor Graeme Turner said the slide into tabloid news has been years in the making.

“It takes a while for these things to become obvious, but the arrival of digital means there are more competitors now, and they’re not all journalists. Over the last ten years, commercial TV in particular really identify more as members of the entertainment industry than news,” Turner said.

It’s that crowded news landscape that has produced an environment where the TV (and other) news is trying harder and harder to get eyeballs at all costs. At the same time, newsrooms are being cut and journalists don’t have time to produce the in-depth reports they once could. That’s why, Turner says, we see a focus on crime and car crash stories with shaky mobile phone footage, and why political reporting is mostly focusing on opinion polls and he said/she said reports. And in an attempt to differentiate from the online competitors, nearly every story has a live cross to a reporter — on the scene and live.

[Channel Seven’s Summer of Nazis raises national security fears]

“It’s not a good scenario in terms of quality news,” Turner said. “It’s pretty clear that the networks want to reposition their news service by going to more attention-grabbing, more populist stuff. They would see it as lively and entertaining but that doesn’t mean strong news values,” he said.

Turner said that competition between the networks had been increasing anyway, and that was only compounded by the digital entrants.

“Competition does funny things. If you aim to go high rather than low, you need to be prepared to lose audience numbers. It’s that dynamic that makes it very hard for programs to do quality news,” he said.

And that’s where, Turner said, you end up with the very tabloid, fear-mongering content that Seven was peddling.

“One of the really negative things that’s come out of this battle for attention is the best way to get attention is to raise fear or anxiety. And in many cases that’s done very cynically without care for what’s in the public interest.”

Even the “serious” newspapers are tapping into the same battle, with The Australian and The Age buying into the African gang narrative.

[Seven’s neo-Nazi interview was ‘newsworthy’]

“Once upon a time The Australian would’ve been above that. There was an idea of newspapers having a public responsibility that’s a national one. That’s something the high end press did used to observe,” Turner said.

One veteran TV news producer of more than 30 years told Crikey there was plenty of room in the commercial news bulletins for more in-depth reporting, even just one longer background item each night.

“I don’t think it’s changed for the better. I think if it’s more tabloid now, it’s about ratings,” he said. “They’re blind because they’re chasing ratings. You could overhaul TV news by making it stronger and having more background stories. Nine did it for a number of years and that’s why they ruled the roost, but now they’re afraid to touch it.”

Turner doesn’t think there’s much chance, though, of the commercial TV networks (or even the ABC) going back to the days of hard-hitting serious journalism on their nightly bulletins.

“I suspect that kind of work will continue, but it’s much more likely online than on television,” he said.

17 comments

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17 thoughts on “The real reason Channel Seven elevated the opinion of a neo-Nazi

  1. Robert Smith

    There are also the daily “stories” about cars crashing into houses or house fires. I assumed they are trying to show they are connected to your suburb.
    The other frustrating thing is the live cross to a place where the action is long since over or the ambush outside court where the “reporter” tries to goad the subject into saying something – even better if he/she hits the reporter or cameraman.

  2. Saugoof

    “Turner doesn’t think there’s much chance, though, of the commercial TV networks (or even the ABC) going back to the days of hard-hitting serious journalism on their nightly bulletins.”
    What in the world is he talking about? I don’t remember the commercial TV networks doing hard-hitting serious journalism, ever. It’s been trash, entertainment masquerading as news, superficial reporting and concentrating on sensationalised stories rather than showing stories that actually have a real impact on your life for as long as I can remember.

    1. old greybearded one

      Some of us have been around longer mate, much longer.

      1. Saugoof

        Maybe, but I moved to Australia nearly 30 years ago and the thing I missed most from overseas (apart from decent quality bread) was quality news programs. I found the news here very trashy compared to Europe.
        I remember thinking how sensationalist it all was, how the major stories they covered are often non-events, how stories from outside Australia (with the occasional exception of US or UK stories) were only ever covered if there are some sensational pictures to show, how there was never any background information on any of their stories (except in sport), how any story involving sex, tears and violence automatically made the news, whether there was anything newsworthy about it or not.
        Seeing TV channels advertise their news was odd enough, but even weirder was that all their advertising was about who reads the autocue rather than the quality of the stories. Something that thankfully has disappeared somewhat now. “Brian told me!” – Yeeash!
        I rarely watch commercial TV news, but every time I do, it seems just as rubbish as it’s been since I’ve been here. I can’t imagine it ever having been any better. Commercial TV news has never been about news, it’s always been about selling advertising. I find it hard to imagine that there’s ever been some sort of a golden era.

  3. Rais

    Yes Emily but in thecase of The Australian and other Limited News rags anyone of an “other” colour or “other” religion they don’t like gets hammered mercilessly for stepping out of a very tight line. It’s their particular crusade.

  4. pjp

    The decline of Australian Media has been long and painful. The biggest loss is the absence of any real analysis by talented and intelligent journalists who can place issues in a bigger context and who can also write well. I follow events in Australia on the ABC website, read Crikey for entertainment but I turn to European (not the UK, but the real Europeans) media sources for any analysis of the issues confronting the world. Most European countries still value well-written and intelligent journalism and surprisingly, they are doing just fine in the Internet era.

    1. zut alors

      Likewise for my news sources.

      The four leading stories on commercial TV bulletins will either be about sport (especially if it’s cricket), crashed cars, shootings or fires. Nil investigation required to cover any of these, they are the favoured pets of the newsroom budget.

      1. zut alors

        Further to my comment above, can anyone explain why the ABC News website is featuring the result of the Super Bowl in today’s top four stories?

        Does anyone in Oz give a rat’s about the Patriots vs Eagles? I think not.

        1. Jeff Mueller

          Not anyone who doesn’t already have access by other means. A bit like US political analysis.

  5. old greybearded one

    As I have said elsewhere, Derryn Hinch, Crikey’s senate correspondent had a shocker last week by joining the “Let’s bash Africa” brigade. I was poor journalism, crap politics, not necessarily because it was all untrue, but it was a shotgun spray and badly chosen in the wording which demeaned all (presumably black) Africans who live here.

  6. AR

    The real surprise is that the concept of journalism – revealing what someone powerful wants hidden – survived as long as it did.
    Well done, thou good & faithful Servant, rest now in peace and turn your face from what those who follow, it would only cause distress.
    There have been many occasions in the last decade or two, both here and abroad (I’d argue that Euroland’s meeja is anything but utterly complicit – just to, slightly, different forces though the aim is the same), when it seemed that the coup-de-grace had been dealt to investigative journalism but the Cabinet cabinet affair is the utter, dismal end – not a bang but a simper.
    The dead donkey has never been more needed to fill the space between the ads.,

  7. leon knight

    I am an optimist, I still believe that Labor will move to repair the ABC, and we will eventually get quality journalism back on The Drum website with comment allowed and properly moderated to weed out the hateful trolls.

    1. AR

      I applaud your perspicacity and great heart and, because you are my special friend, I sell you several bridges and a slightly soiled, barely functioning Labor party which I swear will come good after your cheque clears … sorry, after the election.

  8. John Hall

    The ‘free to airs’ are in their death throes in this digital age as are our ‘papers’. There is plenty of quality around but it takes s both of googling. Crikey and the Conversation are good examples of where the future is. The Consortium in the US also has some excellent independent thinking. The commercial TV networks are purveyors of fairy floss and unfortunately the ABC has been cowed by the establishment. I still have hopes for the SBS, which runs an excellent service on a tight budget.

  9. Tom Moore

    In the digital age – where news items end up being set up as clickbait, it seems everyone is snared eventually. An op-ed about the decline of quality news journalism, alas is sexed up with a reference to neo-nazis in the headline. That part was really a bit peripheral to the overall theme of the story. Aghhh there’s no escape, even on the enlightened pages of Crikey!!

  10. [email protected]

    How far to the left has the media in this country moved when some neo-Nazi (i.e. new nationalist socialist) is described as “the extreme right”?

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