Maybe it was seeing that painting of the soaring eagle that spoke to me and told me I had been chosen for such a time as this, but — what the hell — someone’s got to say it out loud: journalists, just stop it.
You are fiddling while democracy burns.
Last week a television reporter bellowed at Anthony Albanese, demanding he recite the six points of Labor’s NDIS platform. And when Albanese stumbled, the reporter’s Channel Nine colleague crowed that this was “journalism at its best”. Yes, really.
So, while journalists are being imprisoned and intimidated in China, Hong Kong and Russia, and while Maria Ressa fights the raging spread of fake news in the Philippines and is arrested and charged for criticising President Rodrigo Duterte, some Nine bozo thinks that tripping up the opposition leader is Journalism At Its Best.
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Thus we can see how far Australian journalism has disappeared up its own fundamental.
Oh, hang on. It actually went a bit further. That very same day, on Q+A, the ABC’s David Speers pursued Albanese over NDIS-gate like a terrier. Just wouldn’t let it go, even though it had less than zero to do with how you would govern a country. (Ha! Or would it? Was Albanese now “gaffe-prone”? That subject itself was to be dissected on ABC journo forums, which operate like some weird circle jerk.)
As Speers pursued Albanese down several rabbit holes, I could swear I heard Mike Moore’s old Frontline executive producer egg on the host with a “Go get him, Tiger”.
That didn’t happen. But what I did hear next day from an old ABC colleague — as NDIS-gate reverberated across the national broadcaster — was this: “They’re not sure if the Liberals might get in and they’re terrified of a night of the long knives.”
Well, if that’s what a whiff of fear does, then for goodness sake don’t have them telling truth to power in say… oh, just about any Middle Eastern dictatorship.
Whether belligerent, frightened or in a nauseating pursuit of fame, the band of journalists covering the federal election have made themselves the story in the worst possible way. The big political parties might be facing their own watershed. Journalists are staring oblivion in the face.
A study released last week by the journalists’ union, the MEAA, showed a dramatic shift in the profession’s standing, with 86% of journalists surveyed considering that public trust in journalism had worsened over the past 10 years.
Where to begin with the problems? Lack of resources. Fewer staff. The warping effect of social media. Sure, journalism is an industry but it doesn’t exist as a single entity that could be reformed — even though it is now in desperate shape.
A royal commission can’t fix journalism as it might fix aged care or veterans’ services. Journalists are going to have to save themselves. Here’s how they could start.
First, understand that the Australian government has gone a long way down the road of destroying pillars of democracy. The rate of destruction of accountability and judicial bodies and the government’s hostility to transparency and truth are actually undermining Australian democracy. That this destruction is being led by the prime minister should weigh heavily on what journalists do.
Second, use your platform to represent the public interest rather than to gather 10-second promo material for your network or tweetable content to build your miserable social media profile. Here’s an example of some genuine public interest areas you could pursue:
- growth of poverty and homelessness (not a great promo, I know)
- housing inequality
- use of public money for party political purposes
Third, come to terms with the fact that if there is a fall in trust in journalism — and with it an alienation from politics and a loss of interest in maintaining democracy — then that is happening on your watch and is directly your concern. If a journalist is asking stupid questions, stand up and call them out. The standard you walk past, blah blah.
Fourth, do the hard work of journalism — find facts and prosecute a case. Don’t imagine that gotcha questions are Journalism At Its Best. You are further alienating public trust and helping charlatans with the gift of the gab into positions of power.
And a special note to TV hunks and hunkettes: it’s not enough to impersonate someone who is authoritative.
Here’s a handy “how to” guide on being a journalist, in case you haven’t seen it: it’s the MEAA Jounalist Code of Ethics.
Maybe you should ask Albo if he can name all 12 points. Can you?