It’s time for MSM to review itself

COMMENT by Barry Tucker

For some years now the federal Labor government has had to endure constant criticism by the mainstream news media (MSM). Government blunders make headlines while policy initiatives attract little interest. The foibles of government members make headlines while the machinations of Opposition members are largely ignored.

You could be forgiven for thinking it is a conspiracy. The Twitterverse goes crazy and the Fifth Estate (the emerging new journalism in Social Media) analyses the Fourth Estate (“old” media), tries to counteract it and demands impartiality or regulation of the MSM.

Last December the government experienced another slight lift in the opinion polls. This led to a slight shift in some parts of the MSM; a slight amount of temporary support for the government. While the news media accuses the government of being preoccupied with opinion polls, the MSM also has been guilty of reacting to them.

I think things went awry when former Labor Prime Minister Kevin Rudd changed his mind about “the greatest moral challenge of our time” and dropped action on climate change. My heart sank and I’m sure a lot of people felt the same way. We have to live on this remarkable little island in the Universe and we can’t go any place else any time soon. It was about at that time that the MSM decided to “get Labor” and Mr Rudd’s overthrow by the atheist redhead (boy, what a target for bigots and scandal mongers) spurred the MSM. They’ve been trying to prove they were right ever since.

The Rupert Murdoch owned News Limited media — which includes newspapers, free and paid tv, Newspoll (50%), even the AAP news service (about 50%) — is blatantly biased against the federal government (and terms its biased reporting “freedom of the Press”).

Other sections of the MSM, especially the Fairfax-owned Press and ABC television, seem to flip-flop in terms of balance, with an imbalance on the side of prejudice against the federal government. I haven’t checked it statistically, but I have the impression that the same amount of criticism is not made of Liberal Country/National Party coalition governments in the Territories and States, where there is considerable mayhem, knifings, scandals, in-fighting, policy stuff-ups, broken promises, mass sackings and stealing from health and education budgets.

While the focus has been on the foibles of the federal government, the nature, character and policies of the federal Opposition Leader, Tony Abbott, have been ignored by the MSM. It has been satisfied with reporting on hard hat and fluro vest Tony’s photo ops and more recently white shirt and blue tie “nice” Tony’s policy slogans, while cleverly avoiding asking him any penetrating questions. Oh, there was one: “Have you actually read the statement, Mr Abbott?” Thank you Leigh.

I have been wondering why the federal government has not been singing its praises for the good stuff, making a decent fist of explaining the bad stuff and counter-attacking the bad Press it gets. Then out of the blue, the six Bills related to News Media reform were tossed on the table, with a “take it or leave it” deadline attached.

Disaster! The very thing the Fifth Estate and that part of the population that still has a functioning brain have been crying out for was thrown away by the Communication Minister Senator Stephen Conroy’s buffoonery. This was followed in the same week by a faux leadership challenge, sponsored by the MSM’s unsourced rumours.

All we got from the media Bills debate was the impression that “Freedom of the Press (Barons)” means Freedom to Tell Lies. And the Clayton’s leadership spill left practically everyone red faced with embarrassment. In the aftermath, I detected another slight shift in the MSM’s attitude. This time (with the exception, again, of News Limited), there was the distinct impression of shame, or guilt.

Had the News Media finally gone too far? Did the penny drop again, this time with a clang loud enough to be heard? Someone else who has a view on this is Gay Alcorn, a former editor of The Sunday Age and a regular columnist for The Age:

Gillard is not the only one with a credibility problem Read all about it.

The thoroughly professional and frank Lenore Taylor expressed her view in Media tread fine line when tribes go to war

Lenore Taylor’s article in the National Times was her last as a Fairfax journalist before taking up her new post as Political Editor on the Australian online edition of The Guardian.

Mark Latham, a former leader of the Federal Parliamentary Labor Party who now works as a commentator and journalist, expressed his dismay at how the news media has allowed itself to be used by politicians. See that story (Political news media “a joke”) below this one.

Paula Matthewson (@DragOnista) has rounded up a variety of comments on her AusVotes2013 blog: Patsys, players and the future of Australia’s political media

Ms Alcorn’s Twitter tag

Ms Taylor’s Twitter tag

Ms Matthewson’s Twitter tag

And mine

You can read more of my views on the News Media and Tony Abbott in my blog, The Sniper.