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60 responses to “The political-media death spiral [Roundtable]”

  1. Richard Green

    An extra problem with SBS in particular is that the management that took over came from CNN. They therefore see horserace commentary and he-said she-said material not just as the easy option, but as absolute best practice in journalism. I’m very sure that Middleton’s journalism is very consciously the way it is, which makes it all the more horrifying.

    In terms of the difficulties politicians have communicating with the public, a great example is the speech Malcolm Turnbull gave in support of the ETS. I read over half a dozen pieces in various papers praising it, saying this is how the government should have argued it and then asking why they hadn’t.

    Not one of these articles managed to print a word of the speech, we simply had to take their word that it was very good.
    Of course they’re not going to make a decent speech if the only thing that is going to be heard is people talking about the speech. We get the politicians the press gallery deserves, but what did we do to deserve this press gallery.

  2. Ambigulous

    … bought their papers, watched their TV news ??

  3. TerjeP

    The media assumes that the only option open to voters is Labor, Liberal or maybe Green. All the other parties are completely and totally ignored. The media does not see its job as exploring the options and presenting these to voters but rather they see themselves as political weathermen forecasting who will govern tomorrow. And yet they somehow pursue this approach as if the forecasting and it’s justification isn’t what drives voters intentions. Weather does what it does irrespective of weathermen, but politics is not like that at all.

    In my fantasy world we would see a manor broadsheet publish an election special that explores the policy, philosophy and personalities of all parties standing for election. That would put a cat amongst the pigeons.

  4. MH

    Talking about the nightly tv news, one other observation I’ve made is that ABC and SBS, in particular, are very meta.

    I think that is true of a lot of news content, not just national politics. With specific exceptions like natural disasters, international news tends to be mainly interpretation-in-the-style-of-objectivity. It’s the interpretation as if it is objective fact that is where the problems can come up, and this is a much bigger issue around epistemologies of the social and so forth that Dunlop’s critique of the political media doesn’t really engage in. So all we have is a sense of frustration and unease repeated over and over.

  5. Mr Denmore

    Through its feverish obsession with the mechanics of politics, the media unwittingly reveals to the public its own internal mechanics.

    The scrutiny made available by the internet – including the availability of primary source material and the ability for experts outside the media to provide informed insights on policy issues – means journalists are struggling for revelance.

    Ironically, the more irrelevant they are rendered, the more they seek to extrapolate from the stories they are reporting on, by indulging in half-baked speculation and spin and by inserting themselves and their own egos.

    Having cast themselves into this role, they find it hard to go back to “straight” journalism. And their desperation for fresh ways of driving a manufactured narrative forward leaves them susceptible to easy manipulation by the paid spinners in the party machines.

    So you end up with this perpetual theatre that is divorced from the lived reality and concerns of most voters.

    The political parties, meanwhile, play the media’s game by using policy positions purely as branding exercises. The substance is irrelevant. What matters is how each announcement shifts the media narrative forward.

    WHY this is all happening was the subject of the series of posts I wrote under the title of The Failed Estate, but can be summarised as relating to the death of the mainstream media’s business model, the loss of the craft of journalism as older hands desert the industry, the disintermediating influence of new technology and the growing power and sophstication of the PR industry.

    In simple terms, people can now see how the media makes the sausages. And it is not a pretty sight.

  6. Nickws

    Actual governing happens in the background. Voters are fed electoral palliatives, while the politicians themselves respond meaningfully only to those who actually have their ear: the well-funded interest groups.

    For example, a mining magnate or media owner who wants to adjust the amount of tax they pay, or the regulations they operate under, simply calls up the prime minister. Maybe threatens him or her with an advertising campaign. Doctors, or other unionists, whoever has the clout, do the same: they lobby publicly and privately and expensively in their own interests.

    The rest of us are placed in our boxes and averaged away. We are the youth vote or the grey vote or inner-city vote or outer-suburban vote or working families or single women or married men, ad infinitum.

    This is actually quite bad as analysis if your point is to rage against the way politics is currently done, as Tim puts it in his opening paragraph. (The Forgotten People, anyone?)

    What is missing here is how the new paradigm has created and exploits the new forms of discontent. How it has created this discontent purely so it can be exploited, IMHO.

  7. tssk

    No the problem is us. We see the media as hopelessly biased. With so many political experts and the media speaking out against the ALP maybe, just maybe it’s because we’re wrong, the ALP is a disaster and we need the Libs to step ion and sort the mess.

    I can only force myself to believe that Rudd and GIllard are two faced and I must get rid of my bias and listen to Downer, Latham et al.

    Forcing myself to listen to Ackerman right now in fact.

  8. Nickws

    I can only force myself to believe that Rudd and GIllard are two faced and I must get rid of my bias and listen to Downer, Latham et al.

    Haven’t you heard? Tony Abbott says Alexander Downer is disputing the claims attributed to him this morning.

    Keep correcting your internal bias with reasonable, consistent sources, brother.

  9. Tyro Rex

    Barry Cassidy intervewing Swanny on the TV. Every single question is about Kevin Rudd, leaks, factions, internal machinations … basically it’s all a celebrity gossip toss-off for ugly people.

    That comes just after he disgracefully allowed Akerman to continue to comment about the relevance of grubby attacks on Tim Matheson and Gillard’s personal life.

    (copied from the other comment thread where i posted it incorrectly).

  10. Brian

    Further to Tyro @ 9, NewsRadio repeat Insiders at 11am if you are away from TV or just want the audio without the vision.

  11. Tyro Rex

    Brian @ 11 why would you want to subject yourself to that?!

    You may as well read “Famous” magazine and stick the faces of the ministers and shadows on the various “stars without makeup”, “what is the cast of twilight doing this week?” and “two-bit celebrities caught drunk and pantsless getting out of a car by our photographer who is literally lying down in the gutter to get the shot” style features that they run. And you’d just as well-informed about the issues if you do.

  12. Mr Denmore

    The problem is that instant communication these days means the press pack all has to file instantly – so they pay no attention to the actual policy announcement – they just have to throw the story of the day (as judged by themselves of course) forward to the next cycle.

    This problem has always been there to an extent. It’s just been magnified several hundred fold in the 15 years or so since I was involved with it. The political journos used to make fun of we finance hacks at doorstops when we reported back to the newsroom on mobile phones about what Ralph Willis or John Dawkins had said on interest rates or the currency.

    Now they do the same thing, but at a level of even greater insensity. The difference of course is we were snapping relatively significant statements that might move the markets. These days no-one out there cares at all, apart from their nervous editors worried about the opposition getting a beat on them in the latest tit-for-tat.

    It really is the silliest of games. If the public only knew how they are being played by these people.

  13. Paul Burns

    Gillard should tell journalists who persistently refuse to ask questions on policy to piss off and stop wasting her time. Or simply refuse to answer, after stating she will only answer questions on policy. Some oif these journos might actually have to work for a living then.

  14. Don Wigan

    Terje’s point about a manor broadsheet would be useful. In a way it reflects what mark and Mr Denmore have said about not getting this broad coverage any more. And as others here have mentioned, holding pressers and responding with, “I’ll answer any question on policy and none on gossip and leaks.” might be a useful way of dealing with it.

    Slightly off-topic, but since Terje is around: what did he think of Gillard’s idea of a citizen’s assembly? I’m not referring to the political response which was all negative, but it did seem close to another ideal Terje was pushing a while back.

  15. Pavlov's Cat

    Some of these journos might actually have to work for a living then.

    Nah, they’d just fill up column inches under GILLARD REFUSES TO ANSWER HARD QUESTIONS. We know they would; we’ve seen them doing it for weeks already.

  16. Curi-Oz

    I’m starting to think that whenever I am asked who I will be voting for, I will reply along the lines of “not for the ones we are being bullied into voting for … so that leaves me the Greens, the ALP (for those whose policies I can find/read easily) and definitely not the Liberals.
    Never did like bullies.

    It would be nice to think it might make a difference *wistful*

  17. Paul Burns

    PC @ 20.
    yeah. That’s true. I’m in despair. Even reluctant to go on LP at the moment, despite its excellent coverage, and it being one of the great p;easures of my life. The whole election thing is just making me angrier and angrier, having just escaped twelve years of Howard, to have his brainless fundamentalist Catholic clone in for God knows how long but it will be a bloody long time, if he gets in, is almost too much to bear. And all because of the stinking Murdochracy and their ABC lick-spittlers.

  18. AmishThrasher

    @17 Mark, you remember correctly. Consider this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WndWM71-jSQ

    A serious political interview with John Hewson. On a 6:30 current affairs programme. And Hewson gets caught out on a question relating to policy.

    And even then, tabloid journalism had already grown bad enough to inspire a satire like “Frontline.” Well, it’s been all downhill since then!

  19. genevieve

    Didn’t it cease, Mark (@17) because nobody has policies?
    All this does is make me feel that there is no point wasting my family’s and friends’ time asking them to contact their candidates and ask them if they support the introduction of a National Disability Insurance Scheme (or my followers on Twitter, or anyone else for that matter). Best to wait till the dust settles on this danse bizarre, as Dunlop so beautifully puts it, and let the Productivity Commission make its report next year.

    In the meantime a Greener senate might be a good thing, though. If anyone has any thoughts on the matter, please drop me a line.

  20. Mr Denmore

    Mark @17, yes the broadsheet papers did use to examine policy proposals with more than cursory interest – as Laura Tingle’s piece in The Walkley magazine made clear.

    I’m old enough to remember the tax summit of ’85 and the incredibly dense analyses over Options A, B and C. Every Keating budget represented a chance to educate the gallery and there was a real intellectual curiousity about.

    We just seemed to have been suckered, thanks to the Libs’ wholesale input of the GNOP ‘the truth is what we say it is’ method, into US-style extreme partinsanship.

    Quite ambitious – yet inexperienced and shallow – reporters like Karen Middleton on SBS affect this easy cynicism which shows up in endless fascination with political tactics and a complete lack of interest in policy.

    My take on it is that a lot of these junior hacks in senior roles see the Golden Prize as being a PM’s chief of staff. They hanker for pulling the strings themselves and use their half-baked commentary as a sort of job application.

  21. Patricia WA

    Tyro Rex @ 9 agree, but thought Swan made as good a fist of it as he could. How he and Gillard retain reasonable calm, I don’t know. They can’t waste good air time rebutting these things, so the ‘I don’t accept the premise of your question’ line worked reasonably well as he then moved on to talk policy and achievements for as long as he could before being brought back to ‘same old same old’ gossip and the ghost of Rudd.

    Brian, we don’t need to replay “Insiders” – but maybe someone could find a way to lock Barry Cassidy up somewhere and have this latest edition played back to him a few times. What an appalling waste of time for viewers wanting real insight into the election campaign proper and not the scuttlebutt of the media.

  22. Pavlov's Cat

    having just escaped twelve years of Howard, to have his brainless fundamentalist Catholic clone in for God knows how long

    Paul B, I was talking to a lawyer friend (and longtime member of the ALP) about Howard yesterday, and we agreed that one of the worst things about Howard was, in fact, Abbott.

    We also reminisced almost fondly about the way the little dessicated coconut would quietly squash all of Abbott’s crazier views on ovaries and rosaries and such-like, and decided that we didn’t care what his motives were as long as he kept Abbott on the leash.

  23. Paul Burns

    Yes, PC. I can see how the thought of Abbott makes one look fondly on Howard. But even that is a bit tragic or something isn’t it? (I can’t think of the right word at the moment, I’m looking on the future with such dread.) Incidentally, one of my closest friends who is a very, very devout Catholic, absolutely despises Abbott with a passion that eclipses my hatred of Ratty.
    Maybe I’ll rush off and contact one of my tarot-reading mates and get them to pick the winner.

  24. Pavlov's Cat

    But even that is a bit tragic or something isn’t it?

    Oh yes. And no ‘a bit’ or ‘or something’ about it, either.

    Maybe I’ll rush off and contact one of my tarot-reading mates and get them to pick the winner.

    I can read Tarot cards — I’ll have a look and get back to you!

  25. Jacques de Molay

    Incidentally, one of my closest friends who is a very, very devout Catholic, absolutely despises Abbott with a passion that eclipses my hatred of Ratty.

    A lot of devout Catholic people from my mother’s various church groups also despise Abbott this coupled with a lot of Liberal voters being put off by his ascendancy and the fact he’s a lunatic are why I don’t give the Libs much chance of winning.

  26. Mr Denmore

    There’s a strong social justice element in the Catholic Church. Pity they’re not the ones who enter politics.

    The Liberal Party, particularly in NSW, is now dominated by the fundamentalist Catholics of the Opus Dei tradition who combine mysoginy, monarchism and mean-spiritedness.

    A pox on them and god help us if this man pulls off the impossible and wins the election.

    Here’s hoping the media finally get bored with the Rudd-Gillard soap opera and start putting the putative government under a similar level of scrutiny.

  27. Jacques de Molay

    Speculation continued to swirl in Labor circles yesterday that Mr Rudd was behind the spate of leaks damaging his leadership rival, Ms Gillard.

    Mr Rudd’s history of leaking information detrimental to his own side is among a series of revelations about his time as prime minister published in The Sunday Telegraph today after extensive interviews with friends, enemies and former staff members.

    Former staff revealed Mr Rudd would freeze out anyone who disagreed with him.

    “We called it ‘the icebox’,” one disgruntled ex-staffer said, describing the way he would shun anyone who gave him bad news or tried to argue.

    “If Rudd was p***** off with you, he’d stop asking you to do things. You’d end up with nothing to do, and he’d give your work to other people.”


  28. Kim

    No sign whatsoever of that on Channel Nine tonight, Mr Denmore:


  29. mediatracker

    We have not yet heard from Tony Abbott’s very best friend – George Pell who will probably emerge from the shadows very soon to pontificate about Abbott’s “goodness” and “godness”. By the way, I thought the knifing of Kevin Rudd was aided and abetted by a few on the Right of Labor whose links to the Catholic Church are very strong.

  30. Gummo Trotsky

    mediatracker @35:

    The Archbishop of Perth, Barry Hickey has beaten George to the punch:

    The archbishop told The Australian he had not meant to imply people should not vote for the Prime Minister – a self-professed atheist – and was simply “sounding a caution” about the rise of secularism in politics.

    “I had no intention of attacking Julia Gillard at all. My point was the future, not the present – that if the people who don’t subscribe to any religion get stronger, we might have a repeat of what happened in Europe, where the church was sidelined,” he said.

    Next he’ll be bitching about a rising tide of anti-Catholic sectarianism.

  31. Pavlov's Cat

    “What happened in Europe”?

    Is this a case for Godwin’s Law?

  32. Lefty E

    Speaking of the sophisticated relationship between politics and meeja – did ya see Abbott’s monumental GAFFE on disability ??!!1!

    That’s belled the cat – right out of the bag!

  33. Gummo Trotsky

    @37: I’m not sure, PC – missed that possible meaning. I thought all he was saying was that a vote for Gillard was a vote for a sidelined Church. Maybe he is saying that Abbott is our last bulwark against godless communism & atheistic fascism. With a good Catholic in the lodge, the worst we can expect is the kinder, gentler sort of fascism which is willing to make concessions to the Church to keep it on side.

    Heaven forbid that any journo should take Hickey on and ask exactly what he did mean.

  34. genevieve

    Well, thank you Lefty, @38,I shall look out for that. I hope everyone gets to see it.

  35. Kim

    Some commentary on the Julia/Archbishop Hickey kerfuffle:


    She went to visit him in Perth, it seems.

    Buggered if I can work out what it has to do with the topic, though!

  36. Paul Burns

    i read tarot cards too, but only for other people. So, I’ve dragged them out, one card for Labor, one for the Coalition.. They tell me Labor will lose.
    First reading: Libs come up as The Devil. Labor Comes up as The Tower.
    Second Reading: Labor comes up as the 5 of swords, Libs as the 2 of Cups.
    Third reading : Labor Knight of Swords. Libs as Death.

    Be buggered if I know what the final reading means. Might even indicate a Labor victory.

  37. Pavlov's Cat

    Paul B: eek.

    I dusted mine off too. Their verdict, if I am reading them correctly, is as follows, and not all that different from yours:

    — there will be a lot of twists and turns in the campaigns and surrounding events, and the cards seem to think that at least one of the leaders is going to crash and burn before August 21 (no indication of which one).

    — There is a suggestion of health issues, but that might just be Kevin’s gall bladder. The tarot is no respecter of chronology.

    — One or more people are going to be exposed as frauds, liars and/or impostors. (No surprises there.)

    — There’s going to be a big kerfuffle about money (good heavens, will someone finally start talking about the economy?), also with suggestions of fraud and deceit.

    — The final result will be complicated in a way nobody is expecting. But my cards, like yours, being coy about who will actually win.

    And now I’d like someone to cross my palm with silver, please.

  38. Pavlov's Cat

    In a belated effort to make the previous two comments relevant, can I say that two light-hearted tarot readings are at least as much use as the meta meeja commentary we’ve been having.

  39. tssk

    I’m forcing myself to listen to Sunday’s episode of The Insiders again. At least David Marr half sticks up for Rudd with the point that it doesn’t matter what Rudd does now, even helpless in a hospital bed, everyone still blames him for everything.

  40. mediatracker

    Pavlov’s [email protected] – Be careful what you wish for! Surely the problem is that somebody’s palm has already been crossed with silver (30 pieces – is that still the going rate?).

  41. Gummo Trotsky

    I don’t have either Tarot cards or my copy of the I Ching to hand, but opening the Bible at random and poking a finger at the page produced Job, XXXVI 2:

    I will fetch my knowledge from afar and will ascribe righteousness to my Maker.

    Uh-oh. A Rhodes scholar with deep religious convictions would fit that verse a lot better than an atheist educated in Australia.

  42. Pavlov's Cat

    Gummo, yep, that’s the only possible interpretation. The same exercise with Wuthering Heights yields up ‘You may guess how I felt on hearing this news’, which is likewise unambiguous.

  43. j_p_z

    Hmm, augury by Bronte roulette: that’s a pretty cool idea, haven’t seen that before.

    Now somebody should make a prediction based on a randomly selected line from Kit Smart’s “For I will consider my cat Jeffrey”.

  44. Terry

    Tssk @45, I was in Singapore when Rudd fell, and where David Marr was the commentator on Rudd’s career as a PM. If he is sticking up for him now, its a 180 degree turn from where he was then.

  45. Terry

    To add: David Marr was commentating on Rudd on BBC World, which you could get in Singapore but not Australian TV.

  46. Paul Norton

    I’m really worried that Stevie Nicks is scripting this election. We have Lee Rhiannon leading the Greens NSW Senate ticket, we have a Welsh witch (meant ironically) as Prime Minister, we have a Labor Party whose position on climate change is “I don’t want to know”. Is this pointing to a Landslide for the Coalition?

  47. Mindy

    Dinah Lampitt’s “As Shadows Haunting” gives only Has your family always lived here? which isn’t helpful either. It was that or the yellow pages.

  48. Helen

    Well, this chicken I’ve just slaughtered, the entrails say… Ahrgggg! The smell! The whole thing just stinks to high heaven!
    Make of that what you will.

  49. Pavlov's Cat

    I was waiting for someone to kill a chook.

    Any astrologers among us? Smuggles is a Scorpio — GAAHHHH, RUN FOR YOUR LIVES!

  50. paul walter

    So, you chopped its head off too?
    The poor thing.
    Did it run around for a bit after its noodle went flying?

  51. Helen

    Yes, Paul, with a kind of incoherent gobbling noise that sounded a bit like “Aaaand back to the newsroom!”

  52. Helen

    …That should have been, “Buk – buk – buk – back…”

  53. paul walter

    58, this must have been a New Zealander.

  54. David Irving (no relation)

    PC and Paul B, I shall consult the I Ching tonight, seeing as we’re reading tea leaves and such.