There’s been a lot of good discussion recently, started by John Lord, about democracy, or the lack of it in Australia, and as I was watching ‘Clarke and Dawe’ on the ABC this week I was reminded of the saying by Winston Churchill, “The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter.” Condescending, yes but at the same time, quite true.
My parents used to tell me that if I believed nothing of what I read and half of what I saw, I would not be caught out by charlatans disguised as wise men. That was good advice and also true. I’ve rarely been caught out by false claims except those of a religious nature, when I was young, but I’m immune from them now, too.
That is why I am forever sceptical of politicians and the media. Things can be said by both which can infer one thing but mean another. I used to rationalise that I was the one who didn’t understand until I discovered that politicians excel in the art of double-speak and I was just another victim whose mind was being deliberately manipulated. And I have been aware, particularly in more recent times, the media are doing it too.
On Thursday we were all shocked to hear that Australian Federal Police raids were conducted in Sydney and Brisbane and several arrests made of men suspected of having the intent to commit a terrorist act. The media reporting shocked us because of the mention of alleged beheadings being a part of the plan of those involved. Having not yet recovered from the abhorred acts by members of IS against Western journalists in Iraq, the very mention of beheadings planned by Australians in Australia was a shocking news item to have to confront.
So I watched every news story I could on this event, eager to hear what the authorities were actually saying. But I soon realised that it was what they were NOT saying that was more to the point. Not one authorised person interviewed on Thursday night suggested that a beheading was being planned. Not one. The only reference to beheadings came from the media.
There was one occasion on the 7.30 report when Leigh Sales asked AFP Commissioner Andrew Colvin if his concerns about intended acts of violence included beheadings. His reply was that such acts had to be taken into account when considering all the possibilities. This was hardly a definitive statement about any particular act. He also appeared reluctant to mention the word.
So where did the idea of beheadings originate? Clearly not from the authorities. This leaves me to draw the conclusion that it was someone in the media who invented the notion of beheadings and permeated that notion on a whim, or a fanciful idea to embellish a story big enough to make it the main news item of the day. Then it went viral. It would have been the main news item of the day, anyway. No embellishment was necessary.
So what does all this have to do with democracy?
Deliberately using a means of mass communication to spread an idea that brings fear into the hearts and minds of the community is an abuse of the democratic process. To use the media to subliminally marginalise one section of the community is an abuse of process.
Little wonder that the average voter, to paraphrase Winston Churchill, doesn’t have much of an idea about what is happening in their name. And it doesn’t exude much confidence in a true democracy if their minds are so polluted with false reporting, lies, deliberate deception and where journalists and politicians are all too ready to take advantage of their weakest moments and uninformed opinions.
These moments and events mis-reported as they are, only provide more evidence, if we needed any, to the claims that democracy in Australia is paper thin and more a fantasy than a fact.
Challenging the efficacy of what politicians and the media do is the duty of us all. Any discomfort that we may feel in so challenging, pales in comparison to the broader principal. To do otherwise is to approve of mediocrity in the media and an abuse of our democratic process.