Friday September 23 2016
Murdoch Media. Where the truth goes to die.
What part have newspapers played in the demise of our democracy? There was a time in my life when to miss reading The Age daily would bring on symptoms of withdrawal. Newspapers have been part of my daily life for as long as I can remember. I purchased them for reasons of a desire to be informed. To understand what was going on around me. To shape a world view.
In modern terms ‘The Fourth Estate’ commonly refers to the media but more specifically the print media. In the American system of government the term segregates the media from the constitution, the law, various levels and branches of administration. In Australia the same principle applies.
And of course the truth of it. It has no official status but is of symbolic importance. Its function should be to provide access to the public of information vital to the essential health of democracy for two reasons. First, it ensures that citizens make responsible, informed choices rather than acting out of ignorance or misinformation. Second, information serves a “checking function” by ensuring that elected representatives uphold their oaths of office and carry out the wishes of those who elected them.
It is called the fourth branch of government because it plays such an important role in the fortunes of political candidates and issues. This is where the role of the media can become controversial. News reporting is supposed to be objective, but journalists are people, with feelings, opinions and preconceived ideas.
And it is the owner and the editor who call the shots and employs the journalists.
What is a newspaper?
“A newspaper is a publication that is issued daily or weekly and includes local and international news stories, advertisements, announcements, opinions, cartoons, sports news etc. It is an important method of letting the public know everything that is happening in their local area and around the world. Even with the advancements in computer technology, the internet and on-line bloggers newspapers continue to be an important, if not a rapidly declining aspect of everyday life.
Editorial opinion usually reflects the proprietor’s political philosophy. And whoever owns it is entitled to represent his or her views. Stories usually attract column space relevant to the credibility or authenticity of the subject. For example if 98% of the world’s scientists said that global warming was of major concern than normally the other side would receive exposure pertinent to its credibility. There is of course this fourth estate thing that requires truthful journalistic enquiry together with fair and balanced reporting. In this area Murdoch papers fail miserably. In fact his publications have abdicated any allegiance to the doctrines of the Fourth Estate.
When it was launched and for some time after The Australian was a decent newspaper. In the 1980s and 1990s, before the Internet, it was a credible source of computer industry news and general world affairs.
When it turned into the official newsletter of the Liberal and National Parties is difficult to pinpoint. But it certainly did.
“The average print circulation for The Australian on weekday’s pre 2013 was 116,655 during the June quarter 2013, it fell 9.8 per cent compared to the June quarter 2012. The average print circulation for The Weekend Australian was 254,891 during the June quarter 2013, down 10.8 per cent compared to the June quarter the previous year.”
Murdoch newspapers have little readership and have been losing millions of dollars for years. Rupert Murdoch has been propping them up for two reasons. One it is in his blood and two because of the power and influence it gives him. In all probability when he dies The Australian (and others) will ether fold or be sold.
However as it stands The Australian is the go-to source for every right wing supporter and feral media commentator in the country. It feeds its conservative bullshit to the shock jocks and the awaiting throng of drooling journalists who would rather do the bosses bidding than report the truth.
“If a newspaper article is written in a manner to suggest objectivity but subjective words are scattered throughout it together with carefully phrased unsupported statements then dismiss the article as having no cogency”.
As an example of their right-wing bias I put to you this list of stories that I collected from its pages on Thursday January 16 2014.
Yes it’s just one day a couple of years ago but on weekends it gets worse. It is not an isolated instance. Almost every day the front page is riddled with anti-left rhetoric.
1 Another instalment in the long running, dirty, smear campaign against Catholic Church child sex whistle-blower, Peter Fox.
2 Climate change denier, Maurice Newman, attacks scientists again.
3 Economist David Crowe defends Tony Abbott’s Commission of Audit saying there is no alternative to raising the GST and selling government assets including Australia Post and the ABC.
4 Another Republican Party report accusing President Barack Obama of a cover-up over the Benghazi attack on September 11, 2012.
5 A defense of Australian immigration minister Scott Morrison, insisting that the Australian navy never fired on a boat carrying asylum-seekers from Indonesia.
6 Kenneth Wiltshire calls for schools to teach conservative values.
7 Andrew Robb writes yet another article denying climate change.
8 Editor, Chris Mitchell, cheers on the demise of the Australia Greens Party in his sarcastically titled “Say a little prayer for Greens”.
9 Peter Shergold argues for the selling off and outsourcing of social services traditionally provided by government.
10 Greg Sheridan cheers Tony Abbott’s victory over people smugglers.
11 Gerard Henderson attacks SBS over a documentary on the history of ASIO calling SBS’ screening of the doco “totalitarian slurs” and accuses SBS of “leftist sympathies”.
13 Angela Shanahan calls for abortion to be banned at a national level.
14 Bjørn Lomborg says the burning of coal is not causing climate change.
Please Note. Janet Albrechtsen was on holidays so it could have been worse.
I repeat. This is not an isolated incident as the front page of the Australian often contains up to six anti left stories.
Generally speaking newspapers report both sides of an argument, its bias will usually slant toward its own editorial bent. However most will seek to achieve a reasonable balance in light of the weight of any given argument. With climate change it would be hard to argue the weight should come down on the side of science. Yet in his Quarterly Essay critique Australian academic Robert Manne read almost seven years worth of news and opinion articles in the Australian Newspaper and discovered that, of the 880 articles printed, just 180 were “favourable to climate change action and 700 unfavourable” – a four to one difference. On the newspapers opinion pages alone, the sceptics out-number the “consensus” 10 to one. Enough said. You be the judge.
“It is a pity that fact in journalism cannot be made compulsory and decency legislated”.
The Murdoch media’s approach to journalism can best be described with these lines that I wrote some time ago and often repeat.
“It is said of pornography (and I am not expert in this field) that in order to maintain the viewers or readers interest it needs to progressively become more outlandish – more tantalising – more seductive-more flirtatious-more provocative – more stunning and more enticing. And in their desire to maintain some dominance, that’s exactly what main stream media is doing. It has chosen to prostitute itself in the forlorn hope of remaining relevant”.
The pity of it is that newspapers have chosen to address their declining readership with absurdity. No matter how many pictures of half-naked girls, sensationalist headlines and scandalous biased stories with melodramatic front page exaggeration their sales still go down.
Murdoch is so locked into a world where newspapers once dictated or swayed public opinion that he cannot see alternative ways of doing things. It would be impossible for him to consider that the opposite might work, that social conscience might be a worthy pursuit for any newspaper. This of course not only applies to him but to other proprietors also.
Newspapers as we know them will in a matter of years fail to exist. But the damage the have caused to society cannot be forgotten. Their capacity for persuasion is/was so misused. The lying headlines immune from criticism. The incitement to racial violence. Their character assassinations. The demonising of people seeking asylum. The half-truths. The imbalance in their reporting of Climate Change. The shaping of public opinion for nefarious reasons.
In the shaping of opinion they have a lot to answer for.
Of course I realise that the internet has had an enormous effect on newspaper sales but would Murdoch ever consider that telling the truth might just have saved them.
Murdoch Media. Where the truth goes to die.
My thought for the day.
“Less informed voters unfortunately outnumber the more politically aware. Therefore, conservative news outlets feed them all the bullshit they need. And the menu generally contains a fair portion of untruths”.
PS Next post in the series: ‘New Media’.