By Dr Stewart Hase
You have to admire, at some level, the brass of Paul Fletcher and Josh Frydenberg claiming that the new media code will contribute to more fact-based, rigorous news content. In the background Scomo is nodding his head like one of those little plastic dogs in the back window of a Kingswood. While the ‘code’ is probably the right step forward, let’s not let it gloss over the role of media in shaping public opinion.
The Murdoch empire has over many years provided trillions of dollars of free advertising to the Liberal Party, massaging the editorial stance of every paper Murdoch takes over. It’s impossible not to laugh hysterically at the adverts for Sky News, in which they say that it offers the only truly balanced view, reporting ‘all sides’ as Alan Jones, Peta Credlin, Andrew Bolt, Paul Murray et al stride onto the screen. You wouldn’t buy a used car from any of them.
Mind you, in the interests of balance in this blog, you know what you are going to get when you read the Guardian, the Huffington Post, The Washington Post, the Sydney Morning Herald and the New Daily, for example. Any student of cognitive bias, in which reality is distorted to remain consistent with one’s attitudes, values and beliefs, will tell you that true independence would be a small miracle. As F. Scott Fitzgerald said, ‘The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function.’ Not sure many of us do that and is a skill that needs to be taught in school.
The issue of media bias would probably be fine, since it mirrors the predilection of the human brain, were it not for scope. Kevin 07, like a candle in a gale force wind, argued to a Senate inquiry last week that News Ltd has a monopoly in Australia (Murdoch owns 70% of media in Australia and in Queensland, nearly 100%). In exhibit 1, a recent edition of the Daily Telegraph, Kev showed how five pages of text was no more than an opinion piece, rather than news. His view was nicely and ironically reinforced by the Telegraph, which has run a campaign of vilification about Kev not seen since their attacks on Julie Gillard-nothing to do with news and everything to do with suppressing a voice.
And Facebook, as Kev notes, is another demonstration of what can happen when a monolith with too much power can hijack information. One can only marvel at the prescience of George Orwell in ‘Nineteen-Eighty-Four’-a world in which information is manufactured, controlled and meted out at the whim of ‘Big Brother’.
The debate over the code, and Facebook’s demonstration of power, has brought into stark relief the issue of media ownership in this country. We need our Federal government to fix what is a threat to democracy and ensure we have the opportunity to have real news, not just opinion, real facts not manufactured reality, and journalists that can report what is really happening, to speak truth to power when necessary: nay, when essential. Most of us are cynical about politics and the news that surrounds it. So, now is the time to act and put pressure on government to fix this travesty, even as Murdoch signs a deal with Google to transmit even more of his bile.
Stewart is a psychologist with a special interest in how people adapt and also learn. He’s written widely in these areas. He continues to consult, and annoy people who misuse power. Twitter: @stewarthase
This article was originally published on No Place For Sheep.
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