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Stop and think and before you’re Framed!

Blame someone else (image from theage.com.au)

Blame someone else (image from theage.com.au)

There was an article in the paper the other day about the road toll. In Victoria, it had gone down overall, but there was a concern about older drivers.

“Elderly Victorians are bucking the trend in the state’s sliding road toll, as fatalities among over-70s have increased, making up almost a quarter of road deaths in 2013.

But the sobering statistic has failed to fan calls for a rethink on Victoria’s licensing conditions for elderly motorists, which are the least restrictive of all the states.”

Now, I think that there’s a case for occasionally checking whether people still have the capacity to drive. In the several decades since I was tested for my licence, all sorts of things may have happened to me apart from the natural ageing slowly down reflexes, but that’s not the issue that I want to deal with here.

I want you all to consider how easily the news article moved from reporting a fact to encouraging you to make all sorts of conclusions.

The first point is the implication that because of the “sobering statistic”, we should be considering a “rethink on Victoria’s licensing conditions for elderly motorists”. Why?

Well, obviously, they’re causing a lot of the accidents, aren’t they? The number of fatalities in the over 70’s jumped. Later in the article we learn:

“The elderly are dying at a greater rate than the young – 10 per 100,000 compared to 6 per 100,000 last year.”

So the evidence is pretty clear. It’s elderly drivers causing all the carnage.

Because, as we all know, it’s the driver who always dies in an accident. And, not only that, it’s the driver who was at fault. There are no innocent victims who are killed as a result of someone else’s mistake.

Oh, you mean, that’s not true? Mm, well, then I guess the raw score of the fatalities doesn’t tell us much about who was at fault in the accident. After all, some of them will have been passengers.

Even, if you conclude that it should give us a rough guide, the article doesn’t take into account a number of other things. For example, how many accidents result in fatalities as a percentage of overall accidents. Are older people less likely to survive? Is the sample large enough? Can one really draw conclusions from a single year?

As I said before, there may be a good case for considering our current policy of only testing for a driver’s licence once, and then people have it until they fail to renew it. My concern is more in the way the news article “framed” the information so that you were encouraged to draw a conclusion without thinking through other explanations or conclusions.

Which is a large part of the problem with political discussion in this country. From the boat arrivals to the discussions of the economy to health and education, the discussion has been framed in very simple terms. The arguments have become small, and people find themselves nitpicking or justifying politician’s behaviour. We focus on whether Craig Thomson ripped off the union or whether Peter Slipper was guilty of sexual harassment, and, while I don’t wish to suggest these things are unimportant, they should be dealt with by proper process, rather than command the front pages of the papers like some Canberra soap opera with villains and heroes.

Even the question of whether Julia lied was given far too much media space. In the scheme of things, in the long term interests of the country, did it really matter? It wouldn’t be the first time that a politician had promised one thing and done another after being elected, but so much time and energy was wasted trying to explain, qualify, or put into context Gillard’s pre-election statement that other discussions about things that really matter were drowned out.

Surely, it’s more important to discuss the future directions, to put forward plans about what happens when the mining boom collapses and how to deal with the high Australian dollar in the meantime. Things like whether – if we’re not going to subsidise it and are just allowing the automobile industry to just fade away, should we have a plan in place for when it does, rather than say, “Toyota to close? Who would have thought that?”. Important discussions on the NBN and Gonski were swallowed up by a media more concerned about side issues. When the NBN was discussed – as is usual in the modern media – we heard assertions from politicians and other public figures, but not many explanations involving detail and facts. Statements about what speed we’d need were meaningless to most people unless put into some sort of context of what our future needs are likely to be. In fact, I suspect many would have no idea of what they were already using. Instead, we had the NBN linked to the asbestos in a way that would have led one to believe that NBN contractors were out there installing the hazardous stuff, instead of the reality of the asbestos already being there.

Not only do we need to watch out for the way things are framed, but we need to start taking back the initiative. We need to start framing the discussion itself, and not leave it to the mainstream media. Yes, it’s not easy, but even a post on Facebook may get people talking. Even more important, it may even get them thinking.

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