Paul Sheehan’s recent attacks on the hugely popular Facebook site Tony Abbott – Worst PM in Australian History are not isolated incidents of the mainstream media (MSM) publicly airing disdain towards the social media.
Ferocious, and to some, persuasive attacks by the MSM have become rabid from the moment the independent media (the Fifth Estate) and voices in social media (blogs, Facebook, Twitter) became even the slightest of threats to their diminishing integrity. And why wouldn’t their integrity be diminishing when the direction we’ve seen in the MSM leans towards, especially in the last few years, are stories that are trivial, narrow, shallow and sensationalist? And often untrue. My recent article, The facts versus Andrew Bolt offered an example of the of the fabricated sensationalism so evident in today’s media.
It was a couple of years ago that I first noticed the MSM unleash an attack on the independent blog sites. A couple that I read from the Murdoch media exhibited a sort of ‘xenophobic’ hatred. Christian Kerr, a political journalist with The Australian, savaged the blogosphere with more zeal than I’ve ever heard him attack incompetent politicians, writing that:
It’s also worth noting that the`blogosphere’ supposedly outraged is the small incestuous clique of self-identified lefties, with readerships composed mostly of themselves, who were more than happy to out other bloggers a few years ago with whom they disagreed.
That last bit, for the uninitiated, is a reference to the modern dull and doctrinaire Crikey and its very own Adrian Mole, barrister-blogger Walter Jeremy Sear, and his role assisting The Sunday Age dissect the corpse of the spectacularly snarky site The Spin Start Here that offended sensibilities for years until it reached its logical conclusion and ripped itself apart. Sear was happy to help with an outing then.
The whole thing smacks of naivety and self-righteousness.
And naivety and self-righteousness seems to define the vast majority of the Australian blogosphere. That and whining conspiracy theories.
Quite remarkably, Christian’s little dummy spit was shadowed by the editorial of another from the Murdoch empire, the Townsville Bulletin, which announced to North Queenslanders that bloggers are cowards:
When reporter James Massola “outed” an anonymous blogger in The Australian newspaper last week, he received death threats and a torrent of personal abuse.
How dare someone in the mainstream media name one of these increasingly puerile bloggers, self-appointed guardians of righteousness and all that is wrong about society and, in particular, newspapers.
Grogs Gamut was named as a Canberra public servant and the reaction from his mates was as predictable as it was boring.
Those who hide under the veil of anonymity, taking cheap shots to satisfy their trendy social agenda, don’t like it when they are thrust into the real world.
The great thing about newspapers is that, love us or hate us, we’re the voice of the people. We represent the community, their views, their aspirations and their hopes. We champion North Queensland’s wins and we commiserate during our losses.
Oh how high and mighty they are, being the acclaimed “voice of the people”. And true to from, jumping in on the act the aforementioned Andrew Bolt screamed that the outed blogger, Greg Jericho, be sacked from his usual job. Indeed, let’s punish this new media.
There is no doubt that all forms of dialogue in the social and independent media have profoundly influenced the nature of modern communication and obviously this doesn’t sit well with the traditional media. The above references are indicative of their opinion that the new media produces public discussion that falls well below their standards. I, however, disagree. News stories these days are nothing more than opinion pieces to which nobody is held to account.
New media is now holding them to account and this sits very uneasily with them.
In a few short years the new media, blogging in particular, has become a global phenomenon and it has reshaped our view of journalism. It is in the political sphere, that the impact of blogging is being nurtured.
In an essay titled The Influence of Political Blog Sites on Democratic Participation, ShariVari wrote that:
A computer-mediated environment may make it easier for citizens to express their feelings about political candidates and allow them to speak more candidly than if they were in a face-to-face situation. The diversity of the internet gives citizens access to a wide variety of opinions and information that they may not have access to otherwise, and this may play a role in changing or shaping an individual’s political views. After disregarding any blog sites that have a corporate financial objective or are engaging in political agenda-setting, political blog site users can begin to discuss their personal view points with peers.
I find this essay to be rather heartening. As a blogger and a social media user who has lost all faith in the MSM it was good to know that we can indeed have an impact, albeit small at this stage.
ShariVari concludes that:
All of the research shows that increased opportunities for participation can only encourage democracy . . . This research means that citizens are increasingly turning to and trusting the Internet for accurate information, using it as a platform for participatory democracy, and becoming more knowledgeable about political information in the process. A Spiral of Silence is less likely to exist where citizens have only each others’ opinions to evaluate in terms of their own civic participation and lack status cues such as gender, race, and socio-economic status. Blog sites definitely are increasing the ways in which citizens can participate in their democracy.
The above article, although American and a couple of years old, aptly describes how independent media is now evolving in Australia.
Independent media are better suited to provide the diversity which is often ignored by traditional journalists. Both independent and social media advances the opportunity to expose doctored or omitted facts from mainstream media and point out the bias by particular reporters who do not provide such opportunity for his/her readership to give voice to alternate opinions.
Independent media also encourages contributors and readers to think objectively and ask the probing questions that might often be avoided by the MSM, particularly if they are working to a different (or hidden) agenda. Further, social media gives people the opportunity to analyse and disseminate the news and opinions thrown at them from the established media and as a consequence social media is awash with a more objective and factual analysis. Where, for example, would you find corrections to false or misleading statements from the current government exposed? Not the MSM. Not the MSM as they operate under a different agenda.
But if the MSM was objective, impartial and committed to providing a quality service then there may not be the thousands of social media groups the MSM are now taking a disliking to.
Had we a balanced and analytical media, there would be blogs and social media groups, certainly, but at the extremes of the political spectrum although their popularity would have been limited to those that simply agreed with them. Now we have people turning to the new media because they know they cannot expect the truth out of the old media. If the MSM did their job better they wouldn’t need to be so capriciously attacking social media because, quite simply, they wouldn’t be competition.
Sheehan’s recent attack, as mentioned earlier, is not an isolated incident. David Donovan of Independent Australia has also been targeted. David innocently tweeted:
Forgive if I recall incorrectly, but didn’t Abbott promise to spend his first week as PM in an Indigenous community?
It was a fair question. If it wasn’t bad enough that this pre-election commitment was washed aside by the MSM, then the insulting attack on David by Samantha Maiden, the national political editor of News Corporation’s Sydney Sunday masthead, the Sunday Telegraph was. The attack was personal. I encourage you to read David’s account of it.
What on earth is wrong with the MSM? Not only is the credibility of their professionalism crumbling but they attack the independent media for introducing the credibility that they themselves lack. Independent media are asking the questions that should be asked. Independent media are exposing the falsehoods that should be exposed. And in doing so, incur the wrath from the MSM who people, traditionally, have looked to for balanced news and opinion.
Margo Kingston – a former journalist with the Sydney Morning Herald and now a leading figure in social media – summed it up rather succinctly in an interview with The AIMN:
It’s scary that the media are not doing their job. Many journalist friends have expressed the same concerns; they don’t feel as though they are traditional journalists anymore, they are simply writing what the powerful want them to write . . . And there are journalists in the traditional media who secretly admit that the new, independent media is the way of the future.
Some, however, are obviously frightened of it. They can persist with their attacks, but like their news stories they are shallow as rossleigh proved when he spoke to the creator of the Tony Abbott – Worst PM in Australian History Facebook group; the one that Paul Sheehan fabricated stories about. It was a glaring example of story being made up to attack the independent media. It’s not a good move. The Fifth Estate is a sleeping giant. It’s starting to wake up and my advice to the old media is not to provoke it. It is going to consume you. We are no longer passive observers. Margo adds:
We need to build a bridge between the new media and journalists who see the corruption within the mainstream media. We need to collaborate and work together. We can do this by luring traditional journalists into the new media and free them of their shackles. If we do this, one day we in the new media will look back and be grateful for the decisions we make today.
That would be ideal, however, even if ‘traditional’ journalists prefer to ignore the freshness that the new media can offer, there has already been an emergence of ‘new’ journalists in the Fifth Estate to fill the void.
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