I was listening to Radio National news this morning and it suddenly struck me – mainstream news media, including everyone from the ABC to Murdoch, are incapable of providing the general public with a voice or a face. Two news items were perfect examples of this problem. One was about opposition to marine parks, where a lobster fishing industry spokesperson was invited to comment. And low-and-behold this industry spokesman was totally against marine parks. Another news item was about the South Australian government’s city car park tax which will be used to improve public transport. And you guessed it – a city business lobby group was invited to comment. And surprise surprise they were totally against the Labor government’s car park tax.
I often find myself muttering or shouting at the radio/TV/newspaper ‘well he would say that, wouldn’t he’. Because it’s fairly predictable that industry is going to be against anything that negatively impacts on them. Think mining industry and the mining tax. But what the media need to realise is that just talking to the person who is against a progressive policy doesn’t make that policy a bad policy. There’s another group who needs to be given a voice or a face in these conversations. And that is the public. Where is the commentary about the public good?
For instance, when we’re talking about marine parks, clearly there’s a valid reason why marine parks exist. It’s not just so that over-fishing doesn’t destroy our natural environment (although this on its own would be justification). It’s also to improve the long term sustainability of fish stocks. Which is important for the public good in the long term, even if it effects the lives of recreational fishers and the fishing industry profits in the short term. So speaking to someone who is whining about their recreation or profits tomorrow doesn’t really give the public a valid argument for why the policy shouldn’t be implemented for the public’s future benefit.
Or in the case of a car park tax, just because the Liberal Opposition is whinging about the cost imposition on those who can afford to park their cars in the city, and just because businesses in the city are convinced that the car park tax will negatively impact their profits, doesn’t mean that the public good argument isn’t just as valid. Why doesn’t the ABC news ever interview a low income family who can’t afford to park in the city but needs better public transport to get to work? Why doesn’t a government representative have a chance to explain that the revenue from the tax will be used to improve public transport, with the aim of bringing more shoppers and workers into the city in the long term, which would improve business activity and profits for the whinging business owners too?
Is it because it’s just easier to get a sound bite from someone opposed to progressive policy that we only hear from the vested interests of the very rich and the lobbyists who are paid to represent them? Is it really just laziness on the part of journalists which stops the public hearing the other side of the argument – the one that gives them a voice and a face? Or is there a deeper problem?
I think too many journalists automatically equate the ‘business good’ with the ‘public good’ and aren’t skilled enough at critiquing a policy from any perspective other than the press release from the well paid lobby group. When I hear myself saying ‘well he would say that wouldn’t he’, I always wonder why the journalist hasn’t thought of this as well. Of course the mining industry is going to threaten to pull their investment out of Australia and reduce jobs in mining if they’re told they’re going to have to pay their fair share of the profits they make mining land that all Australians own. But this doesn’t mean this threat is real. Can a journalist not make the connection between a vested interest argument and a truthful statement? A super-profit tax, by very definition, doesn’t hurt investment or jobs. But how often did we get to hear from someone in the media who made this point? How often did anyone get to speak about the benefits of the mining tax for the public good – increased superannuation being just one of the benefits that the public has lost and now seem, way overdue, to be coming to terms with? It’s all too late now because the mining tax has already been repealed.
Every time the media fails to provide the public good with a face and a voice, they are letting the public down. I can understand why the Murdoch media behave in this way. They are run by the very vested interests I am talking about. But why the ABC? Why do they fall for this lame, lazy, unthinking journalistic style which makes it impossible for a progressive government to argue their case for change? I know I’ll never get answers to these questions, but I still can’t help but ask.
What surprises me most is that the Abbott government, who were enabled to come to power by this type of lazy journalism, are the ones who most need to be scrutinised. The Abbott government are the champion of vested interests and are seemingly against the public good. But it’s also worth remembering that the Abbott government are hell bent of destroying the ABC. Is this why the ABC are scared to speak truth to power?
It’s sad really. Just when we need the ABC to be the public broadcaster, champion of the public good, they are giving a voice only to the very people who plan to destroy them. And the saddest part – why should we have an ABC if they’re just going to take Murdoch’s side anyway? Why fight for them if they won’t fight for us, the public?