02 August 2010

No news is bad news

This is great, and there should be more of it. It helps voters realise that the media are simply unable to get over themselves enough to report on and analyse government policy. The politico-media complex can only be broken by the media changing focus away from politicians.

If the media is to survive it should focus on the end results of government policy, with the occasional foray into the various decision-making bodies (of which Parliament is only one part). Journalists cover politics because they like the horse-race aspect of it, and find the company convivial. If there are any hardships in being a press gallery journo they have romanticised it in much the same way as old rockers have:

Hotel, motel
Make you wanna cry
Lady do the hard sell
Know the reason why
Gettin' old
Gettin' grey
Gettin' ripped off
Under-paid ...

If you wanna be a star of stage and screen
Look out! It's rough and mean!

Cue the bagpipes, and piss off. Journalists cover politics because they like it, not because they are providing some fourth-estate role for the community. There is precious little information to be gained by reading or listening to a bunch of idle people waiting for a gaffe like seagulls waiting for chips.

Just as fried potato is not the natural sustenance of birdlife, so too a media scrum bustling local people out of the way so that they can cover a politician walking among local people (including that old stand-by Voters Say They Darndest Things! Voters So Off Message, They Don't Even Know Who David Speers Is!) is not a reliable source for local people to find out what is going on in their community.

Grog's right, the whole Boys On The Bus thing has had its day and the only ones who get screwed are the underinformed public. If that bus was blown up the only tragedy would be if the driver was hurt. They should all be sacked and real journalists hired on a portfolio basis: have a defence journalist covering defence issues, a health journalist covering health issues, etc. Ministerial statements, opposition rebuttals and parliamentary debates are part of that, but not the whole story. Move them around and bring in freelancers to avoid organisational capture.

The media ought not feel obliged to publish/broadcast waffle, much less complain about it. It is not news that a politician makes an announcement, still less that there is no link between that announcement and the effect of the policy upon people's lives. The tradition that there is has died. The judgment by news directors that there is a public interest in reporting what politicians say and the context backdrop against which they say it is mistaken. The idea that the public want to hear more politico-media drivel could not be any more wrong, except to say that Australians should be able to change it without some violent break with our traditions of easygoing reform.

The problem is not, as Bernard Keane complains, that there are lobbyists and a professional political nomenklatura. The problem is that there is no scrutiny of what they do, no belling of those cats other than trawling through an out-of-date register. This is possible only by taking a whole-of-government approach to news gathering, rather than waiting for a press sec to tweet you.

Politics has always been outsourced to representatives. The more you widen the franchise and increase the complexity of issues dealt with, the less representative the representatives become. So long as the means exist to disempower the representatives once they get ahead of themselves, and so long as there remain credible candidates willing to take risks where appropriate, things will be just fine. Maybe refusing to take a phone call from Mark Arbib is one of those risks: maybe declining to belt the little bastard with a shovel is. Who knows; I'm just a blogger and Senator Arbib is one of my representatives, apparently.


  1. Hillbilly Skeleton4/8/10 11:34 am

    Now that would be the A List Twitter list, that of the Press Secs.
    It ain't gonna get out into the Twittersphere tho' I mean that would ruin the cosy relationship, absolutely symbiotic, that has built up between the two, oh, and their talking heads, the politicians.

  2. (I don't know what that meant either)

  3. Andrew, i've been thinking about exactly the same thing this year. There's a website in the designing that could have the highest calibre of bloggers replacing journalists in their chosen policy area, with focus on aspects of policy making and implementation, and an informed discussion site to accompany it. Obviously the uhh talking about personalities and other sideshows role is inhabited by other sites already and this site does not have to fulfill that role.

  4. This is a forum to discuss policy issues, that attempts not to frame people's reactions. but provides fact sheets on the issue. For example, on electoral reform, one would be shown links to belowtheline.org, and an australian government site on how to vote, and a site with information on types of voting systems and the effect of their implementation on other countries.
    this is for important issues that are not specifically linked to a government department but are important.

    if disenfranchised people want to set up a neo-liberal greens party, or branch members want to moan and get organised, that is a political forum for that in a separate part of the site.

    for the news section it would be structured so that there is easy access to research papers and evaluation papers on policies, and a layman's translation by an appropriate bored public servant on leave. news has a view of white papers, green papers et al., how the consultation process it proceeding, how it works, what legislation just got passed into law, whats in it, and quotes from it that are being misconstrued in mass media if they are, and for other reasons.

    the site would be structured with a top banner of all the cabinet policy areas, with an arrow to other major topics and departments responsibilities, moving your mouse over for example "Health" would show below banners of discussion, news, and platform. discussion is of course informed discussion, and if you want to be taken seriously, you can tick an occupation box in the sign up section that says "health profession". (you can choose whether to show occupation or not)
    and platform has an easy to access indepth look at the platform of at least 8 parties views and their possible impact of their passing into law, as well as other analysis.

    you could even go all another version of OpenAustralia on it, and provide transcripts of press conferences and photocopies of the policy statements media advisors give the press. it's to make understandable (and) policy analysis, with news about it, to the public, that cannot understand APO even if it wanted to. APO is probably a wonderful resource , but it's dense.

    the opinion sections is as small as links to other political blogs across the spectrum. from lefter than center left to righter than centre right, but no illogical loony conspiracy theory blogs from both ends.

    and other stuff. it's not fully thought out yet.

  5. Wow, I was saying last week to my friends that what we really need is a forum that explains policy in lay terms and without bias instead of having to rely on the media to explain. Half of whom don't understand it anyway. Half? Make that 90%.

    Problem is, it is likely that only informed persons would read it anyway. Sigh. But at least it would be out there, and in one place.

    Watched Rucastle amongst the ignorami on the Chaser last week asking if they thought the coalition would effectively deal with their unfounded fear of refugees. Amazingly enough, plenty of them fell for it. And that's the calibre of the average person out there, I'm afraid.

  6. The calibre of the sort of person Chaser uses as punchlines, perhaps.