The strange beast that is the media

As I watched this interview with Claire Martin, I thought how marvellous it was that Tony Jones blocked Claire Martin’s call to ‘move on’ and talk about the future.  He insisted on going back over the way in which Claire Martin and her Government had belittled the coverage of the same issue on Late Line when they’d covered it a year or so ago.

If only we could have more of this – I thought to myself.  More tying politicians down to account for their past lies, deceptions and misdeeds.  But I did expect the interview to go on to discuss the future at some stage.  In fact it was entirely, forensically backward looking.  No problems there, but of course the reason Late Line was prepared to take this departure from standard fare was because the program had itself been crossed. It was breaking the mould not really in defence of standards, of the truth or anything like that.  It did in fact defend the truth, but really only as a by-product of defending itself.

This is the same kind of accountability – in a way – that we see on Media Watch.  A worthwhile program but nevertheless one that delights in judging the slanted standards of the media by – well, by slanted standards.

One day perhaps the standard might rise to a level in which the media – or some select organs of the media – might take as much care defending the truth and making people pay for sleaze, deception, inactivity and all the rest, but do so on behalf of something greater than itself.

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10 Responses to The strange beast that is the media

  1. Mike Pepperday says:

    The days of propriety, doing it just because it’s proper, seem to have vanished. A little more self-effacing, quietly outraged insistence on doing the right thing, just because it is the right thing, would make the world a better place. Enforce the rules. Make people respect the rules. Just do it. Ah, Judge Dredd, we need you.

  2. Robert says:

    Nicholas, is it a media role to “make people pay”?

  3. Good question – I’d say ‘yes’ that the alternative is some passive role which degenerates into gobbldigook – “leaders differ on whether earth is flat”.

    But one of the things that I’m drawing attention to is the fact that in this instance they are making people pay – but in this case for the egregious sin of criticising their program. Some standards they are.

  4. Robert says:

    I’m with you on the passion on this topic. To focus on what you’re drawing attention to, however: isn’t that to stay beholden to something not “greater than itself”?

    When you say “yes, a role of the media is to make people pay” (if that’s an ok summation), another question would be: isn’t the role of the media – in the greater context – to inform? Isn’t that what a medium is? The source at one end, the public at the other, and the medium as conduit? Aren’t you really seeking better source, and less judgement, from media? Or, in the role of questioning, more drawing power from the source itself? And more stability and respect for that conduit role (not being swayed, eg)?

    Or do you see the role of media more as a player, as identity?

  5. Robert,

    All good questions but questions which take a lot of explanation to answer properly. I don’t think the media should be a ‘player’. That’s my objection to Late Line defending itself in the way it did – it made itself a player.

    On the other hand we know now (and it was obvious given some thought I would argue) that a formal transparency, a formal even-handedness is a farce enabling people to pit Nobel Prize winners against hacks and hired guns as if they were equally worth listening to.

    So I want the media to be active players to the extent that they actively and responsibly make the editing decisions they make rather than make them according to some faux even-handedness. So if someone has form for consistently misleading us – then that should be made clear as context to viewers. When Bill Clinton said ‘I did not have sexual relations with that woman’ I immediately thought ‘what a strange expression’. I wonder what it hides. So the next ten interviews Clinton had he should have been asked “why did you choose the expression ‘sexual relations’ and when the inevitable ‘we have to move on no further comment’ arose the press should have said ‘so you don’t deny some sexual relationship with Ms Lewinski.’

    Similarly the comments of the Government on children overboard were already transparently on this plane before the election was held, words were being chosen very carefully to mislead and and they relied – as did Clinton on a kind of good manners – from a bunch of people who are anything but – to keep the lid on it for a little longer.

    I hope that gives a bit of a sense to it.

  6. Robert says:

    It certainly does. Thanks.

    And what you say asks of the questions I asked: to what extent should, can and is it best that “media” chooses its source(s)? Where from and why?

    The ideal of a media as conduit between source and public throws open these questions, among many: which sources and what public?

    Gee, it’s a minefield perhaps. Including, further to the above concept of media “drawing from the source” – which opens up the question of market demand: the thing which would seek or might suck information from those sources whosoever they are and howsoever they are chosen. That’s “the public”: the public seemingly demanding that information. Who and how are those people determined. And how else could they be done so.

    Enough to drive one mad.

    So that question arises: why press on?

    Nicholas, perhaps it’s about relationships? At the end of the day, it’s not about right or wrong, punishment or edification?

  7. Sure – and I certainly don’t want to downplay the role of our demands – which are an obvious source of the corruption right from the start. The issue is whether something better can arise from the development of an institution (the media) and its culture. In the face of the obvious market forces, one can only hope (against hope?) that some leads are found out of the mire.

    But it’s rarely very different. Culture is part determined by forces and also determined by the gradual building up of practices, rationales and so on. Parliament was a pretty corrupt place in the early nineteenth century. It’s always been a roughhouse of a certain sort. But out of the practices of the eighteenth and nineteenth century a bunch of ideas emerged about the right relationships between various institutions – executive and the parliament – the Westminster tradition. It was a noble thing – even if it was of course never perfectly in evidence.

    I think we need to push towards some understanding of what an ideal media role would be and I’ve offered a few scratches on the sketch pad. But of course it can’t simply be wishful thinking. One has to somehow show that it could arise out of the concrete circumstances we find ourselves in.

    I hope that makes a bit of sense.

  8. Chris Lloyd says:

    “Doing the right thing, just because it is right.” It’s all about markets and incentives these days I am afraid Mike. You, me and media watch are jusr soooooo 1980’s.

  9. Sir Henry says:

    Nick, the media has ALWAYS been a player and part of the story. That is why people embrace it and use it & buy it – otherwise they’d just get the Reuters AAP feed or skim headlines on their blueberry (or whatever).

    The media strenuously builds a personality for itself and then promotes it like hell, this includes SBS and the ABC. What do you think the ID stings and jingles are for?

    John Norton – http://www.adb.online.anu.edu.au/biogs/A110048b.htm – was an early example of media as an idiosyncratic identity who was part of the news.

    To claim now something different is perpetuating a tired myth, that very few believe anyway.

    BTW, I would love to take the stockwhip to Penberthy myself (see link, above).

  10. Pingback: Club Troppo » Can you handle the truth II: does everybody lie and does it matter?

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