Accountability takes another backward step

If was only a matter of time before politicians retreated even from the ‘doorstop’ and handed out audio and video feeds for the media’s consumption. I think I predicted this on Troppo somewhere in the dim dark past, if so I can’t find where I did. In fact it’s a bit unfair to Howard who does make himself pretty well available to media to defend even his more indefensible moves. And not just to friendly media outlets but to outlets that give him a fair sort of grilling.

But of course the day will come when politicians won’t see the need. Here’s Richard Farmer’s story from Crikey! today.

In the Prime Ministerial press office they are well aware of the sensitivity that those rather precious journalists in the Parliamentary Press Gallery would have to the idea they were being fed with electronic press releases.

ence the Howard spinners came up almost a year ago with the clever device of releasing what was described as a Weekly Radio message. To all intents and purposes it was dressed up to look like something that was broadcast in its entirety on some station somewhere while in truth it was nothing but a message made available in the hope that in an age where radio news budgets were declining some station somewhere would use a grab or two.

It is a way of letting stations anywhere in Australia appear to have their own journalist feeding in an item from Canberra when they have no one but the kind staff of John Howard working for them.

This mornings release of the weekly (I use the quotes because they are becoming more frequent than every seven days) can be read or listened to here. It gives a wonderful little plug to the generosity of the Coalition Government in making a contribution to Lifeline of money provided by taxpayers.

o successful has this little device been that Prime Minister Howard now has video press releases as well although these are disguised as You Tube appearances. While people might look at them on the internet, (you will find this mornings effort about APEC here1) they inevitably find their way on to free to air television news bulletins as well.

It is further proof of “The insidious rise of the Video News Release” Crikey drew attention to last week.

How effective all this is in influencing listeners and viewers I am uncertain but I am impressed by the use of a version of the old fashioned chain letter that email is providing political parties with. I keep getting copies sent to me of a list of Labors potential ministry showing the predominance of previous experience in the trade union movement. It really does make you think a bit when, without any comment, your attention is drawn to the extent that a job with a union appears to be a prerequisite to preferment within the Parliamentary Labor Party.

Whoever devised this internet campaign really can spin with the best of them.

  1. No you won’t it wasn’t supplied and I couldn’t find it- NG[]
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16 years ago

It doesn’t take much imagination to figure out where the email originated from. On the issue of YouTube appearances and weekly radio messages, quite frankly, I can’t be bothered. I’ve known about Howard’s supposed radio blub for a long time now, but there’s never any content, as proven by the airing on mainstream media, so I don’t bother. Same with the YouTube thing. It’s mindless soundbites. If this really is the way politicians hope to get their message across to the masses, they’ve wasted our money, yet again, on pollsters and focus groups telling them so.

The Editor
16 years ago

As long as the media continues to whip itself into a frenzy each time a politician uses such cutting edge technology as the internet we’ll see no improvement.

Of course, lazy journalists will do anything to avoid getting off their arse and doing actual research when pre-packaged research falls into their laps.

Michael Paul
Michael Paul
16 years ago

I think you are all being a bit precious. The aim of all politicians is to get their message out unfettered and uncritiqued.. Howard is renowned for his “dog whistle” politics which is really a back handed compliment for the effectiveness of his communication strategy.

New technology begets new ways of using that technology. While it is new and shiny the MSM will use it for all the reasons you espouse. You may say it does not allow critical questioning. However, there is more than an abundance of analysis through the blogosphere and elsewhere.

Ultimately, the success of the strategy is whether the user has something of interest to say, whether people are open to the message, whether the message is credible and whether the means of communication is superseded by something even newer.

16 years ago

It’s inevitable that politicians will use what means they can to get their message out in undiluted form. What is unforgivable is that the traditional media facilitates it by uncritically accepting what they say. They repeat the press release or play a snippet of the YouTube video, then the next round of stories repeat what the previous story said about it, and it becomes an echo chamber. The notion of investigative journalism has gone out the window in relation to politics – even the scandals follow the same pattern of journalists repeating what insiders say, except it is said over a private dinner instead of put up on a web site. Honestly, in this case it’s the messenger that needs to be shot.

The potential is there for technology to act as an equaliser – anyone can put up a YouTube video just like Honest John, or do a podcast or put their analysis on a blog. But the limitation is that not everyone uses the technology and the information, at this stage, doesn’t feed back into the other media. The same reporters who will copy and paste from a press release wouldn’t consider the possibility that blogs (apart from the media-sanctioned ones, of course) might produce any meaningful information, let alone insight. Until information literacy changes to the point that many if not most people get their information from alternative sources or the traditional media reforms itself, the pollies can keep on spinning to their hearts’ content.

16 years ago

YouTube and accountability…

Last month, I had this to say in Crikey about Howard’s use of YouTube for policy announcements:
More generally, Howard is using YouTube similarly to his manipulation of talkback announce the policy, avoid the press conference and the hard que…