Don’t Blame the Media

I arrived at work last Saturday. In the corridors, I heard the cleaners talking about the Paris attacks. I went into the tea room and the TV was showing a rolling coverage. I stopped and watched but as time was short I left.

After I finished my training session, I checked the latest news. I was drawn in by the coverage. I was interested in Paris. My sister and her husband had only been there a few weeks ago. My cousin is visiting now. I have friends who have lived in France. I have friends now living in France.

Since then there have been articles decrying the media focus on France. One article led to a discussion about the lack of focus on Beirut or Sinai or Kenya or even the events in Mali: that it was the media’s fault that attention was mostly focused on France. I did know about the Beirut car bomb and was following the latest information on the downing of the Russian airliner in the  Sinai and remembered the Kenyan atrocities from earlier this year. But I still focused on France.

And today the topic recurred with the media coverage of the Reclaim Australia and UDP anti-Islamic rallies and the corresponding counter rallies.

Again the same comment was offered that it was the media’s fault that these rallies were getting unwarranted publicity. My response to both was this:

It’s easy to say it’s the media’s fault : they’ve done their market research and focus their message accordingly. Much like market researchers for the low-end Australian current affairs shows such as A Current Affair (ACA) or Today Tonight : their focus was to find the right people and stories to satisfy that given audience: journalism doesn’t come into it at all.

The truth is the media are following the audience. The other stories were there : it’s just that less people were interested. Me included.

All the media does is reinforce our existing prejudices. For example, if Reclaim Australia, UDP, Trump, Carson, etc, etc want to find facts that denigrate Muslims and Islam, they will. The media following the audience will report that.

There’s a passage in Ray Bradbury’s science fiction novel Fahrenheit 451 that describes it perfectly. In it the hero’s boss describes how the media gives people exactly what they want to hear.  At first it appears that the media does the thinking for its audience. But the audience doesn’t want to think for itself! Read it.

For me as an adult educator, it’s no surprise.

It’s exactly the way we learn : we fit facts to what we already know and believe.
Until we chance on information that doesn’t fit our prejudices. Then and only then, we choose to change or ossify.

The media can provoke our thoughts and feelings enabling us to confront our prejudices as good journalism and good education (dare I say it) should.

But for the media really to change, our prejudices must as well.

The Best of Enemies : Movie Review

It’s 1968 and America is in turmoil. Martin Luther King has been shot, riots have broken out across the country, the Vietnam War is faltering, Robert Kennedy has been assassinated and Richard Nixon is campaigning for President.

The American Broadcasting Corporation also has its troubles. As the third (or fourth) network of three, it is struggling. As one pundit says, “If the ABC fought the Vietnam War, it would be cancelled in 13 weeks.”

To improve their ratings during the two political presidential conventions, they come up with an idea that will change TV forever. That idea is to put together William F Buckley, arch-conservative interviewer and writer with Gore Vidal,  the Oscar Wilde like enfant terrible of the political and literary scene as convention commentators.

There’s one small problem. Both men loath and detest each other.  Yet despite their earlier clashes, they agree to work with each other for the ten days covering both conventions.

This is the basis for the documentary, Best of Enemies

which covers the debates between Vidal and Buckley. Both men had clashed before but this was the first time they would be withing arm’s length of each other. And what results is electrifying and ultimately disappointing.

Two intellectual giants trade brilliant put downs and swap clever put downs. But at no time is there any meeting of minds. In fact the debate created an unbroken animosity between the two men.

Best of Enemies, showing at the Cinema Nova, Melbourne is fascinating : a super sugar hit for a political junkie with an unfortunate climb down. Scarily, the commentary offered on the politics of the day still is relevant now, despite the change in word and phrase as well as manners over the years.  Sadly, too, the dynamic of pitting two protagonists, neither of whom will listen to the other, is now the basis of present media political commentary.  Finally, this dynamic has resulted in a fragmentation of media coverage (both mainstream and new).  As  Nick Davies has pointed out, the media no longer provides multiple points of view for multiple audiences, it now provides what people want to hear. Which began with Vidal versus Buckley.

Best of Enemies is an enjoyable, extremely well put together but ultimately dis quietening documentary.




Why the MainStream Media is Dying…

Imagine you are a journalist in a small country town.

Reading the newspaper: Brookgreen Gardens in P...

You know everyone and they know you.

Any unethical behaviour will in time be found out.

Then you lose your contacts, advertisers, circulation and your newspaper’s reputation.

Imagine you are a journalist in a city.

You know no-one and no-one knows you.

Any unethical behaviour may not in time be found out.

Then you keep your contacts, advertisers, circulation and your newspaper’s reputation.

Unless the city becomes like a small country town (as is happening with the internet, social media creating a confluence between newsmakers and news consumers).

Where personal contact, ethical behaviour and trust is vital. And people will ask their friends for the latest news rather than an untrusted media outlet.