Saturday, September 01, 2007

The sorry state of media in Australia

Mike Carlton, in his weekly column in the SMH, addresses an issue which concerns thinking people in Australia:

"Reading this column makes you a media consumer, which is a clunky phrase but useful enough. You might, then, see what you make of this:

"Australia's media practitioners will always prefer simplicity over the complex, the fascinating over the dull, the tangible over the abstract and the famous over the obscure. Issues are depicted as confrontations. The slightest gaffe is painted as a fatal blunder. Overall, there are problems of laziness, a narrow world outlook, lack of originality and a vague contempt for the mass audience."

And this: "The definition of 'news' itself now turns more on default preconceptions than content. Events have no real meaning unless they can be packaged and presented within a familiar framework. Inevitably, stories that may not fit these templates of violence, novelty, shock, drama, celebrity or spectacle will be neglected. This is censorship by mental sloth."

And, finally, this: "The stock editorial technique of commercial current affairs programs for the past decade has been prejudice reinforcement. Fan the audience's basest fears, hatreds and envies and watch your ratings rise."

Scorching stuff. The quotes are taken, pretty much at random, from The Media We Deserve, a new book by the founding executive producer of ABC TV's Media Watch program, David Salter. Yes, he is an old friend and, yes, I should ethically plead guilty to giving the book a plug here.

But it is a penetrating critique of Australia's contemporary media landscape, from radio shock jockery to broadsheet newspaper political punditry, from the insatiable greed of media moguldom to the all too often shambolic management of the ABC and SBS.

This newspaper is not spared. You can smell the roasted hides of sacred cows.

The title is, of course, heavy with irony. Salter's thesis is that we - i.e., the Australian people - deserve much better than we get, an effrontery that will have him excoriated in editorial conferences and journalists' pubs around the country.

"Very brave," I told him cheerfully at the book launch last Wednesday. "You've surely written the longest suicide note in the history of journalism."

He seemed unworried."

Interestingly, Richard Ackland also considers the same issue in his column in the SMH:

"Geoffrey Robertson, QC, is a great man. A wonderful contributor to the law of civil liberties and the right to publish. He has a towering intellect and an international legal practice. He can also be quite funny; for example, with his line "Rupert Murdoch is a great Australian, in the sense that Attila was a great Hun".

So he was an absolute natural to do the big oration on Tuesday night at a free-speech dinner in Sydney. It was staged by an outfit called Australia's Right to Know, which is a coalition of media organisations and lobby groups. Fairfax Media is a member, so too is News Ltd, the ABC, SBS, the free-to-air TV people, the commercial radio stations, the journalists' union and AAP."

Read Ackland's column here.

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