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World Views: The Case For Newspaper Diversity Two

May 25, 2011

I am becoming a fervent born-again believer in media diversity – and diversity applied to the venerable world of newspapers, most of them flailing. Take this measure, on the most important issue of our time: as a reader of newspapers, I’ve got my choice between the Sydney Morning Herald which sympathetically covers the Climate Commission’s report, The Critical Decade or The Australian which spits out the fury of climate change denial.

In today’s Herald, there is a piece by its economic commentator Ross Gittins arguing that the Climate Commission report “tells us nothing we didn’t already know, but everything we’ve lost sight of in our efforts to advance our personal interests at the expense of the nation’s.”

Gittins is a believer in liberal economics. I loved his reference in Monday’s business pages to the fact that the Australian economy sees 300,000 businesses created each year and a similar number failing. Two million workers start new jobs and a similar number leave. About 500,000 workers change industries each year. In other words – in contrast to the propaganda we get from the Metal Workers and other believers in autarky – the economy is a living organism not a steady state machine that should be frozen in place with “industry policies”.

Yet Gittins is educated enough to know there’s more to heaven and earth than the laws of supply and demand. There’s the atmosphere around the planet, for example.

Yet I’m very glad The Australian is there, even though I won’t read any of the climate denialism (the paper does nonetheless support a market-based mechanism for cutting Australia’s carbon pollution). What I would hate not having is The Australian’s feisty attacks on soft-headed political orthodoxy.

A case in point: Janet Albrechtsen’s argument today that “Too much of the mainstream media has let Brown glide effortlessly across the political landscape for years, able to proclaim his supposed moral superiority without question or critique.” This is based on reports of an online petition seeking to persuade the activist organisation Get Up to criticise the ABC. Get Up has reportedly rejected the call.

It can be assumed the petitioners are lambasting Aunty because of Chris Uhlmann’s interview with Bob Brown (see below). All Uhlmann did was to treat the Green Party as he would treat the Labor, Liberal or National Parties, with their spokespeople being held to account for their pervious comments. It’s the treatment any leader of a party should anticipate. It is routine. It should be easy to ward off.

Because this unexceptional standard is now being applied to Bob Brown some Green Party staffers (that’s my guess – the campaign is being driven from Brown’s office) are trying to pressure the ABC to stop treating the Green Party as, well, a political party. Like the others.

I want to see these debates played out in the columns of the Australian press. The best writing in Australia is being presented in its newspapers. I wish there were more. I fear there will be fewer. I fear a loss of quality then.

  1. May 25, 2011 1:49 pm

    Absolutely, Bob. I confess I read the Herald-Sun in Melbourne (in coffee-shops – I don’t buy it) because I want to know what they are telling their readers and from that to understand better the directions debate might (or should) take. It isn’t very good writing, but it does reach a lot of people.

  2. Anthony Porter permalink
    May 25, 2011 3:07 pm

    For a person with so many maladies, JFK appears to have had an unusual amount of energy. Tony Buzan in his book,The Speed Reading Book says, “JFK was bookish and had a reading speed of 1500 wpm. That is not an unusual reading speed as I read faster than that. But JFK achieved so many goals under such duress, which is unusual.

  3. May 25, 2011 3:59 pm

    As a member of the Greens, I too was happy to see Bob Brown receive difficult questioning. If the party is to be taken seriously, it needs to be able to put forward a good argument, have coherant policies and be able to defend them.

    As Bob (Carr) pointed out, Chris Uhlmann’s questioning should have been easy to ward off.

    Bob, I am interested in your thoughts on Bob Brown’s media briefing, where he called the Australian the ‘hate media’.

    Do you give him credit for calling out the current standard of news reporting in Australia? Or do you disagree with his comments?

    • Bob Carr permalink
      May 25, 2011 9:01 pm

      He is entitled to say it but in my extensive experience it does no good. The only answer is diversity. If part of the media is against you, hates you, then work the others to get your case across. But you won’t win a TV audience if you deny you said something on a big important subject when you are on the record.

    • Fran Barlow permalink
      May 29, 2011 8:34 am

      Well as a member of The Greens I’d characterise the questioning style as hectoring and designed to deny Brown a chance to put any coherent claim, much less answer any “question” Uhlmann put. Uhlmann’s unsourced” $50bn black hole” claim was classic trolling by misdirection. Uhlmann was a disgrace. The “interview by Uhlmann and Alan Jones’s “interview” of Dr David Karoly seem to be a template for today’s shock jocks. Compare how both these question Abbott. Absolute softball.

      Yes we need close questioning, but it should be based on clear and salient facts and allowing interviewees to develop coherent responses. Speaking in anticipation of being shouted down as Brown and Karoly did is no way to get clarity.

      It’s about time that the ABC started doing things differently from the tabloid Murdochracy. If it doesn’t, the rationale for having a public broadcaster doing news & current affairs is doubtful.

  4. May 25, 2011 6:35 pm

    What appals me in terms of climate change is that there seems to be a dearth of sensible voices who are aware of the broad range of problems. On one side you have this hysterical do something, anything is better than nothing. On the other the Obfuscating Ostrich Routine. Every time I read the paper these days I’m reminded of Horne’s assertion viz our ‘mediocre elites’.

    Newspapers are history. They’re an old mass market form that must treat its readership as a mass of anonymous demographic categories. Because of the enormous scale of their market they cannot get to idiosyncratic or delve into anything too deeply.

    The future is the internet.

  5. May 25, 2011 6:37 pm

    If the party is to be taken seriously, it needs to be able to put forward a good argument, have coherant policies and be able to defend them.

    Indeed. Let us all know when either manifests, a’right? 🙂

  6. Sam K permalink
    May 25, 2011 7:39 pm

    Coming from Brisbane – a one newspaper town ever there was one – I too agree with media diversity.

    However, we do have more variety online with a Fairfax and a News Corp local news site.

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