A short and personal reflection on the Australian media.
I use the word short with great deliberation because there is little one can say about this country’s media short of the adjectival use of the transitive verb describing dismay - ‘appalling’.
I offer three current examples to support my assertion.
I was starkly reminded of the media’s shortcomings in recent days by the various and breathless reports of Tony Abbott’s supposedly ‘lunatic’ speech to a London audience on the subject of climate change. To judge by the reception given to this speech by the Australian media the average Australian reader would be forgiven for thinking that Abbott had dropped his Tweeds in Harrods.
I present a selection of headlines representative of the major news outlets:
Tony Abbott's climate change speech 'loopy', says Labor  [The Guardian Australia 10/10/17]
Tony Abbott's climate change speech in London reveals his true self  [ABC News 11/10/7]
Tony Abbott on climate change: How to provoke instant outrage to keep yourself relevant [ABC News 11/10/17]
Tony Abbott's 'loopy' climate change speech privately funded [Sydney Morning Herald 10/10/17]
Tony Abbott speech: Allies go to ground and Labor lashes 'loopy' ex-PM over climate change views [Sydney Morning Herald 10/10/17]
Tony Abbott calls for climate pushback as CET goes cold [The Australian 10/10/17]
'Absolute crap': Former Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott slams the 'science of climate change' and claims global warming is good because fewer people die in warm weather [The Daily Mail Australia 14/10/17]
Bishop slaps down Abbott's climate speech [The Australian 12/10/17]
Tony Abbott draws a line in the energy sand [The Herald Sun 11/10/17]
Behind these headlines came the predictable stories reflecting the various and overwhelmingly Abbott-critical biases. Most Australians with any interest in the subject would be aware of the story and the respective treatment afforded it by the Australian media. It is therefore sometimes instructive to read ‘outside the square’ so to speak. In this instance I choose to quote the Russian online news service, RT, which treated the entire story thus:
‘Thought-police scientists shutting down factual climate change debate’ – Ex-Aussie PM
"Former Australian Prime Minister, and climate change skeptic, Tony Abbott, has argued that a global temperature rise might actually be a good thing because in most countries “far more people die in cold snaps than in heatwaves.”
"Abbott made his remarks during a speech to the Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF) in London on Tuesday.
"The foundation, established in 2009 by climate change denier and House of Lords member Nigel Lawson, is “an all-party and non-party think tank and a registered educational charity which, while open-minded on the contested science of global warming, is deeply concerned about the costs and other implications of many of the policies currently being advocated.”
"In his speech,– ‘Daring To Doubt’ – Abbott opened by thanking the GWPF for giving him the same platform as fellow Australians, former PM John Howard and George Pell, the disgraced Catholic cardinal who was recently charged with a slew of historic sex offenses.
"Abbott, who has previously claimed that climate science is “absolute crap”, also likened climate scientists to the “thought-police” – a reference to the overarching authoritarian foot soldiers in George Orwell’s dystopian novel ‘1984.’
“Beware the pronouncement, ‘the science is settled’,” Abbott said. “It’s the spirit of the Inquisition, the thought-police down the ages. Almost as bad is the claim that ‘99 percent of scientists believe’ as if scientific truth is determined by votes rather than facts,” he added.
"He then went on to say that Australia’s modern extreme weather events are no more harmful than they were in the 1800s.
“Contrary to the breathless assertions that climate change is behind every weather event, in Australia, the floods are not bigger, the bushfires are not worse, the droughts are not deeper or longer, and the cyclones are not more severe than they were in the 1800s,” he said.
"Adding that “Sometimes, they do more damage but that’s because there’s more to destroy, not because their intensity has increased,” and that even if climate change was happening it might not be so bad.
“In most countries, far more people die in cold snaps than in heat waves, so a gradual lift in global temperatures, especially if it’s accompanied by more prosperity and more capacity to adapt to change, might even be beneficial.”
"Abbott's speech comes as current PM Malcolm Turnbull is facing an uphill battle to introduce a clean energy target. On Tuesday, Australian media reported that Turnbull was likely to cave to pressure from his backbenchers, and reject a recommendation from the country's chief scientists to introduce reform.
This story is relatively short for RT and reflects Australia’s actual importance in international affairs. The narrative retains a strictly reporting style – and herein my point. To agree or not agree with Abbott is not the point. The story ipso facto – by its very self, is the point. One can read the story and then make up one’s mind about the matter. The misunderstanding of the question of ‘the story ipso facto’ is a major failing in Australian news reporting. Newbie-reporters tend to opinionate or, at the other extreme, just recount the ‘facts’ vacuously and uncritically.
My second point is the current media preoccupation with someone called Harvey Weinstein. Evidently he is an American celebrity that has misbehaved. So? Really? What in the name of the good Felix has this got to do with Australian news? That the national broadcaster should devote valuable minutes of news space on its national bulletins on this seemingly unpleasant character speaks volumes for the quality of the Australian media.
I would suggest that most Australians had never heard of Harvey Weinstein until the media turned its lightweight attention on him. And frankly I would hazard a guess that most Australian’s couldn’t give a toss about his activities. This story serves however as an example of real ‘Fake’ news which will last as long as the media’s attention deficit becomes distracted by the next ‘news-breaking’ nonsense.
My third example refers to a matter being aired tonight on the ABC’s over-tired and now fatuous flagship television current affairs programme ‘Four Corners’ namely an interview with Hillary Clinton.
This individual ceased being real news last November. That however hasn’t stopped the ABC from advertising the show most of last week over their network with carefully selected excerpts from the interview. As I sat writing this this morning I was treated to an overly long treatment of the forthcoming interview on the 0700hrs ABC news bulletin. This is not news. It is opinion. It is opinion offered by someone who is old news, with a very deep political grudge who is being paid handsomely to air same.
Let me move onto a lighter example of media failings.
One of the only two Australian papers I regularly read is the venerable North Queensland Register, supposedly Australia’s oldest rural weekly. From it I glean all the important information I need in life – rural politics; farm gate prices for produce, livestock and milk; agri-business trends; the cotton harvest; the country show circuit and drought and rain patterns! As much a delight as it is, the Register is also a classic and weekly example of a newspaper uncritically running government press releases as ‘stories’. Every week I scribble angrily on such lame excuses for journalism. Indeed, last year I went so far as to write a stiff letter to the editor on the matter which, to their credit, they duly published! Wonderfully undiscerning folk!
But returning to the serious business, a nose for a good story – I stress story rather than scandal, muck-raking or sensation – is the visceral cord of journalism. Too many reporters have no idea of how to follow up on potential stories, as in my aforementioned example, running press releases in toto and uncritically does not cut the mustard! The idea of questioning, confirming, obtaining and detailing other perspectives are all the essentials not just for a good story but, more importantly, a complete story. The complete story is what readers and the audience deserve but, certainly in Australia, rarely get. I have recently observed in a book currently in the throes of publication:
"These problems are compounded by a professionally denuded media. Recent decades have been witness to a miserable creature called ‘a degree in journalism’. Instead of earning their journalist credentials through working the hard yards on the job under the eye of flint-witted experienced editors, putative journalists now attend a third rate university offering a Bachelor Degree in Journalism. The products of this intellectual vacuum enter the trade illiterate, uneducated, filled with pre-digested political opinions and a millenarian spirit to save the world. The failure of this cohort to fulfil their obligations as the modern ‘Fourth Estate’ in keeping politics accountable cannot be over-stated."
There is a distinct difference between journalism and reporting. This difference is subject to long and lengthy debate with which I shall not weary your humours. Suffice to say, despite some naysayers, there is room for old fashioned plain reporting in today’s media mix. I would go so far as to say that there is not nearly enough reporting, let alone quality reporting. With reference to my observations above, too many dullards in the media consider themselves to be ‘journalists’ and qualified to air their undergraduate vacuity irrespective of the facts of the matter.
Respected journalists, columnists and opinion writers don’t just emerge from the printers slime fully formed and girded ready to set the world on fire. These are the venerable and experienced elder statesmen of the profession. These were the once embryonic reporters who did the hard yards and had the tackle to do the job. Sadly there are fewer of them. Today’s norm is pimply clichéd vacuity and political correctness.
How does this serve the news consuming public? Not well at all.
Exposure to real news in the popular audio, visual and print media is negligible. Imagine the mind-numbing horror of watching a solid week of Channels 7, 9 and 10 news and comment! At the other end of the scale, the supposedly highbrow media is just simply too self-indulgent and biased: the fully taxpayer funded national broadcaster, the ABC, has squandered its proud heritage and is little more than a sheltered workshop for total progs. The partly taxpayer funded Special Broadcasting Service news and current affairs is an unrepentant propagandist for societal dysgenics and the national newspaper, The Australian, lurches politically somewhere right of centre.
Given the overly rich diet of post-modern celebrity driven bread and circuses in the popular press and the constant, shrill and mainly politically correct hectoring from the high-brow media, I would not be surprised if we ranked amongst the most parochial, self-indulgent, smug and possibly plain stupid people on earth: gorging ourselves on our abject ignorance of politics, culture and foreign affairs.
Personally I abhor the horror that has become the Australian media. Aside from the news bulletins that interrupt my classic music station I actively avoid ABC news and current affairs; I watch on rare occasions SBS news for its international content and I watch the half-hour time-slot on Channel 7 for my local news. I subscribe on-line to The Australian and The Spectator Australia; I subscribe to Quadrant and, of course, where would I be without my Register.
It is fair to say that my aforementioned media choices reflect my interest in Australian news. I am essentially an internationalist. I am interested in world affairs and, of course, Australia’s place in that context. I do not suffer however from Australian Foreign Minister Syndrome which postulates that Australia is so busy punching above its weight it has displaced Atlas as the world’s anchor man. I recognise and happily accept the reality of my country’s more humble international standing – in its rightful geopolitical region of Australasia.
My immediate media choices to which I refer several times a day are RT, Reuters and the BBC. These in themselves give me an adequate and balanced coverage of world affairs – including Australia. I supplement and leaven these with daily on-line news reports from numerous other international news sources. Taken together, these provide a sufficiently detailed review of what the world is doing. Exposure to same has readily disavowed me of Australia’s pretensions on the international stage. It has also wrought in me great alarm that our political classes and their media vassals twiddle with vacuous matters such as changing the Marriage Act, dual citizenship politicians and political point scoring on energy security whilst the big wide world sweeps us by.
One of the twentieth century’s great statesmen, Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew, once famously observed that Australia was destined to become the white trash of Asia. I used to think he overstated his case. Now I am not so sure. I would however correct him only on one point –it will certainly be more of a case of being the ‘dumb bastard’ trash of Asia.
 [Updated Wed at 10:04amWed 11 Oct 2017, 10:04am [http://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-10-10/real-tony-abbott-emerges-in-london-climate-change-speech/9034684]
 [The Daily Mail Australia [http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-4964372/Tony-Abbott-says-climate-change-good-planet-London.html
[Australian Associated Press 8:27PM October 12, 2017 http://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/latest-news/stand-up-to-abbott-hewson-tells-pm/news-story/8bd574b9e6a0962bbdf0d668a141ed1a]
‘Thought-police scientists shutting down factual climate change debate’ – Ex-Aussie PM. Published time: 10 Oct, 2017 14:31 Edited time: 11 Oct, 2017 07:45 https://www.rt.com/news/406254-tony-abbot-climate-change/