August 22, 2010

Post Election Blues

The 2010 Election may go down in history as the biggest non-event in Australian politics that left an electorate at once disillusioned, incensed and depressed at the thought that either of the cardboard cutouts that were put forward as leaders will represent our country.

But rather than pointing frustrations at the politicians who by virtue of their vocation are prone to lying and to studiously not answering questions, the collective finger of disappointment and annoyance is pointing at the media. And it’s about time too because the mainstream media in this country has quite frankly lost the plot.

Just consider the ad for Channel Nine’s election night coverage, with an expert team led by… Karl and Lisa from the Today Show. Come on! If that isn’t an indication of how low the media has sunk in terms of credibility taking two morning-show hosts and positioning them as political experts, then I don’t know what is. Or was Nine’s election night coverage meant to be a joke? Given the tone of the coverage in the lead up to the election which could be likened to the same celebrity nonsense that you would expect in a story on what Lindsay Lohan’s mother had for breakfast, maybe it was a joke. But I don’t feel like laughing and nor do many other citizens if the chatter on talkback radio today is anything to go by.

I tuned into ABC radio this morning to hear three callers in a row, and respected political journalist and commentator Mungo MacCallum, say the media were the worst offenders in this pseudo-election campaign. The media turned this election into a tabloid headline worthy of nothing more than lining the Budgie cage. So-called political journalists didn’t nail either Gillard or Abbott on any of the hard questions.

What happened to the media’s traditional role in keeping the politicians honest? Of asking hard hitting questions about policy and intention, rather than the state of Julia Gillard’s relationship with her hairdresser boyfriend, or Abbott’s choice of swimwear? Are these really questions that Australians want answered about the next leader of our country, the person that is going to represent Australia on the global stage, the person that has the power to make critical decisions that will affect our future?

When both ‘leaders’ talked about stopping the boats, no one asked basic questions that might help the Australian people to make up their own minds about the need to stop the boats or not. No one asked how many people flee to Australia each year risking their lives and their families in hope of a better future? Nor did they ask either party how they proposed to stop the boats. There was little if any reportage that gave both sides of the argument. Bias was rampant and information given in sound bites. How can anyone make an educated decision when you get 30 seconds of paid political rhetoric?

On the economic questions there was equal silence from journalists on both sides of the political fence. How many journalists wrote stories and filed reports on how the Libs were going to create a bigger surplus than Labour? What were they going to cut from essential services to facilitate this surplus?  Where was the money coming from? 

Whereas the politicians stuck to their script and remembered everything they’d learned in media training, journalists clearly forgot the basics of their profession – research, ask questions, check facts, check them again and then write an unbiased report.  That may be hard to do if you work for News Corporation, who surprise, surprise supported the Libs again this time around (what concessions Mr. Murdoch may get if Abbott gets in are not made public but you can bet he isn’t touting the virtues of the Libs out of the goodness of his heart). Or for Fairfax who, said one news report, sided with Labour. The mere fact that the media acknowledge the blatant bias should send alarm bells to every thinking person in this nation. Can we trust the media?

Now we have two weeks or so to wait until we find out which Party will form government. And you can be assured the media will treat that debate with the same diligence, scrutiny and impartiality they’ve shown for the election campaign. Why don’t they save us all the trouble of tuning in to the nightly news and reading the newspaper and fast track to the question that is no doubt on the lips of our most intrepid reporters - what colour curtains will Gillard’s partner, or Abbott’s wife, choose for the Lodge?