Issue Seven teaser: Ben Eltham ‘Clouds of Rhetoric — Climate Change and the State of Australian Journalism’
We are very excited to be able to give you a sneak peek at the contents of Kill Your Darlings Issue Seven, beginning with an extract from Ben Eltham’s essay on the carbon-tax debate, News Limited and the future of quality Australian journalism. We’ll be releasing teasers until the October 3 launch of Issue Seven so stay tuned.
Midway through 2010, exhausted by the pressures of government and family life, federal finance minister Lindsay Tanner quit politics. He settled down to write a book, Sideshow, on what he saw as the biggest problem facing Australia’s political system – the media.
Sideshow is a thoughtful meditation on what Tanner perceives as the dumbing-down of Australia’s public conversation. Locked in an unhealthy embrace with a media industry, politicians have found themselves more and more beholden to the sound bite, the quick slogan and the cheap gag.
In an age of ubiquitous social networking and the most diverse array of media outlets in history, can we really blame the media for the quality of our political discussion? Tanner argues that we can, since the media remains the way most Australians encounter politics. But the media is increasingly failing us, and as a result the health of our democracy is deteriorating.
Most of us would like to believe that one of the roles and responsibilities of a free media in a diverse and multicultural democracy like Australia is to interrogate the issues of the day. To help ordinary people better understand a complex world, and to facilitate their discussions about the state of their society, and the future courses of action their elected governments should undertake.
This, roughly, is the notion that animates the German philosopher Jürgen Habermas’s famous idea of the ‘public sphere’ (first advanced in his 1962 opus The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere). Habermas is perhaps the best exponent of the idea often espoused more vulgarly by working journalists of ‘speaking truth to power’ and ‘holding governments to account’.
Sadly, most media outlets pay little attention to such noble intentions. As Margaret Simons painstakingly establishes in her magisterial ethnography of the Australian news media, The Content Makers (2007), the commercial imperatives and tribal organisational cultures of Australia’s big media companies are far more relevant to the daily making and shaping of what comes to be called the ‘news’ than the sorts of things that are taught in university journalism courses.
And there is no more tribal culture in Australian journalism than that of News Limited. The newspaper company owned by Rupert Murdoch dominates the Australian daily-newspaper market, representing about 70 per cent and occupying an absolute monopoly in two of Australia’s five largest cities. That readership easily translates into political power for editors prepared to campaign vigorously on public issues with little concern for notions of balance or journalistic integrity.
– Ben Eltham is New Matilda’s National Affairs Correspondent and a Fellow of the Centre for Policy Development.