Without fear or favour

I don’t really want to comment on things like this, but sometimes I just can’t bite my tongue.

Yesterday, there were two government press conferences. One was for about 15 minutes, the other for ninety. One is occasional, the other is daily, as it has been for months. In one, the government refuses to answer questions they don’t like and turn on the reporter; in the other, every question is answered, and the press conference doesn’t end until the items have finished. One was a federal press conference, Morrison accompanied by Dutton, and the other was the Victorian government, with Dan Andrews responding.

Yesterday afternoon, there was a storm across social media as punters turned on the reporters asking questions at the Victorian press conference. They were accused of being rude and disrespectful, of interrupting the premier’s response, of banging on about the same questions again and again, seeking the gotcha moment. Some abuse was personal, and doubtless, much of it was informed by partisan beliefs – but not all.

In response to this tirade of criticism, journos rose up to rebut the fairness of the opprobrium, and decry the instances of personal abuse. They pointed out that it’s their job to ask tough questions and to hold the government to account.

In principle, I couldn’t agree more. I don’t think there’s any place for personal abuse, whether you’re a journo or not. And certainly, it was welcome news to hear that they knew that their job was to keep the bastards honest. In reality, I felt disdainful and maybe a little bit disgusted. It seemed terribly precious as well as being tone-deaf. And not a little hypocritical.

This isn’t a golden age of journalism. It seems odd to write that in the week that Jonathan Swan has been lauded worldwide in his takedown of Trump in a personal interview. It was undoubtedly a masterclass, but perhaps it rings louder because that sort of performance is such an outlier these days? There are good journalists these days, but many fewer than there were even twenty years ago and, for the most part, the style is much different.

I doubt it’s escaped many how ironic it is journalists complaining about personal abuse when so many – and so many particularly the Murdoch media – takedown members of the public so routinely, and without compunction. Smears and innuendo are part and parcel of so much of modern journalism. I think this plays into the mentality of the time – quick grabs, controversial takes, tabloid headlines, clickbait and a general preference for the shallow over the deep.

For someone who’s been around long enough to know that it used to be different, it’s very sad. But many of these journalists parlay that as their business – to turn around and complain when it’s turned back on them verges on the absurd.

There is a deeper issue here, which so many of the critics yesterday attempted to make.

In Melbourne, you have a leader that answers every question posed to him respectfully, and who is subjected to journalistic bad manners and media intrigues and who is routinely criticised.

In Canberra, you have a PM who is selective in when he holds a press conference, and who has a history of being rude and obstructive and refusing to engage with the question or the reporter – and he gets away with it!

Andrews answered hard questions yesterday and took responsibility. Compare it to Morrison at the time of the bushfires when he was questioned, responding with the excuse “I don’t hold a hose, mate”. Witness how often he refuses outright to answer a question with an “I reject the premise of the question.” End of story – and he gets away with that as well. Yesterday he refused to answer questions from one journo, while Dutton turned on a journo asking a question he didn’t like.

This is the problem. We can all see how these leaders are held to a different standard of response. Andrews might be better served if he adopted the same tactics as the PM. The PM bullies the press gallery, and they’re too cowed to speak out. Andrews is reasonable, and so they show their claws. It’s pathetic.

There’s no argument in journo’s asking tough questions – but don’t pick and choose when you do it, and to who. Don’t wave that as your excuse when so often you fail to live up to that standard. Wake up! We see it!

The underlying issue here is media bias. Almost every media outlet these days is to the right of centre, even The Age. It’s particularly political when it comes to the News Corp newspapers – the Herald Sun here in Melbourne, and The Australian nationally, as well as the various regional issues. News value is weak, it’s all about creating clicks, controversy, and relentlessly driving an anti-Labor agenda. What that means is that they’ll amplify issues on the left and suppress the same problems on the right – so they go hammer and tongs against someone like Andrews, and play nice with Morrison.

In service of this, the government will brief their mates in the media against the Labor parties – such as yesterday, for example, when a false story was fed to The Australian about projected infections in Victoria. It’s rubbish, but it has the desired effect.

This is what we’re dealing with in Australia – and in the UK too, and to a degree in the US also. It’s insidious and undermines democracy. Abusing journalists is small time in comparison to this, and might actually be a wake-up call.

More need to wake-up.

NB. It’s telling also that journalists rose one and all yesterday in outrage against their accusers, but failed to fire a shot when one of their own – Emma Albericie – was treated so deplorably during the week by the ABC and The Australian. But, that’s right, she’s accused of being a lefty.

 

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