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Telling it how it is
Is what journalism should do. Britannica says it is “the collection, preparation, and distribution of news and related commentary and feature materials through such print and electronic media as newspapers, magazines, books, blogs, webcasts, podcasts, social networking and social media sites, and email as well as through radio, motion pictures, and television”. We are just past the half-way point in one of the most hotly-contested national election campaigns in my memory. There are four elements in this campaign; the contenders for office, journalists and commentators, events and us, the decision-makers and voters, although we are the audience in the campaign, not the actors. We get a walk-on part as the curtain is about to fall.
In the ongoing drama, we are, for the most part, an audience, often unwilling, uncommitted, but willy-nilly, exposed to the campaign and the utterances of those who seek our votes, largely mediated through the work of journalists. Not only mediated: journalists have inserted themselves into the campaign: they are no longer neutral, objective reporters of what is being said and done, but have taken it upon themselves to be the inquisitors, rather than mere witnesses to the democratic process. They have no licence to do this, to be the over-righteous, loud, rude and often ignorant participants in the daily debates which are the stuff of contemporary democracy.
In this, they do themselves, and us a great disservice. When a journalist bellows a question at one of the major actors in the debate, demanding that he recite the six points of Labor’s NDIS platform, and when he stumbles in his reply, his Channel Nine colleague crowed that this was “journalism at its best”. Well, no, it wasn’t. It was a ‘look at me!’ moment for the journalist, who was less interested in an intelligent, well thought out response, than in scoring a point, making a ‘gotcha’ moment. Albanese doesn’t do glib. He isn’t capable of the smirking sound-bite, characteristic of his principal opponent in the contest. I think too, that he is more of a gentleman, and this doesn’t serve him well in the shouting matches that some journalists confuse with intelligent debate.
Journalism in this country is not oppressed or suppressed. This country is not yet an autocracy like Hong Kong, Russia, China, the Phillipines. Journalists are free to say and do largely what they like, with free access to news and its makers. In a great many other countries, they are imprisoned, and stood over, closely monitored by the police, and punished if they fail to toe the official line. Here it is the journalists who have become the bullies, the stand-over merchants. And sadly, it isn’t just those who work for what used to be called the yellow press, the tabloid journalists. The infection has made its way into our precious ABC. On the same day that Albanese was being pilloried by Channel Nine, the ABC’s star journalist, the over-weening David Speers, pursued Albanese on Q+A, Auntie’s faltering current affairs flagship, to his eternal shame, worrying at Albanese over the same NDIS bone. An ABC veteran ventured that its journalists were ‘covering their arses’ in case the Liberals won the election and proceeded to enact vengeance on journalists perceived as unfavourable to their cause. There’s just enough weight in this comment.
Journalists have a union, the Media, Entertainment and the Arts Alliance, (MEAA). Early in May on UNESCO World Press Freedom Day, it released a report, Truth versus Disinformation – The Challenge for Public Interest Journalism: The MEAA Report into the State of Press Freedom in Australia in 2022. It showed a dramatic shift in the profession’s standing, with 86% of journalists surveyed considering that public trust in journalism had worsened over the past 10 years. David Hardaker, a journalist working for Crikey thought that a factor in the current state of journalism was that “[the Liberal] government has gone a long way down the road of destroying pillars of democracy. The rate of
destruction of accountability and judicial bodies and the government’s hostility to transparency and truth are actually undermining Australian democracy. That this destruction is being led by the prime minister should weigh heavily on what journalists do”.
He went on to suggest that his fellow-journalists should use their platform “to represent the public interest rather than to gather 10-second promo material for their network or tweetable content to build your miserable social media profile. Here’s an example of some genuine public interest areas you could pursue: growth of poverty and homelessness; housing inequality; use of public money for party political purposes. Third, come to terms with the fact that if there is a fall in trust in journalism – and with it an alienation from politics and a loss of interest in maintaining democracy – then that is happening on your watch and is directly your concern. If a journalist is asking stupid questions, stand up and call them out. Fourth, do the hard work of journalism – find facts and prosecute a case. Don’t imagine that gotcha questions are ‘Journalism At Its Best’. You are further alienating public trust and helping charlatans with the gift of the gab into positions of power”. Amen to that.
Next week: the MEAA Journalist Code of Ethics.
John Fleming II

Electioneering: the not so gentle art of persuasion
The day of the Legislative Council by-election in Huon and other parts was a soggy one. When I sloshed into the Huonville Primary School assembly room to cast my vote, there were attempts at humour to lighten the mood. Of course, we had to remark that it was a nice day for ducks but not for voters, that sort of small talk, but the best part of the day was the efficiency of the Tasmanian Electoral Commission (TEC) attendants, who were masked, and the friendliness of the voters, who were mostly unmasked. Gosh, it’s nice to be able to see a full-frontal, unmasked, open, friendly smile again. Haven’t we all missed it? Duty done, vote cast, we now must wait for anything up to a month for the results. The candidates will be biting their fingernails down to the quick.
I rang an elderly person I know to offer her a lift to the polling booth, but she had done her bit already, due to another person who offered her a lift. Aren’t people nice? A friend contacted me that day to remind me that it was the day to vote. “I do wonder how many in the electorate realise that voting today is compulsory. Unfortunately, the federal election clash meant (the party of my choice) didn’t have much money for posters, and I see that the right-wingers’ ads dominate,” said my feisty friend. We both would like to see a government composed of politicians who not only have policies but have the will and determination to carry them out.
Ads galore
I don’t believe that “the devil we know is better than the devil we don’t know”. We should vote, we are fortunate to be able to vote and to make our own choice. We should not squander our vote. Sadly, an old expression comes to mind: “You might as well be shot for a sheep as for a lamb.” Is one choice better than another? Let’s hope so.
According to the exorbitant amount of money that the United Australia Party has been throwing at advertising, everything is wrong with “them”. The ads lump both major parties under the one umbrella: “they” have never done anything right; nothing any of “them” do is ever any good; “they” will never do anything right and are not worth a pinch of salt. I wonder how easy is it to pin down a wide-ranging group of candidates who don’t necessarily have anything in common, except opposition to “them”? It’s a bit like herding cats.
Hard-bitten media types like myself might say that the extent of the barrage of these ads is part of a ploy to lull us all into a stupor, whereby we don’t know what to believe. Grind us down to the dust so we don’t think. At least with pork-barrelling, public statements, when made, are traceable. If, in the fullness of time, these promises are not honoured, then we can at least hold the parties and politicians to account. Most of the media coverage we have seen is from people who slag off the opposing candidate, don’t finish sentences, while filling up our and their precious time without saying anything. I am sick of hearing filler words, garbled statements, cliches and hollow promises.
Don’t be a donkey. The best way to use your vote is to closely examine the statements and policies of your local candidate. It may seem obvious, but make sure that the person on the ticket is in your electorate. Unbelievably, at least one party has been fielding non-candidates who don’t even live in the electorate they are standing for.
Merlene Abbott

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