After a year of controversial Australia journalism, with the ongoing Julian Assange / Wikileaks saga, Four Corners’ live cattle trade expose and most recently the Andrew Bolt defamation case, the cream has been officially separated from the crock at this year’s Walkley Awards.
Winners at Australian journalisms night of nights were described as having ‘warmth, intelligence and a genuine spirit of inquiry’, ‘courage and initiative’ and ‘real craftsmanship,’ and of their pieces, ‘movingly written, creative and original, [striking] an emotional chord’ and ‘[o]ne of the best stories of the year, with huge political ramifications.’ This is the cream of Australian journalism.
Sadly, the most popular, powerful and widely read Australian journalists are not described in such endearing terms.
Last month 2GB loudmouth Alan Jones was found guilty of broadcasting ‘factually inaccurate’ and ‘unbalanced’ claims against the NSW Department of Environment and Climate Change (DECC). There are six similar claims awaiting adjudication. The Jones ruling comes after Melbourne’s own Andrew Bolt was found guilty of being ‘grossly incorrect’ and producing ‘significant distortion of the facts’ in the Aboriginal defamation case. This is the crock of Australian journalism. It was therefore no surprise to see these two names absent from the winners list at the Walkley’s.
This does raise some questions though. Why, if the quality of journalism Bolt, Jones and others like them is of such low quality, so low as to not even be nominated for a Walkley, are they the most read, popular and powerful media mouths in the country? What effect does having such low quality, widely read journalism have on the hearts and minds of Australians? What effect does it have on the accurate reporting and representation of issues and groups? Finally, does Australia not deserve a better quality of mainstream journalism?
To look through the list of Australia’s most powerful ‘media megaphones’ (Source: The Power Index), is to find some of the most self styled defenders of morality and crusaders of free speech in the country. Many of them dress themselves as such, however what they really peddle though is bullying and misrepresentation, mostly of minority groups. By continually painting themselves as defenders of the Australian way of life and as leaders of a shrinking majority Albrechtsen, Devine, Hadley, Jones and Bolt easily manipulate their followers to their viewpoints.
Supporters of Bolt will no doubt play the free speech card. He has, to some extent, successfully martyred himself in the wake of the defamation ruling. However, free speech was never the issue in the court case. If Bolt wants to be racist and dress up his racism as journalism, well, he is entitled to his views, no matter how disagreeable they may be, all the court was saying is that he had better get his facts right, which in that case he did not.
The most common pastime of these journalists is the misrepresentation of Islam and Muslims, feeding the fire of Islamophobia in Australia. Common tactics include presenting extreme views as the norm, continuous talk of Koranic law or Sharia law being introduced to Australia, the ‘inherent evil and violent nature’ of Islam and a general tone that Australians should be fearful of Muslims. Alan Jones was so successful at this he started a riot in 2005.
Another favourite victim is asylum seekers. If we listen to and read Jones, Bolt et al we would be led to believe Australia is being invaded by hordes of boat people who have come to leech off us and destroy our way of life. Language is essential to the warped reporting on asylum seekers, terms such as ‘illegal’ and ‘queue jumpers’ are not only inaccurate and incorrect, but move asylum seekers from victims to perpetrators. There is also a common simplification of presentation, for example reporting riots in detention centres without also reporting about the shocking mental health problems and delays in processing which often lead to the riots.
Currently, gays and lesbians are feeling the heat as they push for marriage equality. The Telegraph’s Miranda Devine, somehow links lesbian marriages with riots in London, while Albrechtsen does not seem to know why she is against same sex marriage but just is and Bolt verges on the ridiculous with his slippery slope suggestion that same sex marriages will open the door for polygamous, sibling and other incestuous marriages.
With such proliferation of mistruths, falsehoods and exaggeration in this lowest common denominator journalism it is no surprise that Australian are hostile towards Muslims, have a gross misunderstanding of asylum seeker issues and are not overly enthusiastic about gay marriage. Not to mention Aborigines, climate change, welfare recipients or the Greens. Now, if the work of the most widely read journalists in the country were described as the Walkley winners were, perhaps we could feel ok about our national views. At least feel properly informed. But when our most powerful and influential journalists are ‘factually inaccurate’, ‘unbalanced’, ‘grossly incorrect’ and fabricate stories it is worth seeking an alternative, accurate and factual viewpoint on important issues.