Among the long list of shortcomings that 'The Failed Estate'; has documented:
- Fake 'balance' that involves reporting polarised opinion and overlooking complexity and nuance
- He said-she said journalism or the bland and unreflective reporting of opposing positions
- A lack of context in reporting and the institutionalised mistaking of noise for signal
- A lack of respect for the truth, particularly in ratings-chasing talkback radio
- The manufacturing of outrage, again in talkback radio and commercial current affairs television
- The pursuit of trivia and entertainment 'news' at the expense of serious reporting
- An increasing focus on speed at the expense of perspective
- An ever growing emphasis on the fight itself rather than on the underlying issues
- The perversion of news judgement by the need to generate online hits
- Endemic parochialism in which reporters fail to frame global issues in a global context
- The growth of opinion and 'attitude' journalism at the expense of old fashioning digging
We often hear about what journalism should NOT be, but we don't often ask ourselves what it SHOULD be. There are plenty of versions of an ideal manifesto for the trade out on the web, but few have summed it up better for me than a list that emerged from a US research project by the Pew Research Center for Excellence in Journalism. The Principles of Journalism sets out nine core principles for working journalists - starting with the idea that a journalist's first obligations are always to the truth and to citizens - not to editors or shareholders to advertisers or other journalists at the pub. Other key principles include the discipline of verification and the independent monitoring of power.
With that in mind, I'd urge all followers of this blog to listen to a recent documentary on Radio National's Background Briefing on the ABC. The reporter, Stan Correy, puts the current controversy over a carbon tax in the context of last year's row over the resources profits tax and the wider efforts around the world to extract for the citizens of mineral-rich nations a fairer share of the natural resources they own.
What's particularly welcome about Coorey's report is that he highlights the role of the media in reporting the RSPT, more specifically its failure to communicate to readers and viewers what the tax was about. An interview with AFR political editor Laura Tingle, one of Australia's best journalists, is particularly illuminating. Tingle tells how reporting of the RSPT became a classic case of he said-she said, with the focus quickly turning to the political fight itself rather than the issues when the media clearly decided these were too complex to bore people with. No-one was representing the public interest.
The result of all this, of course, is that the nation has diddled itself out of $60 billion in revenue by allowing itself to be bullied by multi-national miners who threatened capital strikes and spooked a government into ultimately dumping a prime minister.
It is a compelling story of great public interest and it is impossible to imagine this being told by News Ltd (an organisation that seeks to represent the interests of tax minimising multi-nationals as that of the Australian public) or Fairfax Media (a permanently cash-strapped enterprise focused on cafe journalism for real estate obsessed inner city yuppies). Only the ABC, in our current media climate, could tell this story. And plaudits to them for doing so in the way they have.
You can listen to 'Taxing Mines' by Stan Correy on Radio National's Background Briefing here.