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Tuesday 19 May 2015

The mass media moving the masses

I am back from a rather long trip overseas. Mostly a holiday although with the ususal travail of travel.

Away from the keyboard, disconnected from the daily mayhem of the local media, gives some perspective.

The world is a small place. No matter where we were, mainly Europe, the topics of conversation were the same. The headlines, the focus of conversation and debate on our telvisions all the same. The focus of conversation with fellow tourists and indeed local passers-by, all the same. The tone was also similar. Disdainful of this, praising of that, surprising uniformity of opinion on even complex issues, where alternative views were often glossed over or even neglected.

The topics seem to be set by circumstance; the war in Yemen, an election in the UK, an asylum boat sinking in the Mediterranean, but the focus and tone is set by the media. Be it print, radio or television, the topic of conversation becomes the same. Like the under-six football team journos seem to all follow the same topic at least over the 'news cycle'. The tone also seemed very similar, as if a single person was mouthing the opinions of the minions of journalists. As result of a collective group-think dominates our ear-waves.

In my relatively few posts I have often mentioned the media, and you may surmise I have a 'bee in my bonnet' about the media. Indeed I do.

I am concerned that our media has too much influence on our daily lives and that this influence is too uniform, often stifling debate and apparently pushing an agenda.

This does not mean I don't recognise the value of free media in any democratic society. On the contrary, the Fourth Estate is an essential component of any democratic society and I would do nothing to curtail its freedom to investigate and report on any aspect of our society.

However I believe our democratic freedoms will be at risk, when the media can influence government policies and public opinion to even change governments without the democratic control of the society it is meant to serve.

I don't believe this is the case in Australia, yet. However there is already a tendency for some in the media to limit debate and to try to funnel opinions without reasoned argument. This tendency is not limited to our media of course. Disruptive demonstrations have been part and parcel of 'normal' politics, and most disturbingly, in recent times it has even invaded our University campuses. However it is the integrity of the media that is critical. Since we rely on our free media to not only investigate and report, but also to call-out arguments not supported by the facts, to give voice to alternate views and to encourage reasoned debate.

As consumers of the media's product we must resist this tendency to corral our views. We can do so by using direct and indirect communications ( through social media) to highlight lack of balanced debate, topics which are not being discussed and to call-out open bias.

Moreover we should insist that the ABC, our public broadcaster enforces its own very well written code of practice, which requires it to maintain accuracy, diversity and impartiality.  I have strong reservations that this is currently the case, but will leave that argument for another day.

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