Murdoch And The ABC Need Each Other, And We Need Both More Than Ever

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With the rise of fake news, the pull and push of traditional media is more important than ever, writes Mike Fewster.

I am in shock finding that I am writing this, but the world is spinning very fast at the moment.

A few weeks ago, I argued that Murdoch’s approach to reporting news had created Trump. That still rings true, but what Murdoch unleashed has now accelerated out of Murdoch’s control and into the new wild blue yonder

In discussing Murdoch, I noted that if there was a defence for his tabloids it was that in the era of the internet, he was finding ways to keep his news outlets viable by boosting circulation with provocations and “hits.”

Five years ago maybe. Now Murdoch has been out Murdoched by Trump’s chief strategist Steve Bannon and those like him. Traditional media, left and right, are being bypassed by social media and the exploitation of social media for political purposes has reached an extent that is staggering.

Former Breitbart editor now senior Trump adviser, Steve Bannon.
Former Breitbart editor now senior Trump adviser, Steve Bannon.

Well, it is staggering to me. Younger New Matilda readers may very well have been much more aware of this: my son has been guiding me into the technicalities. Just how far faked news stories and clickbaiting have replaced the old forums for political discussion is sobering.

We need Murdoch and Fairfax and the like. Whatever we may think of Murdoch, his media still works within news gathering services such as Associated Press, Australia Associated Press and Reuters. Murdoch’s father began AAP. All those organizations work within journalistic codes of ethics. As does the ABC. There are check and balances on the accuracy of stories from those sources.

The publisher can put spin on the source stories but at least there is some connection to truth and some level of accountability regarding the facts. Further, traditional media has a time-honoured format that distinguishes News, Opinion and Editorial content. A media literate reader distinguishes between the kinds of content and then uses all three to inform and develop their own opinion.

The internet and the technology of Zuckerberg has turned the political process inside out. Steve Bannon saw the opportunity and exploited it to the full with Breitbart News. Breitbart and the like have no journalistic ethical constraints. They can and do say anything. This is the new world of fake news and clickbait headlines. Political spin without accountability.

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We need to give as least as much attention to the operations and implications of a new media that is technology and business driven rather than based in traditional media.

It was Bannon and Breitbart for example that invented the story that Obama wasn’t a US citizen, that he was a secret Muslim. Utter fabrication but lapped up by those nervous about a black president and Muslims. Invented news can be much more dramatic and entertaining than the boring stuff in the traditional papers. And you get it delivered for free.

It’s kind of funny to see the right falling over themselves to say that their point of view has been vindicated by the USA elections. Andrew Bolt made exactly the same call before the election as the other pundits. The most accurate forecast came from a leftie, Michael Moore.

The post election analysis, the lamenting of the left and the crowing of the right is still making exactly the same mistakes that brought the pre-election forecasts undone.

Do we believe in democracy? You don’t have democracy unless the people can make informed decisions. Traditional media had spin and bias but we all read much the same news about the same issues of the day, and then we argued.

Now we are getting virtual reality news that is fine-tuned for your personal profile. Click on whatever universe you find most entertaining or whichever universe scares you most and plug in. As we are enabled to choose our own personal realities, any sense of community is being fractured.

Rupert Murdoch
Media magnate, Rupert Murdoch.

This is a recipe for disaster. A country needs levels of social cohesion if it is going to be a country. I suggest that at this point we need to give at least as much attention to the new media as we are giving to Trump. Marshall McLuhan in the 60’s showed us that the medium is the message. We need that kind of media analysis again for the new technology.

The commercial news organizations and the ABC need to get into bed together on news and current affairs in much the same way as they have done with their free to air TV promotions, and Q&A would be a useful model.

For all the anti-ABC ranting from the right, Liberal politicians/Labor politicians and both left and right orientated journalists seem keen to take up spots on the program. Abbott and Turnbull both built their careers on Q&A. Could we have similar programs on Murdoch TV?

Could we have Media Watch equivalents on the commercials? The fur would fly but that’s fine. Real public debate like this is the lifeblood of democracy. The choose your own, virtual reality worlds of fake news, clickbait headlines and hyperbole are the opposite.

I add the final thought with a heavy heart. As a teacher in a previous life I was numbed by the cries for schools to teach new subjects to fix every current drama. This time there might be a case. Please, can we bring back Media Studies?

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There must still be enough journalists around from across the commercial and public news outlets who would agree on the content of such a course for schools. Understanding the difference between the sections of a newspaper; understanding journalistic ethics, understanding the role of advertising and circulation. Left and right ought to be able to find common ground on this course content.

Does Rupert still have enough of his father’s DNA to be concerned about the news legacy? If he doesn’t have a passion still for the nature of the profession, he must at least be thinking hard about what needs to be done to keep the business viable.

It isn’t going to be possible to legislate on media. Just as it has on copyright laws, the technology moves beyond the speed of legislation and anyway, the free speech issues would be nigh on impossible to deal with. Changing the demand through education about media should be a better way to go.

As Danny Westneatt said in the Seattle Times, November 18, “It’s sad, since we built the internet with lofty, communal-sounding goals like “data sharing” and “networking.” Tech evangelists said it would open up and democratize the world. Instead now we’ve carved it up into thousands of belief-confirming information ruts. It’s like we’ve built a machine for the narrowing of our own minds.”

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Mike Fewster

Mike Fewster is an Adelaide based writer and specialises in education issues.

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