The Road To Old Media Oblivion Is Paved With Insular Intent


Mike Fewster responds to comments that were posted after his last New Matilda article on why Murdoch and the ABC need each other, and we need them both.

So help me, I’m no lover of Murdoch. Once I wrote a case arguing that Rupert Murdoch could get a “Most Evil Man in History” award.

What I was trying to say in the last NM article was that the way political conflict is waged has changed utterly, post 2016. We can ignore this and go to the grave consoling ourselves that we have fought the good fight in ideological purity, but go to the grave we will.

Do you believe in democracy? Do you really believe that the left has the superior philosophy and moral position? If you answer “yes” to both of these then you are accepting that on a level playing field of public opinion (and we know it is never level) the logic of the left’s argument will eventually win.

What we are talking about here however isn’t the arguments, it’s the playing field. 2016 has shown that the playing field hasn’t just tilted, we are now in a completely different ball park and ball game.

The result is as much a disaster for traditional media, as it is for the political left, as it is for the community at large. Almost everyone misread the USA signs and electorate because opinions weren’t being formed in the traditional public media arena. Communications had changed and most of us weren’t looking.

If the new technology means that citizens are retreating into their own private cocoons, and within those cocoons truth is whatever you want it to be, democracy is dead. Democracy cannot operate without the exchange and evaluation of ideas. There has to be a common space where the views are on show to all. If the left only speaks to the left, where are we and where are we going? Going around in ever decreasing circles and eventually up the proverbial, I guess.

Rupert Murdoch
Media magnate, Rupert Murdoch.

The new technology understands this. It is what Steve Bannon is talking about when he dismisses both left argument and traditional media (including Murdoch) as just talking to ourselves. Meanwhile, the internet technology has been capturing the exact demographic that we on the left smugly assume is its raison d’etre.

Almost as concerning is the news breaking as I write this. Claims that Russia played a major role on the internet networks that decided this election now look more convincing than the inevitable conspiracy theory that follows election.

Russian motivation? Business deals with Trump? Desire to see the USA withdraw further from international trade in line with Trump policies and consequently opening opportunities for Russia? Who knows but it again indicates that the opinion making power of the internet is rushing us into new and very dangerous territory.

Everywhere, countries, parties, pundits are scrambling to get their heads around the implications. Elections and the political scene will very soon be very different.

Commercial media, including Murdoch, has much the same problem as the parties. They have all been bypassed.

From this point I am in “maybe” territory. I’m floating suggestions about how we might work in the new technology reality and I have absolutely no certainty about this at all. However, just saying that Murdoch and traditional media are the mortal enemy doesn’t cut it. By all means disagree with me, but suggest how we are now to proceed if we want to win.

What I am blasphemously suggesting is that traditional media, the political parties, the politically concerned and the democratic process itself, have a similar interest here.

Traditional media was the arena where policies and personalities clashed and the swinging voter swung. If political debate as we have known it, is going to disappear if real news is to be indistinguishable from the total untruths that swamped the social media in the 2016 USA campaign, then maybe there is a common interest of the public, the parties, interest groups, individuals and the media, in raising the profile of traditional media.

Q&A suggests a direction. It hosts media and politicians and individuals from across the spectrum of interests and political shades. Within time constraints it enables something like genuine debate. If commercial media wants to remain relevant, it would be in their interests to open themselves up to similar interaction with a broader opinion base than their usual. I’d like to see Bolt for example in the dock of public debate rather more often.

Media studies must become a significant subject in schools.

(IMAGE: RubyGoes, Flickr)
(IMAGE: RubyGoes, Flickr)

More understanding is needed of journalistic ethics. Let’s challenge the commercials to do regular Media Watches of their own. It’s kind of hard to waive journalistic ethics and practices if you are regularly discussing them openly. Can we get agreement from media to give rights of reply to other media and others called out in such programs?

“Get Up” is brilliant use of the internet by the left. It’s effective on mobilizing around single issues, but it isn’t a platform for argument, at least, not yet.

Why should the Murdoch’s of the world agree on this? If there is one thing that Murdoch et al understand about media it is the need for circulation or “hits”. Those figures determine their revenue. Today’s “news” includes a lot more opinion and the opinion is designed to provoke. Every response counts. It really doesn’t matter if the reaction is for or against. Getting the reaction is what counts. Fairfax has learnt from Murdoch and is increasingly using the same technique.

Traditional media is in diabolical trouble. You would think that they might have a common interest in re-establishing themselves as the platform for discussion. Opening themselves up to more responses and rights of reply from individuals and organisations, having media groups/journalists/columnists at each other’s throats over their particular editorial positions and news treatments will help media as we have known it hold the high ground as the arena for political debate. It should boost sales.

I don’t fear the right making their case. I’m confident that the left’s arguments are better and that the left will therefore win, providing the ball park is open and seen as relevant by the public. I accept that the right feels that their philosophies are superior.

What we have most to fear is the replacement of public debate by closed, targeted discussion networks that feed on the prejudices of that group.

And that’s where the new technology is fast taking us.

As for my last piece on New Matilda, perhaps using “Murdoch” in the title was too much of a red rag to the red bulls? Dr. Johan Lindberg’s New Matilda article of November 22 “Journalism is a tough Gig in The Era of Post-Truth and Fake News” is grappling with the same issue.

Readers trying to get their heads around what is going on from a technical point of view (and I don’t think anyone, certainly not me, is fully across this ) might try here.

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