In the concluding passage in his Quarterly Essay, ‘Bad News’, Robert Manne said something which struck me as rather odd…
‘The issue is rather the capacity of News Limited to influence the opinions of the vast majority of less engaged citizens whose political understanding is shaped directly by the popular newspapers and indirectly through the commercial radio and television programs which rely on the daily papers for the content of their programs and, more deeply, for the way they interpret the world.’ [Source: Manne, ‘Bad News’ Quarterly Essay p112]
The sentence is characteristic of the brutal use of language in Manne’s essay, but hinted at an assumption lurking unchallenged beneath Manne’s essay: ownership of a newspaper is a big deal because it gives you enormous power.
The Government announced an inquiry into Australian print media (including online media) (brief commentary by Wendy Bacon here). The Australian Greens have been the loudest voice shouting for an inquiry, resulting in the extremely ungallant performance by Bob Brown on Lateline this week.
When I read the passage in Robert Manne’s essay, I wondered: ‘We’re spending how many hundreds of thousands of dollars on this inquiry… and for what? For whom?’
I called my family today and asked them: ‘How often do you read a newspaper?’ Neither of my brothers do. My mother skims through the newspaper at work. Not living in the city, their local newspaper is utter rubbish.
There has to be some recognition that those of us who consume gallons of sugary, sugary news goodness each day aren’t typical of the average Australian. Manne’s essay reveals how indulgent we’ve become: the newspapers are important because a very small section of the community (which includes Manne and, probably, you and me) read them. This inquiry is a vanity project for the Greens: it will cost a not insignificant amount and will result in shockingly little.