Quick Post: On @antloewenstein’s wishlist for journalism #auspol

English: Rupert Murdoch at the Vanity Fair par...

Over on The Guardian, Antony Loewenstein has written a wishlist for journalism in 2014.  Without gazumping it too much (it’s a good read), Loewenstein has four items on his list: reduced reliance on anonymous sources, a ban on politicians penning opinion pieces, greater investment in the ‘Snowden effect’, and increased lauding of public broadcasting.

Although the piece is interesting and fun, it’s also an example of the sort of thing that I don’t want to see in 2014.

Media companies no longer seem to know why they exist.  There’s a vagueness, an abstractness, to the way they describe themselves as being an essential part of democracy.  They are the fearless defenders of the public record, speaking truth to power.  They are the custodians of the freedom of speech, and a free press is the cornerstone of a free society.

On and on go the slogans.  They are intuitively appealing because generations of media companies have normalised them through constant repetition. We hold these ‘truths’ to be self-evident.

Journalists themselves are encouraged to react to the philosophy of the media in absolutist terms:

Journalists are sometimes called upon to defend their freedoms against those who are critical of the media and its operations.  To remain silent when a politician or a judge is proposing censorship of those freedoms is to contribute to their erosion. [Souce: Pearson, M. The Journalist’s Guide to Media Law, p. 25]

I can’t think of many professions which share this form of ‘industry jingoism’.  Even politicians shy away from such unabashed self-praise.

In 2014, I would love to see Australia’s media outlets reflect on why they exist and what they’re hoping to achieve.  Ideally, we should be able to ascertain why an outlet exists from its content, but this approach leaves us in the lurch when we look at mainstream outlets.  Is Fairfax trying to provide the all important fuddy-duddy voice to the public debate?  Turning The Australian into a slightly better resourced version of Quadrant can’t be in anybody’s interest, but controversy gets attention.  Is that what News Corp is trying to achieve: media as controversy-mongering?

There are a lot of people who want journalism to be strictly ‘fact-based’ (whatever that might mean): each morning, you should open the paper and see a list of facts.  This obscures questions about how facts are interpreted and how they’re used.  

And this gets me back to Loewenstein’s wishlist.  What sort of media industry does he want to see?  From his wishlist, it’s hard to tell.  I don’t know what the theory behind the position is: surely it’s in the interest of an informed electorate to read the opinions of our political overlords?

Here’s the media outlet that I want to see: one that sees its role as shaping the language that the public uses to discuss social, political, legal, and economic ideas.  One that challenges the public without ‘trolling’.  One that is committed to enhancing the dialectic, demonstrating that genuine disagreement is possible between morally excellent people.

That’s what I want in 2014: the big picture stuff.

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Author: Mark Fletcher

Mark Fletcher is a Canberra-based blogger and policy wonk who writes about conservatism, atheism, and popular culture. Read his blog at OnlyTheSangfroid. He tweets at @ClothedVillainy

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