A major theme accompanying the destruction of the mainstream media’s business model is what happens to our democracy when we lose public accountability journalism. We’re finding out.
Whether liberal or traditionally conservative, no champion of a vigorous democracy can be happy with the emaciation of the Fourth Estate to the point where it is reduced to being a passive cheerleader or booster for the well-heeled, the powerful and the connected. The civic function of journalism has been almost entirely eclipsed by the market function of commercial media.
So our dominant media company masks its role as a propagandist for plutocrats by championing itself as a voice for the ordinary man against “the elites”. It piously imports US-style rhetoric about “freedom” while sticking the boot into the most disadvantaged people in our community.
It’s a neat charade its billionaire proprietor has successfully parlayed for decades, casting himself as the humble colonial boy pitted against the hazily drawn and apocryphal culture tsars, “politically correct” fun police and snooty “liberals”.
But the party trick is starting to pale. Indeed, it should be becoming clear to even the most rusted on Tele reader that “ordinary” working people are the victims here. Class war is only ever defined as such when fought from below. When waged from above, it is merely “reform”. And the windmill tilting against the “elites” is just the cover for getting people to vote against their own interests.
It’s not just a failure of media. It’s a failure of our institutions generally. The Sydney Morning Herald’s economics Ross Gittins gave rare voice to the trend recently here, noting that reform in the public interest is now virtually impossible because of the power of well -heeled lobbies.
Carbon pricing, improving the public return from our non-renewable resources, reducing the huge social and health costs from unrestricted poker machines – attempts to deal with all these issues have been undone by deceitful scare campaigns waged by powerful interests.
What’s the media’s role here? To provide people with facts and perspective and to ask the questions the powerful don’t want answered? Or to roll over on its back and ask for its tummy to be tickled? Easier to get the punters clicking on Miley Cyrus’ latest twerk.
If you want to know where all this is heading, look at the US, where the loss of tens of thousands of journalism jobs, the concentration of media power and the takeover of party politics by Big Money have created a vacuum that has virtually disenfranchised millions of citizens.
On that score, it is worth watching this discussion between prominent US media critic Bill Moyers, communications professor Robert McChesney and journalist John Nichols about the recently released McChesney and Nichols book Dollarocracy .