“When you’re a Jet, you’re a Jet all the way. From your first cigarette, to your last dyin’ day.”

The mainstream media is deep into its ‘Me’ phase. Despite the world going through enormous change and upheaval, a large chunk of our media is talking more about itself and its competition than it is about anything that might remotely impact on its audience.

The story isn’t about the civil war in Syria, but about the failure of the “green left” of the ABC to condemn extremism in strong enough terms. The story isn’t about destructive climate change (that conservative ex-US Treasury secretary Hank Paulson says poses a bigger threat than the GFC), but about the “warmist believers” of Fairfax.

What’s behind the self-obsession? There are a couple of possibilities. One is that is that the scale of the media and culture wars testify to the importance of the issues at stake – issues like the future of democracy, freedom, journalism and Fourth Estate.

A second possibility is that the media’s internal focus is a symptom of of its growing irrelevance to the real conversation.  With their circulation and revenues shrinking along with their stature, media poohbahs stand on their tippy-toes and pompously proclaim their importance each day to a diminishing crowd. When that fails, they descend to juvenile name-calling and start fights over not much at all. “Hey look over here guys!” No thanks.

Think about this: Apart from a hardened core of cranky, reactionary old men vainly trying to assert their diminished authority on the basis of nothing more than their age and gender, who bothers to read The Australian? What does it say beyond its catechism of entirely predictable tribal utterances? Essential reading it is not. And the numbers show it.

One can leave the country for a few days or switch off local media for a while, confident that upon one’s return the same ever-diminishing, ever-narrowing media conversation will be droning on. Each week, Q&A ( the ABC’s Punch and Judy show) features predictable pugilists fitted up to the banal binary “left-right” conception of politics imported unthinkingly from an impossibly partisan US media landscape.

The vacuous, insular nature of “the debate” was seen recently on another ABC program, Big Ideas. The show was nominally about media bias and the impossibility of pure objectivity, but the panel format (featuring some of the usual suspects) just ended up being another Jets-v-Sharks choreographed rumble with each punch telegraphed a mile off.

The News Corp partisans and IPA “freedom” scouts line up each time to complain of ABC bias without ever providing substantial proof – and despite their being ritually invited onto ABC shows to bag the broadcaster for not including their views. (On the Big Ideas show, prominent conservative Tom Switzer served up as an example that Lateline in 2004 had downplayed Ronald Reagan’s death, preferring instead to “browbeat” the then Australian foreign minister Alexander Downer about Abu Ghraib. What quaint news sense by the ABC, preferring to investigate the torture of prisoners in a war Australia was a party to over running a hagiography on a 94-year-old former US president who left office in 1988).

But you get the picture. The dreary, circular, insular nature of Australia’s media conversation  – with Team Red and Team Blue posing from their predictable corners over each and every issue – tells us nothing except about their own irrelevance. It’s like Broadway playing the same half-dozen  shows over and over again.

No wonder anyone with any intelligence or world interest is going off Broadway and seeking out new sources and new voices in social media both within and outside Australia.  That’s where the ideas are. And that’s where real change will come.


Jeff Mueller · August 28, 2014 at 4:59 pm

Had a wonderful twitter-based example of this yesterday.

A complaint from a RW warrior journo about the lack of coverage of the union Royal Commission by the ABC. I replied, saying that PM had reported on the commission every night this week in regional Victoria. She immediately commented this supported the argument that the ABC should only be funded as a regional broadcaster. I merely politely pointed out that PM is a national program.

Her fact -free assertion said more than any ideological spouting.

    Nick Andrews · August 29, 2014 at 4:38 pm


David Deeley · August 29, 2014 at 1:48 pm

Whew! There is someone at home!!! Thank you for your wit and perceptiveness.

Duncan Gilbey · September 14, 2014 at 1:39 pm

I heard Mick Malthouse commenting today that when he started playing football there were about 37 sports journalists in Australia. Now there are about 1300.

That’s the problem in a nutshell; too many journalists chasing not enough news.

Ben Peelman · September 18, 2014 at 12:27 pm

Thank you for letting me know I’m not the only seeing this in the media. I originally got onto social media,thinking social media would change this polarisation of media, unfortunately social media is usually even more starkly polar: people unfriend each other for having slightly different political views, and people become even more myopic, and preach to the ever-diminishing choir. The beauty of the internet is being exposed to different views, while here I am congratulating you on having the same view. Ugh, I’m just as much at fault as everyone else.

Ian Munro · October 2, 2014 at 2:41 pm

Your arguments are as elegant and valid as ever, Mr Denmore. I wouldn’t be surprised if the NewsCorp/Fairfax hatred had a bit of the Sayre’s Law about it these days, too, given the ever-diminishing returns in newspaper publishing. There must be a lesson for the ABC in the failure of its appeasement policy with regard to its ideological critics over recent years. It hasn’t worked, and seems likely never to work, because they (the critics) have an essentially irrational hatred of the ABC, and won’t be unsettled by facts. Thank goodness for the rise of fine quality bloggers like yourself and Andrew Elder. Mind you, it’s still a pretty bleak outlook for democracy and rational thought, let alone humanity…

Recommended reading on public interest journalism futures | Public Interest Journalism Foundation · September 18, 2014 at 7:34 pm

[…] West Side Tories An analysis of media wars by former Public Interest Journalism Foundation board member Jim Parker. […]

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