“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.