Just when we need it the most

I read the Sydney Morning Herald every morning, listen to ABC radio during the day (two of the benefits of doing a PhD full time), and watch SBS news every night, and all I know about Tony Abbott’s carbon plan is that it’s better than the Government’s unmade one because he said so. Oh, and he’ll “stop the tax”.

This is a really important issue and he said, she said journalism is just not good enough. In that link, Jonathan Holmes quotes one of my brain heroes, Jay Rosen, who defines he said, she said journalism as:

* There’s a public dispute.
* The dispute makes news.
* No real attempt is made to assess clashing truth claims in the story, even though they are in some sense the reason for the story. (Under the “conflict makes news” test.)
* The means for assessment do exist, so it’s possible to exert a factual check on some of the claims, but for whatever reason the report declines to make use of them.
* The symmetry of two sides making opposite claims puts the reporter in the middle between polarized extremes.

Familiar, huh? It’s what we get every day. Holmes writes:

Consumers of news are largely left to fog it out for themselves. Of course, those who have the time and inclination can do so. But as the news story develops, the assumption is made by daily journalists that everyone knows what happened yesterday, and a week ago. It’s far harder than it should be to find the background analysis.

I wrote yesterday that I think it’s going to be a good year, and that doesn’t just apply to women. The gutter politics we’re seeing – in particular, from Cory Bernardi and Scott Morrison – can’t last, because the backlash has already started. Joe Hockey is positioning himself as the not-Abbott, which will leave Abbott’s attack dogs without a supportive master. And the independents keep showing that they are above the petty bullshit that passes for “political debate” these days.

This from Tony Windsor on the carbon tax:

He says people in his electorate are telling him that they want a productive debate, rather than one dominated by politics.

“They want it a little bit more advanced than the word ‘lie’ and the word ‘tax’,” he said.

“I think they want to find out what could happen, what sort of contribution we should be making, what are the advantages in regional Australia for instance in terms of renewable energy?”

He says he would like the same, and says he needs plenty more information about the implicit price of carbon and how Australia’s efforts sit globally before the Government can win his vote.

But this is all we get from Tony Abbott:

“I’m running a truth campaign against the carbon tax, because the truth campaign appears to be having an impact,” he said.

“I imagine that [Labor] will run an ad campaign, because the one thing that these guys specialise in is ad campaigns using taxpayer’s money.

“In this case it would be a dishonest ad campaign – this is a tax based on a lie and it shouldn’t happen.”

This would be a really good time for journalists to do the most basic of basic Google searches and point out that the Howard Government spent $2 billion on advertising:

According to Melbourne University academic Sally Young, the author of Government Communication in Australia, the Howard Government’s spending on advertising is among the highest per head in the world.

“It’s up there with only a few other countries,” she said.

Seriously, it’s not that hard to inform your readers. You know, that thing news is supposed to do? Otherwise we’re not being journalists, we’re being state stenographers (hat tip to John Pilger for that term).

It is precisely when an issue can be reduced to slogans – “we’ll stop the tax” – that we need better reporting than just he said, she said.

And, in honour of the title of this post, this:

I was looking for the Dolly Parton version, but this video is gold! And Randy VanWarmer is my new favourite name.

Update March 10: I stand (a little) corrected. One article today on the Coalition’s Direct Action plan: Direct yes, but not a lot of action:

Over the past week some journalists have made Coalition MPs squirm by asking: can you name an economist who backs your direct action climate policy?

The Coalition is banking heavily on being able to massively boost the amount of carbon dioxide stored in soil, estimating it could deliver 60 per cent of Australia’s 2020 emissions target. It remains a bold call…. Soil carbon is not recognised under international carbon accounting rules

But, it’s an opinion piece from The Age‘s environment reporter Adam Morton, so it’s not on the SMH homepage, nor is this information in any story in the paper. Why is a journalist giving readers the information we need to judge the Direct Action Plan considered an opinion?

3 responses to “Just when we need it the most

  1. He said, She said journalism or gutless lazy journalism. The NBN is a great example, the media report Turnbulls fanciful stories as fact in spite of the breaking of the laws of physics. Try http://nbnmyths.wordpress.com/ and then look at the groundhog day discussions in the media.

    It’s not hard to find this information and yet the media conduct a disinformation campaign and claim its neutral and independent.

    • It’s definitely lazy journalism, but I’m not sure about gutless. And I don’t think it’s a disinformation campaign – at least, not a deliberate one. I think that somewhere along the way we’ve forgotten what balance actually means. In political reporting, balance does not mean quoting the minister and the shadow minister. Of course they are going to disagree.

  2. Dammit, I was having a fascinating read and when I got to the video everything else went out of my mind. I just love the song so much.

    Just wanted to give you a big thanks for the Dolly Parton reference. I went and searched for her version. It is just stunning.

    Sorry for being so OT.

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