Narrative versus accuracy

There’s a certain feature of political reporting that is annoying me more and more of late, it’s the apparent desire of journalists to engage in good story telling rather than striving for accuracy. While polemicists from both ends of the political spectrum have used the cover of ‘opinion writing’ to publish profoundly partisan reinterpretations of events forever, news reporters seem to be falling onto the trap of massaging their stories to spice them up too.

The example today that really irked me was the ABC’s declaration that the government and opposition had negotiated to allow the renewable energy bill pass the lower house. Any school child with a basic grounding in how our parliamentary system works can tell you that the government is whichever party holds the most seats, therefore votes, in the lower house. It’s irrelevant which way the opposition votes in the lower house, the government always carries whatever motion they put up.

While discussion of cross party negotiations over a bill may be important when it comes to the senate, trying to somehow suggest that the government is beholden to the opposition to pass legislation through the lower house is incorrect and adds a strange tone to the discussion. This isn’t a question of balance, or bias, it’s simply about accuracy. Journalists and commentators in the media decry governments’ attempts to ‘spin’ news to suit them better, but how can they expect to be dealt with in an open fashion when they can’t get the basics right and are perpetually looking for a ‘gotcha’ moment in every situation.

This isn’t just a problem with political reporting, the release of the interim report from the Victorian Bushfire Royal Commission has seen plenty of uninformed speculation on ABC Victoria and Radio National, sometimes promoting ideas that have explicitly been dismissed by the very report they are claiming to be discussing. In this case, the ABC seem to be gunning for the scalp of CFA Chief Officer Russell Rees and are building a narrative around his failures. Some ABC presenters have also criticised the interim report for not addressing particular areas which were never going to be included until the final report, giving the impression that the Royal Commission has been negligent.

The questions of balance and bias are always going to be contentious ones to address, but the news media should make a consistent effort to banish simple inaccuracies from their reporting. If news is the first draft of history, it should least try to get the basics right.

Ledger Feeding Frenzy

Is there anything like a celebrity death to get the media into overdrive? To make matters worse, the local press have been slapping on a healthy dollop of ‘our Heath’ jingoism into the already sour mix.

I flicked through the breakfast TV programs the day after Ledger was found dead to find the same sort of crap on each channel, a bunch of journos interviewing other journos who knew nothing of any substance. Particularly galling were the expressions of grief on Sunrise, a program who only a year or so ago had loudly criticised Ledger after he was too bored to take their interviewer seriously during a movie press day. He’s gone from being ‘too big for his boots’ to a tragic Aussie icon in the time it takes for David Koch to comb his hair.

Every man and his dog have spent the days since his death telling the world what they thought of Heath, as though the opinion of another actor who barely knew him will give us all some insight into what has happened. Equally useless are the stories about what a big story this is, how many camera crews, how many journos, how many countries the news has gone to. It’s nothing more than a pathetic attempt to hide the fact that these leeches don’t have anything of substance to report, while simultaneously trying to legitimise their own coverage.

The air of mystery surrounding his death hasn’t helped either, from the medication by his bed, to the phone calls made before an ambulance was called the whole thing is a feast for gossip and speculation, which seems to pass for journalism these days. The fact that the initial autopsy was inconclusive only added the deluge of nonsense, as a population who believe that watching CSI has made them a forensic specialist struggle to go without instant answers.

Adding to the circus are the completely unrelated hangers on who have chosen to use Ledger’s death as a vehicle for their own cause, no matter how tenuously linked. The worst of these is undoubtedly the vile ‘reverend’ Fred Phelps and his deranged band of followers from the Westboro Baptist Church. Ray Dixon summed up these nutters so I won’t bother repeating what he wrote, but I would like to take a swipe at A Current Affair, who gave these attention whores some prime time coverage by interviewing Fred Phelps on Friday night. Listening to Fred Phelps speak can potentially drop your IQ by ten points, which the average ACA viewer doesn’t have to spare, so interviewing him was doubly reckless for Leila McKinnon. That said, after her inability to lay a guilt trip on 16 year old Corey Delaney, McKinnon probably needed the time sparring with a halfwit like Phelps to rebuild her stocks in the office.

So in one week the untimely death of a young Australian actor and the great Australian institution The Bulletin have reminded us that the global media is no longer about journalism, truth or serious discussion.