Thursday, May 19, 2011

"The Media Can't Be Trusted To Tell The Truth"

(I'm re-posting this August 2009 post because it seems even more accurate today than when originally posted)

By Darryl Mason

Media Watch host Jonathan Holmes, in a debate, lists a series of recent debacles from the mainstream news media :

On July 21, four days after the Jakarta hotel bombings, Seven News reported: ‘‘Another bomb has exploded in Jakarta. The device went off just moments ago at a building near the Australian embassy.’’ No, it didn’t. No bomb, no unexploded bomb, no suspicious package. Nothing but a couple of hoax phone calls.

On June 20, the first edition of The Daily Telegraph and other News Ltd papers read: ‘‘Revealed: Email that could topple a Government.’’ That email may yet topple an opposition leader. But it won’t do any harm to the journalist who ‘‘revealed’’ its content, or the editors who decided to publish it, even though it turned out to be a fake.

Then there’s page one of The Sunday Telegraph on March 15: ‘‘PAULINE BETRAYED. Provocative: A young Pauline Hanson pouts for the camera in racy lingerie … ’’

The Sunday Telegraph editor promised to quit if the nipple revealing 'Hanson' photos turned out to be fake. They were fake, the editor didn't quit.

Holmes is just scratching the surface. He argues one of the biggest problems gouging away at the credibility of mainstream media today is not solely a lack of journalists, or highly skilled journalists, but the Deadline Now! atmosphere of 24 hour breaking news on TV, on radio, and online.

Fewer and fewer people are under pressure to produce more and more. That means less time to research, less time to write, less time to check, fewer subeditors to knock copy into shape.

Which is why the media, arguably, can be trusted less than ever to tell the truth.

Holmes posits a greater problem, however, about what modern journalism in mainstream media actually means :

"The media are not in the business of telling us the truth. The media are in the business of telling us stories.

"That simple little word dominates any professional conversation between journalists. I’m working on a story. It’s a good story, a great story, a balltearer of a yarn. Or, it’s a dud story, it’s a non-story, there’s no story.

"The idea of the story, of course, dates back to the time when people made little distinction between fact and fiction. Was Homer telling us the truth about the Trojan Wars? Did the Cyclops really have one eye, or Perseus winged feet? Does it matter? They’re great stories.

"They’re about love, and fear, and rage, and jealousy, and courage in adversity – the same emotions that 2500 years later sell copies of the Tele, or attract viewers to A Current Affair.

"But the media, of course, are supposed to tell us true stories."

How 20th century of you, Mr Holmes. This is the age of manufactured news realities. The story is everything. Does it matter if it doesn't turn out to be true? It's fun for a few days, and if the truth is, eventually, published it usually turns out to be nowhere near as exciting.

The reality a series of stories builds up, even if they are only brushed lightly with the truth, in the media over days, or weeks, or years, becomes for some all the truth they need to know. Or want to know.

Why shatter the manufactured reality with too many distracting facts?

Today, if you want to live in a reality where the future of the planet faces "dire consequences" resulting from our addiction to old energy sources and only the wisdom of carbon tax profiteers like Al Gore and Rupert Murdoch can save us all, you can follow certain columnists, haunt certain news sites and blog sites, all of which will mostly continue to enforce that reality. And add to it.

Or you can believe the climate crisis is one big fat conspiracy created by those who stand to most benefit from the implementation of a global carbon tax.

You can, depending on the radio shows you listen to and the newspapers and bloggers you read, live in Sydney and truly believe that you are under constant direct threat from Al Qaeda (via Somalia/Lebanon/Pakistan/Iran) linked Islamist terrorists.

You can easily find enough material on a handful of mainstream news sites to reinforce that dangerous reality most days, and ignore anything that tells you otherwise, that threatens to bite away at the manufactured reality of a looming threat which you find curiously comforting.

Whatever your choice of fear, it's easy to find a selection of news media and online screeds to feed it and sustain it. You can get Google to send you news alerts every time a story or blog post involving your favourite fear is published online.

Personally, I live in perpetual fear of both UFO invasions and surviving into the post-apocalyptic aftermath of a massive meteor impact. Fortunately, my double fear is countered by supreme confidence that the world-crushing meteor will arrive just as the UFO invasion begins and destroy them all, resulting in the meteor being obliterated into harmless but beautiful fiery dust in our night skies.

You'd be amazed at how many stories find their way online from across the world every month about looming UFO invasions and planet-killing meteor strikes.

Then again, you may already know. You probably read the mainstream media as well.

The rest of the Jonathan Holmes piece is here.

(slightly edited before reposting)