by Alexandra McDonald
During a particularly interesting perusal of news articles and publishings late last year, I came across a general theme that popped up in the scholarly zeitgeist. It seems that the concept of ‘the truth’ in the fast paced, ever evolving news cycle is, and not for the first time, being challanged. Some very eloquent elucidations written in various publications captured the unique state of the Media quite aptly, painting an anti- reductionist and multilayered view of the state of the Media industry. One such article was by Jock Given on Inside Story, one by an old professor of mine Margaret Simons through Crikey, and also one by Martin Hearst on The Conversation. News about the news so to speak, is an interesting topic. To read these stories one cannot help but begin to contemplate the idea of truth in our increasingly mediated society, and to wonder what’s in store for 2013.
What I have noticed in a lot of stories about the news of late is that there, not all the time but more often that it should, seems to be a kind of fluid perception of what the truth is. It seems to be a concept increasingly bandied around and distorted and stretched, by media outlets that are under enormous pressure to produce large amounts of content to satisfy the needs of the 24 hour news cycle. The result of this is misleading headlines, forced perception skewed in favour of melodrama and alarmism, and reductionist arguments. In the already infamous Leveson inquiry that investigated the now folded media outlet News of the World, those in defence of the company explicitly implied that the audience is forcing the hand of the media and demand for shocking, sensational and suspenseful news is reaching fever pitch, perhaps due to the increasingly disillusioned and disaffected public spectatorship.
Justice Leveson of the Leveson Inquiry
Journalistic integrity is key to any news publication, and of recent years audiences have more and more frequently defaulted to cynicism and doubt when regarding a news story presented to them. In no small part this is chargeable the rise of the internet and connectivity in this globalised world, it has never been easier in the history of news publication, to get closer to the source of a story than ever before, to do your own research, and hear the voice of a LOT of individuals, who suddenly have access to a platform allowing them to speak to countless people around the world. With the stratospheric rise of technology and the internet has pulled the idea of the alternate voice and the notion to challange the status quo has become more prolific and most importantly publicised than ever before. Audiences are no longer given a single viewpoint be a single newspaper to mull over whilst drinking tea and polishing their tophats (I’m sincerely hoping that it was a really popular pastime in eras gone by), we are no longer fed an idea having no re-course to find out the real events behind the story. Many alternate voices are now easily accessible with the only requirement an internet connection, one very apt case in point is the Al Jazeera news network and the rise of Al Jazeera English. Originally an Arabic news outlet, it expanded in popularity during the war in Afghanistan, being the singular established news network to cover the war live and direct from its offices. Audiences in Western countries sought access from the ground floor, wanted an alternate to the arguably biased reporting that Fox News and the like were presenting, and thanks to the internet- it was easily accessible and readily available.
Having unintentionally trashed mainstream media a little bit here, I will say I do believe that the majority of all media outlets and journalists have very much integrity, a passion to inform and an idealistic moral code. Many journalists, and journalism students I know, got into the field to expose corruption, to inform the public. The profession is, to budding and seasoned journalists alike, a badge of honour that carries weight and responsibility. What is fractured here, what has arguably caused much of the problems, is the culutral state and economic market within which the media industry resides. The troubles, arguably, arise as a by product of the 24 hour news cycle, where quantity is key and quality is forced into second place within a profitable businiess model. It is the competitive nature of the industry. In my humble opinion, it is explained quite eloquently by the Herman- Chomsky propaganda model. Though a little long in the tooth (Herman and Chomsky published it in 88) it is still exceptionally relevant and applicable to the way news companies and producers operate today, im many ways it was a model before its time, the theory staying relevant with the evolution of the industry. This model states that the errant corruption that occurs is caused by the pressures of the industry within which it operates. Good, well-researched and educated journalism is very expensive to produce. Sensationalised headlines, as a rule of thumb, sell very well, which is important because the vast majority of news outlets are operating as businesses.
The dark side of the media was exposed last year, courtesy of the Leveson inquiry, and a divisive dichotomy emerged between Media proponents and audiences through what has come to be known as ‘The Finklestein Report’ on news media regulation here in Australia. An open and frank dialogue begun to emerge, on the state of the industry, both perceived and actual. Was it as broken as we thought? Or were we seeing behind the curtain more than ever before, exposing us to practices that have gone on for years of which we have been blissfully unaware? Is it getting better, is it getting worse? Or is it just.. Different? The Finklestein report so eloquently suggested there needs to be a more robust conversation regarding the responsibilities of the media, and a framework in place that ensures accountability without decreasing the freedom of the Media industry to operate, and publish. The report also points out many truths that define News production in Australia, for example the fact that media ownership is of the most concentrated in the developed world, limits the variation of opinion and perspective in mainstream news.
Hopefully in the near future, this mounting pressure from audiences, scholars and government will push for more integrity and responsibility that stems from within the industry, removing the need for an external body to regulate it. Now is perhaps the time for ‘the truth’ or at least an honest idealism of what we imagine the truth to be, to experience a resurgence. Exposure of antiquated or adverse news gathering practices force the inception of new ones if not the eradication of the entities that conducted them. The monolithic News of the World tabloid and its ensuing crumble and fold as a result of the Leveson inquiry, is a landmark example of this. With the rise of the alternative voice, the exponential possibilities the internet presents as a mediator to access a huge audience to hear and in turn be heard, the world is at the forefront of a unique and exciting new era of media, one that will surely be transformative.
Raymond Finklestein of the Finklestein report.