A journalistic ethics watchdog program like Media Watch is one of the very best uses of an independent national broadcaster. I can’t think of any other ownership environment in which such a program could exist. A Media Watch story spares no offender, not the ABC nor even Media Watch itself; if MW gets it wrong, they’ll say so. Commercial broadcasters these days simply haven’t got the guts to examine their own practises in the same manner. The dismantling of media ownership laws, such that fewer people or corporations can own multiple media outlets, make the problem infinitely worse.
Whether it is Littlemore, Ackland, Barry, Marr or Jackson in the anchor’s chair, Media Watch can be counted upon to accurately point out abuses of mass media in Australia. To the best of my knowledge, Media Watch is the only show of its kind in the English speaking world. MW performs an essential service for consumers of Australian mass media. Very few people have time to chase up all the background loose ends which indicate a story has been bent, contains plagiarism or otherwise violates the code of journalistic ethics. Aussies should thank their lucky stars for Media Watch- it’s literally the most powerful 15 minutes of weekly television in Australia.
‘Yellow Journalism‘ is a now dated term describing unethical journalism. Yellow Journalism includes the uses of sensationalism, jingoism or even outright falsification of news items, but as news media have become more sophisticated, so have the abuses. Yellow Journalism was employed to increase circulation or to drive the ideological agenda of the publisher. The phenomenon takes its name from a stoush beginning in 1896 between California newspaper publishers William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer, in which the first regularly published editorial cartoon, ‘The Yellow Kid,’ drawn by William Outcault, was the vehicle for each publisher to make outlandish and often patently false accusations of the other. Hearst in particular was quite aware of the power of unethical journalism. Hearst is widely thought to have caused the 1898 Spanish-American War. Hearst is noted to have said, "You bring me the pictures and I’ll give you the war."
Mass media absolutely does have an ability to effect real events in our communities. A public worried about Muslims and terrorism is ripe for picking by unethical journalists.
Thanks to Media Watch reporting, we know that through unethical editing, filmmaker Tim Noonan and the Seven Network’s Today Tonight prorgram have ostensibly encited Australians of European heritage to riot against immigrant Muslims and their Australian born children. The producer of Today Tonight, Peter Meakin, assured the young Muslim subjects of their ‘Muslims will never integrate’ hatchet job that their comments would not be used out of context nor in any way to defame them. Regardless, that’s exactly what the piece did- and raised enough anger among white Aussies to provoke violence or harassment against young Muslim men in Australia.
More than 100 years down the track, Yellow Journalism lives on. The tale of the Westside Turks spoof website, also brought to light thanks to Media Watch, indicates just how ready unethical journalists are to exploit community fears about Muslims, those of ‘foreign’ appearance and terrorism. Many bloggers who visit mgk saw the Westside Turks site as I did some weeks ago and had a good guffaw. However, The Hun‘s Ian Haberfield decided the descriptions of the violent exploits of the non-existent, young middle-eastern man stereotype were quite real- and tried to put one over on the public, looking to hook readers on their fears about these unfamiliar people.
The most valuable asset of a journalist or publisher/broadcaster is public trust. When a news organisation gets caught out abusing the public’s trust by bending the news, the public must be made aware. The offending organisation should pay, either with an apology/correction- or with big chunks of their audience. You can be sure that if a news outfit has lied to you before and failed to either be voluntarily accountable or held to account, they will do it again.
Bad newsies are only part of the problem. Every time you pick up a sensationalist tabloid paper or tune in to trash TV, you financially support the disinforming of the public for profit.
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