Bad news
Thursday August 25th 2005, 8:14 am


image: Peter Nicholson for The Australian

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.


11 Comments so far
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Not completely unrelated – just heard this absolute beauty.

John Simpson was apparently an illegal immigrant.

Stick that in your pipe & smoke it, Brendan Nelson!

Comment by cileo 08.25.05 @ 3:52 pm

I have not watched Today Tonight so, if I had not seen this particular edition of Media Watch, I would not know of the type of rubbish they produce. I was really quite amazing! The thing that annoyed me was that Today Tonight’s producers seemed to show no shame.

Comment by Peter F Bradshaw 08.26.05 @ 1:16 am

Peter, I refuse to give patronage to trash journalism. Like you, I’d have never seen the TT episode if not for Media Watch. However, I have the benefit of being educated as a journalist and I worked in the field for some years. I can smell rotten journalism a mile off. As a result, I don’t usually bother with bent news.

I don’t consider myself particularly uninformed if I don’t read anything in the domain nor watch TT or ACA. These outfits are only of interest to me when they become news themselves, usually by bending or utterly falsifying the news- which they seem to do remarkably often.

Comment by weezil 08.26.05 @ 9:36 am

I occasionally have the misfortune to be near a television when Today Tonight or ACA are on, and they usually astound with their sheer repulsiveness.

Media Watch and the 7:30 Report are two of the best show on free-to-air television in Australia. Fact.

Comment by Guy 08.26.05 @ 1:08 pm

[…] As more of this story unfolds, it is becoming clear that this while event was an internal Lieberal Party stoush designed to unseat leader Grogden. The Telegooph was a willing participant in this campaign of half-truths, demonstrating their commitment to yellow journalism. […]

Pingback by mgk: Machine Gun Keyboard 09.06.05 @ 9:07 am

Y’know, i am a high school student and am in FTM (Film, Television and Multimedia),and “homework” this week was to watch TT. Why? To witness how it was able to flip stories around to different (and ultimately untrue) perspectives and convince its audience. We have come to the agreement that TT is a load of crud. The amount of apologies they have to make due to all the misrepresentations they air is ridiculous. And they sensationalise everything! Perhaps they should pull it off the air?

Comment by Aliyah 08.25.08 @ 11:49 am

But…but… the ratings are so high that they can charge a motza for the ad breaks! Why kill the golden goose just because it lays a few eggs? 😆

Comment by weez 08.25.08 @ 12:15 pm

Very true..weez. Very true. Can’t say i’d call it golden, but that’s just my point of view, im sure the stations see it your way too. I think what we all need is some quality television. No more of this hard core, “the end is nigh” type reporting. i listen to the news for facts, all these extra little shows are just feeding grounds for pessimists. i say more comedy! people need to lighten up. 🙂 anyway, thanks

Comment by Aliyah 08.25.08 @ 4:26 pm

Aliyah, there’s a lot of folks who are absolutely as jaded and distrustful as you of commercial/corporate news- and for good reason.

The only commodities journalists ever have had that are worth a damn are their integrity and your trust. When they blow those out of the water, as TT, ACA, the Daily Tele, Faux News, etc etc have done, they’re just entertainers- and I can think of MUCH better entertainers, can’t you?

News via comedy is a going concern- think Chaser and Jon Stewart. Satire is a much more powerful vehicle than wowserism.

Comment by weez 08.25.08 @ 5:13 pm

call me young and naive but As long as they don’t push a touchy moral boundary, and it is funny, i take something out of it. Mind you, lots of them, do tend to push boundaries, but i guess that’s showbiz. People like you or they don’t. They see you’re point of view or they despise you for it.

Comment by Aliyah 08.26.08 @ 7:30 pm

I don’t think it takes any naivete to see the Chaser or Stewart as valid news sources, albeit with a bit of editorial commentary in the delivery. The Chaser’s APEC stunt cast a cold light not only on the war on terrorism but the absurdity of the APEC security. Viewers wouldn’t find the stunt amusing unless they were informed about world events. If the viewer wasn’t well informed, s/he might be prompted to learn more.

I’m not quite sure what moral boundaries you are concerned about.

Sometimes the Chaser boys do go after the wrong target, ie pulling a stunt which inconveniences a working stiff at the front line instead of the corporate loonies responsible for a silly policy or advert, such as monkeying about in the checkout line at a Woolies to needle their CEO or ad agency or trying to move furniture on a city bus to lampoon State Transport policy (if that’s what they were doing). I cringe when they do crap like that. The APEC stunt was a little better aimed than most.

Comment by weez 08.27.08 @ 8:52 am

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