A key theme of many of my articles has been the failure of our media to live up to their democratic duty to seek out and disseminate the truth. In this article for Independent Australia, I make the case as succinctly as I can that the media allowed the Coalition to get away with a campaign of outright lies about the CFA EBA — not always just because of bias, but also because of an addiction to he-said/she-said journalism and an utter disinterest in facts.
THE POST POST-TRUTH era is slowly emerging, if The New York Times’ adoption of footnotes is anything to go by. The appearance of those footnotes indicates that journalists are beginning to take seriously their democratic duty to illuminate issues with facts, if necessary by taking up the task of correcting falsehoods peddled by lying politicians. But when will the novel idea of journalistic integrity reach Australian shores?
That Australian journos realise they have a problem seems apparent from a recent story by The Guardian’s Melbourne bureau chief Melissa Davey. The article’s central premise is that the Andrews government has pulled back from its human rights agenda due because it has been spooked by media flak. Davey quotes political science professor Nick Economou, who notes that rhetoric and policy that is ‘tough on law and order’ is demanded by a press that ‘loves running headlines about hard crime gangs running amok,’ even though abundant evidence shows that ‘such policies tend to be counterproductive in the long term.’
This is the essence of post-truth politics: emotive, counterfactual propaganda trumps facts and reason, skewing public opinion and yielding absurd political outcomes. As Guardian editor-in-chief Katharine Viner wrote in the wake of Brexit, facts and reliable information are essential for the functioning of a democracy, and the need for serious public interest journalism has never been greater. Viner calls for a strong journalistic culture of ‘building an informed, active public that scrutinises the powerful,’ contrasting this with a picture that seems much closer to the Australian media landscape: ‘an ill-informed, reactionary gang that attacks the vulnerable’.
Particularly at the level of state politics, post-truth folly rules the roost in Australia, and there is no better recent example of this than the Victorian Country Fire Authority dispute.