I am delighted to introduce guest blogger David Dixon, our ‘man in the media’, with his insightful article on news culture and society’s passive acceptance of a plutocratic state.
The Herald: A New Size But The Same Old Story
By David Dixon
A new era dawned on Monday March 4, 2013. The Sydney Morning Herald shrank from a broadsheet to a tabloid. I felt nostalgic as I realised my skill at wrangling the unwieldy paper on a crowded train or a breezy station was now redundant. Wistfully I began I read the landmark edition …
The Big Four banks were criticised by an accounting professor for complaining about funding costs while their profits were on track for a record of $27 billion; Coles unilaterally redefined free range egg standards that would cram nearly seven times more hens into farmyards so they could make extra money off good hearted customers; the $100 million Obeid corruption saga continued as the family’s miracle working accountant was called before ICAC to explain his clients labyrinth of family trusts and complex company structures; there was a new episode in Gina Rhinehart’s family soap opera as her children continued to fight her for control of Australia’s biggest fortune; mega-rich Australian car buffs blew $20 million at a European motor show on Porsches and Ferraris that are illegal to drive on our roads; folksy US tycoon Warren Buffet announced a $15 billion profit to add to his company’s cash stash of $42 billion; and Republicans in the US Congress continued to hold out against tax increases for the very rich as automatic budget cuts threatened the American economic recovery and jeopardised 750 000 jobs.
Meanwhile an official report concluded that our “angry” summer weather was, from a statistical point of view, the likely result of climate change and not just natural variation. Extreme weather is now the new normal and the cost of rolling this back is gigantic. Another report said that dementia will affect one million Australians by 2050 but funding for medical research into this sad condition that will touch many of us or our loved ones was a just a fraction of what was necessary to combat it.
In this snapshot of just one day’s news, vast corporate profit and individual wealth is juxtaposed with urgent community needs which are pitifully under-resourced. The issue is not whether money is available but whether it is allocated to private gain or the common good. The blatant rip offs, lies, corruption and excesses reported on Monday ought to foment a mutiny. And yet we passively accept it. All the evidence needed to become rabid revolutionaries is in black and white (or colour pixels if you have an iPad) every day in the mainstream media. There’s no conspiracy theory cover-up! So why don’t we connect the dots and see the pattern of a broken system standing out from the plethora of individual stories?
This is a case of the “medium” becoming the “message”. The medium delivers an interesting patchwork of stories in the form of entertainment. This obscures any deeper meaning the stories contain. The news is akin to a spectator sport we watch from the sidelines. We can cheer or boo a cricket game, for example, but that doesn’t alter the result. It’s just raw material for conversations around the water-cooler. Similarly the media can report the most egregious stories and we fume or ring our hands and then do nothing beyond griping amongst ourselves. Action seems as futile as trying to change the final score-line at a cricket match. The emotions released by the news spike and dissipate because they are just an end in themselves.
Subversive content is neutralised because it is disseminated as entertainment and so it fails to radicalise the reader. It’s time we started to treat the news less as a spectator sport and more as a spur to action. Get out of the grandstand and on to the field! Transform the news into a participation activity and not just passive amusement. Now that, and not just different sized paper, really would be a new era in media.