Australian political journalism is shit


“The Coalition has abandoned debt and deficit in a monumental shift to its political discourse.”

This is the refrain we have basically heard from many Australian political journalists since the release of the last government budget and the focus on spending on elderly care, mental health and others. areas of social policy.

If a moment singularly captures how bad some sections of Australian political journalism have become, we have come to.

Let’s break down the evil. Let’s look at flawed assumptions and lazy thinking.

First and foremost – like a half marathon ahead – the current view of the budget reveals just how myopically obsessed political journalism has become with what some gallery members and related journalists see as electorally beneficial or not for a given party or politician. Coverage of the policy has been reduced to comments on who tactically did what and to what extent they performed it to get elected or re-elected. Everything has become a question of the spirit of the game, then of moral judgment on this same spirit of play.

It’s as silly as spending time in front of a pub on a Friday night, hoping for a drunken brawl, and then noticing which of the protagonists threw the best shots. And then: claiming a special preview of what is a good punch. And then: morally tutut that the people who were in the fight are somehow barbarians.

How stupid and elitist?

In the case of the budget, the main analysis deployed by parts of the Gallery is that the Coalition is simply trying to steal the thunder of PLA politics by committing funds to what journalists call “traditional labor issues.” .

What a load of oxen. They make things up out of habit and through the “greenhouse effect” of journalists’ gaseous conversations with (and now constantly interviewing) other journalists.

The vast majority of journalists actually have no idea how professional elections are conducted and what does and does not stir voters. They have never campaigned, served in politics or the public sector, or participated in policy making. The best activists do not speak to them, out of professional practice. The Journos use jokes from backbenchers and staff members as validation. They’ve never seen a real poll used by political parties – as opposed to the fluffy stuff that has been made public. They spend very, very little time talking to real voters, which is the best way to hurt your biases and assumptions.

ABC’s budget coverage was classic. An ABC gossip known for his combative interviews with politicians quietly interviewing a panel of four “experts” – all of whom were ABC political journalists. They may be experts in political journalism or point out rhetorical inconsistencies on the part of political actors, but they are certainly not experts. in itself in the fields of politics, economics, public policies, campaigns or community opinions. Everything we heard about was a political motive – and it was wrong.

Behind the analysis of political motivations, many newspapers support the key hypothesis that there are still so-called traditional problems that concern certain sectors of society. Sorry, but that doesn’t work in a society where: a) 60% of voters are now actively swing voters driven by pragmatism rather than Party loyalty or political ideology, and; b) where there can be more and more massive fluctuations from election to election.

If the parties stick to their “traditional problems” (whether it is the economy for the TNL and social policy for the ALP), they would speak respectively to 20% of the electorate each. It doesn’t take a rocket surgeon, but hey it’s just easier to stick to your comfort zone.

Reductionism is just plain stupid. The idea that politicians or anyone working on the basis of one motive is patently ludicrous. Let’s apply it the other way around to the journalists themselves. On this basis, only the search for the truth matters, right? Career advancement does not; by-lines do not; editorial relations do not. In fact, all of them do. Every profession has aspects of both altruism and pragmatism. This is life and it is also politics for better or for worse.

The Journos also seem utterly ignorant – or intentionally dismissive – of the machinery of government and how public policy becomes public policy. Namely, motive attribution and its pursuit ignores the role of the civil service, including in objectively identifying social problems, providing evidence-based policy options for solutions and testing their rigor in inter-agency consultation before approaching politicians. In a way, journalists mistakenly attribute absolute power to politicians and then criticize those politicians for allegedly exercising it.

It is also a simplistic and unrealistic view of political ideology. The idea that Liberals are sort of “compromised” when they walk away from the free market and business, and Labor is sort of “compromised” when they walk away from government intervention and government. social equity. If it weren’t for the fact that our two main parties are capable of broader thinking, we wouldn’t have either of these: Medicare, NDIS, GST, Fair Work Australia, floating currency, agreements global economies, the highest solar domestic participation rate in the world …

These are not ideological contradictions or political arrangements. On the contrary, on both sides of politics, they are the products of: a) recognition of market failures; b) recognize both community needs and real world issues, and; c) maintenance of the social contract, including good governance. These are acts of skill rather than Machiavellian calculations – which is something our journalists cannot seem to attribute to the political class because it is not absolutely combative (e.g. scrutiny and accountability in polite terms).

Without even going into the now accepted techniques of political journalism – like “gotcha” press conferences and intentional efforts to simply ridicule the people they are supposed to report to – I am concerned. I think it could become corrosive to our overall political culture, our faith in democracy and the willingness of people to participate. It undermines and I worry about the civic center’s ability to resist it. Look what Fox has done to American politics.

Fortunately, I’m wrong so far: the bettors are still smarter than me. This is why, in the public mind, journalists have a lower public reputation than politicians and this is why the community has done so much to trust and cooperate with its political leaders during the very real situation of the pandemic. So let’s hope this continues.

Hey, I love reporters. I am married to a former member of the Gallery! I hang out with them because they are smart, social, curious, funny and very hardworking in increasingly difficult editorial conditions. But every profession has its blind spots, and for too many Australian political journalists, she believes in her own twist.

Pete Shmigel, former Federal and State Policy Advisor.


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