In a world now dominated by entertainment, news companies must pursue any and every story to a sensationalist ending. What this inevitably means is that there is no right answer anymore to questions posed by journalists, no position one can hold that is safe from the chase. No matter what you say, an angle will be spun to squeeze the juice out of it, to satiate the voyeurs.
Take the well respected commentary ABC news show ‘The Insiders’. The Walkley award winning journalist David Spears typifies the relentless pursuit of a ‘story’. But it’s not a story he pursues, it’s a battle to back the lamb into a corner, and televise its devouring. Don’t be fooled by the veneer either. It’s not a moralistic calling that drives David or the show’s direction: the only thing that matters is that the interviewee is seen to be floundering in the wake of the hard hits.
The show’s title is ironic. It delivers little insight and never gets inside the story or heads of any of its interviewees. It is more alike than unlike the vulgar journalism proffered by mainstream news services, and the extreme Fox media corporation, and this is important, as it assumes a position of moral superiority. The show would be more aptly named ‘You’re damned if you do and you’re damned if you don’t’, a more realistic impression of its agenda. Take, for example, an interview about COVID19 vaccines and the reversal of a much berated earlier decision to not join a humanitarian effort to supply them to Papua New Guinea, where the virus had rampaged communities. The minister interviewed was made out to be a villain as the new decision now meant that Australia’s supply would be ‘decimated’. The line of questioning was inexorable, ‘Would you be happy for vaccines to leave Australia?’ The consequences for answering are clear.
The show engages in this type of conquest every week. The unanswerable question this week (25/7/21) was ‘Would you be happy to accept some deaths when we reach a certain level of vaccination?’ Even though the answer is yes, Bill Shorten can’t publicly agree, as he would be a monster ripe for the next day’s news picking. Spears laments, ‘Why is the question so difficult for people to answer?’, seemingly unaware of the irony.
Few are brave enough to take on the battle. Some are stupid enough, or get tangled up with good intention, but the lion always wins in the coliseum. Experienced fighters conclude that it’s better to say nothing. The ultimate irony of the news then is that they are the ones creating the censure when they are supposed to be whistleblowing it.
But the question is, is it the news companies fault? Or are they simply providing a service for the population that salivates at the first sign of conflict?
Orwell would be fascinated by this twist on his dystopia.
I’m Paul Moss. I’m a learning designer at the University of Adelaide. Follow me on Twitter @edmerger