Democramedia?

What role should the media play in democracy?

We live in a media saturated world. Everywhere we turn, the media is there. There to deliver messages, there to entertain, persuade, demonstrate, inform, and most importantly – there to earn.

In a world where time seems to become more and more precious, media is somehow swimming against the tide and providing us with 24hr access to the world around us. Unfortunately, the tides of change in the media are treacherous, and many companies are finding their business plans to be less protection of their gigantic empires than an umbrella in a cyclone.

Nevertheless, the media is always active, and we are finding less and less time to engage with it. So what’s this leaving us with? If I may hypothesise, the capitalistic 24hr lifestyle we now seem to be engaged in has left us with precious little time to analyse things the way we used to.

For many people, their daily routine looks a little something like this:

– Early Morning: Get ready for, and arrive at work.

– Noon: Pay bills or run other errands and shovel food into your body before walking back into work.

– Late afternoon: Leave work and travel home

– Evening: Walk through the front door, turn the TV on, select favourite channel andand make dinner with the news on in the background .

– Night: Clean up after dinner, TV blaring in the background with your favourite form of entertainment on. Offspring, The Footy Show, Breaking Bad, re-runs of New York set TV Shows filmed entirely out of studios in California, whatever. Indulge yourself for a little while.

– Late Night: Get ready for the next day, head off to bed.

Now that’s a fairly simplistic view, but I doubt that many adults in Australia couldn’t connect with the routine in some general form.

So what do we take out of that? It would be fair to say that many Australian’s are stretched for time these days, yet are still keen to be up to date with news and current affairs around them. So, they blindly trust media organisations to keep them informed and aware of the world around them. However in that daily routine, many are finding it difficult to analyse, compare and evaluate the arguments and perspectives presented to them. People don’t have time to do that like they used to. No longer will the average Aussie gather various sources of news media and consume all of them, evaluating each article, analysing the commentary and most essentially, exposing themselves to a variety of opinions and ideals on the topics of the day.

We trust the media, completely and utterly blindly.

Therefore, the media’s role in democracy is rather complicated. But on a basic level, the media should at least ensure that it presents news and commentary separately, informs the audience, represent arguments and debates of public policy and other matters in accordance to their representation in society, and most of all the media should shed light on the dark.

But the media is there to make a profit. So that doesn’t always happen, because, well, in media, profits are often made by following the tide. Nobody should be surprised to see the mastheads of major daily newspapers taking an angle on a story which the majority of their readership would be reasonably expected to take, and running it across the front page. It might incense many of us, but wouldn’t it be their democratic right to free speech to publish their angle?

The media, and it’s role in democracy is extremely complex.

Instead of relying in the media all the time, we need to be less trusting and more independent. There are many options in the marketplace. Maybe we should start making time to survey them all. It’ll only help us to make better decisions.

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Undiluted Cordial.

Has anyone ever been faced with this situation?

You’re thirsty. VERY THIRSTY. And you’ll drink whatever is available. The plumbing is shot, so there’s no chance of water. 

You go to the fridge, there’s no water. No juice. Nothing. Hmmm. The pantry? Nothing. Oh, wait. Well, there’s some cordial. Undiluted though. You could drink it. You probably shouldn’t. But, you really need something to drink! Ugh. You take a look at it. On the bottle it says “Highly Concentrated”. It’s supposed to be diluted, but THE PLUMBING IS SHOT! ARGH. 

Dilemma. 

Do you drink it? No. 

Is there any other option? No. 

Do you drink it? Yes.

Well, Australia’s plumbing isn’t quite shot. And there’s some water, chilled in the fridge in two bottles – One labelled ABC, and the other labelled SBS. There’s cordial. Lot’s of cordial. 7 bottles of it! Various colours, all appetising to look at! These are labelled Seven West Media, Fairfax Media, News Corp Australia, Nine Entertainment Co., Southern Cross Media Group, Win Corporation and Network Ten. 

So, two basic options. Water and Cordial. 

We know the water is better for us. Preservative free. Additive free. All nat-u-raleeeeeee. And we know the cordial isn’t great for us. But man, those colours. . . . 

Most Australian’s end up drinking too much cordial, and with that, they ingest lots of additives. These take the form of ideas, values & opinion. All valuable nutrients, when part of a balanced diet, WHICH INCLUDES BORING, PLAIN, UN-FLAVOURED WATER. 

Okay, enough of the symbolism and metaphorical language. 

Most of Australia’s media is controlled by just 7 corporations! Highly Concentrated (just like undiluted cordial (; LAST ONE FOR A WHILE I PROMISE)

Now, that is an interesting situation. But what does it mean?

Well, the Media is trusted to be a reliable source of information – It serves a specific purpose within a democratic society, which is to facilitate the decision making of the constituency through information communication which is efficient, accurate and reliable – Most importantly, it must do all of this free of bias.

When Media ownership is concentrated like it is in Australia, interests begin to compete against each other. So much to the point that journalistic standards drop, and bias is apparent and perceived by the audience – Evident through the 2013 Election Bias Scandal. As a result of this some publications can leverage the poor journalistic standards and perceived bias of their opposition as a competitive advantage. A prime example is The Sydney Morning Herald through it’s masthead statement “Independent. Always.”

SMH Masthead

A clear strike at The Daily Telegraph and it’s 2013 Election coverage. Hmmmm.

I think this means I’m getting close to an answer. Who owns The Tele? News Corp Australia. Who owns News Corp Australia? News Corp. Who/What is News Corp? Murdoch, Rupert Murdoch. (James Bond reference, anyone?)
If you were to only read The Tele for your daily news digestion, you’d be exposed to only the school of thought that Murdoch’s company chooses to press through that particular publication. Many are of the opinion that if this were the case, you’d vote, 1. Liberal.

Of course our own political standpoint and opinions come into the equation, but the media is certainly powerful. When we let the media get too concentrated, we lose diversity of ideas. When a convergence of ideas saturates the society, it isn’t difficult to envisage the end result – A lack of personalisation in the way we think. A set ideology. Australia is a multicultural, diverse nation – One set of ideas is not supposed to define us. We are by definition, diverse.

So, we have Seven. Seven commercial broadcasters pushing their values. Is that healthy? Yes and No. Australia’s public broadcasters – the ABC and SBS – have tremendous engagement. But do they balance out the equation? To some extent.

There are positives to the current setup – Production values can be quite high, and we certainly get some quality entertainment from our seven media corporations.

But, news is the important thing here. The delivery of information. In a democratic society, the delivery of factual, accurate and unbiased news is a must. But competing commercial interests brought about through cross media ownership as concentrated as undiluted cordial doesn’t allow this to always eventuate. Defeating the purpose of a democracy. 

Cordial is great. As part of a balanced diet. 

So it’s probably time to get some of that chilled water out of the fridge.

Oh, and to save ourselves from having to drink undiluted cordial in the future, let’s dilute it while we still can.

 

References:

Fairfax Media, 2014, SMH Masthead, image, Screenshot, viewed 28 March 2014, <http://www.smh.com.au/>.