The Failed Estate: Body of the Host

Written By: - Date published: 1:00 pm, January 2nd, 2015 - 11 comments
Categories: articles, australian politics, blogs, journalism, Media - Tags: ,

The Failed Estate is a blogsite run by veteran Australian Journalist Jim Parker.  He writes occasional but perceptive posts primarily on media issues.  This current post, reprinted with permission, provides a damning critique of main stream media coverage of the Sydney Siege.

It often takes a crisis for a society to reflect meaningfully on its institutions – their value, purpose, strengths and weaknesses. Do those institutions serve us or do they primarily serve themselves?

The global financial crisis, for instance, exposed how a large swathe of the international banking system had been corrupted by reckless risk-taking and had internalised the view that it could simultaneously privatise its profits and socialise its losses.

The banks, we belatedly discovered, had ceased being mere utilities. They were malevolent credit machines, manufacturing Frankenstinian products, preying on the least fortunate and sending the bill for the resultant mess to taxpayers. Goldman Sachs, said Rolling Stone’s Matt Taibbi, was “a great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity, relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money.”

But the sucking sound doesn’t end with the banks. Much of the commercial media, now drained of any notion of public service, has become a parasitical infection in the body politic, a hookworm that both breeds and feeds on fear, distrust and suspicion in the community and spreads its disease through calculated misinformation and hysteria.

Within hours of the start of the Sydney siege in Martin Place, and with the barest of information, News Corporation’s Daily Telegraph splashed its special afternoon edition with the headline ‘Death Cult CBD Attack’ – the implication being that ISIS-style terrorism had landed in the heart of Australia’s biggest city.

Of course, we now know the perpetrator was a lone-wolf, a sadly deluded and paranoid individual with a long criminal history using the props of Islamist terror to demonstrate his largely personal grievances with the state.

That the Tele rushed to print with the ISIS connection speaks volumes for how deeply invested this despicable publication is in fanning Islamophobia. This, after all, was a newspaper that sent the club mascot of the nutjobs on a daytrip to Lakemba to depict the entire western Sydney suburb as a sort of Kabul on the Cook.

Meanwhile, on Twitter, supposedly professional journalists were shamelessly recycling hearsay, rumour and the half-baked theories of talkback radio blowhards masquerading as public defenders.

Your correspondent himself was holed up in a CBD high-rise during the siege and saw young staff in tears over the reports of bombs all over town. Angry at the half-baked theorising, one high-profile entertainment reporter lashed out at amateur correspondents.

Of course, the problem wasn’t so much the wannabe journos, the problem was the mainstream media itself, ghoulishly exploiting an unfolding human tragedy and urban crisis for cheap ratings and circulation points. The vampire squid again.

And, most tellingly, when the siege ended in gut-churning gunfire and bloodshed in the early hours of the morning, the biggest squid of them all appeared almost immediately on Twitter. In a jaw-dropping display of cynicism, New York-settled Rupert Murdoch used the deaths of young Australians as a cheap advertising opportunity for his media properties and a flippant debating point for his equally crazy ideology.

Yes, but the Tele had got it wrong. Typically, the urge to be first with the news came ahead of getting the story right. Instead, it rushed into print with shameless speculation, innuendo and hysterical headlines calculated to generate fear.

Striking was the contrast between the Murdoch’s shameless exploitation of this event with the understated, intelligent and sensitive rendering on ABC News 24, where veteran journalist John Barron and others did what journalists are supposed to do – report accurately and fairly and with an appreciation of the media’s role as an institution that serves the public, not the other way around.

If ever you want to mount a case for the continued funding of public broadcasting journalism, this siege was it. Journalism, at its best, gives primacy not to advertisers or proprietors or shareholders or ambitious editors, but to the public. Journalists, worthy of the name, serve the public. And they do so by establishing trust, by exercising restraint and, most of all, by respecting the truth.

Elsewhere:

11 comments on “The Failed Estate: Body of the Host”

  1. karol 1

    Excellent post.
    This:

    Much of the commercial media, now drained of any notion of public service, has become a parasitical infection in the body politic, a hookworm that both breeds and feeds on fear, distrust and suspicion in the community and spreads its disease through calculated misinformation and hysteria.

    Compared with this on what journalists, committed to democracy and accuracy should do:

    If ever you want to mount a case for the continued funding of public broadcasting journalism, this siege was it. Journalism, at its best, gives primacy not to advertisers or proprietors or shareholders or ambitious editors, but to the public. Journalists, worthy of the name, serve the public. And they do so by establishing trust, by exercising restraint and, most of all, by respecting the truth.

  2. mac1 2

    I see two issues here, where the commercial media are at fault. One is the need to be first with ‘the breaking news’ whether it’s fully or even partially accurate; and second is the media owner/controller having an agenda for calculated misinformation, aka propaganda.

    The first derives from commercialism, the second from authoritarianism and social control.

    God save us from those who condemned the left as ‘social engineers’ when they do the same with their propaganda, political policies and legislation.

    • Draco T Bastard 2.1

      Those who called the Left social engineers were themselves acting as social engineers. Basically, they were being massive fucken hypocrites. Unfortunately, it worked for them.

  3. Sanctuary 3

    I have been astonished that the Australian press has not demanded to know how it was that one of the two hostages killed – Katrina Dawson – was killed by police gunfire. The whole news shutdown by the police after the operation was obviously to cover up that police gunfire had killed Ms Dawson. Where are all the brave journalists now? Meekly peddling the police line, I’d wager.

    • Ross 3.1

      Wow! I didn’t know that. I suspect that the police were as caught up in the scary terrorist angle as the media and over reacted in their response?

    • ghostwhowalksnz 3.2

      I heard a radio report on Radio Live where they discussed an expert analysis the next day of the final 20 mins.
      The over 100 shots fired had the ‘expert’ shaking his head in disbelief.

      I think the final story hasnt been told and because of the death of two innocent people was in reality muted at the time.

      Why this guy who had red flags everywhere about his behaviour wasnt under survellance by the so called security services, will have some hard questions asked

      • Murray Rawshark 3.2.1

        “Over 100 shots” surprises me. I watched it live and tv and I would have estimated less than 20. Do you have a link for that? I’ve had a quick look but I can’t find anything.

    • Murray Rawshark 3.3

      Do you have a source for that, Sanctuary? While I suspected it was true due to the immediate police silence on the matter, I haven’t seen or heard anything since.

  4. tc 4

    Once the dust finally settles expect the ABC and SBS flagship current affairs shows to nail this on early after they recommence this year.

    The Oz govt is under murdochs thumb and most reasonable folk dislike the bastard so the lines are drawn as he becomes more and more power hungry.

    Enough is never enough with rupert, interesting times ahead.

  5. Malconz 5

    Murray, I guess we can work out that most of the injuries must have been caused by “friendly fire” because the bad guy had a sawn-off shotgun. That means he had only two shots (I think – anyone know for sure?) One killed the poor manager, and shortly after, a police officer was hit in the face with pellets.

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