THE HON WAYNE SWAN MP
MEMBER FOR LILLEY
The Needier Need a Meatier Media
Bernie Sanders rightly rails against the US corporate media for uncritically amplifying Donald Trump, the man with the loudest megaphone in the world, while the voices of the people worst hit by the US President’s policies are increasingly choked off.
Sadly, the media landscape that Senator Sanders paints for America is rapidly coming into view in Australia.
Technology has revealed the apparent paradox of our age. The proliferation of traditional and social media has turned politics in Australia up extremely loud and brought it incredibly close to home. And yet more than ever, Australians feel disconnected or disaffected by what they see of the political process.
Part of this alienation owes to the behaviour of some members of the political class.
Another part surely stems from public frustration with the current Turnbull Government, which cynically prolonged legislating for marriage equality and now seeks to drag out an economic policy just as poisonous for popularity as it is for economic equality – a $65 billion tax cut for big business.
But in large part, public distaste for the aspects of politics that are elevated is precisely the result of what the media elect for elevation.
When metropolitan newspapers run consecutive front pages about Barnaby Joyce’s family dramas but concertedly ignore growing income and wealth inequality, disillusionment and disaffection is sure to grow.
Working Australians looking to their elected representatives for vision and leadership routinely open their news feeds to stories of navel-gazing and brinkmanship.
Beneath the sound and fury lie profound and troubling trends facing our community.
As company profits scale new heights, the share of income for workers nears its lowest level in 60 years.
While workers are more productive than ever, underemployment – the need for more hours – is as urgent as in 40 years.
And as CEO pay soars, real wages stumble close to their slowest growth in 20 years.
Rarely are these gross juxtapositions – which are the signature of widening inequality in Australia – ever presented side-by-side in mainstream media outlets.
Such neglect is frequently deliberate. It is also unconscionable.
Economic inequality poisons society and threatens democracy.
But the outrage and the urgency that inequality deserves are instead typically reserved by corporate media for afflicting the afflicted and comforting the comfortable.
For the corporate media, Labor’s franking credit reform proposal summoned an arsenal of case studies and an army of fictitious retirees who still stood to earn $160,000 in untaxed annual income – more than many top-taxed earners take home.
Not even the ABC seems to resist the embrace of the superficial at the expense of the critical reporting expected of the public broadcaster.
Worryingly, criticism of the ABC from corporate interests is growing louder than any criticism from the ABC of corporate interests.
Exhibit A is the removal of an article by Emma Alberici which dared to hold big businesses to account for not paying their fair share of company tax.
The factually accurate piece was pulled after complaints from the Prime Minister, the Treasurer, the Qantas CEO and the Business Council of Australia.
Although the article was reposted, the ABC’s glass jaw was irrevocably exposed.
As if to plant its flag deeper in the camp of big corporations, while the Alberici piece was offline, the ABC chose to explore “the surprisingly frugal habits of the super rich”, with such penetrating penny wisdom from Elle Macpherson as:
“If I purchase a new handbag for example, I make sure to donate or gift an old handbag. So it’s one item in and one item out – it works for me.”
If only the ABC could recycle articles on tax avoidance as easily as Ms Macpherson recycles handbags!
Following the tax article debacle, Michelle Guthrie has pushed for the ABC to publish more “human interest” stories and less political and national news.
But no issue is more fundamental to the interests of many “Humans of Australia” than the widening of economic inequality, exacerbated by the wealthy elite and eagerly abetted by a government intent on entrenching disadvantage.
The insidious creep of managerialism, corporatism and trivialism at the ABC is a troubling portent of potentially deeper corporate and political overreach.
In singling out the media’s susceptibility to corporate influence and its role in highlighting the fleetingly fascinating over the profoundly important, I don’t deny the destructive feedback loop that rebounds from politicians to the media to the public.
But we shouldn’t shrink from cutting this Gordian knot while the problems it presents strangle all parties involved.
We must all do better.
For our part, politicians can refocus on the big challenges that Australians face and propose bold reforms to make Australia fairer and upturn inequality at its root.
For their part, the media might try to treat audiences with respect. As hungry as Australians might seem for small-screen drama, they’re starved for lasting, big‑picture changes.
TUESDAY, 20 MARCH 2018
MEDIA CONTACT: DANIEL DE VOSS 0403 775 158
All electoral communications authorised by Noah Carroll ALP Canberra