With the world wrestling with the disruptive impact of digital communication on democracy, and the news media struggling for its very survival as it faces unprecedented challenges and public attack, we desperately need new institutions and mechanisms to put the public foremost in considering the functions of media.
“Kick this mob out” shouted the front page of The Daily Telegraph reporting the calling of the 2013 election in which Tony Abbott was to triumph. Restraint and modesty have never been the hallmarks of tabloid newspapers. Sometimes they celebrate what they claim is their impact – most famously when the London Sun proclaimed “It’s The Sun wot won it” after the 1992 Conservative victory. But it is a long time since any tabloid newspaper could plausibly claim such a role because their reach has shrunk so markedly. In 1972, the biggest-selling newspaper in Australia was The Sun News Pictorial in Melbourne, with a daily circulation of 648,000. Its stablemate, the Melbourne Herald, was the biggest-selling afternoon newspaper with 498,000.
We shouldn’t need a Super Bowl commercial costing around $10 million to remind us that information is supposed to matter in a democracy. Yet the Washington Post thought we did, so it told 111 million Americans watching the Super Bowl that “knowing empowers us, knowing helps us decide, knowing keeps us free.” It was another sign that our longstanding faith in the power of information is faltering, undermining democracy. And unless we want this faith to be replaced by authoritarianism, we need to reform our education and political systems to restore our faith in facts.
A recent study from Ohio State University communications scholars found that news stories connecting climate change to natural disasters actually backfire among skeptics.
Is Jose Mourinho, the Donald Trump of football? Or is Trump the “special one” of world politics? Both are masters of diversion, both believe that dark forces – the FA, the FBI, the media – are plotting against them. They see conspiracies all around, create enemies to rally their teams and supporters, specialise in siege mentalities and a burning sense of injustice.
Since the tragic attack on two mosques in Christchurch earlier this month, Australian leaders have raised concerns that social media platforms have become facilitators, if not full-on enablers, of the spread of terrorist ideas and content. The government appears to be considering far-reaching criminal sanctions if social media executives do not comply with newly planned measures to address the problem.
South African media has been criticised on social media for its initially superficial and underwhelming coverage of the massive floods in Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi in the wake of the devastating Tropical Cyclone Idai. Serious news consumers had to rely on foreign news sources instead of local media as the grim picture of the destruction – which included hundreds of deaths, flooding, disease and havoc to resources and infrastructure – started emerging.
Although the carnage was condemned extensively across geographical borders, some reporting in England and Canada has been troubling.
Transparency is needed from Facebook to ensure it is free from any political pressures. This will also empower its users to take action in fighting hoaxes and misinformation.
The federal budget has finally answered some of the questions about the Liberal government’s plans to subsidize the news business, which were first floated late last year. But the details revealed by Finance Minister Bill Morneau raises many more questions about Ottawa’s reasons for supporting journalism.