Marks, Russell: An impoverished estate (media and politics)

Marks, Russell

An impoverished estate‘, The Monthly, 5 July 2016

The sub-heading reads ‘The Australian media prioritised personality over policy during this election campaign’. Honest History has avoided running ‘horse-race’ stories about this election campaign, punting (sorry) instead for the pieces which attempt to make general points, preferably from a historical perspective, about what the election says about our political system. Anne Coombs’ piece (about what governments are for) was one, Ian McAuley’s on the long-term decline in major party voting was another, this article is a third. And there are a couple more linked further down.

Marks is interested in how political information is mediated.

Almost everything we know about political issues and personalities [he says] is presented to us via television and radio stations, newspapers and websites owned by the private and public companies that employ the journalists and the commentators. This is hardly a new observation. But during the 2016 election campaign, mainstream content was virtually silent on the government’s record over the past three years. Even the most trusted of outlets, the ABC, was little more than a conduit for the parties’ narratives.

Inappropriate economic policies (contraction) avoided analysis for three years, government instability was overlooked, the childishness of government under Abbott was excused, the Murdoch press in particular shirked its responsibilities, business spruikers got a dream run, the failure to develop policy was not analysed.

Collective media amnesia about a government’s record creates a vacuum into which mediocre political leaders drop simple slogans with mundane regularity. These slogans aren’t subject to proper, critical scrutiny by journalists, so they acquire the status of facts in their own right through mere repetition.

In the midst of this, journalists did not do their jobs. They let parties ‘run scare campaigns with impunity in this decontextualised environment’.

Two vastly different sources of context for those interested in pursuing them are, first, the Australian Prime Ministers webpage put together by the Museum of Australian Democracy (artefacts, cartoons, facts, photographs) and, secondly, the analysis of the Communist Party of Australia (Marxist-Leninist) called Parliament and Elections: A Superficial Democracy, dated this month. The latter paper puts the view that ‘Australia’s parliament administers and protects the exploitative and corrupt economic system of capitalism; and that real democracy will grow out of a grass roots mass movement with an independent working class agenda based on the demands and needs of working people’. That, as they say, takes it to another level.

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