Both pieces arose from a special feature run by ABC’s Lateline on political image.
You can see the feature by clicking here to get to the Lateline website.
Here’s my latest for ABC’s The Drum, following on from last night’s Lateline feature which examined the influence of image on our voting choices.
If you’re stout of heart, you might like to contribute to the comments!
I’ve written before that Twitter has become an unexpected school of politics, providing a unique forum for people with less knowledge of our civic processes to learn from those with more. When those discussions are taking place, Twitter is vibrant and all-embracing democracy at its best.
Well, Wednesday night was NOT one of those times.
Over a particular 24 hour period Twitter demonstrated just how aggressively puerile it can be. And in spitting their dummies in ever-lengthening arcs, partisan tweeps missed the point altogether.
The event in question was the long-awaited interview by 730’s Leigh Sales of the Leader of the Opposition, Tony Abbott.
The interview was long-awaited for two reasons: it had literally been quite some time since Sales had last interviewed Abbott. The Leader of the Opposition’s team had clearly been keeping him away from “hard” political interviews, choosing instead to conduct photo-opportunities with limited questions from the media, stand up press conferences from which he could stride away when the questions become unwanted and set-piece speeches and events like the recent community forum with its hand-picked audience.
The other reason the interview was long-anticipated was that on the previous occasion Abbott had been interviewed by Sales, he’d been ill-prepared and she’d made the most of it. Abbott’s poor performance that night was the main reason he’d been kept away from hard interviews ever since.
But Wednesday afternoon, Sales tweeted as she often does at that time of day to announce her interview guest would be Tony Abbott. Twitter went aflutter. The Press Gallery must have too, with Age columnist Tony Wright writing this breathless preview.
From then until the program went to air, Sales was bombarded with tweets giving gratuitous advice on what questions she should ask.
Others opined that Sales should just “do her job” which was variously interpreted as being everything from not saying anything to interrupting or … not interrupting.
When the time came, I chose to watch Twitter instead of the interview (mostly because I don’t watch tv news and current affairs, but also because I knew I could time-shift it later).
Conspiracies began to fly, principally that Abbott’s mistakes would be edited out by the ABC and/or that Sales’ questions would have been provided to Abbott before the interview. (No similar criticism was made when Sales’ recent interview with the Prime Minister was also pre-recorded.)
The Twitter meltdown was spectacular and lasted well into the evening, as well as the next day.
Having already pruned my tweetstream of most offensive tweeps I did not see the worst of it. Sales gave us a glimpse the next day.
An interesting contribution was made by Peter Clarke over at Australians for Honest Politics. As a former broadcaster and an educator, Clarke provided a critique of Sales and suggested what she should have done during the interview. He produced a similar critique for Sales’ interview of the PM. (I look forward to future analyses of Tony Jones, Emma Alberici and Barrie Cassidy’s interviewing prowess or lack thereof.)
The critique of Sales’ Abbott interview was diminished considerably by the conspiratorial allusions that followed:
Has Sales personally or the 730 program generally lost their knack to scrutinize the man (and woman) competing for the prime ministership? If so, what veiled process has brought us to this? What has happened to Sales’ previous admirable abilities to forge and ask, in context, sharp, forensic, confronting questions on our behalf? And to deploy the right tone and weight of personality and to be flexible with those choices on the run?
Where was the clear evidence of a pre-planned strategy for this interview from Sales and her team? If they had one, it went to water early on.
In short, what is actually happening behind the scenes at 730 to leech this program of its effectiveness just when we need it most to do its fourth estate job effectively without fear or favour?
While it’s fair to ponder the extent to which the ABC might pull its punches to stay onside with an incoming government, there was little evidence of this occurring in the Abbott interview (yes I have watched it). Sales was well-prepared and took Abbott up on most of his rebuttals, even though she has toned down the interviewus interruptus style that so annoyed viewers during the previous interview with the Prime Minister.
Peter Clarke criticises Sales for not pressing Abbott on several occasions when opportunities presented themselves. But with this being a pre-recorded interview and likely edited down to 13 minutes from a longer version, it’s quite possible Sales did pursue several lines of questioning. If Abbott was ultimately able to evade these questions there would have been no point leaving his manoeuvring in the final cut, particularly with so many topics vying for air time.
Even though there was no gotcha moment similar to that which brought on Abbott’s gaffe last year, Sales did elicit some interesting and newsworthy pieces of information:
Most interesting was Abbott’s concession about needing to “grow into” the role of PM, as he once grew into the role of health minister. This suggests Coalition market research is finding voters think Abbott might not be PM material.
Meanwhile a heretofore unknown blogger [to me], Anthony Bieniack, made this illuminating observation in his post “Repeat after me: Leigh Sales is not the problem”:
There’s a lot of theories as to why to Tony Abbott is doing so well – with varying degrees of merit – the one I personally believe is that the ALP have a particularly bad communications team, good policies are not being heard and bad news is reverberating, but I think it goes deeper than that. I think it’s us.
It’s Twitter, its Facebook, it’s slacktivism – and it’s killing us, because while us Twitter-loving commies are sitting around patting each other on the back and pretending we’re valiantly fighting a tory threat – our opponents are recruiting and growing. While we’re writing obscure blog posts about percentages of GDP and preference-sharing and telling each other how clever we are – our opponents are telling a plumber that Julia lied to us and Abbott is our saviour.
We aren’t fighting anything – we’re preaching to the choir and wasting time doing it.
We’ve become lazy, we’ve got faith in the failed logic that policy is all that matters and that Leigh Sales will eventually be our hero – she’s not our hero, she’s not our saviour and that isn’t her job – it’s ours.
Stop Tweeting, stop blogging, stop retelling the same anti-Abbott stories to people who have already made up there mind. Simplify your message and tell it to the people who don’t care much for politics. Tell your hairdresser, tell the guy next to you on the tram. Listen to people and find out why they’re not on your side and have a succinct response. Join a political party, get some flyers, spread the word and stop blaming the media.
After all, if your friends have more faith in the Herald Sun then they have in you – you have the credibility problem.
If Abbott wins it won’t be because the ABC didn’t harass him about his education policy – it will be because when people were deciding who to vote for, we were telling each other how funny we were on Twitter.
Here’s my latest at AusVotes 2013…
Modern journalism is impoverished by the anachronistic need to be first.
Once upon a time, in the pre-internet days of the mechanical printing press and morning edition newspapers, there was real value in getting a story first. A scoop, leak or exclusive wasn’t just about journalistic cachet, it was about cold hard cash. Being first meant selling more newspapers than your competitors, by having a story they didn’t have until their next editions rolled off the presses.
As a result journalistic merit was, and often still is, measured by being first instead of best. Walkley awards have been handed out for scoops that resulted not from investigative journalism but journalists being strategically chosen by political players to be the recipient of leaked information.
This journalistic mind-set has not adapted to the digital age of instantaneity. While someone can still get a buzz from being the first to tweet an important piece of information, there is no monetary value that can be extracted from this primacy. [An increased Klout score resulting from 20,000 retweets doesn’t qualify.]
The redundant need to be first is mistakenly still equated with ‘winning’ and it sits at the heart of what is wrong with modern journalism. It drives journalists to publish half-baked stories and poorly-verifiedinformation. It encourages the substitution of analysis with opinion. In short it rewards shoddy journalism.
Click here to keep reading…
I’m now the proud publisher of my first eBook!
The eBook contains most of my posts from 2012 on politics, the traditional media and social media – but in chronological order. It makes so much more sense reading them that way.
The eBook is available from the Blurb bookstore. If you’d prefer a PDF for your non idevice, just leave a request in the comments.
I hope you enjoy it!
The most significant thing that emerged from the mea culpas and post mortems that littered the coup-that-wasn’t battlefield was the notion that journalists are willing to be made patsys.
What other explanation can there be for the role the media played in the Rudd camp’s most recent premature leadership tourney?
Seasoned journalists proved yet again their willingness to publicly be made to look fools in return for being able to participate in private leadership maneuverings.
Click here to read more…
Voters’ ability to express their displeasure through seemingly perpetual opinion polls has created an entire generation of risk-averse, poll-driven politicians. But who is actually to blame for this populist approach to public policy and the tenure of political leaders?
As Katharine Murphy observed earlier this week:
We elect governments as an investment in [the] long game, yet tear them to shreds for not delivering for us in the here and now. It’s always been thus, an enduring perversity of expectation about politics, but I worry it’s getting worse.
I worry that politics is losing some of its capacity to stand its ground against the various toxicities in the media cycle, and dysfunctions within the parties themselves – that too many perverse incentives are being created to mortgage the future for the present.
The most obvious symptom of this is the trashing of political leaders we’ve seen over the past few years. Politics is itself devaluing the currency of leadership in some Faustian bargain to remain one step ahead of opinion polls.
Our elected representatives once were leaders we admired, or at least respected, and we were confident they would make the right decisions on our behalf.
While Katharine Murphy invokes Faust in her analogy of how our leaders have become devalued, I’d suggest a different type of demonic force has infiltrated our democratic processes: our politicians have become doppelgangers, mirroring our views, our concerns and yes, even our basest prejudices to win favour and the approval of the Newspoll gods.
We need to keep this in mind when railing against policies such as the Government’s proposed changes to 457 visas or the Opposition’s approach to asylum seekers.
Both these positions are mirrors, reflecting the views of the parties’ prospective supporters back to them. The parties do this to convey not-too-subtle subliminal messages to the visceral voters who ultimately will decide the election. “We are like you”, the messages whisper, “we share your concerns” and “your priorities are our priorities”. The parties do this in the hope of making a connection that will deliver a vote on election day.
Whether it is based on fact or fiction, job security and the broader question of employment continue to be voters’ number one obsession. Many factors contribute to this fixation including the inequities of the two-speed economy, the pressure of huge mortgage commitments and the uncertainty associated with GFC-diminished superannuation.
Job anxiety is also a political legacy, an albatross borne by both major parties directly as a result of the fear campaigns they ran against Work Choices, in the case of Labor, and the Liberals’ crusade against the carbon price.
It’s easy for those of us with tertiary educations and regular pay cheques to dismiss such job anxiety as an indulgence of the narrow-minded and ignorant:
But the reality is that every adult Australian, ignorant or not, has the right to vote with as much or as little thought as they care to exercise.
And let’s face it, while its honourable to urge politicians to resist being guided by the ignorant majority, to show some leadership and do what is right, the political reality is inconsistent with that noble goal: there’s little chance of implementing a suite of worthy policies from the opposition or cross-party benches. Just ask the Greens…
It seems the days are long gone when the public supported a politician for doing the right but unpopular thing. In fact, we may well have lost respect for our political leaders altogether. As Jonathan Green observed this week after a (possibly orchestrated) outburst from the parliamentary public gallery during Question Time:
It would be fair to say that many Australian voters view their politicians with something more than laconic distaste and a lot less than humble awe. But this Question Time outburst had that special feeling that is close to a defining feature of our modern politics: that edge of guttural, contemptuous ugliness.
In the converse of my mirror theory, Jonathan Green posits that the depth of voters’ current disdain for political leaders is a reflection of the disrespect with which they are held within their own parties:
Last week we saw the effect again in full and fatal swing, with Victorian Premier Ted Baillieu losing the confidence of his party and thus his job … If the role is so easily tradable, the office so easily removed, is it truly worthy of the sort of respect it has traditionally attracted? … It seems logical that if political parties see leadership as something so casually vulnerable, then the voting public will follow suit and look at those high offices with scant respect.
Former Prime Minister Bob Hawke apparently also canvassed this issue when he addressed a reunion celebrating his time in office at the National Press Club last weekend. Dennis Atkins reported that the striking thing about Hawke’s address was that he didn’t simply dwell on the good old days:
Hawke laid out his story of 1983 to 1991 with typical clarity – explaining the problem his government inherited and how they tackled the momentous challenges. He also pinpointed a central problem of the present broken system of politics and government – that Parliament is held in low regard.
Hawke said the contempt for national politics had to be tackled urgently. He proposed breaking down the way parties approached agendas by having one set of issues that fit neatly with Labor or the Coalition and bigger, more contentious matters handled in a new way. Hawke said these challenges wouldn’t go to party rooms but to parliament to be thrashed out and voted on without politicians bound by pre-determined positions.
There certainly is merit in Hawke’s proposed approach, encouraging parliamentarians to venture beyond their party platforms and explore what their communities think and want. But it does nothing to address the real faultline in Australia’s democracy – the reality that voters are likely to think and want things that might not actually be in the nation’s best interest.
Meanwhile, opinion polls continue to drive our political conversations and popularity remains the most important element of a policy, causing politicians to resort to lowest-common-denominator policies in order to survive.
As Katharine Murphy notes, this approach:
… prioritises personal survival over coherence: it creates a palpable sense of contingency.
In that frame, who will take on hard reform?
The first step towards answering that question is for us, the voters, to accept that our community’s views are at least partly responsible for the populist but ultimately self-destructive state of Australian politics today.
Instead of whingeing about the deficiencies of traditional media during this year’s federal election campaign, I thought it would make more sense to produce and showcase the types of information and analysis we think are missing.
That’s the basic premise for a group blog that I established just a fortnight ago, AusVotes 2013.
So far we have 20 writers, many of whom have their own blogs, and who between them bring a wide range of political philosophies and professional backgrounds to the examination of the 2013 federal election.
Over 30 posts have been published to date, generating around 15,000 hits, and covering a range of policy issues as well as discussion of the roles of traditional and social media.
I initially thought the site would be a six week project, during the election campaign proper. But with the election date being announced with such a long lead time, it will now be a seven month project!
So if you’re wondering where Drag0nista has got to, or why she’s not posting here as often as usual, just head over to AusVotes 2013 and you will find me there.
You might recall I said in my rant about the #AshbyInquiryNow campaign that:
“there is much that is just plain wrong in the Slipper/Ashby saga: the Coalition turned a blind eye for many years to Slipper’s suspected abuse of entitlements; the Government chose him as Speaker despite similar knowledge; Ashby deceived and manipulated, giving little mind to the potential personal cost on others; and Brough has not yet been called to account for his involvement in Ashby’s scheme.”
Many comments followed the post, here and on Twitter, and there has been a genuine attempt to identify ways to address the latter points.
While we might disagree on some things, Margo Kingston and I do agree that the Federal Court’s judgement raises matters for which Ashby and Brough must provide explanations. While the procurement and provision of Slipper’s diary might attract legal charges, it seems unlikely that any will arise from the abuse of court processes that was identified by Justice Rares.
Margo has already challenged the Sunshine Coast Daily to tackle Brough on his involvement with Ashby’s complaint.
But where is Ashby? Is his announced appeal against Rares’ findings actually a strategy to deflect media attention until some other political drama arises? Or is the media avoiding him anyway, in the same fashion they avoided anything other than scant coverage of the Federal Court judgement?
I’ve said I’d support actions that have substance and deal with known rather than suspected protagonists. In response Margo suggested I join her in challenging journalists to find the elusive Mr Ashby and get some answers.
And so I have. Consider it the inaugural D&M Newshound Challenge.
There’s plenty that we need to know, and only one person who can tell us. Why did Ashby accept a job in December 2011 with Slipper when he was already uncomfortable with texts he’d received from the then Deputy Speaker as early as October? Why did he not use other avenues of complaint/redress rather than going straight to courts? Why turn to Brough after describing him in considerably negative terms to Slipper? Who’s paying his legal bills? And was he encouraged to turn against Slipper in January 2012 and for what incentive?
So that’s the challenge. Find Ashby and find some facts. We’d love to read, hear or watch reports from fourth and fifth estate journalists on their strategies and progress in meeting this challenge. Surely there’s someone among Australia’s many talented investigative journalists, professional and amateur, who can succeed.