Crisis. What Crisis?: How media’s negotiation with it’s own future is compromising political debate, and its own seat at the table

featured image via SBS

on Thursday Howard Sattler, a radio presented on 6PR radio in Perth, asked the Prime Minister of Australia if her partner was gay. on Friday afternoon he was sacked by Fairfax. the question is not whether Sattler should have been sacked, rather it’s why Fairfax took almost 24 hours to do it.

the interview really does beggar belief. that the presenter of a radio station can think it appropriate to put to a serving prime minister that their partner ‘must be’ gay as he is a hairdresser, would be beyond conceivable had it not already happened.

the incident landed in the same week that reports and comments in both the UK and Australia Guardian that raise I think broader questions about the evolving role of the media in politics. in the UK an article by Steve Richards on the pessimism he is observing in politicians across the political spectrum prompted CiF contributor ratherbered to comment:

“… I blame the modern media and the way that this influences what people believe. The media more and more have a short term focus and simplistic dumbed down approach to presenting the issues we face. Small wonder that the politicians appear to be clueless when the questions they are asked change every hour and smart interviewers are constantly trying to trip them up and exploit a gaffe.”

ratherbered (source)

I rather think that ratherbered has a point. a commented on an Aussie article in the wake of the Sattler interview attributed the whole incident to the ‘death throes’ of the traditional media.

modern society has from very early on relied on the broadcast media to report the activities of our politicians, provide a forum for debate, and hold their actions to account. from the earliest print titles to today’s cable channels, media has danced a dance with politicians – frenemies that played with each other for mutual benefit, but always wary of their respective influence on each other.

it is in that context that the ‘traditional’ (I use that word with care) media is now conducting a whole new negotiation – a negotiation in which this blog aims to mediate. it is the negotiation for what their future looks like. that negotiation is tricky. it involves lower margins, more diverse revenue streams, less resource, the requirement for more content creation and an increasingly fraught battle for human attention.

the potential problem is that the last of these is measured and largely remunerated based on volume of people reached – viewers, readership, subscribers, pageviews … at that means that, with less human and financial resource, the traditional media are in an arms race for impacts.

I think you can see where I’m going.

at what point does the financial and business pressure for viewers / listeners / readers begin to compromise the forum in which our politics is debated? where is the line in sand that defines and describes the places we need for our politicians’ policies and actions to be discussed and assessed? what if there isn’t one.

the Sattler interview could represent one bad call. or it could represent a crisis in the level of available resource and therefore capability of a modern and transforming commercial media to credibly and reliably be the forum for our political representatives that we need.

I hope that its the former. I’m not sure there is, as yet, a plan B.

2 responses to “Crisis. What Crisis?: How media’s negotiation with it’s own future is compromising political debate, and its own seat at the table

  1. The Sattler question was a great example of somebody in established media disconnected from what most people would consider a decent point to draw the line.

    I wonder though whether the issue isn’t that this was always the case with some media outlets, but that now it’s easier for non-media folk to make their views known.

    Perhaps it’s just that the disconnect is now more obvious when it occurs…

    • thanks for the comment.
      its definitely true that there’s more transparency and connectivity now, which makes these incidents happen faster and harder – but I do also think there’s a broader issue.
      across the board we’re seeing the media landscape become more immediate, short-termist and soundbite-driven. this is having an inevitable consequence on the nature and quality of political debate. I think they perhaps get it more right in the states, but then they have the issue of radical-partisanship.
      we have pockets – #qanda and Paul Murray are good examples – but I fear that what happened last week is a symptom of a deeper issue, one that an all-grown-up new media may have to address.

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