An editorial I would like to see in any paper
You may notice something different about our political coverage today. For one, you'll notice a complete absence of the word "slams" in our headlines. Same goes for "smashes", "attacks" and "assaults". Politics is not wrestling, as much as they might try to make it thus, and so we have decided to try an approach wherein we talk about our political process as if it is actually a discussion between fully clothed, psychologically sound adults. We hope the change suits.
Second, you will notice that we have not covered a single press conference, door stop or tweet held, conducted or issued by our political representatives over the last 24 hours. There is also a grand total of 30 words spent (wasted?) on Question Time. This is because we at this paper have begun to realise – far too slowly, we fear – that far from being fearless reporters of the cut and thrust and warp and woof of Parliament, we are instead being used, consciously and deliberately, as blind amplifiers of empty political rhetoric.The signs have been there for some time, but it has been the utter malfeasance of the past week of chatter that finally drove home how bad it has become.
It began with Opposition Leader Tony Abbott's use of three – three – consecutive days of media coverage to peddle blatant and unadorned lies about the asylum seekers coming to our country, each of his vile, incorrect statements mindlessly recited by the press as if they were a valid contribution to the national debate. An evidence and law-based discussion over how best to dissuade these desperate people from seeking often deadly boat transport to our country we have no objection to, but no self-respecting paper should ever have reprinted his claim that Australia "can't afford" to take in the number of asylum seekers we currently do, nor that they constitute a "peaceful invasion". These are patently false, as legitimate as a claim that we cannot afford trees, but Abbott and his ilk know that all one has to do is get the media to repeat something enough times and it takes on the essence of truth. He and his party have obviously spent the last six months watching the Presidential campaign of Mitt Romney, who came so close to seizing power with a campaign based on just this principle. A cautionary tale for Abbott and co: Romney lost.
(In case one should be tempted to accuse this paper of partisanship, the Labor party is little better. They are just as happy to swap bickering and words like "backflip" and "sending a clear message" for any real discussion. One just wishes they could point to some evidence as to why the draconian policies currently being implemented are more likely to work than any other available policy and thus, as they say, tough but necessary.)
And it has continued with the non-furore over Prime Minister GIllard's time as a lawyer in the early 1990s. There may, as anyone on the conservative side of politics cannot wait to hyperventilate, be "questions to answer", but until those questions are phrased and their relevance to the good character of our Prime Minister set out, we refuse to cover them. Similarly, this may be a "smear", as all involved with Labor say, often-times repeatedly, but until a series of facts appears that warrants the discussion currently being held via the media – and threatening to dominate the final sitting week of our democratically elected and taxpayer-funded Parliament – we see no point in forcing our highly-skilled, passionate journalistic staff to regurgitate the vapid accusations and denials being thrown about, the sum total of which, at this moment in time, can be reduced down to the phrases "She's bad" and "No, she's not". The only sentence this paper wants to add to the mix is "shut up".
These are but two examples, but the way these two largely unimportant and narrow issues have dominated the recent coverage from all our media outlets is instructive. We have been reduced to glorified stenographers for the political personalities of today, following our anointed leaders around the country and repeating verbatim what they have to say, irrespective of merit or import. In this way we have begun actively misleading and misinforming our readers if only because we have begun parroting blatant and obvious mistruths. We purport to objectivity and so cover what that those in power say, but this principle is being actively manipulated by those we report on to distort and shift the political balance in this country.
So, we are taking a stand (or perhaps 'conducting an experiment'). We are refusing to print the content of a press conference, door stop or tweet as a matter of course. Politicians can no longer expect that privilege merely because they stand as an elected representative. Democracy is not so pure, and they have not shown themselves to be worthy of that respect. Their words are not, in any pure sense, news. We will report instead on the matters before Parliament and the work of our Government in all its many endeavours. We will allow our political journalists to burrow down into the fields they are passionate about and follow the stories they think are worth following. We will not waste their time by having them serve as the mouthpieces of the Liberal, Labor or Greens party, or any other organisation that has learnt how to hold a press conference.
It may work, it may not. People may read, they probably won't. But we cannot in good conscience spend another of this paper's issues letting Gillard, Abbott, Milne and all the others paint a picture of this country that exists in their words alone. Both us and you deserve more than that.
A Paper That Will Never Exist
P.S. Because it has about as much political significance as anything said by the leaders of any of our parties over the past week, here's a GIF of a cat dressed as a bee falling off a couch. Don't say we don't appreciate you, dear reader.
Lead image via Shutterstock