There’s more than one way to mislead the public


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There’s more than one book for the writing about the extent to which journalists, by the way they choose to report matters, deliberately influence the debate. It is quite possible to seriously mislead the public without actually telling a direct lie. Every journalist knows that. Some of the choices of words might seem small beer. But make no mistake, journalists can have a dramatic impact by the language they choose. They know this very well. There’s a big difference between describing something as a backflip and describing it as listening to the people. If you want politicians to be flexible and to listen to good ideas or criticism then backdown and backflip will be used judiciously. Journalists can play up small mistakes by people they don’t like and completely ignore them if a mate (read someone who feeds them information) does the same thing. How wonderful to have a job where you can influence an outcome without taking a scintilla of responsibility.

Perhaps I am in a very small club but I would like to see more reporting of what’s actually happening. What might seem boring facts can, in skilled hands, be made both informative and interesting. That means user friendly. Look what Alan Kohler manages to do, how the Landline crew make what’s happening across Australia accessible to us all and how Heather Ewart’s Back Roads gives anyone who wants it a vital and human insight into life in Australia outside the capital cities. Is it too much to ask that this sort of skill, vitality and insight be given to political coverage ?

Politics is much more than the day to day argy bargy in Canberra. In truth the legislation passed or the funding program approved is really just the start of the story. Where it bites or offers some salve is in its implementation. That’s where it affects real people. That’s worth reporting on. It’s much more important than who was rude to whom in Parliament. More reporting on what’s happening on the ground is not only of interest to us because it affects us. Good reporting can highlight where things are going wrong and hopefully get change before more money is wasted. Equally giving good coverage to small programs that are working well supports more of the same. I get that it’s not front page stuff. But politics is surely about people, rather than who leads which team in Canberra. More reporting on the ground just might give parliaments, at all levels, a reason to focus more on us. That’s far more important than who said what to whom last week or yesterday.

I am really hoping that Albo’s call is heeded not only by the politicians but the journalists as well. More importantly we need to look at ourselves. Whichever way you are inclined to vote do you immediately look for faults in propositions put by the other side? It’s a normal human reaction to defend your team and that may involve picking holes in the other sides argument. But it’s a folly. If there’s a good idea going my view is grab it. It might get packaged up another way but what we are all after is the better idea. If there’s a flaw in your own proposition, use the criticism as free market research to remedy the defect.

While legislation plays a vital role in shaping who we are, laws alone certainly do not define us as a nation. Did any tourist ever tell you they like Australia because of a piece of legislation? How we shape our lives, how we interact with others, what we expect from each other shapes who we as a nation are. So how we treat our politicians and political ideas is really very important.

We should try to understand each other’s ideas rather than mimic the battles in Canberra. It’s not hard to ask someone questions about their idea rather than berating them for being an idiot. We’ve got a better chance of winning people over with reason than a baseball bat. If more of us behave like that you just never know what might happen.

Amanda Vanstone is a former Coalition minister.



Politics

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