Journalists on the wrong side of history when it comes to social media

April 26, 2019

In the last week or so some fairly senior journalists and journalism academics have launched a defence of mainstream reporters and reporting by suggesting that most, if not all, criticism of journalists is coming from a Trumpian perspective. This perspective has appeared in several tweets by senior journalists and it has been given a more ‘respectable’ form in a column by ABC talking head Michael Rowland.

In a piece published on the ABC News website Rowland lamented that he – and other reporters – have been on the receiving end of some insulting and even abusive tweets.

Now, journalism isn’t exactly the profession for shrinking violets.

If you cover the brutal game of politics you have to be particularly robust, but the level of muck being hurled around on Twitter at the moment would test the toughest of souls.

Personally speaking, I have noticed a huge increase in abuse and petty name-calling since the election campaign began.

The free character references I’ve received have often been quite inventive.

He wasn’t the only member of the journalistic elite to give voice to such views. Academic and Nine commentator (she’s published in what we used to know as the Fairfax mastheads) Jenna Price went into bat to defend Patricia Karvelas who also copped some flack over an incident on Insiders the previous weekend.

Social media has become an incubator for hatred of journalists, led by President Donald Trump after learning from the best, the troll armies of President Rodrigo Duterte, says senior research fellow, Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at the University of Oxford, Julie Posetti.

Chris Uhlmann takes his complaint against the cultural Marxists a step further. He claims we are worse than the far-right. His former ABC colleague Leigh Sales has also publicly attacked what she calls “far left bias” against the ABC in general and her program in particular.

Far Left Fury

This is a misleading claim that attempts to delegitimise progressive critiques of the mainstream news media by lumping all critics of journalism into one ideological pigeon hole.

How would Leigh Sales – or Chris Uhlmann for that matter – identify someone as “far left”. They wouldn’t know from any position of nuanced reading or understanding; all they have to go on are their own prejudiced and stereotyped views from a position of privileged elitism.

However, what really annoyed me was this tweet from Miriam Cosic who has been a journo for a while and who also makes much of her postgraduate qualifications in philosophy.

Miriam got upset with me when I described this thinking as “lazy”, but it is intellectually lazy. There is a world of difference between a progressive left critique of journalism and the news media and Donald Trump’s Fascistic demonization of journalism he doesn’t like.

However, I guess these same ‘very fine’ people might dismiss my views out of hand. After all, I am a fully paid-up card-carrying life-long member of what Chris Uhlmann has derisively labelled the “post-Christian left”.

Chomsky, not Trumpski

I think there are two distinct political positions on media criticism, and it is wrong to conflate them.

One is certainly a neo-Fascist view that has been thoroughly discredited but that is espoused by Trump and his supporters and originated with the Nazi regime’s propaganda trope of the Lügenpresse or “lying media”.

The other is diametrically opposed to this and, as a form of shorthand, I’m going to call this the Chomskyian view.

The Chomskyian view is based on a long history of progressive, left-wing and anti-capitalist critiques of the news media and it is summarised rather well in Chomsky and Herman’s classic phrase about the “manufacture” of consent.

In 1988, Chomsky and Herman described the media in capitalist society as a propaganda machine. They were right then and the same holds true today.

The mass media serve as a system for communicating messages and symbols to the general populace. It is their function to amuse, entertain, and inform, and to inculcate individuals with the values, beliefs, and codes of behavior that will integrate them into the institutional structures of the larger society. In a world of concentrated wealth and major conflicts of class interest, to fulfill this role requires systematic propaganda.

The problem for the ruling class and its media allies is that the machine is breaking down and they’re fresh out of spare parts.

I’ve tried before in IA and in many of my other recent writings, including this book and this journal article, to explain the important differences between a Trumpian view of “fake news” and a more sophisticated analysis of journalism, journalists and the news media that situates the whole “fake news” discussion into an historical and theoretical context which is known as the political economy of communication.

I’ve also written about media issues extensively in IA, including here, here, here, here and here. I also wrote a long review of Katharine Murphy’s pamphlet, On Disruption in which she defends the News Establishment’s approach to the disruption caused by social media.

Here’s one takeaway from that piece:

Murphy raises the important question of the relationship between a media ecology that has begun a descent into what she accurately describes as ‘a febrile, superficial, shouty, shallow, pugnacious cacophony of content, where sensation regularly trumps insight’, and the demagoguery of Trump and his European imitators.

Murphy asks us rhetorically:

‘Did we, the disrupted media, somehow create Donald Trump? Did we enable him?’ 

However, she struggles to provide a coherent answer.

I think the collapse of the old certainties in the news media and the failure of the News Establishment to effectively reflect on its mistakes certainly gave strength to the Trumpian view that the news media is the ‘enemy of the people’.

However, let’s be clear this is a talking point of the Alt Right and its enablers. It is not a view shared by progressive critics of the News Establishment.

A direct attack on democracy and active citizenship

I have no problem with journalists defending themselves on Twitter, but the common tactic from the News Establishment has been to shy away from directly responding to serious critics and, instead, to focus on the minority of idiots who make vile threats.

I want to be clear; I do not support threats of violence, racist, sexist or homophobic abuse against reporters, but I don’t mind a bit of hard-hitting sarcasm.

The world has changed over the past 20 years and as we’re constantly told by the very same Establishment figures when they’re trying to gouge subscriptions from us: engagement is the new normal. There is no going back, social media has changed the journalistic landscape forever.

The problem is the News Establishment wants engagement on its terms. Engagement for them means we take out subscriptions and become unpaid sources for them or allow them to scour material from our social media feeds to pad out otherwise thin reporting.

What the News Establishment definitely doesn’t want is an active Fifth Estate undermining its authority or its cosy relationship with the rich and powerful.

I would go so far as to suggest that the pushback against their serious critics on Twitter reveals the truly anti-democratic nature of their thinking and their true ideological position.

At least that’s how I’ve interpreted this tweet from ABC reporter Matt Bevan.

Maybe he was joking, or at least maybe that’s what he’d say if challenged, but I think it’s telling.

Twitter provides a platform for what we might call ‘monitorial citizenship’, that is the ability for ordinary people to talk directly to the powerful.

This is upsetting for the News Establishment because, for the past 200 years or so, they have been the principal gatekeepers. Journalists were in a privileged position of mediating between the rulers and the ruled.

They were treated to a rare glimpse inside the halls of power – the first Press Gallery was established in the Palace of Westminster in 1803 – in return they were expected to massage the more brutal pronouncements of the powerful and provide for the “manufacture of consent”.

The News Establishment has played a supporting role ever since; agreeing to keep some secrets to protect the State and legitimising the consolidation of the two-party system.

It was his observation of the Westminster gallery that prompted this acerbic jab from Oscar Wilde:

“Journalism has carried its authority to the grossest and most brutal extreme. As a natural consequence it has begun to create a spirit of revolt. People are amused by it, or disgusted by it…But it is no longer the real force it was. It is not seriously treated.”

Until recently, Establishment accounts of political machinations were not open to direct challenge. The public had to pretty much accept as gospel whatever the journalists wrote.

Now that has changed and now amount of whining from the News Establishment is going to put that genie back in its box.

The monitorial citizen is here to stay.

The monitorial citizen in a democracy is described by Columbia Journalism School professor Michael Schudson as a person outside of the dominant political structure who feels a responsibility to monitor what powerful institutions do, and to get involved when they feel power is being abused.

Schudson is no “post-Christian” leftist. He is a respected, bespectacled professor and himself aligned with the most News Establishment New York establishment, Columbia School of Journalism.

Yet he is able to see what many of our own – vastly anti-intellectual in outlook – news media refuse to see or are willfully blind to.

The power of the News Establishment is waning; monitorial citizens are taking to social media to clapback at the mistakes, misjudgements and misleading inferences that mainstream reporters make routinely.

The inestimable Mr Denmore summed it up nicely on his blog, The Failed Estate, in a piece called ‘All media is social’:

The public isn’t stupid. Much of the criticism they are expressing on social media about journalists reflects a sense of frustration that the issues they are their families care deeply about (like climate change or stagnant incomes or our treatment of refugees) are not advancing.

Quite.

 


Scooped: The politics and power of journalism in Aotearoa New Zealand

February 7, 2012

Hot off the press

Scooped is finally available. You can order online from Exisle Books

This book is the first new text on New Zealand journalism in ten years. Scooped is an edited collection of essays canvassing the politics and power of journalism and the news media in New Zealand today.

Scooped: The Politics and Power of Journalism in Aotearoa New Zealand critically examines some of the most pressing economic, political, social and cultural issues facing journalism in Aotearoa New Zealand. Approaching journalism as a field of cultural production, the book brings together contributions from a diverse list of academics and journalists, and interrogates the commonsense assumptions that typically structure public discussion of journalism in Aotearoa New Zealand. Rather than simply treating power as something others have, and politics as something that the media simply covers, the book situates journalism itself as a site of power and cultural politics. Lamenting the often antagonistic relationship between journalism and academia, the book offers a vision of a critically engaged journalism studies that should be of interest to academics, students, journalists and general readers.

 

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Academic, Media & Religious Freedom ~ Not ~ in Fiji

August 28, 2011

by Dr Mark Hayes

Update, September 4, 2011 ~ This Post started out as something else, but, over the last week of August, 2011, it morphed into a major, running, UpDate on developments in Fiji, several currents of which seemed to coalesce with very worrying speed and intensity. Most of it was written over August 27 – 31, with some tweaking and a few extra links added, until September 4.

I also know this Post has been read in Fiji, as well as more widely.

I won’t update this Post again, but will link to it as relevant in any future Posts on the general topic of Fiji, of which there will be more when events there suggest it and I decide I have something useful to contribute.

Of course, the Comments section remains active and I welcome any comments, which will not be censored (aside from normal, journalistic, editing as to clarity, legals, and taste).

Original Post continues –

I started to compile a more comprehensive wrap on recent developments in Fiji – more attacks on unions, the media, the Methodist Church – but then things started moving so fast on several fronts that I gave up, and will get to the bits and pieces, with much more context, in due course.

Scroll down for material on More Fantasy and Nastiness in Fiji, traversing the latest round on the Fiji regime throttling the Methodist Church, more on how media freedom is also throttled in Fiji, how the University of the South Pacific throttles academic freedom, continuing raids on the Fiji National Provident Fund, and insights into Fiji’s justice system under the military dictatorship.

Why Civil Resistance Works

A long anticipated and exceptionally valuable study, Why Civil Resistance Works: The Strategic Logic of Nonviolent Conflict, by American scholars, Erica Chenoweth and Maria J. Stephan, has landed on my desk. This is formidable and very thorough scholarship of the very first order which assembles and analyses a vast amount of historical and contemporary data to show, about as conclusively as this kind of research can do, that nonviolent direct action is much more effective at removing dictators, supporting democracies, and challenging domination than armed resistance or terrorism. That’s a huge claim, to be sure, and their work deserves a very close read, which I’m doing now.

You can get a feel for the book from this article, published in Foreign Affairs by Erica Chenoweth on August 24, 2011, and this earlier article, by Erica Chenoweth and Maria J. Stephan, “Why Civil Resistance Works: The Strategic Logic of Nonviolent Conflict.” International Security 33, no. 1 (Summer 2008): 7-44 (172 k PDF).

As well, I’ve been watching an excellent documentary on the impacts of global warming on Kiribati, The Hungry Tide, which has added to my collection of material on this crucial issue, has been doing the rounds of Australia’s film festivals recently, and brought back acute memories of my trips to Tuvalu where I’ve seen, and reported upon, the same kinds of effects.

More recently, Australia Network Television’s Pacific correspondent, Sean Dorney, has been to Kiribati to report on frustrations experienced from global warming’s front lines as they try to access mitigation funding and assistance pledged after the Copenhagen conference. His reports, including one on Radio National’s Correspondent’s Report for August 20, 2011, have been outstanding.

Sean Dorney’s Australia Network Television News Kiribati story ~ August 8, 2011

But, Memo to the always terrifying ABC Standing Committee on Spoken English (SCOSE) – Please come for Correspondent’s Report presenter, Elizabeth Jackson, for two broadcasting sins. Firstly, she mispronounced the name of the place ~ Kiri-bas ~ and not Kiri-bati. Secondly, she did so twice, in the introduction to the story, and again in the backannounce, clearly demonstrating she didn’t listen to the story she was presenting, in which the reporter pronounced the name correctly. Back in my days at the ABC, we’d be flogged in the car park for such gross violations of SCOSE directives!

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“They shoot journalists, don’t they?”

April 6, 2010

So, the American military has what it calls “rules of engagement” when active in a combat zone.

Normally these “rules” are to protect the lives of non-combatants, but in the urban battlefields of Afghanistan and Iraq there is sometimes very little difference.

At least according to the US military. But how far does the American war machine go to distinguish between friendlies and civilians and the so-called “enemy” – the Taleban in Afghanistan or “insurgents” in Iraq?

Really, it doesn’t go very far at all. In a recent Vanity Fair article about snipers in Afghanistan, one US soldier is quoted as calling the Afghan interpreter in his unit a “stinky”.

A Special Forces sergeant came up and said, “Hey, dude, I got some bad news. I gotta put a Stinky in your truck.” Afghans are Stinkies because they don’t wash.

We’ve all heard the term “raghead” used in relation to Iraqis. When this level of embedded racism is in play, the rules of engagement are not worth wiping your stinky on.

Whenever civilians are killed by “mistake” there are major efforts to cover it up. Details are only released when the families of the dead – you should always make sure there are no survivors – make a fuss, or the media starts nosing around.

But what happens when reporters and news workers are killed? Then the cover up goes into overdrive!

The Wikileaks site has just released some very disturbing video footage of two Reuters correspondents being gunned down in Baghdad. According to the army’s statement, the action that led to their murder was within the rules of engagement.

The attack took place on the morning of 12 July 2007 in the Iraqi suburb of New Baghdad. Two children were also wounded.

Reuters had been seeking access to the video – shot from one of the Apache helicopters that also gunned down the men – for more than two years.

The murdered newsworkers  were local Reuters staff; Saeed Chmagh and Namir Noor-Eldeen. Chmagh was a 40-year-old Reuters driver and assistant; Noor-Eldeen was a 22-year-old war photographer.

Rule #1: It’s OK to shoot journalists.

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The comical world of Karl du Fresne – “Dr Phelan, I presume!”

July 14, 2009

I have published Sean’s commentary on another exchange with Karl du Fresne because we (Sean and I) think it is important to keep this discussion alive. It began some time ago now with a column by Karl in response to an academic article by Sean. You can find all the backtrack links at the end of this post.

I am happy to host other responses here too. Ethical Martini is part of the historical record for these things and, besides, I’m nearly finished with the book manuscript, so I’m happy for any contributions at the moment to keep the front page fresh. I will be back to full-strength in a few weeks. My publisher wants the MS by Friday 24 July and the book, News 2.0: Can journalism survive the Internet? will be published by Allen & Unwin in October this year (fingers crossed!).

The short piece below was originally published in the Manawatu Standard (June 13) and Nelson Mail (June 17) as a direct response to an earlier column by Karl du Fresne. Since neither paper published it at the Stuff website, I would like to thank Martin for giving me the opportunity to belatedly publish it at his blog. I will be writing more about this brouhaha in time (a more ‘theoretical’ piece, Karl, I’m sure you can’t wait), but this is my tuppence worth for now…

Sean Phelan

Massey University

The comical world of Karl du Fresne

I would like to thank the editor for giving me a chance to respond to a recent column by Karl du Fresne (May 27). I’m sure Fairfax media could run a monthly supplement of columns by people who have been unfairly maligned by a man who seems to treat curmudgeonliness as a vocation.

I was the subject of an article that has since been published at du Fresne’s blog under the headline of ‘Why leftist academics hate the media’. The article was the latest instalment in a soap opera initiated by an earlier du Fresne blog, which lampooned an academic journal article of mine that was published in 2008.

While I don’t have much space to explore the substance of that debate here, it concerns the culture of New Zealand journalism and journalism education. Du Fresne attacked my essay, partly because it critiqued an earlier article of his. He also objected to my writing style, which, in his comic assessment, was ‘written in academic jargon of the most pretentiously arcane type imaginable’.

This whole affair has been comical alright, though not for the reasons assumed by du Fresne. This is because, in his world, what constitutes ‘bizarre’ is the thought that someone might write an academic paper suggesting that the ideas of the French sociologist, Pierre Bourdieu, could be relevant to an analysis of New Zealand journalism. Read the rest of this entry »


More police misconduct – Met threat to press photographers

April 25, 2009

Back in March, the UK Guardian published video footage showing how the police were surveilling protestors and journalists at an environment protest. Well, after apologising for their actions, which included following journos into a McDonalds and threatening them, the Metropolitan police were at it again during the recent G20 protests in London.

A new video has surfaced showing the cops threatening to arrest news photographers covering the protest. The cops apologised again, but they obviously don’t mean it. The UK seems to be moving inexorably in the direction of a police state  like Orwell’s Airstrip One in 1984.

This comes on top of loads of evidence that the cops were heavy-handed in their treatment of the largely peaceful protests and the death of Ian Tomlinson, a guy who had nothing to do with the G20 protest, but was just walking past the cops. He was pushed to the ground, he died a few hours later.

[Tx Colleen]

BTW: While checking out stuff for this post I came across a good UK blog that used to be called “Airstrip One”, but is now known as Did you steal my country.  The guys behind DYSMC describe themselves as conservative(ish) libertarians, but they write well on interesting and useful topics. I also came across this bitter post Life on Airstrip One at OpenDemocracy.


Journalists, politics and the union movement

September 1, 2008

[Note: updated 7 September]

An interesting piece on Jafa Pete’s blog about the rights of journalists when it comes to trade unions. Particularly if their union, like the EPMU in New Zealand, campaigns on behalf of a particular political party during elections. [The freedom to belong]

The question is about union membership affecting the ability of reporters to be fair and balanced. Alternatively you could pose this as: Are journalists compromised by their membership of a union that aligns itself to a political party?

As you can imagine [dribblejaws alert] I don’t think it really matters. In fact, I’d go a step further and say that journalists natural class alignment is with the workers. Even more, journalism would be better if reporters recognised this basic class instinct and acted on it at all times.

My argument’s a simple one, journalists are proletarians. They have a typically proletarian relationship to capital and to capitalism. The ideology of professionalism masks this and creates all sorts of confusion.

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