Duty to stay informed | Mick McGlone

I HAVE always believed we should do our best to keep ourselves informed – especially when it comes to politics.

Now, I don’t believe I am an expert but some of the dribble I hear around the place is quite scary.

I have just read a book by Lindsay Tanner, titled Sideshow – dumbing down democracy.

Tanner was the finance minister in the Rudd-Gillard governments and I have always thought of him as a politician given to serious analysis of matters of importance to our nation.

And his book is cause for some alarm in media circles.

Its basic tenet is the media is responsible for much of the shenanigans that blight politics in this country.

It does this by journalists expecting politicians “to jump through the hoops” to provide entertainment for their customers rather than provide discourse on important matters.

Or to quote Alan Kohler on the dust-jacket of the book “(It is) a pitiless, first-hand exposure of the trivialisation of our national discourse by the media, aided and abetted by the political classes”.

The last part of the quote refers to the reaction of politicians to the pressures placed on them by the media and the rise of spin doctors.

For his part, Tanner is prepared to attribute some of the blame on politicians.

“The two key rules that now govern the practice of Australian politics are: 1) Look like you’re doing something, and 2) Don’t offend anyone who matters….”

I have never made any secret of my dislike of columnists such as Andrew Bolt and his ilk. Or some radio commentators for that matter.

As Elizabeth Farrelly once observed about shock jocks: “They are the cane toads of contemporary culture: ugly, ubiquitous, toxic to most other life forms and adept at using their peculiar behaviour to force change in ours.”

But that is something that defeats the purpose of the argument in itself.

Farrelly is doing nothing more than providing further fodder for the likes of Bolt to continue the circle of entertainment for their readers.

Look, I don’t feel qualified to talk on climate change or global warming; I am not a scientist. But I do know I would rather listen to the opinions of David Attenborough rather than Andew Bolt, Alan Jones or their little mate Tony Abbott.

The next book I have on my reading list is David Salter’s The Media We Deserve.

Now I know – without reading it – it will have a certain “ouch” factor in it for all of us in the media.

As Salter notes, on the dust-jacket of his book, “Australia is fortunate to have media that are generally competent and occasionally very good indeed. But the print and broadcast material we consume every day can also be perverse, shallow, illogical, infuriatingly opportunistic, crassly commercial, insufferably pretentious and rarely witty”.

By the same token, he was executive producer of ABC-TV’s Media Watch and it has to be said the national broadcaster has lost its way. What were previously excellent shows, such as Insiders, have become cynical, one-sided broadcasts which lack balance.

At the end of the day it must be remembered censorship is a huge threat to democracy and it is better rubbish commentators are able to have their say than not.

So what to do? Stay informed, retain an open mind and question the motivations behind everything you read, watch and hear.