Saturday, July 31, 2010

Policy questions unanswered

A lot is being said right now on Twitter about the media and the questions being asked of the party leaders during this election campaign, and whether they are focusing enough on policy or are asking questions the public is interested in.

My feeling is that the world of Journalism, from what we know of it, seems quite insular. Is there a temptation to ask questions not because you think the public want the answer, but because another publication is asking it?

The thing that got me was how many Journalists who are on Twitter seemed to have the "See if you can do a better job" style of engagement in this discussion. Rather than point out where - if it is in fact the case - people are asking them to get this information and acknowledge that there is at least a section of the community who ISN'T getting the information they want from the journalists asking the questions of the party leaders, at least some of the journalists seem to be throwing hissy fits that anyone dare criticize them and refuse to see what the problem is.

Here's the problem as I see it: Gillard is being asked questions that are totally irrelevant to the way she will run the country if elected. Rather than ask what is ACTUALLY going to be done about infrastructure and population growth outside of the tiny percentage that is boat people, she was asked about her earlobes. Rather than ask questions about the $12,000 in support to be given to families with disabled children for early intervention and what criteria will be applied, she was asked about photoshopping of her appearance.

Rather than ask Tony what the criteria are for "Severe disability" and what "Up to $20,000" means and how they will apply to his Education card scheme for disabled children, he's asked about the Cabinet leak in the Labor party. Rather than ask him what measure he has in place for Early Intervention and why the scheme does not extend to people with disabilities not classified as severe, he's asked why he's got his family with him. Rather than ask him why Joe Hockey when appearing on the 730 report stated that of course they won't change the Fair Work Act, "full stop", but they're quite happy to change "what the lawyers tell them it's ok" to, we're treated to another question about Tony's apparent "woman problem"  

Policy Issues are being left out of questions in favour of Gotcha-style journalism. Chris Uhlmann's first story for ABC News 24 was a prime example. Rather than focus on current policy and the current campaign, he chose to stick the knife in Kevin Rudd sending a staffer along to Security meetings in his stead. As acknowledged by all involved, that was never done for major meetings or when issues of import were discussed, but Chris chose to use the piece to demonstrate "contempt" shown by the former PM to public servants.

The leak by Laurie Oakes - that, Quelle Suprise - not everyone agrees on policy brought to Cabinet straight away, was another example. Think people don't talk about Cabinet discussions after they occur? Check out Labor in Power. An entire documentary based on Cabinet discussions and the like. It's not new, it's barely even news. Laurie is a heavy-hitter, and his questions make people sit up and take notice. Imagine how the debate could be shaped if instead of questions about whether Kevin Rudd had been asked to campaign or whether he'd told them he wouldn't we had questions about Healthcare. Imagine if instead of questions about earlobes we had questions about Dental health schemes. Imagine if instead of questions about airbrushing we had questions about infrastructure.

Campaign coverage becomes less policy-focussed by the day. We're catering for those who vote on personality, who swing for a sound-bite, and aren't interested in anything but the profile of a politician.

We're dumbing it down. Do the Journalists of this country really think we're more interested in Julia's earlobes than the way she'll run this country? Do we care more about Tony's speedos than we do how he'll run this country?

If that's the case, Mea Culpa, Journalists. If not, you're treating us with contempt. Ask some questions about policies and stop treating this like a campaign for Prom Queen and King. It's our bloody country at stake, whoever wins.

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