Oakes and anyone

In today’s National Times, Laurie Oakes begins his argument with a lament suggesting that he wants to be optimistic about the future of journalism, but is not as optimistic as he would like to be. A reasonable statement? Probably. But then neither are the public approaching anything resembling optimism, given the standard of journalism which presently prevails.

Oakes sets the scene:

For 111 years Australia’s federal politicians and members of the Federal Parliamentary Press Gallery have been matching wits. The politicians have used every trick they know to try to control what the journalists report and how they report it. Gallery members have used every trick they know to get behind the spin and try to dig out things the politicians want to keep hidden.

Photo: The Australian

Photo: The Australian

Ah the noble vocation of journalism. It was so very straightforward in those days according to Oakes; a battle of noble minds (journalists) versus those duplicitous politicians.

One might consider that via today’s current batch of media journalists, that there has been a role reversal:

The politicians journalists have used every trick they know to try to control what the journalists report is reported and how they report it.

Oakes then continues to lay the blame for this “decline” squarely at the foot of the “new” communications technology.

Oakes argues that by “making new communications technology easily and cheaply available to anyone (that) the press gallery’s role seems set to decline, which obviously has implications for the health of our political system”. Oh really?

If one looks at this opinion, the implication is that by making communications technology available to “anyone”, that the aforementioned “anyones” will, as a natural consequence result in a decline in standards. The involvement of these “anyones” has previously been lamented by professional journalists. Is it that only those directly employed by a major newspaper or who gets behind a microphone, or in front of a television camera has a valid opinion? Is an “anyone” aka “a nobody”, aka an ordinary citizen not permitted to voice an opinion; not have an opinion worthy of note?

One need to look no further than Letters to the Editor, and especially those in the Murdoch press, or attempt to have an opinion published on a Murdoch blog for it to become obvious that not just “anyone” and especially those with a contra opinion, is permitted to voice that opinion.

Oakes chooses to use Kevin Rudd as an example of pollie-power:

Rudd, he pointed out, can be sensitive about his privacy – and had the means to retaliate, if he wanted to, by publishing information that would breach the privacy of the journalist.

There’s no suggestion the former prime minister would do that. But the point is he could.

Oakes appears to be suggesting that not only are journalists now being placed in a position where they are subject to scrutiny courtesy of communication technology, but that politicians “might” also use this form of media to retaliate.

With 1.1 million Twitter, 75,000 Facebook friends, and his own YouTube channel, Rudd can get information to a substantial audience without having to rely on journalists or media organisations.

As a conclusion, Oakes provides the reason..

…to avoid the so-called gatekeepers in the press gallery and elsewhere and present their message directly to voters.

And the solution..

Rudd might be the master – the most advanced and media savvy – but any MP can do the same thing, and gradually they’re getting into it.

If there is a solution where is the problem? Oakes’ suggestion is that the “internet era” is set to cause a decline in journalism by “fragmenting the media” and as a consequence has “obvious implications” “for the health of our political system”. The logic of this argument escapes me. Surely if, for example Kevin Rudd has 75,000 Facebook friends that this equates with direct communication, communication which is able to be assessed on merit thereby enhancing the democratic process.

But yes Laurie, the days where journalists were the gatekeepers are numbered.