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We are all subjective: why journalists should declare who they vote for

July 15, 2013

By Antony Loewenstein

41fb899a-90f0-486c-8864-ba9dbd29f6f5-460x276Are mainstream journalists dedicated to journalism? This may seem like a strange question, especially since I’m a journalist myself, though independent and not tied to a corporate news organisation.

We are bombarded with details that claim to inform us about the world. From war and peace to politics and global affairs, reporters produce content that is consumed by the vast majority of the population. There are claims of holding power to account, questioning how governments, officials and businesses make decisions that affect us all. In reality, corporate and political interests too often influence what we see and hear.

Of course, profound failures regularly occur – not least during the global financial crisis, when most business reporters were far too close to bankers causing the lying and deceit. Or in the run-up to the 2003 Iraq war, when too few in the media questioned the bogus rationale by the Bush administration and its allies about Saddam Hussein’s supposed WMD threat. More recently, many in the Washington media elite rallied around Barack Obama and his defence of mass surveillance after the explosive revelations of former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

But the media has singularly failed in holding itself to account. We, as journalists, should disclose for whom we vote and any other political affiliations that may affect our reporting. It’s the least we can do to restore trust in an industry that regularly receives low marks by its readers. A 2011 study by Edelman Public Relations found only 33% of the Australian public trusted the press, compared to an average of 49% globally. A 2013 study by Transparency International finds Australians rank political parties and the media as the most corrupt institutions in the state.

But instead of taking such ideas to heart and questioning why this is the case, too many in the press respond indignantly and claim that commitments to fairness and accuracy will suffice. They’re important, but not enough. A 2013 study by the University of the Sunshine Coast found that “more than half (51%) describe themselves as holding left-of-centre political views, compared with only 12.9% who consider themselves right-of-centre”, and over 40% of ABC journalists who answered the study (only 34 people; yes, hardly representative of anything) claimed to be Greens voters. But after the predictable indignation in Rupert Murdoch’s Australian – radical communists and Islamists are running your ABC, people! – the debate died.

Here was a perfect opportunity for journalists to acknowledge their massive deficit of faith amongst the public, and find ways to address it. In an age where our media is dominated by talk shows, and where punditry is cheap to produce in a period of reduced media budgets, it’s time for commentators and reporters to more clearly reveal bias and voting intentions. Read the rest at The Guardian.

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