FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Death of the Investigative Journalist

The Yes Minister series portraying the skulduggery of Whitehall during the Thatcher years throws up a salient reminder how certain things do not mix.  Should the art portfolio be slotted alongside television?  Probably not, but politics is politics. Civil servants will intrigue and seek to influence the minister of the day for their own advancement.  The minister either resists or is duly house trained.

The idea that Australia’s Channel Nine network should be consuming the longstanding press entity that is Fairfax Media in an incongruous commercial merger raises a similarly awkward question.  Not that Channel Nine doesn’t do journalism.  It does, just of a frightful, ambulance chasing sort.

The deal would see the creation of a media behemoth in what is already one of the world’s most concentrated media landscapes. Nine’s free-to-air television network would be linked with the ongoing concern of Fairfax’s The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald, its radio assets (Sydney’s 2GB and Melbourne’s 3AW), the streaming video platform Stan and the real estate portal Domain.

Reassurances given about the continued independence and quality of that press entity are meaningless.  Nine chief executive Hugh Marks is undeterred.  “We just needed to reassure the creators and journalists that their world wasn’t going to change.  It’s all about how a bigger scale company can take their work and generate more revenue.”

Marks, in slanting the emphasis towards generating revenue, ignores the actual practice of meaningful, investigative journalism.  Head entities with the dominant running concern have a habit of heaping their values upon subordinates.  Cross-pollination, of the more sordid kind, is bound to happen, and it is the very sort that is bound to be lethal to a certain species of effective scribbling.

The marketing fraternity simply see promotions and deals, the empty hum that comes with entertainment platforms.  Former Australian treasurer Peter Costello and Nine Entertainment chairman advances the most crude of corporate lines: “This is the opportunity to build a media company for the digital age, growing revenue with complementary streams and in a position to create growth opportunities for both sets of shareholders.”

Forget the informative, hard-hitting journalism; this is brand appeal, an issue centred on “data solutions”, “premium content” and stock value. The role of the Fourth Estate here is singularly less important than that of the commercial estate, of which Nine has been inhabiting with some discomfort of late.

David Waller of the University of Sydney sees the prospects of cross promotion.  “By combining different media – TV, print and online – they’ve got a greater scope to get more people to see the message.” He further sees the emergence of various hybrid progeny: existing stars will branch out; day time television specialists may find their way into radio, and radio shock jocks into television. It does not seem to bother Waller that quality might well be the most conspicuous casualty.

Australia’s media and press landscape has had a problem with diversity for years, stuck in concentrated monochrome.  Even praise for Fairfax has to be qualified. While there are excellent pockets of striving reporters with tenacious burrowing skills, there are the recyclers and the plodders.   “For the most part,” notes Stephen Harrington of the Queensland University of Technology, “we have seen a real evacuation of hard-hitting political journalism from TV in the last 20 years or so.”

Such a merger supplies another crude nail to the coffin of Fourth Estate activities.  The state’s democratic health, opines former Fairfax journalist Andrea Carson, “relies on more than a A$4 billion merger that delivers video streaming services like Stan, a lucrative real estate advertising website like Domain, and a high-rating television program like Love Island.”

Former Australian Prime Minister Paul Keating, in giving the proposed merger a generous rubbishing, was sharper than ever about the implications.  Channel Nine, he warned, had “never other than displayed the opportunism and ethics of an alley cat.”

Had Australia a viable, operable protection of free speech enshrined in its constitution (it has, as it were, an anaemic variant called an implied right to communication on political subjects), such a merger would be legally damned as an affront that would actually restrict rather than expand discussion on public interest matters affecting the country. But such issues ride poorly in such quarters as that of Channel Nine, where what is supposedly interesting to the public has preferment over what is in the public interest.

In light of this merger, gritty, informed reporting can go hang, and those unwilling to go along with the management line are bound to either adapt or leave the arena.  The focus will be on other papers and outlets, those considered resolute outliers, to gather the principled survivors.

The optimist may venture another less likely prediction: that Fairfax’s investigative vigour might find its way into Nine’s moribund programs that qualify as foot-in-the-door journalism. Imagine 60 Minutes moving beyond lamentable gossip and suburban rumour? Or the content skimpy A Current Affair adjusting from bread-and-circuses horror stories of entertainment to matters of intellectual substance?  All terribly unlikely, but some will dare to dream.

 

 

More articles by:

Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email: bkampmark@gmail.com

December 11, 2018
Eric Draitser
AFRICOM: A Neocolonial Occupation Force?
Sheldon Richman
War Over Ukraine?
Louis Proyect
Why World War II, Not the New Deal, Ended the Great Depression
Howard Lisnoff
Police Violence and Mass Policing in the U.S.
Mark Ashwill
A “Patriotic” Education Study Abroad Program in Viet Nam: God Bless America, Right or Wrong!
Laura Flanders
HUD Official to Move into Public Housing?
Nino Pagliccia
Resistance is Not Terrorism
Matthew Johnson
See No Evil, See No Good: The Truth Is Not Black and White
Maria Paez Victor
How Reuters Slandered Venezuela’s Social Benefits Card
December 10, 2018
Jacques R. Pauwels
Foreign Interventions in Revolutionary Russia
Richard Klin
The Disasters of War
Katie Fite
Rebranding Bundy
Gary Olson
A Few Thoughts on Politics and Personal Identity
Patrick Cockburn
Brexit Britain’s Crisis of Self-Confidence Will Only End in Tears and Rising Nationalism
Andrew Moss
Undocumented Citizen
Dean Baker
Trump and China: Going With Patent Holders Against Workers
Lawrence Wittner
Reviving the Nuclear Disarmament Movement: a Practical Proposal
Dan Siegel
Thoughts on the 2018 Elections and Beyond
Thomas Knapp
Election 2020: I Can Smell the Dumpster Fires Already
Weekend Edition
December 07, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Steve Hendricks
What If We Just Buy Off Big Fossil Fuel? A Novel Plan to Mitigate the Climate Calamity
Jeffrey St. Clair
Cancer as Weapon: Poppy Bush’s Radioactive War on Iraq
Paul Street
The McCain and Bush Death Tours: Establishment Rituals in How to be a Proper Ruler
Jason Hirthler
Laws of the Jungle: The Free Market and the Continuity of Change
Ajamu Baraka
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights at 70: Time to De-Colonize Human Rights!
Andrew Levine
Thoughts on Strategy for a Left Opposition
Jennifer Matsui
Dead of Night Redux: A Zombie Rises, A Spook Falls
Rob Urie
Degrowth: Toward a Green Revolution
Binoy Kampmark
The Bomb that Did Not Detonate: Julian Assange, Manafort and The Guardian
Robert Hunziker
The Deathly Insect Dilemma
Robert Fisk
Spare Me the American Tears for the Murder of Jamal Khashoggi
Joseph Natoli
Tribal Justice
Ron Jacobs
Getting Pushed Off the Capitalist Cliff
Macdonald Stainsby
Unist’ot’en Camp is Under Threat in Northern Canada
Senator Tom Harkin
Questions for Vice-President Bush on Posada Carriles
W. T. Whitney
Two Years and Colombia’s Peace Agreement is in Shreds
Ron Jacobs
Getting Pushed Off the Capitalist Cliff
Ramzy Baroud
The Conspiracy Against Refugees
David Rosen
The Swamp Stinks: Trump & Washington’s Rot
Raouf Halaby
Wall-to-Wall Whitewashing
Daniel Falcone
Noam Chomsky Turns 90
Dean Baker
An Inverted Bond Yield Curve: Is a Recession Coming?
Nick Pemberton
The Case For Chuck Mertz (Not Noam Chomsky) as America’s Leading Intellectual
Ralph Nader
New Book about Ethics and Whistleblowing for Engineers Affects Us All!
Dan Kovalik
The Return of the Nicaraguan Contras, and the Rise of the Pro-Contra Left
Jeremy Kuzmarov
Exposing the Crimes of the CIAs Fair-Haired Boy, Paul Kagame, and the Rwandan Patriotic Front
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail