I was engaged in an interesting conversation last week about politics and media coverage. It was a chat about the way that the media and politicians engage in the to-and-fro of politics and journalism. Well, to be honest, in hindsight it was actually more a case of me listening and my fellow dinner guest imparting his opinion, which I was happy to indulge. But then I thought about it for a while and here I am blogging about it.
Thinking back to last week and being a fan of openness in government, I wish I had chimed in with what I would usually say about the way that journalists and politicians should communicate.
The conversation revolved around the way the US media and politicians interact in the political discourse there. Essentially the idea my family friend put forward was that he likes the way that major politicians in the United States of America interact with the media and that the same formula should be followed here in Australia.
As many of you would know, American politics is dominated by set press conferences and interviews and you will rarely see so-called ‘door-stops’. Come to think of it, I am not actually sure I have ever seen that kind of interview situation, that kind of interrogation used in US politics.
Contrast that with Australia. Random interviews are conducted on doorstops, as politicians emerge from their vehicles, leave church, finish up at events and so on.
Of course Australia also has your stock standard, walk to the lectern, make a statement or announcement and then field questions kind of press conference. There is of course that key difference though and that is we have, as part of our system, the ability to ask questions of our MP’s at just about any time.
Is the way that we as Australians do political journalism without flaws? Certainly not.
A big problem with political journalism in Australia is the apparent lack of understanding and an inability to dissect the policies of our political parties and that is by far the biggest problem with political journalism in Australia.
There is, from time-t0-time a problem with the ‘maturity’ of political journalism. There are times when the questions directed at politicians are incredibly stupid or asked in a belligerent manner.
A problem also exists when largely trivial matters dominate the news cycle. This could be due to the fact that there is a lack of policy experience in the media and commentariat, or, as far as the wider journalistic landscape goes, a push in political journalism further towards what makes ratings than to what should be widely known about policy by the general public.
Of course, a general misunderstanding of policy exists within the general public too and even a number of politicians lack policy knowledge, but the latter have the means to articulate their views clearly to the public at their disposal.
Political reporting and journalism in Australia too, despite the more extensive media presence ‘in the field’ does not guarantee the cessation of something that the cynics, or as I like to refer to them in terms of politics, realists, rail against. Unfortunately, never ever will any level of media coverage of politics compel MP’s to answer questions in a truthful manner.
Thankfully, from time-to-time, they will however be caught out in their lies. The best chances of that happening are with an ever-present media like we have in Australia.
In a vibrant liberal democracy, we should be as open as possible and that includes a media with as much opportunity to ask questions as possible even though politicians tend to obfuscate and spin their way through what some describe as ‘answers’ to questions.
This should be the case even if we are uncomfortable at times about the conduct and depth of media coverage devoted to politics.