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TV news bashes youth and incites ignorance

By Malcolm King - posted Wednesday, 13 August 2008


This article is about how Australian TV news and current affairs has cast youth as irresponsible brats, turned its back on exposing corruption while creating a multimillion dollar circus that would make Caligula laugh.

Apart from a few newspapers of record such as The Australian, The Herald Sun and The Sydney Morning Herald, the notion of balanced reporting has completely disappeared. Once upon a time it was critical for a reporter to cover both sides of a story. Now it’s a rarity.

You’d never see Caroline Jones, Jana Wendt or Andrew Olle do a story on exploding dishwashing machines, alien abductions or the mad old woman with 80 cats who confronts the camera crew with a shotgun. It’s like a dumbed down version of the old Melbourne Truth newspaper.

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News, current affairs reporters and readers are using dramatic theatre techniques such as asides and posing rhetorical questions in their stories. So the Scottish king MacBeth asks, “Is this a dagger which I see before me, the handle toward my hand?” The lead anchor from the Channel Ten news desk asks, “How long will police let these hoons terrorise our streets?”

There are the chatty introductions by the newsreaders as if prologue-like, they are setting the scene for the news. The audience has to suspend belief during some news stories where it is so obvious the reporter got it wrong, i.e., “did he say Quebec was the capital of Canada?”

Is it a purely Adelaide phenomenon that TV news portrays the 15-24 age group as binge-drinking, drug-taking, speeding P-platers? I have just traveled through Italy, Hungary, Bosnia and Croatia and none of these nations’ media treat their 15 to 25-year-old audiences with such disrespect or contempt.

Critics say that young people have few or no values. That’s like saying all Hawaiians surf or all tall people are good basketball players. They say young people are too passionate, too inexperienced, and too dangerous. But remember, Edward Teller was 44 when he invented the hydrogen bomb. I will talk about the fallacy of generalisations later.

I have yet to hear a young person be reported by any media on ways to save and use water. Remember the dictum: “more are ideas are good. One idea is bad”? If ever you want to further disenfranchise a group from the body politic, the best thing to do is ignore or demonise them. And that’s just what Australia’s news and current affairs TV have done.

I have been guilty of using the same ridiculous generalisations that the media throws up to classify individuals who happen to be born within a set of years. It took me some time to realise that two academic papers I’d written on prevailing attitudes to tertiary education by the baby boomers, were in fact rubbish.

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The fallacy lay in using other people’s generalisations about the boomers. People such as Bernard Salt make a living by allegedly “taking the social temperature” of these age cohorts and then, like the Delphic Oracle, make pronouncements as if they were the truth rather than statistics.

Are these studies valid? No. Are replicable? No - but who cares? Can we categorise a whole generation? No. Can we categorise a section of that generation? No. Can we generalise about generations? You can have a crack at it but you need to stand a long, long way back and it’s not the job of social researchers. It’s the job of historians. In 100 years time we might get some ideas about very general traits of people we have branded the baby boomers and generations X,Y,Z and F.

TV news and current affairs have been treating us like chumps for too long. I’m not suggesting that they should give us 20 minutes of dry economic news every night but the ability (apart from SBS’s Karen Middleton or the most excellent Brian Thomson) to give meaning and context in a 20-second grab of an important local or national event is missing. It’s not the news. It’s some pictures with a voice over.

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About the Author

Malcolm King works in generational workforce change. He was an associate director at DEEWR Labour Market Strategy in Canberra and the senior communications strategist at Carnegie Mellon University. He also runs a professional writing business called Republic.

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