On Line Opinion has just celebrated its 20th year of publication as an e-journal.
One only has to view the very long list of those who have contributed to its pages as well as to the wide range of topics that have been covered in that time (and I’m not about to count them), to appreciate the value this journal has been, and is, to the health of that most precious and hard won freedom we enjoy in this country – freedom of opinion.
But the opinion I’m referring to is not the mindless load of tweets and twitters and other such junk that is carried on the internet, nor to the vacuous drivel that is served up on TV as opino-tainment, such as The Drum and Studio 10.
In countries where freedom of opinion is tightly controlled, that kind of opinion is easily contained. It’s the studious and informed opinion of the kind one reads in the OLO that is the more formidable and threatening to policies of suppressed information.
Since it began 20 years ago, OLO has been joined on line by a number of similar e-journals, including e-versions of the major news media sources of print and television. During this time OLO has held its ground and has continued to progress.
The thing that is special about the OLO, is that it provides a forum for authors with special interests, knowledge and expertise in particular areas of public concern, whereas the many professional commentators in the current affairs media sector, including by-line print journalists, radio shock-jocks and TV news-hounds (not to overlook the protected species and baby-faced public servants on ABC/TV who tell us what we all should know) provide comments on anything and everything relating to political and community issues, which do not disclose of any depth of critical thought or research in their assertions.
It’s what I call ‘off the cuff’ journalism that rates about the same quality and value as idle talk around a BBQ or in a noisy local pub. It’s worth to the reader or listener is illustrated by an occasion in my early career when I aspired to be another Walter Lipmann and was working as a cadet reporter for a weekly magazine that went to press at noon each Wednesday. On one such day as I was running late with my copy, the sub-editor burst through the door, ripped the unfinished copy out of my typewriter, turned with it as he went back out the door and said to me, “Look, save your literary talent until you write a book. All I want is words to go around the advertisements!”
As they say, today’s headline wraps up the cat’s meat tomorrow. I soon chose another profession.
The problem we now have in the World is that, whilst many countries exercise tight control of the media and public opinion, in open democratic countries like ours there is, in terms of volume and quality, too much poorly considered, biased and ill-informed opinion and too many self-appointed advisers to government and the public at large, in all manner of policy formulation and decision-making.
Among this breed of opinion-spinners are those who cynically think they can influence policy and manipulate the political landscape by their criticism and opinion without ever standing for political office (a breed once described by one of Australia’s best-known and respected columnists and writers, Alan Ramsey, as “power junkies”.) The ABC is full of them, without an editor or licence and the public is paying them handsome salaries for the privilege.
There are other good reasons for serious authors of serious subjects to be heard and to have a forum for their opinions.
There was a time when a clear line existed between reporting and journalism. The news was reported as it was, not as the reporter decided how the public should interpret it. At that time it seemed the public was thought to have enough sense and intelligence to assess the news for themselves. Indeed, the public just wanted the facts and only the facts, and was dismissive of any attempt at ‘spin’ or unsupported comment.
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