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Panpa Bulletin : May 2010
www.panpa.org.au Freecall 1800 652 284 | firstname.lastname@example.org | www.auspacmedia.com.au Call Margret for ideas Phone: 07 5553 3200 Email: email@example.com increase circulation Every day needs some comic relief. Feed your funny bone with rst-class humour from Sean Leahy, Tony Lopes and Gary Clark. Beyond the Black Stump by Sean Leahy Insanity Streak by Tony Lopes Swamp by Gary Clark Available individually or in a ready-made page. Colour or mono. 10 | The PANPA Bulletin | MAY 2010 Resisting cold hand of group-think ADDRESSING a recent meeting of leading ABC journalists, program mak- ers and managers, the organisation's chairman, Maurice Newman, hit a raw nerve when he condemned "group think" on the issue of climate change. Mr Newman drew a predictably hostile and outraged response when he said climate change was an exam- ple of "group think where contrary views have not been tolerated and where those who express them have been labelled and mocked". The issue is of particular relevance in the case of the ABC because it is funded by the taxpayer. If you dis- like the reporting of opinions in the Sydney Morning Herald, New Zealand Herald or the Daily Telegraph for ex- ample you don't have to buy them. Similarly you can switch to another channel on TV if a station offends you. But whether you watch the ABC or not, you keep subsidising it. Media treatment of the climate change issue, of course, went well be- yond the ABC. There is little doubt that it attracted a motherhood status whereby its critics were condemned for their lack of knowledge and con- cern about saving the planet from the disastrous effects of global warming. The opinions of scientific doomsay- ers were elevated to a "beyond question" level by politicians and environmental groups and used to belittle dissenting views within the rest of the scientific community. Their bottom line argument was very simple. Global warming was largely caused by mankind and this, in turn, was what was causing changes in cli- mate patterns. There was no room for any ill-informed comment on this, least of all from the media. Addressing Australian Parliament last August on perils facing Australia if the Government's Carbon Pol- lution Reduction Scheme was not passed, assistant Climate Change Minister, Greg Combet, dismissed the role of the media in this debate. Combet said there was indisput- able scientific evidence, which had been thoroughly tested and verified, that unless the world dramatically reduced greenhouse gas emissions there would be serious consequences for society, the economy and the environment. "Those who wish to dispute these findings must do so in major peer-reviewed journals if they want their opinions to have weight in the scientific community or to persuade policy-makers", he said. "Publica- tion in newspapers and blogs is not a substitute for the careful process of scientific rigour." Luckily questioning journalists and "deniers" in the scientific community were not intimidated by this. But this challenge to the integrity and relevance of the print and electronic media drew little, if any, response from the industry or the profession as a whole. The issue which Mr Newman has touched on goes beyond climate change and beyond the ABC. It raises serious questions about the degree of independence demon- strated by journalists particularly in the coverage of the major political issues of the day. What we are talking about here is not management interference in journalistic independence but the need for journalists to resist being trapped in a peer-pressure mould. This is particularly so with an ex- plosion of comment and opinion in what was once the domain of news reporting. Last month's state elections in Tasmania and South Australia have indicated that political sands across the country are shifting. And what looked a few months ago like a certain landslide win for Labor in this year's Federal election is now shaping up as a much tighter contest under new Opposition Leader, Tony Abbott. Issues such as the home insulation fiasco and the mismanagement of the building education revolution have created a volatile political landscape in the run up to this poll with the campaign effectively getting under way at the recent National Press Club debate on health reform between Abbott and Prime Minister Kevin Rudd. The use of blogs and mobile social media will play a major part in the campaigns of the political parties and in supplementing the coverage of events by the traditional print and electronic media. In its struggle to retain relevance in a world of dramatically changing tastes, the media industry must dem- onstrate that it stands for real choice not more of the same. Much of the responsibility for achieving this rests with the journalists. Malcolm Colless Malcolm Colless is a former senior executive at News Ltd and writes a column for The Australian's media section Group think ... ABC Chairman Maurice Newman pictured with Senator Stephen Conroy