February 08, 2014

Horse 1615 - How To Lead "Independent Thinking", One City At A Time

In the 21st Century especially and thanks in part to the internet, people are more easily able to form groups online and listen and contribute to discussions which more closely line up with their own beliefs and values. This is true across all sorts of lines be they to do with interests or vocations, religious grounds and social groupings and it also holds true for economic beliefs.
Never before has it been so easy to yell into an echo chamber of like minded political opinion, creating feedback loops and come away thinking that your side of the argument in correct.
What happens though if one of those echo chambers happens to be something the size of a city? In Australia, this experiment is currently being carried out in three cities and one of just happens to be Canberra.

Canberra is a strange city in Australia. On many days if you walk around the city centre, you'd be forgiven for thinking that it was a weekend, even if it was Tuesday.
Canberra's Central Business District (2601) or even Braddon (2612) to the north can often appear to be lifeless and sterile and entirely devoid of people. On some days, NASA's Mars rover Curiosity, probably has more chance of finding something breathing, than you'll find on Canberra's streets.
The seat of government lies in Capital Hill (2600) and what's even weirder is that the suburb is more or less completely circular (being bound by Capital Circle) and I think might be the only phyiscal suburb in Australia with no actual residents.
Dorothy Parker's commentary of Los Angeles was sporked presumably by Sir Robert Menzies:
A cemetery with lights, the ruin of a good sheep station and six suburbs in search of a city.
I can not find a reliable citation of this though.

The big echo chamber on the hill really only has two daily newspapers. The Canberra Times, owned by Fairfax Media, which was downgraded from a metropolitan daily to a community newspaper but still publishes daily and it gets News Corp's The Australian.
Now I say all of this by way of background because really the only newspaper in Canberra of any editorial clout is The Australian. The Canberra Times which is a community newspaper spends far more time in looking at local news than it does what's going on in 2600. The Canberra Times is more likely to report on kids from the local primary school or people pointing at things and looking grumpy (check your local newspaper and you'll see what I mean), than serious political analysis. This leaves The Australian in the default position as the serious newspaper which Canberra reads.

The Australian says of itself that:
Since its launch in 1964 The Australian’s aim has been to lead the independent thinking, essential for the further advancement of our country and the Australian business environment.
The Australian caters to the needs of an influential and educated audience. It breaks stories, challenges governments and links the complex web of events and impacts across the country every day. 
The Australian is the news brand with exclusive access to Australia’s wealthy and powerful.
- News Corp Australia website, as at 5th Feb 2014.

Because Canberra has basically no logical competitor to The Australian, people in Canberra can be tempted to think that what's printed in there is how the nation thinks.
Since February 1st, The Australian has devoted 6 editorials purely to attacking the ABC, has run 73 letters, 51 of them attacking the ABC and yet it would have you believe that it is leading 'independent thinking'. Really I think that it tries to set the nation's agenda on behalf of 'Australia’s wealthy and powerful' though.

The real problem is when politicians get into Canberra, they are one step removed from the constituents that they represent. No longer are they reading things like the The Courier in Ballarat, the Eden Magnet or even larger newspapers like the West Australian or The Age. Having said that, if they came from South Australia or Brisbane, then the Adelaide Advertiser and the Courier-Mail already would have clouded their thinking anyway, since in those markets, News Corp also produces the only daily newspaper, with there being no physical Fairfax paper in competition.
I wonder how much of the attack of the ABC that is going on at the moment is because News Corp directs it.

"Dumping free, state-sponsored news on the market makes it incredibly difficult for journalism to flourish on the internet. Yet it is essential for the future of independent journalism that a fair price can be charged for news to people who value it," 
- James Murdoch,  MacTaggart Lecture, 28th Aug 2009

"BBC massive taxpayer funded mouthpiece for tiny circulation leftist Guardian.  Meanwhile print media about to be gagged to protect toffs."
- Rupert Murdoch, via Twitter, 7th Oct 2013

James Murdoch does make an interesting point, it is "incredibly difficult for journalism to flourish on the internet" especially when there's "free, state-sponsored news on the market". I'm personally, obviously proof that independent journalism can not flourish on the internet; I mean just look at this very blog - 17 years and I've only had just over a million hits in that time.
The very existence of organisations like the BBC, the ABC, PBS, NHK etc. is an anathema to News Corp. They eat into potential profits. Dare I suggest that private journalists also eat into profits. Greg Jericho who runs Grog's Gamut was labelled by the Australian as a  "controversial political blogger" because he dared to stand up and write things which may have annoyed News Corp.
I'm almost half willing to bet that people at The Australian have even hacked phones in Australia but that's only pure speculation.

In the case of the city of Canberra though I wonder just how much "independent thinking" has been lead by The Australian as it claims. It sounds more like a case of continual brainwashing; say something sufficiently enough times and it becomes true.
It all sounds suspiciously like the words of someone else charged with the task of "Public Enlightenment":
"follow the principle that when one lies, one should lie big, and stick to it. They keep up their lies, even at the risk of looking ridiculous"
- Joseph Goebbels, Die Zeit ohne Beispiel, 12 Jan 1941

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