Brian McNair, Queensland University of Technology
At QUT’s Digital Media Research Centre we are about to complete ARC-funded research on the state of the Australian political news media.
A key finding of the work has been the nearly complete withdrawal of commercial free-to-air television from the current affairs space, which is now a preserve of the ABC, SBS and for a small proportion of Foxtel subscribers, Sky News.
And what better illustration of this trend could one cite than the bizarre spectacle of Channel 9’s attempt at “journalism” in Lebanon.
Now that they’re out of jail, we can safely assert that no-one in this sorry episode emerges with credit. On the contrary, who can blame the Lebanese authorities for banging them all up?
One hopes some lessons have been learnt all round. For those of us who try to educate the journalists of the future, it’s a shocking breach of the most elementary professional ethics.
What kind of parent subjects their children to such risk? To be snatched off the streets of Beirut, a city full of guns and violence, will surely haunt those poor kids for ever.
Bill Clinton famously said that nobody knows what goes on inside someone else’s marriage, and that for sure holds true in this case. And, frankly, we don’t want to know. And neither do we want primetime media to be encouraging, paying for or stoking up such antics.
If you’re going to send a film crew to Beirut at a cost of hundreds of thousands of dollars, maybe they might cover the actual politics of the place? It’s the Middle East, after all.
What kind of news manager sends their journalists on such an assignment as this, putting their lives and liberty at risk for a National Enquirer-style scoop about a dysfunctional family in meltdown?
It’s an insult to the real foreign correspondents who put their lives at risk for stuff that matters.
I hope the health and safety folk are all over it in the months to come, although Australian commercial TV has a regrettable history of such incidents, and it seems to have become an accepted part of our journalistic culture that this stuff passes as “current affairs”.
The story serves as a harsh reminder of the sorry state of news and current affairs in Australia’s commercial TV, and the need for a strong public service media. If you leave your journalism to the private sector, don’t be surprised when this is what you get.