Tele's sloppy journalism hurts our most vulnerable

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One in 10 people in some NSW regions is now relying on the disability support pension, with statistics showing almost 20,000 people, the equivalent of five Australian Army brigades, joined the disability welfare line in the past three years.The Daily Telegraph 22 May 2014

I freely admit that I am not a regular reader of tabloid newspapers or of The Daily Telegraph in particular. I usually flick through tabloid newspapers, if they happen to be lying around, when I'm passing time eating a meal in a fast food restaurant during breaks from driving when I'm travelling long distances.  The only other times I have any reason to look at such "stories" are when I'm reading commentary posted on the internet.  It was an occasion such as this that attracted my attention towards such a "story" for more than my usual 10 seconds' glance.

What attracted me to the front page headline on The Daily Telegraph of 22 May was an essay written by Frank Quinlan—CEO of the Mental Health Council of Australia, the peak non-government body representing the mental health sector in Australia—in which he characterised the paper's journalism "[a disservice to those] who are battling every day with a serious mental illness or who care for somebody with a serious mental illness."

I am not suggesting that newspapers do not have the right to publish whatever their owers, editors or advertisers want.  I agree that we should have a free press in this country but, with this freedom, there is also a responsibility to engage in public debate without distorting the facts in order to make a point.  We all know, whenever we pick up a newspaper, that the headline or graphic was devised by the paper's editors to grab our attention; it's often the case that a headline is a better read than the actual story.  And, in spite of all the times we've been disillusioned when the "story" fails to justify the headline, we continue to read these things.  Some people even buy them!

We also know that many stories are nothing more than propaganda by those who run the press.  Propaganda is perhaps the most important tool when you're attacking an "enemy"

In order to rally people, governments need enemies. They want us to be afraid, to hate, so we will rally behind them. And if they do not have a real enemy, they will invent one in order to mobilise us.Thich Nhat Hanh, Vietnamese Buddhist monk, teacher, author, poet and peace activist

I am not suggesting that newspapers should be censored.  I'm not even suggesting that The Daily Telegraph should be singled out for special treatment.  The fortunes of our free press are largely in the hands of advertisers and consumers.  But, when unwarranted attacks are made by a sanctimonious media "elite" on members of our community—those least able to defend themselves—we have to draw the line between reporting the facts and beating up the facts.

The biggest risk is to take no risk; or to take crazy risks.John Marsden, author, Tomorrow when the war began

We, the people, are able to assert our right to demand action when our elected leaders "get it wrong"; we use our power at the ballot box to put into power those who will represent our views of what we want for our nation, our country and our people as a society.  Sometimes we get true leaders whom we're willing to follow ... even "to death".  More recently, I think, we've found our leaders lacking leadership and statemanship—they seem more interested in gaining power for the sake of gaining power.

We do not elect those who run the mass media.  We have little control over what happens in the boardrooms of media companies.  Then influence of the media today is often determined by advertising income and product sales.

When I read about this story I asked myself, "What's the agenda; what's the purpose?"  Is the purpose merely to drum up advertising or sales?  I was reminded of another quote,

Nothing reaches inside you and grabs you by the guts the way fear does. John Marsden, A Killing Frost

What really frightens me is not the (absurd) comparison between the numbers of people on DSPs and the number of Australian service men and women wounded in 127 years of war.  What terrifies me is the silence from our leaders about how public opinion is shaped and reshaped by the press in order to create a kind of socio-economic "civil war".  If our leaders had any backbone, they would come out openly to condemn these socio-economic "calls-to-arms".  Either our Government's leaders are treacherous—defilers of their sworn obligation to defend rich and poor, powerful and weak, able-bodied and those with disibilities, the old, the young and those in-between—or they're in collusion with media magnates to use the press as a means of pushing the Government's own policy agenda by proxy.

If the Government has not betrayed its obligation to defend our way of life then, in my opinion, someone should speak out and say so.  I can't think of a better-placed advocate than the Prime Minister.

If the Government is in collusion with the media then, by saying nothing, silence only deepens our suspicions.

Our commuity soul seems to be dying in silence.  Our leaders' silence on these issues troubles me.  I would like more action from our leaders—national and local, political and non-political, religious and non-religious—to raise their voices in condemning these attacks on our society.

What's the agenda?  Is it the media's agenda to raise public awareness or is it merely to champion the interests of the more fortunate and privileged over those most vulnerable to attack?  Is it the media's purpose to unite people in a common cause or is it to marginalise an underpriveleged group by spreading propagandist half-truths?  Or do people merely look for a convenient way to excuse their sloppy service to the community by finding a scapegoat to blame? I don't know and I really don't understand the motivation behind some stories I read in the press.

My agenda is a call-to-arms (metaphorically, not literally, of couse).  I ask that the charge is led by those best able to lead the charge:  our leaders—national and local, political and non-political, religious and non-religious—not by those whose interests are driven by a corporate profit/loss statement.  I know that my website does not have much influence in the big world but, if the few of you who browse these pages feel any empathy, I suggest that we start a grass-roots campaign to ask our community leaders to protest at the kinds of sloppy journalism that we're being subjected to.  I believe we are all owed a full-page public apology by The Daily Telegraph (and, perhaps, some of its staff should be sent back to journalism school for remedial tuition). I will be writing to my local member of parliament and I suggest you might consider doing the same thing, too.

We believed we were safe. That was the big fantasy.John Marsden, Tomorrow when the war began
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