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Lies from both sides in the game of politics

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The ABC has been frequently reporting two sides of issues that clearly should only have one (Image by Dan Jensen)

While unbiased reporting is essential, at times it is important for the media to recognise that sometimes an issue doesn''t have two sides, writes Noely Neate.

I DON'T KNOW ABOUT YOU, but I’m sick to death of Australian media’s – particularly the ABC’s – “both sides” rubbish. Yes, we need balanced news, but it is getting ridiculous, particularly when the focus is on the “game of politics” and not reality.

Government decisions are reported through the prism of “who won the debate” or “Labor will be wedged...” or “it will be a bad look if…”. This view is interesting if you are a rabid political watcher, but for the general public, it is so harmful. It gives the vibe that a particular announcement by the Government – or Opposition – is either good or bad, which punters then run with when in fact, the said announcements have not been fact-checked nor has any thought gone into the “reality” or “repercussions” of this announcement for those on the ground. You know, real life.

I won’t even start on the political “both-siding” when it comes to political reporting at the ABC. You can guarantee if the Government makes a mistake, there will be some poor staffer scurrying around trying to find something historical to mention such as “well, Labor back in 2009…” or find some rubbish that shows ALP in a bad light to prove they are not picking on the Government.

This faux balance doesn’t inform Australians, all it does is give the ABC a sense of false security that maybe the Government won’t cut their funding again if they distract from Government stuff-ups and scandal, with a “but, Labor…” false balance. The dumb thing is, it doesn’t even work — the funding cuts continue.

These tweets were the perfect example of the “both sides” ridiculousness combined with “game of politics” that is misinforming so many Australians, regarding an article written by Phillip Coorey:

Coorey''s piece itself is not so bad, basically calling out the Greens and Nationals blaming each other for fires and the base nature of it. Again though, it is still a “both sides” type of thing, where the Greens are considered as bad as the Nationals, even though Coorey does include former Fire and Rescue NSW Commissioner Greg Mullins’s statement, “Blaming ‘greenies’ for stopping these important measures is a familiar, populist, but basically untrue claim”.

So, the Nationals – and Liberals – who have lied for years about this so-called “backburning” issue and the Greens who have pushed for climate change to be taken seriously, citing scientific facts, respond with calls for government action. Are both as bad as each other?

Regardless of historical dramas in this nation and mistakes made by all parties, when it comes to addressing climate change, the main thrust of what the Greens are saying is accurate and at least in the public interest. What the Nationals are saying and the Liberals are doing is sheer politics, not in the public interest and, in fact, damaging this nation''s future. They are not even close to being equal in their extremes.

Coorey finishes his article with a bit of wishful thinking:

‘The truth is, Joe and Jo Public can see what''s happening and will make up their own minds.’

Sorry, Mr Coorey, they can’t see what is happening and it is extremely damaging when someone’s mind is “made up” based on lies.

On social media such as Facebook, we have been told for over a decade by journalists who have repeated verbatim the lies by Nationals MPs in regard to “Greenies stopping backburning and causing fires” that it has resulted in that old line of “if you hear something often enough, it becomes fact”.

It's similar to the oft-repeated “Liberals are better economic managers”, along with other urban myths that defy fact-checking but have become “facts” in the minds of Australians due to them being repeated by those in media who should be holding the Government to account and informing the public, not stenographers.

Leigh Sales is correct, the piece is about the way politicians respond, not the science itself. However, it is still a false equivalence when you are saying “both sides” over-egging when one is defending science – which Leigh obviously agrees is settled judging by her next retweet – and one is lying to the Australian public.

I know it is subtle, but it does matter.

Most punters only read headlines or glance at front pages, or vaguely watch the evening commercial news while distracted with dinner, kids and life. They are not getting into nitty-gritty details of what is said and the takeaway highlighted by the presenter/editor is the impression they are left with. Media know this; it is why they are so careful as to what precious words they fit into those news bulletins or big font on the front page.

Politicians know this as well, it is why the “talking points”, repeated so many times a day as though punters are toddlers and need that slogan pounded into their heads, work so well — media repeat them and they become true.

A journalist of Leigh’s calibre and high profile just tweeting ‘extremes at both end of the climate wars’ reinforces that there are two sides and both are equally as bad as each other in the public''s mind.

Not everything has “both sides”. For most issues that are science-based, there aren''t two sides — there is just science-based fact and anyone who ignores or disregards it is treated with suspicion or, in some cases, as a criminal, as it should be.

In recent years, ABC has “both-sided” vaccination, respecting the wishes of pro-plaguers even though they are a clear and present danger to the population, yet too often we see pieces giving a platform to these types on ABC.

Many of us are still pretty disgusted with the far-Right “both-siding” vibe from the St Kilda rally early in the year. Far-Right, in this instance, being white supremacists or neo-Nazis, which I thought consensus had already pushed into the “wrong” column years ago so it should be a one-sided matter concerning a rally and clashes with those who are anti-Nazi.

I would like to know when that change occurs, when particularly the ABC’s addiction to false balance tips over into that place where they finally acknowledge that not everything has another side.

Science tells us kids will be safer in a car with a seat belt, but the media doesn’t “both side” that. In fact, the “other side” – endangering your kid without one – would be slammed in the media, not to mention prosecution by the police. We don’t “both sides” murder, paedophilia, terrorism or pretty much anything that endangers lives.

The sheer reference to the “other side” of climate change or use of the word “debate” by media actually validates in peoples minds that not taking it seriously is legitimate or acceptable. It isn’t; it is dangerous. You can’t pick and choose when you decide to take scientific consensus seriously. Surely if 11,000 scientists are declaring a climate emergency, it is time for media to stop “both siding” climate action and treating those who won’t take action accordingly — real action, not the “game of politics” and particularly the ABC.

People have a #RightToKnow as the media keep telling us and yes, they do — they have a right to know we are in danger.

Giving credence, even if it is just reporting what the Government says verbatim about climate change or, in this case, increasing natural disasters due to intense weather patterns, is letting the Government get away with bouncing Australia’s babies in the back seat of the car while they duck and swerve their responsibilities. If you think about it, this is criminal and in no way would the media normally present that as legit, so they need to stop doing it now.

Stop giving a platform to deniers. Stop treating what politicians say as the “game of politics”, the reality for Australians is too dangerous, the rhetoric is literally going to kill us and we deserve better.

Read more from Noely Neate on her blog YaThink?, or follow her on Twitter @YaThinkN.

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