This tweet turned up on Thursday morning from Possum (@Pollytics), sparking a small rumble in the twittersphere. Not a huge one, considering it was a day where people were still commenting on the Chaser being refused access to the BBC Royal Wedding broadcast, (or were banned, or acquiesced, depending on you interpretation), and Obama releasing his birth certificate after several years of nonsensical whining from birthers and, lately, Donald Trump; one wonders how Glenn Beck feels about the fact that Trump appears to have been the one who finally pushed Obama to feed the trolls and release the full birth certificate).
But big splash or not, it got me thinking. This is the report (published today by the ANU here), and the key statistics that informed Possum's comments are below:52.6% of people frequently or regularly feel that politics seems so complicated that they "can't really understand what it going on". If we include people who occasionally feel that way, that's 79.9%. But let's just concentrate on that 52.6%. That's just 0.1% less than the proportion of votes that won Rudd the 2007 Federal Election. In a country like America, where voter turnout is often around 60%, this would be worrying enough, but in a country where voting is compulsory, this is dire.
So, what's the problem? Well, as Possum implied with his #mediaFAIL hashtag - the media has a lot to answer for in this. When the extent of coverage for politics most days these past weeks consisted of coverage of what a celebrity horse owner thinks of the PM's common attire, an interpretation of Bowen's new temporary visa policy by both Fairfax and News Ltd that can only really be described as binary (Howard or non-Howard), the release of the HIP data from the CSIRO getting a cursory enough glance just to pull out the "oh shit, the government's burning down houses" line to continue the narrative (the data itself actually doesn't, but anyway - covered well here by Possum himself), ongoing Behrendt horse-tweet coverage (critiqued best by Tony Martin at Scrivener's Fancy), etc. etc. And so on, and so it goes, to quote my good friend Bob Ellis.
This "dumbing down" of political coverage and politics itself, or more to the point, only covering the simple politics, rather than the policy, would appear to be what Lindsay Tanner addresses in his book "Sideshow". Now, I haven't read it yet, so I'm not going to pull a Samantha Maiden (or 7:30) and verbal Tanner based on excerpts, or the words of others who have already read it (for the record, Grog's Gamut covers both of these very well), but it appears it's already ruffling feathers. Despite the fact that it would appear Tanner admits the complicity of politicians, and that he himself was guilty of following the headlines, Insiders (probably on iview about now) spent a lot of this morning suggesting Tanner would be best to point the finger back at himself, with the barest of acknowledgements of any flaws in press gallery coverage (oh, I'm pretty sure Gerard Henderson blamed a reasonable amount of it on left bias, but.. you know...).
I do look forward to reading Tanner's book in the next week or so.
But, I suppose, in the spirit of pointing the finger back on oneself, I have to ask, "are we the problem?" I don't mean the general public, I mean those of us who are actually incredibly interested in politics, policy and all. I love Annabel Crabb's pieces, for example, but there's no denying that she writes for us, the people who are knee deep in the political issues of the day like pigs in the proverbial shit - with a wry wink, a touch of humour and a polite distance; there's little attempt to clarify the policy (and we wouldn't expect there to be). On the polar opposite we have people like Steve Price, Alan Jones, Andrew Bolt et al who cover the superficial aspects of the politics of the day for the the emotions - and they capture the readers who most likely would fit into that 52.6% of people who frequently or regularly do not understand politics.
But for those of us who would slot into the "seldom" or even "never" column (I myself would never claim to be in the "never" spectrum - I'll research those things that aren't clear to me, but I'd never claim to completely understand every aspect of policy... if you do, I think either of the major parties would probably like to hear from you), does simply lamenting the lack of policy coverage while we enjoy the political argy-bargy (even enjoy whining about it) actually have any effect? I don't know. I don't want to go down the route of blaming twitter as a whole, it's a medium, and I have a deep-seated hatred of the juvenile attempts by organisations like News Ltd trying to tar and feather it (while simultaneously using it)... but it's hard not to wonder what the real contribution is as we makes jokes every monday night on #qanda, and lament the lack of debate as we simultaneously hyperbolise the responses of panelists.
I also won't agree with the "echo chamber" characterisation of twitter completely, as I've had some fantastic debates on it, and I think most of us often wait for an impassioned response to things we hay have tweeted, but there is an element of tweeting just to the political tragics. And, to borrow a tired cliche, if you're not part of the solution... well, you get my point. Where's the solution for that middle ground of people who don't understand policy, or aren't immediately interested in it?
From a media perspective, where's the middle ground between your Annabel Crabb, George Megalogenesis and Laurie Oakeses, and your Alan Jones, Steve Price and Andrew Bolts?
It's clear we need education, not just opinion, in political coverage if these figures are correct. This has to come from both the government (who manipulates the media) and the media (who should not cry manipulation whilst not doing their job).
It's sad that in a week when we were again debating asylum seeker detention and visas, and Bolt was suggesting that African migrants could not integrate, a piece covering figures from a largely unprecedented Department of Immigration report showing African refugees were the most likely to obtain a job, and that most refugees reduce their level of dependance on welfare over a period of five years, are settled in approximately two and can speak reasonable English in four, was published in the "Victoria" subsection of the Age's website, with no feature focus. Comparatively, the Melbourne Sudanese beauty pageant violence appeared in the top section headlines multiple times throughout the week - bouncing back to the top each time a small amount of additional information came forward.
Coverage like this is why long term newspaper subscribers (and tragics) like Malcolm Farnsworth (@mfarnsworth) are fleeing.
I was going to wax lyrical on the fact people are actually, believe it or not, crying foul at the anticipated cuts to middle class welfare in the upcoming budget, but then I realised I'd actually said everything I needed to say in my last post.
Anyway, this is something light hearted to take you through the rest of the weekend - Grand Spectacular's "Being a Dickhead's Cool":
It is pretty cool, I have to admit.