Can we say we have an effectively functioning democracy when the people we entrust with representing our views are published in the largely unread Hansard whilst politically unaccountable journalists are read by hundreds of thousands of people? Have we lost our democratic compass?
Historically political expression was carried out in a forum (think Greek or Roman). As can be easily seen, these forums evolved into the parliaments of today. Yet, very few people go to Question time in Parliament House anymore and the quantity of debate that is carried over into the media is miniscule at best and at worst, is never presented in its proper context. So whilst political debate might be printed I doubt more than a handful of people would know what Hansard is, let alone read it.
The forum of political debate is no longer the Parliament, it is now the media. Yet the people that need to be in this media forum voicing their opinions (politicians – because that’s their job) are not there.
Political expression is crucial for effective democracy. In our society, newspapers act as a conduit for political expression. So surely, it is not journalists but elected representatives of parliament who should constantly be publicly expressing their political opinions, not through glossy brochures that are little more than sales pitches around election time; but through meaty articles that articulate their thoughts and political positions on important social and economic issues. After all, we pay them to perform this role and need to know if they are doing a good job.
Is anyone foolish enough to believe that we have a good system when our one million voices are funnelled through The Advertiser’s journalists and editors? How comfortable are we that these few unelected employees unfairly get the genuine and continued democratic right to express their political views without peer.
Surely if we are prepared to go through the process of an election we should then enable politicians to do their job by giving them a platform to inform, educate, inspire and lead us politically. A politician’s newspaper would give them a vital tool which they need to do their job properly.
There is an issue of justice tied into this equation.
Elected representatives are beholden to the vote, not journalists. In an effectively functioning democratic society, who is most responsible and accountable for expressing a political opinion, a journalist or a politician? Who should have the greater ability to have their political views heard: a dozen journalists on the payroll of a business, or almost 100 duly elected politicians?
Perhaps, decades ago, in the City-State of Adelaide South Australia, the media truly was a conduit for the political expression that occurred in Parliament. I argue that in today’s reality the media has itself taken over, it has superseded the Parliament as the source of political expression with politicians unable to cut through and express their political views to an audience of any meaningful size. “The press” should only ever be a “conduit”: never the “source” of political expression. Sadly, wrongly and in the most democratically undermining of ways, in the City-State of Adelaide South Australia, it is journalists and editors who are the source of political expression.
The importance of a free press is critical to a thriving democracy. The ability for unelected people to engage in and voice political opinions is of critical importance. Individuals, citizens, people are the voice and the origin of political expression. Of equal importance, is the ability of our elected representatives to have an effective platform through which they can be heard because democracy gives the responsibility of political expression to elected representatives: politicians. They need to be judged on their own merits, unfiltered and unmolested.
As a kid I read Jeffrey Archer’s, “The Fourth Estate”. I loved it, every word. It was for me a transformative read that showed the power of media moguls in an intriguing fictional tale.
It is perhaps in the relationships between journalists and politicians; in the contrasting fields of Parliament and the media industry that the dynamic between private and public, government and business is best played out. Of the many dinner table conversations it is perhaps the debates about freedom of the press versus the power of media moguls that are the most challenging and engaging.
The real cornerstone of democracy is not freedom of the press to print and publish without interference from government: the cornerstone of democracy is the ability for voices (political opinions) to be heard. No Government should interfere in any individual, political party or business’s right to express a political opinion: just as importantly, no Government should find themselves unable to express their voice. The ability for a government to get their message out is just as vital.
To force Adelaidians to suffer from being feed newspaper content from “The Advertiser” is an unrecognised community and cultural sickness needing an immediate remedy. This is not because of the content in the Advertiser, but because there is not more balance in print media. On television we have competition. On radio we have competition. On the internet we have competition. In newspapers, we just don’t have that same divergence of competition.
This is not an attack on News LTD. In fact I congratulate them for being so passionate about politics. This is a call for the ABC to publish a newspaper in which our politicians have the ability to express their political opinions across the broad scope of topics for which they are responsible.
For our democracy to be robust, vibrant and dynamic, we should challenge our politicians to present their opinions to us the people who vote for them. Let’s get away from the glossy brochures that only come out at election time. Let’s move to a depth of political discourse that we can all be proud of as a broader society.
I want to make a quick comment about the potential cost of such an endeavour. Government already spends large amounts of money on public notices. We spend money on the ABC which has a large presence on television, on the radio and on the web. How much are we prepared to invest in democracy? How do we already invest in our democracy and can this investment be rearranged so that we get a better “bang for our buck”?
I believe that we can and must do better. I want my politicians to be heard, not through glossy brochures at election time but throughout the term of the Parliament so that I can see their policies and thinking evolve. Surely this will help not just my own, but indeed our society’s political thinking to evolve also!
I’d love to hear your views and comments on this topic. Should our politicians write articles and be leading the political debate in a more engaging way? How could this happen?
N.B. Views are my own
Categories: Mayor Clyne's Opinion