By Senior Consultant Jane Cook
I hear much criticism these days of the tone of public debate and repeated calls for the standards of public discourse to be lifted.
That when discussing an issue, we need to quit with the juvenile and personal comments and stick to the facts.
Problem is, many people seem to be increasingly influenced by the last person they spoke to or the last news article they read.
‘Left-wing’ media, ‘right-wing’ media, Fairfax, News Limited, social media, advertorials, editorials and opinion editorials.
The current media environment is a complex puzzle, and one you’d be forgiven for thinking is impossible to solve without some sort of legend or explanatory note to help decode and categorise what you’re reading.
Are you reading an opinion editorial? Does that person’s view represent the views of many, some or none? Who is being paid to write or put together the story and what is their agenda?
Today’s media landscape is an extremely complicated and broad one.
You can choose to only source your news from one outlet or several.
When you add into the mix algorithims on sites such as Facebook that use data about you and feed you adverts based on that, it is scary how your horizons can unconsciously be swayed so you end up only reading ‘news’ and seeing opinions you agree with.
This is mostly fine until people who have a limited view or knowledge of an issue, whether acknowledged or not, are given a platform to participate in public debate and influence broad public view on an issue.
We saw this just last month on Channel Seven’s Sunrise program, where host Samantha Armytage, social commentator Prue MacSween and Brisbane radio host Ben Davis discussed adoption and fostering of Aboriginal children.
In that situation, basic factual errors and culturally offensive statements were made in relation to this highly sensitive topic, but the host and panellists blundered on regardless.
They quite rightly received broad criticism for the segment and subsequently Sunrise broadcast a discussion with Aboriginal leaders working through the issue in more detail.
The question though remains, when our media landscape creates an environment where ill-informed people are provided with a platform to contribute to public debate as supposed ‘experts’ or ‘commentators’ on an issue, whether it be on tv, radio, print or social media, how much does this distort and influence public understanding of an issue? What should we do about it?
I call them ‘feelpinions’ – a term pilfered from someone wiser than me and loosely defined as a statement or viewpoint requiring no facts, no research and has no requirement to make sense or be logical but nevertheless is paraded around as fact.
Perhaps we can all start by making a conscious effort to arm ourselves with facts, not limit ourselves to one source of news and to constantly question our assumptions.
Make sure you read and listen to opinions that differ from yours and keep an open mind on issues.
A former Deputy Prime Minister once told me the minute you ignore other views, or think you know it all, you should give up and go home.
Didn’t our parents tell us to ask questions and to not say anything unless it’s adding value? Perhaps we should listen to their advice.