There’s an interesting article over at The Drum on ABC about the state of investigative journalism. It’s mostly about the resource super profits tax, but would apply equally to any media story which has an element of controversy to it. Essentially, Jonathon Holmes, of Media Watch, is imploring journalists to move beyond reporting what each side says about an issue, and actually try to objectively examine whether those claims are substantiated.
Let’s put it simply with the mining tax. The Government is saying one thing. The mining companies are saying almost the exact opposite. Both sides can’t be right. Most media articles in the past weeks have either repeated the argument of one side or another, or reporting that both sides don’t agree. That does nothing to resolve who is right. Sometimes, on matters of opinion, neither side is right. But when it comes to the amount of tax a mining company pays on its profits, there is an actual correct number to be found.
At the moment, the Government is getting slammed over its schools program, the home insulation scheme and now the mining tax. What I haven’t seen is a rigorous examination of how well those schemes or, in the case of the mining tax, the proposed scheme, have worked. In the case of the mining tax, there’s a good article at the Drum which explains the basics of how it will work – one which makes me think the tax is a good idea. Really, though, considering the media furore, the deluge of responses in opinion pages and the like, how many people can actually claim to understand the proposed tax well enough to make a useful judgement on its worth?
Therein lies the problem. In an election year, tax reform is being made into a big issue, but the hype and propaganda flowing from both sides fails to offer any useful information with which the public can make up their own minds. Instead, the mining industry is claiming it’ll hit workers and super funds, Abbott is bleating his favourite “Great Big New Tax” catch phrase, and Rudd’s side are putting out fairly inexplicable, too-dumbed-down-to-help ads on the issue. It’s up to the media to cut through this and inform the public. Isn’t it?
I understand that the illusion of balance is practically a religion in many mainstream outlets, and that journalists and editors have crazy workflows with little time for actual investigation and research, but I just don’t think it’s good enough. I might be idealistic, but if this is going to affect the outcome of the election, I want as many people as possible in our democracy to be as informed as possible about the issue before we go to the polls. As Fat Mike of NOFX says, “there’s no point for democracy when ignorance is celebrated.”