Ranald Macdonald. In journalism we trust – or do we?

Journalists from the safe fortress of their own news outlets attacking the professional integrity of their competitors is a no-win situation. The consequences are far-reaching.

Doyen of Australian journalism, Laurie Oakes got it right  recently at the Melbourne Press Club when he quoted Tom Stoppard (the noted British playwright)  who said “A free press needs to be a respected press”.

“..I think he is right,”  Mr. Oakes said. “That’s because, if we’re going to safeguard the utmost freedom to report, if we’re going to win political arguments …., we need the public behind us.

Most people in the media, probably assume we’ve got that public support. But have we? We’ve seen survey after survey, poll after poll, showing a deep – and deepening – lack of trust in the media. In light of that, what basis do we have for assuming there is widespread public sympathy when it comes to press freedom questions?

“The only way to guarantee it is to start winning back respect. Rebuilding trust. That obviously involves lifting our game. But trying to project a more positive picture of what we do and why, the significance of journalism—that wouldn’t be a bad idea either.”

To that I say “Hear, Hear”.

The sallies attacking the accuracy and integrity of competing journalists regularly  comes from The Australian newspaper – particularly with its Cut & Paste column – ably supported by its scarcely objective weekly Media section.

But Fairfax Media has stupidly (in my view) fallen into the trap of reciprocating: In seeking to diminish Murdoch’s journalists whenever that opportunity presents.

The result is – and surely it is Journalism 101 – the profession itself is further reduced from its less than lofty position in the ‘most trusted’  list where it languishes alongside real estate salesmen, used car dealers and politicians.

Yet, credibility is what journalism needs in these testing times – and has always needed if what it reports is to impact on the decision makers.

Leading American journalist Glenn Greenwald stated that; “a key purpose of journalism is to provide an adversarial check on those who wield the greatest power by shining a light on what they do in the dark, and informing the public about those acts.”

But nothing will happen in a democracy where public opinion should be holding its leaders to account if reporters or the media are not trusted by the community.

So, I join with Laurie Oakes in saying “please, please, cease and desist – because you are just lessening the impact and credibility – and probably the life – of your important calling. Leave it to the viewers, listeners and readers to determine who on their record should be believed.”

Ranald Macdonald is a Friend of the ABC and former Managing Director of The Age.

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