This article by Nicholas Reece, “How Australia’s cartel-like political parties drag down democracy”, and the many comments attached to it, suggest there is an emerging crisis in Australia’s democracy.
AMEP and P4T started exploring this subject before the election in 2013, in our series of events “Beyond the Game – Is there a crisis in Australia’s democracy?” By the end of our program we were sure there was an emerging crisis.
Unfortunately, commentators are still talking about political parties dragging down our democracy.
We believe that leaders across Australian society need to engage in intelligent and productive public discourse on how we can strengthen our democracy and bring about sustainable personal and social flourishing for Australians. This needs to be for the common good! Not for the material benefit of the powerful rich! Or, for the growing influence of the politically powerful!
Nicholas Reece states, “In a modern democracy like Australia, political parties are the main delivery mechanism of change. But recent events suggest these vehicles for change have become incapable of changing themselves.”
For a number of reasons, I think political parties have lost their capability to represent the common good of Australians.
Some of these are: lack of sustainable national vision in which Australians can generally believe and engage; unreal expectation of the benefits of global trade for the common good; funding mechanisms for political parties; successful lobbying by vested interests that work against the common good; methods of selecting parliamentary representatives; party discipline to sustain parties’ control over its members; lack of deep understanding of business and social enterprises that produce our prosperity and foster well being; unhealthy connections between Executive politicians, bureaucrats and media organisation representatives; spinning political promises without accountability; ignoring the legal responsibilities to put the “public interest” first; to name a few.
Nicholas Reece and I are probably right that major political parties have lost their capability in the medium-long term as change agents for the common good of the Australian people. If we are right in believing that leadership is unlikely to come from the political parties, from who will it come?
From journalists? From politicians that stand firm against the entrenched system? From citizens who become engaged in the process, but outside political parties? From leaders of business and social enterprises. From the people in communities? Or, is it all too hard?
Professor David Weisbrot AM, in a speech to the Melbourne Press Club issued major challenges to the Press, as potential leaders. He said, “the basis for according a high priority to press freedom is that we need freedom of speech and an unfettered press to hold the powerful to account and to facilitate the contest of ideas; in other words to provide the oxygen required to maintain a thriving democracy and a vital society.”
When he said this I wondered, first, whether he differentiates the press between (a) ethical and independent journalists, and (b) skilled business managers of major media organisations.
Personally, I can’t imagine the global quest of News Corporation “for empathy with its audience and advertisers” will cause democracy in Australia to flourish for the common good of Australians. I think the same about the ABC and its apparent push for ratings through entertainment. And, Fairfax Media, particularly the Age, whose editorial line seems entranced with its own progressive agendas!
David Weisbrot continued, “There is a very high quality journalism being produced in this country, by some very fine journalists and editors. But I do worry whether the press (I’d say journalists) will be able to resist growing commercial and competitive pressures, and continue to match rights (for free speech and freedom of the press) with responsibility.”
Who are these fine journalists and editors? How do they put to the sword commercial drivers of media organisations that appear to hold sway over their professional desires as journalists? Are there enough ethical and independent journalists across important sectors of our society who are up to the task?
Ross Gittins highlights the dilemma in his Age article, “The Good News They don’t Want Us To Hear.” That is, good news on the Productivity Commission’s update on Australia’s improving labour productivity.
Ross Gittins reports, “Rummaging through the media’s rubbish bins this week, I happened upon some good news.” (underlining mine) He continues, “So, despite all the worrying we’ve been doing in recent years about our poor productivity performance, it seems we’re now doing quite well. In which case no one wanted to tell us! I can think of three reasons”, he says.
“First,” Ross Gittins says, “is the media’s assumptions that good news is of little interest to their customers.” Surely, independent and ethical journalists wouldn’t accept this without question!
He goes on, “Third is that the nation’s economists are engaged in a campaign to persuade us we need a lot more micro-economic reform so as to raise our rate of productivity improvement and, hence, the rate at which our material standard of living is rising. They’d make the same argument whether our productivity performance was good, bad or indifferent, but it helps the selling job if they leave us with the impression that our recent performance is poor.”
Surely, independent and ethical journalists wouldn’t let Economists get away with propaganda!
Obviously, Ross Gittins’ opinions must be open to challenge. But if they are accurate how does the MEAA hold its members to account for their audiences being kept in the dark?
Back to David Weisbrot… “So while we fight together for greater freedom of the press, media outlets (I’d say journalists) must redouble their own efforts to facilitate the contest of ideas, including by publishing material (producing content) that is complex, controversial, unpopular, or poses difficult or painful questions.
If the journalism we all admire “speaks truth to power” and “holds the rich and powerful” to account, then let’s pledge to produce that sort of journalism, even if it gets fewer clicks than celebrity goss.”
My second lasting thought from David Weisbrot’s speech! I would love to ask him what he thinks are the difficult or painful questions that should be asked; for the benefit of Australian democracy.
I think these foregoing statements justify AMEP’s goal to become an effective hub of opinion, commentary and discourse on the media narratives that shape Australian society. In pursuing our goal we believe journalists need to be true to their code, but always ask the question, “will our content serve the sustainable personal and social flourishing of Australians, and our society?” Even, if their content confronts us with accurate, brutal facts that Australians must address!
David Weisbrot concluded his speech with, “It will be so much easier to campaign successfully for press freedom if the community is convinced that this power of the press will be exercised fairly, intelligently and in the public interest.”
I think the expressions of Nicholas Reece, David Weisbrot, Ross Gittins, and our own, are vital for public discourse, because we believe Australians face a crisis. And, a critical subject in the discourse must be “freedom of speech and independent journalism”.
There are other subjects for other days. One is civic engagement!
How do we attract leaders across all important sectors of Australian society, i.e. the arts, business, community services, education, health, justice, law, media, politics and sport, courageously, into this public discourse. How do we attract them into civic engagement for the common good of Australians, and our society! These people are not only leaders of our business and social enterprises that produce the prosperity of Australia and foster well being of australians. They are leaders within family and community groups. In schools and workplaces!
In fact does the solution lie in a meaningful engagement between independent and ethical journalists and these business and social leaders across all important sectors of Australian society?