More News Is Good News

Written by:
9 March 2020
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Notions such as the ‘death of journalism’, the proliferation of ‘fake news’ and the nefarious influence of ‘powerful voices in the media’ have been prominent in the public debate – both in Australia and internationally – for many years. However, such concerns are at best exaggerated and at worst simply wrong.

Arguably, fake news as a problem has become overstated because it is often conflated with other poor practices like lack of balance, gratuitous editorialising, the presentation of opinion as fact and unduly selective presentation of facts in reporting. While these may constitute bad journalism, they do not meet the definition of fake news – the deliberate fabrication of news stories.

Similarly, claims about the ‘corrosive’ effects of media influence on democratic outcomes rest on the dangerous assumption that the electorate cannot be trusted to make an informed decision upon weighing up a plurality of voices and perspectives across various media outlets. In other words, the suggestion seems to be that Australians are too stupid to decide for themselves, and must be given the ‘right information’ so that the electorate at large does not make the ‘wrong decisions’. Aside from being inherently elitist, sentiments like these vastly overstate the impact of the news media on public opinion.

Even if we accept that state intervention is necessary to mitigate the effects of bias on consumers and, by extension, the nebulous and vaguely-defined distortion of democratic outcomes triggered by such bias, it is unclear how, if at all, such a problem could be regulated. Indeed, it is arguably undesirable and inarguably difficult in the extreme – if not literally impossible – to regulate something as intangible and subjective as bias out of Australia’s media landscape.

Journalism, reporting and news without any bias whatsoever is arguably impossible. No matter how much airtime, column space or bandwidth is available, no journalist or news organisation could address every single aspect of every single news story. Any narrative, by its very nature, requires some level of editorial discretion.

It is self-evident that a free press is essential to a functioning democracy. However, a free press is not a perfect press, and attempts to ‘improve’ the media through regulation are not only ineffective, but counterproductive. By definition, a regulated press is not a free press.

The only way to achieve true balance in Australia’s media landscape is to allow for as many voices and perspectives as possible, and to give consumers the widest choice available. As we have established, Australian news consumers are smart, discerning and media literate. The best thing policy-makers could do for democratic debate is allow them to make up their own mind.

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