Flat White

Get your tickets for TV’s six week election ‘circus’

13 April 2022

12:00 PM

13 April 2022

12:00 PM

We’re off and running in the circus that is the 2022 election campaign and day one (of 42) didn’t disappoint.

Elections have always been contests between producers of ‘hot air’. Anthony Albanese wishes he’d produced a little less of it at his first campaign media briefing. Calamitous doesn’t come close to his inability to recall basic economic data in answer to media questions. This, from the aspiring Prime Minister.

Here in Australia, however, we’re not just talking about our elected ‘hot air’ producers – we’re speaking of the hundreds of hacks ‘employed’ in broadcast media, mostly in Canberra (but also dotted around the country) who frequently bring us their penetrating political insights. Hot air is their ‘stock in trade’. Vast volumes of it.

No network beats the ABC in peddling demeaning garbage at election time. In the hour before the April 10 announcement of the election, Patricia Karvelas excitedly announced the PM’s plane landing in Canberra, the route he’d take to Yarralumla, and whether his coffee with the Governor-General would be decaf or not. Could public broadcasting get more depressingly banal than that?

Politicians themselves are today nothing more than ‘two-bit’ players in the tawdry, over-hyped stage shows that Australian elections have become. Even ‘set-term’ elections at state level are trumpeted as somehow worthy of more of our attention than we would usually give to daily movements in the price of shellfish.

With all the excitement frothed up by our TV networks over the federal election, voters might be excused for thinking something truly momentous is unfolding.

Don’t be fooled. It’s merely another election we all knew was coming. While the democratic process is not, in any respect, unimportant – the antics of television media following the leaders is all too depressingly familiar.

As the number of self-styled political experts in TV-land has grown by a factor of ten in the last 48-hours, now is certainly not the time to take an intelligent interest in the nation’s political process. Under no circumstances expect anything even remotely cognitive from those claiming to be television’s elite political ‘analysts.’ Cognition is not their strong suit.

Way too many reporters of politics have confused ‘longevity’ with ‘expertise’. They reckon they’re ‘experts’ merely by being time servers in the Capital. Time in Canberra merely serves to make them more jaded than the rest of us and certainly does not bestow ‘expertise’.

At peak times, some 300 reporters, technicians, and camera operators make up the media contingent in Canberra’s Parliament House. Yes – 300!

This appalling truth brings to mind the prescient observation of the great American CBS television anchor, Walter Cronkite, who once said of Australia, ‘Too many journalists, not enough news…’ Walter captures my point crisply. Does anyone truly believe the Australian federal election will have registered even the slightest tremor in Wycheproof, Whitehall, or Washington? And yet the networks have gone into a frenzy.

Given the hugely over-governed nature of our federation – elections come and go at roughly the frequency of mice reproduction.

Federal elections are seen by voters as marginally more significant than state elections, but this is mostly if you happen to be a candidate or an existing MP. Very large numbers of Australians only cast a vote because they are legally obliged to do so.

The corrosive, wrecking effect of television on the ability of the human mind to operate optimally is well established, but elections make a chronic situation worse. No one but no one does idiocy better than those cocooned in the artificial, self-important, smug world of television infotainment. With one or two notable exceptions in TV-land, professionalism in the space is, for the most part, absent from the game.

Nationally, there’s a significant misalignment between television’s concocted euphoria about elections versus voters’ profound disinterest in them. Voters are disdainful of politicians, it’s true, but not half as much as voters repudiate the junk that passes for current affairs television. The offerings on morning television, for example, are universally atrocious.

The luminaries in TV-land have been working overtime working on framing their zingers, preparing their ‘on-air’ outfits, hairstyles, venues, logistics, and (in the case of the ABC) laying the building blocks for the public broadcaster’s desired electoral outcome.

What the phalanx of political journos haven’t been doing is brushing up on respective party policies, fiscal forecasts, or re-reading the fine print of the recent federal budget. Many self-described political experts simply don’t have the capacity to analyse anything that actually matters.

With the election campaign ‘in play’, nothing of actual substance any longer matters. It’s now a game of waiting for the stumbles, the cretinous ‘gotcha moments’ and the concocted election-trail dramas brought to you by TV ‘stars’ rehearsed in the production of campaign effluent.

Young people, awash with choice when it comes to their media diet, have long ago made decisions about television – commercial and non-commercial. They detest it. They repudiate its fakeness, its self-puffery, and its formulaic, repetitious stupidities.

Millions of Gen Y’ers along with Gen Z’ders couldn’t care less what television news and current affairs are putting to air. They just don’t watch it and they’re not about to start because there’s yet another election.

Young people, especially those able to vote for the first time, will inform themselves in their own way. However they do it, it will not involve television news or current affairs shows.

Where once the ABC treated elections with a modicum of respect, this is demonstrably no longer the case. The truly low-budget, lowball talkfests – The Drum and Q&A – are two of the nation’s least-watched current affairs shows, but still, ABC marketers persist in claiming ‘our questions’ get the nation talking. That these claims are manifestly false is apparently beyond the ABC to comprehend.

The earlier referenced, Patricia Karvelas, said in a recent promo for the ABC’s election coverage that campaign questions by the broadcaster would be ‘paradigm shifting’. Honestly, where does garbage like this come from?

Repeated claims by the ABC about its election coverage, and about truth, stretch credulity beyond safe limits. What also remains quite some distance from the truth is the persistent claim from the public broadcaster that ABC ‘hot air’ is more trustworthy than the ‘hot air’ spewing forth from other networks. Really..?

There’s not a shred of evidence to support the ABC ‘trust’ campaign which viewers and listeners have been subjected to for months.

Election campaigns have long been tawdry public exhibitions of vacuity, but, notwithstanding advances in broadcast technology, television journos – suddenly transformed into national political ‘experts’ – show just how debased the campaign process has become.

Australia, once able to boast high-quality reporting and serious investigative journalism, has become as bad, perhaps worse, than American commercial networks. Presenter egos, self-promotion, and grubby personal agendas dominate our television landscape, while objective policy dissection is a thing of the past.

So stupefying is television that viewers find it impossible to recall what they have just watched in any given half-hour segment. This is not an accident. Television producers and proprietors don’t want viewers to retain much, if anything, of what they’ve just viewed. It’s your eyeballs glued to their network they want. They have no need of your brain.

Fret not. There’s ‘only’ six weeks of it and then we can once again breathe a sign a relief – until, that is, the depressing prospect of the Victorian election due on November 26. Remember too, if junk television isn’t for you during this election campaign, perhaps now is a good moment to learn the piano, tricky card games or memorising The Bible.

The other option is to pull on the eye mask, position the earplugs and have someone wake you when it’s over.

John Simpson is a Company Director and former ABC news journalist.

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