Have journalists lost the public trust?

This is an excerpt from a talk Green Left Weekly journalist Ewan Saunders gave at a Walkey Media Talk called "Trust me, I'm a journalist" on February 27 in Brisbane.

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In answer to the question have journalists lost the public trust, it depends on what media you’re talking about. I don’t think it’s the right question to be asking because the way the mainstream media develops and its trajectory is not changing.

In terms of do I trust the media? Do I trust what they have to say? I think the question is answered by who owns what media and that should always be the question of the reader and the viewer. And if you want to delve a bit deeper, whose interest does that media represent?

Why that trust has been lost can be linked to what’s going wrong more broadly in historical terms. The rise of neoliberalism as a political ideology means that that ideology has crept into journalism in the form of severe cost-cutting and outsourcing of journalists. What we have now is cheap journalism, it doesn’t cost much, and by and large exhaustive, investigative journalism is getting harder to find because it costs too much.

That’s one side of it. The other side is the concentration of media ownership and the growth of media empires and their very public — particularly with Murdoch — influence on democracies.

It’s interesting that the issue of covering Islam in Australia has been mentioned because GLW did get a scoop last year when one of our activist journalists was nearby the [Sydney] demonstration against the anti-Islam film that came out. Across the mainstream press it was reported as Muslims attacking police [in] violent Islamic demonstrations.

GLW actually reported what happened [which] was that a peaceful demonstration grew agitated when it was kettled, or surrounded, by police. This was before the news cameras got there.

A more serious problem than journalists hacking phone messages of Lady Gaga, are the things we do know but which don’t get published. That’s a big problem with media in this country.

The big issues — for example the Gillard government supporting a regime in Sri Lanka to send refugees back there or stop their boats before they get a chance to leave, while that government is facing war crimes accusations — that’s the scandal. Not Lady Gaga. Why isn’t that on the front page of The Australian?

A lot of the problems of mainstream journalism are cultural problems that are interlinked with questions of ownership and the political perspective of those owners.

As with most things in our society the government has a role to play and I look to the example of Venezuela where the government is pouring millions upon millions of dollars into funding for community media.

There’s an explosion of community media happening there now, which has access to funding which means they can buy the equipment to run the programs and do the investigations, and honestly I think that’s where the answer lies.