Propaganda: Selecting and Misrepresenting Voices


One of the things any book, article, or academic course on the media will (or should) tell you is that one of journalism’s flaws is agenda setting. Who frames the news, where they get the news, and who they get that information from are just some of the factors that go into structuring what consumers get to read and comment on. Australia is no exception, and as fires rage across the country’s east, many voices are being choked out by segments of the media.

Somehow, not only has the debate gone from what we need to do about climate change to whether it exists, but we have gone a step further by having to go on the defensive against claims that the Greens and other environmentalist groups are apparently to blame for the fires. Even one of my brothers, who knows very well the dangers of climate change, got swept up briefly in the media storm of blaming the Greens for not allowing controlled burns or back burning. He quickly realised his mistake after he brought it up with me, but so many are so convinced that climate change isn’t a problem, so convinced that green groups are ‘evil’ for whatever absurd reason, that even when provided evidence they are wrong, they choose to ignore it.

When it comes to talking about a political party and their policies, it would be a mistake to just listen to what they have to say and not observe their policies as well. This is mostly due to the fact that many politicians aren’t trustworthy, and even those you do agree with are worthy of scrutiny to ensure they do stick to what they have promised. But much journalism is simply restating what has been said by people, usually in the interest of being ‘impartial’, of not showing ‘bias’, which is absurd

Our media once more gave coverage to that grub Folau, who says that the fires are the result of same-sex marriage and abortion legislation. Scott Morrison offered his thoughts and prayers. Barnaby Joyce said (falsely) two people who died in the fires were Greens voters. Gladys Berejiklian parroted gun lobby talking points with her “Honestly, not today” comment. All of these things are pathetic, empty statements by people (with the exception of Folau, who just needs to shut up and learn more about his religion) who are criminals.

And yet, because they induce rage, generate controversy, get clicks, these are the headlines. A chunk of coverage is dedicated to what morons have to say during a crisis. They’re our leaders, you say? They sure aren’t acting like it. We should report on it for balance? There is only one objective truth regarding climate change – there is absolutely nothing to balance.

Why not focus more attention on scientists who have been warning us for decades? Or the Indigenous who have been doing the same? What about the Unions and other groups who have been calling out the funding cuts into Fire and Rescue and RFS services? Or the firefighters whose resources are stretched so thin, and who have had top members trying to communicate with our leaders to discuss how climate change is making conditions worse? Better yet – the voices of those who have lost everything in the fires?

And I am sure that many of the people who happen to be reading this post will likely know much of the above information, because I’m sure if you’ve found yourself here you probably read a range of media, or at least decent media. These people may even agree with my critique of how much coverage we give certain irrelevant and unhelpful voices, while others that are much more important are left out or only given similar airtime. But my major gripe is with the large proportion of our commercial media beholden to certain interests.

One of the major culprits of this that I’ve noticed is Sky News, which is no surprise, but it applies to many different outlets. These outlets have huge audiences and influence over public opinion. Looking at Sky News specifically, though, what voices do you hear from them? The same names and sources appear often. Peta Credlin, Chris Kenny, The Australian, Coalition party members, various businesses and think tanks, etc. There isn’t much variety in there, and whenever other points of view are represented, they are usually ridiculed or dismissed.

Sky News were also one of the main outlets that spouted the nonsense about the Greens being opposed to back burning and other measures due to “conservation”. They heard this from Barnaby Joyce, so it must be true! Or perhaps not, if anyone actually listened to the Greens and didn’t try warp their words?

I had an account on Twitter share this tweet with me the other day:

Reply on one of my Twitter posts.

The purpose was to bring to my attention how bad the Greens were, because obviously those three… perfectly valid and sound policy points were proof of the Greens being at fault. But there are a few problems with this.

  • They are only three points out of a total of 45.
  • The three points listed seem entirely appropriate, and in no way imply that the Greens are opposed to back burning – only that it is done responsibly regarding the wildlife present.
  • The link and source for them are, in fact, from the Victorian Greens site – not even the right state.

If Sky News, their audience, or any other social media or net surfer had any vague idea of what balance and research actually meant, then they would not be sharing such utter crap. For extra bonus crap, I found this on their Twitter feed earlier today. What a wild and completely inaccurate comparison to make, Chris, you fucking idiot.

Chris Tweet
Caption on a Sky News article shared to Twitter.

I focussed on Sky News because they are an easy target, but there are cases of bias (intentional or not), omission, and narrative setting that you can find in pretty much every single outlet. Journalists should take more care in how they approach important stories and should ensure they include the voices that matter in the discussion, not just those that are “important”. Lies and misrepresentation needs to be challenged, and consumers of media need to do their own research and make sure they are thinking critically about what they are being fed.

Otherwise, you end up with a week of controversy, pointless spats between political parties and the public, and a diversion from the real issue at hand – climate change. All while the country burns and people are left to rebuild.


Liked this? Read The Bushfires Are Inherently Political

Previous piece: In Defence of Reforms

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