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Journalism, Opinion, Politics

When great pictures get in the way

The Great Australia Day beat-up of the Prime Minister’s shoe masked a bigger, better tale.

I’m no slacker when it comes to my civic responsibility to keep myself informed.

I might no longer be a Girl Reporter but I still feed to excess on the day’s news as an interested observer.

Sometimes it feels like the people who are supposed to be helping me to get a clear view of what’s going on in the world are just standing in the way.

When I get that feeling I take it as a sign that I need to check out a few more sources, see how other news outlets are playing the story.

It happened during the coverage of the prime minister and the opposition leader getting bundled out of an Australia Day event in Canberra because of a protest by a number of indigenous Australians.

It was great television on the night and terrific pictures the next day, but was I getting an accurate account of what had occurred?

Thanks to Mr Denmore on the Failed Estate for articulating perfectly (and with great humour) my disquiet when he wrote:

“Call me cynical, but for my money this was a classic case of how journalists’ infatuation with “great pictures” can distort their own editorial judgement.”

Mr Denmore makes some excellent points but I can’t bring myself to be critical of the journalists for making the most of great pictures.

It’s part of the daily decision making that goes with living on the ethical front line and if I was still out there I’d have probably covered it the same way.

But he’s right on the money when he cautions vigilance about what is being presented and how.

His philosophy when he suspects a beat-up is to have a look at how the story’s playing overseas and he puts it very nicely when he says:

“Correspondents who work for the like of Reuters and AP know a riot when they see one and their seen-it-all-subs often have a perspective lacking locally.

“Their headline on the story: “Aussie PM Loses Shoe in Protest Fracas”.

“Quite.”

Mr Denmore wasn’t the only writer this week to take a step back from proceedings.

I’d also like to recommend Adam Weinstein for his report from the Florida debate. See why here –

Icebuckets and Moonshine – a week with Newt

Whether the Australia Day protest was a beat-up or not, it will reverberate for a long time to come, confirming prejudices on all sides of a divide which still needs to be addressed.

Thanks to Possum Comitatus for directing me to this thoughtful article from Bob Carr on the damage done:

The Mistake of the PM’s Staffer: The Myth of the “Demo”

Carr is right to say that demonstrations, particularly noisy, angry ones, do more harm to the demonstrators and their cause than to anyone or anything else.

Alas, the 26 January will continue to divide where it should unite and the ugly scenes of 2012 will continue to be invoked by commentators of all stripes to reinforce their particular views for a long time to come.

I’m with Martin Flanagan who argued in the Age that 26 January was the worst possible choice for our national day.

Why we need to find a new date for Australia Day

He suggests 22 January, the day the Battle for the Kokoda Track ended in 1943, and the first comment on his article looks ahead to when we can celebrate our nationhood on the date we finally become a republic.

We have so much to celebrate as a nation but the day the British arrived and claimed it as Terra Nullius was a poor choice in a calendar which isn’t that lacking in better dates – even if the declaration of the Republic is yet to be added.

© Sally Baxter 2012
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About Sally Baxter

Once I was a girl reporter. Now I'm an interested observer covering the past, present and future of journalism and whatever else takes my fancy. All views my own.

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