Time for a Reality Check - It's not all about you

WE WANT it all ways and we’re terribly entitled. Yet many of us want to be inspired, and led, to something better. How else to explain that we, or political pundits on our behalf, cry out for political leadership yet – in the same breath – wax indignant that politicians aren’t doing what the majority demands.

I’ve got news for you. Majority opinion isn’t always informed or ethical. Majorities once thought public executions, slavery and the denial of voting rights to women were fine ideas. Indeed, the wants of majorities can be so transient, self-interested and emotion-based, we once described them as mob rule.

When was this insight lost? Or was it simply overtaken by the different ways we now get politics done? I’d pinpoint the growing share of the opinion poll in our media diet as the turning point and the profusion of real-time comment opportunities on all media, including vox pop, text, Facebook and Twitter.

Don’t get me wrong. Reader input to keep journalists honest, better informed and aware of issues and angles they may have overlooked has improved media quality. But relied on too heavily, the focus on the personalities and opinions of those reporting the news, and our emotional reaction to them, is a problem. It detracts from the substance of the issue and its public interest implications and undermines the workings of democracy.

The definition of good journalism used to be dispassion and impartiality. Journalistic norms frowned on reporters making themselves the story. Now the drive to entertain rather than inform has seen reporters morph into personalities who both report and provide “expert” news comment. At the same time, audience reaction is now key to the news fit to print. “Have your say”, even when you’ve not got much to say that’s interesting, informed or even accurate, is the standing invitation to all of us, suddenly the most popular kids on the block.

Not surprisingly, we’re lapping it up. Who doesn’t want to believe that it really is all about them? Now we’ve even got the Opposition leader telling us he’s got no use for economists or scientists on the climate issue. He only needs to listen to us. No wonder we – and those speaking for us – have become so entitled and demanding. I heard a well-known radio presenter insisting that a government minister recount every back-and-forth between him and an embattled public servant. When the politician declined, the journalist insisted “we” had “a right to know”. Daddy, I want a golden goose, nowwwwwwww!

The reality is that our personal feelings and interests – our hip pockets, every thought-bubble, each emotional twitch – cannot be the central concern of those running the world if we want the world to run properly.

Some of us would like to shed our inner-Veruca Salt and aspire to something higher. Whisper to us, leaders of Australia. Stop replying to our every ill-informed, over-hyped whinge with well-versed empathy and solicit a heartbeat from our better selves.


Publication history

Time for a Reality Check - It's not all about us   The Sunday Herald Sun