There was something so telling about David Bradbury’s outburst during an interview with Smooth FM broadcaster Glenn Daniel on Tuesday. When the assistant treasurer asked Daniel “are you a Liberal Party member here, or what is going on?” he said a lot about the partisan nature of politics, and journalism today.
Rather than taking positions on policy, too many journalists take a position on a party – consciously, but more likely unconsciously – and both Bradbury and Daniel know that.
That is not to excuse Bradbury’s attack on Daniel, and given the mildness of Daniel’s line of questioning (admittedly the first precious moments of Smooth FM I’d ever heard), it’s unlikely the rather surprised broadcaster fits the partisan mould.
His initial question was why Bradbury was twisting Joe Hockey’s words, to suggest that the Liberals want interest rates to be higher – when Hockey was in fact just saying that they were at record lows, meaning the Reserve Bank was aware the economy was struggling.
Bradbury should not have put such weak logic out over the airwaves, and he should not have gone on the front foot when Daniel, rightly, pointed out the absurdity of saying Liberal just want higher interest rates.
That’s all very simple. But that’s not the real issue – especially as a clearly stressed Bradbury has now apologised for this lapse of judgement.
The real issue, as I’m sure many colleagues in the news media will agree, is the frequency with which politicians, public servants, business people and readers generally jump to the conclusions that the journalist is “a Labor/Liberal/Greens stooge”.
Anyone who reads through the often erudite and insightful comments left after this columnist’s articles will see frequent accusations along these lines.
A common accusation is that of ‘leftist’, whatever that may be, but given some of my rather unflattering portraits of the Rudd government in recent weeks (A smear of make-up for the Rudd zombie, August 2), there’s a strong likelihood I’ll be linked to the ‘Murdoch campaign against Labor’ – a meme created by Kevin Rudd to help spin the story away from his and his party’s failings, and towards the idea that Rupert Murdoch pulls the strings that make each of his employee’s fingers tap the keys.
Both accusations are wrong, in my view, but then I can only speak directly for myself in this regard. No doubt News Ltd, just like Fairfax and the ABC, has journos whose political views are determined most by the party their mums and dads voted for, rather than any even-handed policy analysis.
But is it even possible to be even-handed when dissecting policy? Joe Hockey said a few times during his on-air debate with Chris Bowen yesterday on ABC’s radio 774, that economic outcomes were the number one goal of government.
Nothing new in that, and he’s mostly right.
However, both sides of politics also deal with notions of justice – it’s not just how big the pie is, but who gets the different sized slices. And there’s that oft-forgotten bedrock of good government, the principle of democracy.
Prosperity, justice and the democracy that underpins both, are really the three principles that most journalists – again consciously, or unconsciously – strive to promote.
That we’ve come to a point when arguing for policy on the basis of these principles puts you immediately in a box labelled ‘Liberal’ or ‘Labor’ or ‘Greens’, is sad indeed.
During the 43rd parliament, there were many economic arguments to favour key Labor policies such as the NBN and carbon pricing. There are both economic and justice issues at stake with the Rudd government’s refugee policy. Tony Abbott’s great big new tax to fund paid parental leave looks recklessness, but only if you’re a bloke – women on both sides of the fence have explained why they think it’s fair and good for the economy.
Through this election campaign, journos need to remember that our economy really is at a historic turning point as both sides claim, and our firm grip on notions of justice and democracy is weakening through fear mongering and misinformation on issues such as ‘boats’, ‘carbon’, ‘GST increase’, ‘return of WorkChoices’, 'Labor reform' and ‘debt and deficit’.
Many journos will keep their eyes on the prize – good policy. Some will not. But let's not slip any further into the mire in which any line of questioning/critique by a journalist means they're 'Liberal/Labor/Greens'. Bradbury's slip-up can teach us a lot.