A lot has already been said about the Herald Sun columnist Andrew Bolt’s recent conviction in the Federal Court. Convincing arguments have been made that the Racial Discrimination Act limits free speech on tricky issues such as individuals’ claims of being aboriginal.
Current Mediawatch host Jonathan Holmes argues in support of Bolt’s right to discuss controversial topics but lambasts his factually wrong journalism. Former Mediawatch host David Marr claims that Justice Bromberg was attacking lousy and sloppy journalism, not Bolt’s right to free speech. If you accuse someone of using their position in an unethical way you should make sure you get your facts right. Bold didn’t. That’s the problem, according to Marr.
I would like to add two thoughts to the debate.
If the media and journalism industry want to defend free speech against legal intervention it would be well advised to reform its self-regulation system into a credible accountability agency that have teeth instead of clawless paws. For too long the journalists, editors and media owners have been reactive when governments have gotten closer and closer to legal intervention when it comes to media ethics which is inevitably connected to free speech issues.
The best way to deal with this is to make sure the media ethics self-regulation system works and is trusted by the public and the other stake holders. A well functioning system would have caught Bolt’s sloppy journalism and issued an adjudication published by the Herald Sun in a prominent place. More than likely the issue would then never have gone to court.
The second point is that Andrew Bolt is a walking, living, writing illustration of the word coined by American comedian and fake conservative pundit Stephen Colbert in 2005 – ‘truthiness’.
The concept of ‘truthiness’ is not to let facts get in the way of what you know, indeed you feel, is the truth – ‘in your gut’, as Colbert puts it. Colbert concludes his segment by leaning forward towards the camera claiming that ‘I will feel the news at you.’. This is exactly what Bolt and some other conservative columnists do over and over again until it becomes some sort of truth-iness. The questioning of man made climate change comes to mind as one example. Bolt’s inaccuracies in the two columns that saw him convicted in the Federal Court is another example of ‘truthiness’. It’s further compounded by the fact that Bolt reluctantly admitted to some of the factual errors but that he did not see them as significant. Justice Bromberg saw it differently.
There are two things that more then anything else is contributing to undermining public trust in journalism: advertorials (adverts disguised as journalism) and ‘truthiness’. The fight to rebuild trust in journalism should start by stamping out these to journalistic abominations.
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