The stupidity of Steven Conroy and the Daily Telegraph

See what I did there?

If you disagree with my title, your mind has probably already skipped to thinking how much you disagree with what I said. In fact, you might be tempted to skip down to the bottom of the page and just state your contrary opinion in the comments section without reading further. Perhaps your blood pressure has raised slightly...

On the flip side if you agree with my post’s title you’re probably experiencing feelings of smugness and perhaps even self-righteous congratulation and which will now shape how you understand and perceive what I’ve written...

My point is simple.

"The way in which an idea is communicated has an effect on how people respond." 

If it’s overly simplistic and inflammatory, this has the effect of causing strong reactions, which push people deeper into already intrenched beliefs. This low brow approach appeals to people who think more simply, with others having neither the education, skills or impetus to read deeply on an issue. Rather they adopt what seems “right” and fits with how they already think about the world.

There are also other problems with this. The more inflammatory the tone, the more polarised the debate becomes. Instead of working toward ideas we have in common, we move away from a more centrist position and wind up adopting an extreme positions. In my experience (and upon reflection) I have found myself fighting for extreme positions, which when I’m thinking calmly and rationally, I don’t really agree with. This approach also stifles discussion, so rather than sitting round a table discussing things like adults we end up shouting one liners and ad-hominem arguments at each other across the playground.

Now of course now provocative headlines and commentary can be ok. Good examples of this include blogging and editorials where opinion is designed to spark discussion. Often I’ve seen that very effect here on my blog. But that’s a far cry from the front page of a newspaper where an Australian Senator is compared to a bunch of Military Dictators.

Important aside - While inflammatory opinion is generally unhelpful, I don’t think the media should be censored from printing such stuff. Part of living in a free and democratic society is that we allow people to express views we don’t agree with and even allow them to be presented in ways that are unhelpful.

What I do want to see is for the media (in this case the Daily Telegraph), take seriously the responsibility to present news in a fair and balanced manner and tone rather then seeking to push an unhelpful inflammatory agenda. Personally I think that reform and regulation of some sort is needed in the Media industry in Australia (more here), however I also agree the timeliness and manner in which Senator Conroy has gone about the issue of reform is counter productive and silly (I haven’t actually looked at the detail of what’s proposed).

However it’s one thing to do something unhelpful, naive, even stupid, but it’s another thing entirely to respond in an even stupider manner. As is so often the case, two wrongs don’t make a right. In this case the Telegraph has overreached in a childish, unhelpful and irresponsible way. They’d do better to sit down at the table with a cup of tea, talk calmly, and treat people like rational thinking adults.

UPDATE: It's also worth watching Media Watch's take on this from Monday.



Nick G said... 3/18/2013 10:25 pm  

Yep I agree with you. Although you generally don't need to work very hard to come up with an outrageous Daily telegraph headline ;) It's really hard to know whether it's really cynical paper-selling or whether the editors really believe the stuff.

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