Tuesday 24 Nov 2020 | 17:54 | SYDNEY
Tuesday 24 Nov 2020 | 17:54 | SYDNEY

The media, the war, the shutdown


Sam Roggeveen


1 November 2011 11:47

Rodger Shanahan says Australia's news organisations got it wrong on Sunday night by prioritising the Qantas shutdown over the deaths of three Australian soldiers in Afghanistan. Media Watch's Jonathan Holmes agreed; he quoted Rodger's piece approvingly at the top of his program last night.

In not leading with the Afghanistan story, were media outlets being insensitive? Maybe, but sensitivity is not really their job. Unpatriotic? Again, not really their job. Did they fail to properly recognise the service of our soldiers? Once more, that's not really the job of a news organisation, and even if it were, there would be hot competition for such recognition from thousands of deserving Australians.

The central criterion for producers and editors is surely news value. Yes, that term can be interpreted an infinite number of ways, but given the economic, historical and cultural importance of Qantas, I think the decision to lead with the Qantas story was justified on news grounds. It was even a little bit brave. There was almost no chance news editors would have been criticised for running the ADF casualty story first, yet they chose to go with Qantas instead.

Rodger's post plays heavily on the Spring racing carnival element, implying that the Qantas shutdown story, which could stop some punters and party-goers from making today's Melbourne Cup, is trivial compared to the deaths of three Australian soldiers.

Rodger has put his finger on something. Even on the ABC, there's a creeping tendency to push the human interest angle of major news stories rather than conveying hard news. If the ABC and SBS had cut back on the human interest and talked more about the economic implications of the shutdown, or even tried to educate viewers about the global economic changes redefining the airline industry, Rodger might feel less aggrieved. 

One last point: Rodger's complaint feels slightly quaint, inasmuch as it assumes the editorial choices at ABC News and other major outlets matter a great deal. Of course they still do, but much less than they used to. Increasingly, we news consumers are our own editors, with the web giving us the freedom to decide what we think is important.

Photo by Flickr user Danny Mekic.