B&T’s Nancy Hromin and Catherine deClare talk exclusively to the 29th Prime Minister of Australia, Malcolm Turnbull, at Jaipur Literature Festival about angertainment, the broken business model of media, why the voice referendum failed and how he’s “easier to get a hold of these days, than a packet of Rothmans”…
We met with Turnbull in the media room, straight after a key note to a packed venue with Navdeep Suri, who was the high commissioner of India at the time of Turnbull’s Ministry, and who described him as “one of the most qualified politicians to be the Prime Minister, and a significant departure from his predecessor, Tony Abbott” In the talk, Turnbull was in his intellectual element, and the audience lapped it up.
The Broken Business model of Journalism
Six years after leaving office in a spectacular political blood bath with Scott Morrison, who went on to become PM and moving the Liberal party firmly towards the evangelical right, we start with the broken business model of media and angertainment, a term coined to describe the social media algorithms that rile people up and enable a fury that is amusing at best and frightening at worst.
“Fox News has been the leading figure in this angertainment phenomenon. And Rupert Murdoch, who I’ve known for too long, well over 50 years, has done more damage than any other human being alive to American democracy. He’s created this extraordinary polarisation. Adam Kinzinger, a former Republican Congressman described Fox News as engaging in elder abuse, because most of its audience are older and he’s just feeding the lies and hatred and animosity”
Turnball then said if someone wrote a novel, which involved a wild mob seeking to overthrow the American Constitution and storming the Capitol, we would have thought that extremely far fetched, and certainly it wouldn’t have made it into the script of West Wing. But it happened. He then added that censorship is not the answer but what Australia has going for it even where Murdoch still has a lot of influence, (particularly on the centre right or the right wing side of politics) is a national broadcaster, the ABC. Of course, people claim it has its own biases one way or another but fundamentally its mission, its statutory job is to report the news, factually, and be balanced in its commentary. And the ABC is held to account for that. This accountability is missing in mainstream news and more so in socials, where most news in consumed today.
Nine Network, he believes, still practices conventional journalism, and added that in Australia, we believe in sunlight, we get plenty of it and there is enough regulation to balance it out. However, we must maintain vigilance as there is evidence of erosion happening here where opinion is treated as fact more and more and this was evidenced in the recent Voice referendum.
“But as you guys know at B&T, being gurus of the industry, that is not the way most people get their news now, so much is consumed via socials which feeds anger and opinion as fact”
Democracy and Compulsory Voting
Turnball went on to talk about the positives of compulsory voting in Australia that force people out of complacency and that enables a strong democracy, although can also be a double edged sword, making reference to the failed voice referendum. Turnbull certainly knows a thing or two about referendums, having led the referendum for an Australian Republic in 1999. He described the Australian constitution as “a colonial document that is extremely difficult to change” and predicted The Voice failure, despite campaigning for a yes vote in the Wentworth electorate with Lucy Turnbull.
Once Dutton used the angertainment strategy, so effective in American Politics to scare people into voting no, the scale of the fail was no surprise to him.
“In America, as a Republican candidate, how do you get your base out to vote? You do that by riling them up. You say the Democrats are going to take your guns away. But in Australia, of course, some people might think Anthony Albanese underwhelming, or you might think Peter Dutton is underwhelming, but you’ve still got to go and vote. 97% of Australians over the age of 18 are on the electoral roll. Around 93% of that 97% actually turn out and vote. So what that means is, unlike in countries where you have voluntary voting, you don’t have to go and rile up your base to get them out to vote, they’ve got to come and vote for you.”
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