The media are continually derided as sensationalist, biased and untrustworthy. All this may be true but responsibility does not lie with the media, it is more deeply rooted in society.
In my early years of high school, I recall studying the tools required to think critically; to see through fallacies, scams and manipulations. The sort of distortions found in the media, in advertising, in politics and in general life. However, I am reliably informed that the lesson I learned from that English class was not the one being taught.
Those fallacies, scams and manipulations, were not shown to children to provide the mental tools to survive in the world, they were actively being taught as valid tactics to influence people in the absence of evidence. Using these ‘persuasive tactics’, children are indoctrinated into employing and accepting nonsense. It is little wonder the average citizen is unable to decipher truth and the media propagate their factless, agenda driven tripe unchallenged by the masses.
This article is a small attempt to correct this failure. Consider it a free lesson in critical thinking. If you are in the Essendon haters group, the AFL supporters group (a rapidly diminishing sect), or think the media are in any way competent; this is for you. Apologies in advance if it comes across a little condescending, but it is probably deserved.
Our best method of understanding the world divides understanding into two distinct categories: facts and theories. Facts are verified pieces of information. Theories attempt to explain said facts.
Reporters hypercritical of the Essendon supplements saga speak with an authority, an assuredness, that what they assert is based upon a plain, irrefutable matter of fact, yet fail to back up any of their claims with anything more than a stern tone which attempts to convey authority.
Assertions are not facts. Personal slander does not represent facts. A tone of voice doesn’t materialise facts. A job title doesn’t convert claims into facts. Only facts are facts, and to be accepted they must be verifiable. Those who make assertions must be prepared to demonstrate the facts.
So do they have the facts?
It is unlikely. They are yet to produce any. It appears they are bluffing; relying on an assumed position of authority to mislead the public and slur innocent parties in the process.
It is also possible they themselves may have been mislead. They could be incompetent, gullible and blindly towing the AFL party line based on the same lack of evidence used to persuade the public.
On the other hand, it is possible they do have the facts.
They could be suppressing facts in the misguided belief they are doing the AFL, the fans, and even Essendon a favour. There is no greater crime in journalism.
“We didn’t know because journalists and editors made decisions ‘for the sake of the country’, and they were the wrong decisions. Every time you come across [a wrong], you should report it.” – Ray Martin (discussing the Vietnam War on Q&A)
If this is the case, if they are hiding the truth, they are wrong to do so and derelict in their duties.
In the end, the onus is on anyone making a factual claim – or asserting a conclusion derived from one – to be able to prove their position. Without verification they may as well be discussing unicorns – or god.
Theories are an entirely different matter.
Last Thursday on the ABC, Louise Milligan reported the alleged systemic corruption within the AFL. The general claim was that many parties have been bullied, bribed, manipulated, and gagged, and as such are unable or unwilling to publicly defend themselves. This extends to the majority of the mainstream media.
It is a simple theory commonly held to be true. (Although often selectively applied to suit certain people’s agendas.)
- James Hird given a paid vacation/tuition and a contract extension
- Mark Thompson given a promotion
- Danny Corcoran given a paid vacation
- Dr Bruce Reid cleared, despite being the only person with the medical expertise to be held accountable
- No finding of guilt
- No infraction notices
(Do these sound like ‘harsh punishments delivered to those guilty of cheating with PEDs and/or risking player’s lives with experimental drugs, by an authority concerned with player welfare’, or ‘bribes given scapegoats’?)
- Lack of Transparency:
- Gag orders
- Refusal to hold an open hearing
- Refusal to employ an independent judge
- No evidence presented
- Media Intimidation:
- Public abuse of reporters for reporting facts
- Accreditation revoked
- Refusal to work with certain journalists
- Media Reaction:
- Entire accredited media ignore serious allegations of misconduct levelled at the AFL and instead focus on the employment prospects of a business scholar in France
- Following resolution of that irrelevant side issue, they beg everyone to ‘just shut up’ and ‘move on’
Other similarly unsettling facts can be found in regards to tanking, salary cap breaches, financial and racial issues. And yet more pieces of ‘evidence’ remain as allegations, including numerous reports of bribes, threats, lies and leaks.
All these facts, and the as yet unconfirmed allegations, support the theory.
Unfortunately, a theory is merely a framework with which to make sense of what is known. A large stockpile of supporting evidence lends it credibility, but definitive proof is unobtainable.
A good, robust theory is one which can be disproved, but has withstood the challenge. The onus is on those who deny a very credible theory to disprove it.
In the case of the AFL and its media, this theory would be trivial to refute.
The AFL could; remove gag orders, release documents, have open hearings. Basically anything that would deliver the ‘absolute commitment to honesty, integrity and transparency’ Demetriou promised when he became CEO. Instead the AFL refuse to pursue their own goals.
The media could prove their objectivity by addressing the true issue. By acknowledging that the recent media circus is not about James Hird. It’s not even about Tania Hird, or Essendon, or supplements. The events of the last week are nothing but a distraction, and a media driven distraction at that. The issue is the deplorable, possibly illegal, and definitely immoral conduct within the AFL’s administration. And it has been wholly ignored by those within the industry. The only criticisms have come from without: a non-sports reporter and the odd ‘letter to the editor’ from politicians.
Both the AFL and their accredited media are unwilling or unable to answer this challenge.
It would be wrong to claim this as proof, all that can be said is that all the current evidence supports the theory that the AFL is a corporate bully and its media are either unable or unwilling to challenge its master. However, it is reasonable to accept the theory.
The nature of rational enquiry demands demonstration of facts, or the refutation of well supported theories.
In both instances of this matter the burden of proof falls on the AFL and it’s media. They must provide hard evidence, or discredit a seemingly valid theory. If the AFL or its media contingent can provide further information, everything would change. Until they do so, their positions can and should be dismissed.
Anyone who does not adopt this position is either prejudiced or incapable of rational thought, and is actively contributing to the unsatisfactory standard of journalism.