We enter dangerous waters when we deem some subjects above criticism and those who invoke the topics to be voicing immutable truth.
Last week news media around the world found themselves navigating shoals and reefs in a Force Five gale created by the Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s interview with Oprah Winfrey.
The Duchess, Meghan Markle, invoked not one but two topics from that growing list of sacrosanct subjects – racism and mental health – and, while I have no doubt that life in the Royal spotlight pushed her to the edge of stability, their choice placed her words above criticism or even analysis.
Government assistance and the call for social platforms to pay their way have highlighted the role of the news media in Big Democracy – holding power to account and ensuring an informed electorate – but what about Small Democracy?
Small Democracy exists in the finer ends of the community. It is the stuff that enables us to live and work in an equitable and informed way at a local level.
It cascades from region to city to district to suburb. It targets all the community and it targets sections of the community.
At each layer, there is a need for robust information.
The Tuesday Commentary takes a break this week while we move into our new apartment. As you can see, the books are packed ready for the shift.
No journalist likes to leave a hole in the page so here is the beginning of a book I wrote in 2014, Trust Ownership and the Future of News: Media moguls and white knights (London, Palgrave). The issues it addresses are as real today as they were seven years ago.
We have been shocked by Facebook’s Australian news ban because we have been labouring under a misapprehension: We thought it was a public utility.
It was conceived as a utility (for Harvard University students) and founder Mark Zuckerberg has been masterful in characterising the platform as a democratic space since it moved beyond the ivy league university community to embrace ordinary folk like you and me.
The generic term ‘social media platform’ lends further weight to the perception that it is like a digital version of the companies that supply our electricity and phone services. We see it as a multimedia replacement for yesterday’s mail and landline.
So, when the company suddenly cut Australian news media sources – and, temporarily, weather and some emergency services – the shock didn’t stop at the continent’s vast shoreline. Many countries asked, ‘How could this possibly happen?’