Chaser’s war on chur­nal­ism

Sunday Tasmanian - Tassie Living - - Television - TIM MARTAIN The Ham­ster Wheel, ABC1, Wed­nes­day, 9.35pm ( pre­miere)

THE Chaser team’s new show looks like it could be a har­row­ing ex­pe­ri­ence for jour­nal­ists.

Not known for pulling punches, the boys ( pic­tured) are tak­ing aim at the me­dia in­dus­try this year with their se­ries The Ham­ster Wheel.

They say they are mourn­ing the death of jour­nal­ism and The Ham­ster Wheel will look at how the me­dia works – or how it does not work, as the case may be.

Ask­ing the ques­tion ‘‘ has the race to be first re­placed the race to be right?’’, the show will ex­am­ine why in­ves­tiga­tive jour­nal­ism has been re­placed with the re­gur­gi­ta­tion of me­dia re­leases, why news an­chors and jour­nal­ists have been re­placed with ‘‘ per­son­al­i­ties’’ and why the most-read news sto­ries are usu­ally the most friv­o­lous.

The an­swers to these ques­tions, of course, are con­sid­er­ably more com­plex than many would re­alise.

While the mass-me­dia jug­ger­naut un­doubt­edly has some se­ri­ous sins to an­swer for, some re­spon­si­bil­ity also rests with the au­di­ence. Pub­lic de­mand of­ten drives the sup­ply and a col­laps­ing fi­nan­cial model is mak­ing it in­creas­ingly dif­fi­cult for news out­lets to sup­port the kind of in-depth jour­nal­ism they have in the past. But I would say that, wouldn’t I?

Even in their pro­mo­tional ma­te­rial the team has done lit­tle to hide its cyn­i­cism for the way the news me­dia op­er­ates.

An ini­tial me­dia re­lease sim­ply con­sisted of a mo­bile phone num­ber and in­struc­tions on how to hack into its voice­mail ac­count to hear more de­tails.

For the record, the pass­word they sug­gested did not work and I can’t help but won­der if my re­peated, fu­tile at­tempts to get it to work will be part of some kind of gag later on.

Their full-length me­dia re­lease, is­sued later on, came with the fol­low­ing words scat­tered through­out, in bold type, and out of con­text: ‘‘ Un­for­tu­nately you can’t just copy and paste this press re­lease into your copy. But if you ac­ci­den­tally do it any­way, just pre­tend it was de­lib­er­ate. If you work at Fairfax, just don’t ex­pect a sub-editor to fix it up.’’

But for all their cheek­i­ness, the Chaser boys are a pretty in­tel­li­gent bunch and in be­tween the jokes there is usu­ally some pretty as­tute so­cial commentary or at least some at­tempt to chal­lenge view­ers to ex­am­ine their own ideas.

In to­day’s me­dia land­scape, this kind of scrutiny and dis­cus­sion might be ex­actly what the news in­dus­try needs.

Pub­lic mis­trust of the me­dia is at an all-time high ( thanks for noth­ing, News of the World ) and main­stream me­di­a­bash­ing is a pop­u­lar sport these days.

But in many cases, it is frus­trat­ingly un­in­formed – so at least this se­ries prom­ises to in­ject some lively and in­tel­li­gent crit­i­cism into the mix, and that might be good for all of us.

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