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Cainz writers debate: That there is too much emphasis on politics in the media

April 11, 2021
Editor(s): Oliver Soo, Anuk Kariyawasam
Writer(s): Jason Suhartanto, Yee Xuan, Julia Hu, Ben Griffiths, Jade Chen, Andrew Allen

Disclaimer

*The speakers in this article are competitive debaters, and therefore the views expressed may not necessarily represent their beliefs or the beliefs of the organisation they belong to.*


First Affirmative (Jason Suhartanto)

In the present world, no information is out of reach. Whether it is through print, cable or social media, people subconsciously choose to take in and believe much of the information thrown at us. With people being able to detect the blatant manipulation of facts, media outlets often now resort to underhanded tactics to sway public opinion.

Since most people tune in to television and print news to be updated with current events, not all will realize the impact of the media’s political influence, and this is very alarming. Many recent studies also suggest audiences of certain news outlets tend to have a similar political outlook. While media outlets leaning one way politically can appeal to certain viewers/readers, when many consumers are unaware such political leanings exist, this is problematic. Additionally, this drive of political interest also may harm the credibility of media to provide people with unbiased facts, with these outlets often over-condensing information and not providing the full picture to the reader either intentionally or unintentionally. One example being Fox News purposely manipulating images of Donald Trump with Epstein, and altering photos of a Black Lives Matter demonstration.

The statement also holds when we are talking about social media. A recent study shows that 72% of American adults think social media companies have too much political power and influence today. An example is the recent issue of Donald Trump inciting violence and insurrection at the US capitol, which forced Twitter to take action and placed a permanent ban on him. By allowing both traditional media outlets and social media to pollute their information streams with highly polarising content, we are giving such media companies full reign of peoples beliefs while encouraging more confrontations between those that hold opposing views.

Finally, too much emphasis on politics in media invites the manipulation of the masses. Throughout history, propaganda was widely used against enemies in battles to win people’s opinion. In the present world, the wide influence of social media is undisputed and social media influencers play a big role in this phenomenon called ‘Psywar’, where their influence can be used for political agendas. For example, influencers with inadequate foundation of political knowledge can be used with people in power to drive audiences towards their own political interests. While this can also be used for good causes, it can equally be used to harm others.


First Negative (Ben Griffiths)

This debate is fundamentally about our relationship with political media, of which we are in agreement with the Affirmative team that significant improvements are required. However, while we contend that this warrants an improvement in the WAY we engage with political content, the Affirmative team fatalistically argues that we should disengage from or deemphasize coverage of the decision-making process that significantly affects the livelihoods of everyone.

When one thinks of the word “politics”, images of petty spats and Machiavellian power plays come to mind. This perception neglects the myriad ways in which politics manifests in our lives and concerns critical issues that every citizen ought to be informed of.

To illustrate this breadth and richness, Oxford defines politics as “the activities associated with the governance of a country or area, especially the debate between parties having power”. These governance activities include the provision of essential goods and services, managing COVID-19, the administration of justice, and responses to the existential threat of climate change, among innumerable other functions. This decision-making process and deciding who makes those decisions necessitates our attention and emphasis, lest we allow significant deterioration in our wellbeing to occur.

In order to have a political voice and be meaningfully enfranchised, it is a prerequisite that the public is able to be exposed to digestible and accessible information on essential issues that impact every facet of their lives. Millions of Australians are simply too time-poor due to their work, friendships, and caring for their families to become aware of these issues through any channel other than the media. A move to deemphasize politics in the media is tantamount to denying people their political voice.

The need for emphasis on politics is particularly relevant during examples of political injustice that require awareness and active engagement to meaningfully address. For example, we are in agreement with the Affirmative team that the concerns of the Black Lives Matter movement are legitimate and that these important issues require less misleading coverage. However, the mere fact that there is inadequate coverage of these issues is an argument for more adequate coverage, not an argument to give them any less emphasis. 

Is the Affirmative team making the case that we should put less emphasis on political justice? I can’t personally think of a single time disenfranchisement and systemic injustice was addressed through paying less attention to the problem.


Second Affirmative (Yee Xuan Chai)

While the affirmative team acknowledges Political media has its place in modern society, we must consider the quality of conversation being had. What good does society accomplish by expending our efforts creating, consuming, and spreading unproductive and often inflammatory media?

The negative team raised concerns that diversifying our media’s focus away from politics would stifle the voice of minorities and hinder political justice. Let us look at what our media’s obsession with politics has given us:

·         Endless journalism covering each and every word politicians speak (soon they will be covering what goes on in politicians lunch breaks!)

·         A generation of journalists who are better classified as pundits

·         Record levels of political polarisation in many countries [1] [2]

·         Rampant misinformation on social media, often fuelled by state funded campaigns [2]

Clearly, none are these are aligned with providing minorities a voice or achieving political justice for anyone. In fact, there are compelling arguments that high levels of polarisation increase political injustice, with partisan divides encouraging more Republicans to oppose increased access to voting [3], the core function of any democratic process.

While individuals have a responsibility to distinguish fact from fiction, the rise of short form news has made this exceptionally difficult for the average consumer. One unintended consequence of short form news was the widespread distribution of misinformation and disinformation to influence public opinion. This is best witnessed on platforms like Twitter, where state funded Russian bots have a well-documented history [4] of spreading false articles with great success. Profit maximising media outlets have also adapted to this new era by condensing, embellishing, and ignoring details to attract viewership. This is particularly potent in the political realm where more emphasis is placed on generating catchy headlines than informing the public.

We must also recognise that an over emphasis on politics detracts from the discussion of other important matters in our society. With much of the media frantically covering every fragment of politics, this equates to a massive opportunity cost for the coverage of important matters like climate change and the challenges average people face daily.

All in all, there is no doubt political discussion is deeply important for maintaining a structured and enfranchised society, however with a politics obsessed media failing to provide the maximum benefit to society, we must strive to diversify our news to focus on areas of the greatest public interest.


Second Negative (Jade Chen)

Before proceeding further, it should be addressed that the Affirmative team has not yet responded to our first speaker’s justifications made in relation to media coverage on political issues related to significant systemic injustices. The Black Lives Matter movement denotes a perfect example in conveying that frequent coverage of political issues should be undertaken to place emphasis on society’s prevalent predicaments that require urgent settlement. Our argument again, recapitulates our first speaker’s statement where inadequate coverage should not in any way, equate to less emphasis on current political issues faced by society. The second affirmative speaker’s continued affirmations that the media is “obsessed” with partisanship simply does not warrant the neglection of broader political discussion. As discussed by our first speaker, politics encompasses much more than petty squabbles and manifests itself in a number of important societal issues. The Affirmative team has failed to present a more coherent definition of politics that doesn’t include policy, political justice, or governance activities.

In contribution, as the Affirmative team has claimed that the coverage of fake news within the media has been an issue, does this by any means suggest that we should deemphasise political issues? On that point, despite the fact that improvements in our current relationship with political media may be prescribed, it should be contemplated that various sources of fake news are inevitable for any topics covered by the media. As a result, this provides an indication that the quality of reporting should be improved but does not insinuate that there should be less frequent coverage overall. Additionally, the message imparted by the Affirmative team which portrayed this generation of journalists as “pundits” can also serve to be an overgeneralization against valuable examples of investigative journalism that should be encouraged in society.

Whilst inaccurate information definitely raises an issue of improvement in terms of quality, it does not mean that we should report less political information in general as some coverage is always better than failing to address at all. This can also be supported by the signal that media can be perceptive to consumer demand, which implies that the political issues portrayed by our media resemble a ramification of what the current demands are.

At the same time, alongside other issues raised in this debate, can the Affirmative team provide an “apolitical” approach when addressing the inherently political issues of climate change policy and criminal justice reform? Or are they suggesting these issues should be ignored? 

In general, we should aim to address the quality of media coverage on political issues, but this does NOT suggest that contemporary political subjects or issues faced by our society should have any less emphasis.


Third Affirmative (Julia Hu)

By suggesting that some coverage is always better than none, the negative team is blatantly supporting a media culture that fails to accurately report on important societal issues. The negative team’s statement is indicative of modern media’s attitude towards politics, where 24 hours, second-by-second political reporting by media platforms who hope to give all matters “some coverage” to appeal to the masses, has inundated the public with too much, too quickly. The negative team has failed to consider that this badgering is fostering a growing generation of people who are becoming increasingly stressed, exhausted, and worn out by political matters. Clearly, the media’s obsession with politics will prove increasingly counterproductive to the “broader political discussion” as more people consciously disengage from politics, depriving key campaigns and movements of the necessary attention they deserve.

Likewise, for those who remain politically engaged, the overemphasis of politics in the media has created unprecedented opportunities for fake news and echo chambers to proliferate like never before. While the negative team argues that fake news has become “inevitable for any topics covered by the media”, it has only become inevitable due to the current media climate creating opportunities for this misinformation. Just as the negative team has illustrated, the media is perceptive to consumer demand, and in the age where all media covers politics 24/7, consumers have more choice than ever. The over-coverage of politics has created the expectation among viewers for increasingly exciting and different takes on the same political issues, making sensationalism and opinionated journalism the backbone of modern media platforms. As we have previously stressed, this has and will continue to destroy the integrity and trustworthiness of the media, such that the reporting of more political information will be met with the ire and distrust of the public, therein creating opportunities for the spread of falsified media.

Indeed, politics is much more than petty squabbles and can bolster important societal issues. However, political media often trivialises important issues and provides no added value to the greater conversation. It is this kind of coverage that turns legitimate issues into mere petty squabbles. Of course, we are not suggesting that political issues should avoided entirely by the media, but rather presented in a way that does not alienate the public. The negative team are promoting a broken system that will continue to undermine the very issues it was meant to amplify.


Third Negative (Andrew Allen)

As mentioned in the opening statement of our first speaker, which apparently fell on deaf ears, the opposition team acknowledges the imperfections of mainstream media sources and does not support the intentional dispersion of inaccurate news coverage. The nature of political discourse is inherently underpinned by subjective interpretation, and the coverage of such an ambiguous matter is ultimately up to the discretion of the individual or organisation; hence we are not inclined to comment on the quality of news being fed to the public. Such blatantly distorted aspersions made by the affirmative team are comically ironic given the nature of this discussion.

Moreover, the affirmative side was challenged by our second speaker to identify an apolitical method that would facilitate the discussion, reformation and implementation of government policy which addresses pressing issues. Not only was this objection left unanswered, but it was implicitly accentuated and intensified by the affirmative team’s assertion that the “over-coverage of politics” creates “opportunities for the spread of falsified media”. If this is the case, we urge the affirmative team to bring forth a solution by which political issues can be settled void of any negative external influence. The affirmative team can draw attention to a flaw all they want, but this effort is left fruitless and compromised if they cannot support it with a differing solution.

Given the affirmative team’s inability to suggest an informative political medium that sits outside of mainstream media, we have taken it upon ourselves to research into a prospective alternative that may alleviate the toxicity of misinformation.

Absent from much of the political noise experienced in broadcast media, digital democracy translates the abundance of online political discussion into a productive, consensus-achieving process, something which has already proven successful in Taiwan. This innovative experiment, led by digital minister Audrey Tang, has accentuated the progressive power of politics through utilising the communicative qualities of internet-based platforms. Developed in 2015, ‘vTaiwan’ is a digital platform built specifically for the purpose of promoting discussion about proposed laws, facilitating vital discourse between citizens, civil-society organisations, experts and elected representatives.

Since its establishment vTaiwan has already demonstrated early signs of success, most prominently in its decisive contribution to the legalisation of alcohol sale through online retailers in March 2016. Citizens proposed ideas, discussed, voted, and within a matter of weeks a comprehensive solution had been put forth to the government.

While it may be in the early stages of experimentation, digital democracy illustrates promising signs of success for future political discourse by allowing the media to play a facilitative and informing role and reflects an auspicious alternative to the current channels of mainstream political discussion.


Citations:

Affirmative:

1st speaker:

https://ojs.aaai.org/index.php/ICWSM/article/view/15025/14875

https://www.theguardian.com/media/2020/jul/07/fox-news-trump-epstein-maxwell-photo-cropped-out

https://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/politics/fox-news-runs-digitally-altered-images-in-coverage-of-seattles-protests-capitol-hill-autonomous-zone/

https://blog.twitter.com/en_us/topics/company/2020/suspension.html

https://www.forbes.com/sites/petersuciu/2021/03/29/social-media-influencers-are-the-latest-tool-of-psywar/?sh=1c3f96355582

2nd speaker:

[1] https://www.nber.org/papers/w26669#fromrss

[2] https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=3144139\

[3] https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2018/jan/19/twitter-admits-far-more-russian-bots-posted-on-election-than-it-had-disclosed

[4]

[5] Broniatowski, D. A., Jamison, A. M., Qi, S., AlKulaib, L., Chen, T., Benton, A., … & Dredze, M. (2018). Weaponized health communication: Twitter bots and Russian trolls amplify the vaccine debate. American journal of public health, 108(10), 1378-1384.

3rd speaker:

Negative:

1st speaker:

https://www.lexico.com/definition/Politics

2nd speaker:

https://en.unesco.org/investigative-journalism

3rd speaker:

https://www.technologyreview.com/2018/08/21/240284/the-simple-but-ingenious-system-taiwan-uses-to-crowdsource-its-laws/

https://conversationswithtyler.com/episodes/audrey-tang/

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/sep/27/taiwan-civic-hackers-polis-consensus-social-media-platform

The CAINZ Digest is published by CAINZ, a student society affiliated with the Faculty of Business at the University of Melbourne. Opinions published are not necessarily those of the publishers, printers or editors. CAINZ and the University of Melbourne do not accept any responsibility for the accuracy of information contained in the publication.

Meet our authors:

Oliver Soo
Editor

Oliver is a second year Bachelor of Commerce student. He is interested in business, politics and science and hopes to improve his written communication skills by writing for Cainz Digest. When not focusing on Uni commitments he is either digesting world news, participating in some form of sport or reading a book.

Anuk Kariyawasam
Editor

I'm a Bachelor of Commerce student in my penultimate year majoring in Economics and Management. My key interests are macroeconomics and technology. As an editor at Cainz, I hope to produce insightful, meticulously researched articles on a wide range of topics.

Jason Suhartanto
Writer
Yee Xuan
Writer
Julia Hu
Writer
Ben Griffiths
Writer
Jade Chen
Writer
Andrew Allen
Writer

My name is Andrew Allen and I am currently studying a Bachelor of Commerce at the University of Melbourne, with an interest in Finance and Management. I thoroughly enjoy writing about commerce-related topics, and as such you will find me writing articles in the CAINZ Digest section !