MUCH is made of how the 24-hour media cycle is having a
disturbing influence on politics in Australia and elsewhere, but
perhaps it is not so much the change to the timing of publication,
but the change to the nature of the sources that is causing the
disruption. In the pre-internet model, news and opinion was
presented to the public by organisations which were highly
hierarchical. Media corporations had a CEO, an editor, news
directors, various section heads, sub-editors, a chief of reporting
staff down to the lowly reporters.
They were, and to some extent still are, like military
organisations, though the average reporter might be allowed a
little more initiative than the average foot soldier. Nonetheless,
media outfits were highly directed.
The political system was also a hierarchy party leader,
front-bencher, back-bencher, on the federal or state executive,
chair of electorate machine, executive of electorate machine, party
Together they worked well. The political hierarchy produced the
daily song sheet and it was repeated once in the newspaper and once
on the TV news. It was received wisdom. The discussion agenda was
Then came the internet, which is the opposite of hierarchical.
Rather than the top-down hierarchies of traditional media it is a
network, with links in all directions.
Using it, people have a far wider selection of sources of news,
opinion and information. In response to the ease of publication
people created new news and information sites where experts could
speak directly to the public.
Sites such as The Conversation, Online Opinion, Pearls and
Irritations, Crikey and dozens of others sprung up around the
world. (So, of course, did sites run by ignorant, opinionated,
The result is that a greater political literacy and more nuanced
discussion among people interested in politics replaced the
pre-internet received wisdom. We now are seeing a trickle sideways.
It is now far easier for many voters to become better informed than
most MPs about a lot of issues.
It has perplexed politicians. By and large they have remained
stone-deaf and trapped in their hierarchy.
Some politicians think the internet can be used to by-pass the
hierarchical traditional media and talk directly to the voters. But
all they have done is become just tiny nodes in the new vast
network of sources of political information, and not very trusted
ones at that.
In short, politicians have not responded well to this new
network of political-information providers. And this new network is
extremely robust, bits of it can be broken off and it self-repairs
and keeps on growing.
The political hierarchy, on the other hand, is quite vulnerable.
It has co...