Culture

Aussie TV Keeps Giving Harmful Voices Airtime And It’s A Dangerous Habit

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The Today Show invited a now infamous anti-masker on air to voice her unscientific beliefs about masks. And then this happened.

Some praised host Karl Stefanovic for shutting the anti-masker, Lizzy Rose down on live TV, while others were furious she’d been given a platform in the first place.

Why Did They Give Anti-maskers A Platform In The First Place?

It raised a broader question of why Australian broadcasters are allowing potentially harmful people onto their platforms – and ultimately, when should they draw the line?

While COVID-19 cases continue to increase day by day in Australia, so too do the daily pandemic news updates because understandably, people want to know what’s going on.

But when there’s so much information out there, sometimes it can get confusing.

The Today Show had Rose on as a guest voicing her right to not wear a mask, right around the time that Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews declared masks mandatory in some parts of the state.

Media Experts Urge More Responsibility

Giving everybody a platform, doesn’t just cause confusion, it can also be pretty damaging.

Like when One Nation Leader Pauline Hanson described Melbourne public housing residents in lockdown as “drug addicts” who “cannot speak English” on national TV.

Professor Timothy Dwyer: “It’s not responsible – in my view – and I think many would agree with me. To give a platform to a kind of, rabid anti-vaxx, anti-mask people – it’s just insane when all the medical advice is to the contrary.

That’s Associate Professor Timothy Dwyer from the University of Sydney.

Professor Dwyer warned that incidents like these create doubt among viewers, at a time when media should be focused on the public’s best interest.

Why Does This Keep Happening?

TD:We do live in an environment, in a political system, which promotes liberal pluralism and diversity of viewpoints. But these sorts of [TV] programs are operating in a greyer zone of self-regulation and ethical codes of practice. And that’s part of being in the commercial media sector in Australia … that tradeoff between unethical conduct and getting ratings and getting social media buzz.”

Stefanovic said to his live audience that he thought they’d get a reasonable excuse from anti-masker Rose, or he “wouldn’t have got her on in the first place.”

That was after the fact she live streamed herself in Bunnings arguing with staff over the matter.

A similar excuse was used for Pauline Hanson, who was described as being ‘ill-informed’ after the public housing interview – even though she’s been quite public about her controversial opinions for years.

The Today Show even tweeted, “What do you think?” after both Rose and Hanson aired – to encourage engagement.

Professor Dwyer explained that this comes down to commercial media outlets being happy to wear negative feedback as long as they are creating buzz.

Take former 2GB Radio Host Alan Jones for example – and his long list of controversial statements that somehow didn’t end his high paying and successful career. Producers only drew a line when advertisers boycotted his show.

TD: “Ethical decision making by media producers obliges them really – I think, particularly at this time – not to give these people oxygen. Frankly, if people want to access those more extreme viewpoints, they can seek them out by themselves on YouTube and so on.”

The Takeaway

Professor Dwyer believes there’s really no more excuses for having these types of people on national TV, especially when we need actual experts during times of such uncertainty.

And while he recognises that presenters are getting better at calling out bad behaviours on air, there are still clearly quite different ethical cultures underpinning various media organisations. And these cultures need to change – starting with those behind the scenes making safer big-picture decisions about the voices they platform, and being able to identify which voices are just way too harmful.