Miércoles 25 de Julio de 2007, Ip nº 200

News has become such a joke, that finally the younger generation is getting it
Por Lisa Pryor

Helmet hair and pen tapping has lost its gravitas. Deep voices and paper shuffling are no longer held in high esteem. The troublesome youth of today are giving up on television news. They would rather watch comedians pretending to be journalists than watch journalists themselves.

More young people are getting news about politics from comedy than used to be the case. Before the last presidential election in the United States, young people were almost as likely to get campaign news from comedy shows such as The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and Saturday Night Live as they were to get it from nightly news broadcasts, says a study by the Pew Research Centre for the People and the Press. These comedy shows informed 21 per cent of adults under 30, while the network news shows pulled 23 per cent. During the 2000 campaign only 9 per cent reported getting campaign news from comedy while 39 per cent cited television news.

Since then, The Daily Show has been joined by the ironically flag-waving, finger-wagging Colbert Report. Both are screened on pay TV in Australia. Plus we have The Chaser's War on Everything which can rate as high as Today Tonight or A Current Affair on a good night.

Should we be worried that this generation is seeking news from comedy rather than from serious programs bringing important breaking stories about two-headed goats and cars that burst into flames? Is sourcing news from comedy as stupid as sourcing calcium from Sherbies?

I have a vested interest in this argument which I should disclose. As a journalist married to a satirist from a certain ABC comedy show, I am bringing you awkwardly into a continuing domestic in our house about news and satire.

My feeling is that the very genre that has honed a healthy cynicism about news deserves to be treated with a healthy cynicism itself. Satire accuses television news of being emotive, loose with the facts and questionable with its ethics, but these can also be characteristics of satire.

Consider the tactics of the satirical filmmaker Michael Moore, who loves getting thrown out of the lobbies of big corporations in his films. The logic seems to be that if a security guard does not give you unfettered access to a building, the corporation housed within must be an evil empire with something to hide. This is not so different from the tabloid current affairs staple in which dole bludgers and dodgy builders are confronted in their homes so that the news crew can get footage of slamming doors and outstretched hands trying to block filming.

Satire shows also use tricks to make pieces seem more serious than they really are - just like news shows. A classic comedy trick is to drop the name of a politician into a generic joke to make it seem serious. When is a fat joke not a fat joke? When it is a joke about Kim Beazley or Amanda Vanstone. Then it is political satire. This trick is not so different from television journalists using words like "investigation" or "in-depth report" to make tawdry stories sound serious.

If we are facing a future where more people get news from comedy, maybe we need to think about whether comedians should be held to the same standards as news journalists. Arguing that satire is not journalism is really not so different from John Laws claiming he is an entertainer not a journalist, and therefore should be subject to different ethical rules.

For all its faults, there is evidence that the rise of news satire is a positive development in terms of our knowledge of what is going on in the world. Comedy can serve as a sample pack of politics which convinces young people to go out and buy a family-sized tub of politics later down the track.

There are some positive signs in this direction. Americans with the best knowledge of public affairs tend to watch satirical shows such as The Daily Show and The Colbert Report, saysto a Pew Centre survey released in April. These viewers were among the best at answering simple questions about politics and international affairs. And what did the know-nothings watch? Morning news shows.

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  21/07/2007. The Sydney Morning Herald.


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