It’s time to stop the political name calling and the fake news

Ian Bushnell 28 June 2020 6
Political corflutes

Political messages: the truth is not always out there. Photo: File.

All’s fair in love, war … and politics. Or is it?

The ACT is still three-and-a-half months out from the election and the messaging from the main parties is clear: the government is ”tired and old” and the opposition is ”inexperienced” and obsessed with playing ”university politics”.

It litters their media releases, their sound bites and Twitter accounts, and will probably populate political advertising in spring.

It may be part of the political rough and tumble, our robust democracy, to slag off at your opponents but it’s more about power than winning meaningful outcomes for the people paying their salaries and it rarely adds anything to the debate.

Obviously, just because ACT Labor has been in power for 20 years doesn’t necessarily mean it deserves to be thrown out, and just because an opposition hasn’t made it to the government benches for a while is no reason to not give it the opportunity (otherwise we would never change governments).

Thankfully for readers’ sakes, the media filters out much of this trash talk but it points to ongoing problems with political discourse, not helped by social media and the proliferation of fake news.

The ACT Greens are pushing for political truth in advertising laws similar to those in South Australia which make it illegal to disseminate political material or advertising that is factually incorrect during the election period.

They say this would only cover authorised political advertising where matters of fact were in dispute, and allow members of the public to lodge complaints.

It is well-meaning and borne of frustration at the increasing number of US-style attack ads rolled out that have little respect for facts but manage to hit their targets.

The relentless assault on Labor’s housing and retirement policies during the last Federal election come to mind.

But like truth in any kind of advertising what may seem an obvious transgression by one person could be argued as a matter of perception by another, or at least any decent lawyer. Was it a death tax or not?

And by the time you get an adjudication the campaign would be well and truly over.

It is up to the parties themselves to muster their arguments and convince voters of the merits of their policies, especially in the face of spurious claims. Labor clearly did not do that. A hard one to swallow, but that is democracy.

It could also be argued that any restraints on political advertising could be seen as stifling debate and freedom of speech, and possibly falling foul of the Constitution’s implied freedom of communication.

It must be remembered that there are advertising standards, no matter how lax, and the law of defamation stands.

The test would be whether the Greens’ laws would stop the questionable ads or merely encourage the parties to churn out even more to make the system unworkable.

Better for us all if the parties themselves showed our democracy and the voters some respect by playing the ball, not the man (or woman), and sticking to some semblance of reality.

Well, pigs might fly, but then it comes down to voters. Are we really that stupid to be taken in by such obvious overreach? And if we are, then that’s the price of universal suffrage. Intelligence can’t be legislated.

It also comes down to a vigilant, healthy media to challenge politicians and hold them to account. And for Facebook and Twitter to recognise their responsibilities.

One possibility that should be considered as a way to reduce the temptation for oppositions in particular to fling mud, even if in a good cause, is to provide more resources to make the playing field fairer.

The advantages of incumbency are all on display in the ACT at present, as the government rolls out one program and infrastructure project after another, most of which under the cover of the coronavirus, as the election edges closer.

With the full power of the bureaucracy at its disposal, the Barr Government would be a challenge for any opposition to keep up with.

Giving the opposition more resources may not only allow them to do their job properly but take away any excuses for putting out tired old media releases.

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6 Responses to It’s time to stop the political name calling and the fake news
HiddenDragon HiddenDragon 5:52 pm 29 Jun 20

Truth in advertising, with the benefit of a time machine, would be worth considering – to look at promises which don’t always quite materialise – but absent that sci fi miracle, we can do without yet more regulatory legislation administered by people appointed by one side of politics.

Gabriel Spacca Gabriel Spacca 9:58 am 29 Jun 20

The media does have a role to play in this, and not just as a filter.

What passes for political analysis in this country is woefully inadequate. It usually devolves to reporting on what the opposite party thinks of a policy, rather than analysing the policy itself.

And that doesn’t mean the media outlet needs to show bias one way or another, though there are plenty of examples of those. Most policies have good and bad points. Reporting on what they are so the electorate can make up its own mind and make an informed decision is what the role of the media should be.

Stephen Saunders Stephen Saunders 9:44 am 29 Jun 20

Make fun of me, but I’d rather have Andrew n Shane than Scotty n Josh. I just wish the ACT Libs were a potent Opposition.

Brisal Brisal 9:39 am 29 Jun 20

The parties can’t be trusted to regulate themselvs, because they won’t. It has been long shown that attack ads work, and a lie repeated often enough will eventually gain traction. There is no downside to the parties engaging in this kind of behaviour.

How about this: political parties can only mention themselves or their own policies. They can’t reference other parties, other candidates or other policies. Let them stand or fall on their own statements, not on them trying to convince you that they know what the other mob is up to.

Acton Acton 9:20 am 29 Jun 20

A thoughtful article. The ACT Greens are pushing for truth in political advertising, but truth as determined by who? The Greens? And how can it be truth if only one viewpoint on a complex issue is pushed, as the Greens always do? The ACT Greens are hopeless and here is the evidence………. Truth or perception?

Duncan Hinton Duncan Hinton 8:31 am 29 Jun 20

It's just time to stop

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