Thursday, September 30, 2010
The Spin Cycle
Any trusting soul who still does not harbour any doubts about the honesty of the media need only examine today's coverage of the latest IMF report on Australia. It's a textbook study in how the facts, readily available online, can be spun to tell any story that suits a pre-determined agenda.
The Washington-based International Monetary Fund issues regular reports on its member countries, based on comprehensive study tours that involve meetings with Treasury, the Reserve Bank and the federal government. Its latest report was released overnight and is available for free online here.
Anyone can read this document on its release and make up his or her own mind about what the organisation is saying. The tone is fairly matter of fact: Australia was virtually alone among developed economies in avoiding a recession last year thanks to a combination of Chinese demand for commodities and an astutely managed fiscal and monetary stimulus. Its public finances are in remarkably good shape compared to other developed economies, but it has special challenges in managing a mining boom that has driven its terms of trade to historic highs and which are threatening to force its interest rates and currency higher than the economy outside the resource sector might be able to withstand.
So which version of the truth do you want out of the nation's newspapers? The Australian, bless them, came up with the headline "Labor Facing Storm Clouds: IMF", which managed to convey the idea that the world's pre-eminent economic body had criticised the Rudd/Gillard government's economic management. The actual text of the story, by David Uren, wasn't that bad, but one could see the work of the page 1 editors in desparately trying to spin a 'Labor incompetent' angle out of it. The reality is, of course, that most developed economy leaders in the current climate would sell their first born for a report like this.
The better news angle would appear to have been that the IMF had praised the resources rent tax as a step in the right direction. If anything, the fund said the tax should have been applied more widely beyond the compromise deal that limited it to coal and iron ore. But, as you might have guessed, The Australian did not tell its readers that Gillard ended up cutting the legs out from the tax after a virulently misleading campaign by the paper's own writers ahead of the election in which they played up threats of a capital strike if the RSPT went through. Indeed, The Australian's white-anting over the RSPT arguably played a role in Rudd's demise.
But of course in The Australian's latest view of the world, Labor has mismanaged the economy by compromising on a tax that the newspaper campaigned against in the first place. Abbott, we are told today, has "seized" on the IMF report to "sharpen his attack" on the government's economic credentials. Sharpen his attack? Surely, they mean "make a desperate stab"?
And what about interest rates? Well, Bloomberg, which really just assembles news to a template, blandly reported that Australia "may need higher rates" if the mining boom continues. Well yes, and you may need an umbrella if it rains. But if that version of the facts doesn't suit, perhaps you'd like to settle for the SMH's (more accurate) take on the story, that the IMF was in fact urging the RBA to tread warily on rates.
You see how this game works? You take a fairly even-handed economic report, filled with the usual qualifications, and put it through the editorial mixmaster to deliver a story that suits your own news agenda. News Ltd is the worst of them, but all media organisations do it to one degree or another.
By the way, kudos for once to the ABC who managed to pick up the obvious angle, given the palaver ahead of the election from the mining industry: IMF Backs Resources Tax (but needs to widen it).
Now THAT, in my journalistic opinion, was the obvious angle. But if you don't agree, you don't have to rely on me or any one else. You can read it for yourself online in its unadulterated version and make up your own mind. No MEDIAtion required.
Posted by Mr D at 9:45 PM