“Journalists say a thing that they know isn’t true, in the hope that if they keep on saying it long enough, it will be true.”
— Arnold Bennett (British novelist 1867-1931)
EVERY FEW years, Australian TV networks collect a multi-million-dollar windfall in advertising revenue. Political advertising generates rivers of cash which keep many marginal operators afloat. From the network viewpoint it doesn’t matter who wins the election, or whether the most outrageous lies are told, as long as the money rolls in. Our electoral laws do not expressly forbid lying in political advertising, and if anyone can be bothered taking the time & trouble to rebut some of the claims made, the correction is never as prominently featured as the original lie.
To recap: We have allowed an electoral system to evolve which favours whoever spends the most on TV advertising. These are politicians we’re talking about, a breed trusted by very few Australians, a breed known to lie without even pausing for breath, and television itself is a medium designed to entertain rather than educate. The money to fund these blatantly false ads comes from party slush-funds built up by donations (many of them invisible to public scrutiny) from vested interests. It’s thus not just a system which may encourage corruption, but a system which makes corruption inevitable. It’s hard to imagine a lousier system, unless it be the US model, which is worse because of scale rather than its mere rottenness.
Most evenings recently have seen viewers blitzed by the bloated visage of one Clive Palmer, noted bankrupt & fraudster, who doesn’t really have a party organisation behind him, who missed half the sitting days last time he was in the Senate & slept through most proceedings whenever he could be bothered turning up. This is a man who leaves workers unpaid & vast ponds of chemical pollution for the State to clean up, yet somehow he can afford large sums ($30 mill, $50 mill, or something in between) to pay for his campaign ads. He has no policies of his own, preferring to stress what he sees as being wrong with the other parties, and if he’s caught in an obvious porkie, as he was by claiming Liberal tax cuts would not come into force until 2024, he seems unfazed, and there’s nothing anyone can do about it.
Norway banned paid political advertising on radio & TV back in 2005 & their electoral system seems a lot closer to democracy than ours. Nothing will change, of course, because the men who profit by the present arrangement are unlikely to voluntarily surrender the advantages it gives to them & their cronies.
Einstein noted that the opposite of genius was what happened when we perform the same experiment in the same way an endless number of times & keep expecting a different result. We’ve had television advertising & mock-debates as part of our election landscape for four decades now, & the state of democracy has never been unhealthier. If anything, it gets worse every three years.
There’s nothing wrong with television being part of the political process; there’s nothing right about TV dominating our political life in the way it now does. The more money political parties spend on advertising, the greater the chance they’ll be telling fibs.