Newspapers are not the quality they used to be, on paper or online. Short-staffed, they don’t seem to do proper analysis of twisted media releases and slanted press conferences. Here’s a clear case from the SMH where raising fear and panicking the people became the take-out, rather than a serious assessment of an academic paper not necessarily free of flaws itself.
We’re let down by media naivety
Sometimes, the media lets citizens down quite dramatically, by being at best naive, at worst deliberately misleading and raising public fear levels unnecessarily.
Take the article, credited to Health Editor Amy Corderoy in the Sydney Morning Herald on 15 Jan 2013. It quotes a recent academic study, which CLA has analysed.
The headline was: Terrorism fears lead to changed behaviour
The first four paragraphs of the article are below, with CLA’s more accurate re-write of the content, line by line, below each SMH statement, in blue:
The SMH version:
NSW residents are alert and alarmed about the prospect of a terrorist attack, with some avoiding public places and transport out of fear.
NSW people barely ever think of terrorism attacks: the vast majority – more than 75% – don’t give terrorism a second thought, a new study has found.
Nearly 14 per cent of people sometimes avoid public places and events because of fear of terrorist attacks, a study has found.
More people, more than 86% of us, go about our daily business without once thinking about terrorism.
About one in 20 has changed their use of public transport in recent times and one in five has deferred or changed plans for overseas travel.
Rarely does anyone change their normal behaviour because they’re worried about terrorists. Less than 5% of people think of terrorists when they get on a train or bus, and even with air travel, only 1 in 5, or about 20%, ever think about terrorist attacks in deciding when and whether to fly overseas.
The most recent terrorist attack in NSW was more than 30 years ago, according to the government white paper on counterterrorism. Since 2001, 38 people have been prosecuted in Australia for terrorism offences and 20 convicted.
No Al Qaeda or related terrorist attack has ever occurred in Australia. It has been more than 30 years since any incident here that was claimed to be terrorist-related.
There is a clear danger that police and security services will continue to target the wrong people, because about 18 of 38 (almost 50%) of the people they have charged with terrorism offences have been proven not guilty in court, that is, innocent of the terrorism charges.
(Some of the 20 people convicted have allegedly been goaded into terror planning by police and security agent provocateurs).
And CLA further says:
Overwhelmingly, the police and security services’ concentration on terrorism IS fear-based: but it’s their fear of being caught with their pants down, not citizens’ fear of terrorists.
Because of their excessive fear, they allocate resources very disproportionately to proper, risk-assessed needs. Police and security services in Australia, in relation to counter-terrorism, are:
- over-active in the wrong directions;
- over-resourced; and
- out-of-kilter with Australians’ real concerns.
Australians don’t want girls and women to be raped, or anyone to be mugged, or burgled, or have our cars stolen. We want our guardians to guard us from those daily happenings and from the constant rorting of dishonest Customs officers, police and other public officials (such as politicians on the take) and corporate (company director) crooks.
Instead, we have hugely expensive police and security services concentrating on what worries them, not on what worries the vast majority of us.
– Bill Rowlings, CEO, Civil Liberties Australia
Click for original SMH article: The research needs much closer analysis than it was given by the SMH. There was a time when newspapers evaluated material submitted to them, rather than reporting a biased interpretation of research data. Unfortunately, staffing has been slashed to the extent that even those reporting for major newspapers like the SMH do not have time to produce quality analysis and reporting.
They are reduced to accepting and regurgitating slanted media releases.