The Silly News Season

22 December 2011
According to the fluorescent yellow banner on Channel 9 news, there's an "Asylum Seeker Crisis". Paying close attention so I know exactly how much to panic, I realise we've hit that time of year - the silly news season, where news room editors scramble to find any dross they can to fill the 24 hour news cycle over the Christmas period.

Last week's sinking of an asylum seeker boat off the coast of Indonesia was a horrible tragedy, with a death toll that may never be known for sure but almost certainly in the hundreds. The news chiefs, however, must have been squealing with glee. What a chance to fill dead airtime, not with the stories of the men, women and children - people with families and hopes and dreams - who have perished, but by manufacturing a political "crisis" about the ever-menacing hoardes of illegals destined for our shores. What should have been the story of a humanitarian disaster deserving of the most somber and respectful reflection was transformed into yet another attempt to bait political parties against each other, bait "Aussie battlers" against the "do gooders" in a relentless attempt to drive up ratings and web hits. Ugh.

There's still rather a lot of news space to fill even when we're done creating a crisis out of a pitiful few asylum seekers, but creating crises is what the commercial news media do best. Channel 7 news breathlessly reported that nearly a quarter of first time mothers are now over the age of 35. This shock horror over the advancing age of mothers is nothing new, but no one let that get in the way of creating a good crisis. Various "experts" were wheeled the news shows to lament the whole ghastly thing. "This shows the message [about declining fertility levels with age] is not getting through" bemoaned an obstetric talking head on the morning news. Heavens to murgatroid. You'd have to be on an extensive media blackout to have missed the news that women's fertility declines with age, and you shouldn't put your career in front of having children - as if it is always a choice to delay having children, and as if it is solely women's responsibility. And surely the fact that more women are having babies older shows that there isn't a problem? If women are choosing to have their babies later, it's obviously working for them and it's fine. "Crisis - women doing what they want to do" hardly makes for a good story though.

Sadly, in the midst of all this, real news stories can get lost. There's so much outrage over people cheating Centrelink. News Ltd tabloids publish front page banner headlines decrying the disgraceful welfare cheats; people gleefully report their neighbour who claims sole parenting payment with a live in boyfriend or Newstart allowance despite doing cash-in-hand work. We are incensed by the individual who defrauds Centrelink of a few hundred dollars. But when an organisation does it - such as employment agencies falsely claiming Job Network payments they were not entitled to, of tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars, it barely raises a ripple. Some of these are purportedly "charitable" organisations. They're "ripping off the system" to a far greater extent than the poor guy who fudges his job seeker diary. But where is the outrage? The story sinks with barely a trace. Back to Nauru and sneering at Kim Jong Il. And there's the disgrace.


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