It was with great surprise I discovered this morning my degree was not a Bachelor of Arts (Media and Communications) as I had previously been told. No, according to Sharri Markson of The Australian, I am studying a Bachelor of Media Indoctrination, majoring in Murdoch Hatred, Left-Wing Brainwashing and with a minor in Never Wanting To Work For News Corp.
An article by Markson was published on Monday morning decrying the Sydney University and UTS media degrees for “indoctrinating” students with left-wing, anti-News Corp perspectives. After attending lectures ‘undercover’ (read: Markson entering a public space that literally anybody could walk into without being noticed), she discovered lecturers are – shock horror – encouraging students to be critical of News Corp, to question the relationship between media corporations and the government, and to evaluate what effects the internet has had on the state of modern journalism.
Once we get past the gravity of such enormous and damning revelations – and if we manage to stop laughing for five minutes at the irony of a Murdoch paper accusing others of indoctrination – it’s clear that some of Markson’s claims are, at best, ill-thought-out, and, at worst, truly bizarre.
She criticizes Sydney University for focusing an entire first lecture on News Corp, “irrespective of the fact it is one of the largest employers of journalists in Australia”. Surely a focus on the largest employer of journalists in Australia is a reasonable beginning to a course that covers the Australian media landscape? Markson also points out that “rather than be inspired by some examples of excellent newspaper journalism, students were asked whether they can ‘find evidence that the internet has replaced print journalism with superior, commercially viable digital journalism.’” Oh, the shame! How dare lecturers ask students to analyse the relationship between the internet and journalism instead of plonking them in front of News Corps’ Greatest Hits like an unoccupied three-year-old?
Strangest of all though, is Markson’s irritation with the fact media students are encouraged to think critically – something she chooses to frame as “indoctrination”. “The University of Sydney course in particular is leading students to form a critical view of News Corp,” she writes, going on to give the example of a lecturer telling students “what is good for the commercial fortune of the media proprietor is not necessarily good for the democratic role. You need to go no further than the case study of Rupert Murdoch to get evidence that supports that statement.” This quote might hurt the feelings of a News Corp journalist – I shed a tear for them – but is it really indoctrination?
The substance of the quote is not “hate News Corp” – it is “be cynical about the pressures and biases behind the media you see”. News Corp as a case study is wholly appropriate for such a statement, as evidenced by their comprehensive electoral endorsements alone (Kick this mob out, anyone?). Other course material labelled “indoctrination” by Markson can similarly be seen as encouragement for critical thought surrounding broad media issues like ownership regulation, political pressure and the role of fear-mongering. To see such discussions as irrelevant, or irrevocably biased, surely undermines the very role of the media as the Fourth Estate: to hold the government, and power in society more broadly, to account.
I can point to numerous examples that counter Markson’s throughout the four years I have spent studying media at Sydney University. Last year, 75 per cent of my tutorial agreed that Andrew Bolt ought to have the freedom to make his comments about Indigenous Australians – an undoubtedly liberal perspective on free speech. In a lecture last week about ‘peace journalism’, a Fairfax example was presented alongside a News Corp example, to pick apart how both organizations had botched reporting on the recent raids of Muslim homes. And – just for the record – if I was looking for work and The Daily Telegraph or The Australian offered me a job, I would take it, without hesitation.
Media at Sydney University is not as maniacally bent against News Corp as Markson makes out. And even though the odd lecturer certainly makes their political values clear, media students have the ability to critically evaluate the facts they are presented with, a point made eloquently by journalist and former Honi editor Max Chalmers. But ultimately, my anecdotal experiences don’t matter to Markson. She couldn’t care less if I have examples to refute hers, even if mine come from four years of consistent study and hers come from five hours of awkwardly masquerading as an undergraduate. Her belief that thinking critically about News Corp is the same as being biased against News Corp will remain.
And thus her article reeks of desperation; a hopelessly botched attempt from News Corp to attack a generation of journalists who will not accept Murdoch as an inevitable puppet master of Australian media. But it is precisely empires like Murdoch’s that prove why we must constantly evaluate the effects of the internet, concentration of media ownership and how the government plays the media – and vice versa – in a never-ending struggle for power. Teaching students to not take Murdoch at his word is not teaching bias, and it is certainly not teaching indoctrination – it is encouraging cynicism, critical thinking and an eagerness to question power and authority. It’s also known as good journalism.