The Project hosts, from left, Carrie Bickmore, Dave Hughes and Charlie Pickering.
The Project hosts, from left, Carrie Bickmore, Dave Hughes and Charlie Pickering. Contributed by Network Ten

Don't laugh - expert says satirical news is better

IF IT'S authentic television political news you want, switch over to satire.

QUT media expert and researcher  Dr Stephen Harrington has found non-traditional TV news formats in Australia show viewers a more genuine side of our politicians than mainstream news and current affairs.

"While many people perceive shows like The Project, Sunrise and Kitchen Cabinet as light infotainment without much substance, these are formats that very often reward authenticity over political performance," Dr Harrington said. 

"The ABC's Kitchen Cabinet is fascinating simply because Annabel Crabb can elicit far more genuine responses to often pointed questions when her guest politicians are distracted by cooking in a relaxed setting.

"These kinds of infotainment and satire news programs are far more illuminating to viewers than the adversarial interviews on traditional programs, which favour well-rehearsed responses and party-sanctioned key messages."

Australian satire and comedy shows had a reputation for breaking the news as well as following it.

QUT researcher Dr Stephen Harrington.
QUT researcher Dr Stephen Harrington.

The Chaser's motorcade that transported a fake Osama bin Laden well within the 2007 APEC Leaders Summit security zone called in to question the event's expensive security arrangements.

Former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd shocked Australia's political and journalism communities by cancelling an appearance on ABC's The Insiders a week before the 2007 federal election in favour of an interview on Rove.

In his book, Australian TV news: new forms, functions and futures, Dr Harrington argues stepping away from the rules of journalism can promote transparency in political reporting and allows the public to better engage with politics.

"Some people study the traditional rules of journalism at university just to learn the journalism game," Dr Harrington said.

"Politicians and media advisers know those rules and they play that game very well - they can exploit the way journalists operate in a one-dimensional way.

"For example, in 2011 Tony Abbott pulled off a well-choreographed media opportunity with a shovel and cement mixer to make his point about Labour 'shovelling jobs offshore'.

"While all the TV news bulletins aired the grab just as his media advisers intended, The Project played the entire, awkward segment for laughs, including Mr Abbott repeating it 'in case the cameras missed it', which showed the whole exercise for what it was - a stunt that gave his team a free hit.

"I think journalism schools have a big challenge ahead of them because, if breaking the rules of journalism results in not just some news coverage but more transparent news coverage, what does that say about the stock-standard rules and approaches they're currently teaching aspiring journalists?"

Dr Harrington's research found the recent explosion of alternative news programs is being driven largely by younger audiences, who have switched off traditional news formats.

His book is based on five years of research into Australian television, including focus groups and interviews with national and international media experts, 10 television personalities and producers and members of the public.

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