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The blight on our media (and it’s not 18C)

Vincent O’Donnell writes in The Conversation (7.11.16) about how a highly and increasingly polarised media landscape, be it to the left or to the right, is a threat to democracy.

‘The lack of genetic variability in the Irish potato crop, especially in the dominant variety, the Irish Lumper, brought on a human disaster. In the 1840s, a great blight struck the crop that had become a staple of the Irish diet. That famine changed the history of Ireland and much of the English-speaking world.

‘Something similar is happening in both the traditional media and social media. Variability and diversity is disappearing: our media is becoming monocultural, an echo chamber for prejudices and bigoted thinking.

‘You don’t have to be an expert to perceive the difference in editorial, language and style between Fairfax Media and News Ltd papers as the reporting of news and the publicising of opinion become increasingly blurred.

‘But the polarisation of the media in the United States, already poisoning US politics, is likely to worsen if Republican nominee Donald Trump gets the numbers. And even if he doesn’t.

‘… For a century now, we have relied on a diversity of public media and free expression to foster a diversity of ideas. Past mergers and takeovers, and those that may follow pending “reforms” of media laws, have narrowed media diversity.

‘The growth of social media, its lack of self-censorship and responsible commentary, has changed the mediascape. But social media is not contributing to diversity. It is attracting silo audiences. It is communicating to the converted, not winning converts. And it is not good at debate: demagogues are better for business.

‘There are no simple solutions. But one thing is for sure: diverse media in the marketplace of ideas is our best proof against demagoguery. And we must be prepared to pay for such media. It is necessary for survival of democracy.’

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