Head, Screen & Media (Broadcast Journalism), Swinburne University (Australia), Jillian Hocking has rich professional experience. She worked for the UN as of head of Radio Broadcasting in Afghanistan last year. In Australia, she has worked for the ABC, national state broadcaster as a journalist, producer, and presenter. During Ms Hocking's visit to Kiev we discussed modern mass media and the work of journalists in Australia, Afghanistan, and Ukraine.
“AUSTRALIAN JOURNALISTS DO NOT ASK ENOUGH QUESTIONS”
“In Australia, political parties receive very biased media coverage. The media overtly support the opposition Liberal Party but take a very slanted view of Julia Gillard’s government and her Labor Party,” Jillian HOCKING says.
What do you think the reason is?
“Australian journalists do not ask enough questions. They rely on what press releases offer them. For example, a lot of people come to Australia to seek asylum. Tony Abbott, the Australian opposition leader, insists that it is illegal. But the Human Rights Convention does not ban seeking asylum! But after Abbott had said this and none of the journalists had taken him up, the Australians began to take a biased attitude to emigrants.
“In Australia, journalists got into a habit of doing the easiest thing and not checking facts. It is unfair to do so, when the question is about the positive things the government is doing. In particular, the Australian government has initiated a tax on carbon emissions and a tax on coal and ore extraction. But most of the media reported this in a negative light. No wonder because these taxes make large businesses lose a lot of money. I think Australian journalists should be more courageous in order to break the financial yoke and not to be afraid to challenge to the opposition that criticizes the government.”
ON THE GOVERNMENT-OWNED MEDIA AS A “BASIS OF DEMOCRACY”
You say that Australian journalists do not ask enough questions. Does this trend exist in worldwide journalism as a whole?
“Unfortunately, the news cycle is developing very rapidly today. The classical example of this is the emergence of the Twitter social networking site, which I also use. Journalists are always under the pressure of having to write news as soon as possible. They must produce several items a day. There is almost no time left for serious investigative journalism. What also matters is financial squeeze. The very nature of journalism is undergoing a sweeping change. We are saying that newspapers, as we know them today, are dying because the media are switching to online platforms. As a result, there will only be the weekly press, while dailies will go online. Payment will be collected for access to this kind of materials, which Murdoch has already begun to do.”
Is investigative journalism in demand among the Australians?
“A good question. On the one hand, this depends on the investigation itself. Unfortunately, not so many people want to spend a lot of time on reading and searching for information. On the other hand, the trouble is that the media is usually a business that is supposed to bring a profit to its owner. Journalists automatically become dependent on having to fetch money. Therefore, they deliberately take up the subjects that will promise them a profit and decide beforehand which news they will ‘feed’ us with.
“In comparison with the private Australian media, their Ukrainian counterparts are more controllable. Yet our private media are also politically prejudicial to the opposition and conservative politicians. Paradoxically, the government-owned media are the most independent in Australia. For us, they are the basis of democracy. Luckily, we have the ABC (Australian Broadcasting Corporation) and the SBS (Special Broadcasting Service). The ABC prepares analytical materials on a very professional level, but, compared to commercial channels, it has to compete for audiences.”
Which media – private or state-run – are more popular in Australia?
“Private, for they have chosen a superficial style of entertainment and gossip, adding to this negative reports on the government’s performance. Many dislike our premier because she is a woman in power.”
“THERE ARE ENOUGH MEDIA IN AFGHANISTAN, WHICH TRY TO BE RELATIVELY FREE AND INDEPENDENT”
You worked as journalist in Afghanistan. What impression did that country make on you?
“I was there as UN radio station manager for 12 months. It is very hard to work in those conditions, for people encounter a lot of problems. The journalists I cooperated with kept receiving threats because they worked for the Western media. Yet there are enough media in Afghanistan, which try to be relatively free and independent. Incidentally, the Afghans turned out to be quite remarkable, modest, interesting, cheerful, and witty. They are just incredibly warmhearted, amiable, and really beautiful people. I liked it so much over there that I even wished I’d stay behind when my contact had expired. On the other hand, I always felt danger, but I was luckier than others. This war took a heavy toll of civilians, which the media tend to hush up. So I am proud of having worked in a country which is now being reconstructed after a long conflict and having taught some local journalists.”
And what do ordinary Afghans think of the international military force in their country?
“I asked almost every Afghan I met about this. Leaving for Afghanistan, I was sure that local residents hated the NATO military. But they don’t! Of course, some are sharing this view, but they are in the minority. Almost every Afghani I spoke with wanted the Western servicemen to stay on as long as possible. ‘Otherwise, we will kill one another like wild beasts,’ I was told. It is very sad that the military must be stationed there. But, unless there is a proper security level, the UN and other organizations will be unable to supply the populace with food and clothes.
“Ninety nine percent of the people I was in touch with wanted the Taliban to leave them. Most of the Afghans consider US-Taliban negotiations a terrible idea! This especially applies to young people who want to have nothing to do with the Taliban. And if the international troops abandon Afghanistan, the young people will also leave the country. In this case, all the positive things that have occurred in Afghanistan over the past 10 years will just vanish! And it is quite an achievement that girls go to school, women work again, and houses are being built. But the preservation of this process does not seem to be on the West’s agenda – the West wants to abandon Afghanistan as soon as possible. And this dramatic country is in bad need of international aid.”
LIGHT-MINDED TELEVISION PROGRAMS ARE SUPPOSED TO ENCOURAGE CONSUMERISM IN PEOPLE
There is so much talk today that journalism is in a crisis. What do you think of this?
“I think it is a really the case. For example, such media platform as Fox News is a propagandistic machine of Rupert Murdoch’s ideology, which not only shapes public opinion but also collaborates with the police and, hence, kills the democratic process.”
Rupert Murdoch is your compatriot…
“Unfortunately, he is. But, if I’m not mistaken, he has been granted US citizenship now.”
How can modern-day journalism counter the private interests of influential people?
“For this to be done, we should set up the bodies that would regulate mass media performance, continuously monitor the media content, and, of course, be watchdogs, which good journalism essentially boils down to.”
You note that there is lot of advertising and entertainment in the Australian media. But, in spite of this, do they offer a quality product? Are the Australians themselves interested in this? In Ukraine, for example, documentaries are shown at midnight, while educational and children-oriented programs can be counted on the fingers of one hand, even though there is a demand for this kind of products.
“Oh, it’s all the same in Australia! We have such awful programs as ‘Britain Has Talent’ or ‘Dancing with the Stars.’ Whatever you say, they have a negative effect on human psyche. In my view, the system wants to keep people on a certain intellectual level, on which they will never call the actions of politicians into question. For if you know the score and take a critical view of the authorities, it is practically impossible to cheat you. The current system of capitalism is a model for slaves who work for the government and business. The only way to achieve happiness and success in this system is to earn tons of money which you must immediately spend on the material things you don’t need. I think these light-minded programs are specially aimed at preventing people from asking: is there perhaps a different way? Do we really need to earn a ton of money and have a television in each room? But the system can only survive by encouraging consumerism. And capitalism’s leitmotif is: you will never be satisfied. The main problem is that nobody ever thinks that there may be other ways to achieve harmony and happiness.”
Julian Assange is another compatriot of yours. What do people in your country think of him and his project?
“I was very disappointed with the Australian government’s reaction when legal proceedings were instituted against him. Our government was afraid of international reaction. Assange hurt many influential people by making available to the broad public the information which the governments of some countries wanted to hide. But, in my view, he should have been more cautious about revealing some information, for he thus put some people in a situation that posed a threat to their life.”
What kind of future do you think awaits journalism?
“The future of the mass media can be compared to an umbrella, with the online media being on top and television, radio, photo journalism, and the press being ‘in the shade’ of the Internet. There will be less and less print press. People are more and more relying on their cell phones hooked to the Internet. Speaking of the death of newspapers, I also mean Australia, where there have been major staff cuts in the past few years. Finally, Murdoch has introduced a paid Internet content – and the future belongs to this system. I think it is fair. There will still be enough free content for those who cannot afford to pay for the material. But serious journalism will remain as fascinating as before. We cannot only write texts today: we must take pictures, load photographs, shoot and edit video films… This is the example of what modern-day journalism and its future rest on.”