One of the new phenomena of the 2013 federal election campaign has been the Australian news media’s whole-hearted adoption of the idea of “fact checking”. Everyone is checking facts – PolitiFact Australia has a partnership with Fairfax to publish Fact Checker; the ABC has Fact Check; The Conversation has Election Factcheck; and Crikey site has Get Fact.
But does verifying facts really matter to their audiences? Do readers actually bother to read these news stories? Upon reading, do they change their mind about the party they are inclined towards? And how is fact checking different from accurate, fair and well-investigated news stories about the relevant issues covered by the news media? Or, is it just a fad for the moment?
The role and power of journalism has been based on its ability to report what is said, to ask questions, to investigate, to analyse and then to present facts as accurately as possible to their audiences. In the good old days, if there was such a golden period, when journalists used to investigate the truth about alignment between what politicians said and what they actually did, readers and audiences had the time to consume a variety of media to form an informed opinion about political parties.
But, despite concentration of ownership of media and market pressure on traditional media to modify their delivery platforms, the market place of ideas – of truths, half-truths and lies of omission – has become very crowded indeed for time-poor consumers to work out what is the truth. Audiences no longer have the patience to read the details of the policy and its workings to make up their own mind if they are “fair dinkum”. They just need someone to tell them that something is true or not. So, long live “fact checking” by the news media.
After checking out these FactCheck pages, a reader is none-the-wiser as both major parties and others seem to have at some point or the other twisted the truth to argue their case. The politics of impressions continue to dominate against the politics of truth. And the free media play along, presenting these facts through their own prisms, catering to their target audiences.