When reinstated as Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd admitted that politics was a “huge national turnoff” for young people. When it comes to electoral politics, he’s right. Before the 2010 election, the Australian Electoral Commission said there were 1.4 million people missing from the electoral roll, and one-third of those were aged 18-24.
Young people are becoming disengaged with political news – particularly from mainstream newspapers – faster than any age group. The media have a responsibility to inform and engage young people in politics, particularly during an election. According to the author of Young People and Politics, Dr Aaron Martin, voting is still the “most important activity citizens engage in”. And it is political knowledge that makes elections more interesting, and empowers young people to vote for those who best represent their interests.
It’s a pity that while the mainstream media has whipped itself into a frenzy over polls and personalities, many of us have been left in the dark about policies that matter. Many are left to wonder how politics is relevant to their daily lives.
Exacerbating the problem is the interconnected, fast-pace world today’s youth inhabit. Engaging us in politics is a task that the traditional media, in many ways, is not up to. The problems deterring young people from political news – it’s too time-consuming, boring, complex, and biased – are entrenched features of many newspapers and formal news programs.
But aside from the monotonous landscape of black-and-white papers and stern news presenters are many new ventures trying to make politics more accessible and interesting. Here’s some of the best.
Too much information? One solution for the time poor is the news aggregator. The Monthly’s PoliticOz is a daily email of the best articles from a variety of sources including the mainstream press and good bloggers on the politics of the day (www.themonthly.com.au/politicoz). Whatever the issue, you’ll be tipped off about articles with differing perspectives.
There’s also the No Crap App. It’s not an actual app, but a website providing a weekly selection of the best political news and comment. Former Liberal staffer Paula Matthewson pulls it together and you can sign up for an email alert. Its name comes from a speech former prime minister Julia Gillard gave when she pleaded for journalists to “stop writing crap”.
While some consider Twitter a soapbox for the self involved, journalists and political enthusiasts have long been cultivating a modern public sphere. By following your favourite news publications, journalists and politicians, Twitter becomes a constantly updated feed of the best (and worst) political news, but there’s no doubt it can be a buzz.
Sick of bias? Bias is a huge issue in Australia, particularly in the traditional media, where three companies – Fairfax Media, News Limited and APN News and Media – publish 98 per cent of the country’s newspapers. The owner of News Limited, Rupert Murdoch, is often accused of using his newspapers (The Australian, The Herald Sun) to sway public opinion for his financial interests.
Many online sites are trying to bring new voices and new perspectives. The Conversation is one – a not-for-profit online venture funded by universities aiming to provide “independent, high-quality, authenticated journalism”. Academics write the pieces and they usually know what they’re talking about. The Guardian Australia is an online extension of its British publication. While still mainstream media, The Guardian is internationally heralded as a unique source of high quality, progressive journalism and it is innovative in encouraging real engagement with its audience. Keep an eye on it.
Journalists themselves are not immune to bias, although the idea of objectivity is itself fraught. A 2004 Roy Morgan survey found just 9 per cent of journalists identified as right-wing, while 55% identified as left-wing. The Sydney Morning Herald said this problem is worse online, especially on Twitter.
Whatever their own views, journalists should be able to put them aside and not distort the news by leaving out relevant facts. This isn’t always the case, though it is exactly what fact checkers aim to do. PolitiFact Australia is a spinoff of the Pulitzer-prize winning American website of the same name and assesses claims made by politicians and public figures, rating each claim on a scale from ‘True’ to ‘Pants on Fire’. Channel Seven is a partner and is running PolitiFact’s checks on television.
Don’t understand the issues? The Conversation does explainers on key issues. They have one on 457 visas, for example, and another on the Coalition’s direct action climate change policy. It’s a good place to start if there is an issue you don’t understand.
Paula Matthewson, Australian blogger (and No Crapp App aggregator), launched AusVotes 2013to fill what’s missing from traditional media. The website has good policy analysis, and an overview of each party’s policies with external links. It avoids the partisanship of many sites.
Other sources that provide the background to many issues – rather than the pure politics – include the ABC’s Q&A and Channel Ten’s The Project.
Want to have your say? OurSay (www.oursay.org) was designed to connect young people with political decision makers. Anyone can post questions about specific topics on their website. The public vote on the questions and the top ones are put to politicians in forums streamed live on the web. One of their initiatives is The Citizens’ Agenda, where 10 electorates and their federal candidates will face the public’s questioning (in Victoria, the electorates are Melbourne and Corangamite). Q&A also puts the public’s questions to politicians on its weekly television panel (ABC, Monday 9.35 pm). You can ask questions on their website, via video, and on Twitter. While sometimes cringe worthy – putting Bob Katter and Clive Palmer in the same room was uncomfortable for all involved – the quality of debate is, for the most part, high. The show is always informative and entertaining.
Find the news boring? A recent survey found 40 per cent of young Americans watch satirical news shows like The Daily Show and The Colbert Report as their primary source of news. While some – including The Daily Show’s host Jon Stewart – are concerned about this trend, others argue that humour plays a crucial role in engaging young people with politics. Melbourne University academic Sally Young’s research suggests that those who watch satirical news may be as well informed as those watching elite news sources.
In Australia, The Chasers – known for political satire and daredevilry – are doing another election show, tentatively named The Election Hamster. Gruen Planet will also do another season of the popular Gruen Nation this year. The show, hosted by Will Anderson, sees advertising experts and political commentators dissect the election’s advertising and political tactics.
Though not a satirical show, The Project (Channel Ten, weeknights, 6.30pm) does news in an entertaining way, hosted by the celebrities-of-sorts Charlie Pickering, Carrie Bickmore and Dave Hughes. The show often looks at how the day’s political news relates to young people. When the National Disability Insurance Scheme was announced, for example, The Project did a story on youth mental health centres.
The media have a responsibility to make politics interesting for everyone, including young people, and they could be doing a lot more. Of course, we also need to start engaging and that takes effort. Only then can our political system begin to get the energy it needs from young minds and, in Rudd’s words, start cooking with gas.