Vox populi – it’s the Latin phrase that means ‘voice of the people’ and one that’s been readily adopted in the so-called democratisation of media. We probably best think of the ‘vox pop’ as the man in the street interview, a concept made popular by US tonight show host Steve Allen during the 50s and 60s.
These days we still see the odd ‘vox pop’ on various TV networks, and more so whilst an election campaign is in progress. However the whole media landscape has now dramatically changed with the internet, social media such as Twitter and the click of a mouse poll. You would think that the opportunities for the public to have their say would have increased substantially but is this really the case or just a popular illusion?
Take the recent election debate between Rudd and Abbott, The Nine Network rolled out its souped-up ‘worm’ whilst Seven employed a similar ‘like’ or ‘dislike’ technology via Yahoo. Former Labor minister Craig Emerson made a good point on Lateline when he suggested that Rudd and Abbott’s answers were entirely tailored to a positive reaction from the interactive audience and had little to do with a genuine debate.
Whilst Nine’s worm gave a narrow victory to Rudd, over on Seven the audience meter seemed to be permanently stuck in favour of Tony Abbott regardless of anything the PM uttered. It’s no secret that any internet-based poll is easy pickings for stackers and hackers as illustrated some time ago on the ABC’s Media Watch program. It spotlighted how a creative hacker deliberately manipulated a TV network’s internet-based listener poll casting thousands of votes in both the positive and the negative. Even when the hacker himself alerted the network that he was stacking their poll they persisted in promoting it as genuine public opinion.
Back in the days of the ‘man in the street’ style interview, bias was also open to manipulation although most of the networks went for a genuine cross section of people and ideas, at least to give the impression of balance. These days any poll that can be easily hacked comes with a big question mark and even those media forums that promote an open debate are often heavily stage-managed.
The ABC’s Q&A might be ‘live’ and ‘interactive’ but it’s obvious the studio questions are hand-picked and pre-screened and the annoying twitter comments judiciously selected and at times censored. The reality is that for all the ballyhoo about advances in technology and social media, media in general appears to have become less democratic. Then of course there’s the Murdoch press, where not even the illusion of fair and balanced debate is promoted in tabloids like The Daily Telegraph and the Herald Sun.
Whilst some might seem empowered by the Tweet, the blog, a posting on Facebook or a letter to the editor, the cynical amongst us can only dream that one day we will be stopped in Martin Place or the Pitt Street Mall by a network camera crew, ‘vox popping’ on one of the day’s relevant issues. Our somewhat hostile responses will never make the six o’clock news but at least we will have the heart-warming pleasure of telling them where to shove it!
THE HIT LIST: Aaron Michael is a super talented young Sydney-based saxophonist and composer who has just issued his debut CD which will be released as part of a dual album launch for Rippa Recordings with label mate Alasdair Cameron at Venue 505 on August 30th. Special guests include Chuck Yates and James Ryan in what should be an inspired night of creative sounds.