Universities should speak out

geoff-andersonUniversities have a responsibility to stimulate public debate over serious policy issues and help fill the vacuum left by a media demanding instantaneous news and politicians fixated with ‘spin’, according to Mr Geoff Anderson.

Mr Anderson, a lecturer in politics and public policy at Flinders, said a greater effort by universities to contribute to public debate coupled with the communication power of the Internet could stimulate a more informed discussion of the important issues facing the nation, particularly amongst younger people.

Elaborating on a recent address to a Rotary Club in Perth, Mr Anderson said “the nature of modern news reporting with its demands for instant responses to issues running 24 hours a day is making it virtually impossible for politicians to think aloud. This situation, in turn, makes it very hard to open up a public debate on the hard issues like health reform”.

“There is also a growing lack of deference on the part of reporters towards politicians which is leading to ‘gotcha’ journalism where the media is more interested in catching people out rather than getting sensible answers, Mr Anderson said.

“However, the politicians are not blameless. Their reaction to this has been to fight back by hiring ever increasing numbers of media staff, by a focus on ‘spin’ and the marketing of stories about the Government rather than presenting and discussing policy issues,” he said.

“I’m not sure I want to make a judgement of which is the chicken and which is the egg in this political barnyard. But there is no question, in terms of public policy that we are in quite a deadly spiral; the equivalent of an arms race where each side is redoubling its efforts. We are spiralling into a real degeneration of public debate.”

But Mr Anderson does see some potential to re-invigorate the policy discussion.

“I think universities have a responsibility to enter into the policy debate. We should be as interested in getting an opinion piece published in the mainstream media as we are on peer-reviewed publications. Such media commentary would be one way of getting our policy ideas published in a form that the body politic can digest,” he said.

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