June 2005

Arts & Letters

'A Current Affair' on Channel Nine / 'Today Tonight' on Channel Seven

By Kerryn Goldsworthy

Among people who get their current affairs from the ABC or SBS, the consensus is that A Current Affair and Today Tonight rate their socks off by relying on stories about neighbourhood feuds, sex scandals, dodgy salesmen, weight loss, welfare cheats and bras. It’s true: people watch these shows because their taxes, their sex lives, their cars, their weight, their neighbours and their own or other people’s breasts are what they think about most on a day-to-day basis. If the lofty types were being truthful, they’d admit the same goes for them too. For better or worse, the content of these shows is really just democracy at work.

Both shows are pitched, through the vectors of their respective hosts, at a hypothetical family of viewers who never cheat, lie or let their children or their lawns go feral. Both promote an adversarial, punitive, self-righteous, us-and-them view of the world. “We” are the chaste, law-abiding, honest Australian citizens and taxpayers; “they” are everybody else. On September 21 A Current Affair ran a sympathetic story about a real-estate salesman who’d been injured when he was thrown by a bouncer down the stairs of a nightclub. The bouncer got off with a mere fine, said the victim indignantly. No attempt was made to give the bouncer’s side of the story, much less to summarise the legal arguments. The real agenda was un-spoken but clear: “we” should get tougher on law and order. It is not the content but the angle, and the motives behind the angle, that critics of these shows should be worried about.

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