Frontline Issues: #

Episodes: The Siege (TS), We Ain’t Got Dames (WAGD), Playing The Ego Card* (PEC), Add Sex and Stir (ASS), Smaller Fish to Fry* (SFF), and This Night of Nights (TNN).

The issues in the Series Frontline can be identified by the re-occurrence much as motifs work in music or literature. The prevailing concern is whether the media tells it as it is or whether in commodifies the news to profit from higher ratings.

We look at 5 issues that crop up in the series.

  • Ideals of Media to inform the public so we can make informed decisions

The Media is one of the most powerful institutions we have today, but it has abrogated its responsibilities due to its competition for ratings.

A recurring justification for breaching journalistic ethics is that others are doing it.

Brian: “Em, Em! We’re just trying to keep up with the opposition”.

  • Major stories are often sacrificed because they are not sensational enough or they might offend people in positions of power.

Brooke is keen to do an interview with the Prime Minister, but in negotiations with his minders, all the tricky questions are cut and hers turns out to be a “puff piece” with soft warm questions that don’t ruffle any feathers.

“You don’t get ahead by pissing people off”.

  • Hard hitting reporters with integrity are poor like Bob Foster (out of a job) .

Mike: “You only get hired these days if you’re a spineless lapdog”

Example of unconscious irony because he is describing himself.

  • Media is often invasive, intrusive, insensitive and guilty of the personal destruction of victims in pursuit of ratings ignoring serious issues.

Chris Masters also once said,

“Truth is a commodity. It can be used to liberate a public from ignorance and prejudice. It can also be used to make money.”

The episode “Smaller Fish to Fry” (SFTF) ideally illustrates this statement, showing us how the ‘truth’ could have liberated the public from ignorance, but is ultimately suppressed and distorted for financial gain. The episode depicts current affairs shows as keen to target the “small fish” such as “dodgy fridge repairmen”; while overlooking the “big fish” who have financial ties to the network.

The power of large corporations and powerful media moguls is emphasised by the way Mike is blackmailed into dropping the merchant bank fraud story, as “half the network is on borrowed funds”.

While Brooke is interviewing the mother in The Siege she finds that an inexperienced sound recorder has let the batteries run down with no replacements. She has the temerity and insensitivity to ask the woman to interrupt the interview, asks her for some new batteries and then restarts the interview with the request,

Do you think you could cry like you did before?”**

  • Many stories are beat-ups, manufactured controversy, ignoring serious issues".

Distortions of the truth in media representation of information are generally designed to pander to public taste.

Wherever possible, the media will try to whip up hysteria and create a state of frenzy to appeal to the widest audience and maximise ratings. Often an alarmist, provocative or inflammatory approach is taken, and this can be explicitly seen in the Frontline episode ‘The Siege’ (TS) where the team sensationalise a hostage situation, representing it as a dangerous and frightening “Rambo situation”.

Such a manipulation is endorsed through Marty’s appearance at the scene, crouching down in flack jacket and speaking to Mike in a hushed tone of voice to make it look like (he’s) in danger”, even though he is 5km from the farmhouse.

He reports with highly emotive language, “the very real dangers”, and fabricated facts – a former war veteran”, thereby dramatising the entire ordeal. The fact that they breach the “Media Code of Ethics” (1996), which states that “At times of grief or trauma…never harass…never exploit a person’s vulnerability”, ( Brook Vandenberg interviewing the gunman’s mother) doesn’t worry the Frontline team, as they go on to jeopardise peoples lives for ratings. Though the team was widely criticised for its irresponsibility, it got the show “the highest ratings in years” and in this way, Frontline recognises the possible undesirability of reality for current affairs audiences.

A recurring theme also in Smaller Fish and Playing the Ego is manipulation of the truth:

‘You reported half the story. You beat up the rest’.

Teresa is showing the way in which selectivity in reporting can distort the truth. Brooke only told one side of the story without questioning what may have motivated such a telling in the first place.

  • Major issues go unreported because of financial considerations.

Major Sponsors, including multi-million dollar government advertising accounts have a disproportionate influence on selection of stories and the bias taken.

Brooke’s interview with the Prime Minister emphasises the spineless nature of the media “You don’t get ahead by pissing people off”.

Superficiality in location, “As long as you’re happy” as the interview is edited to a “puff piece” reveal the total control the Prime Minister has on the way he is portrayed in the media

“Have you considered on the lawn at the lodge?”

  • Women portrayed as second class citizens – Gender issues.

The low expectations of the viewing public allow such travesties of decent civilised behaviour to continue and as such do not escape blame in We Ain’t Got Dames. The metamorphosis of the sweatshop story to a tawdry advertisement and the sensationalisation of the sexed up checkup reenactment reveal a taste for mediocrity among members of the target audience. Cheryl Kernot’s comedic struggle to raise important political issues “female viewers are not interested in politics” and the endearing mild-mannered promotional video “women love poofs” expose the calibre of a show being undermined as the female audience voluntarily allow themselves to be stereotyped and patronised.

The media often fabricate the ‘truth’, sensationalising it to appeal to the mindless masses. Stories are frequently presented out of context and exaggerated resulting in the ‘truth’ becoming entertainment, a notion satirised humourously by the Frontline episode “Add Sex and Stir”(ASS).

In it, Brooke pursues a story of an unfair dismissal of a sportswoman and distorts it into a “Lezos in sport story”. The story is then aired along with a raunchy re-enactment in the showers, filmed with soft filtered lenses and emotive language -“the girl next door who everyone loved”, thus adding a ‘visual’ sexual aspect to the story.

The ‘sexing up’ of the story completely twisted the truth, yet got the desired ratings and this serves to highlight the media’s audacity in manipulating the ‘truth’ for their own ulterior motives.

ASS focuses on the mutual connection between sex and the media that is becoming increasingly prominent.