When it comes to radio and television, I ignore all commercial networks in Australia and stick to SBS, ABC and Triple J. Not only can I avoid incessant advertising, I can generally be certain that what I am watching or listening to is reliable and has an appropriate mix of Australian and overseas content, whether in the form of entertainment or news.
Occasionally, there is a slip-up… of course, nothing is perfect. Tonight, on the way home from dinner out, I had Triple J on in the car. The evening host announced that she would be interviewing a ‘spiritual self-help coach’ very shortly. I rolled my eyes, thinking that the guest would simply be a vague therapist with little training. I was correct, but it was worse. By ‘spiritual’, this person was actually referring to an astrological focus.
During the interview, this astrologer explained that people today are losing faith in the more traditional major religions, but still thirst for a higher meaning and something that is bigger than themselves. Zodiac star signs, apparently, offer uncertain individuals the power to understand the world around them and more specifically, their own identities and close relationships.
Furthermore, she explained that astrology is having its ‘meme moment’, whereby people are discovering the usefulness of the zodiac in images and videos across social media.
I was flabbergasted as I listened to this interview, not just because people believe in this tripe but also that Triple J, as a part of the ABC, would give someone such a platform on national radio. The ABC prides itself on high-quality storytelling and reliable news and current affairs. Whilst this was a light-hearted programme, featuring such an individual effectively legitimises the topic of astrology or presents it as genuine topic of interest or value to listeners.
What is even more insidious about this is the fact that it was labelled as a method of ‘self-help’. Most reasonable people would probably dismiss that astrologers have the power to predict the future. In this case, astrologers are treading on the toes of psychologists, therapists and behavioural scientists—specialists whose fields most people would have very little knowledge about. If people who are listening to this show are experiencing their own personal issues, they may be encouraged to pursue such a bogus treatment, rather than consulting a serious mental-health professional.
Social media have enabled people to spread misinformation and fake news more quickly than ever before. In particular, platforms like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube have done great damage to global politics and science. People everywhere no longer trust experts and believe that opinion is equal with (or superior to) actual evidence. On stations such as Triple J, traditional media presenters have the opportunity to offer national audiences another avenue for reliable information; they should not fall into the same trap of offering easy human-interest stories. This is not a matter of free speech, it is a matter of quality control.
Presenters need to understand their role in perpetuating rubbish ideas that spread online and should not be tempted to discuss them just because they’re having a ‘meme moment’. Unfortunately, I think that we may be beyond the point of no return. Many people seem to have forgotten life before social networks; now the digital and physical worlds have blurred together and all opinions are valid.