The subtle touch that signals dangerous journalism

There are certain things to watch for when you are assessing the media’s handling of an issue – and there is one indicator that is a sure sign an organisation or an individual in the spotlight is about to cop a shellacking.  I can hear it before I see it.  It is the use of a music sound track in a news or current affairs piece. 

I saw it just the other night…or should I say I heard it.  The tinkly-tinkly piano sound-track, something sad and soulful,  was a sure sign that the journo and producer had already decided the “victim’s” case was deserving of a little emotional underpinning.

Or, in the case of the villain versus angel story, it is the haunting sound-track, something from a horror movie usually works pretty well.  You know the thing: the wicked businessman ripping off pensioners. 

Now, I am not saying that the use of music is wrong, but anytime the journalistic facts need a bit of an emotional uplift I start to worry that the objectivity of independent reporting is about to fly out the door.   Just watch any piece of TV drama or Hollywood blockbuster, music is the most powerful tool in the director’s kit when it comes to setting the mood and giving viewers some form of emotional predilection.  Hey, here’s some scary music – you should be scared.  On the other hand, here’s some sad music.  You should feel sad…and then once the evil villain appears, you should feel angry. 

I am not terribly surprised when I see it is on commercial current affairs, but I’ve noticed a trend of music use in coverage on the ABC and it is a worry.  Music almost always sets a tone and drives an emotional reaction.  The question is this: Is there a place for emotion-driving music in independent public affairs reporting? I’m not sure.  Play the sinister sound track from your favourite cop show right now…and see how you feel about it afterwards.