Satire Matters

The age of Trump, fake news and turmoil within Australian politics has spawned a gold rush for satire. From Abbott eating raw onions spawning #oniongate to the coverage of Australia’s oppressive gun control laws, satire has provided us with some entertainment and unfortunate truths through a worryingly riotous period in the worldwide political landscape.

The recent online media phenomenon that has caused traditional legacy journalism corporations such as Fairfax Media to drastically cut budgets and jobs, has allowed satirical publications to grow exponentially through platforms such as Facebook. Reaching an audience on social media roughly 4 times smaller than that of the ABC, the Betoota Advocates coverage of political events often generates a similar amount interest in its timely and witty coverage of political events. Their ability to engage with the online audience can be seen below in the Betoota Advocates coverage of Malcolm Roberts citizenship debacle.

The Betoota Advocate                                        ABC News

Screen Shot 2017-10-29 at 9.30.36 PMFeaturing fictional news pieces, comedic sketches and not being aligned with traditional journalistic practices, satire can easily be written off as having any real ability to inform or cause debate in the community. However, the line between what can be considered journalism and satire is narrowing with online publications such as the Betoota Advocate, The Chaser and The Shovel providing social and political commentary whilst using key journalistic traits to develop their stories.  A 2012 study by the Pew Research Center even found that the US audience favoured Jon Stewart, formerly of The Daily Show, was amongst their ‘most admired’ Journalists. Jon Stewart denied he was a journalist, however, the shows political and news coverage undoubtedly transcends that of a simple comedy act. John Oliver, from John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight, is another example of a comedian teetering on the boundary of satire and journalism. Dissecting topics such as global warming and public health care, Last Week Tonight has a clear objective of holding those in power accountable for their actions whilst along with advocating for social issues.

John Oliver advocating for gun control on The Daily Show, before he launched his own satire show on HBO

Although shows such as John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight and the Daily Show may be blurring the lines between news and entertainment, the Pew Research Centers research also reminds us that satirical shows do fall short of what we think of as news and traditional journalism. Studying the Daily Show, the Pew Center found that the show was ‘highly selective’ in its coverage, missing key newsworthy events and aired critical coverage of the Republican party three times as often as the Democrats.

Therefore taking into consideration that whilst satire may well contribute to our intake of news, it is not always an objective and complete source. Satire may instead be seen as a subsidiary source that provides comedic commentary on contemporary political and social issues. With satire flourishing online and continuing to place an emphasis on its journalistic qualities, it is clear that it may well be seen as a form of news rather than entertainment.


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