The reporting of the 2016 presidential election can hardly be celebrated as the media’s finest hour. Refusing to contemplate the possibility of a Trump victory, most media outlets accepted his win with neither grace nor professionalism. The ABC’s Barrie Cassidy’s attitude was typical when he tweeted early in the counting ‘Trump cannot win. The nightmare is over.’ In America, some journalists were even in tears over the result. Worse, that golden rule of the world’s free and responsible media – comment is free, but facts are sacred – was, for the most part, thrown out the window.
Journalism is said to be the first rough draft of history. This applies equally to the factual basis of comment. But the tools available to the media are limited. Unlike the state, they can neither compel the giving of evidence on oath nor the production of documents. The standard of proof depends on the seriousness of what is alleged and in Australia, unlike the US, this is tempered by our draconian libel laws.