The media should stop having ''smart-arsed fun'' at the expense of Canberra because what it was really doing was undermining the national capital as a potent symbol of democracy, Centenary of Canberra creative director Robyn Archer told journalists on Thursday.
Media types might think they were being hip and in-the-know by criticising Canberra but in truth they were missing the real story, Ms Archer suggested to a conference for The Walkey Foundation at the National Film and Sound Archive.
''The cultural cachet of having a go at Canberra is still thought valuable by many,'' she said. ''A cheap shot in print, on TV or even in casual conversation usually gets a laugh and a nod and a kind of acknowledgement that you must know all about the ins and outs of Canberra if you can afford to diss it. I no longer tolerate this banter.''
Ms Archer said she was making a direct appeal to journalists to do something positive for Canberra during its centenary year, not only to lay off the gibes but to also see the national capital beyond being only the seat of federal government. She urged the media to report on the many events planned for the centenary to add to a ''reimagining of our national capital''.
''While I think it probably is part of the so-called Australian character to take the piss out of pretty much anything, in this instance it might just be like many habits - one we'd be better off growing out of,'' she said. ''I think it could be damaging for our health and that of the nation if people continue casually to undermine the image of the capital.''
Ms Archer said a newspaper poll earlier this year found a ''frighteningly large'' percentage of young people did not value democracy.
''How very odd that young men and women are laying down their lives in Northern Africa, especially in Cairo at the moment, in order to gain democracy whilst some of our young people are careless about the need to uphold it, value it, preserve it and build on it,'' she said. ''Talk to any of those who risk their lives on leaky boats about what a democratic destination means to them.''
Ms Archer said she believed powerful symbols of democracy were urgently needed and the national capital could be one of them.
''The corollary of which is that each time we diss the capital for a bit of light-hearted or smart-arsed fun, we are probably damaging one of those most powerful tools in the arsenal which can defend democracy - our capital, its bold beginnings, its noble history and all the things it continues to achieve and be, in addition to its role as a host of federal government,'' she said.
''Alas, the media's exclusive focus on that one aspect of Canberra's function tends to exclude all those other good things.''
Ms Archer asked the journalists to recognise ''this idealism, this poetic hope for Australia's future'' and restore respect for Canberra.