EDITORIAL

<i>Illustration: John Shakespeare</i>

Illustration: John Shakespeare

"BOB HAWKE and Wyatt Roy are exceptions to the rule that politics is show business for ugly people."

The Herald cannot vouch for the veracity of that statement, made by the former federal Liberal leader Malcolm Turnbull while wearing a fetching open-neck, blue-check shirt. Maybe before publication we should have submitted it to a fact-checking service of the type Turnbull applauds - except none seems to exist in Australia.

So our readers must make up their minds on the ugly people exception, perhaps by examining a photograph of the former Labor prime minister and the young federal Liberal MP. As luck would have it, Turnbull has posted one on Twitter.

The allegedly handsome pair were with Turnbull at the Woodford Folk Festival north of Brisbane where he spoke about the dangers of glib one-liners, the disgrace of misinformation, the need for Australian politicians to stop lying and the imperative on the media to stop letting them.

For all the snappy sound bites in his speech, Turnbull has a good argument when raising concerns about political discourse in Australia.

Blaming the 60-second news cycle, he says "it has never been easier to get away with telling lies. It has never been easier to get away with the glib one-liner."

Turnbull's successor as Liberal leader, Tony Abbott, evoked a similar viewpoint in 2010 when he said that sometimes, in the heat of discussion, politicians went a bit further than they would like. "The statements that need to be taken absolutely as gospel truth are those carefully prepared scripted remarks,'' Abbott said.

It is a fine balance between glib one-liners that shouldn't be taken as gospel truth - the Hawke-Roy one, for instance - and considered discussion about what Turnbull calls "the big issues".

When politicians ramble about detail, they bore voters and lose legitimacy. Ask the former Labor leader Kim Beazley about the word ''prolix''.

But when politicians rely on one-liners and supplied dot points, they insult the intelligence of voters and do the nation a disservice. Modern politics is driven by the rapid spinning of information to a far greater extent than in the past. Teams of communicators and public relations professionals funded by taxpayers exist within parties and in MPs' offices only to peddle at best one-sided information and at worst lies.

Even public service departments employ teams of staff whose job is to inform the public about policy and services but at times the communications seem one-sided and closed to constructive ideas.

The one-time South Australian thinker in residence John McTernan - now chief adviser to the Prime Minister, Julia Gillard - highlighted this in his report on how to improve public services: "Large organisations, government included, are very good at one-way communication. But the world we now live in, enabled by the internet, is that the public expect two-way communication."

The reality is the public has been empowered by the accelerating internet to become their own best fact checkers and call misinformation for what it is.

But Turnbull is correct in saying how easily politicians, journalists and other people in the public domain can exploit the medium's lack of scrutiny.

When the public cannot discern the truth for themselves because the media is too fast, inefficient or under-resourced, Turnbull proposes fact-checking services. The US has had them for almost two decades.

A fact-checking service that utilises community feedback - as McTernan might support - is the independent truthsquad.com. It uses not-for-profit journalists and reader submissions. The most visible US service is factcheck.org, funded by a charitable foundation and, since 2010, by public donation. It has been lauded for scrutinising election campaign claims and appears to have won Turnbull's support for its work on Mitt Romney during the 2012 presidential election. Fullfact.org is a similar organisation in Britain.

Some fact checkers are run by media outlets. The Tampa Bay Times's Politifact won a Pulitzer Prize in 2009. But many have also been accused of misinformation and anti-right wing bias.

The truth, as ever, is difficult to discern. Still, it is clear that some media outlets have swallowed the faster-is-better diet of political one-liners, bombarding audiences 24 hours a day. Other outlets, often with far fewer resources than in years past, still try valiantly to present news and views in a factual, balanced, considered way. As the Herald has stressed before, journalism based on time for reflection will stand out from the crowd.

Turnbull should be applauded for bringing the problem out in the open but, as he might say, "there are no easy solutions here".

 

Ice the latest treatment for those flabby bits

AUSTRALIANS are starting to share the latest festive fad in the US: fat freezing. The non-invasive treatment at cosmetic surgery clinics is claimed to freeze off unwanted fat cells without harming other tissue. Blokes seek it for love handles and man boobs; women for muffin tops, the thighs and arms.

Unlike other health fads - pocket-sized inhalable oxygen shots used by X Factor guru Simon Cowell and dried placenta pills used by Mad Men's January Jones - the fat freeze seems to have some science behind it. The idea behind this so-called CoolSculpting surfaced in the 1970s when doctors noticed American kids who ate ice lollies developed dimples on their cheeks.

The Australian advertising claims there are 10 reasons to use the fat freeze. No. 1 is ''I don't love my love handles''. No. 2 is summer holidays.

So expect a resurgence in iceblock sales at Australian beachside kiosks this summer.

They're cheap, cold as ice - go figure! - and easy to rub on those flabby bits. But remember, raspberry's for the girls. Real men only ever do lemonade.