Colleagues and scholars from coast to coast, across Bass Strait and all the ships at sea.
Dateline: Australia, Federal Politics 2010.
In the course of a year there are many opinion polls published which communicate the views of the public on a range of issues: mostly relating to politics.
The most disturbing of all is the regular release by Roy Morgan Research of the "Image of Professions Survey".
Respondents are asked: “As I say different occupations, could you please say — from what you know or have heard - which rating best describes how you, yourself, would rate or score people in various occupations for honesty and ethical standards (Very High, High, Average, Low, Very Low)?”
In 2010 the top three professions rated as "very high" or "high" on honesty and ethical standards were:
Nurses - 89 per cent; Pharmacists - 85 per cent; Doctors - 79 per cent.
In 2010 the professions which are directly involved in politics - the participants (politicians) and the observers (journalists) - rated as "very high" or "high" on honesty and ethical standards were:
Federal MP's - 16 per cent; state MP's - 16 per cent.
Talk-back radio announcers - 19 per cent; TV reporters - 16 per cent; newspaper journalists - 11 per cent.
Only estate agents - 10 per cent; advertising people - 8 per cent; and car salesmen - 5 per cent; rated more poorly.
This means more than 8 in 10 Australians believed their elected representatives did not rate "very high" or "high" on honesty and ethical standards, and that those whose job it is to observe and report on our elected representatives, rated even worse. This is not good.
Unfortunately, it has not been much different in the past.
In 1979, federal MP's rated at 16 per cent; while state MP's rated at 20 per cent; and newspaper journalists rated at 14 per cent. (This was the first year these three professions were measured).
In 1989, TV reporters rated at 16 per cent. (The first year it was measured).
In 1999, talk back radio announcers rated at 18 per cent. (The first year it was measured).
You can see the whole report here: Image of professions survey.
This leads us to ask three questions:
1. Why is it so? 2. Does it matter? 3. What to do about it?
Why is it so?
Clearly most people believe politicians and journalists are without much integrity. Distortions, misrepresentations, untruths as well as a perception of a ruthlessness and a "whatever it takes" attitude to get what they want - that is, power for the politicians or the story for the journalists - appear the main reasons.
Does it matter?
Some may argue that it does not, because what is being reflected in the research is a healthy skepticism by the public towards those with power and influence. It hasn't been any different for thirty years, and quite possibly forever, yet we've managed to get by OK. So what's the fuss?
But it is a fundamental issue of trust that is at stake. If the public cannot trust what their leaders are telling them or what their media is telling them, then the ability to progress any public debate on policy issues is greatly limited. Cynicism, apathy and indifference will dominate.
What to do about it?
There are three options:
1. Do nothing about it - because you don't care the ratings are so poor.
2. Do nothing about it - because you don't believe anything can be done about it as these perceptions are impossible to change.
If options 1 or 2 are what you believe then stop reading here, because the rest will be of no interest. Do not pass Go. Do not collect $200. Have a good day.
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3. Ask why you entered the profession of politics or journalism. What is it that you wanted to achieve?
These are the same questions your correspondent first asks of business people in my capacity as a marketing consultant:
"Why are you in this business? What are you trying to achieve?"
If the response is "to make money", your correspondent stops the discussion there and explains to the individual/company that they are heading for trouble. A response of "to make money" will almost guarantee failure for a new business, or almost guarantee an existing business will not improve and will continue not to perform.
Because the whole mindset of the individual/company will be about money, not about the customer or about trying to build something worthwhile - just money. Every decision, every action, every thought, will be consciously or sub-consciously driven by "making money". For example, when a customer enters a store the approach to that customer will be " Hello, my name is Billie, how can I make money out of you today?" Obviously that's not the words they would use, but that is the approach they would take and the customer picks up on it very quickly and can't wait to leave the store.
The correct approach should be a genuine one of "Hello, my name is Billie, how can I be of help to you today?" It is a completely different mindset and the customer picks up on that as well. They can see the individual/company is genuinely interested in trying to help them (providing they are, as it is something that cannot be faked) and as a result the customer is delighted to help that business by buying from them. Far from being resentful towards the business for making a sale, and therefore money, the customer becomes an advocate for the business and can't wait to tell their friends about the great product or service they received at Billie's store and urges them to do the same.
As customers we all have experience with both types of stores. At an individual level it does make a very big difference and often provides a business with a real, solid and sometimes its only competitive edge.
There is no measure of the profession of "marketing" in Roy Morgan Research's "Image of Professions Survey", the closest is "advertising" (which is merely one technique used in marketing) and it rates at a tremendous 8 per cent, so your correspondent understands how it feels to be poorly regarded (in fact, being elected to office would double my score). All the more reason for those in the profession who are genuine and have integrity in the way they operate to work hard to improve its image.
The same will apply to politicians and journalists. Stepping back and asking the question, "why am I in this business?"
Your correspondent has asked this question of many politicians and journalists, and invariably almost all answer with "to make a difference". If that is the desire, then for politicians that should be the major thought - every day, every decision, every parliamentary sitting, every meeting, every discussion - and for journalists - every article, every report, every press conference, every interview. Continuously asking "is what I am doing now, what I have done today and what I have done this week, making a difference?"
This is not an easy question because often the answer maybe "no". Neverthless, a genuine desire "to make a difference" will, in the end, genuinely "make a difference".
It is a noble objective and one that is surely worth pursuing with commitment and enthusiasm.