Alan Joyce’s speech yesterday blaming a ‘confluence of events’ and excessive media coverage of trivial incidents poses the question as to what type of reporting Qantas really needs.

Today’s Crikey bulletin reports on the safety problems at Qantas that Joyce forgot to include during his swipe at ‘disproportionate and alarmist’ coverage.

But why did he bother? The obsequious apologetic stuff that passes for coverage of the significant safety issues at Qantas in the general media seems written by reporters that have neither the attention spans nor guts not editorial guidance to keep track of the damning CASA audit or the need to ask questions about standards or maintenance resources at the airline.

Poor air transport reporting is just an example of the factors that are undermining editorial quality on the business, political and social issues pages (or screens). Reporters often seem to regard themselves as a part of the communications solution for a valued political contact, or an airline, or a business or a cause. I have sat in on aerospace briefings where reporters ask “What do you want us to write?”, or “Well if its good enough for Boeing it is good enough for me?” or in the case of some smaller circulation publications, shamelessly trade soft coverage of issues or products for advertising.

In tandem with a softening of reporting standards, and those of managing editors, there is the rise of the notion in corporations, and governments, that they own the ‘reality’. That they ‘create the myths’ or values that reporting of their affairs will assume as being true. These realities or image-and-issues strategies are often reinforced by media relations intermediaries who present themselves to publications as source content providers, further downgrading the need for investment in professional editorial writers and especially inconvenient ‘contrarians’.

In the case of Qantas, what good is it letting the carrier off the hook of sharp questioning if it continues to scare the daylights out of its customers, or struggle to get them away on time? A Qantas that gets away with the fiction that it is all a media beat up can also turn into a Qantas that suffers a terrible accident.

An accident that will have an anniversary as awful in Australia as 9/11 in America. It will not be forgotten in a lifetime but remembered year in and year out, like New Zealand’s Mt Erebus disaster.

Qantas is loosing its legacies of excellence in flight standards and maintenance to a management culture poisoned by cost cutting bonuses and through the incompetence of CASA in picking up and correcting the deficiencies it belatedly uncovered in the recent special audit.

Joyce has a chance to pull Qantas back to where it should be. He needs a tough media to do this, not a fan club.

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