In urging the press to understand the severity of the Cold War and the dilemma it posed, John F. Kennedy issued the following manifesto:

“[The press is] not primarily to amuse and entertain, not to emphasize the trivial and the sentimental, not to simply ‘give the public what it wants’ – but to inform, to arouse, to reflect, to state our dangers and our opportunities, to indicate our crises and our choices, to lead, mould, educate and sometimes even anger public opinion.”

These words ring just as true today as they did in the early 60s.

The disruption experienced thus far during the coronavirus crisis, alongside the anxiety and suffering, reiterates Kennedy’s evaluation of the media’s role and what it stands for.

The superannuation industry has seen a host of media outlets engage in ad hominem attacks on prominent figures within the industry over the past few weeks. Social media accounts have been pored over, salaries scorned and competence derided.

These attacks are both nasty and unhelpful.

Attacking someone’s identity or idiosyncrasies instead of their ideas is petty and it does nothing to drive public discussion around the issues that matter. Personal attacks do not further debate in a productive manner, nor do they contribute to better outcomes for consumers.

The role of financial media is to debate the intellectual positions with vigour, data and logic. This may also mean that we need to criticise behaviours that are not consistent with what would be expected from a fiduciary.

All stakeholders have a role to play in shepherding this era of informed debate. At a time of uncertainty around employment, fund liquidity and performance, fiduciaries also need to consider how open and clear they are with their messaging. Where key information is opaque or undeclared it leaves room for speculation that can take on a life of its own.

We are witnessing the beginning of an unprecedented lockdown of economic activity, and underlying tensions will continue to intensify. Hysteria could inspire an extended run on superannuation funds, which is an outcome none of us would wish to contemplate.

A core function of the financial press is to instil trust and integrity between fiduciaries, trustees and fund members. The media – including Conexus Financial – has a critical role to play in facilitating the kind of transparent analysis that inspires confidence in the superannuation system and society more broadly. It should have a higher purpose. We will only consistently achieve this if we all embody the maturity, professionalism and decorum that we wish to see as the new normal.

Our media should be research-driven and holistic. It needs to abandon the reactionary, the pointed and the fallacious if we are to act as a catalyst for change.

I hope others will join me in this call to arms, and that from this fragile and harrowing period we can inspire a wiser and more dignified debate about the important issues our super system is facing.

 

Colin Tate is the chief executive of Conexus Financial and publisher of Investment Magazine.

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