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Left Right Out

When people talk about media bias, they inevitably are referring to the house leanings of particular publishers. What’s often overlooked, though, is the bias generated by the necessity of journalists choosing certain frames and narratives to shape what’s known as “news”.

The March-in-March protests around Australia provide an object lesson in how journalists can be captured by those tired frames and by the tired institutions they report on.  While there were some straight accounts of the marches, the general media response was a mixture of sniffy condescension, lazy cynicism or a blank refusal to even recognise this as a story.

The problem for journalists with these community-based movements is they are tough to report on. They require a little imagination, some wide reading and some hard work. One cannot construct a quick and dirty 500 word account by cutting and pasting from a handout. Neither does the event involve established institutions with ready-made sound-bites. And worst of all the big name actors are not in starring roles.

With prefabricated “he said-she said” templates not available, the press resorts to mocking the political naivety of it all,  jeers at its hippy-dippy “kumbaya” pointlessness or, when most desperate, actively seeks out examples of vile language so it can exercise a good old bit of false equivalence.

Of course, it was predictable that the media, captured as it is by the institutional circus in Canberra, would write this whole event off as a ragtag bunch of lefty malcontents spitting the dummy at an election outcome that didn’t go their way. But there are a couple of problems with that analysis.

Firstly, the election was six months ago. This protest was about the actions the government has taken since then, many of which (like the nobbling of education and financial advice reforms, the defunding of environmental programs and increasing secrecy) were not raised during the election campaign.

Yes, the public was clearly over the ALP leadership circus, but, no, it is not clear the public voted for the policies of denial and obstruction and pandering to well-heeled interests we have seen since. Perhaps people were naive to think otherwise, but there clearly is a backlash building.

Secondly, we hear so much from the established media about their sacred ‘freedoms’. But as soon as significant numbers of people feel significantly aggrieved as to express their dissent in street protests, the move is on to accuse them of failing to accept the decision of the umpire. The message is you get one vote every three years and you need to just shut up in between.

Thirdly, the media is constantly telling us about how politics is broken and the aging institutions of the two-party system are not reflecting the diversity of views in the community. But when that diversity springs to the surface, it is rejected as pointless and unfocused.

What the public essentially is being told in the underwhelming media response to March in March is that “we will decide what politics is, we will decide where politics happens and we will decide how the story is framed. Unless you can express your views through the institutions that both you and we have decided are bankrupt, we will cast you as naifs tilting at windmills”.

There were other ways for the media to cover this story. One would have involved looking at the international context. The disquiet with institutionalised politics and the attendant media is NOT just an Australian phenomenon. Neither is the unease at the increasing capture of policy processes and outcomes by extremely wealthy and non-democratic groups.

There is a story to be told about the breakdown of democracy in the developed world and how Australia fits into that context. Lest this be considered some tinfoil hat theory, no less a publication than The Economist recently made this the subject of a special edition.

So instead of sitting around and poking fun at people’s banners or chanting “ew, you called Tony a rude word!” perhaps the Fourth Estate might like to provide some analysis that reaches beyond their cosy and simplistic left-right, party political view of the world?

See also: 
‘Will You Miss Us When We’re Gone?’ – John Birmingham, Brisbane Times
‘The Birth of a New Kind of Activism’ – Van Badham, The Guardian
‘Why I Supported March in March’ – Wendy Bacon, New Matilda 
‘To All March-in-March Deniers’ – Peter Barnes, infinite8horizon

47 thoughts on “Left Right Out

  1. How sad will it be when journalists realise a search of the 5th gives no words of angst that the msm are not reporting the marches, protests or community gatherings.

  2. How sad will it be when journalists realise a search of the 5th gives no words of angst that the msm are not reporting the marches, protests or community gatherings.

  3. An ABC TV camera crew was at Parliament House in Adelaide at 1pm Sunday.
    And so were more than 5000 people a few metres away, in fact their cheers could be heard on the soundtrack of the footage ABC TV 7pm news showed that evening of the political 'news' that did not involve the 5000+ people.
    The 5000 + people were protesting the policies of the Abbott government, including ironically, the COALition threats against the ABC.

    Yet the demonstration did not appear in the News report.
    It was 'disappeared'.

    fred

  4. An ABC TV camera crew was at Parliament House in Adelaide at 1pm Sunday.
    And so were more than 5000 people a few metres away, in fact their cheers could be heard on the soundtrack of the footage ABC TV 7pm news showed that evening of the political 'news' that did not involve the 5000+ people.
    The 5000 + people were protesting the policies of the Abbott government, including ironically, the COALition threats against the ABC.

    Yet the demonstration did not appear in the News report.
    It was 'disappeared'.

    fred

  5. March in March what does it mean?

    “You got what you voted for but it is not what you want”
    Well suck it up sunshine, next time pay more attention.

    Moral to the story 'You can never be disappointed overestimating the stupidity of the Australian Electorate'.

  6. March in March what does it mean?

    “You got what you voted for but it is not what you want”
    Well suck it up sunshine, next time pay more attention.

    Moral to the story 'You can never be disappointed overestimating the stupidity of the Australian Electorate'.

  7. The MSM are becoming more and more irrelevant to the everyday lives of us, the citizens of Australia. Leave them to their pathetic search for a means of justifying their existence and realise that the 'real' news of the weekend happened on the streets of cities and towns all across Australia and is being reported via social media by us, the citizens of Australia.

  8. The MSM are becoming more and more irrelevant to the everyday lives of us, the citizens of Australia. Leave them to their pathetic search for a means of justifying their existence and realise that the 'real' news of the weekend happened on the streets of cities and towns all across Australia and is being reported via social media by us, the citizens of Australia.

  9. The current model of journalism “is broken… and is not reflecting the diversity of views in the community.” MSN, get over it! You're outdated and out of touch. You're finished. The people have spoken.

  10. The current model of journalism “is broken… and is not reflecting the diversity of views in the community.” MSN, get over it! You're outdated and out of touch. You're finished. The people have spoken.

  11. But is it any different from the series of “Ditch the Witch” demos against the previous government. I am far from being an Abbott supporter, but there was certainly a large amount of grass-roots dissatisfaction with Gillard. Orchestrated by the likes of Alan Jones, yes, more than a touch of rent-a-crowd, yes, lots of sexist, inappropriate placards, too. What's the difference, if any?

  12. But is it any different from the series of “Ditch the Witch” demos against the previous government. I am far from being an Abbott supporter, but there was certainly a large amount of grass-roots dissatisfaction with Gillard. Orchestrated by the likes of Alan Jones, yes, more than a touch of rent-a-crowd, yes, lots of sexist, inappropriate placards, too. What's the difference, if any?

  13. Yes, aside from the Ditch-the-Witch and Convoy of No Confidence demos being largely astro-turfed, apart from the fact that the outrage was confected by shock-jocks, putting aside the very small crowds and the fact they were bussed in by 2GB and leaving out that the chosen issues were the result of wilful distortion by powerful interests and apart from the fact the Ditch-the-Witch event got significant media coverage, the two events are entirely analogous.

  14. Yes, aside from the Ditch-the-Witch and Convoy of No Confidence demos being largely astro-turfed, apart from the fact that the outrage was confected by shock-jocks, putting aside the very small crowds and the fact they were bussed in by 2GB and leaving out that the chosen issues were the result of wilful distortion by powerful interests and apart from the fact the Ditch-the-Witch event got significant media coverage, the two events are entirely analogous.

  15. Well I'd already pointed out the orchestration, the Alan Jones hysteria, the rent-a-crowd factors, so not sure your reply does more than take a cheap shot at me. I'm sure the right will equally claim that the March in March crowds were confected too. I'm wondering more if we are not guilty of double standards – e.g. wrong for Alan Jones supporters to say “Ditch the Witch” but amusing for March in Marchers to say “Resign Dickhead”.

  16. I wasn't taking a cheap shot at you. I'm expressing the view that the story is not about who had the rudest signs, much as the moronic media in this country would like to make it so.

  17. I wasn't taking a cheap shot at you. I'm expressing the view that the story is not about who had the rudest signs, much as the moronic media in this country would like to make it so.

  18. Mike is using the old well worn false equivalence trick

    wiki :
    “False balance, also referred to as false equivalence, is a real or perceived media bias, where journalists present an issue as being more balanced between opposing viewpoints than the evidence actually supports. Journalists may present evidence and arguments out of proportion to the actual evidence for each side”

    In reality the positive media attention given to Jones' media subsidised convoy of a few 100 people which showed major politicians [Abbott and others] actively and willingly associating themselves with deeply misogynist signs portrayed front and centre is, according to Mike, equivalent to more than a 100, 000 people whose thousands of signs are being misrepresented by a hostile media by cherry picking a few isolated examples.

    In reality, away from the eyes from the minds of the media, there is no comparison.

    fred

  19. Mike is using the old well worn false equivalence trick

    wiki :
    “False balance, also referred to as false equivalence, is a real or perceived media bias, where journalists present an issue as being more balanced between opposing viewpoints than the evidence actually supports. Journalists may present evidence and arguments out of proportion to the actual evidence for each side”

    In reality the positive media attention given to Jones' media subsidised convoy of a few 100 people which showed major politicians [Abbott and others] actively and willingly associating themselves with deeply misogynist signs portrayed front and centre is, according to Mike, equivalent to more than a 100, 000 people whose thousands of signs are being misrepresented by a hostile media by cherry picking a few isolated examples.

    In reality, away from the eyes from the minds of the media, there is no comparison.

    fred

  20. The attempt of the Government and some sections of the media to put down or ignore the March protesters shows their concern that the protest march may be effective in drawing support. If it had been a crowd at a sport's parade or greeting the newest celebrity, they would have reported it.

    Perhaps the individuals within the media are hostile to the MiM for political reasons, but some other media seem hostile because this was a protest which was organized via social media and blogs, which the MSM now seem to regard as their competition in Cyberspace. The MSM, for once were the “outsiders”. The media like to manipulate, to give the public views to consume, rather than listen to the public.

    P. S. I didn't attend the March.

  21. The attempt of the Government and some sections of the media to put down or ignore the March protesters shows their concern that the protest march may be effective in drawing support. If it had been a crowd at a sport's parade or greeting the newest celebrity, they would have reported it.

    Perhaps the individuals within the media are hostile to the MiM for political reasons, but some other media seem hostile because this was a protest which was organized via social media and blogs, which the MSM now seem to regard as their competition in Cyberspace. The MSM, for once were the “outsiders”. The media like to manipulate, to give the public views to consume, rather than listen to the public.

    P. S. I didn't attend the March.

  22. Is there a backlash building ? Really, or is that a single journalists view based on a few hundred protestors in a country of 20+ million. The issue is Journalists now write for impact, and are converting their biases or personal belief to news. Unfortunately, the public via the internet, blogs, and a plethora of other sources can see a lot more for themselves, leaving the traditional MSM wanting. Until the majority of Journalists stop reporting issues they manufacture or embellsih as factual, and their masters stop the bias, and write facts, then perhaps a challenge to their readers or offer a clearly labelled opinion, to allow readers to reflect, then they will continue to head towards the 13th estate, gone!

    PS: I'm not a member of any political party, nor did I attend the march.

  23. Is there a backlash building ? Really, or is that a single journalists view based on a few hundred protestors in a country of 20+ million. The issue is Journalists now write for impact, and are converting their biases or personal belief to news. Unfortunately, the public via the internet, blogs, and a plethora of other sources can see a lot more for themselves, leaving the traditional MSM wanting. Until the majority of Journalists stop reporting issues they manufacture or embellsih as factual, and their masters stop the bias, and write facts, then perhaps a challenge to their readers or offer a clearly labelled opinion, to allow readers to reflect, then they will continue to head towards the 13th estate, gone!

    PS: I'm not a member of any political party, nor did I attend the march.

  24. You only have to read the pathetic rejoinder to mild and reasonable criticism by J Maley to understand that your analysis is sound, Mr Denmore. A more self-pitying, trite, illogical, and ultimately pointless article would be hard to imagine, and it is longer than the original piece. Tells you a lot about where Maley's focus is, however “unfocussed” she claims “the left” to be.

  25. You only have to read the pathetic rejoinder to mild and reasonable criticism by J Maley to understand that your analysis is sound, Mr Denmore. A more self-pitying, trite, illogical, and ultimately pointless article would be hard to imagine, and it is longer than the original piece. Tells you a lot about where Maley's focus is, however “unfocussed” she claims “the left” to be.

  26. Mr Denmore – while I agree with your take on the state of our democracy and the shortcomings of the media to explain what is happening, I thought the March itself was pretty old hat.

    I can understand the media not giving wide coverage to a protest which offered nothing except banners and placards (some rude), the usual speakers and catcalls.

    It was a March to Nowhere. A demonstration of disquiet at best. A force for change? Not likely.

    That said the media could start exploring those very important issues you addressed in your article.

    I won't hold my breath though.

    Good on you Mr D for being aware.

  27. G'day Mr D, learned friends one and all,

    First-up let's not trivialise extreme and or rude statements. “Bigot's have the right to be bigots, or @#$% Abbott @#$% democracy”. Once civility is lost, productive constructive thinking has also left the building. Keep it fair, keep it real.

    In this case don't think the 3 pieces of evidence offered to boost meaning to the recent March March add a lot of value. The previous government's demonising of Abbott hasn't helped left thinkers switch off the kill TA mode and go back to building policy and direction mode.

    Thinking leadership is needed from both ends of the spectrum and fair discipline to allow valuable debate of ideals and ideas to happen.
    Having just seen question time (over the last week), if the payed professional debaters (voted Australia's best???) can't do it, should we expect a higher standard of what passes for debate outside the house (in media or on the street)?

    Hope must spring eternal. Give us all strength. Amen.

  28. G'day Mr D, learned friends one and all,

    First-up let's not trivialise extreme and or rude statements. “Bigot's have the right to be bigots, or @#$% Abbott @#$% democracy”. Once civility is lost, productive constructive thinking has also left the building. Keep it fair, keep it real.

    In this case don't think the 3 pieces of evidence offered to boost meaning to the recent March March add a lot of value. The previous government's demonising of Abbott hasn't helped left thinkers switch off the kill TA mode and go back to building policy and direction mode.

    Thinking leadership is needed from both ends of the spectrum and fair discipline to allow valuable debate of ideals and ideas to happen.
    Having just seen question time (over the last week), if the payed professional debaters (voted Australia's best???) can't do it, should we expect a higher standard of what passes for debate outside the house (in media or on the street)?

    Hope must spring eternal. Give us all strength. Amen.

  29. “The message is you get one vote every three years and you need to just shut up in between”. Except when the pollster calls, then it's: oh, we know what you think anyway.

  30. First you say, let's not trivialise extremism, etc., and then you claim that the current Prime Minister was demonised when he was Opposition Leader. You completely ignore that it was Tony Abbott who fostered confrontation, pugilism and extremist views. He compared asylum seekers to drug runners in 2012. He used an expletive to Nicola Roxon in a public forum. He said to an audience during a debate with the then Prime Minister of the country, Kevin Rudd “Doesn't he ever shut up?” Abbott has demonised himself; no-on has done it to him.

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