Chris Uhlmann wants you to know he’s a non-partisan, straight down the middle journalist. One of the stars of the reinvented post-Kerry O’Brien current affairs show “7.30” (apparently ‘Report’ is superfluous now), Uhlmann represents the new, bland, board-approved face of the public broadcaster’s current affairs coverage – as in whatever you do, don’t upset the Tories because they might be back in government one day and cut our funding.
Covering a public rally, clumsily organised as a marketing tool by right-wing talkback radio shockjocks seeking to import the US Tea Party ‘movement’ to Australia, Mr Uhlmann decided bizarrely that the news angle was the unfair branding of the protesters as extremists, nutters and easily manipulated illiterates.
Wandering among the crowd, Uhlmann sought to render as morally equivalent this artificially orchestrated protest against the Gillard government’s chosen means of dealing with a problem that threatens life on earth with a hundreds of thousands-strong demonstration eight years ago against the then Howard government for joining Australia to an illegal war fought on a false premise in defiance of the United Nations.
But Chris is more sophisticated than that. He covers his tracks by saying how hard it is to tread a sane, sensible middle path between the liberal, tertiary educated, middle class and, oh, the League of Rights and One Nation and the National Civic Council (who were all represented at the Canberra protest).
“According to them I, and the rest of my colleagues, are captured by the Left and don’t even attempt to understand the grievances of that kind of crowd,” Uhlmann wrote. “They believe that we dismiss them as aging nutters, unworthy of our attention, except when we want to sketch a caricature. They believed that we would not report the event, or that we would ridicule it.”
But of course, Chris was not there to ridicule the protesters. He represents the new John Howard-reinvented ABC, which seeks to legitimise the most fringe right-wing elements of the country as somehow representing the real, salt-of-the-earth “forgotten” Australians who are overlooked in a media crowded by bleeding hearts and cafe-lurking urban sophisticates who know nothing of the concerns of “ordinary people”.
So we see lots of verbal gymnastics from Uhlmann in which he notes that the “vast weight” of scientific opinion is against the protesters, before giving a kind of lawyer’s credence to their incoherent views by saying some in the crowd made “better arguments” by saying the science was “chock full of uncertainties”. Llike the theory of evolution and its disputation by creationists? Or like the tobacco industry’s long campaign to discredit evidence of a link between smoking and lung cancer any conservative attempt to forestall change by insisting on a fake certainty principle?
In Mr Uhlmann’s world, all arguments are valid and his job as a reporter is to provide an apolitical assessment of it all in a way that in the end merely plays into the hands of the most conservative and reactionary elements of society. It is just another back-and-forth, like a tennis match, and his job is to blandly call the score.
Was there ever a more blatant example in Australia of what New York journalism academic Jay Rosen describes as “the view from nowhere” – the idea of the journalist not as someone who informs people, but as a tightrope walker who seeks to walk a middle way between polar extremes, tiptoeing above politics in a way that tells us nothing except the fact of conflict:
“Journalists position themselves as being above the conflict as the neutral arbiter between the poles,” Rosen says. ” If you want to be in the news, you play the poles. The ‘Real’ is opposed often to the ‘Fake’. So in the case of climate change, the fake is still given legitimacy. So this view of the world as being all about conflict, much of it illegitimate, and all about the extremes on either side of the conflict informs our political process. So our media and our politics tend toward entropy and ritualized conflict.”
So well done Chris. You’ve got all the bases covered. Tony Abbott is happy. And you’ve been invited up to Maurice Newman’s office on Monday for tea and biscuits. How courageous of you.