Storm in a Tea Hat

mallah

Are you over Zaky Mallah yet? If incomprehensible men in funny hats appearing live on our television screens were such a crime against humanity, as this episode seems to be viewed, how did Australia survive Molly Meldrum for so long?

Assailed by the manufactured outrage over this beat-up in the last fortnight, one could see the government desperately lapping up every opportunity to connect this opponent of ISIS and advocate for Australia with the murderous thugs painting Iraq and Syria red.

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Approved Targets List

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One consequence of the death of the mainstream media’s business model and the commodification of news is a corresponding increased reliance on provocative commentary that generates page impressions.

News Corp’s Andrew Bolt is the poster child for the success of professional trollery as a revenue generator and brand differentiator. He has clear targets, strong opinions  and he succinctly expresses them. He has a fiercely loyal audience and equally fierce enemies who despise him with similar force. Bolt is now parlaying this approach of calculated outrage on commercial television. And good luck to him. Continue reading

Unleashing the Reptile

“The freedom had two sides to it. Sometimes a heavy, reptile hostility came off the sombre land, something gruesome & infinitely repulsive.”
– DH Lawrence, ‘Kangaroo’

At what point did Australia’s light on the hill become a rising stink from the basement?

Of course, there’s always been a whiff of bigotry and intolerance here. No country is immune from that. And few of us can claim to have never prejudged another on the basis of race. But recent events are genuinely disquieting for many people, particularly those from minority ethnic groups. Continue reading

Duty to Whom?

The debate about rolling back reforms aimed at ensuring financial advisers put clients first raises questions of how the notion of fiduciary responsibility applies to other professionals, like journalists for instance.

Do journalists have a duty of care to their readers and viewers? Or is their first responsibility to their employers? Of course, these responsibilities are not mutually exclusive. But anyone who pays attention to some of the more ‘colourful’ output of the tabloid press, radio and commercial television in Australia might conclude where loyalties primarily lie. Continue reading

The Australian Asylum

The Rudd government’s new PNG solution to the asylum seekers problem is aimed at shutting down a filthy trade run by cynical and low-rent opportunists who exploit the hopes and fears of the most marginalised for commercial gain. Yes, we’re talking about tabloid editors.

There are two dimensions to the refugees issue. One is managing the problem itself – a relatively marginal one for a rich economy that leads the developed world on most economic metrics. The second dimension – and the trickier one – is the theatrics around the issue, a charade kept alive by attention-seeking sections of the news media and the frightened politicians they goad into one piece of policy knee-jerkery after another. Continue reading

The Mates’ Media

Ask any New Zealander living in Australia, and you’ll hear how we learn to shrug off  lame  jokes about “fush’n’chups” and sheep bothering. What we rarely point out  in return is that Australians, for all their relative wealth, have  an unevolved appreciation of women in power.

This blogger spent a week in his native NZ the week before last, attending a funeral of a loved aunt who had a family of seven daughters and two sons. Naturally, it was  a women-dominated event and one in which strong female voices could be heard without their asking for permission to speak. That’s characteristic of NZ, the first country in the world to give women the vote.
So it was a shock to return to Australia and a series of events, all of which suggested this country is in a process of devolution in gender politics: A menu prepared for a fund-raising dinner for the conservative opposition that featured crude and juvenile references to the female Prime Minister’s body parts, a shock jock who questioned the PM to her face about the sexuality of her life partner and a chorus of apologists – male and female – who sought to normalise this trashy, lowbrow, ratings-chasing outrage-mongering.
Whatever the merits of Julia Gillard’s political effectiveness as prime minister, it is now blatantly obvious that a large chunk of the electorate – egged on by a overtly  sexist media – cannot or will not deal with a woman in power. These mostly old men, trading off their reputation as ‘authority’ figures, channel the most vicious and sexist prejudice for ratings. The vile Alan Jones is the worst of them, but there are an army of jowled grumps behind him saying something similar.
Why do Australians’ put up with this trash? The short answer is they don’t. The media, as Wendy Bacon has recently revealed in her series on women in the media,  is still controlled by men. Not only that, but opinion pieces and political commentary are overwhelmingly by men.
The culture of newsrooms in Australia is male denominated. It always has been. And while other industries, such as financial services and health and retail and banking are starting to promote women like
Gail Kelly at Westpac or Sally Macdonald at Oroton, the media is still overwhelmingly a mates’ club.
None of this should be party political. That it has become so says a lot about the nature of politics in this country, which is clearly hellbent on importing the manufactured and idiotic culture wars that have paralysed the  American political landscape. The result is that what is decent and human is decried as “politically correct” by agents of power who want to pretend their power does not exist at all.
So under the guise of ‘freedom’, powerful voices seek to belittle or suppress the voices of those who traditionally are under-represented   in our media – those from other cultures, the disabled, the gay and lesbian, the agnostics, the adherents of faiths other than Christian, and, the biggest group of all – women. The disgusting  treatment of our first woman prime minister is just the latest manifestation of that.
It’s time all of us -women AND men – to put an end to it by demanding of those who hold power in the media and the advertisers who fund them that we will no longer accept as “OK” language that demeans anyone because of their gender, race, sexuality or faith.
That’s the way it’s going to be, whether you like it or not, MATE.

The Real Despots

The front pages of Rupert Murdoch’s tabloids in Australia on Wednesday tell you everything you needed to know about the case for media reform in this country.

A modest, some would say timid, response by Communications Minister Stephen Conroy to the Convergence Review and the independent media review of Ray Finkelstein was met with an hysterical, deceitful and typically self-serving response by the press.

Western suburbs commuters could be forgiven for expecting a morning raid from the secret police after being confronted by the Daily Telegraph’s front page comparing Conroy to Stalin, Mao, Mugabe, Castro and every other go-to despot bar Hitler. Continue reading

Send in the Clowns

“What we will witness over the next 18 months or more is a Great Unhinging, an orgy of hysterics. The goalposts of what constitutes government legitimacy will be moved from the constitutional to the convenient, from the reality of the parliamentary majority to  concocted nostrums about mandates to govern. It will not just be a campaign against the government, but one rolling, frenzied campaign after another, where each new contrived outrage will assume a greater level of mania than the last.”

Uncanny, isn’t it? That prediction was made just over three years ago by blogger, econometrician and polling analyst Scott Steel (AKA Possum Comitatus). Perhaps, it’s his distance from Canberra. Perhaps, it’s because he doesn’t scribble about politics for a living. And perhaps, it’s because he doesn’t have to try to say something new every day. But Possum’s piece on the Great Unhinging is still the most chillingly accurate portrayal of the media-politics dynamic served up in recent years. Continue reading

For Whom the Bell Trolls

The professional bullies of talkback radio and the tabloid terrorsphere are bellyaching about trolls on Twitter. This is like Bernie Madoff condemning shoplifting or BP ticking off householders for pouring toxic cleaners down the sink.
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Old Angry Men

Call it the Grumpy Old Man business model. At a time when our busted mainstream media are axing the jobs of hundreds of hard-working journalists, the market for menopausal male misogynists in print and broadcasting remains stronger than ever. Why?

With a nod to our new ideological overlords of the IPA, it seems the market has spoken. What Australia wants from its media is not The Truth, but something that the archetypal 50-something Dad – full of three James Boags and two Pinot Noirs at the family barbecue – declares to be the reality. Continue reading