Many a thing you know you’d like to tell her… How to solve the problems with Australian media

Following the horrific tragedy in Christchurch, some people correctly began to discuss the role that the media had played in radicalising the attackers.  The Washington Post — which recently ran a completely insane take on the Dismissal — had a theory:

It remains unclear whether he had established links to far-right groups, but such groups have been active in Australia for decades. Some experts say that anti-Muslim rhetoric has been normalized by mainstream right-wing news outlets, many of which are owned by billionaire Rupert Murdoch.

There’s two issues which emerge from this.  First, is it true?  Second, what do we do about the media?

The Cronulla riots were back in 2005.  They followed an unusual amount of stirring from the media, particularly from Alan Jones on radio station 2GB.  Although the Jones lost court cases about his role in inciting hatred prior to the riots, he continued to be a vector for extreme rhetoric about Islam.  2GB is owned by the same company as Fairfax (now Nine).  Nothing to do with Murdoch.

Speaking of Nine, The Today Show is routinely a fertile ground for middle Australian racism.  It was a regular spot for Pauline Hanson to spruik her views on society, providing her with free advertising for her political ambitions.  If you want to know why One Nation ended up with more than one seat in the Senate (one of which eventually ended up with Fraser Anning), we can thank Karl Stefanovic and the Today Show team.

It was also part of the ongoing campaign against Yassmin Abdel-Magied, a young Muslim woman who had the audacity to express opinions that the white commentators didn’t like.  The Today Show wasn’t alone in this.  Over on channel Seven, the Sunrise team was providing semi-regular employment for Prue McSween, who expressed the view that somebody should hit Ms Abdel-Magied with a car.

But we can’t leave channel 10 out of our sight.  Their talent line up includes Joe Hildebrand, who has recently turned apologist for Australian authorities who openly and explicitly undertook a campaign of genocide against Indigenous people, claiming that Australian authorities were motivated by good intentions.

None of the free-to-air commercial television stations have anything to do with Murdoch.

The left-leaning Australian Broadcasting Corporation has a long history of giving a platform to Neo-Nazis in Australia.  The edgy and hip ‘youth’ news programme, Hack, has invited Blair Cottrell to be part of various discussions.  He has been invited to express opinions on various topics:

Blair Cottrell has appeared on the ABC, including in news reports, in the 2017 Four Corners episode “Cracking the Code” and as a part of a 2016 panel discussion on “Aussie patriotism” conducted by Tom Tilley on triple j’s Hack Live. In both programs Mr Cottrell’s background and the controversial nature of his organisation’s beliefs and actions were fully revealed to viewers.

In the Four Corners program Mr Cottrell openly discussed how Facebook had facilitated the rise of the United Front despite attempts to remove its most obnoxious and inflammatory content. It was a revealing case study in the dangers of unfiltered social media.

Hack Live was an example of how a challenging interview subject should and can be handled in a responsible way. The program was pre-recorded to ensure hate speech and incitement were not broadcast; Mr Cottrell’s background was fully disclosed; and his views were vigorously contested and challenged by the presenter and other guests.

It is open to debate if those views were ‘vigorously contested’ or even if they are views which should be ‘vigorously contested’ at all.

ABC’s Four Corners interviewed Steve Bannon, with the host even posing for some happy pictures following the interview.  The ABC also invited Jordan Peterson to discuss his views on Q&A, and then invited a question from Milo Yiannopoulos.  Both have strong links to white supremacists.

And on and on it goes.

So it’s clear that this isn’t a Murdoch problem.  It’s an Australian media problem.

In my post on the Christchurch massacre, I noted our need to ensure that the people who do evil things are distinguishable from ourselves: they are the Other.  We don’t do evil things, so there must be something different about people who do.  But the problem of the Australian media is on all of us.

The problem with the Australian media is a problem of collective action.  We have created a system that rewards genuinely terrible behaviour.  I have seen absolutely deplorable things shared on Twitter not by people who agree with the content, but by people drawing attention to the deplorable things said on Australian television.  These are people who crave attention.  The statistics of people who watch content online goes straight back into marketing materials for advertisers.  For completely inexplicable reasons, everybody seems to think that this time, this time, the attention we lavish on attention-seekers will stop them from being attention-seekers.

If you link to racist opinion pieces or share clips from racist television broadcasts, you are part of the problem.  Until we collectively switch them off, there will never be an incentive for the Australian media to improve.  No platforming works.  If regulators aren’t going to step in and clean up the industry, we have to stop providing them with an incentive to publish hateful garbage.

Author: Mark Fletcher

Mark Fletcher is a Canberra-based PhD student, writer, and policy wonk who writes about law, conservatism, atheism, and popular culture. Read his blog at OnlyTheSangfroid. He tweets at @ClothedVillainy

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