People you hate will get their hooks into you… Responding to @mjrowland68 on the criticism of journalists

Michael Rowland is a co-host of ABC News Breakfast.  To its credit, the show provides an alternative for audiences who watch the sort of breakfast television that’s dominated by mediocre white Baby Boomers and not (as is the inspired choice) by cartoons.  If you really must have the television on in the morning (and you hate cartoons), then you can avoid the commercial offerings of explicit hatred towards minorities by flicking over to the ABC with its implicit erasure of them.

Like many of the old white people haunting the ‘legacy’ media, Rowland thinks there’s a problem with social media: not enough respect for journalists.  In a weirdly written article on the ABC’s website, Rowland uses his national platform to say that journalists don’t think people on Twitter are being nice enough:

Twitter is a double-edged sword for political journalists.

It’s an invaluable source of breaking news and allows us to keep track of campaign developments in real time.

For good and bad, it’s a forum for politicians to make unfiltered announcements or respond to criticism from the other side, all of which provides fodder for news stories and commentary.

Importantly, it allows voters to have their say — and this is where things are getting particularly willing.

“Twitter is a peanut gallery of hyper-partisan tools,” Uhlmann laments.

That is unintelligible nonsense.  Rowland then asks the views of Chris ‘Jewish intellectuals are an intellectual virus’ Uhlmann, Patricia Karvelas, Dennis Atkins, Katharine Murphy, and Leigh Sales.  All of them complain that people on Twitter are too mean and don’t give them enough respect.

At no point does Rowland ask the vital question: do the critics have a point?

Continue reading “People you hate will get their hooks into you… Responding to @mjrowland68 on the criticism of journalists”


Close your, close your, close your eyes… Is truth the right standard for defamation law?

The decision in Geoffrey Rush’s defamation case against the Daily Telegraph was handed down this week. This, of course, got many people all a-chattering about defamation law.  Particularly journos.  Many felt that this was yet another example of the law’s failures, a key reason why the ‘me-too’ movement hadn’t taken off in the way that it had overseas.  After all, when was the last time a newspaper won a defamation case?

Followers of defamation law would know that only a month earlier we had the case of Charan v Nationwide News, a resounding victory for the newspaper.  Most people would not have heard about that case because the newspaper won…

The high profile losses recently have often skipped over any criticism of the newspaper’s conduct. In the Rush case, the Court found the newspaper published the allegations in ‘an extravagant, excessive and sensationalist manner’: ‘It is difficult to see how the front page image could possibly be considered to be justifiable in light of the relative paucity of the information apparent from the content of the articles.’ Further, the Court found that the newspaper was ‘reckless as to the truth or falsity of the defamatory imputations conveyed by the articles and had failed to make adequate inquiries before publication’.

Another major case was decided this year, Chau v Fairfax.  The Court again found that the newspaper had been unreasonable in the way it went about forming conclusions about Dr Chau.

This is a problem because public perception of the law is, of course, influenced by the way it is presented in the media.  Here, the media has a clear interest in presenting the law in an unfavourable light, just as all industries argue against regulations which get in the way of their profits.

Framed differently, a reasonable and cautious publisher could have printed the stories about Rush and Dr Chau in a way which would not have fallen victim to defamation law.

Rather than grill through the legal aspects of the case (which are fascinating, don’t get me wrong), let’s get wild and run naked through the fields of legal theory: is ‘truth’ the right yardstick for defamation law?

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It’s coming from the sorrow in the street… A theory of protest

Every internet philosopher has a theory about authority, as if one of the central problems of political philosophy would be solved by an undergraduate white guy who hadn’t done the tutorial reading. The question is simple: why must we obey the State?  The answers — or, even, partial answers — are complex.

It’s against that backdrop of complexity that we sometimes — as we did today — have to discuss when it is justifiable to protest. That is, when is it okay to disrupt somebody else for a political cause?

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Cause all we need is candlelight, you and me, and a bottle of wine… Low information responses to crisis

The Lindt Cafe siege took place in December 2014.  Was the flag of the Islamic State flown in the window?  One hostage called a radio station to criticise the response from authorities.  Had bombs been planted around Sydney?  There were fears that news agencies were helping the terrorists by broadcasting the location of police.  Was this a terrorist event?  December 2014.

The official report was released in May 2017 and, even today, there remains expert disagreement about key issues of the day.  The report took two and a half years.

It certainly didn’t stop a lot of journos and internet detectives immediately starting up some spicy takes about how they would have simply dealt with the situation.  They, somehow, knew exactly what Monis wanted, and they definitely knew who’s fault it was.  Why was Monis out on bail?  Clearly, this was more proof that everybody’s intuitions about bail were undeniably correct, and more proof that everybody’s intuitions about Islamic Australians were correct, and more proof that everybody’s intuitions about the effectiveness of ASIO were correct, and more proof of whatever people intuited immediately prior to the siege.

In a sense, the siege was unnecessary.  It was an excuse.  There were all these hot takes slowly going cold and they needed something to justify reheating them.  It was days before people were saying we needed to change laws about bail.

There is a puzzle that is worth exploring: how do we respond to situations like this (or like Christchurch) when we’re operating in an environment of very low information?

Continue reading “Cause all we need is candlelight, you and me, and a bottle of wine… Low information responses to crisis”

A conservative take on the conviction of George Pell

One of Gerard Henderson’s longest held grudges is about an episode of Lateline which aired in 1975.  In his words:

It was in Ashbolt’s time that the ABC phenomenon emerged where debates were held in which everyone agrees with everyone else, including the presenter — all in a leftist way. And so it came to pass on July 14, 1975, when Richard Neville presented a Lateline program on pederasty where three adult men proclaimed what a great idea it was to have sex with boys. No other view was heard on the program.

Not surprisingly, the Lateline program on pederasty was subjected to considerable criticism by, among others, the Reverend Fred Nile (then of the morally conservative Festival of Light) and The Sydney Morning Herald. Needless to say, Nile and his fellow critics were dismissed and ridiculed. In his 1979 book Outside Interference: The Politics of Australian Broadcasting, ABC friend and one-time board member Richard Harding declared that the pederasty program “was too much for the susceptibilities of some worthy citizens”.

However, the most extraordinary intervention in the debate came from the then ABC chairman, Richard Downing. He said that “in general, men will sleep with young boys and that’s the sort of thing the community ought to know about”.

In a letter to The Sydney Morning Herald, published on July 19, 1975, Downing argued that “the phenomenon of pederasty” was “appropriate for public discussion in a society which, if it is to be open, democratic and responsible, needs also to understand the diverse natures of the people who compose that society”.

In other words, Downing stated that pederasty or “boylove” was an acceptable form of sexual behaviour which needed to be understood.

This week, the suppression order was lifted on George Pell’s conviction related to sexual abuse of two children in the 1990s.  Gerard Henderson has been one of the people who has consistently criticised those who thought Pell had a case to answer.  He has been especially critical of the ABC: ‘It’s all of its own (taxpayer funded) amateur detective work.’  Dr Henderson (for a doctor he is) has not retracted his claims against the ABC now that we can all talk publicly about the conviction.

Instead, Dr Henderson has pivoted to quibbling over microdetails in the commentary about the conviction.  Among mainstream conservatives, the possibility that the conviction might be overturned on appeal has become grounds to deny that Pell is actually guilty: ‘The reason there is a court of appeal in criminal cases turns on the fact that juries sometimes make mistakes.’

It would be wrong to say that Dr Henderson is alone in this regard.  Sydney lawyer, Gray Connolly — who routinely appears on The Drum to give a ‘conservative perspective’ — spent years claiming that the ABC was pursuing Pell improperly: ‘Media esp ABC hunt for Cardinal Pell stands in distinction to its pursuit of other churches & institutions afflicted by same evils & abuses‘.  When the suppression order was lifted, Connolly very broadly interpreted his duties to clients to avoid retracting his earlier claims against the ABC.

But it’s not just those on the fringes of conservative opinion who have been running cover for Pell.  Even those well-established in the News Corp stable have been forthcoming with defences for the now convicted Pell.

The argument needs to be stated clearly: Australian conservatism needs to be more than in-group/out-group dynamics, and the Pell conviction has instead demonstrated the moral void at its heart.

Continue reading “A conservative take on the conviction of George Pell”

Come to my room, I’ll lower your IQ… Why do we force minorities to justify themselves?

I’ve seen a number of good movies recently.  They were good because I enjoyed them and I engaged with the themes and ideas that they offered.  When somebody says that they enjoy a movie, we tend not to require that the person defend their view with any kind of sophisticated aesthetic theory.  As fun as it would be, very few discussions about the movies that we like end up in heated arguments about the finer points of Hegel’s Lectures on Aesthetics.

A number of political issues, on the other hand, appear to require participants in the debate to have mastered complex (and contentious) theory.  The marriage equality debate, for example, forced the LGB community to become educators about the nature of sexual attraction.  For whatever reason, it wasn’t enough merely for two consenting adults to be attracted to each other in order to have their relationship considered valid.  There had to be a theory.

We see it also with the trans community.  It is not enough that they feel more comfortable expressing a particular gender identity, there is an expectation that they will also be sophisticated gender theorists.

And also with race and Indigeneity.  If you’re born with the ‘wrong’ skin colour, you better have been born with a copy of Fanon’s Black Skin, White Masks in your hand because white people will quiz you about colonialism whenever you complain about structural racism.

I want to argue two things: first, because we don’t make the same expectations of straight, white men, we normalise the expectation that Others must validate their identities; second, it encourages performative politics.

Continue reading “Come to my room, I’ll lower your IQ… Why do we force minorities to justify themselves?”

Reading, writing, arithmetic are the branches of the learning tree… Independence and the ABC

I’ve argued before that debates about ABC funding are poorly constructed.   The nutshell point: we should have a clear vision of what we want from the ABC before we get embroiled in arguments about its funding:

That clear vision of the public good might sound subjective, but a pluralist approach is amenable to reasons.  That is, a clear vision of the public good should inform programming and editorial decisions and we can engage in criticism where we can argue that decisions are clearly not motivated by the public good.  Calling a person standing for office a ‘c-word’, for example, seems to fall outside anybody’s reasonable articulation of the public good.  The jester liberalism nonsense that pollutes Wednesday night ABC in general is very difficult to justify with a reasonable conception of the public good.

The argument also works to motivate a defence of the ABC.  If there were a clear vision of the public good articulated by the ABC, the public would be more inclined to defend it against budget cuts.

We still don’t have that clarity of vision in the debate, but we do have a new element: the role of the Minister in running the ABC.  The prevailing wisdom is that we need an ABC that is independent of the ABC, with a few voices (like that of the former Chair, Justin Milne) saying that there needs to be a ‘conduit’ between the Government and the ABC.  It’s a point worth interrogating.

Continue reading “Reading, writing, arithmetic are the branches of the learning tree… Independence and the ABC”