Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Today by Paddy Manning

Christchurch and the media
A more diverse mainstream media wouldn’t platform so much hate


The Christchurch massacre is as much a moment of truth for the Australian media as it is for our politics. Last night’s episode of the ABC’s Media Watch concentrated on the urgent questions of how much, if any, of the gunman’s livestream footage should have gone to air, and what to do about white-supremacist extremism on the internet. The prime minister has today vowed to take this issue to the G20. An equally vital question is what can be done about the everyday torrent of racism that shoots from mainstream media – print, broadcast and digital. Some of our best-paid, most high-profile media personalities are up to their necks in it, with the fulsome support of their producers and editors, and have been for years. The solution is not just to ask or require that same talent, or their bosses, to change their tune. The solution is to usher new talent into mainstream media, from a more diverse background, as fast as humanly possible.

Much of the immediate focus is on News Corp, publisher of two-thirds of Australia’s newspapers and owner of Sky News Australia. At the weekend, journalist and author George Megalogenis posted a powerful thread contrasting The Australian’s tough coverage 30 years ago of then Opposition leader John Howard’s attitudes to Asian immigration with its slide into partisan commentary under the Abbott government: “If we’re honest with ourselves as a country, the slippery slope to Christchurch began with things like a prime minister questioning the loyalty of Muslim Australians, and media like The Australian not calling him out with the same ferocity that it did Howard in 1988.” In another damning thread, my stablemate Alex McKinnon reacted to The Sunday Telegraph’s “Peace Be Upon You” front page by quickly stringing together 11 overtly Islamophobic front pages, cartoons and columns by the same paper.

Today, in a gutsy column for the ABC, young journalist Rashna Farrukh wrote about why she felt she had to quit Sky News in the wake of the massacre. “Over the past few years, I was playing a role – no matter how small – in a network whose tone I knew would help legitimise radical views present in the fringes of our society.” Sky News chief Paul Whittaker is a distinguished journalist. His team knows exactly how to broadcast responsibly, how to do good journalism, because they do it for most of every day.

There has been a conscious choice at the network to break with those principles and expertise when the sun goes down. The model is imported from Fox News, a sister network in the US. But Australia is not the US. I doubt we are going to go further down the US path to extreme polarisation of politics. In fact, every indication is that Australia is about to elect a centre-left federal government, which, if it can avoid internal division, has every chance of reflecting progressive, mainstream values for the next one or two terms. Sky News “after dark” is an affront to those values, and may be starting to drag commercially, with its advertisers being targeted by groups like Sleeping Giants, who will attend a protest outside a pitch to News Corp advertisers tomorrow.

The Australian columnist Janet Albrechtsen, who railed [$] against the left-wing “midgets” last week, tried to frame [$] the post-Christchurch backlash as a threat to free speech. If only the conservative media really was in support of “robust debates about immigration and how cultures live side by side”. Generally, they’re one-sided, all-white shoutfests.

It’s not just News Corp. It’s 2GB, majority-owned by Nine. It’s Seven. There are lessons for all of us. In a statement to last night’s Media Watch, Seven Network news and public affairs director Craig McPherson said: “The greater media issue here is the cleaning up of the cesspits that can be YouTube and Facebook where anyone can put anything unchallenged, unfiltered. No one appears accountable or responsible for allowing this lunatic [the gunman] the platform.”

I beg to differ. The Islamophobia problem with Australian media starts at the top, whether it’s Sunrise giving a platform to Pauline Hanson today or Alan Jones fanning the flames of hatred that led to the Cronulla riots in 2005. To use McPherson’s words: no one appears accountable or responsible for that.


“There is a growing consensus among labour market analysts and practitioners that wages today in Australia are too low, not too high. Hence Australia’s economic prospects would be enhanced by policies to boost wage growth.”

More than 120 labour-market experts call for the adoption of measures to boost low wages, a problem that one of the initiators of the letter, the University of Adelaide’s Andrew Stewart, says is not “going to fix itself”.


“Our young children will flee and who are they being replaced with …? They are being replaced by young people from typically Asia with PhDs.”

NSW Labor leader Michael Daley, at a Politics in the Pub event in the Blue Mountains last September. Daley apologised for the comments today.

The Number

The actual cost of firming renewable energy, offered by the Snowy 2.0, which is much lower than the $200/MWh cited by a BAEconomics study, relied on by Energy Minister Angus Taylor.

The Policy

“This National Plan provides a framework for coordinated action across federal and state/territory governments over the next four years and reflects the commitment of all governments to act now to support older Australians dealing with elder abuse. [It Includes] a new national, elder abuse free call number … [and] $18 million over four years for national trials of frontline services designed to support older people who are victims of abuse.”

The list

“Rather than the artworks themselves depicting compassion, Quilty describes them as allowing him to ‘start conversations about the need for compassion’. It’s a striking contrast: his portraits in particular can be deliberately grotesque – pained and agitated on the canvas – and yet the feelings and conversations they evoke prompt gentleness in us. Just don’t put labels on his compassion.” 


“A group of prominent rural women, including National Farmers’ Federation president Fiona Simson, also launched a broadside about behavioural standards, particularly aimed at Barnaby Joyce and those contemplating returning him to the leadership. The women told Guardian Australia that reinstating Joyce would undermine public trust.” 


“Scott Morrison, in his own telling, is so often a mere observer. When reckless and false accusations have been made, it turns out Morrison has only presented the facts as presented to him; when offensive comments have been made, he has been only the dutiful messenger of the sentiments of others; in the rare cases he has made mistakes, they have been minor errors of timing. Events occur, but Morrison’s involvement is passive, tangential, almost accidental.” 

Paddy Manning

Paddy Manning is contributing editor (politics) at The Monthly and has worked for the ABC, Fairfax, Crikey and The Australian. He is also the author of three books, including a recently updated unauthorised biography of Malcolm Turnbull, Born To Rule?


The Monthly Today

Failure to launch

The Berejiklian spill has been cancelled, but coup attempts are unlikely to stop anytime soon

Big stick, no carrot

The Coalition’s fixation on energy prices distracts from wage stagnation

Another Liu blow

What does the scandal surrounding Gladys Liu tell us about Australian politics?

In Liu of a defence

When Bolt asks if Beijing’s writing Morrison’s speeches, the PM has a problem

From the front page


Spiralling admissions

Victoria’s royal commission hears stories of a dysfunctional, under-resourced mental health system

Failure to launch

The Berejiklian spill has been cancelled, but coup attempts are unlikely to stop anytime soon

Image of ‘Sachiko’ my Miwa Yanagi

‘Here We Are’ at the Art Gallery of NSW

An opportunity for rethinking the position of women in contemporary art


The Newcastle trial of Graeme Lawrence

The second most senior churchman in Australia to be found guilty of child sexual abuse