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If you want an example of the Australian media’s ingrained toxicity…

If you want an example of the Australian media’s ingrained toxicity, the reporting of Prime Minister Anthony Albanese’s decision on Saturday to reinstate COVID payments to casual workers is a splendid one.

Mr Albanese had earlier and wrongly decided that the payments, mandated to end on June 30 by the previous LNP government, should not be renewed. This unwise decision, taken in the midst of surging infection around the country, provoked alarm from many quarters including some media. It was accompanied by startlingly ill-informed comments from the Prime Minister, suggesting that “good employers” ensure that their casual employees can work from home when unwell. A great deal of casual employment cannot be undertaken “from home,” a fact one hopes would not escape a Labor Prime Minister’s notice.

However, after taking the criticism on board Mr Albanese announced that the payments would be extended until September and backdated, so no one would suffer from his earlier error in judgement.

Media, including the Canberra Times ($), the Sydney Morning Herald the Australian, Sky News, the Guardian and 6 News Australia are among those who chose to report these events as a “backflip” by the Prime Minister. “Backflip” is a derogatory term only ever used by media to imply weakness and inconsistency. The use of that one word signified the negative nature of their narrative. Albanese had not “reconsidered after listening to critics.” Albanese had “caved under pressure.”

“Backflip” in this context is a failed metaphor. All backflips result in the performer facing the direction from which they began the action so are not a change at all, but rather an elaborate means of returning to the same point of view. Nonetheless, the word has become a fundamental component of the lexicon of political commentary. This in itself could be considered a metaphor for the state of the industry.

The message conveyed to politicians is toxic: You must change this decision but if you do we will attack you for your weakness and inconsistency.

If you continue to attack someone for making a change for the better you’re likely more invested in attack than you are in change. Regrettably, our media frequently create the impression that they are far more dedicated to furthering the former than the latter. So wedded are they to negativity they are unable or unwilling to acknowledge that a government capable of reversing its bad decisions is a democratic rather than an autocratic body, and the kind of government we so desperately need at this time.

The “backflip” narrative is an elaboration of the press conference “gotcha” moment so beloved by many Australian journalists. It’s nothing to do with speaking truth to power or responsibly informing the public, rather when it works it’s a “look at me” reporter’s power trip, an opportunity to momentarily grab the spotlight if a politician can be made to look foolish, inept, or ignorant.

The moment a journalist employs the term “backflip” they have fallen into editorialising. They have made a choice, perhaps unconsciously given the prevalent misuse of the term, to contaminate their reportage with biased language rather than simply reporting the facts. It is a fact that the former Morrison government mandated the termination of COVID payments on June 30th. It is a fact that Mr Albanese initially intended to uphold that termination. It is a fact that he reconsidered this decision and extended and backdated the payment. A choice is made by journalists as to how to present these facts to the public: as reconsideration, or backflip. There is a glaring difference in the impressions created by these two words.

While we have managed to elect a new government, we are still stuck with the same old media who cannot or will not imagine a non-toxic politics. This will likely not be the last time the Albanese government may have to change its position. Any government must be granted the space in which to reverse bad decisions without enduring toxic criticism from toxic media who are more interested in furthering discord than they are in facilitating positive change.

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11 comments

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  1. Sully of Tuross Head

    The ABC is also all over the “Backflip” rubbish.
    The ABC is no better than its commercial rivals, having joined them in the gutter.
    Repeatedly some clown on ABC breakfast, standing in for another lightweight, Michael Rowland, kept badgering Minister Tony Burke to say and agree it was a backflip.
    Good Governments listen, take advice and react as they see fit, not that you would know from what passes for Media in Australia,
    I am dreading seeing Greg Jennett’s mother-goose head nodding away and wringing his arms, all week as he asks Labor people do they agree it was a backdown and Liberals do they finally welcome Labor’s belated response on Afternoon Briefing on ABC News TV, 🧐

  2. Stephengb

    I agree Dr Wilson, however I have and will continue to criticise Albo for his poor judgment on this matter.

    Blind Freddy could have seen this was a really stupid stance by Albo.

    The fact that he defended his original stance by trying to deflect the blame to the last government was clumsy and did nothing for his credibility.

    Frankly it was the clumsy reaction of a first day student, which Albo is not !

    Whilst I personally think Albo has done himself no favours, he could reverse that by a little more mea culpa.

    He has, in my eyes’ lost a bit of credibility, so I know he has lost credibility with others.

    I am however glad we got rid of the last corrupt government, so I remain some hope for the future.

    But I am not holding my breath that this government will rid us all of the Neoliberal Agenda.

  3. New England Cocky

    It is time to follow the Fiji example and remove Murdoch media from the televisions, airwaves and newspaper vendors of Australia.

  4. Henry Rodrigues

    NEC…. Its not just time for the end of Murdoch and his minions with their poison ,but also the rest of the media dickheads who assume that they are the leaders and agents of public opinion. Including the so-called independent ABC which is now reduced to be me-too imitators of the rest of the corrupt media. When the ABC comperes start using terms like ‘show’ to describe serious and important news time, you know that they are aping their competitors by trivializing the whole idea of news and current affairs. They have all decided to make the Labor government’s term as difficult and as short and painful as possible.

    Bastards to the core, the lot of them, men and women. Its time to get rid of the bloody maggots.

  5. wam

    ‘Backflip’, the word, sets the scene for controversy. The LNP journalists know that controversy sells and rejoice at the word. Regardless of the actual circumstance the word in a headline with a pictures is the negativity that sets the rabottian ‘belief’ running as they hand over their money. One day labor will learn the lesson and, as a sneaky premier discovered, just feed the chooks. On radio, TV and in print, give us a head shaking laugh at the inept dealings of the last 9 years.

  6. Kerri

    Well said Jennifer.
    The whole criticise for criticisms sake is not worth the print or post it is conveyed through.

  7. Florence Howarth

    Why would the Coaliton extend covid sick payment if they regained office? More likely would do as they did with Jobkeeper & extra Jobseeker. Instead, they extended neither, even though there was an outcry.

  8. totaram

    The whole thing is driven by the mistaken belief by Labor that they need to “repair the budget”. Just like Wayne Swan tried to deliver a “surplus” and only ended up looking foolish. These people do not even understand that no treasurer can “guarantee” a surplus budget, because it depends on what the private sector decides to do, and whether we will have a trade surplus. Now, if we had huge trade surpluses like Norway, because of their Oil and Gas, we could always have surplus budgets like them. Perhaps, if we got more royalties for our gas like Qatar, things might be easier. But we sold everything too cheaply by far, because we are always “business friendly”. In the meantime, the Tories in the UK are increasing taxes. Unfortunately, the Labor-friendly economists are all neoliberals, so you can’t blame Labor for being Liberal-lite.

    Labor should stare down any suggestion that they are not good with money. Keep pointing out that the last government was the highest-taxing, highest spending government in History. And keep doing what good governance requires, without worrying about “the budget” too much. Once the economy picks up, lots can be done for the “budget”.

  9. Pagnol

    those who chose to report these events as a “backflip” by the Prime Minister. “Backflip” is a derogatory term only ever used by media to imply weakness and inconsistency.

    Thank you, but sadly just more of the same.

  10. New England Cocky

    @ Henry Rodrigues: I think that would be throwing the baby out with the bath water. As a rusted on ”I ❤ my ABC” fan the optimal solution would be to remove the Murdoch appointments and replace with known LABOR supporting or objective journalists.

    The Murdoch family has been trying to kill off the ABC for 90 years, and it was only the corrupt Scummo COALition misgovernment that pandered to Murdoch to stay on power with about a $40 MILLION favourable editorial purchase that has allowed the Australian voters to be misled with yellow journalism.

    Political comment porgrammes should have equal numbers of LABOR, Independent & COALition speakers, with the Nazional$ being correctly recognised as country Liabrals.

  11. Alasdair

    Very well said and cogently argued. But really, what can you expect of media that tried to equate Albanese’s visit overseas (to Ukraine, to patch up relationships with France, to, you know, be prime-ministerial) with Scummo’s holiday in Hawaii? The Murdoch press has no shred of shame; and no gutter is too deep for it to plunder. I feel that we don’t have media in this country any more, but a group of propaganda machines. And it demeans us all.

    It is notable that Albanese was initially wrong, wrong-headed, and stupid. However, he has indeed learned to listen to knowledgeable people and changed his tune. This seems to me to be the mark of a mature individual – who can admit to mistakes, and start to rectify them. We have never seen this behaviour in the Coalition. Indeed, when caught in a mistake, they just dug deeper. It may be that Albanese never should have made the initial errors, but having the guts to admit to them augurs well.

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