We are all accustomed to being fed nonsense by the right-wing. Sky News after dark is largely untouched by common-sense, decency, or journalistic balance. When reading the Australian, or the Telegraph, we all share an expectation that we will likely need to wade through a swamp of ideological claptrap. But it does not have to be this way.
Once upon a time these same media outlets at least pretended that they were trying to be ‘fair and balanced’. There was a sometimes-indistinct line drawn between commentary and the ‘news’. It was a blurry boundary, but it was there. However, in recent days, in their ‘coverage’ of the impending referendum, it seems that the whole of News Corp has been given over to gaslighting. In all their outlets the pending question is never described as being a referendum formulated in response to a grassroots movement, it is ‘Albanese’s referendum’. Or ‘Labor’s referendum’. The LNPs hand in developing the idea has been erased from history. As has any hint of non-partisanship. Instead of a relatively powerless advisory committee, the Voice is depicted as being the plaything of rich aboriginal city-slickers, who are all Labor stooges.
Moreover, the dog-whistle is just about deafening. Every tired old racist trope has been given a further airing. Often many are trotted-out in quick succession. For example, today in the Australian (behind their paywall), Maurice Newman advises his readers that:
If the proposal is carried, a small racial minority will have constitutional privileges denied the majority of Australians. It will permanently define our system of government as one country, two systems. It will establish a platform for the politics of envy. The very expectation of race-based benefits is no doubt reflected in the latest census, which recorded a 25 per cent jump in those identifying as Indigenous.
The Uluru Statement from the Heart may be well-intended, but its authors are open to the charge that it’s really about more power and money for elites. After all, Indigenous people are anything but voiceless now. Indeed, in the past 15 years, thousands of Indigenous voices have been heard and tens of billions of taxpayer dollars, together with royalties and service payments, invested where the collective voices recommended. It is not clear how an additional voice will improve Indigenous lives.
It is a wonder the sun doesn’t momentarily dim every time Newman opens his mouth! I will not canvass any more of this article as further exposure could very well cause actual brain damage. And it would provide the article and author with a degree of consideration that they do not warrant. Plus, the details are entirely immaterial. There is no actual intent to deliver a message – just stir the possum. These many articles are designed to support and reinforce the torrent of racist bullshit and nonsense that is being given voice in the threads of these newspapers and all across the right-wing swamp. These are not articles designed to inform but rather inflame.
Which brings me to the nub of this article. The difficulty with political commentary such as this is that it commonly hides behind the proposition that all that is being advanced is merely an ‘opinion’. So, even though the author is presenting puerile and tangibly insulting claptrap which is quite obviously designed to reinforce many of the commonplace lies that are currently circulating within the right-wing media, it is not illegal (even though it is palpably dishonourable and despicable). Nor should it be illegal. What is needed is to address the root cause of this problem, which is that we only have two large media conglomerates in our country, one of which is a right-wing outfit, while the other is a far-right wing organisation that is owned by Americans and is run from America.
I feel passionately about the need for media sector reform as that is the only way to effectively banish this sort of hateful rhetoric from our mainstream press. It results from allowing just one or two players to have an outsized impact upon the social discourse. Regulating what can be said by any given journalist is not going to address this sort of problem. The problem is not the language but rather the tacit and sometimes enthusiastic pedalling of falsehoods via a massive megaphone. We need lots and lots of smaller megaphones.
Regulating the minutiae of the press is not an option, simply because it does not work. It will not address this problem. The right wing in Australia know that they are pandering to a racist minority and they carefully, yet quite consciously, craft articles such as that quoted above, which are all dog-whistle and no substance. These many utterly objectionable articles are not being written by fools, nor are they being read by fools. A racist dog-whistle is being sounded gleefully and its meaning is being clearly understood. If you change the rules then the tune being played will simply change – yet the noxious intent and the facility to do mischief will remain. As Marcia Langton observes,
They’re very clever falsehoods. They appeal to the long-held tropes of discrimination. You know, we’ve heard words like ‘squalid’, ‘underbelly’, ‘maintain the rage’ thrown about. It’s as if, you know, the frontier wars were still happening. It’s very disappointing that so many Australians have been deceived…
But I am not as forgiving as Marcia. I know that many of the people who are throwing these racist tropes about are doing so quite deliberately. Yes, many readers are being deceived, but many others are enthusiastic about being given the chance to air their repugnant racist views in public without drawing down upon themselves any well-deserved derision.
Thus, we are all witnessing the Great Australian Gaslighting of 2024. It may or may not be successful. But regardless of the outcome of the referendum, these last few weeks have served to illustrate just why there is a pressing need for a Royal Commission into the media sector.
During the last few weeks, the Murdoch newspapers have been quite deliberately, and successfully, stoking racial division and disharmony in Australia. Which demonstrates the disproportionate degree of influence that is currently being welded by News Corp; which is a foreign controlled entity that is based in America. The influence of this media group is palpable. Consider that at the moment, the right-wing forces in our country are not in government anywhere on the mainland or in the federal sphere. Yet despite this overwhelming rejection by the Australian public, our media is still chocka-block full of the concerns and fears of the right-wing conservative rump.
Very few Aussies are far right-wing conservatives, yet we nevertheless have an entire segment of the press in our country, including several major masthead newspapers, that enthusiastically embrace and openly advocate for such an ideological position. As a result, it is evident that News Corp is acting as a political player and not just a disinterested media concern. For the entirety of the last year, the actual federal opposition in Australia has been News Corp – not the LNP.
This is an unacceptable situation. So, I would suggest that regardless of the outcome of the referendum, the behavior of News Corp during the last few weeks demonstrates that the right-wing press is currently a clear and present danger to our national interests.
The gross concentration of media ownership in our country is a problem that must be addressed soon. The existing monopolies must be broken up. The ability for one corporation to own large segments of both print and broadcast media, in several states, must be eliminated. We must return to the days when we had laws that served to supress the development of just these sorts of media monopolies. After all; there were laws in place to guard against the situation that we currently find ourselves in. Laws that were progressively watered down and abolished in response to the many lies that were sold to us by these same media magnates.
Those with long memories will remember how, over the course of several decades, the need for both horizontal and vertical integration in the media sector was sold to us by these big media conglomerates as being necessary. We were confidently informed that the only way to ensure that our media sector would not fail in the new digital world was to allow the big players to get bigger. So, for twenty years, we were all constantly fed a diet of unadulterated bullshit.
Despite the massive concentration of ownership that we now enjoy, all of the negative outcomes that we were warned about have nevertheless still come to pass. Most of the newspaper groups have disappeared and all of the large newsrooms have been merged. Almost all of the small regional newspapers have been bought up by the bigger players, then shuttered. Thousands of journalists have been laid off. And now we have only two huge media corporations left standing. Which is the worst of all possible outcomes – unless you are an owner or shareholder a media conglomerate.
The current referendum debate concretely demonstrates that the current media environment in Australia is not serving our national interests. At the moment, the whims of one non-Australian media owner, living in another country, are serving to dictate the nature and content of much of the social and political discourse of our country. As a consequence, our social discourse is becoming less civil and more extreme. Due to the baleful influence of News Corp and its deliberate spreading of misinformation and racist claptrap, after this referendum is over, regardless of the outcome, there needs to be a reckoning.
That the political thuggery has become quite overt is well illustrated by another article in the Australian today (also behind the paywall), in which the top corporate contributors to the ‘Yes’ campaign are listed as if they are guilty of war crimes. The article invites the reader to deride the corporations and their leaders, which are all named and shamed individually. The inescapable inference being that it would be a dandy idea if all of the readers of the newspaper boycotted these companies. Which, I would suggest, are just the sort of transparent mafia tactics that we can all live without.
The political thuggery has become overt. There has to be pushback, to not do so would be dangerous.
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