There have been some great contributions covering the March in March on the AIMN and other independent news and blog sites during the week. And not surprisingly, many of them are critical of the lack of coverage this national grass roots protest movement received in the mainstream media. Before I am accused of being a ‘MSM hater’, which is apparently what I must be since I don’t read most mainstream newspapers, which is of course my choice as a consumer, I do note that some outlets have covered the march. And unsurprisingly some have been better than others. However, overall, the coverage has been small in proportion to how big this news story is and much of it has been misrepresentative of the marches even when they were mentioned. So why do I care about the coverage of the March in March you may ask? I have a few reasons:
- Because the people who marched had a message for the rest of our community, and we deserved to have this seen by those who would never be engaged enough in politics to march.
- Because the opinion of 100,000+ marchers should, in a free and democratic society, have their message reported in a factual and balanced way, not dismissed and censored because people in positions of power don’t wants us speaking out. (BO and Bongs? Charming stuff from the Murdoch press).
- Because the way the mainstream media reported the March in March is indicative of a larger ‘insider versus outsider’ attitude in the media. Journalists aren’t representing the interests of their community, they’re representing the vested interest of a small number of powerful people who are part of the problem and part of the reason we marched in the first place.
So I’ve been having a think about what key ingredients March in March was missing that made it so irrelevant and non-newsworthy to the media. I was also thinking about how irrelevant most of the other news that journalists write about is to our community interests. And so I decided to come up with a list of things the March in May organisers might want to consider including in the next march, to see if we can garner the attention of a press that has so badly let us down:
1) Craig Thomson
There definitely wasn’t enough ‘scandal’, ‘chaos’, ‘credit cards’ and ‘prostitutes’ involved in the March and March. So it’s no wonder the mainstream media weren’t interested. If we could get Craig along to the next march, and ask him to cry, the media pack that sits on his tail all day might happen across the march too and might get some footage inadvertently over Craig’s shoulder.
Jacqueline Maley in the Sydney Morning Herald, to her credit, contributed this piece during the week to explain why the SMH chose not to report the march. But not to her credit, the reasoning was very weak. Apparently her newspaper would have been more interested in the march, like they had been more interested in the Convoy of No Confidence, she said, if politicians had attended. Except, umm, that was the whole point of this being a grassroots movement. That was what made it newsworthy. The fact that there was no Greens versus Labor story, and there was no politician spin on the event, and there was no ‘the Oppositions says’ catch-all line to report on afterwards, made this event all the more interesting.
But doesn’t this reveal a deeper problem with the way that politics is reported in our media? Doesn’t this highlight exactly why there is such a huge misalignment with the political news that we are served up, and the political news we want to read? Journalists like Maley, and like all the other people who ignored the significance of events like March in March, and – to give just one other example – ignored the significance of Julia Gillard’s misogyny speech, can’t see the wood for the trees. They can only see ‘politician versus politician’ – who spoke better, who gaffed, who tripped on the grass, who had a ‘better day’ in front of the cameras, who is backgrounding and leaking about whom. But we, in the community, don’t care about this sideshow, because in the most part, it’s irrelevant to us. We don’t see politics as a ‘two horse race’, with political actors not just part of the story, but the story themselves. We care about the impact that political policies have on our community. This is why we marched. Because we’re worried about the Abbott government’s impact on our community. The fact that the media doesn’t get this is the most telling thing about this whole situation. If the mainstream media are wondering why they don’t connect with their audience anymore, this is where they could begin with their process of self-reflection.
3) A three word slogan
Most of the criticism I’ve seen about the March in March centred on the fact that there weren’t clear aims for the march, that there were too many different agendas and that there wasn’t one ‘cause’ that brought it all together. So what the media is basically admitting with this criticism, is that they can’t comprehend a complex and diverse event, which brings together a wide range of community concerns. They can only comprehend politics in sound bites and three word slogans. Axe the tax. Yeah, they all got that loud and clear. And this ‘short messages’ obsession explains their fascination with ‘rude’ placards. As if these defined the march and were the most newsworthy element (even though few placards contained swear words). But the line ‘we’re here for our community’ – apparently doesn’t cut through in quite the same way.
Again, the very point of the March in March was that there wasn’t a single point to it. This is why so many thousands of people marched in major cities and regional areas throughout the country. As I said in my speech to the gathering on the steps of Parliament House in Adelaide – We might all have our individual outrages about the Abbott government. But what binds this passion together, what binds our values together is the understanding that Abbott is not just bad for all of us, as individuals, though he certainly is that. No, why we’re really here is because we know he’s bad for our community. And our community is us. We know we’re in this life together.
The concerns of a large cross section of our community, who are willing to get out of our houses, off the internet, and march together, is obviously far too complicated a concept for political journalists in this country to understand. And again, isn’t this telling. Isn’t this the problem with how they report politics to us on a daily basis? A three-word-slogan doesn’t adequately explain all the complexity in an environmental policy like the Carbon Price. The problem of asylum seekers coming to Australia by boat is, as we’ve seen, far too complex a situation for the media to even bother to investigate. So all we hear them say is ‘boats have been coming’ and ‘it’s all Labor’s fault’. Sorry, life isn’t as simple as that. And if the political journalists don’t understand that, they’re in the wrong job.
We will march again, and we will continue to criticise the mainstream media who, for a long time, have been representing their own interests, and not the interests of their community. This will of course, if it hasn’t already, lead to their ultimate downfall. Because when they ignore us, we ignore them. And when they’re ignored, they disappear. But ignoring us won’t make us disappear.
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