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"...public opinion deserves to be respected as well as despised" G.W.F. Hegel, 'Philosophy of Right'

where's the media critique? « Previous | |Next »
June 3, 2005

I've been watching the reaction to the One Nation conservatives over-the-top populist response to the Corby case in Indonesia, and the way that a questionable Indonesian justice system has been roundly condemned.

It is a questionable system because Corby (an Australian) gets 20 years for importing marijuana, while those in the Indonesian military (the TNI) who orchestrated the militia's to commit mass murder and terror in East Timor in 1999 are rarely prosecuted, or they receive no punishment for their crimes.


Suprisingly, few seem to address the way the Murdoch and Packer media stirred this drug issue up into an emotional outrage, until the word was given to rein in the rednecks. Crikey is the notable exception.

Hugh Martin, talks about media hype in his media blog at The Age but he does not engage in a critique of the right wing xenophobic politics of the tabloid media. That campaign of playing to the (right and left) populist suspicion of Indonesia was more than media hype. It's a populist politics that turned Indonesian culture and society into the (inferior) Other.

Update: June 4th
What is refracted through the media kaleidoscope is postcolonial Australia's deep ambivalence towards Asia and 'hybrid' identities within Australia; or to put it another way, Australia's version of the orientalism described by Edward Said. We should qualify this and say Anglo-Australia's Orientalist cultural discourse that underpins Australian border protection mentality.

Australia's culture should not be treated as a singular entity, as there are diverse ways by which Australians have dealt with their own ambivalences and insecurities towards Asia.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 10:09 AM | | Comments (10)


That's a superb cartoon, isn't it. I was wondering, too, if there'd be any comeback for the media proprietors once the atmosphere became just a little dangerous.

Obviously they were instructed to pull their heads in via, let's imagine a phone call from Howard, but let's face it, how can the media be critiqued when that's normally a job for the media?

Absolutely. I think this question is one of considerable concern. Control of the mainstream media in this country is so concentrated that it's almost a Pravda-like situation.

When your average person has nowhere else to turn but Murdoch and Fairfax, these organisations wield an enormous amount of power in shaping public opinion and steering debate.

I'm not sure that the Fairfax broadsheet papers helped to stir the ugly populist reaction against an "evil, incompetent and corrupt" Indonesian justice system.

We do have to acknowledge that a majority of Australians are very ambivalent about Indonesia--far more so than they are towards China or Japan.

I guess that one section of the media (liberal broadsheet) needs to criticize the other section of the media (conservative tabloid). Or is it the bloggers who take on the role of criticism?

It is interesting the way the conservatives are playing this. Consider Tony Parkinson in The Age, who writes:

"Today, however, Australia is presenting a different face to the world, a rerun of the Ugly Australian of old: belligerent, boorish and, in some cases, plain bigoted. The Schapelle Corby case has given rise to a tidal wash of rampant anti-Indonesian sentiment, fuelled by cheap, cynical media reporting."

Australia? Tut tut.

It is only a section of Australia---the conservative One Nation populists whose conception of national security is fortress Australia with a unified national culture based on assimilation. Parkinson is unable to think in terms of diversity.

He continues:

"The Australian media culture must share in the shame here. Unlike JI, its job is not to make martyrs. Its job is to provide fair and balanced reporting of the facts. On Corby, it has failed its viewers, listeners and readers."

Australian media culture? Once again it is a conservative section of the media culture--Murdock, Packer and the talk-back shock jocks such as Alan Jones--not the media culture per se that is stirring things up.

Note Parkinson's conservative understanding of journalism---a "fair and balanced reporting of the facts." That would exclude his own op. ed from being considered journalism.

Note in the first paragraph the way Parkinson talks about the tabloids in terms of "cheap, cynical media reporting." However they are not "reporting" at all. They are engaged in polemics and politics. They are quite blatant about it.

Does Parkinson understand the media?

Another article that I liked is from Michael Costello

"'I AM staggered that it's happened but I am afraid we have to recognise that there is a dark corner in every country."

That's what John Howard said in response to the discovery of a biological substance in a letter delivered to the Indonesian embassy in Canberra. The truth is Howard is now reaping what he has sown.........

These are, however, recent and unusual acts by Howard. From the time he became opposition leader in 1995 and decided to put everything to one side in pursuit of political success, a key ingredient of Howard's strategy has been a populist appeal to what he now describes as "the dark corners" of our country. "


Michael Costello is right about the beatup around the "anthrax" letter to the Indonisian embassy. It was about stirring fear and anxiety that we have terrorists in our midst. Red alert.

This incident appears to be a blatant attempt at manipulating public sentiment and opinion through withholding relevant information (it was white powder not anthrax and the letter was written in Indonesian not English).

However, I guess we should give credit where credit is due. In contrast to the anti-Indonesian politics fo the tabloid media Howard has resisted any temptation to play populist politics with the Corby case--despite his track record of playing to populist suspicion of Indonesia and Asia. As Peter Hartcher says in the Sydney Morning Herald Howard

"..has reminded Australians that Indonesia is a sovereign, democratic state with an independent judiciary. He has said Australia must respect Indonesia's laws, courts and due process just as Australia would expect other countries to respect its laws, courts and due process. And he has made the sensible point that to aggravate relations over Corby would be to damage the prospects of Corby herself, whose fate ultimately could rest on the goodwill necessary to win a presidential pardon."

That undermines Michael Costello's claim that "...Howard continues to play that populist hand as hard as he can." Costello's op. ed. mainly refers to John Howard response to the discovery of a biological substance in a letter delivered to the Indonesian embassy in Canberra. Howard went in hard about a bio-terrorism attack.

So my problem with Michael Costello is that he fails to acknowledge the different strokes that Howard is playing on this issue. Howard is contradictory in that he is playing both sides of the street and wearing different hats.

Just to clear any misunderstanding from my first ambigous comment - by "the proprietors" I meant of course Packer and Murdoch. I don't consider Fairfax to be part of the mainstream media as their market is below threshold.

Tony Parkinson understands media. He is being completely disingenuous when he makes the types of statements you quote. He was a leading shill for the USA military invasion of Iraq. He did a hell of a lot more than report. And I am sure that his role was very valued in the halls of power.

okay. That clears things up.

So who do you think told the Ackerman's and the Bolts to rein their redneck nationalism around the Corby case? They are only conservative attack dogs on a leash, after all.

I concur that Parkinson was a neo-con doing a political job re the Iraq war. But heis also a cultural conservative who thinks that journalism is, and should be reportage; even if he sees himself as a journalist who writes pro-war polemics like the good ideologue he is.

He does not understand how the media landscape has changed and that only a few journalists practice reportage.

I, of course, have no idea about the nature of any communications between the government and the managements of Packer and News, but I'd be very surprised if somebody hadn't called someone to ask for a little "perspective".

Could it not be that Parkinson does understand media and that he merely uses the old conservative ruse that journalists "should" only do reportage in order to hamstring the media as a place where those outside the halls of power may be allowed to shape an alternative discourse?

I'm inclined to agree with you re Parkinson. He functions as an idealogue.

I recall Gerard Stone (producer of This Day Tonight?) going on about biased ABC journalism on the AM program re the Iraq war.

However, the conservative (empiricist)conception of jorunalism--reportage of facts that assumes a mirror conception of language--- is deeply embeddeded in the mediculture in Australia.

I see very liitle critique of this in the media culture that would allow interpretation in reportage as distinct from op.ed, which is seen as personal opinion.

The media culture in Australia is stuck in the past.