October 11, 2012
I finished the post on Gillard's misogyny speech in Parliament by remarking on the interpretation of that speech by the Canberra press/media gallery. I noted that we would expect the Right wing journalists in The Australian and elsewhere to continue putting a strident Gillard in the dock for her double standards--Gillard was a base tactician, cynically holding up her sex as a smokescreen. Partisan attacks on Gillard is what they are paid to do. It's their job.
But why did the media Gallery as a whole make this interpretation? Why the group think? Isn't this what needs to be explained? I said:
What is puzzling, though, is why those journalists in the Canberra Press Gallery who are not on the Right --eg., those on the ABC, such as Leigh Sales and Emma Alberici ----uncritically repeated the Right's spin and talking points of this event. For them it was a flawed Gillard who was in the dock. Why this interpretation? Why not something different? An interpretation that was their own? Where was the political context of the event for these oh so savvy insiders who take pride in their professionalism?
Anne Summers made a similar point in her column on The Drum. She said that the reportage and commentary this morning out of Canberra was so startlingly at odds with the reactions of such vast numbers of people both here and abroad that you have to ask: why and how could this be the case? She added:
They are, after all, seemingly so out of kilter with how so many of the rest of us reacted that they need to provide some explanation for us to have any reason to take at all seriously anything they write in future.
It is a good point. The majority of the comments on her post agreed with Summers.
I added in the post that I thought that the credibility and the authority of the Canberra Press and Media Gallery has taken a severe knock from this event. The ground has shifted under them. Tim Dunlop concurs--the gatekeepers of news have lost their keys he says. They sure have. They haven't just lost their keys though --they've been taken from them and thrown away and they are wandering around in circles looking for them.
We watch Parliament ourselves, we trust our own judgements, we publish them in social media, we evaluate other interpretations of events, and we critically judge them for their plausibility. We look at the work of the savvy insiders, such as Annable Crabb, Leigh Sales and Emma Alberici, - and reckon that they actually missed what has been going on. They ignored the sexism and misogyny in political life, and the way that it had been used against Gillard as a battering ram by the Coalition and the conservative movement in general.
Leigh Sales attempted to restore some of her credibility in this interview with Penny Wong, but it is obvious that she cannot see beyond the argy bargy of political life, or the "he said she said" style of journalism --the name-calling comes from both sides of politics. Sales' basic position is that, though she acknowledges that it is obvious the Prime Minister has been attacked with sexist language, Gillard is using gender as a shield against any criticism of her performance. Once again it is Gillard who is in the dock for defending herself from the sexist attacks.
Why? Because Gillard is defending Slipper, the sexist sleazebag. The constitutional argument made by Mark Drefyus and Daryl Melham that Labor's position was based on the separation of powers and the due judicial process was completely ignored by Sales. It had to be passed over as it directly challenged Sales interpretation of Gillard's actions. If asked Sales no doubt would have said that the legal arguments were a fig leave. They would have been dismissed as insincere, even cynical. It's an easy cynicism.
Tim Dunlop observes that what has actually happened is the people formerly known as the audience have, thanks to the tools of social media, become media critics and content shapers. He adds that this:
causes angst in the journosphere, and much of their reaction to this new dispensation is the reaction of an industry who have not only had their authority and prestige stripped from them, but of one that is struggling to find relevance in a scary new environment that threatens their very livelihood...The bottom line is this: we no longer trust the media to tell us the story of our lives. We no longer have to settle for the narrative they impose on events. We are no longer passive observers, but active participants in the way our news is shaped.
The rejection of the Canberra Media Gallery's interpretation of Gillard's speech by a large number of Australians indicates how the ground has shifted---we citizens simply don't need journalists to explain and analyse political events for us anymore.
We can expect the old media, in trying to reassert its power and authority, to attack those keyboard activists using Twitter, blogs, Youtube and Facebook. In this defence we will find some explanations for why their account differed so markedly from ours. Make no mistake, it is the Canberra gallery that is on the defensive.
Jonathan Holmes of Media Watch provides one line of defence or explanation. He defines the issue as the claim that the Twittersphere represents 'ordinary people', and the cynicism of the gallery does not. The press gallery is utterly unaware of how we 'ordinary' folk think, so the bloggers step in to set things right.
He argues that such a view ignores the fact that the press gallery spends a lot of time talking to people who are aware of what people think. Whilst many bloggers talk only amongst themselves, it is the media gallery that is more in touch because they mix with backbenchers from both sides of the political divide. They spend more time talking to 'ordinary people' - not on social media, but face-to-face - than the vast majority of the rest of us do. The backbenchers also have:
a vital professional interest - especially if they're in a marginal seat - in assessing which issues are liable to change people's vote, and which are not. That's the lens through which a professional politician views everything that happens in the glass house in Canberra: how will it affect my vote? And it is the backbench politicians, not just ministerial aids stuck in ministerial offices, and the 'spinners', or each other, that the press gallery journos talk to, day in, day out.
Well, blow me down. The Canberra bubble, the Beltway, the insider view of politics, with its distorted view of the world has just disappeared. However, it soon reappears because Holmes says that the problem with those in social media, who responded favourably to Gillard's speech, is that they will have seen the speech in isolation, torn from its political context.
'Political context' is key term. Holmes means the following:
When the press gallery opined that the moment was ill-chosen, that Gillard declared that enough was enough about Abbott, but declined to declare that enough was enough about Slipper; and that the Speaker's subsequent resignation at the insistence of the cross-bench exposed the Gillard Government to charges of hypocrisy; they were reflecting, you can be sure, the rueful grumblings of many a Labor backbencher with his or her eyes on how it would play in Penrith or La Trobe or Longman.
The problem that Holmes has, of course, is that the press gallery's 'hypocrisy narrative' is what has been explicitly rejected. An alternative "gender narrative" has been constructed by those who saw the speech and expressed their views on social media; a narrative that says this political moment placed gender issues at the centre of political debate. For this narrative political context means the systematic misogynist abuse of Gillard from sections of the Right outside Parliament, whipped along, and shaped, by shock jocks and sections of News Ltd.
With the alternative narrative being vigorously defended in the public sphere we now have competing narratives that cannot be reduced to party political ones. That in itself is a sift in the ground of politics.