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

The Canberra Media Gallery has lost it « Previous | |Next »
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.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 8:19 AM | | Comments (26)


"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. "

The subtext is that Gillard is playing the female victim. Once again this is the conservative's talking point. Sale's accepts it.

The mainstream media is on the skids that is for sure and its more than a slide into economic decline. There's also been too much partisanship, mendacity, ineptness and deception.

The result is that they are no longer trusted to be doughty upholders of noble fourth estate principle. They've trashed them too often to further their commercial self-interest.

It is now widely accepted that the Canberra press gallery just concentrated on Slipper’s resignation in the context of the Australian Parliament, rather than Gillard’s attack on sexism in political life. Sexism in political life is the bigger, and much more significant, issue.

The Canberra press gallery missed the key point ---that Gillard stood up to the routine sexism and denigration that has been directed at her from the Leader of the Opposition, and indeed much of the Australian right. She was applauded by women for doing so.

The Canberra press gallery is left trying to play catch up and trying to pretend that they didn't miss the boat completely.

The Canberra Press Gallery is going to be very uneasy in dealing with, and commenting on, the sexism and misogyny in Australian political life.

They are way outside their comfort zone. You can see this with Leigh Sales. On the one hand, she acknowledges the obvious--the routine sexism and denigration directed at her from much of the Australian right, including the Liberal Party. On the other hand, she retreats to say that Gillard is using gender as a shield against any criticism of her. performance.

So there is no substance to Gillard's attack on the use of sexism and misogyny against here.

That interpretation won't restore Sales' tarnished credibility at missing the significance of yesterday’s events.

The Canberra Press Gallery will interpret sexism in political life as the gender wars and then talk about which side is winning the war. As savvy insiders in Canberra they will talk in terms of the tactics used by both sides to highlight their insiders knowledge. Its horse race journalism.

An example

The insider knowledge about tactics will be used to show that ordinary citizens don't know what is happening in the political battle in Canberra.

We have been blindly been following the white rabbit, long after we should have turned back!

The claim that JG is using faux victimhood as a shield, utter hypocrisy.

For how long have the rabid right been courting the vote of the middle-aged, working, hetrosexual, anglo-Australian, Christian male... by telling them that THEY are the true victims?

Yes, victims of a vast feminist, gay, permissive, Asian, Islamic, socialist conspiracy. A conspiracy which is robbing them of what they are rightfully ENTITLED.

Sadly the Mad Hatter's Tea Party continue to roll on with barely a pause...

Jacqueline Maley, the Parliamentary Sketch Writer for the Sydney Morning Herald, has written on the gap between the Canberra Press Gallery and the public in the social media over Gillard's speech.

She says that 'mainstream-media', came to a general consensus:

sure, Gillard had given a great speech, but it was founded on hypocrisy. Many of the nation's premier political commentators focused on this fact - that the speech was made trying to save the political career of Peter Slipper, himself accused of disrespect to women.

Was it designed to save the political career of Peter Slipper? The Govt and Independents knew he was going to resign. Their defence was to prevent a Kangaroo Court.

Maley goes onto remind us that:

it is not the job of the press gallery to laud a speech. It is the job of journalists to place events in context, supply background and nuance, and to make predictions about whether political actions will deliver votes.

The only context they saw was Slipper. They didn't provide the broader context for this event or supply the background, namely the sexism and misogyny in political life and its use against Gillard.

So why did they fail so badly? Well, they didn't really.

Maley says much of the positive reaction to Gillard’s speech was from people who would have voted Labor anyway. They don't count apparently, because what really counts is how Gillard’s performance was received internally, within her party. It is the maligned Canberra Press Gallery that will inform us of that.

What a feeble defence. Its just a short step to raising the leadership battles in the ALP yet again. It also ignores the content of conservative political thinking and ideas. Isn't that something that should be analyzed by the Canberra Press Gallery.

Mars08 puts it exactly right.

From the culture wars, through One Nation, middle class welfare, the coalition's refusal to accept the last election result, the whole notion of border protection and racism, the Australian Christian Lobby, Gerry Harvey and his millionaire friends moaning about everything, the expectation that industry should be allowed to pollute, domestic violence, footballers should be allowed to pack rape, to Alan Jones, Tony Abbott and the disgraceful way Kate Ellis was treated on Q&A this week. The common thread is the sense of entitlement.

Beautifully put Mars.

Old Australia senses that it is losing its power in a global economy and world. The Coalition is going increasingly to protect Old (white) Australia. It reckons its on a winner cos Old Australia represents the majority.

It also how the the Canberra Press Gallery understands politics.

For them Gillard's speech is just another move in the game, the cynical game of politics. For them the core of politics is deception.

Gillard was defusing a political attack on the government via the sleazebag speaker, and so her remarks were insincere, even cynical. It was all tricky tactics and strategy.

Thanks Lyn.

In fact one of the scariest things I ever heard, was Howard's comment (shortly after taking office) about wanting Australians to feel "relaxed and comfortable". I knew exactly who he was talking to. The same mob who refuses to accept a "black armband" view of the world.

"the Canberra Press Gallery understands politics ....[in terms of] just another move in...the cynical game of politics. [It's] all tricky tactics and strategy."

Bernard Keane at Crikey defends the Canberra Press Gallery along the above lines of horse-race journalism.

The press gallery doesn’t see its job as analysing the social significance of politics. Its focus is on political tactics — what works politically, what doesn’t, what impact political performances will have on the functionality of the government in the short term and, over the longer term, its prospects for re-election. The gallery also focused on the wider context for the speech, which was the government defending the wretched Peter Slipper. Criticising the gallery for “not getting it” misses that what they’re supposed to be getting isn’t necessarily in their job description.

That is an accurate description of the current practice of the gallery. It's their job description as written by savvy insiders.

However, it is that conception of politics that is being called into question by those defending the gender politics narrative. The gallery's understanding of politics is deemed to give an inadequate and impoverished account.

It adequate and impoverished account because the government was not defending Slipper as claimed by the gallery, and they explicitly condemned the texts of Slipper. Their defence was given by Dreyfus and Melham in their speech about the separation of powers and Parliament not prejudging an ongoing civil court case.The Canberra Press Gallery failed to understand this.

It is also an adequate and impoverished account as it failed to make sense of the issue of gender in politics that has been simmering since Julia Gillard become Prime Minister.

The problem for me is that sexism is part of a broader raft of human rights issues, refugee treatment, indigenous autonomy, marriage equality. On all of those issues the Gillard government has been deficient.

I would like to see Julia Gillard speaking and acting with similar fervour on those issues. Not to do so would imply that she is acutely aware of those rights issues where she is a member of the effected group, and not so much of those where she is not.

sadly there is going to be cold comfort on the broader raft of human rights issues, such as refugee treatment, indigenous autonomy and marriage equality from the Gillard Government.

There won't be much movement against the gambling industry either.

That's a depressing (but probably partially accurate) way of looking at Alan. Because the PM is a white, heterosexual, privileged woman.... she finds finds difficult to identify with those other groups.

I really don't want to believe that's possible, but it could be...

The Canberra Press Gallery has some of the best journos money can buy.
And they have been bought, well and truly, slowly but surely over years.
Bought - by whom and in what currency?
By their owners, the media barons all half a dozen of them or so with one chief culprit. Bought not just with hefty salaries but with fame and prestige ... So and so is ..."one of the most respected commentators on political affairs, winner of the Walkely award for journalism and renowned writer of the best seller "A day in the Life of Joe Bloggs - a study in something or other". They get introduced as such on shows such as "Sunset", the Outsiders" and "QANGO' and then pontificate by repeating the gossip the boys [most are boys, well actually old ish white men from conservative backgrounds] regaled each other with around the Press Gallery pub in Parliament and drinks at the cafe after.
They know better than to come up with anything radical [sorry about using that rude word] but they wouldn't want to stir up any of the big business advertisers who provide the life blood money flow for the owners media outlets.

They are a waste of space.
A disservice to our community.
I despise them [if that wasn't obvious].

Here's a RADICAL idea. Do some proper investigative journalism and bring the people the truth... instead of the pitiful warmed-over PR releases from the spin doctors.

We're forever being told that journalists are important because they provide context and "balance".

This thread alone gives the lie to all of that.

they missed the broader context of chauvenism, and they missed the context of human rights issues as well. They largely didn't bother reporting that Gillard cut sole parent payments at about the same time she was complaining about sexism.

Those are the "contexts" that would have provided "balance" in a more meaningful way than their current obsessions with the horse race and the handbag hit squad.

Michelle Grattan asks Why the divide between the Canberra Press Gallery and those on social media? Her answer:

It's partly because the commentators judged Gillard's performance on broad criteria, and placed greater weight on the PM's contradiction of protecting the sexist Slipper (on whatever ground) while accusing Abbott of misogyny.
But feminists and a portion of female voters were applauding what they saw as a feisty woman finally hitting back at her tormenters. (Summers recently gave a lecture about the sexist campaign against the PM.)

What is that broader criteria? Grattan, to her credit acknowledges that the government essentially said the sexism issue was less important or urgent than observing due legal process. However, she says:
the fact remains that Gillard did the wrong thing in embracing Slipper last year and again in resisting his ditching. She might have made a hero of herself to some feminists by flailing Abbott, but she betrayed feminism in trying to protect Slipper (that she condemned his messages is not enough mitigation).

The legal argument has been dismissed--not addressed.

Her context re the sexist campaign against Gillard is narrow. She says that the PM's outburst against Abbott reflects her fury at the often-disgusting sexist campaign against her in parts of the blogosphere. Grattan forgets to add the sexist campaign against Gillard waged by the Coalition.

The Canberra Press Gallery resists acknowledging that sexism is a part of Australian conservatism, and that it is being used as a weapon by politicians and News Ltd journalists in the Canberra Press Gallery.

The Canberra press gallery have closed ranks. The are all writing similar articles trying to defend their initial position. They say that those in social media see it simply as Julia Gillard finally hitting back and they dismiss the events that surrounded the speech---ie., Gillard defending Slipper. The Canberra press gallery know that it was much more complicated than that.

"sexism is a part of Australian conservatism, and that it is being used as a weapon by politicians and News Ltd journalists in the Canberra Press Gallery."

Conservatives believe that blokes should run the show

It doesn't matter what the press gallery think.

Journalists have no credibility.
Most people wouldn't know, or care, anything about Peter Slipper.
Journalists are more interested in preserving their Gillard's Toast narrative than they are in either of the two points above.

Grattan has been making a disgrace of herself for years now.

The Tim Dunlop piece Gary linked is the only thing worth reading on all of this.

There are big shifts happening in media and in our broader society, and they're happening regardless of conservative attempts to preserve the past. No wonder the Howard era is so precious to them.

Dunlop is spot on---it is the case that no longer do the established news media hold all the cards, and no longer do they alone get to dictate public discourse.

The Mainstream Stream Media, also referred to as the Main Stream Misfits, the Main Stream Morons, the Main Stream Mysoginists, the Mainstream Meatheads, the Mainstream Maggotts, the list just goes on and on and all so appropriate. After the pathetic response from our Prime Minister's ground breaking reply in Parliament the other day to Abbott's garbage the MSM deserve every brickbat thrown at them since. And our precious ones of the MSM cannot understand why most thinking people regard them as irrelevant.

Just for the record when I drew attention to Gillard's record and rhetoric on human rights issues apart from sexism, I wasn't saying she is a hypocrite. I do think she lacks a broader intellectual understanding on human rights issues (among others). For some reason the ALP is like that.