Welcome to Eureka Street

back to site

Our racist editors


Sensationalism and a bias to the interests of proprietors and other rich people are long-standing features of commercial media. However Australian media have, over the past few decades, become increasingly biased in news reporting, news selection and commentary. This trend is moving into the realm of overt propagandising and of reporting so distorted and hysterical as to amount to lies.

There is, in fact, a growing nexus in Australian media of fear, hysteria, racism and ignorant ranting.

The Australia Day 'riot' at the Lobby restaurant in Canberra is an example of hysterical misreporting. I happened to see it unfold. It was a rowdy demonstration, but there was no violence and no riot. Security and police were rattled and overreacting. Many people could even see in the footage that the situation was not as threatening as reporters' words were portraying.

The so-called reporting was also richly larded with judgemental words like 'ugly', 'marred','disgrace' and so on. So much for separating editorial comment from reporting.

The misreporting was racist in effect if not in intention. Many editors and commentators shot from the hip in condemning the protesters, and their reaction was more overtly racist.

Now comes the news that Australia's richest person, mining magnate Gina Rinehart, is buying big chunks of our media. Although some are denying that she wants to impose her point of view on our media, why else would she be buying them? Especially as GetUp! has released a video of climate denier Christopher Monckton, whom Rinehart supports, urging just such a strategy. They want hired guns like Andrew Bolt and climate denier Joanne Nova to peddle a mining-friendly view.

Everyone has a right to express their opinion, but when the opinion is ill-informed and delivered angrily it becomes a rant. Unfortunately the ignorant rant is becoming legitimised as proper political discourse in Australia.

It features prominently in talkback radio and online comments. It pervades The Australian newspaper, as evident in its response to Robert Manne's detailed criticisms in his Quarterly Essay 'Bad News'.

The justification for the prevalence of ranting is the right to free speech. However free speech also implies responsibility. One responsibility is not to propagate falsehoods. Another is to reflect before mouthing off; to be aware of one's gut reactions and move through them to a more considered expression. This is known as emotional maturity, an increasingly scarce quality it seems. '

These responsibilities apply particularly to the media and those in the public realm.

Philosopher Karl Popper, writing in the context of threats from both left-wing communist dictators and right-wing fascist dictators, concluded that the most resilient society would be the one most willing to tolerate and cultivate a range of ideas.

The world is always throwing up new challenges. The broader the range of ideas a society can draw upon the more likely it is to meet such challenges and survive. Dictatorship severely restricts the range of ideas allowed currency, and thus limits the resilience of the society.

Short of dictatorship, there are those in Australia who seem to take pride in ignorance; tout their success as proof of its sufficiency, or present themselves as just part of the common ruck. This disdain for being informed cultivates illusion, the comforting belief that the world is as we want it. However an illusion is ultimately a lie, and our media are delivering too much illlusion.

Writer Jane Goodall reminds us that the late Czech intellectual and president Václav Havel pointed to the deeper effects of the oppression of his people. Oppressed people become so used to living in a lie that it infiltrates every aspect of their lives, until they can't deal honestly with each other or with themselves. We are not as oppressed as the Czechs were, but we are fed a manipulated reality.

As Goodall observes, 'An electorate dominated by resentment and punitive impulses can easily vote its way back into totalitarianism.' Havel understood that only if we are willing to speak the truth, to ourselves, to each other and in public, can we hope to extract ourselves from the mire of oppression. He suffered imprisonment and risked his life to do so.

Goodall further notes that 'Havel spoke always from a conviction that civic intelligence is the most valuable commodity in any nation, and its erosion is the greatest danger.'

Media operate only with our permission, explicit or implied, and broadcasting is a great privilege. We need to rein in the increasing distortion of our social and political conversations, and require responsibility as well as freedom of speech.

Geoff DaviesDr Geoff Davies is a retired scientist, author and occasional commentator.

Topic tags: Geoff Davies, Australia Day, freedom of speech, Andrew Bolt



submit a comment

Existing comments

Geoff Davies opines that the "Australian media have.....become increasingly biased." He then completes an article as heavily one sided as any example he cites.

grebo | 07 February 2012  

Best piece on the subject and its dilemmas I have read....dare I say, ever. Profound insights into the issue of the civic/community resposibility for even handedness. My perception of our civic interest is that we lack intellectual rigour, fail to look for the reality in rreporting and are seduced by superficiality, senstionalism and distortion. How do we deal with this? What causes this lack of civic responsibility? Has our education system much to be ashamed about?

GAJ | 07 February 2012  

An excellent essay! The mainstream ABC, which includes all radio and TV news and current affairs, except Radio National, is especially guilty of poor journalism and ill-informed opinion by pretentious journalists. The most informative coverage of news and current affairs is the Melbourne Community Radio station 3CR. We are also well served by magazines such as the Quarterly Essay, Eureka Street, Arena, Dissent, The Green Left Weekly and New Matilda. The best TV news and current affairs is provided by Deutsche Welle TV, Al Jazeehra TV and the PBS Newshour, which are shown on Community TV station channel 31 and SBS TV. The Deutsche Welle TV docomentary program 'In Focus' which is shown on channel 31 is a very informative program. It is also bemusing that most of the Australian media focus on news and opinion from either the U.S. or England and ignore the rest of the world, especially Asia.

Mark Doyle | 07 February 2012  

Grebo, I think the problem is the mainstream media is predominately biased in one direction. It is only smaller outlets who try to counter this. I don't believe any of us can avoid bias. But when the major stories don't reflect the truth who will speak out?

Gareth | 07 February 2012  

Thank you so much Geoff for your urgent warning. We 'refos' have seen the descent into brutal dictatorships of the left and the right that has resulted from societies being gradually steeped in distortion, propaganda and prejudice, till they take on the character of the manipulators. It is frightening that many Australians seem to think it couldn't happen here!

Steve | 07 February 2012  

Thank you so much Geoff for your urgent warning. We 'refos' have seen the descent into brutal dictatorships of the left and the right that has resulted from societies being gradually steeped in distortion, propaganda and prejudice, till they take on the character of the manipulators. It is frightening that many Australians seem to think it couldn't happen here!

Steve | 07 February 2012  

One can only agree with this commentary on the appalling bias and tendency to contrived sensationalism of much of the media.However, in the case of the Canberra "riot" was not the media merely responding to what was a contrived attempt by Labor party and unionist activists to discretit the Leader of the Opposition and deliberately chose to misreport his words in an enviroment where they knew their misreporting would inflame a racist upsurge against the "racist", Abbot? The leader of the aboriginal embassy was a lot smarter than these Labor staffers. He immediately commented that "we were set up". This effort by the Labor staffers was far more destructive and racist than any sensational media reporting of the event. Every Tom, Dick and Harry can see through media incompetence and sensationalism but pollies usually cover their tracks much more efficiently than this current Labor rabble does.

john frawley | 07 February 2012  

I object to the word "denier" in association with climate. The connotation with holocaust is, deliberately or unintentionally, abusive.

Kevin Prendergast | 07 February 2012  

Thank you, Geoff Davies, for an important article. What a lovely sentence,"The ignorant rant is becoming legitimised as proper political discourse in Australia." The leader of the Oposition must shoulder a large share of responsibility for this. As to the Tent Embassy demonstration, I marvel that the TV news people could call viewers to alarm, when their very footage showed that the only violence being perpetrated was that needlessly inflicted on the Prime Minister by her amateur and inexperienced security guards. In war truth is the first casualty - as it is in much of the immature and irresponsible political commentary we're fed too.

Joe Castley | 07 February 2012  

GREBO offers us all some insight into his world view. Totally satisfied with the standard of journalism and plonker-radio commentary. However, I am suspicious of GetUp!, a secretive and closed group who answer to no one, avoid even the slim pretence of democracy that political parties manage, and seem to back only the most populist of campaigns, so not all that different to the mainstream really, as far as accountablity goes. As for Prince Ruperts rag, nuff said. Membership of the DLP, far right think tanks, and a readiness to comply with Murdochs vision seems to be a pre-requisite for work there. But the SMH and Age are not far behind, covering the same stories daily, with hardly any difference in the imposition of opinion over facts. Given that the Christian Church claims to have the moral high ground on everything in life, there is an astonishing silence from all brands of it in this nation, when it comes to castigating our brave Fourth Estate and its leaders and minions. Too interested in keeping the media at bay, lest well deserved criticism came its way?

Andy Fitzharry | 07 February 2012  

Well said Geoff Davies! I watched the TV coverage of the 'dangerous riot' and wondered just what it was that the police were worried about. Where were the police outside the cafe, moving the crowd on? No sign of them at all. The police contributed not only to the silly reporting of the event, but also in demeaning the PM by dragging her out like some poor waif unable to look after herself. I'd have been outraged with that copper if I had been dragged out like that, in such a humiliating manner, while Abbott got a 'blokes escape'. Where was the burly policewoman groping him to the ground?

janice wallace | 07 February 2012  

Spot on, Dr Geoff. "Everyone has a right to express their opinion, but when the opinion is ill-informed and delivered angrily it becomes a rant." You have just given us a perfect example.

John R. Sabine | 07 February 2012  

Thank you Geoff for your article. It could have not come a better time. I happened to watched the ABC media watch by Jonathan Holmes last night where your sendiments were perfectly echoed with utter examples. Regretably, the political class is not only fuelling this careless and biased media reporting but also providing a platform for their genesis. Incidentally, racial tension seem to have ballooned since the advent of financial crisis with many people associating their personal hardships such as unemployment to others. It is critical thus such dangerous media lies stopped forthwith and someone/people held responsible. Australia is a dignified nation that deserves dignity.

Hillan Nzioka | 07 February 2012  

Timely and important. The concentration od power in maneged institutions poses a very real threat to liberty. The prevailing ethic of managerial economism has sucked all responsibility from the media. The silence of the Church is deafening.

jim macken | 07 February 2012  

Geoff Davies - I hope you'll consider becoming more than an "occasional commentator" with commentary which so perfectly hits the mark, as this does.

Michelle Goldsmith | 07 February 2012  

Thank you Dr Geoff for a timely and well measured comment on a recent media 'report' and beat-up. The facts of the matter, known in subsequent days, illustrate exactly what you are saying. We all need to be reminded that the need to sell papers by drama not relevance or truth directs so called press reporting and seek out reality in judging current events. To my thinking not enough correction was made of the legitimacy of the memorial celebration of the 'Tent Embassy' and the needs it underlined. Shame on you again popular media! Again, let us beware of activities such as those of Gina Rinehart but where is rational assessment in the press or do donations take care of them?

Michelle Sydney | 07 February 2012  

Dear Dr Davies , You article "Our racist editors" is the best succinct summary , i have come across, of the extremely divisive state and content of the media in Australia now . There are journalists working and writing differently including in the "Australian" in my view however the louder voices are those of the clamouring kind and in the more popular media this is so much more the case. I fear the way this manner of negative and even racist way of thinking could can be pervading our society. I agree also that we need to keep speaking up about it and your piece is a good example to build on - thank you

Faye Lawrence | 07 February 2012  

Kevin Prendergast - I use the word "denier" in the sense of psychological denial. Nothing to do with the holocaust and I don't think we should give up the word because some people choose to make that association.

Geoff Davies | 07 February 2012  

I could accept much of what Dr Davies has written, if I could be certain that he applies that same standards to all. Are those on the opposite side of politics to Dr Davies the only ones who are capable of bias, manipulation, ranting or having vested interests? What magically makes the ABC or the Age any less prone to all the faults that he enumerates in others?

John Ryan | 07 February 2012  

Excellent piece. Thanks, Geoff.
Interesting to see in the clip for whose safety the Prime Minister immediately expressed concern when she was warned of potential danger.

Alan Austin | 07 February 2012  

Distortion, bias, controversary on commercial media - the lesser-known programs on Ch 44, (c31) and SBS are the best for news coverage. Marvellous how "our" ABC is any man or woman"s now; plain pompous and pretentious!

folkie | 07 February 2012  

Here we go again! This is another typical loony left wing ramble about racism, jealousy about Gina Rinehart and “biased” journalists. I noted that nothing was written about spitting at and burning of the Australian flag. It seems that the loony left wing fringe of our society is able to tolerate such despicable behaviour.

Beat Odermatt | 07 February 2012  

David Marr is the one eyed Carlton fan and footy commentator and therefore would never utter any lunacy. Of course I meant David of the SMH who frequently does.

grebo | 07 February 2012  

And now thanks to Media Watch we are all aware that it was AAP who reported things wrongly so Hodges should get his job back. It was ridiculous of our racist media to automatically assume that because there were one or two aborigines hitting windows and yelling that it was a riot - media watch covered another very racist assumption last night about the death of a little girl in WA. Our media are racist towards refugees and aborigines as can be seen in their continuing prattle about the dead Malaysia trafficking deal. It's because they are all white and well off that they don't know any facts. Watching the Tall Man and finally hearing from Doomajees family was truly shocking in the actual and implied racism of the cops and everyone else white around the death. Today Amnesty again calls for a refugee prison to be closed because people are going insane and we see in the Herald that the so-called village built for Afghans we didn't want is a rotten slum without water. I get so tired of the white supremacy in this nation of migrants.

Marilyn Shepherd | 07 February 2012  

Beat, I wonder why you think the aboriginal people who had their land stolen and invaded by the British who committed and still commit all manner of atrocities on them would give a flying fig about the British flag. And there was no ALP beat up, seems AAP got it wrong and as usual all the other morons joined in without fact checking.

Marilyn Shepherd | 07 February 2012  

I think it was Kipling who wrote: Four things greater than all things are - Women and Horses and Power and War. You'll notice Truth, Justice and Civic Responsibility are not among them. Kipling could have been writing about the four topics that the mass media value more than any others. Three of them Women (sex), Horses (sport and gambling) and War (conflict in any form) are especially appealing to TV journalists because they make for interesting visuals. When Ron Casey thumped and knocked down Normie Rowe during a TV panel program some years ago it was described by Geraldine Doogue as something that should not have happened "but it made for good television'. News and current affairs are not geared primarily towards educating the general public. They aim "to entertain". Sex, violence and conflict have sure fire entertainment value. I'll leave it to theologians, psychiatrists and psychologists to offer possible explanations. The problem with politics (or the pursuit of Kipling's fourth good - Power) is that it deadly dull unless it can be made sexy, turned into a blood sport, or out and out war - just like a State of Origin promotion.

Uncle Pat | 07 February 2012  

The coverage on the day itself may have been a sensational reaction to the PM being dragged away by her minders, but the coverage since then has focused on the role of the PM's own office in the debacle.
And in fact the coverage has been refreshingly non-racist compared to how it may have been reported 5 or 10 years ago.
The rest of this essay does not relate to the demo on Australia Day

Jason Bryce | 07 February 2012  

The angry protesters surrounding and hitting the glass-sided building, disrupting the medal presentation service and force the evacuation of Gillard and Abbott, the burning and spitting of our National flag, were they initiated by biased Australian media? NO! It originated from the office of the Labor Prime Minister.To blame the Australian media, to be critical of Gina Rinehart, Christopher Moncktom, Andrew Bolt and Joanne Nova by accusing them to be climate denier are not true. They are climate realists like many millions of other Australians. "Calling the pot black"

Ron cini | 07 February 2012  

Ron, why would aborigines care about your flag?

Marilyn Shepherd | 08 February 2012  

"Philosopher Karl Popper...concluded that the most resilient society would be the one most willing to tolerate and cultivate a range of ideas." This is all very appealing to feel- gooders, but it's absurd and dangerous. It's even profoundly conflicted: Suppose everyone in our society agrees with Popper on this point. If Popper is correct, it make our society MORE resilient if we then cultivated the opposite view ... that tolerance of a variety of ideas would doom our society! We don't need a "range" of ideas. If someone seriously believes that 2 plus 2 equals 5, is our society more resilient for the existence of that alternative view? Rubbish! Society needs to conform to and privilege, the truth: especially the deepest truths about the world and mankind - the objective nature of knowledge, including moral knowledge; free will, human rights, correctly conceived, the nature and destiny of man, and so on. Anyone who successfully prosecutes departures from the truth in these areas damages society - as the millions of aborted unborn, and the victims of the Nazi death camps, mutely testify. Ideas have consequences. Bad ideas have bad consequences. If the active cultivation of a variety of views helps us to arrive at the deep truths society needs to survive, then well and good. But consider: the biggest experiment in such tolerance in history is the West since (say) the 1960's. Given that the West is rapidly heading for the gurgler, it seems Popper's theory is, too.

HH | 08 February 2012  

Further to my post above: What I've stated is a bit unnecessary. It's not that anyone actually believes what Popper said here anyway - not even Dr Davies, on the evidence of the rest his post. I mean, suppose everyone were in agreement with Dr D. about global warming. Could we see him pacing his bedroom at night, stressing out on behalf of society that there were no "deniers" around to uphold an opposing view and urge politicians to abandon anti-carbon policies?

HH | 08 February 2012  

I'm in no way advocating violence, but the Australia day 'tussle' or 'picnic', as it should be referred to, was a storm in a teacup compared to what similar struggles for ethnic and indigenous rights had led to in other parts of the world. Maybe if Aborigines took up arms we might listen and do something genuine about righting the wrongs. Violence isn't the right thing, but then again that's how modern Australia was founded in the first place.

AURELIUS | 08 February 2012  

I think anybody who is spitting at a flag or burning a flag of our country is doing a despicable act. If anybody tolerates such actions is as guilty as the person doing it. We can argue about history and discuss how things could have been differently forever. Australia was “bought” by the only universal global currency at the time, force. The original inhabitants of Australia would have used a similar currency to “purchase” their land. I did believe that you Marilyn Shepherd were a strong supporter of more migration to Australia. What land do you propose to give to the new migrants?

Beat Odermatt | 08 February 2012  

Obviously, most of the commentators here weren't reading the news papers when John Howard was Prime Minister. Who could forget some of the hurtful, ugly, unwarranted scenes during his watch - the effigy of him chained to the backside of an effigy of George Bush paraded through the streets of the capital city; the criticisms of his wife because she was different from the wives of former PMs; the constant references and derision of his morning walks and his eyebrows and the veiled sniggers at his manner when listening - the result of a hearing disability - and the turned backs on Sorry Day when he approached the platform to speak. I remember, still, the anguish and horror of what the media did to discredit that man and his family. And funnily enough, it was the Australian that I remember boycotting because of the bias I perceived. Surely this is a case Dr. Davies, of short memories.

Millie | 08 February 2012  

Dear Geoff, I think that aggressive "pushing and shoving" does constitute assault. Am I wrong?
Not all the "rioters" were aboriginal,but the group as a whole, behaved with an obvious sense of entitlement and impunity.
Theirs was the behaviour of spoilt and undisciplined four-year-olds, and the police wisely treated it as such.

Claude Rigney | 08 February 2012  

Dr Davies commentary is important. Eureka Street gets credibility with calling things as they really are. Please continue. I want an honest Australia.

Geoff Kennewell | 09 February 2012  

Claude - I agree "pushing and shoving" is aggressive. Personally I wouldn't rate it as assault, we'd have police all over our school yards. The point, I think, is that the reporting was totally out of proportion to the level of aggression. There were no fisticuffs, no weapons, no reported injuries, no property destruction (though some risk, I would agree) and so on. Your other characterisations might apply if they had no significant grievances. So long as the NT Intervention exists, Abbott and Gillard are quite wrong to claim they are accorded respect. There are many other points they might make along the same lines. You also seem to overlook that many of the demonstrators believed (incorrectly) that Tony Abbott had said the tent embassy should be removed - on the day they were celebrating its 40th anniversary. That made them angry, and they evidently wanted to confront Abbott about that. Fair enough, it's supposed to be a democracy. Everyone - The civility of comments here is very refreshing. And to those who've complimented my words, thank you, that's refreshing too! There are more on my blog site - click my name. Perhaps, Michelle, they'll be published more than "occasionally" now.

Geoff Davies | 09 February 2012  

A great article,let not lose the ability to speak truthfully in private & in public!

Bernie People's | 10 February 2012  

Uncivilised behaviour springs from hominoids who crave power, so I do not support the reasoning of Geoff Davis especially in relation to ex-president Havel.

Cyril Ciesiolka | 10 February 2012  

Similar Articles

Feminism, Greer and Tankard Reist

  • Lyn Bender
  • 08 February 2012

Germaine Greer has said she did not want to be a high priestess of feminism. What may have been extracted from her views and the constant evolution of feminism has been diminished by being reduced to a formula such as that used to denounce Melinda Tankard Reist.