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Shane Warne and News Limited's hostility cycle


Sometimes it is in response to small and predictable incidents that pennies drop. The most recent 'Shane Warne affair' was such an incident . A cyclist and motorist (Warne) claim the same space, get enraged. The cyclist's bike is damaged; the driver twitters about mug cyclists. It gets into print. People rally to support their cause. Happens all the time.

As a cyclist I own an interest. From my perspective, no matter who was right and wrong, the salient fact is that cyclists are more vulnerable than drivers. When they collide, cyclists and their bikes finish up needing repairs. That is a good reason why cyclists should no more irritate motorists than they would provoke unchained pit bulls.

At the time of the incident I was following the Leveson enquiry into the British press, and trying idly to identify what seemed to be the distinguishing qualities of political, economic and cultural commentary in the News Limited media.

Different newspapers, different writers, different topics, but they had something in common. In a blind test you would not be able to associate every News Limited column with the stable, but you would instantly recognize the provenance of many columns.

That led me to reflect more broadly on the quality of much public conversation in Australia, and to ask why it is so often confrontational and dismissive of other views.

The penny dropped when I read in one News Limited outlet a commentary on the Warne affair. It sided with Warne and motorists generally. It castigated cyclists as an unruly road hazard, and supported the call for licensing them. The tone was indignant, certain, magisterial and dismissive.

The perspective of the article and the qualities of the writing seemed to define the characteristic News Limited style of commentary. It instinctively sides with the stronger, wealthier and less vulnerable. They should be free to make and enjoy their wealth and to exercise their power without constraint. The weaker and more vulnerable should get out of the way and be prevented from interfering.

When conflict arises, the weaker are chastised. Unions, government ministers, Palestinians, greenies, occupiers, employees, Muslims, intellectuals, Indigenous and refugee activists and judges are treated with scorn when they challenge the freedom of the rich and powerful to do as they please.

Such a consistent house style spread across many media outlets suggests a culture in which attitudes are no longer consciously thought through but have become instinctual. A clash between a well-known driver and a cyclist will be perceived in a predictably partisan way.

But a culture in media organisations will persist only if it is reinforced by similar attitudes in the wider community. Writers need groupies whose attitudes they give voice to.

Certainly the relations between cyclists, drivers and pedestrians mirror the qualities I see as characteristic of News Limited commentary. Experiencing the world as a slow cyclist who shares the pavement with pedestrians and the road with cars, I am constantly struck by how common is the unkindness of strangers.

On shared footpaths both pedestrians and cyclists often barge through avoiding eye contact except for stare and glare, and show their frustration when having to give way. If you do slow down to call a pedestrian or a cyclist through, the response can be hostile. It is as if you have taken away a precedence that was theirs by entitlement and have returned it to them as gift.

The same is often true of encounters with cars. The assumption is that wealth and power convey rights that will be undermined by negotiation. It follows that if the weak wish to claim their space, they will need to be as bellicose as the strong.

Of course this is not the whole picture, any more than the columns I have described represent a full view of News Limited papers. Many pedestrians, cyclists and motorists relate to strangers as human beings and not simply as obstacles.

But the opposite is common enough to be the expected norm. This suggests that if we are to change the brutal conventions of public discourse, it will not be sufficient to draw attention to abuses and demand that politicians and journalists reform themselves. Journalists and politicians represent faithfully patterns of relationships between strangers.

As a society we may need to look again at such old fashioned ideals as noblesse oblige, respect, civility, courtesy and consideration. Although these outward virtues gained a bad name because they often masked and served an inner selfish ruthlessness, they may form the necessary conditions of civilised public discourse. 

Andrew HamiltonAndrew Hamilton is consulting editor of Eureka Street

Topic tags: Andrew Hamilton, Shane Warne, cyclists



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Existing comments

Yesterday I turned on the car radio and heard people shouting at each other. Ah yes, I thought, Parliament must be sitting again. If you can't get "Respect, courtesy, civility, consideration ..." in the highest place in the land, how can we expect it on the streets?

Frank | 16 February 2012  

I am an ex-cyclist, now motorist. Last week, I followed a cyclist on a 70 km/h link road between suburbs, with a cycle lane almost 2m wide, well paved, while he wove along in my lane, not even sticking to the left of the car lane. Where there is no cycle lane, they obviously share the road, but WHY just TRY to cause aggravation? Another point - have you noticed that the more expensive-looking and garish the fancy-dress, the worse the cyclist's behaviour?

jaymz | 16 February 2012  

Another disagreeable aspect of the Warne road rage story was the way it broke into the news. Warne had to do no more than complain on his tweet or twit or whatever it is and the full force of the media had the simplistic opinions all over page one. Warne’s opinion counts only because he’s famous; if he was anyone else the debate would not have erupted, indeed would not have been noticed. Apparently whatever Warne says has to be taken as truth, a dose of reality, an opinion to be respected. But only because he is Warne, and we mustn’t be seen not to agree with Warne. The opinion is not as important as the fact that Warne said it. Now that he is not just a famous spinbowler but a celebrity of dubious delivery, the media can use his twits to enforce whatever hasty and self-righteous ideas come into his head with complete finality. It is a dismal scene and some of us look forward to Warne’s return to the Pavilion, permanently.

DR W.G. GRACE | 16 February 2012  

Thank you Andrew, thank you Frank. Of course we can recognise parliament on radio when we hear people in a mob trying to shout louder than each other. Of course we recognise the absence of civility, respect, morality and justice when those same members govern to care for and please " the stronger, the wealthier and less vulnerable".

Caroline Storm | 16 February 2012  

Thanks Andrew - you've articulated my observations and intuition perfectly, in a time of minority government which should be an opportunity to foster social, economic and legislative "nobless oblige". Tragically, the dominant, reactionary commentary, as exemplified by News Limited, is accepted by, and acceptable to many otherwise decent and thoughtful people.

Michelle Goldsmith | 16 February 2012  

Well said, Frank. All this talk of public conversation or "civilised public discourse" is impossible when one side of the exchange is mechanical or technological - radio, TV, computer, mobile phone. I omit newspapers because usually one has to buy them, so one can blame (or congratulate) only oneself for the biassed material one is reading. But what Frank has written happens to me almost on a daily basis when I use any of the communication media available at the touch of a button. The only options I have are either to channel surf or to switch off - hardly a conversation.

Uncle Pat | 16 February 2012  

"noblesse oblige", oh, yes please. Can we also have serfdom back, and feudalism? And the divine right of monarchs? The Good Old Days, when Tories were our natural rulers, and the hobbldehoy's knew their place, as the deserving poor. I very much doubt a cycle lane would be 'nearly 2 metres wide', possibly 1500mm, from the kerb, including the gutter space-unrideable, and the glass, rocks, sticks, tradies nutsnbolts, tyre bits, and so on. Was this 'lane', a full time lane or part time? Was it just a shoulder? Ah, 'my lane' is the clincher. It's 'my road' and 'I' want to drive 'my car' on 'my road'. Yes, but drivers and riders are equal 'road users', and both are entitled to be on 'the public roads' that we all pay for, even the deserving poor who shuffle along as bag-ladies pay tax when they buy GST taxed goods, as do bag-men. Have you ever noticed how black cars with blacked windows are driven really badly all the time? And those mums in 4WDs taking their kids to inner city private schools? Another point Andrew might have been trying to highlight, maybe? The rush to judgement, to stereotype those who get into 'my way' on 'my roads'.

Andy Fitzharry | 16 February 2012  

It's not necessary to be an expert historian to realise that the rich and powerful make their own rules and, often, the laws that govern us all. Democracy is a counter-force but its existence has always been an uphill struggle. A current, glaring example is the expenditure of millions of dollars on TV ads in the USA in what we would call the 'pre-selection campaigns' of would-be presidential candidates in next year's presidential election. Sadly, this reliance on big money in politics is a trend we are following in Australia in elections themselves. Campaigns are increasingly concentrating on brief, uninformative, but hugely-costly TV advertisements instead of clear explanations of policy. What can be done to stop the rot?

Bob Corcoran | 16 February 2012  

Fr Hamilton’s article contains too many sweeping generalisations. Yet again News Limited are the bad guys. You would think that Fairfax, the ABC and any others, were purer than the driven snow. I regularly read papers from all the main publishers. I do not see that any of them has the market cornered for a lack of balance, bias or insults for those on the opposite side of a debate. Fr Hamilton’s victim list is highly contentious. It is hardly represents the poor, weak and vulnerable. The Unions, as can be seen with the Thomson scandal, are capable of corruption and bullyboy tactics. In addition the deals cut by the Unions in the building of the Victoria’s white elephant desalination plant in Victoria hardly qualifies them as poor. Many religious minorities in Muslim lands would gladly swap places with Muslims in Australia. The average Palestinian in the street is more oppressed by the thugs of Fatah and Hamas than any outsiders. Since when were judges and government ministers part of the powerless poor? I suspect that the main crime of some of News Limited writers is that the simply beg to differ with Fr Andrew’s position. If he named some specific individuals from News Limited, instead of damning the lot, I would possibly agree with him.

Patrick James | 16 February 2012  

I have a zero tolerance policy for bikes. On Sunday mornings they ride two and three abreast on the Warrandyte - Kangaroo Road. When you bid them to move over you get the finger. There is a choice - drive slowly up the hills, cross over the double lines and hope there is no one coming over the crest, or travel many extra kilomteres on an alternate route. Some time ago I was in my car waiting for the traffic lights to change from red. Suddenly there was a thump and scrape on my car. A bike had gone from footpath to road and hit my car, leaving a dent and a scratch on three panels. Swearing by the cyclist, invective directed at me and the way he nursed his arm as he road off through the red light suggested he had hurt himself. I was left with a significant repair bill.

Mike | 16 February 2012  

Don't get me started on people writing texts on the mobiles while walking on busy footpaths - heads down, veering off in all directions and expecting the non-texting pedestrian to move out of their way. How rude is that?

AURELIUS | 16 February 2012  

"As a society we may need to look again at such old fashioned ideals as noblesse oblige, respect, civility, courtesy and consideration.". I think that is tremendously important - if I can add one more, it would be to not rush to judgement. I've watched the media, which presents dramas, not news, with stereotypes and simple good and bad characters, destroy several political leaders. What they are doing to Julia Gillard (Labor) they did to Matt Birney and Troy Buswell (Liberal leaders in W.A.). It's one of the reasons I haven't watched TV for years and don't buy newspapers - they only keep going because they deliver viewers to advertisers. I would like to add not rushing to judgement to Andrew's list because there seems to be some satisfaction in blaming people. I suppose I've been as disappointed by Julia Gillard as anyone on 'the left' but I remember her background: the working class welsh background, the socialist affiliations at university, working for Slater & Gordon (known as the firm that takes on cases for 'the battlers', and her position in the left faction of the ALP, and that gives me pause - she's obviously a person who has consistently supported the less privileged in the community. Maybe she's compromising her principles more than I like, maybe I don't know the whole story behind her decisions. I can disagree with her decisions, but I don't have to come to some definitive negative judgement about her character. It seems the media encourages people to go the other way: "here's the story and here's the verdict - she's no good!" None of us would want to be treated that way.

Russell | 16 February 2012  

Shared bicycle paths are a complete comedy of errors and misunderstandings. People out for a morning walk along the Yarra or the Plenty quite rightly feel that they should enjoy this simple pleasure without constantly having to use the eyes in the back of their head to see oncoming cyclists, whose main interest seems to be to miss the strollers by 2 cm at 50 mph. Whether on the pathways or the road, everyone sees their rights as superior to those of everyone else. Some are better at asserting those rights by use of ballistic verbal abuse. Meanwile on the road, cyclists see cars as metal elephants with no sense of direction, motorists see bikes as mosquitoes that at any unpredictable moment will swerve right in front of them. It’s hopeless really. Even the innocent pleasure of jaywalking down the street is no longer just illegal but lethal. Bicycle-only thoroughfares should be the norm in parts of Melbourne, it’s about time. Fortunately Melbourne has at least one form of self-regulation in this regard. One of the basic rules of life is constant in a changing world: no one argues with a tram.

PENNY FARTHING | 16 February 2012  

Aurelius, I may not agree with you on the just war theory, but I find myself 100% with you on those who walk and text, but don't look.

MJ | 16 February 2012  

To all the anti-cyclists who've commented here - you better get used to bicycles and learn to live with them because there will be no petrol-guzzlers in heaven, just eco-friendly bicycles.

And to PENNY FARTHING, if you need to use eyes in the back of your head to see oncoming bicycles, it sounds like you are in a bit of a spin.

AURELIUS | 16 February 2012  

I wonder if this is an example of the weak being suppressed by the strong in the media?

It's never raised the slightest murmur in the Fairfax press that global warming scientists and advocates (Al Gore, Flannery, etc) are funded billions by Big Oil, Greenpeace, WWF, governments, the U.N., etc. But when it emerges that sceptic Dr Bob Carter is paid a $1500 per month honorarium by the Heartland Institute ... zip! it's front page news (see the Age today).

HH | 16 February 2012  

Well, HH, if you think about it, the tag "global warming scientists" is the equivalent of "scientists who believe the earth is round". If you lived on a low-lying Pacific Island I'm sure you'd by now realise global warming isn't just some wacky theory.

AURELIUS | 16 February 2012  

Thank you Golden Aurelius, your words shine like the Sun. The eyes in the front of my head see the Ferrari-like ego cyclists coming towards me, while the eyes in the back of my head, logically, see the oncoming pests from that vantage. Point being, cyclists in both directions thoroughly spoil the Morning Walk as my companions and I spend the whole time watching out for these lycra-lunatics instead of smelling the air, watching for the birdlife, and wondering in silvery words at how wonderful everything is. No time for that palaver, it’s a constant test just to make sure you’re not the next victim of footpath rage. May I assure you, good Aurelius, this is not my idea of Heaven.

PENNY FARTHING | 16 February 2012  

That raises another curious sociological phenomenon - lycra-envy. For some reason the revealing nature of lycra worn by cyclists stirs up a plethora of primeval/Freudian fears/fantasies and an accompanying array of responses - ranging from aggression to suppressed titillation. Reliable anecdotes from cycling friends and family members attest to this curious rage towards cyclists in lycra - usually from male drivers in utes and V8 Holdens who see them as a threat to their manlihood.

AURELIUS | 16 February 2012  

It would also be fairly accurate to say that a pedestrian should no more irritate a cyclist than they should provoke an unchained pit bull. A bike can do some serious damage to other people. And yes -lycra makes me angry. I don't know why. The only thing worse than lycra is the bobbing lycra-covered rear end of a cyclist who insists on driving as if they were a car - irrespective of road rules,paying registration and third party insurance as I am required to do for the privelege, and seemingly with the odd assumption that the world revolves around them and their road use - their brain is taking risks that their puny lycra-covered body cannot support. Of course,if there is an accident, I am the one arrested for dangerous driving not the cyclist. However it seems a bit precious to extrapolate the ways of cars and bikes to the state of the world, the media and the bad ways humans treat each other in general. Diddums. Are you sure you are not taking yourselves WAY too seriously.

Marion | 16 February 2012  

Aurelius, let me know when houses are available in Tuvalu for less than, say, $10,000 due to feared global warming-induced sea level rise. I'll be in the market for a few. But when the Maldives (Indian Ocean) stop planning to build luxurious seaside resorts, I'll start to rethink.

HH | 16 February 2012  

Andrew, I agree with your final paragraph, but Australia has developed a culture of uncivilised public and private discourse in recent years. Most people are totally focused on their individual needs, feelings and opinion and have very little interest in those of other people. Most communication is one-way and people are not good listeners. The media is a reflection of society attitudes. I am no fan of Shane Warne or the News Ltd. newspapers. Warne is nothing more than an inarticulate celebrity buffoon and the News Ltd. journalists generally are ill-informed and write trivial and celebrity nonsense. Most of the ABC and The Age people are also ill-informed, supercilious and arrogant with their opinions. I am a cyclist and car driver and most cyclists and car drivers in Melbourne and the Bellerine Peninsula have very poor road etiquette. There is also very poor etiquette between cyclists and pedestrians in places such as the Yarra river bike path and the shared cycle track/footpath on Beaconsfield parade. My experience has been that countries such as Viet Nam, Denmark and Germany have a better road and cycle track etiquette than Australia. In Viet Nam the cyclists and motor bike riders generally revert to single file where possible to allow cars, buses and trucks to pass. I see very few examples of courtesy and politeness in Melbourne and the Bellerine Peninsula, exept for women older than 40. I have never found cycling to be unsafe in either Melbourne or the Bellerine Peninsula and my attitude is always to be aware of the road traffic, including cyclists and pedestrians. I do not wear lycra, but have a long sleeved brightly coloured tee-shirt, flashing red tail-light and bell and I always try and give adequate signals to car drivers and other cyclists when passing, turning etc. I had an experience in Torquay a few days ago when a young bloke did not look behind when opening his car door; I stopped and asked him for a chat and told him that I noticed that he did not look behind before opening his door which could be dangerous to cyclists. I asked him to be more careful in future. He was apologetic and admitted that he did not think when opening the door. I also am often bemused at the attitude of some cyclists, especially when I hear of accidents such recently in the northern suburbs of Melbourne when a woman cyclist was killed in poor light at 6.15am when not wearing a helmet and listening to something on her electronic gadget.

Mark Doyle | 17 February 2012  

Aurelius, lycra should be banned for anyone above, say, 35. Particularly men. I don't think all the giggles are about envy...or titillation.

There are, after all, some natural limits to equality. (-:

Penelope | 17 February 2012  

HH, it's already happening in Tuvalu and the residents of those cheap houses have now moved to live in Australia and New Zealand. Maldives is still a good place to invest in property though - if you buy a garden view apartment, it will be ocean view within a few years.

AURELIUS | 17 February 2012  

I admit, with maximum grovelling, that cycling is morally superior to driving. That said, I've never, as a pedestrian, had to share the pedestrian crossing with a motor vehicle crossing the road with me on the same pedestrian crossing. I frequently have to do this with bikes. Why do cyclists not push their bikes across the pedestrian crossing if they're using the footpath anyway? Why do I have to hobble aside on pedestrian crossings in Brunswick, Carlton and St Albans, in order to avoid cyclists? Why? Why? If there's a Pedestrian Rage Club, I want to join it!!

Joan Seymour | 17 February 2012  

"The media is a reflection of society attitudes" Yes and no. What we see in the media is influenced by pressure from advertisers and owners, and also by who has the resources (think mining magnates!) to produce materials to feed to journalists - those privately funded think tanks etc. It's always been true - money talks!

Russell | 17 February 2012  

Aurelius, you'll be relieved to know that most of the islands of Tuvalu have either remained static or expanded in size over the last 60 years, as even the New Scientist has acknowledged (2 June 2010). No-one has emigrated because of actual flooding from the sea, and in Funafuti (capital), "would-be migrants do not cite climate change as a reason to leave" ("Climate change, migration and adaptation in Funafuti, Tuvalu" in Global Environmental Change, Vol 19 No 1, 2009.) And tragically (for me) real estate prices there have remained very firm. As for the Maldives, well, you better contact them quick with whatever data you have: they're not only building luxury beach resorts on tiny islands - they're planning on constructing 11 new (obviously ground-level) airports.

HH | 17 February 2012  

Agree entirely. Media is focussed on the empowered. Minority opinions are derided. Diversity of opinion and respect should be encouraged.

Jack V Russell | 17 February 2012  

You have named and shamed an institutional and ubiquitous evil in the Australian psyche. Why are we so vulnerable to it i wonder?

graham patison | 20 February 2012  

Enjoyed your article 'Shane Warne and News Limited'd hostility cycle', including where the weaker are chastised, but why mention the Palastinians as weaker. Go to that part of the world and understand the history of both sides before you so blatantly feel sorry for the Palastinians without commenting on the whole story and the one sided views of so much of the media.

Desmond Chenik | 23 February 2012  

While cycling up Sydney Rd a Black BMW SUV (all three items trigger defense responses!) started to pull out then stopped just before knocking into me. The driver leaned out of the window and said "Sorry about that mate, don't worry, I'm not Warnie!". Stereotypes 0, Common Decency 1.

Laurie Savage | 05 March 2012  

This is where Eureka Street needs a 'Like' button ... *Like* @ Laurie Savage's comment!

Charles Boy | 05 March 2012  

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