Play up play up

7

The last football match I went to, forty years ago, was Coventry Reserves playing Preston North End Reserves (starring an ancient Nobby Styles) in 1974. I say this to demonstrate my lack of interest in football as a spectator sport rather than for any historic interest (other than the aforesaid young Nobby) in that game itself.

Oh, I have watched on tv the odd cup and grand final since then, read an occasional analytical piece on, say, “the future of rugby league” – I always aim to be able to hold my end up for two minutes in a discussion on any subject, part of being civilised. But no more than 2 minutes on sport.

So here is my two minute’s worth. When one team is successful in a season, more so in two, other teams strive to copy, and improve on, the reasons for their success. Aim to, say, handball long distances, flood defensive zones, work in pairs, whatever the tactical secret has been, but do it faster, stronger, more accurately. There is a limit, you see, to innovation, set by line markings, offside laws, restrictions on tackling style, and so on. Unless, like William Webb Ellis, you are going to catch a ball and then decide to run, changing a game forever, you are stuck with the limits placed upon you by the rules of the game. Indeed the beauty of football, as of any game, and arts such as music and poetry, is of maximum achievement within the limits of a framework.

But this tells you more than you want to know about football if I am any judge of my audience. It was a rather long-winded, and a little pretentious, introduction to yet another pensee on politics. But be fair, sporting metaphors are obligatory for any serious political pundit.

Political parties learn from each other just as footballers do. If one political party has success, a run of election wins, its rival will copy its tactics, try to do them better – more effective tv ads, more door-knocking, better slogans, bigger billboards. But there is a difference – in principle there are no sidelines, offside rules, tackle laws. Should be no reason why one player wouldn’t comment “only one team is playing football out there”. The other might be playing, oh, say cricket.

It is curious then that in practice the parties behave as if there were Hoyle’s Laws of Politics. More than curious. In politics, the best strategy would seem to be to NOT copy what your rival has done, but to try for something completely different. If your opponent is removing environmental protection you should restore and add to it; they support private schools, you support public ones; private medicine triumphing under one party, socialised medicine should look to triumph under the other.

But this isn’t what happens these days in Australia (or elsewhere) although once upon a time it did. Instead the managers, coaches, of the political teams strive for the tactic of me-too-ism. Anything you can do we can do better is the approach. Money for new babies? More money for new babies. Cheap power? Cheaper power. New roads? More new roads. And so on. The umpires, sorry, voters, are asked to decide on the winners of the political game when both teams are performing almost identically.

Why is it so? Well because there other interests at play in this sporting life. Interests that have come, in recent times (perhaps they always did!), to be the people who actually add guidelines, rules, to the political game. Both political teams these days are playing strong within constraints imposed by a third umpire upstairs. The rules are – taxes, especially for the rich, can only be cut, never increased; regulations must be removed not written; defence spending must always increase, American alliance must not be questioned; development always trumps environment; private always trumps public. And so on.

Curiously, perhaps, these laws of the political game just happen to suit the financial interests of the pool of people from whom the third umpires are provided.

Let is be clear here. The problem is not that there is a group of people with financial interests who are taking part in the political process in order to advance those interests in competition with other groups in society with other interests. That after all is the broad definition of politics. No the problem is that we have a situation as if one group of footballers on a field decided on the rules that all the others would play by, rules which favoured them.

Leaving sporting metaphor behind (at last!), the political reality we now have is that what was once a political spectrum all the way from far left to far right, from A to Z, is now a spectrum that runs only from far right to extreme right, from Y to Z.

The other day in Australia, after consternation about the order of the Labor Senate ticket in WA and its apparent lack of relationship to candidate ability, Bill Shorten called for some reform of the Labor Party he leads. The only thing he spoke of (as did others) was the link between party and unions. But the party actually needs to be recreated as a progressive social democrat party with Green links.

No one suggested this? Why not? Well, you know the answer. The party is constrained by the invented rules. If the Party attempted to return to its roots – to improve pay and conditions for workers, push public ownership, look after the disadvantaged, tax the rich more than the poor, and, in partnership with The Greens, protect the environment, support progressive social policies, culture, science. Whatever Mr Shorten’s personal beliefs and preferences, whatever those of some at least of his colleagues, any attempt to put distance between Labor and his conservative opponents, to give the public a genuine choice, would be met with a storm of booing, disqualifications, bookings, sending-offs, by the third umpire. The media will not permit any attempt to again expand the political spectrum, to suggest policies that will advantage any interests except those of the super rich.

Bill Shorten I think knows the rules of the game, knows how he must play the game, as well as Nobby Styles knew how to play football 40 years ago. So do all of us. No doubt who wins every political game these days.

Pixels made flesh

39

“What do we want?”
“A slogan.”
“When do we want it?”
“Now.”

Went to the Canberra “March in March” protest today, so need to write about it. Everyone else has written about their own experiences among the 100,000 plus people who marched in cities and towns all over Australia in last three days, so I should too. 100,000 people, by the way, virtually ignored by the media (except to complain about one or two signs, out of thousands, with a rude word or two, in order to discredit the event), but whose actions, just 6 months into the term of a new government, are unprecedented.

The Canberra event was much like the other events everywhere. It all had a pleasantly amateurish feel – no professional protesters or rent-a-crowd here. Ordinary people with no second names (“I’m Jim” “I’m Lisa” and so on) standing in front of an “open mic”, most clearly for the first time, saying in a few stumbling, and in one case tearful, words, why they had made the effort to come. Young and old, radical-looking and very conservative, men and women (about equal numbers), straight and gay, Aboriginal and “indigenous” (as one Aboriginal speaker put it), local Canberra and “from Goulburn” “from Newcastle” “from overseas”, healthy and not-so-healthy.
…Read more

Change the country

16

This is the 27th Australian federal election in my lifetime. There have also been 17 US Presidential elections and 18 British general elections in that enormous stretch of time.

I can’t remember any of them that were not billed as significant, turning-point, world-changing, most-important-election-in-our-lifetime, events. And yet, with the wisdom of hindsight looking back over nearly seven decades, the number that actually proved of great moment could be counted on two hands. In America the elections of Kennedy, Nixon, Reagan and GW Bush were the biggies. In Britain those of Attlee, Wilson, Thatcher, Blair and Cameron. In Australia the elections of Menzies, Whitlam, Howard, Rudd and Gillard were, in retrospect, significant. The kind of significance Keating meant when, looking down the barrel of defeat by Howard, he said “change the government, change the country”, and he was certainly right about that 1996 election.

And here comes another one in Australia that can honestly be billed as a country-changing moment. Arguably indeed the most significant such election in post-War Australia.
…Read more

500 miles

35

So this is blog post number 500 and I thought I should do something to mark the occasion, bit of a retrospective.

But no cause for celebration that I can see. I began the blog in late 2005, following a year or so of writing a column for a couple of local newspapers. It seems a very long time ago, and much has happened in personal terms as well as nationally and internationally in the last 8 or so years.

I began blogging in an attempt to add my voice to the many other new voices which were beginning to emerge, in Australia and around the world, to challenge the mainstream media voices. I not only began this blog but began contributing to the new Huffington Post, the first attempt at a commercial version of a blog, and to the ABC, Australia’s public broadcaster, as it caught up with the new medium of blogs.
…Read more

Great Expectations

11

Hooray, hooray, The Guardian newspaper now has an Australian edition as of this morning. Glad cries from progressives, more and more perturbed, no, angry, at the increasingly blatant right-wing bias of all the other mainstream media in Australia, not just the 70% of newspapers owned by Murdoch, but the others (mainly Fairfax), the radio talk shows, and the public broadcaster the ABC. Please please, came the cry, come to Australia, oh lovely Guardian newspaper where reality creates a left-wing bias, come and save us. And here, at last, they are.
…Read more

Happily-ever-aftering

4

Twitter provides so much inspiration for blogging (and vice versa) that you could, given an infinite amount of time and pep pills and typewriter ribbon, blog all day and all night. I thought today I would illustrate some of this, picking up on a number of stories and blogging briefly about them.

Here is the first:

Shoky Joky (@IH8SHOKJOKS)
25/03/13 9:03 AM
#AmAgenda – Fifield says “we never saw anything like a challenge to John Howard”. That’s just a lie which @Kieran_Gilbert accepted. #MSMfail

There are dozens of similar tweets just in my timeline every day, and I don’t want to talk about individuals here, this exchange could represent any Opposition member talking to any journalist. But let’s consider what is going on.

For the benefit of my younger readers (those born after 2007), here is some of John Howard’s political history. From 1983-1993 he was engaged in a life and death acrimonious struggle with Andrew Peacock for Liberal Party Opposition Leadership during the first ten years of Hawke-Keating.

They undermined each other and exchanged places after leadership coups several times, the battle ending only when Peacock lost the 1990 election and resigned but not before supporting John Hewson as his successor and blocking Howard from regaining leadership.

After Hewson lost in 1993, the almost comedy team of Downer and Costello took over after deposing Hewson in another bitter coup. Downer eventually resigned in 1995 and Howard got a triple bypass and, Lazarus-like, rose again. With a deal done with Costello that he would accept the Deputy Leadership if Howard agreed to step down within a reasonable period.

It never happened, Costello became more and more aggrieved, was more and more publicly at odds with Howard and determined to replace him. The bad blood between them was obvious, and much remarked on (and the exact parallels with the Hawke-Keating relationship). By 2007 it was also becoming obvious Howard could lose the election, and some of his most senior ministers went to him (in an exact parallel to what would later happen to Rudd) demanding that he resign and hand over to Costello. He refused and went on to lose of course.

Now all of this has happened just in the last 30 years. The bitter Costello challenge of Howard is within the last ten years. This is recent Australian political history. You might not remember the precise sequence involved in Howard-Peacock and so on, but if you have any involvement in Australian politics you would have to know the substance of it.

In short, in 30 years Howard was “challenged” over and over again. The only difference between Hawke-Keating and Howard-Costello, and Howard and Rudd, was that Howard was able to tough out the later challenges (as he had failed to do in the earlier ones) whereas both Hawke and Rudd succumbed to their’s.

And yet here we have an Opposition member apparently flat-out denying the reality of history, never happened, Howard was never challenged, (implying only Labor has challenges). And he in turn is allowed to rewrite history because his statement goes unchallenged. We have, it seems, always been at war with Oceania.

I repeat, this is merely a single example of something that happens daily now. I don’t know whether the Opposition deliberately lies or has fooled itself into its own alternative history reality of a King Howard who lived where:
“The rain may never fall till after sundown.
By eight, the morning fog must disappear.
In short, there’s simply not, a more congenial spot
For happily-ever-aftering than here in Camelot”

And happily-ever-aftering we go.

On the other hand I don’t know whether Australian journalists are operating under instructions never to question even the most blatant untruths; whether they are personally disinclined to; or whether knowledge of Australian political history is no longer a requirement for employment in Australian political journalism. Those who forget political history are doomed to report it badly.

Whatever the reasons, this turning of journalism into merely a matter of holding a microphone for a politician to speak into is extraordinarily damaging to Australian democracy (and elsewhere, much the same seems to be true of the US and UK). The average punter doesn’t retain political memories in the way us political tragics do. Just as he or she doesn’t have expertise in, say, medicine, or plumbing, or car engines, or climate change, and trusts specialists to provide it, so they trust experts to provide background, context, for politics.

If they are told, confidently, that John Howard was never challenged, by someone whose statement itself is unchallenged, then they are likely to accept it as true. History has been successfully rewritten, and, being so, will successfully alter the mindset of the voter to accept that leadership disputes have only taken place in the last year, and only ever take place in an inherently unstable Labor Party. A message that fits with all the similar messages, based on other rewritten histories, already implanted.

Media organisations used to have Fact Checkers, a role which seems to have largely disappeared these days. But in a broader sense the public once saw the media as a whole as a Giant Fact Checker responsible, on their behalf, for keeping the bastards honest. That role has been totally abandoned it seems and now the bastards have no constraints on their dishonesty.

It seems to be increasingly falling to the Social Media, Twitter and Blogs, to take over that vacant media fact checker role. Australia still won’t be Camelot, but we’ll be happier with our politics after that happens.

Or perhaps I am wrong. Check me.

Own Goaaaaaaal!

19

Yesterday in Australia we saw the media in full blown raw and uncut uncamouflaged action as they thought they were witnessing the successful culmination of another year’s hard work in unseating a female Prime Minister. And one reason for their campaign was out in the open, thanks to the magic of twitter.

From the moment the starter’s gun (in the unpredicted form of Wiley E. Crean) went off the journalists were in heaven. Finally they had an actual football match, er, sorry, leadership challenge, in the flesh, to report. It was as if one of those loony tunes evangelists, after years of predicting the end of the world at dates calculated by adding random numbers from hymn books, was suddenly told that a rather large asteroid was heading straight at Earth and would be hitting in a couple of hours.

Off they went, these gangs of football hooligans, sorry, journalists, must stop doing that, to roam parliament house looking for a spot of bovver, er, sorry, looking for some solid news to illuminate the story for the public.

And sure enough, these hard-headed, experienced journalists were soon coming up with real nuggets of KFC, sorry, gold. One bumped into a couple of Rudd supporters who said their man had the numbers. Others were reporting a scorecard produced by Sky which had Gillard narrowly ahead (was it 52-38, I forget) but with “9 undecided”, numbers which seemed to have been generated by a water diviner passing a stick over a list of caucus names.

Others, seeking, perhaps much more scientific psephology were quoting bookies’ odds. Again, I forget the exact figures, but they had Rudd as unbackable as Phar Lapp, and Gillard less likely to win than the Australian cricket team was to win the fourth test in India. The reporters were delighted to report that Kevin Rudd, finally arriving in parliament, was writing things down on a bit of paper. Who knew what, but, obviously, obviously, he was number-crunching, ticking off names as his supporters, water-boarding recalcitrants in the APH car park, advised him through a Protective Services style ear piece, that another former Gillard supporter, poor deluded fool, had come in from the cold.

Still others, uninterested in the boring facts and figures, and searching for human faces to put on the number-crunching faceless men, peered breathlessly down distant corridors where, Swiss clock-like, Stephen Smith was going in this door and out another, while Anthony Albanese moved in another, as different journos reported. Another had several Gillard supporters, probably ashen-faced, in the PM’s Berlin bunker, sorry, Office. Another had “twenty” Rudd supporters in with Kevin. Great heavens, were they holding the 9 undecideds hostage? Still, this “story” was rather spoilt by another intrepid reporter who managed to peep into Rudd’s office and realised that if there were 20 supporters in there they must be very small people indeed.

Anyway, after a lot of this kind of nonsense some journalists bleated, sorry, tweeted, that the Federal Police had, while, surprisingly perhaps, not having kettled the journos, had blocked off their access to the PM’s office and surrounds. And so the main fun was over.

Into the chamber where the next enthralling quarter of football, sorry, politics, was to be played. What were the team line-ups? Great heavens, the coaches were talking to the substitute players, now what? Wow, game on, great tactic from the West Abbott Albions, and totally unexpected, this’ll catch out the Red Devils, a non confidence motion. Wait, what, oh, has to be an SSO first, um, right, dunno much about football, but whatever works. Oh look, the Red Devil subs are playing with the Albion, it’s all over for Full Forward Gillard, she’s lost. What? A technicality means she hasn’t? Boo the umpire, shouldn’t be a woman, hey don’t know nothing about football. What? Game over? But they lost the no confidence … What? There wasn’t? Silly game.

Quick off to the change rooms, see the biffo of the second half.

What? No biffo? No contest? Red Devil wins again without even trying?

How to explain this to the public? Oh, easy, just like we’ve been explaining it last three years. The contest was real, Rudd had the numbers, Abbott wins, Gillard loses. Can just recycle all those earlier fantasy football columns, right? Right.

Who’s for the pub?

Lay down misere

6

Andrew Elder has written an excellent piece suggesting that the Liberal Party is engaged in trying to makeover Tony Abbott’s image into that of an Antipodean Ronald Reagan:
“The sunny optimism and pleasantness that Abbott showed in his 60 Minutes appearance reminded me of Ronald Reagan. Reagan’s demeanour made him more appealing than his policies of cutting social welfare and decreasing taxes for the wealthy might otherwise have seemed. And he diminished criticism by not letting it get to him.”

I reckon Andrew is probably right. A very difficult tactic to counter as Reagan’s opponents from Carter onwards discovered. “Don’t worry be happy” could be a theme song with an Australian accent for the “Tony One Three” campaign. The more Gillard and Swan attack with, you know, facts about the economy, the more Albanese boasts about 500 pieces of legislation, the more it reinforces their image as being negative tinkerers, while Tony just beams his way through. May, as Andrew suggests, use Reagan’s “there you go again” to deflect any of that troubling discussion about actual policies. Just vote for him, the message will be, and it will be morning in Australia and happy days will be here again. A vote for Gillard, the implicit message will go, is a vote for a misery guts who thinks Australia isn’t perfect, that things need fixing, that people should, in short, worry, be unhappy with their lot.

And yet, and yet… it’s a tactic that relies totally on the acquiescence of the media to succeed. Relies on them being taken in by the sunny smile and the inability to hear questions over the roar of the helicopter. Needs them to be also captivated by the idea that all will be well, don’t you worry about that.

Because it could so easily go the other way. The first to try something like this was Harold Macmillan with his “Never had it so good”. It worked, because many workers were better off, and the economy was going well, and Macmillan won a big victory in 1959. In retrospect though it is seen as an “out of touch with the workers” comment, and is often used to pour scorn on those who use the Reagan tactic.

Imagine, for a moment, that the present Australian government used the Macmillan phrase, or some equivalent. Tried to be sunny and optimistic about the future, didn’t bother people with policies, indicated by their demeanour and smiling expression that the good ship SS Australia was sailing along smoothly under the light touch of a Labor captain.

Before the PM had finished speaking the News Ltd presses would be running hot with Julia Gillard’s face photoshopped on to Macmillan’s body. The ABC reporters would be hot-footing it to western Sydney to find pensioners, old people, migrants, doing it tough, demanding to know how the PM could live on their pensions or unemployment benefits. “Rooted” of Rooty Hill would be writing letters to the Sydney Morning Herald suggesting that the PM was a silver tail from Kirribilli who wouldn’t know the price of Coles Brand bread. Battlers would be queuing up on Alan Jones radio to demand an election to throw this out-of-touch government on the scrap heap of history while Alan agreed that these people should be forced to live on he, Alan’s, wages for a week and see how they got on.

And the more Julia and Wayne tried to smile and be sunny through this onslaught, the more out of touch they would be portrayed as being. And Tony Abbott would appear on breakfast tv looking serious and demanding that the government be honest with people about how tough they were doing it, and promising to give everybody a million dollar note the day after he became PM. Suddenly misery would be good for electoral success.

And the Libs would win with a lay down misere against a government that thought it was holding all the aces.

Steering the ABC Titanic

12

Every now and then, often enough that the phrase is probably encoded as a single keystroke on ABC keyboards, someone from the ABC (Australia’s national public broadcaster, very similar to the BBC) will say “We get allegations of bias from both the Left and the Right so we must be very well-balanced”.

This specious, self-serving narrative has been increasing in frequency over the last three years in parallel with the increasing observations, by those of us on the Left, of the undeniable lurch to the Right that the ABC has made.

Sometimes this narrative might be accompanied by the observation that both a Labor Prime Minister (Keating) and a Liberal (conservative) one (Howard) in recent years have complained about the ABC. And indeed this is a valid observation in the 1990s (and previously) and tells you something important about what was going on. In both cases the objection was that the ABC was a public broadcaster was, without fear or favour, willing to speak truth to power. And since prime ministers of both parties rely totally on fear and favours to govern, and have absolutely no interest in their power being challenged, both hated the scrutiny by the ABC. The commercial networks of course, also greatly interested in favours and power, had absolutely no interest in rocking a conservative government boat too much.

And what sin did ABC journalists and presenters commit in those far-off, almost mythical times? Why, they asked questions of prime ministers and government ministers, of whichever party was in power. Asked questions! And sometimes, and my younger readers will hardly credit this, they would ask a follow-up question when the minister evaded a question the first time! Sometimes even repeat a question, quote a fact or two. If there is anything governments hate it is having their evasions and secrets and fact-free actions exposed to all the world like an Emperor’s new clothes.

So that is the first point. In my observations over many years the only bias in ABC programming was daring to ask questions that governments didn’t want asked, and being so presumptuous as to not accept answers governments wanted accepted. It could be suggested that conservative governments, with their born-to-rule mentality, resent questioning even more than left-wing governments do, and are more likely to see the asking of a question itself as evidence of bias, but neither kind of government is fond of scrutiny.

And so to the second point. The actual actions by Keating and Howard in relation to their anger were quite different. Keating kept on muttering away about how outrageous it all was, or would front a journalist at a function (or in a late night phone call) and set them straight about the error of their ways. But he did this to commercial and ABC journalists alike. No fear or favour there. And no consequences either.

No such ineffective inaction for Howard, who knew the importance of stopping the questioning. “We will decide what questions are asked and the circumstances in which they are answered”, I guess. No mucking around. Appoint members of the ABC Board who were not merely right-wing but culture warriors certain to be sympathetic to Howard’s agenda – not just one or two, but the whole Board. Then appoint a Chairman who in addition to that ideological qualification was also a close personal friend of John Howard’s. Appoint Managing Directors who had the right stuff and then they in turn would appoint senior managers who were politically correct for the new conservative times, and they in turn would appoint reporters and presenters with the right attitudes (often, I understand, from commercial media networks in all three cases). In the meantime shift one presenter, a particularly persistent question asker sideways, and have the Board ensure that there were no mistakes. Pretty soon the thing runs itself, although if evidence of recalcitrance emerges or might emerge, issue instructions, and, if that fails, issue reprimands of staff and apologies to the offended conservatives.

As well as getting the right personnel in place, start playing with the way the organisation does news and current affairs, long its great strength and glory. Add new current affairsprograms designed to be venues on which opinionators can spout forth in prime time. They have to be opinionators, not the “experts” who once appeared on the ABC, because reality has a well-known left-wing bias. And they will be almost all from the far right of the political belief spectrum – preferably the worst former conservative ministers and political staffers and the members of far right thing tanks (see my earlier post here). You justify this by saying you have to get these people on to “balance” the ABC. But since these programs didn’t exist before, the presence of so many right-wing opinionators completely unbalances the ABC, since the rest of the organisation is largely uninvolved in anything to do with politics and current affairs. This torrent of right-wing ideology pouring out of talking heads day after day, all over radio and tv outlets and the new online venue, unchallenged by any fact-checking (because fact-checking has been successfully framed as “bias”), has in itself shifted the ABC a long way to the Right. But wait, there’s more.

ABC News was always the jewel in the crown, the most trusted source of independent objective news in the country. Can’t have that. With a Labor government elected in 2007 it wasn’t enough just to have conservatism rampant in current affairs, the news itself needed to be massaged so that the public would both get the “right” news in the right form, but know the right way to think about it. So, almost un-noticed, the style of ABC News began to change. Instead of just reporting, factually with some information about content, say a Cabinet reshuffle, a policy change, a Prime Ministerial speech, no news bulletin could proceed without a cross to “our political reporter in Canberra” who would massage the news with his or her own ideological prejudices. It would turn out, inevitably, that the reshuffle was a sign of chaos in the government, that the policy change was a backflip, that the speech was shrill or strained. All said with the kind of sorrowful air that precedes a beating from a Thwackum or a Squeers. I can’t remember a single major government action in the last three years presented as simple news without it being massaged to be a negative for the government by a clearly right-wing reporter. Once upon a time this kind of “news interpretation” was left to radio shock jocks or commercial tv breakfast shows and would have been thought outrageous on an ABC news bulletin. Now it is taken for granted as the way one “does news”.

As is the more subtle manipulations involved in the choice of film clip or photo to illustrate a piece, the headlines and captions used, the terminology used (eg “carbon tax”) as derived from the conservative framing, the way the Prime Minister is referred to, the choice of which bits of an event to broadcast, the constant promotion of Opposition stunts, the carefully framed pictures of crowds and their reactions. There is the ubiquitous, apparently obligatory use of the phrase “Tony Abbott says”, “The Opposition said today” to begin items about something the government has done or announced, with or without a later brief comment from the minister concerned. There is even a constant use of Opposition members to comment on some internal Labor Party matter – a promotion, a retirement, a policy debate – which they could not possibly know anything about (the reverse process doesn’t happen). And there is the complete failure of ABC journalists to think or act in any independent matter at all. They no longer it seems do any research or work on their own questions, they simply ask a question that has been framed by the Opposition. Or, even more insidiously, as it has been framed by Rupert Murdoch’s News Ltd publications. Members of whom also regular appear on the ABC to offer spin and interpretations, with any sense that there should be a line drawn between the ABC and its rivals totally gone.

Which brings us back to the proposition we began with about “criticism from left and right = Balance QED”. In spite of all that I have outlined above, the ABC still gets hammered by shock jock columnists and politicians of the stripe of Eric Abetz. In their eyes though the ABC can never be far right enough. If the totality of ABC programming consisted of someone from a Right Wing think tank reading press releases from Menzies House all day they would complain that the sound wasn’t turned up loud enough, or the set was the wrong shade of blue. They get outraged when the ABC dares to mention climate change for example (the stacked Board having insisted that the ABC run, in prime time, the appalling “Great Global Warming Swindle”), or might be perceived as doing something positive about refugees or same-sex marriage. No matter how many right-wing commentators spout their ideology, no matter how the news is massaged, it will never be enough for Eric and friends, in fact they won’t notice.

Conversely when I complain about right-wing bias it is because of what I have outlined above. I am not suggesting that every right-wing opinionator be replaced by a member of Socialist Alliance or Greenpeace, or that news bulletins be vetted by the prime minister’s office. I am suggesting that the obvious sources of bias be removed. That experts once again replace ideologues, that news bulletins contain, well, simply news, that unflattering photos and headlines are not deliberately chosen. The former board members and chairman have now been replaced by a much more neutral group, and this is a good start (although we need a mechanism to ensure that the blatant Howard Board stacking can never occur again). But it is going to take as long to turn the ABC Titanic around as it took to steer it towards the ice pack in the first place. Most of the young people on the staff now have had no experience of what a neutral, professional, objective ABC would actually be like. If I am asking for neutrality, and the Right is asking for even further movement right, it suggests not that the ship is balanced but that it is listing a long way to the right already.

With an Abbott government installed by the media the ABC is going to hit an iceberg and sink totally. We need to change its course before it is too late.

[Once again, apologies to my international readers for parochialism, but I suspect many of the points raised here will ring a bell with concerns about media in other countries]

Peris the thought

16

Political parties are like those “3D images” where red and blue images don’t overlap, and by wearing glasses with separate red and blue lenses your eyes are tricked into seeing the third dimension, seeing the image as if it is a single object.
helene

(Helene, small, icy moon of Saturn. Irregularly shaped, about 36 by 32 by 30 kilometers, Helene orbits at Dione’s leading Lagrange point while brotherly ice moon Polydeuces follows at Dione’s trailing Lagrange point. The sharp stereo anaglyph was constructed from two Cassini images (N00172886, N00172892) captured during a close flyby in 2011. It shows part of the Saturn-facing hemisphere of Helene mottled with craters and gully-like features. APOD http://t.co/KpDILNJe )

There is the political party as the repository of a set of policies, ideas, ideology, world view, opposed to another party with a different set. In a battle to ensure that one party’s policies become those of the country.

Then there is the political party composed of individuals, flawed, talented, stupid, smart, angry, kind, jealous, competing with all the other individuals in the same party for personal supremacy.

We saw a clear case this week in Australia. Some background. Indigenous Australians have very rarely been represented in Australian parliaments. At federal level only three, all since the 1970s, one only since 2010. I think there has only been one at a state level (in WA some years ago), although there have been several in the Northern Territory with its high Aboriginal population in recent years.

Somewhat astonishingly the Australian Labor Party has never had an Aboriginal member of Federal Parliament, while the Liberals have had two (one reluctantly) and the Democrats one.

Anyway, in a first step to rectify this the Prime Minister announced she had, outside of the normal candidate preselection process, invited a well known Aboriginal former international sportswoman to be the Labor NT Senate candidate (and certain winner), to replace the current non-Aboriginal female Senator who has held the position for 15 years.

Ok, win win win all round eh? Loud applause from all concerned? Supportive media? Labor Party welcoming new recruit? Current Senator happily standing aside? Praise for Prime Minister’s creative thinking? Community discussion about ways to get more minority groups into parliament? In your dreaming.

Immediately members of the Labor party stated bitching and backgrounding the media. How dare the PM interfere? The members must decide. Poor choice, what had this woman done anyway? What had the sitting senator done wrong? Rudd (former Prime Minister) supporters outraged. And on and on. The Party members tearing at each other and in doing so opening up wounds that the media and the Opposition were happy to enlarge, the media undertaking, in its usual charming way, a witch hunt to see what if any dirt they could find. On a young woman who had done nothing except put up her hand and say she was interested in serving her country. The very thought of bringing in new blood to the party for a wider good was anathema to many in the Party.

Look I don’t know the background to this inside the Party. There are two diametrically opposed views here and here. I don’t know what qualities Ms Peris might have (although the tears of happiness she shed, standing by the Prime Minister, were a pretty encouraging sign). I have seen enough of life to know that public image, and perceptions, are often wildly at odds with the actual character and performance of some people in the public eye. But at face value Ms Peris seems a good person who has achieved a great deal in her life so far and now has the opportunity to achieve a great deal more.

The process of getting her pre-selected to seek election is one that could be followed a lot more to get other groups into parliament that are scarcely represented (and I don’t just mean ethnic groups, but scientists, artists, teachers, nurses, young people, old people, and so on). It should be welcomed by political parties concerned with their principles and with the well-being of the country.

In his famous call to the American people in that long ago Inauguration, Kennedy said “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country”. It is a call that could be directed at politicians by substituting the word “Party” for “Country”.

Most of the time, the public, issued with those special glasses, sees political parties as they wish to be seen – whole idealistic public-spirited groups concerned only for the well-being of the country they seek to serve. The Nova Peris unpleasantness is one of those occasions where one lens has been removed, and we clearly see the ugliness and self-seeking nature of most politicians (though definitely not all) within their parties.

Time many of them took off their glasses and took a long hard look at themselves in the mirror.