All Greek to me


Hardly a week, hardly a day goes by without examples of police brutality being reported somewhere in the world. Mounted police charging into peaceful demonstrators, suspects tasered to death, handcuffed prisoners shot dead, people in custody beaten up in watch houses, arrested and restrained people sprayed in face with capsicum spray, people dragged behind police cars, people in police trucks left to die from the heat on hot days, you name it, it’s happened somewhere yesterday, happening today, will happen tomorrow.

All par for the course when armed, uniformed men, with absolute authority, are given power over the powerless. Much the same happens in prisons. Or in wartime. But I didn’t want to talk about the actual brutality so much, as about what follows.

Generally nothing.

As soon as an accusation is made, or CCTV or mobile phone footage comes to light, the police force swings into action. Counter accusations will be made against brutalised victims, calls for consideration of “context” of the event, demands that it be recognised what a difficult job police have. Leading politicians, high-ranking police chiefs by their side, will, grim-faced, support their thin blue line. Internal enquiries will be promised. Things will be got to the bottom of.

Police union heavies will hold press conferences, appear on shock jock radio, calling for sympathy and understanding for the traumatised policemen involved, demand that no action be taken, criticise even the suggestion of a totally secret internal investigation.

What there will not be, from any policeman or policewoman, is any hint of sympathy for the victims of the police action, or any hint of criticism of the police concerned. Call that solidarity, this is solidarity. The thin blue line is suddenly very thick indeed, guarding the bridge against the barbarians. The barbarians being the 99.9% of the population who are not members of the police force.

The other occupation, apart from police, derived from the Greek word “polis” meaning both city-state and body of citizens (who created and governed the city-state) is politician. Hardly a week, hardly a day goes by without examples of politicians making sexist and racist remarks, using refugees as political footballs, talking garbage about climate change, favouring the very rich while pretending at principled action, and so on. You think of a piece of wrong-headed, stupid, nasty and vicious comment that could be made, and it was yesterday, is being made today, will be made tomorrow.

Bad enough that we have people in politics with minds like gutters, sewers even, but it gets worse. No sooner is the comment made than leaders of the political party concerned, fellow members, will be blitzing tv, radio, newspapers, to defend the obnoxious remarks, spin them, soften them. Shock jocks will join in to make it seem that this new level of gutter politics is perfectly reasonable, honest, accurate, is now, in fact, the new norm.

What there will not be is any hint that the politician was wrong in what they said about refugees, Aborigines, climate change, single parents, lesbians and gays, environmentalists, the poor. The thin blue line of conservative politicians will be there to hold the line against the outraged politically correct 90% of the public who do not share those views.

Look I get it, really I do. Football players will rally around someone who has stamped on an opponent’s head, soldiers around those who have shot civilians, doctors around those who have damaged patients, lawyers around those who fail clients in court. Defend your fellow workers when they are in trouble and they will defend you when you are. But even without that reciprocity element, the compulsion to look after your own is very strong, perhaps hard-wired back to when the first band of early humans dashed across the savannah pursued by lions. Even on a much larger scale, the concept of “my country right or wrong” “love it or leave it” seems to be a common feature of countries which differ in everything else.

Poor young Bradley Manning has recently completed 1000 days of solitary confinement in very nasty conditions, not even actually charged, let alone convicted. He was a whistleblower, but those responsible for the nastiness he helped expose (for example the helicopter crew massacring Iraqi civilians in Baghdad), remain unpunished, uncriticised even, while he has been subject to the acrimony of a whole nation.

The American government seems determined to ensure that Manning’s treatment will be a warning to others, that no one will ever again break ranks and reveal wrong doing. That the interests of the state and those of its citizens are no longer inextricably linked as the Greeks had envisaged.

Police and politicians seem to have never believed they were. I don’t get it.

It’s all Greek to me.

The Three and a Half


The Canberra Press Gallery has always been, necessarily, close to its subjects of study. Not a unique situation perhaps, if we think of, say, the worlds of Music, Sport, Art, Agriculture, Finance, but very different from those of say Science, Medicine, Law.

In recent times the linkages, the shared workplace, the chumminess, the personal partnerships, the commonality of interests, the sense of being not observed and objective observer but politicomedia gang members, seems much greater than ever before.

The proprietors of the media have moved to the Right and taken their staff with them. As a result, these days journalists have a much closer sense of common beliefs, goals, tactics, teamwork, with the conservative parties of the Coalition and the more conservative members of the government. Which in turn has led to even more team bonding and confusion of roles.

The Press Gallery now see themselves not as objective, arms length reporters of their subjects and subject matter, but, rather like those embedded with army units, as part of the regiment. Sharing objectives, helping their team defeat the enemy (the government), capture the Hill, plant the Conservative flag firmly on the House flagpole.

Conversely the politicians see their role more as a media one – packaging press releases, delivering sound bites, performing photogenic stunts. At best these things are content-free, most are partial or total lies, at worst they are vicious smears. They are not designed to withstand any kind of rational analysis, they are designed to provide a tv news image, a radio shock jock talking point, a tabloid headline.

They will receive no rational analysis. Because journalists and politicians are so close, working together, socialising together, eating meals together, perhaps on occasion sleeping together, the fodder of the press event seems completely unremarkable to journalists. They will consist of words, phrases, sneers they will have heard, may indeed have contributed to, in a hundred late night conversations in rooms, corridors, restaurants, bars, as they socialised with their friends. It would be no more appropriate to analyse, dissect, criticise, such conversations, than it would be to do that to discussions with family and friends.

Having sleep-walked into this tender trap the journalists, being professionals, would surely welcome wake-up calls from outside observers, consumers of the media? Well, if you think that your knowledge of human nature is a little lacking. Just as criticism of, say, the behaviour of a policeman has the police cars forming a protective circle, so do journalists protect their brothers and sisters from the non-professionals. Indeed, criticism of the politicians, also their brothers and sisters-arms, will be treated in the same way.

But really, how could there BE criticism? Only the journalists are privy to the late night gossip sessions, only they know where the bodies are buried, where others will be buried. Only they know the buzz, the vibe, the context. There are no other stories, hell, there are no other ways of presenting the stories. Media and politicians are in perfect agreement as to what the narrative-du-jour will be, and how it will be sold to the world outside the politicomedia one. The journalists, hearing and reading criticism from, say, the upstart social media, are probably genuinely puzzled, indeed hurt, that they could be so misjudged for simply doing their job of repeating the indisputable. And seek ever more eagerly the warm embrace of their crowd of insiders.

Fourth Estate? Three and a Half Estate.