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Issue #1689      June 17, 2015

Culture & Life

Media culture’s class act

“Divide and conquer” is one of those imperialist phrases that applies very well to the present day. But it won’t cover all contingencies. When a politician wants out of a fight, rather than in, then it’s time to invoke that other ploy so popular with imperial statesmen: “distract and evade”.

The Courier Mail’s campaign began with the announcement that UNESCO had given the reef a “clean bill of health”. What the report actually said was that the health of the reef was “poor, and declining due to coastal development and climate change”.

Take the present farce over “coding”, the job-skill of the future, which the neo-capitalist government and the equally neo-capitalist opposition have made their top priority in education policy (this month). And why have they done that? Well, according to them, it’s because 3D printing and artificial intelligence are about to change everything forever. That’s what they’re saying. Just like voice recognition software, which they said would make all keyboards (and trained typing skills) obsolete by the end of the 1990s. Remember that? Well, it’s 2015 now and keyboard skills are as important as they ever were. So why had they made such a fuss about Voice Recognition?

Because talking about the “enormous opportunities for prosperity” which are “about to change everything forever” distracts everybody from the real issues in education – the ones we’ve already heard about – which the politicians would rather continue to avoid: failing schools, lack of specialist support for students, the increasing shift away from comprehensive publicly funded schools to private education, poor international rankings in literacy and numeracy, and countless other real, and very difficult issues, that confront Australia’s education system.

While the politicians are seeking to avoid the social issues, the same cannot be said for the corporate media. They have never been so politically active. Constantly in a state of outrage, they have taken to liberally spraying us all with a daily dose of their opinion on politics, politicians, political institutions, policy proposals, activists, dissidents, sceptics, terrorists, vegetarians, and of course, the state of economic development in Australia. Happily for the big developers, the opinion of the corporate media manages the marvellous trick of coinciding exactly with whatever the developers happen to want most that very week.

Take the example of the Courier Mail. They spent the past week running a massive campaign to wreck the credibility of the activist organisation Get-Up. This organisation has been very successful in mobilising public opposition to the Adani and Abbot Point projects on the Great Barrier Reef. The Courier Mail’s campaign began with the announcement that UNESCO had given the reef a “clean bill of health”. They went on to accuse Get-Up of using “fraud” and “lies” to stir up the public.

They devoted space and editorial rhetoric to the story, which painted a picture of proud Australian industry at risk, just when it’s most needed by the community, due to the outrageous interference of wrong-headed people. Take that, Greenies! What the UNESCO report actually said was that the health of the reef was “poor, and declining due to coastal development and climate change”.

They were unable to classify it as “in danger” because that category is reserved for environments that are actually in the process of being destroyed by active development. This won’t apply to the Barrier Reef until the Adani project commences. However, with the Courier Mail doing all it can to get the public on side, we won’t have to wait very long for that.

It is remarkable that the corporate media should be so active, and so widely seen by us all, given they profess to be in a severe state of economic downturn and market instability caused by the difficult transition from “old-school” publishing to the online era. Well, you wouldn’t know it. Even as the various media companies are shedding staff in unprecedented numbers, and abandoning print-media, the amount of propaganda they are able to produce and distribute goes up. Perhaps I’m cynical, but I suspect this demonstrates a basic correlation: fewer people reviewing each other’s work means more irresponsible bullshit getting to press. A win/win for the media companies.

Besides being a highly favourable situation for corporations that want to play politics, and politicians who want to avoid the business in front of them, our media culture has produced a situation which is damned essential for those people who are busy conducting the “War On Terror”. Their campaign is nowhere without ready access to a public bulletin board that will publish daily announcements (mostly designed to frighten us and turn us against each other) without hesitating ten seconds to wonder whether any of it is true. For this, they need look no further than Murdoch, the American fox in Australia’s media chicken-coop.

Not content with persecuting SBS for broadcasting Struggle Street (a program which showed people on welfare were doing it tougher than anybody previously imagined), the Daily Telegraph went further with its claims that Centrelink is a major sponsor of terrorism in Australia. The Prime Minister didn’t hesitate to back up the story, possibly pleased to be able to add the dole office to his personal list of “criminal institutions”, along with bikie gangs and unions.

But when the PM gives credibility to an allegation concerning terrorism, the Senate has to check it out. You know, in case it’s true. Well, we can all relax, because it isn’t. “Almost all Jihadis are on welfare” has been rounded down to “In fact, none”. Mind you, I’ll never look at a Meals-On-Wheels van the same way again.

Speaking of persecutory behaviour, when the Prime Minister recently brought his cabinet colleagues in for some heavy whipping, and had them all swear a fresh oath of loyalty to him, he described it as a “Come to Jesus moment”. He went on to say that he had told his cabinet there would be “political and personal consequences” for leaking Cabinet affairs to the press. Personal consequences?

It’s easy to see how their political opportunities could suffer from his displeasure, but how will he make them suffer “personal” consequences? Run over the family cat with his car? Can you threaten the personal affairs of your colleagues? “Come to Jesus ... before he hurts you ...”

On the subject of being threatened by one’s own senior officials, I should like to pay a small tribute to a cultural document from the far side of the planet. A bill of law which was filed not very many years ago in the British parliament. The “Human Rights Act”. It’s a refreshingly simple document, easy to use. Best kind of guarantee you can have really, the one with simple wording. It lists the rights you have.

The right to seek work, the right to protection from torture, the right to marry. The right to freedom of “expression and thought”. That’s an important one. No complicated exemptions, or strange sub-clauses explaining the state’s option to withhold some or all of your rights from you if and when they see fit. It just lists your rights, and charges the state with the responsibility for seeing that you get them.

Just so everybody knows who the state is meant to be working for. And what do the Tories want? They want it scrapped. It’s in their way.

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