Politicians are continually blamed for their failures but our media is also responsible for the state of public discussion on important issues. This downward media spiral has been led by the Murdoch media’s abuse of power in the three major English-speaking markets – Australia, UK and the US. But other media, including the ABC is performing badly.
In foreign and defence policies we are vassals of the US . Our media is an acolyte.
Take some recent examples.
Our media have accepted without examination the US military/intelligence view that President Assad was responsible for the awful gas attacks in Syria. He may have been responsible. But no independent evidence has been produced. I have not seen any of our media attempt to examine this issue. Given the misinformation that the US has fed us from the Tonkin Gulf incident which led to the US direct intervention in the Vietnam war and Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction which triggered the invasion of Iraq, one would expect some caution from our media in accepting US and Western assessments. The US commercial, military and intelligence complex rolls on. We remain vassals.
But the real issue in Syria and Iraq is not really chemical weapons, as ghastly as they are. The real issue is how Bush, Blair and Howard got us all into the calamity in the Middle East. Our media scarcely ever goes to that fundamental issue. It focuses on symptoms rather than causes.. None of our media has seriously canvassed that we should get out of the Middle East as soon as possible and how do we avoid repeating our mistakes.
Our media, like most other media around the world has been highly skeptical of Donald Trump. But as soon as Trump puts on his Commander in Chief uniform, we supinely follow and applaud his attacks in Syria and a threatened attack on the DPRK. The Daily Telegraph tells us that Donald Trump is showing Malcolm Turnbull how to lead.
As Ramesh Thakur in this blog has asked ‘Do we seriously think that Trump is more credible, reliable and moral than Presidents Xi and Putin. We have joined the good ship USS America and seem unwilling to admit that we have signed on to keep sailing with a very dangerous captain.
The US has a long and disturbing record of intervention in foreign countries with its powerful military bases spread all around the world. Putin and Xi are autocratic. But where is the evidence from our media that they are more of a risk than Donald Trump. Our media avoids the issue when it rally matters.
Iraq and the consequences
Our media, without exception, supported the Iraq invasion and the disastrous consequences. None of our media has admitted their mistake as major media groups have done in UK and US. None of our media have called for an enquiry like Chilcot in the UK as to how we got involved in this disaster. John Howard is never seriously questioned for his role in the appalling death and destruction in the Middle East that he helped trigger. Perhaps he is allowed to run scot free because the media are implicated in our foolish ,illegal and immoral invasion in the Middle East.
Our media consistently overstate the risk of terrorist attacks, but never asks the question ‘What is the relationship between these few terrorist attacks in Australia and our intervention in Iraq and Syria’. Surely terrorists are over here because our troops are over there. But that thought seldom occurs to our media.
In his Anzac Day visit to Iraq and Afghanistan Malcolm Turnbull told our troops that they were there to protect and promote our values. And to make Australia safe. What nonsense. Our intervention in the ME has helped trigger the ME calamity and makes Australia more vulnerable. But there was not a word from our media to challenge the Turnbull propaganda.
Fallujah, Aleppo and Mosul
Our media ,dependent upon Western media sources, has provided enormous coverage of the sieges in Aleppo and Mosul from the Wests point of view. But there has never been any examination in our mainstream media of the Australian role in the siege of Fallujah in 2004.. That siege was headed by an Australian General . who later advised our government on Operation Sovereign Borders. Chemical weapons, in this case phosphorus, were used. In denouncing the use of chemical weapons in Fallujah The New York Times described white phosphorous ‘packed into an artillery shell; it explodes over a battlefield in a white glare that can illuminate enemy positions’. US Colonel Barry Venable told the UK’s Independent newspaper that ‘Yes(chemical weapons) was used as an incendiary weapon against enemy combatants. Our media is yet to properly acknowledge our role in the ghastly siege of Fallujah.
Defence and Submarines
We are to spend over $50 b on new submarines. No strategic case has been made for this enormous expenditure. The rate of protection is 300 %. As Hugh White in this blog has warned us ‘the acquisition strategy for the submarines almost guarantees a disaster, wherever it is built’. It is a boondoggle. The same is probably true of the F 35 Tactical Strike Fighter. But the military lobby gets it all waived through with scarcely a murmur from most of our media. It is all too hard. Our media is badly missing in action in defense acquisitions as well as operations.
Large parts of our media and particularly the Murdoch media are highly skeptical about climate change. They dispute the overwhelming science consensus that our planet is entering into a very dangerous place. It really is an existential threat.
Climate change and the invasion of Iraq are the most serious international calamities of the last two decades. On both these issues, the Murdoch media has done a great disservice to the world and democracy.
Our media join the clamor of business and their supporters in supporting economic growth, as an end in itself even though some of that ‘growth’ is threatening our planet. Many in our media are also ignoring growing economic and social inequality. To disguise and divert from their failure in these areas some like The Australian and Australian Financial Review take every opportunity to attack trade unions .
The failed war on drugs
Our media joins the chorus line time and time again. We see it regularly in TV and print about another record drug haul with the police and border force all dressed up in their uniforms for the media event. The media supports this diversionary spin about the success of drug policies. Yet we know that the drug problem is worsening every year with deaths, overdoses, ruined lives, corruption and widespread crime. When we get our next media beat-up about another record drug bust, will anyone in our media ask the fundamental question ‘Are our drug policies working?’ The media told us about the large increase in funding for the AFP in the recent budget but did not bother to ask if all that money would be of any value in combatting the scourge of drugs in Australia or that perhaps our drug policies were dismally failing
Our media, like other media around the world, is instantly excited about another terrorist attack. Partly because of the media, terrorism, a highly vivid event attracts attention. But the risk is low compared with other risks. Every year nearly 6500 women and children in Australia are admitted to hospital as a result of domestic violence. Many are killed. Yet only three people have died of terrorist related causes in Australia in the last 20 years. Polls here and around the world indicate that people are very fearful of terrorism. Has anyone in the media attempted to explain that the risk is low? Our media has become part of a broad military, political and intelligence interest group that exaggerates the terrorist threat.
I have often said, an outsider studying our media would assume that we are an island continent anchored off New York or London. So much of our news and views are derived from US and UK sources. Our media representation in our region is scant. We have had an avalanche of news on the French elections with the UK and German elections to come. There was a far more important Presidential election in ROK this week but it was treated like a footnote by our media.
The ABC used to be conscious of its important role in our region, but it is increasingly failing in its responsibility. The Insiders program on the ABC is invariably about domestic politics and largely ignores relations with our region. We have regional Prime Ministers and Presidents visiting Australia,..Abe,Jokowi and li Keqiang but I have never heard or seen an Asian specialist invited to appear on the panel of Insiders. Q and A and 7.30 have the same domestic preoccupation.
The Murdoch media has clearly led the media rout in Australia. US journalist, Carl Bernstein speaks of ‘Murdoch’s destructive march across the democratic landscape’. No person has done more to damage democracy and civil institutions in the English speaking world than Rupert Murdoch and his loyal and docile lieutenants.
What a tragedy it is that a young newspaper proprietor who offered so much in his early years has been able to wreak so much damage on the media which he professes to love.
But the problem goes well beyond Murdoch.