The mainstream media fails on Australia’s foreign policy

Jul 2, 2020

Our media avoids any discussion or analysis of the literally hundreds of United States military bases that are situated in proximity to China, and similarly the hundreds of military bases aimed at “containing” Russia.

Observers of the mainstream media in Australia are struck by a number of features. The first is that a population of 25 million are served by only two print media organisations.

One of these is News Corporation, a company closely associated with the family of Rupert Murdoch. Mr Murdoch is an American citizen, lives in the United States, and has his primary business interests focused elsewhere than Australia. To call it an Australian company is a fiction.

The other major print media company publishes the Sydney Morning Herald and the Melbourne Age among other smaller news outlets. It at least has the virtue of being an Australian company. The dominant role in that company played by the Fairfax family since its inception in the 19th century was recently bought by the same company that controls television’s Channel 9. There has been a noticeable decline in the quality of that company’s print media since the takeover.

Print media have a particular role to play in the options available to readers. They devote considerable space to local sport and local news. There can be little objection to that. In their “news” coverage and political comment, however, it is a radically different picture. The political bias is overwhelmingly in favour of the Liberal-National coalition view of the world.

Providing an occasional column to a Labor researcher or former prime minister (Kevin Rudd) does not provide even the pretence of a balance in the Herald’s editorial view. The situation is vastly worse in the Murdoch papers who do not even pretend to provide a balance. In neither case could one point to even a vaguely left of centre viewpoint.

In that sense, neither of the majority print media companies could be said to reflect the much more diverse range of political opinion that actually exists in the community. The evidence for this contention lies in the rapidly increasing role played by media outlets that remain exclusively online.

If one looks at some of those websites, of which Pearls and Irritations is but one example, it is immediately apparent that they represent a vastly more diverse range of opinion than is true in the so-called mainstream media. The essential difference is that the diversity of opinion exists not only between themselves and the old print media but also in the range of opinion represented by different writers within those outlets.

They obviously increase their potential readership by that diversity, but it goes beyond that. These Internet agents are providing a service that was supposed to be associated with old-style print media but, if it ever existed, has long since disappeared. Some simple examples illustrate the point.

Australia exists at the southern tip of the great Eurasian landmass. For several decades, Asia has been of primary importance to Australia. China, for example, is Australia’s largest trading partner by a very large margin, taking more than one-third of Australia’s total exports. The next largest trading partner is Japan. Twelve of Australia’s top 15 trading partners are in Asia, the other three being New Zealand, the United States and Europe.

In the case of China, it goes beyond trade. China provides the largest number of foreign students in Australian universities; the largest source of foreign tourists; and the third-largest source of foreign investment. In short, China is critical to Australia’s economic well-being. One would be hard-pressed to know that if one relied upon the mainstream media coverage of that country.

In recent years China has been blamed for being the origin of the coronavirus currently affecting large areas of the world. The Australian prime minister, in all likelihood acting at the bequest of the Americans, suggested that China should be investigated for its alleged role as the source of the pandemic. When that proposal failed to gain any international traction it was abandoned, but the damage to Australia had been done.

The Australian Navy similarly participate in the United States “freedom of navigation” exercises in the South China Sea and practices the blocking of the Straits of Hormuz through which 80% of China’s sea-based trade passes. Its vital strategic importance to China should, therefore, be obvious to even the most casual observer. The American and Australian naval exercises are unsurprisingly perceived as a hostile act by the Chinese. The mainstream media carefully avoids any detailed discussion of these military manoeuvres and their obvious implications.

That media similarly avoids any discussion or analysis of the literally hundreds of United States military bases that are situated in proximity to China, and similarly the hundreds of military bases aimed at “containing” Russia. Both China and Russia are portrayed as aggressive nations with predatory aims on their neighbours and further afield. The complete absence of any evidence to support this hostile propaganda has not been a deterrent to its endless repetition.

Australia has refused to join the Chinese initiated Belt and Road Initiative, along with the United States, but unlike more than 150 nations around the world. The latter clearly do not perceive this massive program as some sort of Chinese plot to take over the world, as it is regularly portrayed in sections of the western mainstream media.

The mainstream media is similarly silent on suggesting viable alternatives for Australian exports. The United States is clearly reverting to its protectionist history, and if Trump is replaced at the next election that is unlikely to change. The British are clearly seeking alternative trading partners with their departure from the European Union, but several factors mitigate against Britain reverting to its old role as a major destination for Australian exports. Not only is it twice as far away as Australia’s Asian neighbours, but its population is also only 5% of that of China.

If Australia was ever stupid enough to join an American war against China (or Russia), the only good thing that could be said about such a war is that Australia’s involvement would be very short-lived. Chinese and Russian missile systems would take less than one hour to destroy major Australian targets. The Dong Feng 41 missile system has 8-10 independently targetable warheads, enough to eliminate all major Australian targets. Australia has no defence to such an attack other than its assumed American nuclear umbrella. To rely on that is frankly delusional.

An eminent 19th-century German statesman, von Bismarck, pointed out that a country has neither friends nor enemies, only interests. It is a truism that is even more valid today where the consequences of having the wrong enemy can be literally devastating. It is also a point that seems to have been lost on Australia’s current political leadership. Their policies are frankly delusional and dangerous.

The time for a fundamental reappraisal of exactly what are Australia’s vital interests is long overdue. Until and unless such an exercise is carried out and current policies adjusted accordingly, Australia is in the most dangerous period in the history of European settlement. There is unlikely to be a second chance.

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