As the political temperature over climate and fires has risen this week, the media has rushed to apportion blame for both fires and the rising crescendo of outrage at the inaction of conservative (and some Labor) governments across Australia – and at the responses of the Federal Government when questioned, at media conferences, about these failures.
There has been one culprit in the national failure and tragedy that has been notable for its absence and who has not been called to account. And no, it’s not Scott Morrison for all his resemblance to #HaroldHolt.
That culprit is the media. And it is not the usual and expected culprits of the Murdoch press and far right such as, Alan Jones, Andrew Bolt, Chris Uhlmann et al but those who should know better such as Fran Kelly, Patricia Karvalas, Peter Hartcher, David Crowe.
It is somewhat ironic to hear these scions of the establishment point the finger at, and blame, others when a significant part of the blame for the current situation should fall on them.
These are people who are in prime position to see we are living in a failing system and democracy, of which the failure on climate is just one example. They have almost universally and dismally failed to challenge the status quo which has led to the climate fiasco and multiple other failures.
Where the media should be holding the feet of our so-called leaders to the fire, for their failures, it seems most are more interested in washing those feet instead. In the blame game, every one is to blame except the media which, almost without exception, has failed to call the Government to account on climate and a variety of other issues.
Among the environmental and social failures: rising inequality, the world’s highest rate of extinctions, world leading land clearance rates, the looming death of the barrier reef, a total failure on climate the world’s greatest issue, tax avoidance, brutal imprisonment of refugees, continuing dispossession and deaths of Aboriginal people, the ongoing destruction of the Murray Darling basin, country wide water shortages, and people living on the streets.
And then there is corruption, mismanagement of energy & broadband, violence against women, online misogyny, falling real wages and wage inequality, erosion of press freedom, loss of freedom of speech and assembly and other rights, loss of privacy, and increasing authoritarianism.
Financially, there is gross waste of resources on fossil fuel subsidies, arms, and roads, no high speed rail, the appalling failures of the robodebt and cashless welfare card systems, the systematic destruction of our forests and water resources by logging and fracking, the scandal of the LNG export industry. The list goes on and on.
But do we see the media acknowledging or systematically tackling our so-called leaders on these issues which are symptoms of a massive failure, over many years, of the neo-liberal/capitalist model. Absolutely not. Largely, they just complacently accept the status quo and the unparalleled corruption of our society by both major parties.
But even if we stick just to climate – with the exception of a few individuals such as Elizabeth Farrelly, Katherine Murphy and Peter FitzSimons it’s hard to find many journalists who haven’t simply regurgitated a few identical lines, myths and half-truths in the current climate.
Instead we see the same almost lies repeated with each journalist returning to the same theme like dogs to vomit. A lemming like rush to the same climate lies and disaster.
It is not simply the misinformation over the Greens policies on burning, or not understanding the difference between hazard reduction burns and backburning but the continuing conflating of comments by different political parties as if all were equally to blame. The media fails to address the issue of accountability or challenge the dominant discourse.
There are so many examples of this it is hard to know where to start but let’s just examine a couple. First, Fran Kelly on Insiders with Adam Bandt. To begin it appears that Kelly doesn’t know that the Greens have a policy supporting hazard reduction burning. She continues to spout the myth repeated by countless journalists that the Greens oppose burning.
This despite the Green’s written policy, the statements of leading experts such as ex-Fire Commissioner, Greg Mullins, and repeated statements by the Greens. This can only be described as gross bias or incompetence by her, her researchers or both.
But let’s assume that the Greens did oppose such burning. The fact is that much of the hazard reduction burning is next to useless in many areas and in conditions such as we are experiencing. But do we see any discussion of this scientific research stating this? Which, incidentally, has been published in the Herald as long ago as 2015. Not one word. It’s a better story to talk to about the outlandish accusations against the Greens.
And then there is the CPRS (Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme) where scarcely a day passes without half a dozen journalists lazily blaming the current crisis on something that happened ten years ago.
Let’s leave aside the fact that, had the Greens supported this policy and if it was still in operation, the same journalists would now be criticising the Greens for expediency in casting aside their principles to support a half baked policy that would have paid big polluters to pollute. The fact remains that we had a policy (the Gillard/Greens carbon tax) that was passed only two years later and which was working.
This fact alone makes discussion of the CPRS entirely irrelevant. It ignores the fact that it was the LNP who dismantled the carbon tax and would have dismantled the CPRS had it still existed. Blaming the Greens for six years of failed LNP policy is as sensible as blaming rape victims because they ignored their Mother’s advice not to wear a short skirt ten years ago.
Along these same lines is the way in which the media permits a constant repetition of the line “what can Australia do, we only produce 2% of global emissions?” (also repeated on the Insiders). It ignores leadership and it ignores the fact that we are among the world’s highest per capita emitters (and so our refusal to do anything gives others the same permission to go on doing nothing).
It ignores the influence of our coal exports and ignores the fact that 40% of the entire world’s emissions are produced by countries with GHG emissions as small or smaller than those of Australia. Even if we only tackled that 40% that would make a significant impact.
Any student of history can tell you that single individuals and smaller nations which show leadership can effect massive change. If Australia, as the world’s largest coal exporter, had spent the last 20 years leading a global push of small to mid-size nations (as Adam Bandt described to Fran Kelly) instead of trying to weasel out of its responsibilities this would undoubtedly have created significant momentum towards cuts.
And that’s leaving aside the massive benefit this country would have gained from being at the leading edge of energy and technology change
Then there is the patronising assumptions of those such as Patricia Karvelas about what Australians do or don’t want to hear. To quote her: the ‘slanging match’ (is) “boring, banal and I gotta say most of Australia thinks it’s a bunch of morons. I’m sorry but that’s what they think…”
How does Patricia Karvelas know this? This is an archetypal insiders assumption (the irony of an insider on the Insiders having the pretension to speak for all the non-insiders). I for one, think that Steele-John is spot on when he accuses the Government, in the context of the bushfires of 2019, of, effectively, being arsonists. You don’t have to actually pour the petrol on the flames to be an arsonist. You can still be convicted if all you did is drive the car to the arson site.
Even if Karvelas’s assumption were true, it is wrong to try to create a false equivalence between the denials of bunch of people who have spent the last ten years, or longer, directly encouraging these disasters with the observations of those who are trying to get action to prevent a existential crisis. This sort of hyperbole is a prime example of the degree to which, in this instance, she is out of touch with the reality of this crisis.
Similarly the repeated claim that there is a great political convention that, in times of natural disaster, “you lay down your arms” is yet another presumption of the Canberra elite.
Who made such an agreement? On whose behalf? It certainly isn’t something the citizens of this country (who are after all the ones frying) have been consulted about. If it exists at all, it is simply another convenient agreement between the two major parties to allow them both to escape the blame they so richly deserve. So why do journalists keep repeating it as if it was some sort of legal edict rather than a convenient excuse to avoid responsibility?
Let us be very clear here. When the day of reckoning comes (for it surely will) it will not be the Greens who will be held accountable. It will be largely the political leaders and the leaders of industry who did nothing or next to nothing in the face of this crisis.
Among those who will not escape the reckoning will be the dozens of journalists who watched the tragedy unfold and who continued to seek “balance”, rather than accountability. A balance often based on false assumptions and arguments (eg those of Fran Kelly).
Giving time to people, such as Morrison, Taylor, Dutton, Frydenberg, Kelly and others on the Labor side (Palaszczuk, Fitzgibbon) to advance arguments based on lies, prevarication and misinformation is not balance. Failing to effectively challenge those lies is failed journalism and continuing to allow climate denialists air time is condoning dishonesty.
In this argument, every member of the media pack needs to take a good long look in the mirror no matter how “woke” they think they are. Journalism, like politics, is a very narcissistic profession which feeds off ego and mutual admiration. The reflection they will see should give everyone a pause for thought because it should not be a pleasant one.