Will the last candidate standing please vote for someone else

May 5, 2019

I’ve been consciously participating in Australian politics since I first voted in 1974 and I can’t recall any campaign period that’s been more shambolic than this one.

Already, fourteen (yes, 14) candidates have been disendorsed by their parties and one, the bankrupt former One Nation senator, Rod Culleton, has been referred to police over his ineligibility to stand.

Most have been struck down since nominations closed a week ago, so they’ll still be on the ballot paper.

What an omnishambles wrapped in a clusterf*ck and dipped in glitter-infused turds!

I don’t think even 1975 came close to being this bad and that was a bitter campaign on both sides that eventually saw Malcolm Fraser elected and Whitlam vanquished.

The Murdoch press played a role then in demonising the ALP and helping Fraser win. The Murdoch papers and Sky News are playing a similar role today – as they have in almost every election since the late 1960s – this time, though, their preferred Prime Minister is looking like a cooked goose.

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Journalists on the wrong side of history when it comes to social media

April 26, 2019

In the last week or so some fairly senior journalists and journalism academics have launched a defence of mainstream reporters and reporting by suggesting that most, if not all, criticism of journalists is coming from a Trumpian perspective. This perspective has appeared in several tweets by senior journalists and it has been given a more ‘respectable’ form in a column by ABC talking head Michael Rowland.

In a piece published on the ABC News website Rowland lamented that he – and other reporters – have been on the receiving end of some insulting and even abusive tweets.

Now, journalism isn’t exactly the profession for shrinking violets.

If you cover the brutal game of politics you have to be particularly robust, but the level of muck being hurled around on Twitter at the moment would test the toughest of souls.

Personally speaking, I have noticed a huge increase in abuse and petty name-calling since the election campaign began.

The free character references I’ve received have often been quite inventive.

He wasn’t the only member of the journalistic elite to give voice to such views. Academic and Nine commentator (she’s published in what we used to know as the Fairfax mastheads) Jenna Price went into bat to defend Patricia Karvelas who also copped some flack over an incident on Insiders the previous weekend.

Social media has become an incubator for hatred of journalists, led by President Donald Trump after learning from the best, the troll armies of President Rodrigo Duterte, says senior research fellow, Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at the University of Oxford, Julie Posetti.

Chris Uhlmann takes his complaint against the cultural Marxists a step further. He claims we are worse than the far-right. His former ABC colleague Leigh Sales has also publicly attacked what she calls “far left bias” against the ABC in general and her program in particular.

Far Left Fury

This is a misleading claim that attempts to delegitimise progressive critiques of the mainstream news media by lumping all critics of journalism into one ideological pigeon hole.

How would Leigh Sales – or Chris Uhlmann for that matter – identify someone as “far left”. They wouldn’t know from any position of nuanced reading or understanding; all they have to go on are their own prejudiced and stereotyped views from a position of privileged elitism.

However, what really annoyed me was this tweet from Miriam Cosic who has been a journo for a while and who also makes much of her postgraduate qualifications in philosophy.

Miriam got upset with me when I described this thinking as “lazy”, but it is intellectually lazy. There is a world of difference between a progressive left critique of journalism and the news media and Donald Trump’s Fascistic demonization of journalism he doesn’t like.

However, I guess these same ‘very fine’ people might dismiss my views out of hand. After all, I am a fully paid-up card-carrying life-long member of what Chris Uhlmann has derisively labelled the “post-Christian left”.

Chomsky, not Trumpski

I think there are two distinct political positions on media criticism, and it is wrong to conflate them.

One is certainly a neo-Fascist view that has been thoroughly discredited but that is espoused by Trump and his supporters and originated with the Nazi regime’s propaganda trope of the Lügenpresse or “lying media”.

The other is diametrically opposed to this and, as a form of shorthand, I’m going to call this the Chomskyian view.

The Chomskyian view is based on a long history of progressive, left-wing and anti-capitalist critiques of the news media and it is summarised rather well in Chomsky and Herman’s classic phrase about the “manufacture” of consent.

In 1988, Chomsky and Herman described the media in capitalist society as a propaganda machine. They were right then and the same holds true today.

The mass media serve as a system for communicating messages and symbols to the general populace. It is their function to amuse, entertain, and inform, and to inculcate individuals with the values, beliefs, and codes of behavior that will integrate them into the institutional structures of the larger society. In a world of concentrated wealth and major conflicts of class interest, to fulfill this role requires systematic propaganda.

The problem for the ruling class and its media allies is that the machine is breaking down and they’re fresh out of spare parts.

I’ve tried before in IA and in many of my other recent writings, including this book and this journal article, to explain the important differences between a Trumpian view of “fake news” and a more sophisticated analysis of journalism, journalists and the news media that situates the whole “fake news” discussion into an historical and theoretical context which is known as the political economy of communication.

I’ve also written about media issues extensively in IA, including here, here, here, here and here. I also wrote a long review of Katharine Murphy’s pamphlet, On Disruption in which she defends the News Establishment’s approach to the disruption caused by social media.

Here’s one takeaway from that piece:

Murphy raises the important question of the relationship between a media ecology that has begun a descent into what she accurately describes as ‘a febrile, superficial, shouty, shallow, pugnacious cacophony of content, where sensation regularly trumps insight’, and the demagoguery of Trump and his European imitators.

Murphy asks us rhetorically:

‘Did we, the disrupted media, somehow create Donald Trump? Did we enable him?’ 

However, she struggles to provide a coherent answer.

I think the collapse of the old certainties in the news media and the failure of the News Establishment to effectively reflect on its mistakes certainly gave strength to the Trumpian view that the news media is the ‘enemy of the people’.

However, let’s be clear this is a talking point of the Alt Right and its enablers. It is not a view shared by progressive critics of the News Establishment.

A direct attack on democracy and active citizenship

I have no problem with journalists defending themselves on Twitter, but the common tactic from the News Establishment has been to shy away from directly responding to serious critics and, instead, to focus on the minority of idiots who make vile threats.

I want to be clear; I do not support threats of violence, racist, sexist or homophobic abuse against reporters, but I don’t mind a bit of hard-hitting sarcasm.

The world has changed over the past 20 years and as we’re constantly told by the very same Establishment figures when they’re trying to gouge subscriptions from us: engagement is the new normal. There is no going back, social media has changed the journalistic landscape forever.

The problem is the News Establishment wants engagement on its terms. Engagement for them means we take out subscriptions and become unpaid sources for them or allow them to scour material from our social media feeds to pad out otherwise thin reporting.

What the News Establishment definitely doesn’t want is an active Fifth Estate undermining its authority or its cosy relationship with the rich and powerful.

I would go so far as to suggest that the pushback against their serious critics on Twitter reveals the truly anti-democratic nature of their thinking and their true ideological position.

At least that’s how I’ve interpreted this tweet from ABC reporter Matt Bevan.

Maybe he was joking, or at least maybe that’s what he’d say if challenged, but I think it’s telling.

Twitter provides a platform for what we might call ‘monitorial citizenship’, that is the ability for ordinary people to talk directly to the powerful.

This is upsetting for the News Establishment because, for the past 200 years or so, they have been the principal gatekeepers. Journalists were in a privileged position of mediating between the rulers and the ruled.

They were treated to a rare glimpse inside the halls of power – the first Press Gallery was established in the Palace of Westminster in 1803 – in return they were expected to massage the more brutal pronouncements of the powerful and provide for the “manufacture of consent”.

The News Establishment has played a supporting role ever since; agreeing to keep some secrets to protect the State and legitimising the consolidation of the two-party system.

It was his observation of the Westminster gallery that prompted this acerbic jab from Oscar Wilde:

“Journalism has carried its authority to the grossest and most brutal extreme. As a natural consequence it has begun to create a spirit of revolt. People are amused by it, or disgusted by it…But it is no longer the real force it was. It is not seriously treated.”

Until recently, Establishment accounts of political machinations were not open to direct challenge. The public had to pretty much accept as gospel whatever the journalists wrote.

Now that has changed and now amount of whining from the News Establishment is going to put that genie back in its box.

The monitorial citizen is here to stay.

The monitorial citizen in a democracy is described by Columbia Journalism School professor Michael Schudson as a person outside of the dominant political structure who feels a responsibility to monitor what powerful institutions do, and to get involved when they feel power is being abused.

Schudson is no “post-Christian” leftist. He is a respected, bespectacled professor and himself aligned with the most News Establishment New York establishment, Columbia School of Journalism.

Yet he is able to see what many of our own – vastly anti-intellectual in outlook – news media refuse to see or are willfully blind to.

The power of the News Establishment is waning; monitorial citizens are taking to social media to clapback at the mistakes, misjudgements and misleading inferences that mainstream reporters make routinely.

The inestimable Mr Denmore summed it up nicely on his blog, The Failed Estate, in a piece called ‘All media is social’:

The public isn’t stupid. Much of the criticism they are expressing on social media about journalists reflects a sense of frustration that the issues they are their families care deeply about (like climate change or stagnant incomes or our treatment of refugees) are not advancing.

Quite.

 


#AusVotes2019: Are we there yet?

April 23, 2019

As a rule, I don’t mind election campaigns but this one already feels like stale pizza sitting in the bottom of the fridge. I’m hungry, but I really don’t want to eat it.

So, we got through the first couple of the of five election campaign weeks relatively unscathed. Good Friday provided a respite day even though we still got footage of a smirking Prime Minister bothering God and small children.

Bill Shorten went to Luna Park in Melbourne, an apt metaphor for the swings and round-abouts of campaigning and the roller-coaster ride of chaos that has characterised federal politics over the last four years.

Screen Shot 2019-04-21 at 9.00.29 am

The ‘circus’ analogy gets over-used, but if it’s OK for Michelle Grattan to double-down on it, who am I to be picky.

We may have had a short break from the campaign over Easter, but are we any closer to having a clear front-runner for the only poll that counts on 18 May?

Well, I thought it was pretty clear from the last gazillion Newspoll results that the ALP was going to win the election in a canter.

However, Michelle Grattan (no, I’m not picking on her) reckons it was a “scratchy” first week for Shorten because of a small gaffe on superannuation and because he’s “vulnerable” on Labor’s ambitious carbon emission reduction policies.

Well, I’m Okay with that because at least the ALP has some policies to quibble about. The Liberals, on the other hand, are in such confusion they don’t even know what their own policies are – like on electric cars, for example.

But some scribes even reckon Morrison is somehow making a comeback.

That’s like saying a man on life-support in a palliative care ward is going to make a full recovery.

I’m really not sure how they reach such fanciful conclusions.

Ah well, I suppose anything is possible inside the Canberra “bubble”.

So how is Morrison going to stage this political miracle?

Well he is, after all,  Scott the “disruptor” according the Katharine Murphy writing in The Guardian:

Scott Morrison’s strategy is to run over the top of the trench firing bullets every which way, in an effort to disrupt Shorten’s rhythm.

Well, he has to, doesn’t he?

Morrison has no choice but to act like a demented and stupid-brave World War One sapper high on the fumes of battle. There is nothing else there.

The Liberal Party has been totally devoid of ideas, imagination, initiative and innovation ever since Peta Credlin and Tony Abbott were running the country after trashing the joint in the 2013 election.

Turnbull had nothing in 2016 and only just hung on because Labor started from a long way behind after the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd omnishambles and the deceitful ‘carbon tax’ campaigning masterminded by the discredited Credlin.

Three years later and Morrison has had a chance to prove to the Australian public that he’s an empty vessel. Well, not exactly empty, he’s actually full to overflowing with bombastic populism, smug ego and meaningless fury.

Let’s take the electric cars policy as an example.

The COALition began the campaign bagging Labor’s pledge to have 50 per cent of all new car sales converted to electric vehicles by 2030. That’s a whopping decade away and its only half of the average 1.1 million new cars sold each year, according to industry figures.

So that’s 500,000 electric vehicles added to the national fleet, on average from 2030 onwards.

It is an ambitious policy given that there are less than 10,000 electric vehicles currently on Australian roads, including about 4000 Tesla models. This is about 0.3 per cent of the total number of cars on the road.

So, it seems that the Liberals might have been right to poke holes in Labor’s policy. The only problem was, the COALition had an almost identical policy on the books.

Morrison and his ministerial colleagues looked stupid when they were warning Australian petrol-heads that Bill Shorten was coming for their petrol utes and big-engined cars, in a bid to wreck their enjoyment of the traditional Aussie weekend pursuits, like boat and caravan towing and driving illegally off the beaten track through national parks.

Morrison looked stupid, but then Peter Dutton and Angus Taylor stepped up and gave Scotty their beers.

Peter Dutton is on a knife-edge margin in his Queensland electorate of Dickson, so he made the excellent decision to attack his Labor opponent for not living in the electorate.

Fair enough, if you conveniently forget that Dutton owns several luxurious multi-million dollar properties outside of Dickson himself.

But the attack focused on Ali France’s disability. She has a prosthetic leg because of a horrific car accident. She lives close to Dickson in a home she spent over $100,000 on to modify in order to make it convenient for her.

So what did Dutton do? Well, he’s well-known for his sensitivity to less-fortunate people and promised us when challenging Turnbull that we would see more of his engaging human side.

Thanks Peter, you’re doing well.

He said – in an engaging and human way – that Ms France was milking her disability in order to win the sympathy vote in Dickson. His grovelling apology was equally engaging and human.

I guess we should also not be surprised that this story was first run in The Australian. The Murdoch media is going all out to help the coalition.

Senior kool-aid dispenser Piers Akerman was photographed out on a door-knocking campaign walk with Tony Abbott in Warringah. He looked really happy to be there just standing “in the background”, but the candid snap confirmed what we have been saying all along.

The Liberal Party is a subsidiary of NewsCorpse.

And what about poor old Angus Taylor. Taylor is the Energy Minister in Morrison’s government and he has previous form as a nasty, spiteful dickhead. He was famously sacked by British Tory knob, Boris Johnson, while he was mayor of London.

In that instance Taylor was accused of making insensitive racist comments. He’s right at home in the modern Liberal Party where he has languished for the last five years.

Taylor must have been thinking that the Liberal campaign could do with a boost in the past week, so he thought it the right time to grab the headlines with a poorly-timed and ill-conceived threat of legal action against two independent journalists over their retweet of a now infamous Twitter thread on the minister’s involvement in the snowballing water scandal that brewing away nicely in the background.

There is no better way to draw the spotlight onto yourself and your possibly dodgy dealings than issuing threatening legal letters to journalists who don’t have a lot to lose.

Given Mr Taylor’s propensity to launch his lawyers at anyone suggesting he acted with impropriety we are making no comment on the water sales issue, but we can’t help but think that firing off a defamation threat in the middle of an election campaign is a distraction Scott Morrison could do without.

As an aside, we can note that the other senior COALition figure allegedly in the centre of the water sales scandal is the delightful family man and member for New England, Barnaby Joyce.

It’s a short week this week with the Easter Monday and ANZAC Day holidays. Both Morrison and Shorten have said they won’t officially campaign on those two days, but we can be sure that their faces will grace the nightly news and dominate the front pages because it’s much easier for the journalists to just follow the leaders than attempt to cover actual policies.

Burn of the campaign – so far

The false war over electric cars made for some interesting door stops and prompted several car manufacturers to publicly critique the COALition’s scare-mongering.

My favourite burn moment of the campaign so far has been the start of a television advertising campaign for the global launch of the all-electric Hyundai Kona, a compact SUV that will retail for around $37,500.

This is an affordable and smart-looking option for people wanting to go into the EV market.

It may not be deliberate, but the Hyundai advert feels like a giant FU to the Liberals this week.

It’s quite funny to think that the COALition might get run down by a fleet of electric cars.


Julian, Neil and me

April 13, 2019

It’s fair to say I’m basking in some reflected glory this morning. The author and great mind, Neil Gaiman, has engaged me in a lengthy Twitter conversation on the vexing subject of Julian Assange.

It started with this exchange between Gaiman and an author who’s science fiction I love, Charlie Stross.

D386OtyUIAEnAjO.jpg large

I sent a rather snarky response, but to his credit, Neil Gaiman engaged and then we had a respectful dialogue about the Assange case.

Our basic disagreement is that Neil seemed exclusively focused on the outstanding rape and sexual assault allegations against Assange, while I was trying to point out that the plan to extradite him to the US was the bigger picture issue today.


“Socialism or Barbarism”? What the Communist Manifesto says about climate change

April 8, 2019

Regular readers will know that my columns sometimes take a philosophical turn. I do this because, as any writer must, I am constantly reading to supplement and refine my knowledge of the world and of ideas.

Today I want to return to one of my favourite short books that will be familiar to some of you and perhaps horrifying to others. I am, of course, as the title of this piece suggests, referring to The Communist Manifesto, authored by Karl Marx and Frederick Engels and first published in 1848.

manifesto cover

My interest in delving back into this text flies in realising the value and importance of a particular passage that is often overlooked. Perhaps this particular paragraph is not considered important because it occurs very early, before the main arguments are fleshed out, but it is a reminder that there is nothing inevitable or pre-determined about revolutionary struggle.

[In] a word, oppressor and oppressed, stood in constant opposition to one another, carried on an uninterrupted, now hidden, now open fight, a fight that each time ended, either in a revolutionary reconstitution of society at large, or in the common ruin of the contending classes.

It is the final stanza here that has caught my attention: “the common ruin of the contending classes”. What Marx and Engels want us to know at this point is that while the class struggle is inevitable, there is no certainty as to the outcome.

Engels returned to this point in his 1878 work critiquing the ideas of the German social democrat Eugen Dühring, funnily enough in a pamphlet published as Anti-Dühring, in which he argued that the bourgeoisie could no longer determine the exact course of history, as it had done during its own revolutionary period:

its own productive forces have grown beyond its control, and, as if necessitated by a law of nature, are driving the whole of bourgeois society towards ruin, or revolution.

Other Marxists have since taken up this point, Rosa Luxemburg famously coined the aphorism ‘socialism or barbarism” to describe the stark choice facing the European working classes during the First World War. According to reliable sources, Luxemburg was paraphrasing another German revolutionary, Karl Kautsky who wrote in 1892, who wrote:

“As things stand today capitalist civilization cannot continue; we must either move forward into socialism or fall back into barbarism.”

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#artschool: documenting art practice

April 7, 2019

We are now seven weeks into Term 1 at art school and I thought it might be fun to document some of my work.

I have been studying drawing and painting along with a bit of digital photography and in this post I have catalogued my drawings and paintings to date.

The key thing is to notice that I’m actually getting better and I think this shows most clearly in my life drawing exercises.

Well, at least I hope you can see some improvement. The other drawing subject is mostly about still life in the studio.

And then there’s my painting class where the focus is also on still life maquettes painted “a la prima” which means all in one go. Usually these are done in about 90 minutes. This is a study in the use of complementary colours.

I’m also doing a few bits and pieces at home. I’ll have more to say about this series of abstracts as I develop my ideas. The theme is “Precision and Decay”.


I don’t want governments or corporations curating my news feed. Here’s why.

April 3, 2019

This week, Facebook and the government of Singapore announced new plans to combat the spread of fake news and disinformation. However, why would we give up our freedom to allow corporations or governments to control the news media.

Are we in the middle of a fake news pandemic? The issue has certainly got the attention of people who care about, or who claim to care about, such issues.

The President of the United States certainly thinks fake news is a huge problem. He tweets about it constantly and has even called the American news media the “real enemy of the people”.

For Americans who believe passionately in the First Amendment, this is horrifying and scary rhetoric; particularly when it butts up so closely the Second Amendment. (That’s the one about carrying a locked and loaded machine gun slung casually over one camo-covered shoulder while strolling around the shopping mall on the lookout for a bad guy with a gun.)

Journalism and media academics are also taking the fake news threat seriously judging by my recent trawl through the journal articles on the subject. According to the EBSCO Complete database, of 268 academic pieces written on fake news since 2002, 210 were written in the two-and-a-half years.

I am left wondering though if the news-consuming public is really all that concerned about fake news and sorting out news-truth from news-fiction. We are consuming mountains of fake news on a daily basis. Perhaps overall we are intellectually poorer as a result, but it is actually hard to tell. Maybe, our BS filters are now highly attuned to fakery and we weed it out without thinking. Or, in a darker vein, have we just given up even trying?

It would be a shame if we just cynically give up on truth and lean into fake news with a defeated shrug of the shoulders. Sometimes this must seem like a tempting option to some people. How can we stem the tidal flow of junk and fake news? How can we prevent ourselves from being overwhelmed? Read the rest of this entry »