Crying wolf, crying terror and fanning the media flames of disquiet

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plan to sue over terror photos HS Sept 25 2014 550wide
Outraged family of innocent man splashed as a ‘terrorist teenager’ in Fairfax media threatens to sue.

David Robie also blogs at Café Pacific

The reckless and inflammatory reporting on terrorism and national security in Australia makes ABC columnist Jonathan Green wonder whether we’d be better off without a media apparatus that can sink so low.

OPINION: HAVE we reached a tipping point where, with its mix of anxious desperation and crazy-brave self-confidence, our mainstream corporate media does us more harm than good?

Everywhere it’s under pressure from declining markets and battling business models, a situation that is as pressing for newspapers as it is becoming true for TV.

The response of news producers has been trapped somewhere between the sentimental and the self-serving. How will journalism survive, ask the journalists. Maybe we ought to wonder both whether it matters and whether something better might not evolve to replace it.

TDB Recommends NewzEngine.com

It might be that journalism is just a writing style.

I should declare here that I’ve spent my working life as a journalist, from 1979 to now. But now, reading the newspapers and watching the news, I can’t help but wonder if this is a craft that is not only losing its centre of corporate gravity and support, but also some fundamental sense of its mission and responsibility.

What sentient members of the Fourth Estate could ever set foot, for example, inside the offices of the Courier-Mail? This is, let’s not forget, Brisbane’s only morning newspaper, a monopoly provider, and, by dint of journalistic volume, the most significant newsroom in Queensland.

This is the newspaper that in recent times advised its readers of an “AUSSIE FATWA” just days after it reported on the terror raids that swept through the suburbs of Sydney and Brisbane on September 18.

“Terror Australis: Cops foil horror attacks,” said the Courier-Mail, blending the journalist’s fatal instinct for a pun with the paper’s absolute commitment to distortion, amplification and the propagation of fear to sell papers: for commercial gain.

It would only be days before a man was shot dead in Melbourne after the brutal, angry stabbing of two police officers. Did the Courier-Mail report the simple and sufficiently horrifying facts? Well no, it reported the most sensational peak in the sea of supposition surrounding them: “Gunned down after PM terror threat: POLICE KILL ABBOTT JIHADI.”

There was of course no plot against the Prime Minister, unless what is described here by the Courier Mail constitutes an elaborate conspiracy:

    Slain teenage extremist Numan Haider googled Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s movements in the days before being shot dead during a knife attack on counter terrorism agents.

The Courier-Mail is of course just one among many. This is the house style of the major market tabloids that are the dominant organs of news in all our capital cities. They cry wolf, they cry terror, they fan the flames of disquiet and distrust.

Because fear sells.

fairfax media terror sept 25 2014 200tall
Fairfax managed to splash the face of an utterly innocent man across the country after the Numan Haider killing.

‘Teenage terrorist’
Then there are the Fairfax papers, either so depleted or abjectly derelict they managed to splash the face of an utterly innocent man across the country after the Haider killing, with the indelible label “teenage terrorist”.

The Daily Telegraph sends a columnist to write a slovenly and misanthropic caricature of Lakemba, or as the Tele put it, “Sydney’s Muslim Land” as evidence of the threat that walks among us.

The Herald Sun publishes a full-page column headed “Islam’s violent tendencies”, illustrated with a half-page photo of a gesticulating Adolf Hitler.

And then we discover that the sword carried so ominously from the police raids of mid-September, the one featured in page after page of reporting of raids that had apparently prevented “demonstration killings” and was thus by implication a weapon that might be used to sever innocent necks from heads, turns out to be a piece of plastic souvenir shop junk.

In this moment of high anxiety, the players in our commercial media have seen opportunity in a population made fearful and anxious for information.

Who threatens us? Where are they?

To which the answers seem universally to be “them” and “everywhere”.

Our politicians are not much different, but in the best of all possible worlds it would be our journalists who hold them to account.

And the consequence of this self-serving collusion in the fostering of paranoia?

#WISH logo 300wideThis summary from the #WISH (Women In Solidarity with Hijabis) campaign is self-reported, and thus tricky to verify. But even if half right, it’s telling.

  •     A woman in a hijab is physically attacked and her car subsequently vandalised with profanities spray-painted across it (Western Sydney)
  •     A mother and her baby are verbally abused and spat on, and the pram is kicked (Sydney)
  •     A woman in hijab has a cup of coffee hurled through the window of her car (Brisbane)
  •     A mother and her baby are approached by three men, has her hijab ripped off, is spat on and pushed to the floor (Brisbane)
  •     A woman is approached by a man and told to take her hijab off so he can burn it (Brisbane)
  •     A woman in a hijab is approached by men in a shopping centre who try to rip her hijab from her head (Perth)
  •     A mother and her child are verbally abused and the woman is told to take her child away from the other children at a playground (Melbourne)
  •     A woman is verbally abused by three men who threaten to burn her hijab as she walks past a pub
  •     A woman is verbally abused by man who threatens to burn her house down (Queensland)
  •     A woman sitting on a bus with her son is filmed by a man who verbally abused her and said that he would use the video footage as means to identify her
  •     A heavily pregnant woman is verbally abused and intimated (Sydney)
  •     A mother and daughter are verbally assaulted and a passer-by who intervened is physically assaulted (Newcastle)
  •     A young woman takes off her hijab out of fear for her safety (Canberra)

There is an issue here in the treatment of a serious social issue and one highly sensitive to the sort of reckless, and inflammatory reporting that has become typical – almost universal – in the Australian media mainstream.

But beyond that point, there is a lack of restraint, a grasping of commercial opportunity at whatever the cost and a lack of regard even for the fundamental truth, that is even more worrying.

In these end times for corporate journalism, in these desperate days when any sale is worth the compromise of basic standards of integrity and social tact, we might we wonder whether we’d be better off without a media apparatus that can sink so low.

Jonathan Green hosts Sunday Extra on Radio National and is the former editor of The Drum. View his full profile here. Republished on Cafe Pacific with the author’s permission.

29 COMMENTS

    • ” The disease of soullessness ”

      Glen Greenwald . TED talks .

      http://youtu.be/pcSlowAhvUk

      I know . You see a link and think / Ahh Nah . Gotta mow the lawn . Well fuck that . Watch this . This guy came here and talked to us . And yet we voted fucking jonky back in . Shame on us . Well , you . I didn’t vote jonky-stien .

  1. The race to the bottom gathers pace for news papers such as the N.Z Herald and many others in Australia and U.K.
    The dumbing down and desensitizing of ‘Joe Public’ is almost complete.
    His adrenal glands are spent!
    The owners of these poor excuses for an open, honest and impartial form of media would do well to visit their local psychologist for a bit of advice.
    Not too long ago ,Pre 1980, large big block letters ,with dramatic phraseology filling the entire front page of a newspaper, was reserved for a World War being declared ,or being over, or, a member of the monarchy being born ,or dying.
    Now due to short sighted corporate media greed, harvesting poor shallow journalism, we have papers chasing their tale in ever decreasing circles trying to capture ‘Joe Publics’ attention and therefore money.
    Kim Kardashians new diet, or George Clooneys honeymoon pics , or similar garbage are now the norm for full front page stories and the public are all saying to themselves, ‘I’ve seen it all before and I ain’t falling for it no more.’
    Only the ‘vested interest’ political journalists remain with their one eyed articles preaching to the converted or the last oblivious few.
    Then wrap that timeless opiate for the masses, sport, around endless ‘electrical appliance store’ advertisements and you have a news paper 2014.
    Joe Public now knows subconsciously he is being taken for a ride.
    However the media moguls keep going to the same well, trying to pull the same old trick time and time again.
    Too much is never enough and like a drug addict who needs to take more and more drugs to reach the same effect, the end result is eventually death!

    • Well said grant.

      If the opposition had any balls they would take Key to court for using public funds to spin his dirty politics including war mongering and while they are at it force through the courts a sectioning of half of all public media including all Government printing services , TVNZ/RNZ and giving half to opposition Parties to run as their own voice of opposition to all the lousy changes and plots Key and his henchmen are engaged in now

    • It would be great to think that Joe Public really has seen through the facade of mainstream media but the evidence is all against it. Have we forgotten the election already? The public hung on to every word that John Key said. If he rubbished an opposition party its vote fell. Posters trashing the opposition worked. The media avoided the real issues (On Sept 1st a person in desperation shoots two WINZ staff. The press glossed it over. The ODT did not publish any public letters on the issue until a week after the election. Why not?) and the press tactics worked.
      In Dr.Robie’s article itself, it is clear that all the thuggery that followed the media ‘terrorist’ campaign was perpetrated by people totally unable to think or show compassion.
      If New Zealanders are no better (and I suspect that is the case) it is not the news that serves no purpose it is our democratic system.

  2. I find it hard to read the NZ Herald and watch public TV, for the very reasons in your article. If the average person on the street, sat back and really ‘looked’ at the garbage they were being fed, by our so called MSM, then we would no longer have a MSM.

  3. This sensationalised scaremongering plays into the hands of the politicians who are looking for any excuse to further restrict our freedoms.

      • where are your manners? calling someone with whom you disagree a moron is extremely rude.

        the government is placing us ALL under constant mass surveillance. that restricts everyones freedom.

        • Lara, we have laws and jails so the vast majority of us can go about our lives safely and in peace. The government is restricting your freedom? Really? How?

          • The government is restricting your freedom? How?

            Dean, there is an old saying by a very wise man; “Those who are prepared to sacrifice freedom for security deserve neither”.

            I guess I could point out examples of how governments restrict the freedoms of citizens in ways that are often subtle. For example, people become fearful of being critical of the government for fear of losing their jobs or being attacked in public or put under surveillance.

            Which, when you think about it, explains why people commenting on internet fora often use pseudonyms. Or only first names.

            Tell me, Dean, what are you frightened of?

      • @ DEAN, (from the tone of your responce I’m guessing this is a Christian name rather than a university position)

        I thought I had made it clear that, in my opinion, these restrictions have been indroduced under the guise of “sensationalised scaremongering”. I could be wrong, but I suspect it’s highly unlikely some IS wanna-be is going to try and behead me with a plastic sword any time soon right here in-god’s-own.

        Thanks for the support, LARA, I wonder if DEAN even knows that the word “moron” was coined as a term once used in psychology to denote mild intellectual disability in the original IQ test; this test was designed to measure intellectual disability rather than intelligence. At least he has rated me one degree above “imbecile” and two degrees above “idiot” on the original IQ scale, perhaps I should be grateful for that.

        • Lara, the moron is being mean to me,where are you, come to my defence. Yes I know the meaning of moron, and rate anyone with an interest in public affairs well above imbecile, even if the views are different to mine. As yes, you are correct, you probably will not be beheaded, but someone might. Look at the issues in Australia, a 3 hour plane ride away, a bit close to home for me. Sensationalised scaremongering? Why would one bother? Ill err on the side of caution and side with My key on this one.

          I’m sure your key loves you, Dean. But it won’t save your ass if you make any further derogatory comments on this website. First and last warning. – Scarletmod

  4. The commercial imperative biasing the stories run and the sensationalism included in both the print and television media is a terrible reality. Combined with decisions made in a competitive environment to pander to the lowest common denominator of their readership you get some awfully one-eyed prejudiced pieces usually supporting popularist narratives.

    Profit is not the the only influencing factor though. There seems to be a creeping (and in some cases clearly obvious) political influence in the editorial decisions made on what stories to run, what headlines to give them and what facts to leave out.

    The best method to try and combat this as a person seeking information on current events is to read or view a wide variety of sources and compare them to see what is different between each. In these differences is where you’ll usually find what most resembles the truth.

  5. That is quite a list of abuse against Muslim women.

    Who would have thought that Aussies were such small minded, racist, misogynist bigots.

    • That racism and misogyny exists everywhere that human live. It’s when prominent institutions or political leaders make statements that permit such views to be publicly expressed, whether in hostile word or violent deed, that it becomes a threat to social cohesion and our notions of fairness.

      We’ve had a taste of it since Paula Bennett became Minister for Social Welfare and in 2009 demonised solo-mums (but not solo-dads, take note) by releasing personal details of two women on the DPB. The vitriol against solo-mothers became toxic as previously suppressed misogyny was given carte blance to bubble to the surface and explode into public debate.

      It took Bennett making a public statement to lay off solo-mothers to dampen down the bene-bashing, misogynistic hysteria.

      The defence from bigots is often “we’re only saying what everyone thinks anyway” – forgetting that thinking something and expressing it verbally in the presence of others, is not always socially acceptable. Not if we want some manner of cohesiveness in our society.

      Imagine if, like Paul Henry, we all went around asking degrading, highly personal, sexual questions of women in the public arena. Our society would be quickly warped into some alien aberration that, I submit, few of us would want to live in.

      Giving license to racist bigots is not much different and the consequences would be violent, destructive, and lethal.

      Something that the media might care to reflect on in it’s chase for headlines, ratings, advertising revenue, and shareholders’ returns.

    • I would for one, because I have lived there. The first politician to use the obnoxious remark “Two Wongs dont make a white”, wasn’t Winston Peters, it was a Len Caldwell, who was at the time leader of the Australian Labor Party in opposition.

  6. It really says something when my mum cancels her Herald subscription as she did this week after a lifetime of readership (50+ years!). She’s a smart woman and can’t stand the dumbing down in the paper. Like me she now looks at selected overseas media for any intelligent news.

  7. “The first victim of war is truth”
    WINSTON CHURCHILL

    While the author of this report rightly reports on the need for the media to sensationalise the facts because of the commercial imperative.

    What the writer didn’t mention is the service, to a lesser or greater degree, the mass media give to the state as propagandist in whipping up war hysteria.

    People don’t like war but states do.

    The media as a propagandist for the state began with the rise of nation states able to marshal the resources and the technique to sustain a mass media. The invention of high speed steam powered moveable type printing presses producing mass circulation news papers and then later electronic radio and TV broadcast transmissions were able to mould public opinion in a way not possible before. As states started to expand into new teritories and new markets and to monopolise resources away from other rival states they needed wars, and they needed ways to promulgate those wars.

    Right up to today, without even having to be explicitly told, (the so called) Independent Commercial Main Stream Media know the role they have to perform in the service of the state, and are more than willing to perform it.

    • In the last week I have noticed a tightening up of moderation, the herald publishing far more comments that support the opinion piece (hence, the Government) than previously. The moderators criteria have shifted even further to the right, perhaps?

  8. Who is ‘Joe Public’? And does he really read the news? Or is it a quick flap to the footy in all its tribalist glory, and the vehicles for sale?

    Given the frequently displayed failings in comprehension on even simple pieces, the influence of the MSM is probably being rated too highly.

    Has anyone got solid info on this? There’s been a lot of speculation on the role of the MSM in forming the mainstream mindset – but is it verifiably true?

    If it isn’t, then the best laid plans o’ mice and men to counter this So Awful will be money and effort down the gurgler.

    • Given the frequently displayed failings in comprehension on even simple pieces, the influence of the MSM is probably being rated too highly.

      Not at all, Andrea. When the message is consistent, and contrary views are muted, how else would the public be influenced?

  9. Journalists fortunate enough to have a full-time job have a responsibility to report in the interests of those less powerful than them – that is the misanomer many “idealist” fools and follys enter the threshing machine under anyway, poor chicks.

    There are other ways to raise awareness and react as a community/communities, however. Social media gives us the dubious advantage of being able to voice our opinion and be monitored. But it also offers a very real and free (in terms of ease) to organise spontaneously, without having to resort to perhaps more expensive and time-consuming methods of associating.

    Communities or concerned citizens, with a little effort, can and have organised events to show solidarity and to pursue peace in constructive ways on numerous occasions. Protesting in the form of a march and a megaphone is not the only way, too (and media is always reactive to protests in that form, anyway).

    Earlier in the year, a number of people organised an event called Break Bread With Friends at the Christchurch Mosque on Deans Ave (101). The Mosque secretary was delighted by the idea, and organised food for 50. News spread fast via email, and other forms of social media (apparently), and there was that many people there on the day.

    We watched the devout pray. We sat around together, ate, and asked each other questions, first in a loose forum and then on a more one-to-one basis as we ate. We all learnt something. There was no need to drive for some sort of concensus. learning to respect and allow for the fact that we’ll never agree on many things is the thing. People didn’t shy away from difficult questions. A journalist was invited, I think, but it wasn’t reported on. It might have been nice and helped to spread the warm feelings we all walked away with, but that wasn’t the point.

    The most interesting thing about the whole event was that it wasn’t organised under any banner or by any organisation or figurehead. A range of people came, from activists to clergy. Nicky Wagner came, to her great credit. But it wasn’t a political event.

    The important thing was that the Muslims of diverse backgrounds who attend that particular mosque got a break from being got-at or simply accused (this was shortly after the Australian mother of convert Jones said that he was radicalised in Christchurch, note, and affirmations by the central government that the mosque was being monitored).

    The Anglican Church did a lot of the heavy lifting, it’s true, but I do believe that it is relatively easy to organise events like these. The Dean’s Ave mosque was delighted and greeted everyone warmly. I am sure, if one of you were to inquire, that you’d receive the same response at mosques around the country.

    We are more empowered and less hopeless than we realise. It doesn’t take much to turn belief into action, less than one might suppose. Contact your local mosque. Send out an invitation to the right people and it will spread like wildfire. Use the power the Internet grants us to organise semi-freely. No laws against free association have been introduced, yet, as they have started to be in Australia. If you feel angry and hopeless at the way a minority group is being represented and treated in your community as I did, pick up the phone, and get together for dinner. We are not powerless and at the bequest of newspapers and politicians all the time to the extent that it justifies the apathy that deludes us. That’s a state of mind. Dispel it.

  10. The news media are used by government and corporates to sound their story. That’s it. There is no free and open news media in any Western country. What we have is a propaganda tool. Of course the stories ramp up the Muslim effect – so the public will be wonderfully supportive of that county’s involvement in the war in Iraq. Of course the news media loves John Key. The NATs are the only party (hopefully) who are puppets of the US. The story is bigger than just media playing and sensationalising
    for the public. It has now become a whole propaganda machine and the majority of Westerners get carried along by it. I no longer read, listen to or watch articles written by press titutes in the ‘toilet paper’ as Gerald Celente calls it. Because really that’s what they have become – brainwashed lackies. Ask Gyon Espiner and Katherine Ryan what happened on the all expenses paid for junket to the States.

  11. Our esteemed Prime Minister announces that our Terror Alert has “risen” from “very low risk” of a terror attack to a “low risk”.

    Key states that our risk of a “terror attack” has gone from “unlikely” to “possible but not expected”.

    So what does Key do to dampen any potential threat(s) to this country?

    He announces he is considering greater involvement in the Middle East conflict against ISIS.

    Smart move, Prime Minister. You’ll have us up to “Attack: Imminent” in no time at all.

    Subjecting the public to fear-generating announcements is certainly one way to guarantee re-election in three years’ time.

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