Wednesday, 20 March 2013

The poltics of power: the media and the (Prime) Minister

I found myself unexpectedly angry, nay, furious, over the nonsense that is floating around the ether this afternoon in regard to Australian federal politics. We have another leadership spill in the offing, with Kevin Rudd again allegedly challenging for the top job. This, despite his repeated denials in the last week. As they say, truth is the first casualty of war, particularly when that war is political.

What has made me furious is the way this current Prime Minister has been spoken about, and the part the media have deliberately played in this. Since assuming the leadership, she has been the subject of unprecedented vilification, unprecedented in the sense that no other Australian Prime Minister has been subjected to such hatred and such scrutiny. I have just been arguing her case to a some blokes on Facebook, who have basically seen me as just another idiot Labor voter who needed to be put right.

Well, people, as a result of this exchange I have metaphorically sharpened my pencils and my tongue.

I know that there have been some problems with this government, but no worse than any other, and really important substantial legislation has been put and passed during this term. The country is in good economic shape. So what is really going on here?

I think there are two issues. The first is the Prime Minister’s gender. I am sure that by just being female, this has been enough to set off misogynistic males such as Ray Hadley and Alan Jones, the infamous shock jocks of Sydney’s 2GB. The second is media bias. I have repeatedly noticed that Julia Gillard cops a lot more flack than any other politician in the House. She is described in ugly and emotive terms. She is labelled as a liar, as incompetent and as having a bad hair style. We don’t like her shoes either, apparently. Impractical and she keeps falling over. And we can’t have that in the parliament, can we?

This PM is clearly not incompetent. There is plenty of important and needed legislation that has been introduced and passed through this parliament. Australia now has the Clean Energy Future package, the National Broadband scheme, the Gonski report on education and a National Disability Insurance Scheme. The PM ordered a Royal Commission into child sex abuse at the hands of the church. These are just a few really good important things this government has done. And while economics and the GDP of our country worries me not all (I think we need a new way of measuring national security and wellbeing), the world economic indices I have read and seen have Australia sitting near the top. We could even argue that Australia is now better off than when the last Coalition Government was in power. So why all the media flack squarely aimed at Ms Gillard?

Tim Dunlop of the ABC’s The Drum ( ) agrees with me in relation to this media bias. He notes that “Violent metaphors dominate the discussion of the Gillard Government. A recent article in (appropriately enough) The Punch managed to use all of these expressions in the course of its ranting: "assassination", "bloody execution", "swung a sledgehammer into its own political heartland", "knifed".”
He also noted that the Punch article “put the PM's problems down, in part, to her not having had a baby”.

Oh, please. In this day and age women in power have to put up with this sort of tripe?

The curse of Gillard seems to boil down to her being a liar. In fact she is, according to Alan Jones, “Juliar”. Very witty, Alan.

Why this obsession with her alleged lying and scurrilous behaviour? The famous carbon tax lie is usually what this boils down to. The tape where she said there will be no carbon tax is played over and over. However, the next bit is never played – the bit where she goes on to say quite unequivocally that in a Labor government there would be a price on carbon and an emissions trading scheme. Even Joe Hockey has defended her on this score. People, get over it. It was hardly a great big lie that has caused a war, drowned boat people and impoverished Australians.

Which leads me to my next point. The carry on about “Juliar” would make reasonable people think that she is obviously the first parliamentarian or Prime Minister in the history of Australia to lie. They appear to forget the Howard years, where John Howard’s shaky relationship with the truth hovered around 'uncomfortable'. His lies were, somehow, not lies. Confused yet?

Tim Dunlop says that the “standard theme of commentary throughout the Howard years, recycled as holy writ by journalists and other sage readers of the political entrails, was that 'the punters’ didn't care about Howard's lying.” But now apparently they do about Gillard’s lying. Why?

And just for the record, we will briefly raise some of this remarkably loose truth of Mr John "just watch my lips, the GST is dead and buried" Howard. Remember when he reneged on a number of election promises and referred to them as “non-core” promises? Do we recall that our whole involvement in the Iraq war was based on non-existent weapons of mass destruction? Let us not forget the children overboard affair, where he and his Minister Peter Reith lied about boat people throwing their children into the water – despite being advised to the contrary by our defence personnel. And I could go on. The shady dealings of the Australian wheat board, his blatant lie about not introducing a GST are all testament to a Prime Minister who apparently couldn’t lie straight in bed. But Alan Jones was very quiet about his. The Murdoch Press seemed not to notice. Curious, no?

And of course, Julia knifed poor Kevin. Leadership spills are always messy, and this one was no different. But this PM came to power in the same way the current leader of the Opposition became leader of his party – by deposing someone. Heard any criticism of Abbott?

It is only now that a lying politician is unacceptable to the great Australian public, who have suddenly become moral watchdogs. Why?

Tim Dunlop believes it is because of three things. He says:

“This is a Labor Government, it is a minority government, and the current prime minister is a woman."

Well, the fact that it is Labor and therefore unacceptable is somewhat mystifying. The Coalition has produced Barnaby Joyce and Peter Reith. ’Nuff said. Secondly, I see no problem with a 'hung' parliament - it has managed to introduce and get plenty of important legislation through. I happen to like and trust the Independents Windsor and Oakeshott, and think they do a fine job. Rob Oakeshott is my Federal member and he is a man of integrity and keeps himself well informed on issues. So there are no problems with this minority government making sensible decisions, as far as I can see.
But the fact we have a hung parliament that requires consultation and cooperation seems to be seen as horrifying by our media, has been milked by the Opposition, and has hoodwinked the great unwashed. It has showed no signs of being unstable, and manages to get quite a lot of legislation passed. So again, what is going on here?

Gillard may not be my favourite person but research shows the level of hate and animosity directed against her is unprecedented. Take a bow, media, for your role in this.

She has suffered unfairly because of her gender. This bias has been researched. It is clearly there. It is wrong and unfair. What other PM in this country has endured a “ditch the witch” sign aimed at him/her? What other PM has Alan Jones wanted to send to out to sea in a chaff bag? And what other Opposition leader stood in front of the aforesaid sign and addressed the approving crowd, giving tacit acquiescence to these things?

Being a woman means that Gillard is judged differently. It is unfair and it is unnecessary and it is scary.

As Dunlop says “When she is tough, she is seen as treacherous and unbecoming. When she prefers compromise and negotiation, she is seen as weak. Oh yeah, and she doesn't have kids: how can she relate to ‘normal’ people?”

The PM is a good negotiator, and these skills secured her the support of the Independents and the Greens to form the government, something that Tony Abbott completely failed to do. She is no more dishonest than anyone else in the house as far as I can ascertain and she is as honest than the others – the Opposition Leader included.

There is plenty of media frenzy now about the leadership spill and about Gillard. And they aren’t just commenting, which I know and accept is their job. It is the biased, ugly, emotive words and images that the media chooses when discussing Gillard. It is the deliberately negative words that are used to play to a very low baseline in the electorate.

This vilification of our first female prime minister should concern us all. It is unfair and it is disturbing in this age of supposed equality of men and women.

So whether you prefer Labor, the Coalition or the Greens, think about it. Is this how we want women in politics treated? What does this say of our society, and the increasing violence against women?

It is time to restore dignity and respect to the office of Prime Minister. It is time for the media to moderate its comments and play fair. Or we will be a much poorer society.

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