Media Opinion

Australian media's greatest crime against Gaza is ignoring it

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Gazans are desperate for food, which is in short supply as Israeli bombardments continue (Screenshot via YouTube)

The mainstream media has been displaying consent for atrocity in failing to report in-depth coverage of the situation in Gaza, writes Tom Tanuki.

IF ANY ONE CRIME of the Australian establishment press over the assault on Gaza has been the most unforgivable, it is perhaps the crime of omission.

I first noticed the deafening silence – including from ostensibly “liberal Left” outlets like The Age / Sydney Morning Herald – in late October. When the initial deluge of penned outrage about Hamas’ 7 October attack first began to be overshadowed by the looming, horrifying spectre of the retaliatory butchery the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) were committing in response, the press shifted gears at a dizzying pace. Suddenly, there was silence.­

One miserable morning, I switched from my social media feeds – which were then beginning to be inundated with documented, unimaginable brutality against women and children – to The Age, in the hopes of reading at least something of the Australian institutional response to this horror. I scrolled through television show reportage. News about sunscreen. Coverage of Spring Racing Carnival fashion trends. Reportage on the “mushroom murders” in Leongatha. Travel news. The daily crossword.

All that before I finally hit on something mentioning the Israel/Palestine conflict. And it was another breathless Hamas hit piece. I couldn’t believe it.

Terrible reporting I can contend with. Give me dishonest, conniving propagandising and warmongering that I can sink my teeth into. Perhaps I only say this as someone moderately tooled up to respond to that kind of thing. But give me something. Anything. Don’t give me orchestrated silence.

But so it has continued.

And by now, nobody is surprised when, say, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) delivers unprecedented rulings urging Israel to protect the citizens of Gaza — and our media all but ignores the ramifications of this landmark ruling. Nor are we surprised when many outlets studiously publish only the breathless Israeli response to that ruling.

We aren’t surprised when our media all but ignores the exposure of coordinated efforts in legal, creative and arts sectors by professional-managerial-class Zionists to thwart the careers of pro-Palestinian industry peers. We also don’t bat an eyelid when the tabulation of those Zionists’ details into a spreadsheet (a stupid and unstrategic move, to be fair) becomes far more compelling to local journalists, leading to our PM calling for anti-doxxing laws.  

We are treated to endless propagandist puff pieces about “harm” against Zionist professionals, but when a bomb is left on the car of a man flying a Palestinian flag, it’s left to independent Michael West Media to take up the slack.

Is this not truly astounding? I am accustomed now to the fact that I cannot get a full snapshot of what is actually happening regarding the Israel/Palestine conflict from any establishment Australian outlets at all.

No matter their popularly held political orientation. “Left”, “Right”, “Centre” — it’s all the same. I am not choosing to flee to social media, independent media or overseas outlets so much as I am forced to do so. This level of abrogation of journalistic responsibility feels, to me at least, to be corrupt to the point of criminality. 

Israel/Palestine may be “complex” and it’s undoubtedly not a liberal issue. But tens of thousands of butchered civilians falling, at a rate incomparable to any modern conflict, is not “complex”. It is a blight upon humanity, unfolding before our eyes. Any media outlet failing to address this with a sense of urgency is criminal in my eyes.

So, too, is the explosion of local activist outrage ignored. Some mainstream media outlets didn’t just downsize rallies of up to 100,000, many of them simply pretended they never happened at all. An ongoing encampment outside the Prime Minister’s office to demand action to protect Gazans has been completely absent in the media landscape.

But I cannot throw my hands up and say, “Let’s all move to social media, then”. It’s not that simple. I am an anti-fascist with a small part to play in a collective that has built up a dependable address book of media contacts over the years, so I know the vital utility of the mainstream press. It can speak directly to – and challenge – the halls of power in a way that social or independent media doesn’t. It can turn heads and make heads roll with an immediacy that we scrappier independents struggle to do unless we enjoy an enormous follower base.  

I admit that we continue to require the services of establishment media for strategic purposes, chastise it though we might. But I despair at the press’ conduct since 7 October. The orchestrated act of omission feels like the conduct of a truly broken industry.

What action can we take? 

The case of Overland Literary Journal demonstrates the level of pressure that smaller media outlets can face when they refuse to participate in ignoring or obfuscating the genocidal intent of the Israeli war on Gazans. Overland has faced calls to defund it, for subscribers to leave it in protest and attacks on its status as a not-for-profit. In these attacks, we see the pressure points smaller media outlets like Overland face: their wallet strings and their treatment by the Government.

We cannot leverage these pressure points with the mainstream press. They don’t want for money and we don’t have the Government on our side. What we do have on our side is workers.

Certainly, we could rally outside media outlets as some activists have already done. But better that our workers’ unions in Australia – which cater to media outlets like (MEAA) Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance  – should help coordinate their members in organised refusal to participate in anti-Palestinian, pro-genocidal messaging.

I spoke to Celeste Liddle – Arrernte activist, unionist, commentator and comrade – about this.

Liddle said:

“The biggest war machine is, in fact, the media. The reason being is that the Australian landscape is dominated either by commercial media feeding us lines that serve their owners’ or their advertisers’ interests, or by public media kowtowing to the stance of the government of the day in order to maintain funding.”

There has been a campaign by MEAA, the union outlet for journalists and media sector workers. But it’s stopped somewhat short of coordinated campaigns. We’re long past passive or individualist actions like “boycotting” or abstaining from individual outlets over it. Not when the entire local media landscape appears complicit.

Liddle added:

“A coordinated truth-telling campaign by media practitioners that has support and safety in numbers, pushing back against the media orgs, could really change things.”

Something has to change about the way that our media ignores Gaza. We cannot tolerate the way it furnishes consent for atrocity by simply ignoring what’s happening. It’s a failure of the function of a free press to do so.

Tom Tanuki is a writer, satirist and anti-fascist activist. Tom does weekly videos on YouTube commenting on the Australian political fringe. You can follow Tom on Twitter @tom_tanuki.

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