In the aftermath of Stan Grant's shock resignation, the mainstream media is avoiding accountability for its amplification of racial abuse, writes Dr Victoria Fielding.
*Also listen to the audio version of this article on Spotify HERE.
WHEN Q+A HOST Stan Grant explained why he was resigning from the ABC, mainstream media voices characteristically went hunting for scapegoats, blaming each other and social media for his decision. In doing so, they failed to listen to what Grant actually said.
He criticised social media participants who racially mocked and abused him and his family. He called the worst of social media “a sordid spectacle. A grotesque burlesque”. However, he said this abuse was not the reason he was leaving.
He also denounced “people in the media” who “lie and distort my words” over his commentary during the King’s coronation coverage about Aboriginal Australians’ experience of colonisation. It was obvious here that Grant was referring to the characteristically hyperbolic rantings of News Corp which mentioned Grant’s coronation coverage over 150 times and then had a sook about being called out by other outlets. Although Murdoch’s campaign against Grant was abhorrent and contributed to his walking away, it wasn’t the actual reason.
Grant also criticised ABC's “institutional failure”, saying no one supported him privately or publicly when he was attacked in the media and on social media. He pointed out that ABC management invited him to take part and produced the coverage, but then failed to “refute the lies” told about him, allowing him to become the face of News Corp’s obsessive coverage. Yet, this failing was also not the reason he was leaving the ABC.
For those who did actually listen, Grant made it very clear why he felt he could no longer work in the Australian media.
“We in the media must ask if we are truly honouring a world worth living in. Too often we are the poison in the bloodstream of our society. I fear the media does not have the love or the language to speak to the gentle spirits of our land... I need a break from the media. I feel like I am part of the problem. And I need to ask myself how and if we can do it better.”
Grant said he was leaving because he could not be part of a media institution that was hurting the society it was meant to serve.
It is noteworthy that in response to this explanation, “the media” did everything it could to point fingers at anyone but itself. Amongst all this prevaricating, there was no self-reflection on what Grant had said.
Grant provided members of the media with the perfect opportunity to reflect on the impact they have on public discourse. Rather than take up this invitation, they proved Grant right by pumping more poison into public debate.
News Corp’s response to Grants’ critique was to point the finger at social media, at the ABC (more than once) and absurdly, even at the ABC’s failure to moderate Twitter comments replying to their account, which is technically impossible to do.
When Grant spoke out against the ABC’s practice of using false balance in a Sydney Writers Festival talk, decrying “balancing” truth against lies, The Australian thought this was another fruitful opportunity to criticise him.
It wasn’t just News Corp who wanted to change the conversation from the problem of “the media”, to instead blame social media abuse for Grant’s decision. The ABC also blamed racist social media abuse, and so did The Guardian.
Fronting Senate estimates, ABC managing director David Anderson apologised to Grant for not doing more to help tackle the social media abuse he received. He did make the valid point that other media companies needed to do more to stop amplifying abuse on social media.
However, when asked why the ABC persisted in putting ABC-hating News Corp panellists on their shows, Anderson chose to implicitly condone News Corp’s abuse of Grant, saying the ABC was “not in the business of censorship of views and perspectives”. Tackling hate is not censorship — it’s tackling hate.
Like News Corp, the ABC showed it is not willing to reflect on the true reason Grant is leaving its employ. That level of self-reflection would be far too great and far too inconvenient.
When people like Grant refer to the problems with “the media”, it’s time we start recognising that media is made up of all platforms where people communicate with the public. That includes mainstream media, independent and alternative media, and social media. It is one big self-reinforcing ecosystem.
Using Grant’s bloodstream analogy, News Corp was the beating heart that pumped poisonous lies into the arteries of social media, accusing Grant of being hateful in his colonisation comments.
This poison is eaten up by the likes of Michael Steven Davis, who is in court for threatening to “beat the living f**king sh*t” out of Stan Grant.
Davis said to Grant in a Facebook video:
“You piece of f**king shit, you trying to f**king segregate the country... I’ll f**k you up, you c**t.”
Where would this unhinged, abusive, possibly-violent man get the impression the Voice to Parliament will “segregate” the country? Well, from The Australian, of course. And even at SBS, too. Because apparently in the name of “balance”, SBS will publish absurd misinformation which will then be repeated by every racist troll looking for arguments to vote “No” and for reasons to abuse Indigenous people like Stan Grant.
David Anderson is only partly right when he says the ABC should work with other media outlets, like News Corp, to stop amplifying abuse on social media. Mainstream news outlets need to think about how they light the fire and then let it burn through the bloodstream of society. The hate on social media starts with and is normalised by mainstream media debates.
We need to stop differentiating between the words fed to us on television or printed in apparently legitimate newspapers and those filling the cesspit of Right-wing trolls on social media. They are one and the same.
Mainstream media has the power to infect social media with division, hate, abuse, bigotry, racism, misogyny, homophobia, transphobia — all manner of anti-social discrimination, misinformation and conspiracy. Yet, no major media outlet seems willing to acknowledge the role it plays.
Yorta Yorta writer, Daniel James, asked in The Saturday Paper whether Australia is ‘mature enough to have a meaningful and respectful national conversation’ about the Voice to Parliament. Judging by the mainstream media’s lack of ability to reflect on Stan Grant’s critique of the damage it does to society, I regret to say the answer is “No”.
*This article is also available on audio here:
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