Media Analysis

Trashing of Rebel Wilson's rights exposes media’s decency decline

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(Image by Dan Jensen)

The Sydney Morning Herald's (SMH's) treatment of Rebel Wilson is a shocking and grimy reminder of how far the establishment media has fallen in recent years.

In a nutshell, SMH threatened to “out” Rebel Wilson’s sexuality if she didn’t give them an exclusive comment and when Wilson chose to come out herself instead, the publication became aggrieved at missing out on a salacious exclusive — no, not kidding.

Let’s get this straight, we are not only outraged because Wilson is famous or just because the story has hit international news in spectacular, Hollywood style — though these aspects do also serve to highlight the voicelessness of the non-famous.

The reason many of us are appalled, over and above anger that someone’s sexuality is still considered anyone else’s business let alone “news”, comes with the realisation that our Fourth Estate (with few exceptions) has now been fashioned, moulded and perfected in Murdoch's News Corp image.

Mostly, people have a right to know when the media trusted with exposing these truths and upholding these democratic rights is, instead, only full of shit.

News Corp is the behemoth that owns the majority of print and media interests in Australia and has for years, used its power and influence to infect and dominate the narrative with its regressive Right-wing agenda, come what may.

In similar vein, the SMH ceased being a reliable news source sometime after the media ownership laws were relaxed and Nine purchased it. Together with News Corp and Seven West Media, Nine’s acquisition of the Fairfax Press managed to concentrate around 95 per cent media ownership in the hands of only three organisations, providing the final nail in the coffin for Australia’s media diversity.

Thus, we do not ascribe to Crikey’s position that ‘the Rebel Wilson story threatens to trash the reputation of a once hallowed masthead’, either, since it is already trashed.

Nonetheless, the depths to which this publication has sunk can still engender fresh shock.

According to columnist Andrew Hornery, it was never his intention to "out" Wilson – though it clearly was, since he said as much:

'So, it was with an abundance of caution and respect that this media outlet emailed Rebel Wilson's representatives on Thursday morning, giving her two days to comment on her new relationship with LA leisure wear designer Ramona Agruma, before publishing a single word.'

Wow, can't you just feel that abundance of respect oozing out of the page?

Editor Bevan Shields originally stuck to the “public has a right to know” defence:

'Considering how bitterly Wilson had complained about poor journalism standards when she successfully sued Woman’s Day for defamation, her choice to ignore our discreet, genuine and honest queries was, in our view, underwhelming.'

Now, I don’t know about you, but the nature of Wilson’s (or anyone else’s) sexuality interests me not at all. Nor should it. That the SMH editor thinks the nature of a person's sexuality can spark interest among its readership in 2022 is mind-blowing in itself, though it may help to explain the decline of print media in general.

Of course, its long-term readership success or failure in no way excuses the damage SMH and its fellow media giants continue to inflict on the LGBTIQ+ community by way of their poisonous and frankly idiotic attitudes to sexuality, as witnessed at length during the same-sex marriage "debate".

This snapshot taken from a report by LGBTIQ+ Health Australia provides a little context (IA emphasis added):

Although many ... LGBTIQ+ people live healthy and happy lives, research has demonstrated that a disproportionate number experience poorer mental health outcomes and have higher risk of suicidal behaviours than their peers.


These health outcomes are directly related to experiences of stigma, prejudice, discrimination and abuse on the basis of being LGBTIQ+.

Shields eventually offered this by way of "apology":

'The Herald made mistakes over Rebel Wilson, and will learn from them.'

Sorry, Bevan, a “mistake" constitutes a typo or when someone is misquoted, or a claim printed as factual and then found to be incorrect. Choosing to effectively blackmail someone over private information by threatening to announce to the world their same-sex relationship – which they chose to keep private – is, quite simply, taking advantage of your power. It is just plain bullying. 

If people have a “right to know” about Rebel Wilson’s sexuality, then perhaps Bevan Shields would care to share details of his sexual proclivities? If not, then surely he would have no issue if another publication gave him 48 hours-notice before launching into a detailed exposé? After all, he is famous. Sort of. No doubt, the fact that the once-respected publication he edits has now been internationally exposed as a trashy gossip rag devoid of moral fibre will add to his notoriety, so such matters should be open slather, surely?

In his short time as editor, Bevan Shields has already demonstrated form when it comes to printing baseless bullshit. There's the time when he insisted that the Sydney Metro closure was a union strike when it was actually shut down by the NSW Government, for instance.

People have a right to know when their government is abusing its position or when a government minister is pushing a legislative agenda based on his own perverted idea of the “sanctity of marriage” while in secret, he is trashing the whole contract. They have a right to know when a charity is swindling taxpayer funds. They need to know who is funding legal bills on behalf of government ministers. And they have a right to know when corporations are colluding with the government at great public cost.

Mostly, people have a right to know when the media trusted with exposing these truths and upholding these democratic rights is, instead, only full of shit.

Unfortunately, most of these rights are being vandalised by the very publication Bevan Shields edits. The fact that such thinly veiled self-serving excuses for public interest journalism continue on a daily basis, is cause for national shame.

This editorial was originally published as part of the Independent Australia weekly newsletter. These editorials are usually only available to subscribers and may be read online in the IA members-only area.

You can follow managing editor Michelle Pini on Twitter @vmp9. Follow Independent Australia on Twitter at @independentaus, on Facebook HERE and on Instagram HERE.

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