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GRACE TAME: Exploitative media

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Grace Tame has criticised the mainstream media over its exploitation of the passing of Senator Kimberley Kitching (Image by Dan Jensen)

Grace Tame speaks up about the demise of media integrity and why the exploitation of Labor Senator Kimberley Kitching is not in the public interest. IA shares this opinion.

THE GAME IS RIGGED. What’s the game? Exploitative media. Following allegations levelled at Prime Minister Scott Morrison by L-NP Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells, comparisons are being drawn between her case and that of the late ALP Senator.

I’ve been repeatedly criticised for my silence on the latter.

There are many differences between them that warrant close examination. One is the role played by an imbalanced corporate media industry. Of course, just as nobody is forced to write, read, buy or sell newspapers, nobody is forced to buy my two cents either. Be your own agent.

Please note, these words aren’t aimed at individual journalists or independents, many of whom I know do their best to uphold democracy at all costs. I also wish to restate my gratitude to all who’ve helped over the years in campaigning. This conversation is entirely separate.

Nobody – on any side of politics, at any media outlet – had the late Labor Senator’s blanket consent to define her legacy post-mortem, including me. I never met her and never will. In her case, the game was rigged from the start.

Her case serves as a prime example of how an industry at large exploits all of our pain (not just hers) daily with impunity, for power and profit. That’s the sensationalist business model, after all: feed and distort our rage, then feed off it. It’s a vicious, unforgiving cycle.

Not only is the media still exploiting the death of an individual, it’s exploiting us collectively by doing so. It’s exploiting natural morbid curiosity (that “can’t look away from the car accident” phenomenon) and heightened public awareness of a gendered social issue.

Ultimately, news media giants will continue thriving after the upcoming Federal Election. They’ll still exist, regardless of whether our prime minister is Scott Morrison, Anthony Albanese, or a Fabergé egg.

A person’s story should always be told on their terms. Unlike the case of the Liberal Senator – who can advocate for herself – the case of the late Labor Senator can never be an equal playing field. She’s unable to reply. She’s permanently defenceless.

Agency. Authenticity. Respect. Truth. These four are among my highest values. If I’m unsure of them, I don’t play. None of these is certain in the case of the Labor Senator.

  1. Agency: She doesn’t have agency, even if there are some claiming to advocate for her. They aren’t her.
  2. Authenticity: I’m unsure of who or what is entirely authentic in this impossibly complex saga.
  3. Respect: Whether you believe allegations by her, against her, or both, I believe the relentlessness of the coverage alone spits in the face of human decency. She just died. It’s disgusting and demeaning to everyone involved.
  4. Truth: The level of intricacy of the allegations, internal politics and biased media agendas – on top of the fact that the main subject is deceased – makes for an unsolvable mess. There are now 370+ pieces to cross-reference.

To be clear: as a regular target of both, I don’t condone bullying or harassment. I’m not here to pick sides, nor defend the institution of politics, which I’ve always thought to be universally dirty. The late Senator died of a heart attack, that’s the only absolute certainty.

No journalist has either the right or qualifications to determine the cause of death of any individual, ever. Yet, the nation’s biggest media corporation had the audacity to accuse the Labor Party of, effectively, manslaughter. Who or what is holding them to account for this?

What followed is a tasteless scramble of voices grasping to be heard and not just the usual suspects this time, either. I was disappointed to see the national broadcaster join the chorus, too. For what purpose? A political one? At face value. But also for profit. For clicks.

Ultimately, news media giants will continue thriving after the upcoming Federal Election. They’ll still exist, regardless of whether our prime minister is Scott Morrison, Anthony Albanese, or a Fabergé egg.

But when these (mostly) confected electioneering bin-fires go out, the flames of private citizens’ trauma – which they inevitably reignite – will continue burning. And it’s usually the tired advocates and underfunded services who cop most of the heat, answering their cries for help.

The 24-hour news cycle might be 24 hours to some, but to others, it is their life. Public interest is fleeting. Trauma is forever. You can’t intellectualise your way around that. That’s biology. You may call it critiquing, or political commentary, you may even call it advocacy.

Call it whatever you like, but it won’t change the consequences. The ones who pay the real cost of these kinds of hypocritical hatchet jobs are everyday survivors of bullying, harassment and other human issues they awaken.

I’ve watched in disgust as media giants have tossed around not only the late Labor Senator’s personal details but also other people’s traumas, like poker chips. They’ve used her image as a canvas for various political and profiteering projections.

Some press gallerists might scorn my naïveté; don’t I know it’s in the “public interest”? I’ve heard this logic. But this isn’t about logic. It's about ethics. Where do we draw the line? Some readers can’t access help to process trauma that may have been triggered by media.

First Nations people, people with disabilities, people of colour, low-income earners, migrants, LGBTQIA+ voices and other marginalised groups face even harder (if not impossible) roads to justice due to added layers of systemic disadvantage that will take generations to overcome.

Once upon a time, it could be said that the media played a solely intermediary and unbiased role, transmitting information from one source to another. Now it could be said that as well as communicating distressing events, in some cases they also contribute to them.

Not only is a significant portion of our nation’s news media industry corrupted and collusive, it seems to be somewhat unaware of the full extent of the impact its actions have on its readership.

Media giants, are you genuinely prepared to finish all the games you play?

Media giants, would you be prepared to triage inundations of disclosures about bullying, harassment and other issues? Or will you turn a blind eye when they’ve had their day in the sun?

If corporate media giants are so willing to interfere and collude – instead of simply just objectively communicating information – perhaps it’s time they also stepped up to help respond. Perhaps that’s a solution to the imbalance.

Regardless, what counts more than anybody’s words – including mine – is choice. These games aren’t equal. Be your own agent. Take care.

If you’re in need of counselling assistance, you may wish to call Lifeline on 13 11 14. If you need immediate help, please dial 000.

Since being announced Australian of the Year in January 2021, Grace Tame has become a household name as a brave and passionate advocate for systemic change to prevent child sexual abuse. You can follow Grace on Twitter @TamePunk.

This excerpt from Grace Tame's Twitter account has been republished with permission.

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