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Politics Editorial

Mainstream media holds politicians to account — some of them, sometimes

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Cartoon by Mark David / @MDavidCartoons

Recently, Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews was asked the usual questions by the usual suspects during yet another press conference, in the same unrelenting manner.

We believe that the media should hold politicians and the powerful to account — it is a principle on which IA is built. The failure of a large sector of the fourth estate to do this on a regular basis is something about which we have also published extensively.

However, we believe all politicians and powerful people should be held up to the same scrutiny. But when it comes to the coronavirus – and many other issues – it’s pretty plain this simply doesn’t happen with respect to the Morrison Government.

THE FERAL TWITTERATI

For those who are not on Twitter, it is often categorised by its critics as a hyper-partisan cesspit of anger and riotous vitriol. But the truth is, Twitter is one of the few places informed consumers of news and politics meet head to head with the mainstream media. Like any communication tool, it is home to a vast array of opinions and personalities, and just like any public forum, abuse may sometimes occur.

We all know what happens when the mob targets someone – regardless of the platform – and it can be seriously damaging. 

However, blanket categorisations of any group of people, such as the following from Nine's Chris Uhlmann, are rarely helpful:

‘In a staggering development, it turns out that the fetid blathering of the feral Twitterati might not be an accurate reflection of most of the community.‘

GLASS HOUSES

Such dismissals serve as a convenient way for some in the media to avoid scrutiny of their own actions. It is a propaganda technique used to discredit the audience and avoid the questions that the vast majority want answered.

The staggering difference in approach used by the majority of the media on the question of accountability over the pandemic is a clear yardstick of the predominant bias against Labor leaders that exists in the mainstream media.

In the case of Scott Morrison and Peter Dutton, who obfuscate, refuse to answer and often just hide from the media, with few exceptions, the press is respectful, timid and content to be put in their place, allowing mountains of questions to remain unanswered. Journalists who manage to speak out are often slapped down, even by their own peers.

Dan Andrews on the other hand, who fronts up to a daily media conference and answers each and every question, is afforded no such deference and is, instead, subjected to incessant attacks, such as “Dictator Dan” and "Chairman Dan" — abuse which many in the media are happy to replay on repeat.

This anomaly is obvious to anyone who follows these exchanges and was recently the subject of criticism on Twitter.

After asking the Victorian Premier five oft-repeated questions last Thursday, News Corp journalist Rachel Baxendale was queried on this stark contrast in the way in which Morrison and Andrews are treated by the press.

According to Baxendale, the Twitter discussion turned nasty and she shared her thoughts in a thread, detailing her distress at being the target of bullying:

...Journalists should never be above criticism, and I'm always willing to hear it if it's constructive, but no one should face relentless personal abuse for doing their job.

Baxendale also indicated that the threats were gender-based and discriminatory:

'…And although a high proportion of those doing the attacking appear to be women (there are plenty of men too), a lot of them do seem to have more of a problem with my female colleagues and me asking questions than they do with our male counterparts.'

There is no suggestion that Baxendale didn’t receive threats and abuse — clearly, she did. What’s more, threats and bullying are not to be condoned, no matter how heated an argument may get. Gender-based or sexualised insults are doubly insidious. So far, we are all in agreement.

AN ANGRY MOB

The issue here, however, is that numerous journos jumped on board to offer their sympathy and simultaneously used the opportunity to denigrate everybody on Twitter as vile discriminatory thugs.

Firstly, it should be obvious that not everyone engaging on Twitter is an abusive bully. Secondly, informed commentary and criticism does not constitute abuse, yet many in the media continue to react to unfavourable criticism citing this defence.

Hardly anyone who dared to venture an opinion was spared from the angry anti-Twitterati mob.

#MEDIAFAIL

Esteemed political journalism expert Dr Tim Dunlop attempted to break down the narrative and explain this phenomenon.

He wrote:

'This week's arguments about the role of media have focussed on the treatment of Dan Andrews, but that isn't what this is really about. The concern coming through from citizens is about a deep sense that the media is failing them, a concern that has been building for years.'

Dunlop was lumped in with the rest of the “feral Twitterati” and even blocked by some of the outraged mob for his trouble.

ABC journalist and anti-Twitterati flag-bearer Isobel Roe even went as far as to dismiss him and others thus:

‘After completing their armchair epidemiology and armchair explosives degrees, I see the Twitterati are now political journalism experts.’

On this inane dismissal of public debate, we offer the following summation from Mr Denmore:

‘It would be encouraging to see journalists actively engaging with and responding to the thoughtful observations here from Tim Dunlop instead of knee-jerk condescension and blanket dismissal of all online criticism as misinformed or malicious.’

This is only half the story! Read the rest of this editorial in the IA members-only area. It takes less than a minute to subscribe to IA and costs as little as $5 a month, or $50 a year — a small sum for superb journalism and lots of extras.

Follow managing editor Michelle Pini on Twitter @vmp9. Follow Independent Australia on Twitter at @independentaus and on Facebook HERE.

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