Media Sauce: Parallels between Orwell's 1984 and Murdoch 'hate media'

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Doc Martin has been rereading Nineteen Eighty-Four and he’s discovered interesting parallels between Andrew Bolt’s TV program, various Murdoch columnists and the "Two Minute Hate" sessions.

BEFORE WE start on today’s column, I’d just like to say thanks to Patrick for your letter. We will be following up the concerns you raised. Please get in touch again, I’d love to know more.

Can we call the Murdoch press the "hate media" and get away with it?

Have you ever tuned in to Andrew Bolt’s televised hate fest on Sky News?

I personally can barely bring myself to watch even a few minutes for research purposes, let alone choose to give up precious blocks of my time to be insulted and rebuked and spat upon by Bolt and his parade of useful idiots. However, a few days ago, I did watch a few minutes of Bolt and his useful idiot du jour, One Nation leader and Senator, Pauline Hanson.

I’m sure you’ve probably seen the clip too. It’s the one where Hanson displays her idiot qualities in all of their splendid ignorance. You can watch the clip on the news.com website. But, seriously why would you choose to do that?

Instead, just read this transcript, provided by the wonderful folk at Pedestrian TV.

I've raised the issues of equality over the years, whether you're an Aboriginal or a non-Aboriginal.

And I'll be asked the question: what defines an Aboriginal? Do you know there's no definition to [sic] an Aboriginal?

If you marry an Aboriginal you can be classified [as one], or if the community or the elders accept you into that community you can be defined as an Aboriginal.

That's not good enough because then if you make a comment about it, well what are you? Are you an Aboriginal or not an Aboriginal?

I think the whole lot needs to be opened up on this, a big debate on this.

Thankfully, sensible people responded with their usual civility and good humour and actually provided a history lesson to Hanson via social media using the hashtag #defineaboriginal. For a start, the noun form is Aborigine, but Hanson’s ignorance knows no bounds.

The whole rant from Hanson started with her hare-brained comments on freedom of speech and lasted around two minutes. It was hateful and spiteful and nasty and it reminded me of this.

Orwell Two Minutes of Hate


This is precisely the emotional effect that Bolt is trying to achieve, day in and day out. His program is no more than a collection of such two-minute noodles.

Luckily for Bolt, Pauline Hanson is easily wound-up and she’s guaranteed to voice the darkest fears that hate thrives on. Her appearance in July this year is another classic in the genre. This time, Hanson is the foil for a Bolt rant about Muslims and the Human Rights Commissioner, "Whatshisname". Hanson then directs the hate towards “gutless politicians” as well as the bloody Muslims.

Andrew Bolt family threatened by Muslims

In my view, it is quite "fair and balanced" to call Bolt part of the "hate media". He provides a steady diet of bombast and vitriol which targets ridiculously vague targets, like Muslims, or "the Left", or other sections of the media that disagree with him. The same pattern is repeated in his turgid columns for the Herald Sun and his cut-and-paste blog, where the comments thread mirrors back the hatred and contempt.

Yes, the neo-Nazis love Andrew, who stands up against the "Lügenpresse", with his own fabrications and far-right nostrums.

This is the "hate media" today and it’s not just Bolt, it is a common posture adopted throughout the Murdoch press in Australia.

The "hate media" then

Do you remember when former Greens leader Bob Brown called out the Murdoch press in Australia as the “hate media”?

It was the 19th of May 2011 and Brown made the claims during a media conference on the lawn of Parliament House.

If you don’t remember it’s worth watching again.

Greens leader Bob Brown criticises the Australian media

Brown’s comment about the “hate media” was only a half-finished thought and he quickly moved on to talk about The Australian’s coverage of climate change.

Brown: “I’m just wondering why the hate media (pause) It’s got a negative front page from top to bottom today (pause) can’t be more responsible and constructive?"

[interjection from journalist]

Brown: “Let me finish I’m just asking why you can’t be more constructive.

It’s not clear if the interjection was from The Australian’s journalist.

Of course, Brown was subsequently hammered by the news media for his “hate media” comment. Predictably, Andrew Bolt accused brown of having a "major meltdown" at the news conference.

The Herald Sun and the Telegraph both ran anti-Brown editorials:

Murdoch papers attack Brown's 'hate media' comment. Screenshot from crikey.com.

In its typical attack-mode way, The Australian devoted lots of space and the efforts of several staff to attacking Brown.

But the condemnation was not just the Murdoch papers either. Writing in The Conversation, Melbourne University journalism professor Denis Muller called Brown’s comments ‘silly’ and ‘misjudged’ because they left him open to further attacks. But Brown did have one defender, Michelle Grattan of Fairfax, who wrote that Brown’s response to bullying from the Murdoch press was reasonable.

The media pack hounding of Brown in the days following the media conference just proved his point in a roundabout way. The focus on a half-formed thought meant that the media could ignore the more substantive comments that Brown made on 19th May, for example about how the media’s coverage of the carbon tax and climate change were “not in Australia’s interests”.

Brown: “Some heat needs to be put back onto those sections of the media which are trying to drag this process down.”

A few minutes into the presser, Bob Brown addressed his comments directly to an unidentified journalist from The Australian (possibly James Massola) about the paper’s front page that day.

Brown: “Look, you have your snappies every day. You compare and contrast, and take on politicians and other sections of the media, but you don’t like it when we take you on. Don’t be so tetchy, you know, just measure up to your own rules.”

I think a "snappy" in this context refers to a piece of copy attacking someone The Australian doesn’t like.

About 4.45 minutes into the video (which is edited) Brown makes the point that he doesn’t have a go at the media every day because it would be a waste of his time. This is too much for one journo, who is off camera, to Brown’s right.

Michael Pachi from Fairfax radio sounds quite upset:

Pachi: “But you virtually do. You come out here every day and you do take on the media; the media that you don’t like.

Brown: “Look don’t get upset, this is just the democratic discourse…”

Pachi (interrupting): “Really?”

Brown: “Yes, yes, it is. Fair dinkum. Don’t be so unhappy. Don’t be on the backfoot.”

Pachi: “I’m not unhappy. You just come out here every day and you just bag out the Murdoch press, or any media that you don’t like and you call them the ‘hate press’.”

Brown: “The Murdoch press comes out every day and bags out the Greens.”

Why am I not surprised that a journalist needs to be educated about the role of the media in a democracy — it is not a free ride to be wrong or stupid and, yes, people do have a right to question you and to talk back.

At this point, Michael Pachi falls back on the old chestnut that the news media is just giving the audience what it wants. It’s rubbish, the media sets the agenda and tells us what it thinks is important. Any suggestion that the media is actually meeting the needs of its audience is a fallacy.

Pachi: “Don’t you just think we’re reflecting what our audience wants?”

Brown: “Well if you are, then stand by it. Don’t be defensive.”

Pachi (defensively): “I’m not being defensive. I would suggest people don’t want the carbon tax and you’re on the wrong foot on this issue.”

Brown: “The Greens’ membership is growing faster than the Murdoch media’s circulation.”

This is by far the most interesting exchange recorded at the media conference, but it has been ignored; dropped down the memory hole. Instead, according to Crikey’s reporting at the time, a number of Fairfax Radio on-air personalities stuck up for Pachi and got stuck into Brown again.

Fairfax Radio hosts rushed to Pachi’s defence yesterday and this morning. 3AW talkback tsar Neil Mitchell branded Brown a “twit” and a “dill” for his remarks and said the attack was “proof … we shouldn’t be in Bob Brown’s hands at all”.

Gary Hardgrave from 4BC called Brown “delusional”, while 2UE host Paul Murray said the Greens leader turns every press conference into an opportunity to slander the media.

In comments possibly unrelated to the press conference, Media Monitors recorded 5AA host Bob Francis calling Brown a “son of a bitch”.

All of that sounds like "hate media" to me.

Hate media: A brief history

The term "hate media" became popularised in global responses to the Rwandan civil war and genocide of 1991-95, in which tens of thousands were killed in a murderous tribal rampage that pitched Hutus against Tutsis in villages where, more often than not, they had lived peacefully side-by-side for generations. Part of the international soul-searching that went on following the Rwanda tragedy was a focus on the role of local Hutu radio stations in fomenting the killing and propagandising on behalf of the Hutu against Tutsi villagers. "Hate media" became a term used to describe these pro-Hutu stations, that broadcast malicious messages encouraging listeners to attack and kill Tutsi civilians.

The full horror of the Rwanda genocide and the role of Hutu radio is laid out in a book edited by former journalist and now Associate Professor of Journalism at Carleton University in Toronto, Allan Thompson, called The Media and the Rwanda Genocide.

A key point made in the book is that "hate media" can only succeed when other media turn their collective backs. In Rwanda, it was the international media that had turned its back and, while the world’s gaze was elsewhere, the murder of nearly half-a-million and the displacement of double that number into refugee camps went unchecked.

I am not, for a minute, suggesting that the scale of hate media in Rwanda is comparable to the Australian situation, but I think the principle of other sections of the media turning away is relevant to the situation that prevents other sections of the Australian press and media from calling out the excesses Murdoch outlets.

I have found one source that takes on the notion that the Murdoch press represents the modern face of "hate media" in Australia. An e-book written by Uthers Say, a retired school teacher of Sicilian-Australian heritage.

Mr Say has written Hate Media: Power without responsibility, in his words: 

‘... to promote the good wolf and to constrain the bad wolf while others were saying.'

Uthers Say - a book on Australia's 'hate media'

This book was published in 2013 and it does cover the Bob Brown news conference.

In the introduction, Mr Say makes the valid point that bullies don’t like being called on their abusive behaviours.

‘So too do the agents of powerful media corporations go on the attack when called out for their abuse of their privileged positions,’ he writes.

There are four elements to Mr Say’s exposition of how the Murdoch press operates its "hate media" agenda; none of them are as bloody or violent as fomenting genocide, but they are, nonetheless, dangerous to Australian democracy:

  1. Personal attacks as a substitute for civil discourse and rational debate;
  2. Promoting an ideology that serves the corporate interests of the owners of media real estate;
  3. Diminishing or silencing voices who speak out against the promoted corporate interests;
  4. The 'unholy alliance' between elected politicians and ‘media agents doing the will of their paymasters’.

Each and all of these elements are present right across the media real estate controlled by News Corporation; all of Murdoch’s print assets and, increasingly, Sky News broadcast on Foxtel PayTV platforms.

The "hate media" now

We don’t have to look far to find examples of the Murdoch "hate media" agenda in the echo chamber inhabited by NewsCorpse writers. They constantly retweet each other and applaud their own work, while baiting, threatening and insulting anyone who dares to disagree.

On Sky TV, both Bolt and senior Murdoch apparatchik Chris Kenny host regular "two-minute hate" sessions with a parade of NewsCorpse guests.

Herald Sun columnist Rita Panahi is a master at this game. Her favourite insults are used constantly and she has also started to threaten defamation action against anyone who speaks out against her.

See all Twitter replies here

Of course, the intent is never to actually initiate legal action — that is expensive and risky. If she were to sue, Rita would have to front a court and this would expose her to cross-examination, something I’m sure her lawyers would advise against.

The purpose of such tweeting is to dogwhistle her followers into attacking whomever is her target, which they do when given someone or something to direct their hate against.


Chris Kenny practices the same kind of tolerance for opposing views and his colleague Janet Albrechtsen retweets his rubbish.

The point of this self-referential behaviour is to present easy-to-digest bites of half-baked information, but with clearly identified targets that can be used as the goto objects of ridicule and as a focus for the ill-defined and often amorphous anger of readers. It is an appeal to emotion, not to reason and therefore it does not need facts — as the Kenny tweet above shows.

The parallels with the "Two-Minutes Hate" in Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four are not overblown. The targets for Kenny, Panahi and the others are always the same, progressives, feminists and anyone who adheres to a worldview not aligned with that of the Murdoch insiders. This is akin to the figure of Goldstein. Substitute the "Green-Left" or "Bob Brown" into these sentences and you will see what I mean.

‘He was the primal traitor, the earliest defiler of the Party’s purity. All subsequent crimes against the Party, all treacheries, acts of sabotage, heresies, deviations, sprang directly out of his teachings.’

However, in a nice ironic twist, it is the NewsCorpse talking heads and writers who most resemble the frenzied Goldstein in the heavily-produced propaganda films that make up the hate sessions.

‘... he was advocating freedom of speech, freedom of the Press, freedom of assembly, freedom of thought, he was crying hysterically that the revolution had been betrayed — and all this in rapid polysyllabic speech which was a sort of parody… and even contained Newspeak words [more] than any Party member would normally use in real life.’

This is the mantra of the NewsCorpse haters — to pretend that everything of value is under threat, while simultaneously taking away these same precious things under the guise of caring. For audiences susceptible to this propaganda (or who know no other), it becomes "impossible to avoid joining in". If you can stomach it, read the comments on the blogs these writers post or follow the thread of responses to their tweets.

Again, the parallels with Nineteen Eighty-Four are uncanny:

‘A hideous ecstasy of fear and vindictiveness, a desire to kill, to torture, to smash faces with a sledge-hammer, seemed to flow through the whole group of people like an electric current, turning one even against one’s own will into a grimacing, screaming lunatic.’

It is not a million miles from this visceral, emotive reaction to the killing fields of Rwanda after all. That’s why we should not turn our backs, but should stand and call-out the modern "hate media".

Read more by Dr Martin Hirst on his blog Ethical Martini and follow him on Twitter @ethicalmartini.

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