In Australia, female leaders continue to be torn down by frenzied media campaigns, writes Alan Austin.
Reactions worldwide to Jacinda Ardern’s extraordinary leadership following the Christchurch terrorist attack in March were universally laudatory. Almost.
The world’s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa in the United Arab Emirates, was illuminated with Ardern’s face the night after the terror attack to honour her response to those killed and injured. This was reported in Germany, Indonesia, Denmark, France, the USA, the UAE, India, New Zealand and elsewhere.
A French journal headed its tribute, ‘Jacinda Ardern, the New Zealander who embodies a new path in politics’. The Irish Times titled its piece, ‘Why Jacinda Ardern should be an example to future leaders everywhere’. The headline in The New York Times read, ‘Jacinda Ardern Is Leading by Following No One’.
Fortune magazine last month named Ardern the world’s greatest elected leader, second only to unelected leaders Bill and Melinda Gates.
In contrast to these, The Australian ran a spiteful piece which described Ardern’s performance as "ordinary", and falsely claimed that her Government is pursuing policies ‘based on providing more free stuff to people using other people’s money’.
Pretty snide and sneering, given the grief Ardern’s nation has been processing following the Christchurch atrocity. The fact that this was written by a woman merely underscores the insidious nature of the Murdoch empire.
The treatment of Ardern by The Australian is just the latest illustration of how Australia, has almost completely closed off the option of a strong, capable and compassionate woman leading the country. Several great women have been thrust into positions of leadership and authority over the years. One by one, the powerful institutions and mainstream media have torn them down.
Professor Gillian Triggs, president of the Australian Human Rights Commission, is the latest victim of a heavy-handed campaign by The Australian newspaper. The pattern is familiar. A daily barrage, tirelessly repeating the same details, with context and unhelpful facts omitted. On and on it goes, until the hapless victim is supposed to crumple under the barrels of splattered ink.
The attack launched by The Australian on Gillian Triggs and the Human Rights Commission has been obsessive, petty, relentless, remorseless and ruthless. In "Bad News", I documented similar campaigns — against Larissa Behrendt and Julie Posetti. But neither reached either the level of malevolence or the cultural significance of the current anti-Triggs campaign.
Women to have suffered these frenzied media campaigns of hate include, besides the four mentioned above, Janine Haines, Cheryl Kernot, Carmen Lawrence, Joan Kirner, Wendy Bacon, Natasha Stott Despoja, Margaret Simons, Christine Nixon, Roz Ward, Clover Moore, Margo Kingston, Anna Bligh, Kristina Keneally, Sarah Hanson-Young, Emma Husar, Yassmin Abdel-Magied and Julia Gillard.
Jacinda Ardern was actually not the first antipodean Prime Minister to win the respect of the watching world for her values and character. Julia Gillard was unchallenged as the leader most admired internationally during her 36-month term as Australia’s PM.
History will record Gillard as leading not just one of the best Australian governments, but one of the best Westminster governments anywhere. Ever.
The achievements of her administration are well-known to readers of the alternative media and foreign news outlets, if not Australia’s mendacious mainstream media.
During her tenure, Australia was presented with a seat on the United Nations Security Council, invited to chair the G20 group of the world’s major economies and asked to host the Pacific Island Forum.
Gillard herself received a record six standing ovations and ten seated rounds of applause for her historic speech to the U.S. Joint Congress in 2011. Judged by global media attention, her misogyny speech in 2012 has become the world's most famous oration from a national leader since John F Kennedy’s in Berlin in 1963.
None of this stopped the Murdoch press, other “news” outlets and the conservative political parties from condemning her – from the moment she entered public life – for old relationships, accusations of criminality in her former occupation, her childlessness, her body shape, her husband, posing for fashion photos, being a "lesbian", being a "liar" and even for having an empty fruit bowl in her kitchen. Most of these allegations were simply fabricated.
Author Chris Wallace wrote that ‘most prime ministers have a hyena tearing at their belly as they dash across the political landscape’ but that ‘Gillard has not one, but many’. As well as bitter Parliamentary opponents, there was ‘Rupert Murdoch with his dominance of the local print media, and a clutch of snapping, snarling commentators, bloggers and shock-jocks — a veritable pack of scavengers and would-be predators all'.
One such snarling scavenger, Sydney broadcaster Alan Jones, opined that Gillard, along with Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore, should be tied in a chaff bag and thrown out to sea.
These malicious attacks continue with more snide references in The Australian as recently as last week. The haters of women in authority, such as those who cut down Gillard’s commemorative English Oak in the Blue Mountains last week, are thus urged on. Still.
The solution to this social cancer is the same as to the malignancy of the continual fake news about Australia’s economy. The tumours must be excised. The publications causing such profound harm to blameless individuals – as well as to the community – must be boycotted out of existence.
This can be achieved. Murdoch’s British News of the World was closed in 2011 after extensive criminality by its management and staff was proven. Other defunct News Corp outlets include The Daily, Today and The Far Eastern Economic Review.
It can be done. A good place to start in Australia would be The Australian, arguably the most malicious and reportedly barely profitable.
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