‘The fact that they co-host the same show yet only one has been the subject of pointed attacks in the media makes it hard to argue that the problem, from the perspective of long-term TV insiders, isn’t one of race.’
– from ‘Why you should care about the casual racism on television‘; comparing the reaction to Waleed Aly’s Gold Logie nomination to the reaction to colleague Carrie Bickmore’s.
Back in 2010, I wrote this post titled ‘People like us: media representation and social cohesion’. In short, the post is about the importance of seeing the full diversity of a country’s population reflected in the cultural media landscape; how good storytelling and media representation can foster understanding and respect for fellow citizens, and a sense of belonging and inclusion for otherwise marginalised people.
In that post, I quoted something Waleed Aly (whom I have been critical of on various occasions) said in his interview with Andrew Denton on program Enough Rope – about the importance of positive Muslim “role models” and icons in the media and public life, at a time when mistrust and marginalisation of Muslim people had taken root in Australia:
“I think we like to see reflections of ourselves in the public space and Muslims have been really short on role models in the public space in Australia or even in the western world. We’ve had some very successful Muslims. John Ilhan, the late John Ilhan’s a very good example of that. But at the same time his real name was Mustafa and he had to become John to become a success.”
“And when you see him [Bashar Haoli, first top grade Muslim AFL player], out there, and you see him do that, you suddenly for a moment have this belief, this realisation that I could do that, if I had the talent. But the thing that’s stopping me is that I’m no good, not that I happen to be a Muslim or that I come from a Middle Eastern background, and that’s incredibly powerful. It’s so powerful, I don’t think people who don’t have that problem who have never encountered not being represented in the public space in some way understand how debilitating that can be.” [emphasis mine]
Fast foward to April 2016, and public intellectual+professional print/radio/television broadcaster of many years Waleed Aly – along with broadcasting veteran and avant garde icon Lee Lin Chin – have become the FIRST EVER non-white Gold Logie nominees (in a list that includes 6 people). The Logie nominations are awarded based on a popular vote by citizens who care enough to cast votes in this popularity contest.
The response from media gate keepers and segments of the (white) media establishment to the announcement that these two public figures were on the list was… incredibly telling. Karl Stefanovic, 2011 Gold Logie winner who has attempted with some success to put himself forth as an enlightened person in regards to Indigenous relations and gender equality, couldn’t help but betray a sizeable blind spot he has in this pathetic Today show exchange with two other well-paid white public figures:
Ben: “Where is Lisa Wilkinson’s Gold Logie?”
Karl: “Lisa’s too white.”
Ben: “Is that it?”
Karl: “That’s it.”
Lisa: (laughing) “I got a spray tan and everything, still didn’t make it. What can you do?”
Karl: “Logies controversy. Boom.”
In the segment later defended by the host network as not about race, Stefanovic also joked that despite being white “on the outside”, he was “dark on the inside”; then was hailed by co-host Ben Fordham as a trailblazer. Meanwhile, the usual suspects in the media establishment reacted to the announcement of the two highly accomplished non-white broadcasters being nominees as if a political leader had tried to steal an election.
New Matilda published this rebuttal pointing out the rank hypocrisy, inconsistency, racism and Islamophobia that characterised the bizarrely heated (but not surprising) reactions to Aly and Lin Chin being nominated. I just want you to ponder, for one minute, what it might be like to live as a brown-skinned person in a country in which one of the only public figures who looks like you, and that you may identify with – an accomplished, law-abiding centrist intellectual – is attacked based only on his status as a non-white man.
Regardless of what other privileges of citizenship you have, do you think it does an individual’s or community’s psychological state any favours to live in a context in which any success that non-white (or non-majority) people enjoy is denigrated, mocked and blamed on the ego-preserving concept of “reverse discrimination”? Or blamed on affirmative action – an often necessary policy approach to redress well-established pro-white hiring and selection bias? Even when the non-white people in question were actually selected based on popular public vote?
Think about how the reaction to these two media figures might mirror the marginalisation of unapologetically non-majority people in Australian society at large. And I use the term unapologetically in a positive sense. Both Aly and Lin Chin have been on our screens for ages. Lin Chin has endured much abuse for her ethnicity, voice, looks and style over her career; yet continues to kick ass as an avant garde icon. Aly has endured a lot of racist abuse, but continues to speak out against racism and a range of social abuses.
Perhaps the “issue” unconscious racists are having is not that mild-mannered Aly and non-political Lin Chin are not white – I can imagine the same people and news organisation wholeheartedly embracing and supporting a non-white person who attacks others who speak out about racism, cultivates a conventional style and uncritically supports the status quo and nationalism (they gave one such person her own column and regularly consult her for these kinds of opinions).
Maybe the real root to the aversion to Lin Chin and Aly is that they have not shed the things that make them ‘the Other’ in many people’s minds – whilst simultaneously owning their identity as Australians. As it should be.
Interesting fact: the proportion of Australians born overseas has hit a 120-year high (March 2016 ABS statistics) and Screen Australia recently announced a research project to ascertain just how diverse cast and storyline diversity has been in Australian television drama over the last five years. I’ll write about this in an upcoming post.
And I’m sorry this post was late – it’s been a crazy, but intensely creative, week.
Let me preface what I am about to write with an assertion that I have respect and admiration for both DAVID DONOVAN [Journalist and managing editor of Independent Australia – a progressive journal I am thankful exists] and SAMANTHA MAIDEN [National Political Editor Sunday Telegraph, Sunday Herald Sun, Sunday Mail (Qld & SA), Sunday Times, Sunday Tasmanian & (a personal fave of hers) Sunday Territorian]. I also follow both on Twitter, and value their media contributions. The following is an analysis of how the bias of individuals can often stifle genuine communication – particularly when one, both (or all) parties go into a conversation with strong preconceptions about who the other party is. These two, evidently, have strong opinions about each other.
Yesterday evening, I was magazine reading after a lazy fish n’ chips dinner and intermittently checking twitter when I witnessed – in real time – an exchange between David and Samantha. It all started with this innocuous (I think) tweet from David:
I think it’s safe to say David doesn’t like Abbott. Also true: writers and journalists ask questions. David was asking Twitter a question. Nothing heinously untoward here. Samantha responded very quickly with an innocuous answer/correction (to both David and Van Badham – probably because Samantha saw David’s tweet via Van’s profile?):
The link he tweeted was THIS transcript of a story by Sara Everingham for ABC Local Radio’s ‘PM’ program. It contains within it these words spoken by Sara: “He also promised that if the Coalition wins the election he’ll spend his first week as prime minister with the Yolngu people in north-east Arnhem Land.”
I don’t know the full story of the history of communication between these two, but I strongly suspect after that second tweet that Samantha got (understandably) irritated with the insinuation within it – although she kept a lid on it for a while longer. Her responses to those two tweets:
Okay. Reasonable, right? David responded, by noting the lines within Sara’s report, which make the assertion that David’s original question was about:
Having made the point that that was not a direct quote but the reporter’s assertion, Samantha is obviously talking about widely reported official campaign and policy promises. So she is correct in her assertion that Abbott’s widely reported official campaign promises included a promise to spend 1 week a year there. All the reports I recall hearing/reading reported this – I must have missed Sara’s PM report.
And after that, Samantha seemingly went a little cray, arguing that the ABC PM story itself did not state that Abbott would spend his first week as Prime Minister with that particular Arnhem Land community (even though it did – that may have been an error, but Sara did report that in the transcript. It is true though that a direct quote from Abbott is not played in the report – he is never heard saying “in my first week…”):
Really, Samantha? All David asked was whether this was true or not. You provided him with some information. He responded by providing a link to an ABC radio report that states – erroneously or not – that Abbott said to the community that he would spend his first week there. You countered by reasserting this was false and that that particular “promise” was just speculative twitter hokum. The fact that it was reported by the national broadcaster once, is enough to warrant a simple informal question on Twitter though, surely?
The link he tweeted was to THIS. Turns out, David grew up alongside Indigenous Australians in Central Queensland during the 1970s and 1980s. The article is about his experiences growing up there.
Independent Australia does campaign for Indigenous people.
That is just plainly wrong. Obviously. I’ll chalk it down to Samantha (perhaps) being offended by David’s insinuation she leapt to the defence of Abbott. Or she doesn’t like/respect David and his work, and has a particular perception of who he is, and what motivated that initial question (she said as much – in an earlier tweet she suggested he was peddling an “urban myth”). Most likely, a combination.
Samantha is a good journalist, but this is an unedifying spectacle now. For real. The conversation continued:
The PM program should have corrected that record, if it was incorrect. PM Abbott probably doesn’t even know about it.
And then Samantha accused David of being a lazy journo.
I believe this is what is called “escalation”.
I don’t recall ever hearing Abbott was going to spend the first week there – then again, I don’t think I listened to Sara’s report. Furthermore it is hard to say whether or not many votes cast in the election were influenced specifically by that “1 week a year” pledge – but, let us continue:
Look. There is ALOT of poorly researched crackpot conspiracy shit being peddled across all social media, by the far left and far right. But this was not a conspiracy theory. It was a question. “Bungled sentence” in Sara’s report it may have been, but the best way to find out if it was, is to ask. Right?
Then another lady named Heather provided another online document that mentions the ‘first week of Prime Ministership’ “promise” too:
Samantha handled that with, er, coolheaded aplomb…
She is a little ticked off, I think it’s fair to say. This is the document she was describing. It’s not a transcript, she’s right about that. It is a Garma Festival media release titled “Key Points of Tony Abbott’s Garma Speech on Indigenous Affairs”. But it contains the phrase: “…he undertook to spend the first week after he is elected in the Yolgnu community if that would be acceptable to the community.”
Heather then asked Samantha: “So you’re saying the #Garma Festival are publishing something that’s not true on their website?” Samantha:
I thought that a condescending thing to assume, so offered another condescending assumption in the other direction:
Because thanks to David’s tweet question, someone DID tweet a link to the video footage online! TWITTER CAN BE AWESOME THIS WAY! Ask, and you shall receive……
Before that happened though, someone else tweeted this to them both (Van Badham still being cc’d on all of this, LOL):
Samantha still wasn’t having a bar of it:
So then the online video footage surfaced, and was reviewed by both parties and everyone else watching this conversation. The video is HERE– relevant part, 21.20-21.50. Samantha’s response?
What do you think about the video? Could what Abbott said about “first week” be construed as a promise? Or, as Samantha asserted afterwards on Twitter, a spur of the moment open question said to get a reaction from his audience?
Frankly I think that: 1) this was not an official campaign promise; and so 2) it is the opinion of the Yolgnu community itself that matters here. Were they expecting him there first week? If they were, breaking that “agreement” really does suck. But let us still remember that there are numerous other pressing issues to be criticising and scrutinising this government for already. And the most important thing will be whether or not he delivers the positive, “Real Change” he pledged to remote Indigenous communities – and how that change is delivered. Please media, investigate that. From all angles.
Getting back to my original assertion now. Samantha Maiden is a good journalist. But David’s initial question was fine, based on the fact that he had heard a report on the national broadcaster that stated Abbott had made some sort of promise to spend his first week as Prime Minister with the Yolngu people.
As you can imagine, things went nowhere after the post-video comments, but what both David and Samantha were tweeting to others – about each other – revealed more about how preconceptions and bias (which we all suffer from) were affecting their perception during (and probably just prior to) this exchange.
Samantha to other:
David to other:
For the record, David Donovan is not an “inner city hipster” and nor were any of the people who joined in on the conversation and supported David’s POV. He is a passionate and engaged political observer, a journalist with strong convictions and a social conscience.
And, for the record, yes, Samantha works for News Limited, owned by Lucifer Rupert Murdoch, but Samantha has already critiqued the dearth of females in Abbott’s ministry, has begun questioning aspects of “operation sovereign borders” and as a result has been told by some LNP trolls supporters that media #silence is quite appropriate right now: see evidence here (this is tremendous)
Also note there were many other tweets from both David and Samantha – essentially saying the same thing – as they responded to other people joining in the conversation. I’ve given you the gist of what was said to demonstrate a fairly common mistake we humans make in political conversations: letting our preconceptions and egos derail what could otherwise be civil exchanges.
We’re funny like that.
Post script: My intent in writing this post is not to demonise anyone. Only to look at the way we communicate – and fail to communicate – when we are not aware of our biases.
Why is that important to be aware of? Because our biases will likely influence what questions we think are relevant to even ask and pursue answers to. All the more important to be aware of, when you are an investigative journalist.