Question – what do Mark Latham, YouTube, Nicola Sturgeon, Theresa May and Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act have in common? The question could be answered by suggesting the winds of change are in the air.
Former ALP leader Mark Latham was sacked by SkyNews recently over a number of issues including attacking the 15 year old daughter of the Reserve Bank Governor as, in Latham’s view, she had no idea of how the disadvantaged live. It’s not the first time Latham’s employment with a media organisation has been terminated. In August 2015 the Australian Financial Review accepted the resignation of Latham after it was determined that he was the person behind the apparently fake ‘real Mark Latham’ Twitter account that targeted Rosie Batty, and journalists Anne Summers, Leigh Sales, Lisa Pryor, Mia Freedman and Annabel Crabb, among others.
In fact, a week or so before he was shown the door by SkyNews, former NSW premier Kristina Kenneally complained to SkyNews about comments Latham made on air that she considered to be defamatory. Kenneally is also employed by SkyNews. He also made a ‘foul-mouthed tirade’ at the 2015 Melbourne Writers Festival. For those who can’t remember his attitude, and potentially why he lost the 2004 federal election as ALP leader – here is the clip.
General Motors Holden and Kia Motors recently announced that they were pulling their advertising from YouTube which, like Google, is owned by Alphabet. The justification for the change of heart is that the two companies found that their products were being promoted alongside an offensive video that directed misogynistic insults at journalist and businesswoman Ita Buttrose. In addition
The UK Government, The Guardian and France's Havas SA, the world's sixth-largest advertising and marketing company, pulled its UK clients' ads from Google and YouTube [during March] after failing to get assurances from Google that the ads wouldn't appear next to offensive material. Those clients include wireless carrier O2, Royal Mail Plc, government-owned British Broadcasting Corp., Domino's Pizza and Hyundai Kia, Havas said in a statement.
Others, including Bunnings, Foxtel, Caltex, Vodafone and Nestle have also suspended using YouTube as an advertising channel over similar concerns. The Australian government pulled its advertising at the end of March as well.
On 28 March 2017, Scotland’s first minister Nicola Sturgeon and Britain’s prime minister Theresa May had a meeting. Now, given that the UK has finally delivered the letter invoking Article 50 of the Lisbon Convention (the mechanism to start the Brexit process) and there is some belief that Scotland would prefer to stay in the EU, there was a genuine news story to discuss. What did the UK Daily Mail focus on (pun intended)? Not the process of the meeting, not the outcomes of the meeting but the legs of the respective leaders. Following the outcry from other sections of the media,
A spokesperson for the Daily Mail urged its critics to "get a life" and questioned if the "po-faced BBC" and "left-wing commentariat" had lost its sense of humour.
The ‘great Section 18C debate’ in Australia came to a (possibly) final ending at the end of March after around three years of people trying to justify their positions on allowing racism and misogyny. The Senate in a late-night vote, chose not to insert ‘harass’ in the section to replace the words ‘insult’, ‘offend’ or ‘humiliate’. One of the organisations driving for the change to Section 18C was The Australian newspaper. According to The Saturday Paper,
After more than three years, a change in prime ministers, campaigning by conservative media outlets and countless Q&A debates, changes to section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act were voted down in the Senate last night. In a triumph of the English language, The Australian is calling [paywalled] the defeat a “limited victory”.
Throughout the Senate session, which ran late into the night, the focus was on Attorney-General George Brandis. While arguing for the 18C reforms during seven hours of debate, Brandis said the spirit of “the late, great Bill Leak” was presiding over the chamber. Brandis himself provided the Senate with his reaction to being called “a white man” on several occasions by fellow Senators.
In one of the more factual articles about Section 18C, the ABC published a listing of complaints under Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act that have made it to Court. On the face of it, the law seems to work (link contains offensive language).
Latham has make a career out of being (in the words of my Grandmother) ‘a nasty piece of work’. In the words of Annabel Crabb
Characteristically, the great man incorporated a generous measure of unintended comedy. He accused – for instance – the ABC broadcaster Wendy Harmer of being a "commercial failure". This is pretty good coming from a guy who has been sacked, dumped, or awkwardly non-renewed by countless commercial media executives and is one of the handful of living Australians who has been submitted to the most exacting ratings survey available in this country – a federal election. On which occasion, in Mr Latham's case, the nation opted firmly for John Howard repeats.
(There comes a time in every man's life when he realises that he is not a commercial hit. I would imagine that the hosting of a TV chat show which is out-rated five-fold by ABC2 Bananas in Pyjamas repeats might edge a fellow close to such an epiphany, but each to his own I suppose.)
In a similar way, those who believe that ‘free speech’ gives you the right to publish ‘hate’ such as attacks on Ita Buttrose et al have a right to their beliefs. However, common decency should lead YouTube and similar organisations to determine that ‘hate’ is not acceptable and refuse to be the medium for the publication of those views. Again, in the words of Annabel Crabb, Hate plus hate equals hate. Fortunately, organisations like the UK and Australian governments, Caltex, Holden, Vodafone, Nestle, and The Guardian seem to have determined that hate is not acceptable. While it is a win for community values and common decency (remember: do unto others as you wish them do to you), it’s a shame when the adherence to community values is considered to be newsworthy.
The emphasis from the Daily Mail on Nicola Sturgeon and Theresa May’s legs, rather than the matters they were discussing, take us back to the days where a show depicting a lecherous older man running around after young women was considered to be good ‘prime-time’ television. While there were others – most will remember the Benny Hill Show as a good example. The Daily Mail’s excuse for that behaviour – it was just a joke – is also of the same era and was correctly called out by a number of commentators. The Mail calling the commentators ‘left wing’ could be seen to be a demonstration of conservative views of common decency.
The saga of Section 18C also demonstrates the point of conservative values. Let’s use the example of Bill Leak. His employer, The Australian, seemed to be one of the driving forces for the failed attempt to water down the legislation. Leak drew a cartoon depicting a generalisation that is a racist slur against a group of Australian citizens. Members of the group that were slurred correctly protested at the implication. Leak and his employer then claimed that his comments were free speech. However, the comments by others suggesting that Leak unfairly offended them is unacceptable. Hardly fair and reasonable, is it? While Leak may have been trying to make a point that he or his employer considered to be valid; there are a number of ways to make the argument without intentionally or unintentionally insulting an entire group of Australians.
It’s the same with Brandis in the Senate. While Brandis may pine for a return to the ‘good ole days’ when Benny Hill was considered to be good entertainment on the black and white tellie, the reality is that he is a powerful white man and can humiliate and offend anyone he wants to in the Australian Senate. As Bernard Keane suggests in Crikey
Commercial free-to-air TV broadcasters, who like to invoke free speech whenever regulation of advertising is proposed, have admitted they refuse to air ads they think might alienate powerful advertisers. And News Corp’s interest in free speech only extends to its own and that of those it perceives as allies, no one else. The editor of that doughty defender of free speech The Australian, Chris Mitchell, threatened journalist Julie Posetti with legal action over her coverage of the remarks of a former employee of his. The Australian used Victorian courts to prevent the release of an Office of Police Integrity report highly critical of the newspaper over its pointless “scoop” about anti-terror raids in 2009. That newspaper outed a pseudonymous progressive blogger, and tried to damage his public service career. Andrew Bolt — suddenly thin-skinned about racism — demanded an apology from the ABC over remarks by academic Marcia Langton.
While it looks as though you have to be a media conglomerate to influence the law of the land, really you don’t. In a classic case of the ‘look over there’ defence, those who are complaining that they too have the right to free speech are invariably those who feel that they have the right to offend, humiliate and insult others at will. As the YouTube boycotts and Bernard Keane point out, the same groups of people will self-censor on purely economic grounds, so why won’t they self-censor on moral and ethical grounds? Is it because the typically powerful white people that run these organisations believe they are somehow superior to others?
The first TPS post this year suggested that we should be the change we want to see. The premise of that article was don’t sit there and take the status quo you don’t believe is fair, but to actively work to change it. Demonstrably, people like you and I do have a voice and engaging with the organisation that knowingly or unknowingly supports the bully by ‘supporting’ the xenophobic YouTube clip or boorish talking heads such as Latham clearly does have an effect. Social media can amplify small voices beyond a local community.
The reactions from the general public to Latham’s boorish (or worse) remarks, YouTube’s lack of self-censorship, the Daily Mail’s coverage of Sturgeon and May’s legs and the conservative campaign to water down protections of the Racial Discrimination Act show that consumers can influence government and the largest companies on moral and ethical issues. The winds of change in the morals and ethics of large companies are starting to appear driven by people’s stated opinions. Long may it continue.
What do you think?
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