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The Week Australian Media Went Feral

Hit-and-runs, apartheid, 'go back where you came from' and some Yassmin-bashing.

13/07/2017 4:39 PM AEST | Updated 14/07/2017 5:21 PM AEST
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What the hell happened in the Australian media landscape this past week? Is there something in the water? Because it seems like, all at once, everyone just went wild, devolving into a Muslim-bashing, xenophobic, homophobic, apartheid-supporting swamp.

In just the past 24 hours, you've probably come across Sydney's Daily Telegraph making the monumental blunder of putting same-sex attraction in a graphic of health problems facing young people, and talking head Prue Macsween saying on radio that Yassmin Abdel-Magied was a "flea" and that she "would have been tempted to run her over". But you may have missed a whole host of others, from Sky News host Rowan Dean telling race discrimination commissioner Tim Soutphommasane to "hop on a plane and go back to Laos", Channel 7 continuing to pile on Abdel-Magied with a "hateful" poll on her decision to move to London, and The Spectator (whose editor is Dean himself) publishing a piece claiming "the instigators of apartheid may have had a point".

Wow, what a banner week for Australian media. Just for a little more context, let's take a look at some of these shining examples of local journalism:

Let's take a look at what exactly these targets did, in order to come under the scrutiny of these Australian media personalities.

Soutphommasane came to Dean's attention this week because the discrimination commissioner had talked about a lack of diversity in Australia's media landscape, and has been pushing for racial and cultural targets in corporate environments. Dean -- who is a white man, co-hosts his 'Outsiders' show with another white man in Ross Cameron and until recently another white man in Mark Latham, and is on a channel whose team of personalities includes Alan Jones, Andrew Bolt, Bronwyn Bishop, Caroline Marcus, Chris Kenny, Paul Murray, Peta Credlin, Peter Beattie, Peter Berner and, well, basically just a blinding number of white people -- managed to say with a straight face that there was no diversity issue in Australian media, then issued Soutphommasane with a slightly more refined version of the classic "love it or leave it" slogan.

To their credit, Sky's other presenters took Dean to task.

Dean has not apologised, or been publicly reprimanded for his comments.

Yassmin Abdel-Magied, after creating several firestorms of controversy with her comments about sharia law and Anzac Day, announced last week she was leaving Australia to move to London -- partly, she said, to escape the relentless attention and abuse she has endured at the hands of certain corners of the mainstream press, which has led to "daily" death threats and abuse. Even when she all but raised the white flag, Australian media piled on. Channel Seven, in the pursuit of #engagement on social media, posted a poll asking "Do you support her decision to move to London or do you think she should stay and face her critics?" -- like the viewers of Channel Seven should hold sway over where a young woman should live. Seven, after creating a firestorm of controversy of their own, profusely apologised and said the poll "should never have been posted". Many would have hoped that would be the last Yassmin drama Australian media would have to endure.

But, no. On Wednesday, Prue Macsween -- who bills herself on Facebook as "an opinionated former journalist, author and media commentator who never shies away from saying what others are too scared to say" -- went on 2GB for, you guessed it, yet another panel discussion about Yassmin. Because if there's one thing Australia's mainstream conservative media loves, it's having panel discussions about Muslims.

"She says she was betrayed by Australia and felt unsafe in her own country. Well, actually, she might have been right there because if I'd seen her I would have been tempted to run her over," Macsween said, to the laughter of host Chris Smith.

"We don't even give this flea a second thought any more, since she slinked away from this country in disgrace."

Cue another firestorm, as people rightly pointed out that vehicular assault may be a slight over-reaction to a controversial Facebook post. Macsween hit back, defending her "free speech" and seemingly missing the irony that she only attracted the criticism for her own comments about when Yassmin used her free speech.

It was enough, however, for host Smith to give his own on-air apology, claiming the "I would have been tempted to run her over" boast was meant in a "light-hearted, non-literal" way. You decide.

Then there was the Daily Telegraph graphic, which included the fact "16.8 percent of secondary school students in Australia are attracted to people of the same sex as them or to both sexes" on a list of health issues which included drinking, obesity and drug use. Cue firestorm.

In a statement on Wednesday, the paper's editor said: "Unfortunately the presentation of the story has been misinterpreted" and that "the story in no way suggests, or intends to suggest, that same-sex relationships are unhealthy."

To his credit, this is likely true. In newspaper offices, probably three people worked on the overall presentation of the story -- one journalist writing the story, one sub-editor writing the headline, and a graphic designer making the graphic. Often, these three people work independently of one another, not collaborating or even speaking about the story among themselves. It may not even be until another sub-editor designs the page layout that all three elements are seen together -- which means it is entirely plausible that a communication breakdown led to this graphic.

However, on Thursday, LGBTQ groups held a snap protest outside the Telegraph's Sydney offices, criticising the paper's graphic and calling for action.

It has been quite a week for Australian media. Let's see what Friday brings.

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