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All hail Trump, the great transgressor!

The Conversation

Brian McNair, Queensland University of Technology

Since Big Brother first exploded onto our screens in 2000 I’ve been a fan of reality TV. In 2002 I wrote a book that included a defence of the genre’s democratising impact on our culture.

Where many commentators and more than a few of my academic colleagues dismissed reality TV as dumbed-down trash pandering to the baser instincts of the mob, I preferred to regard it as a prime location for the untold, self-revelatory, often intimate stories of ordinary people.

Shows like Sylvania Waters, Driving School and Airline showed non-celebrities – “real people” – going about their business, revealing their emotional and psychological quirks, overcoming the obstacles of everyday, previously unexamined lives.

The Apprentice exemplified a particular sub-genre of reality TV, giving us a glimpse of what it was like to build a business and struggle for success in corporate life, the dynamics of team-building and peer rivalry, the hubris that brought down the blowhards and the self-regarding.

“You’re fired!” was the catchphrase of Donald Trump (and Sir Alan Sugar in the UK version). It was informative and also entertaining. Trump was good at it, bringing his tough, no-nonsense management style into our living rooms.

And if that’s where his “tell it like it is” approach had remained, we would probably be looking forward to four, maybe eight years of President Hillary Clinton. Instead, we face the ascendancy to the most powerful office on Earth of a man formerly known to most of his voters as a reality TV star.

It’s as if Kim Kardashian, or, god save us, Kanye West was suddenly running the country (Yeezus for POTUS in 2020, anyone?) – surreally shocking in a way that the elections of former film stars Ronald Reagan and Arnold Schwarzenegger to the presidency and the governorship of California respectively never were.

Trump presents himself as an outsider, though his reality TV celebrity means that he comes from the heart of mainstream popular culture, as well as being a fully paid-up member of the rich capitalist elite he affects to despise – one who proudly pays no taxes, has been near bankruptcy several times, and convicted for racial discrimination in his real-estate operations among other alleged ethics violations such as the Trump University scam (settled out of court in December).

The white working- and middle-class stiffs who voted for him in such numbers appear to have forgotten the latter, or to not care, while rewarding him for his readiness to say the refreshingly (for them) transgressive things he thinks they want to hear.

From the beginning of his campaign Trump deliberately transgressed the conventions and codes of political communication in America. He already had the “Birther” slander on his political CV, the mark of a racist who simply couldn’t bear the idea of a black man in the White House.

At the outset of his campaign he proposed his wall on the Mexican border, and insulted that nation with crude stereotypes. He expressed racist views about a judge who was handling one of the many legal actions against him because the man had Mexican roots.

He promised to ban all Muslims from entering the US until “we’ve figured out what’s going on” with Islamic State – a pledge now downsized to include only those Muslims who come from countries with a history of terrorism. Will that include France and Belgium, one wonders? Or Australia? Or the UK? All of those countries have produced homegrown Islamists who have fought and killed for IS.

None of that put off the people who would eventually vote for him. He famously mocked a disabled reporter in front of a huge rally of baying supporters. It only made them love him more.

As did the release of the recording in which he observes that when you’re famous – and you got the sense listening to that tape that he was talking from experience – you could “grope” women’s “pussies” with impunity. The man actually boasted about how easy it was for people like him to commit what most people would regard as sexual assault.

He ran beauty pageants, and it seems reasonable to speculate that he would have enjoyed groping a few of the competitors along the way, when he was not insulting them for their body shape or attitude. Miss Piggy and Miss Housekeeping were his names for Alicia Machado, Miss Universe in 1996 when Trump took over the franchise. Apparently she ate too much.

In one televised debate he obliquely referred to a female journalist’s menstrual cycle, and routine misogyny has been a key element of Trump’s transgressive pitch. He “loves” women, he insists. You can imagine him joshing to his alpha male mates – why else would he marry and grope so many of them?

He invited the Russians to hack Clinton’s emails (and they did), and praised the sound management skills of dictators such as Vladimir Putin, Saddam Hussein and Rodrigo Duterte.

In the past, the merest hint of a candidate’s admiration for the Russian Bear or Saddam would have killed a campaign stone dead. Not Trump’s.

Having spent a century denouncing the USSR and Russia as the existential enemy par excellence, the American political system and public were now embracing a man who actively favoured Putin over his own president – the same Barack Obama who Trump regarded as an imposter in the White House.

Not one of these transgressions made the slightest dent in his image, or slowed his rise. On the contrary, his supporters recognised a kindred spirit. Hell yes! Pussy groping, disability-mocking, casual racism and sexism, joking about getting away with shooting people in the street because you’re so popular – that was the American way, and after eight years of a black man running the show and spoiling their fun it was time to remind the world who’s boss.

Trump’s transgressions were not gaffes of the type that sunk Gary Hart in 1988 or Gerald Ford in 1974, but delivered with a skillful eye for the attention they would attract in the news media. He succeeded in setting the 2016 news agenda way beyond his wildest dreams.

It’s reliably reported that neither he, nor his campaign team, seriously thought they could win the presidency when the race started, but so hopeless were his 16 competitors in the GOP camp that he was able to take the nomination and go on to challenge Clinton – one of the “nasty women” he despised so much.

Clinton had her vulnerabilities too, and Trump skilfully exploited them, which is what we expect in a political campaign. But he transgressed by calling on the Russians to assist, and by – it is alleged, and currently under investigation by the US intelligence agencies – actually conspiring with Putin’s security services to damage the Clinton campaign.

Which brings us to the Buzzfeed dossier, of which the most exotic if not politically significant feature is the assertion that Trump was videoed while in Russia engaging in “perverted” sex acts with prostitutes.

Let’s tell it like it is, in the spirit of The Donald. He is alleged by a Russian source in correspondence with a senior former MI6 operative, regarded by the CIA as credible enough for the dossier to have been passed to Obama, to have employed prostitutes to piss on a hotel bed previously slept in by Barack and Michelle Obama.

It is further alleged in the unverified dossier that, as a result of this and other sexual transgressions recorded on videotape, Trump is vulnerable to blackmail in his dealings with Russia.

This may or may not be true, and we may never know now that Trump himself is in charge of the US security apparatus, but the mere fact that we regard it as even possible in the context of a US president is, when you think about it, the most transgressive thing of all. Bill Clinton was Slick Willie, but at least the Monica Lewinsky affair happened in the security of the White House, and he came close to impeachment for lying about “not having sex with that woman”.

Trump’s alleged transgression was only exposed after the election, and despite the implications for US and global security – if the allegations of conspiracy between the Trump campaign and the FSB to distort the US political process are true, Trump would be guilty of treason – it does not seem to have seriously disrupted the transition.

Neither his voters, nor the great of majority of Republicans in Congress, seem the slightest bit worried that their man in the Oval Office could be a Russian stooge with a taste for golden showers. So deep is their hatred of the “liberal elite”, political correctness and all the other bogeymen of their nightmares that they seem able to let the scandal and the sleaziness wash over them.

And that means, alas, that those who think Trump will settle into a more conventional presidency, constrained by wiser heads like Rex Tillerson or Mad Dog Mattis – Mad Dog being the voice of moderate reason in this administration – are deluding themselves.

There is no precedent for the Trump presidency in modern times, and no limit to where he can go from here. He has transgressed and broken taboos all the way to the White House, and been rewarded.

He will continue to smash political conventions built over decades and centuries, using Twitter to goad and mobilise his supporters as required, attacking the free and independent media as well as dissenters in general, embracing murderous dictators and corrupt capitalists all over the world where he has business interests.

He will start a dynasty, and use the venerable office he now occupies to boost family members and businesses, friends and cronies. No-one seriously doubts that, and no-one in the GOP except for John McCain and a few sidelined others can be relied upon to stand against it.

For Trump, transgression has worked as a campaign strategy, and he can be expected to pursue a similar approach to governance, as in his recent comments about the EU and Germany. Until he fails, and fails so badly that no amount of scapegoating muslims or liberals can cover it up, America is his to do with what he will.

His transgressions will shift the culture and may even become mainstream, so that the kinds of racist and sexist discourse we have spent decades erasing from public view will again be respectable. The new culture of unapologetic bigotry and bullying will spread. Political success in a volatile ideological market place drives imitation.

In Australia Pauline Hanson’s One Nation will have a go at emulating Trump. In the UK, Nigel Farage is hovering menacingly. In France, Marine Le Pen could easily become president of the republic, and so on.

All over the world, hitherto marginal figures who share Trump’s contempt for fact-based rationality and informed policy making, good manners and basic civility will be jumping on the populist bandwagon.

Some media organisations will strive to maintain critical scrutiny over the Trump administration, others will become cheerleaders and propagandists such as Sean Hannity on Fox News. No-one can assume that in this atmosphere what we still call “liberal” democracy will survive.

If the democracy we have built in so many places around the world since 1945 is to outlast one or perhaps two Trump terms, all who reject the political philosophy of the strongman and the bully must prepare to counter it, in their private lives and public utterances.

They should do so in the knowledge that Trump is a minority president, defeated in the popular vote, the perverse product of a dysfunctional political and media system which for too long treated him as an absurd novelty and then, having given him the opening, had no means of preventing his rise.

He won by the rules, though if the dirty dossier is even a bit accurate, he did not play fair. We must remember that when his supporters start demanding “respect” for the office, and for Trump himself.

For a president who has transgressed so many of the conventions which make our democracies civilised and decent, respect is not an entitlement. It must be earned.

So come on Donald, prove yourself fit to be president, and prove us sceptics wrong.

If in four years time the American and global economy are just as strong or stronger than Obama helped make them; if the Chinese and the Russians have been dissuaded from their expansionist and illegal activities in the South China Sea and eastern Europe; if the progressive sexual politics and multiculturalism of the past decades have not been reversed; and if Islamic jihad has indeed been defeated as you assert only you can do – then you’ll have my respect.

I’ll even eat my Make America Great Again hat.

The ConversationBrian McNair, Professor of Journalism, Media and Communication, Queensland University of Technology

This article was originally published on The Conversation. (Reblogged by permission).  Read the original article.

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Surviving 2017 – a user’s guide

The Conversation

Brian McNair, Queensland University of Technology

At the peak of post-Soviet triumphalism in the west, amid all the hype about a New World Order and the end of history, historian Eric Hobsbawm rained on the parade somewhat by suggesting that we were in a pre-war, rather than post-(Cold) war period.

Hobsbawm was a Marxist, deeply concerned by what he saw even then, more than two decades ago, as the rise of nationalism and religious extremism.

The ideological vacuum left by the demise of the USSR and the broader decline of socialism was in danger of being filled by tribalism, sectarianism and ethnic conflict. Long dormant hatreds of “the Other” founded on reactionary creeds of racial and religious supremacy would now have room to breathe, he believed.

He didn’t live to see that prediction fulfilled, but as we leave 2016 behind and the world prepares for a Trump presidency built on white rage, it is clear that we are there.

The Long Peace which has lasted since 1945 – no wars between major powers, no world wars after the two that defined the 20th century, and despite the horrors of civil war such as we see in Syria today, no human casualties on the scale of 1939-45 or 1914-18 – is coming to an end.

Russia hacks US elections, and invades sovereign nations in Eastern Europe. China steals US drones in international waters, and builds military bases on artificial islands. The soon-to-be commander-in-chief of America writes this is “unpresidented” (sic), while endorsing the behaviour of the murderous president of the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte. And all this before Donald Trump even gets his greedy fingers on the nuclear button.

All it will take for this bizarre mix of post-factual ignorance, nationalism and religiously fuelled aggression to become full-on war is one provocative move too far, by one side or another.

It might happen in the illegal Israeli settlements next week, or around Taiwan in June. Maybe Trump will take a shot at North Korea. Who knows?

We do know that we have a tax-avoiding, pussy-grabbing reality TV star for president of the United States, who communicates his foreign policy on social media while proclaiming he has no need for such trivia as CIA national security briefings.

And if we manage to avoid that apocalyptic scenario, we will still have to deal with nationalism tearing apart the UK, the EU, and all the gains of internationalism, globalisation and multiculturalism we have painstakingly made since the cataclysm of the second world war.

The English artists Gilbert & George produced a prescient 2014 piece seen by this writer at MONA in Hobart. It declares:

Our grandparents didn’t vote for fascists. They shot them!.

Well, now they’re voting for them again – in Austria, the UK, Australia, the US, even Germany, where neo-nazism is on the verge of again becoming respectable.

We are in an historical moment never experienced by anyone born after 1945. A moment unforeseen and unprepared for.

In that respect I am guilty.

Yes, like most observers I understood that Brexit was a possibility, given the polls showing a slight majority for Remain right up to the end of the campaign. But the wishful thinker in me chose to believe that no rational person would wish to tear up the complex web of relationships between Britain and the EU, formed over 45 years, and which had contributed so much to peace and prosperity on the continent.

Sure, the EU had its problems and challenges, but nothing a determined UK government could not have resolved through firm negotiation of the type pursued by Conservative and Labour administrations for decades. To destroy the entire edifice of economic, cultural and political union between 28 countries was masochistic and self-destructive, surely?

The Scots had rejected separation from the UK just two years before, after all, a very similar issue to that pushed by the English nationalists in the EU referendum.

What we see now with the chaos and uncertainty of Brexit would have been visited on the UK in 2014, if the separatists had won the referendum – ironically, the Scottish nationalists now cite Brexit as their reason for overturning the democratic vote for Union.

My Scottish countrymen and women made the right call there, and maybe that encouraged me to think the Brits would do so in relation to the EU, and then the Americans would elect a principled and experienced public servant such as Hillary Clinton over the mean-minded man who will soon be sitting in the Oval Office.

In the US election, again, the data showed that a Trump victory was possible, if not likely. No-one, not even Nate Silver and those at FiveThirtyEight, wanted to believe the data could all be wrong, even if we knew on recent evidence that they might be.

But we were wrong, very wrong, and now we face the most serious threat to all of our livelihoods and lives – wherever in the word we call home – most of us have known. Unless you are a rich billionaire such as Trump and his super-rich cronies, it’s time to dig in and prepare for a future of chaos and austerity.

Our grandparents DID shoot fascists, and they did win the war. We 21st-century anti-fascists can prevail too, but only if we understand the enormity of what we face.

This is a culture war, first.

As I observed in Porno? Chic! three years ago there is a global reaction underway to the historic gains of feminism and gay rights, spearheaded by radical Islam and now hijacked by the white supremacist alt-right. In what remains of the liberal capitalist world we must defend and promote progressive sexual politics as never before.

We must defend multiculturalism and the values of tolerance, against not just the white nationalists but the Islamists and haters of every type.

If our leaders had been more honest about and resistant to Islam’s assault on our progressive social values we might not be where we are today, in the UK, the US, France, Germany, Australia (where One Nation is preparing to seize its historic opportunity).

We must declare zero tolerance for religious, nationalist, and ethnic intolerance, from whichever direction it comes.

We must learn to fight the alt-right with the same ferocity and fearlessness they apply to their enemies in the media, academia, everywhere.

Forget politeness, or all known rules of online etiquette. Forget turning the other cheek, or trying to be reasonable with those who ignore the facts in the hope they will be persuaded to your point of view. Challenge them now, because the deplorables will be coming for you next.

The internet is now a target, so we must relearn how to live without the digital, and how to survive when the network gets hacked or knocked out by Russia or China (or indeed Trump).

As we have just seen in the starkest possible manner, our liberal democracies have become extremely vulnerable not just to demagogues spouting populist bile on social media, but to foreign state hacking.

It’s clear that when the Long Peace does end, the internet will be taken out first. We should all be prepared to survive the abrupt withdrawal of online services which we have become reliant on.

But look on the bright side.

Buy a turntable and some vinyl records; a nice pen that you can write with, and some notepads. Start reading hard copy books again. Reduce your dependence on the digital. Rediscover the pleasures of the analogue.

Such survival tactics won’t stop what’s coming after January 20, but they might make it just that bit easier to cope. Meantime, as we approach the new year and say farewell to Barack Obama, let’s echo his sentiments of this week:

God bless us all.

The ConversationBrian McNair, Professor of Journalism, Media and Communication, Queensland University of Technology

This article was originally published on The Conversation. (Reblogged by permission). Read the original article.

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Clinton triumphs over a trio of Trumps

The Conversation

Brian McNair, Queensland University of Technology

“People hear what they want to hear, and disregard the rest,” sang Paul Simon about America in the 1960s. The line came to me when I reflected on the varying interpretations of how these three Hillary Clinton-Donald Trump debates have gone.

To me, and I’ll freely declare my personal preference for Clinton – I rooted for her in 2008, too, though Barack Obama was a worthy winner and has been a great president – she has trumped Trump in all three matches, seriously slipping up on only one occasion in four-and-a-half hours of primetime grilling.

Quite late in the third, apparently losing concentration while answering a question about the Middle East, she got her words mixed up and seemed to freeze momentarily.

I know the feeling, as someone who speaks regularly in public for a living, and I know how easily it can happen that your thoughts race ahead or behind of the words coming out of your mouth, and you frantically try to cover it by steaming nonsensically on regardless. It happened to Obama in one of the 2012 presidential debates, I seem to recall.

In the entirety of those three long, gruelling debates, despite being called a “liar”, a “nasty woman”, the enabler of a rapist and more by Trump, this was the only time she wavered. That shows strength and resilience in the face of hostile fire, and bodes well for the Clinton presidency in its dealings with bullies around the world.

Those who favour Trump, on the other hand – particularly the deplorables who pack his rallies and cheer his every threat and insult – think he did quite well. For them, the very things they love about their man were on full display. The Guardian reported after the third debate that:

Sean Ringert of Maryville, Ohio, who was wearing a shirt that proclaimed ‘keep calm and carry guns’ thought last night’s debate was Trump’s best yet.

Ringert was reported to be:

… comfortable with Trump’s unwillingness to concede the election, saying: ‘I am perfectly fine with that; it’s a great media tactic’.

This is disturbing, because Trump will not go quietly, and others will come after him with similarly fascistic beliefs, but armed with better media advisers, slicker publicity machines, more experience of how to lose and how to win elections in our hyperactive communication environment.

That’s a worry for another day, though. For now, let’s dare to celebrate a little.

I missed the live broadcast of the third debate, and watched it later. By then I’d read some commentary and spoke to a few folk whose judgement I respect who had witnessed the event in full. Trump had done well, it seemed, hitting home on a couple of points. The Guardian felt it necessary to headline an article with a question:

Who won the final presidential debate?.

I approached my recording of the debate with trepidation, therefore. Could it be that he had improved on his earlier performances, reined in his worst instincts, and persuaded some undecided voters of his fitness for office?

Nah.

In my opinion, hearing what I wanted to hear, as I perhaps was, there was no contest. This was his worst performance of the three.

He ranted and raved, throwing names and accusations around like confetti – “Buffett” this, “Clinton Foundation” that, blaming Clinton for everything that had ever gone wrong in America, blurting out immediately satirisable statements such as:

No-one respects women more than I do, no-one.

Alec Baldwin will have fun with that.

Clinton stayed calm, occasionally allowing her anger to show, but not to overwhelm her delivery. And she laced some very telling points with wit and even humour.

While Clinton was in the Situation Room with Obama, she pointed out, overseeing the demise of Osama bin Laden, Trump was on Celebrity Apprentice. The audience at home could only imagine Trump yelling “you’re fired” at some hapless publicity-seeking B-lister. She told that one twice, and I smiled both times.

While she was working to improve the lives of socially deprived black kids in the 1990s, she noted, he was being prosecuted for racial discrimination against black tenants in the management of his New York rental apartments.

While she was working hard in the Senate to secure good trade deals for America, he was using undocumented labour on his construction sites, and cheap Chinese steel imports in Trump Tower.

In the end, Trump went completely off the rails. “I’ll keep you guessing,” he pouted at debate chair Chris Wallace when asked if he would accept the result on November 8. That throwaway insult to the democratic process, and the entire 240-year history of US presidential politics, was the final evidence that he knows it’s over and doesn’t give a damn anymore.

Not for the first time in these debates, the spoilt rich kid used to getting his own way was on display, threatening to take away his ball because the game was “rigged” (and Clinton also had some fun with Trump’s history of calling foul when he loses).

While supporters like Sean Ringert will never give up on their hero, the rest of America, and the world, witnessed in this third debate the ignoble end of a bizarre and literally obscene political campaign in which much of what the official GOP candidate said was classifiable as For Adults Only.

What next? Will he and his offspring set up Trump TV? Will Clinton as president establish a Cosby-type legal process into Trump’s history of sexual assault, or his tax dodging, or his alleged links to Putin and the Russian government?

I don’t think she will, even if she could, because she is better than that and will wish to win back the less deplorable segments of the Trump base. But part of me wishes she would, not least to keep Trump fully occupied for the next four years while she continues the good work that Obama began.

I won’t have a vote in November, and like many observers around the world have watched anxiously as the Republican candidate sunk to evermore murky depths in his efforts to win, and seemed until very recently to be getting away with it.

I am much more confident after this trio of Trump performances that she rather than he will take the US forward into the difficult years ahead. Trump, as Clinton often said in the debates, and as the opinion polls now indicate, is not who America is, and that’s deeply reassuring for the rest of us.


Brian McNair is the author of Communication and Political Crisis (Peter Lang, 2016).

The ConversationBrian McNair, Professor of Journalism, Media and Communication, Queensland University of Technology

This article was originally published on The Conversation. (Reblogged by permission). Read the original article.

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Real journalists report the news – they don’t make it

The Conversation

Brian McNair, Queensland University of Technology

At QUT’s Digital Media Research Centre we are about to complete ARC-funded research on the state of the Australian political news media.

A key finding of the work has been the nearly complete withdrawal of commercial free-to-air television from the current affairs space, which is now a preserve of the ABC, SBS and for Foxtel subscribers, Sky News.

And what better illustration of this trend could one cite than the bizarre spectacle of Channel 9’s attempt at “journalism” in Lebanon.

Now that they’re out of jail, we can safely assert that no-one in this sorry episode emerges with credit. On the contrary, who can blame the Lebanese authorities for banging them all up?

One hopes some lessons have been learnt all round. For those of us who try to educate the journalists of the future, it’s a shocking breach of the most elementary professional ethics.

What kind of parent subjects their children to such risk? To be snatched off the streets of Beirut, a city full of guns and violence, will surely haunt those poor kids for ever.

Bill Clinton famously said that nobody knows what goes on inside someone else’s marriage, and that for sure holds true in this case. And, frankly, we don’t want to know. And neither do we want primetime media to be encouraging, paying for or stoking up such antics.

If you’re going to send a film crew to Beirut at a cost of hundreds of thousands of dollars, maybe they might cover the actual politics of the place? It’s the Middle East, after all.

What kind of news manager sends their journalists on such an assignment as this, putting their lives and liberty at risk for a National Enquirer-style scoop about a dysfunctional family in meltdown?

It’s an insult to the real foreign correspondents who put their lives at risk for stories that matter.

I hope the health and safety folk are all over it in the months to come, although Australian commercial TV has a regrettable history of such incidents, and it seems to have become an accepted part of our journalistic culture that this stuff passes as “current affairs”.

The story serves as a harsh reminder of the sorry state of news and current affairs in Australia’s commercial TV, and the need for a strong public service media. If you leave your TV journalism to the private sector, don’t be surprised when this is what you get.

The ConversationBrian McNair, Professor of Journalism, Media and Communication, Queensland University of Technology

This article was originally published on The Conversation. (Reblogged by permission). Read the original article.

 

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The ABC should work with commercial media outlets, not compete with them

The Conversation

Brian McNair, Queensland University of Technology

As the ABC’s managing director Mark Scott approaches the end of his decade-long tenure, Media Watch this week provided a platform for him to highlight his achievements and fire off a couple of parting shots.

It’s not ideal to see the ABC CEO using an ABC program to defend the ABC, but presenter Paul Barry did a reasonable job of representing the other side. “Too rich, too powerful, and biased” was the gist of it.

Before responding, Scott emphasised two key achievements: the launch of ABC News 24, and the move online. iView in particular, he said, had led the Australian media market in streaming technology.

Both services came from within existing budgets, paid for by savings and cuts elsewhere in the corporation. They were contentious at the time, but are now key planks in a sustainable digital future for the ABC.

Of course, these achievements are precisely the cause of criticism from The Australian and others who have accused Scott and the ABC of “imperialistic expansion” laying at least some of the blame for Fairfax’ troubles at their door.

Echoing the UK Conservative Chancellor’s attack on the BBC’s “imperial ambition”, the opponents of public service media in Australia dispute the ABC’s right – Scott would say duty – to be more than a market failure broadcaster.

Scott responded by pointing out that in the US, where there is no public service broadcasting to speak of (just PBS, supported by philanthropic donations), the death of newspapers has gone farther and faster than in Australia.

On claims of left-wing bias, and Tony Abbott’s famous “whose side are you on?” attack after the Zaky Mallah affair, Scott said:

We do a different style of journalism to the journalism that I think increasingly you see in News Limited papers and increasingly you see with different columnists as well. You know, a lot of that criticism comes from right wing commentators and they wonder, where are the strong right wing commentators on the ABC?

We don’t do that kind of journalism. We don’t ask questions about our journalists’ voting pattern and where their ideologies are. We look at the journalism that they put to air, and we have strong editorial standards that demand fairness, balance and impartiality, and we hold them to that test.

On occasion ABC journalists fail, Scott admitted, but what news organisation doesn’t? And as the Malaysian government of Najib Razak struggles to deal with the fallout from the latest Four Corners expose of alleged high level corruption and murder, we see once more what public service journalism is all about.

Scott’s other purpose on Media Watch was to argue for the continuation of current funding from the Turnbull government. Otherwise, he said, ten per cent of the news budget was at risk and job cuts would follow.

I’ve argued before that Scott leaves an ABC that is strong and confident, as well as popular with the majority of the Australian people. He’s overseen a tough digital transition and negotiated the Abbott years with skill.

In the interests of securing its place in the broader Australian media ecology, though, it may be time for the ABC to consider innovative approaches to supporting commercial media that are genuinely struggling with disruptive technologies, such as the local press.

The BBC, which has faced similar challenges to the ABC and is currently in Charter Review, provides an interesting example of what public-private media cooperation could look like.

As part of the 99-page dossier The Future of the BBC, the BBC has outlined a plan to support local news organisations. Citing declining numbers of regional reporters as “not good for our democracy, our government institutions and our citizens”, it proposes several solutions.

They range from a shared data journalism centre, to sharing BBC audio and video clips with local and regional news organisations.

The BBC has also suggested they invest funds in a Local Accountability Reporting Service. This would support 100 public service reporters to cover councils, courts and public services across Britain, with their work available to every news organisation.

While this service would be funded and administered by the BBC, any news agency or local paper could compete for the contract to cover their local area.

There are plenty of issues associated with these plans, and so far the BBC has been light on the details. There’s considerable complications around rights and attribution, and not every local media group in the UK supports it.

But it seems like an excellent way of embedding public service media in the cultural life of the country, helping to fill a gap in the public sphere that the commercial press are increasingly unable to.

Could something of the kind work in Australia’s dispersed regional and local communities? If the ABC is not the cause of the commercial media’s problems, especially in the local journalism sphere, that doesn’t mean it can’t do more to be part of the solution.

The ConversationBrian McNair, Professor of Journalism, Media and Communication, Queensland University of Technology

This article was originally published on The Conversation. (Reblogged by permission). Read the original article.

 

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Trump: the pseudo-president in waiting

The Conversation

Brian McNair, Queensland University of Technology

Donald Trump, the bastard!

Not only has he offended Muslims, Mexicans, women, the pope, his president, peaceful protesters at his increasingly fascist-style rallies, the residents of Brussels and reasonable opinion in general, he’s gone and ruined one of my favourite TV shows.

I’ve followed House of Cards since its launch, relishing the outrageous antics of Frank Underwood as he rose from amoral congressman to deeply evil president. Sometimes the script went over the top, as TV drama tends to, but somehow the suspension of disbelief was maintained.

Yes, it was an exaggerated depiction of power politics at its most brutal, and grew more so with each season. But in the era of Obama we could say that at least the reality was a lot more palatable, and enjoy House of Cards for what it was – escapist fiction with an A-list cast and an irreverent dose of political satire.

Now, the Netflix original feels too close to reality for comfort, and Kevin Spacey’s monstrous creation like a cautionary tale. Trump hasn’t committed murder, that’s true – although he has incited violence on the part of his supporters, and hinted darkly at “riots” if he is deprived of the GOP nomination, so there’s time yet. But the wilder excesses of his campaign would make Frank Underwood blush.

His attack on Ted Cruz’s spouse – albeit a response to publication of a “glamour shot” of the current Trump trophy wife – is the kind of thing Frank Underwood might well have dreamt up in one of his battles against his spouse Claire, or rival Heather Dunbar. It was dirty fighting, and confirmatory of all the stereotypes his critics associate with the Donald.

To campaign on the tweeted slogan “I’ll spill the beans on your wife” makes Trump look like the ultimate bogan, an uncivil boor who knows nothing about government and political leadership, but all about lawyers and litigation and how to engage the angry, paranoid, largely white electorate who appear to form the core of his support.

It is a new kind of celebrity culture, complete with Trump’s referencing of the National Enquirer as a publication to be trusted when following the campaign.

And much more gripping than the Kardashians or any of their ilk because, were the (still, just about) unthinkable to happen and Trump won not only the Republican primaries but the general election in November, the world would become an immeasurably scarier place than it already is. Trump would go from being a figure of fun around the globe to being the most powerful man on earth. This stuff matters.

A recent article by L. Gordon Crovitz for the Wall Street Journal analysed the Trump phenomenon through the prism of Daniel Boorstin’s influential 1961 concept of the pseudo-event. Boorstin, argued Crovitz, in his book The Image (which I highly recommend for its continuing relevance to our mediated politics), identified the rise of celebrity as a key criteria of fame and power in itself.

Even in the early 1960s, when JFK was in the White House, how someone came over in the media was coming to be regarded as more important than what they did in office.

Trump, by this logic, represents the ultimate triumph of the image, the name, the media persona over hard-won knowledge and political wisdom. We know him from The Apprentice, from his many wives and business ventures, many of them failures, from his pursuit of famous women like Princess Diana and English journalist Selina Scott. He’s famous on TV, and he speaks his mind, and that’s enough to become president in 2016.

I’m not sure if I agree with this fatalism, though. Trump has sought political power before, including his promotion of the absurd “birther” movement – a lobby group consisting of barely disguised racists who sought to prove that Barack Obama was not born in the US and was not therefore eligible to be its president. He failed then, and should have failed this time too, like Sarah Palin did in 2008.

I have the suspicion that he entered the race never expecting to win, but as a promotional strategy for his corporate interests. To his alarm as much as ours, one might speculate, he has so far been unable to scare people off.

So what changed?

One explanation is unavoidable – the Republican Party is so starved of credible presidential candidates that Trump was able to shine despite himself. Carson, Rubio, Fiorina and the rest, for all their self-regard, could not convince GOP primary voters to favour them over a man who struggles to craft a coherent sentence, let alone a visionary foreign policy or global leadership strategy worthy of the presidency.

A bit like Jeremy Corbyn in the UK, party rules combined with hopelessly weak alternative candidates allowed a marginal outsider to walk in and steal the party from under itself.

Let me say at this point that we Scots have to take our share of the blame for this hugely entertaining mess. Not only is his mother Scottish, but the Labour government of my own dear homeland, greedy for the inward investment dollar, deemed it appropriate to name Donald Trump as the country’s GlobalScot business ambassador in 2006.

The Scottish National Party endorsed that approach, kissing Trump’s arse for years as he built an exclusive golf course and hotel for the wealthy in pristine Scottish countryside.

That all went pear-shaped when Trump and the Scottish government fell out over the former’s [opposition to offshore wind farms, which he claimed would spoil his rich clients’ sea views, though his “ambassadorial” status was not removed until December 2015 when Trump called for the banning of all Muslims from the US.

I apologise, friends, from the bottom of my heart, for my compatriots’ role in making Trump the monster he has become.

And Australia, don’t forget, has had its Pauline Hanson, and is still embarrassed by its brief flirtation with Clive Palmer as a serious politician. Populists can arise and get a hearing in any democracy, which is both a strength and a weakness of our system. The danger comes when there is a political vacuum into which such figures can pour their bile, and captivate that segment of the citizenry which mistakes dangerous demagoguery for “telling it like it is”.

One doesn’t have to be a Democrat to hope that the Trump juggernaut will come to a halt when the general election campaign properly starts. Even many of the GOP elders in Washington, D.C. – Trump’s hated “elites” – seem ready to endorse Hillary Clinton rather than this crude party gatecrasher in their well-heeled corridors of power.

Until that moment comes, the world watches events in the US with dropped jaws and wide-open mouths. And it might never come. The US is in uncharted electoral territory, and no-one can predict with certainty where the journey ends.

Trump is immensely newsworthy and media-friendly, and his primary success makes him even more so with each winning result. Now he has momentum, and credibility. The GOP voters have spoken, have they not?

This might look to the rest of us like US celebrity culture on a really bad acid trip, but it’s also democracy at its finest.

The ConversationBrian McNair, Professor of Journalism, Media and Communication, Queensland University of Technology

This article was originally published on The Conversation. (Reblogged by permission). Read the original article.

 

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Islam and the media – let’s not fear open debate

The Conversation

Brian McNair, Queensland University of Technology

‘This is my weapon’.  Source: AAP/Denis Prezat

On Sunday I came across an article in the International Business Times, reporting a posthumous publication by slain Charlie Hebdo editorial director Stephane Charbonnier. The book, completed two days before the attack that killed him and nine of his colleagues, denounces the western media, politicians and those commentators who mute their criticism of Islam for fear of being accused of ‘Islamophobia’. “By what twisted logic”, Charbonnier writes, “is humor less compatible with Islam than with any other religion? … If we let it be understood that we can laugh at everything except certain aspects of Islam because Muslims are much more susceptible than the rest of the population, isn’t that discrimination?”

In the knowledge that the poor man is now dead, a victim of religiously-motivated killers, and with news of the Melbourne arrests dominating the headlines all weekend, I found the article both poignant and pertinent.

And then, driving in Brisbane on Sunday morning, I listened to an ABC radio discussion of the Melbourne anti-terrorism operation. The main theme of the discussion? Was it appropriate to interrogate Islam’s messages, or was the Victorian premier who had that morning declared that these young men are “not people of faith. They don’t represent any culture. This is not an issue of how you pray or where you were born… this is simply evil: plain and simple”, correct to steer public attention and anxiety away from the islamic connection?

We all understand the reasons why our politicians urge caution in addressing the issue of Islam and its interaction with democratic, secular cultures such as Australia’s. No-one wants to see moderate muslims scapegoated or blamed for the crimes of a few extremists.

We understand that the particular interpretation of the Quran which fuels the global jihad is not shared by muslims as a whole. There are extreme Christians too, and Hindus and even Buddhists, who advocate violence in the name of their respective deities. The history of Christianity is awash with conquest and innocent blood. The non-violent, non-extremist practitioners of these religions are not responsible for the crimes of the past, or for the actions of present-day radicals on the periphery. The same point applies to muslims, many of whom have spoken eloquently and forcefully against jihad.

We also know that those young men and women, often from secure middle class, moderate backgrounds, who choose to join the jihad do so for many reasons other than the religious.

But for that reason, too, analysis of Islam’s vulnerability to such hijacking should not be interpreted as an attack on muslims as a whole, or as ‘islamophobia’. On the contrary, as Charbonnier writes, failure to scrutinize Islam in the media and elsewhere, in the same way that we should scrutinize all religions and belief systems, is itself a kind of discrimination. It patronises Islam to say that its adherents are too sensitive to be treated with the same intellectual rigor and scrutiny as, say Christianity or Scientology.

Reluctance to draw attention to and satirise the absurdities of Islam – and all religions are absurd in their own ways – will in the end breed more public anger than it prevents. Moreover, it is an important sign of acceptance of democratic political culture that Islam’s leaders, even if they disapprove of what is said, should embrace the satirist and the heretic alike, without feeling the need for a fatwa. Christians had to swallow Life Of Brian, after all, though many church leaders called for bans. How offensive would we think it today, had bishops and cardinals called for the deaths of the Monty Python team?

So let’s be clear. Critiquing Islam in the media and elsewhere is not ‘islamophobia’.

It’s not racism, since being a muslim has nothing to do with ethnicity.

It’s not anti-muslim, since many muslims are critical of the extremists in their ranks, and ashamed of how the name of their religion has been tarnished.

It is, rather, a legitimate and increasingly necessary engagement with a uniquely (for our time) toxic variant of a belief system which, whether or not one disagrees with its tenets, can easily coexist with secular society in the same way that other religions do in a multicultural society. Anything less than vigorous, skeptical media discussion of those beliefs, including its still-medieval attitudes to women and homosexuality, does moderate muslims no favors.

The ConversationThis article was originally published on The Conversation. (Rebloged by permission). Read the original article.


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