One of the enduring themes of this election campaign, particularly from the left side of politics, has been the influence of the Murdoch media. The left was outraged from day one when the Daily Telegraph ran its headline stating that “finally you have the chance to kick this mob (the ALP) out” and it continued when the Telly officially endorsed the LNP declaring “Australia needs Tony”. It has now lead GetUp! to run a campaign about the influence of Murdoch, which has caused controversy after the three commercial television stations refused to run their ad.
Whilst discussion about the media is needed and a valuable part of our public debate (and in many ways I think the GetUp! campaign manages to do this well), the way many in the left have approached the discussion has potentially been very destructive. One theme seems to dominate; that Murdoch is unfairly ‘duping’ the general public to vote for the party that he wants. The activist organisation Avaaz encapsulated this best for me in an e-mail last week:
Murdoch’s media is using all its might to influence the Australian election, and unfortunately — it’s working. His plan is a simple one: create credible newspapers, gain the trust of readers and then bombard them with propaganda that furthers his own agenda. It’s deceptive and it works — but we can make sure it backfires this election.
In other words, Murdoch is using his newspapers to deceive the public to vote for his man.
I’m not here to defend the actions of some of Murdoch’s newspapers. The Daily Telegraph’s headlines are way over the top (although I don’t have as much concern about bias as others do) and the focus on gossip items (was Rudd grumpy at a make-up artist? Is Rudd getting fat? etc.) isn’t the sort of journalism worthy of the some of the most read newspapers in the country.
But the approach many on the left have taken to attack the Murdoch media is problematic and has the potential to have a real impact on how the left reacts to what seems like a looming defeat for the ALP.
The approach is one that we see commonly in the left-wing movements (Note that I think these sorts of trends appear on the right side of politics as well, but I am more connected with the left so can only comment from that perspective). It is one that treats ‘regular people’, or in other words, the working class, as complete morons. For example, left rhetoric often focuses its campaigns about ‘educating the public’ and ‘raising awareness’ – as if we just need to give people the facts and they will suddenly ‘get it’. In politics you will often hear questions such as ‘how could people be so stupid as to vote for Tony Abbott?’, because voting for our opposition makes you a moron. With Murdoch running his agenda therefore it is easy for us to make the next leap – people are being deceived by the media and we need to save them from it. Clearly the only way one could be stupid enough to vote for Tony Abbott is if they were influenced by the Murdoch media to do so.
It is a very destructive approach to politics. I’ve written about this in the past when it came to media regulation, and it is worth revisiting some of the arguments. Firstly, the assumption that right-wing views are ‘stupid’ is well, just stupid. Often this is based on the idea that the left has the evidence on our side, but this is inherenty subjective. As I said in my previous post:
Ideas of what are true and correct are subjective, and so our understandings of what is right, wrong, and who is smart and who is stupid are too. We all understand these ideas differently, and just because we read evidence differently to others doesn’t make us inherently smarter than them.
Fundamentally, political decision making isn’t about facts or evidence. It is about values and ideologies. Again, as I argued:
Whether we like it or not, people, including those on the left, engage in politics through their emotional brains. We engage in politics through values. We may not like other people’s values, we may campaign against them, but they are not based on intelligence levels. This is really important for understanding how destructive this rhetoric can be. The left is often so focused on talking about facts and evidence that it forgets that people actually connect through values, meaning that our campaigns are often useless.
It is with this in mind that we can see how elitist and classist this approach is. I think that is relatively obvious – treating people like morons because they have a different value-system to you is pretty elitist. It is classist because it is often targeted at the ‘bogans’, those who we say should understand that they are actually better off under progressive policies, but don’t realise that because they are being unfairly influenced by the media.
This is not to deny the influence of the media in our election (although I agree with Barrie Cassidy that his influence is overstated) – there is a reason so many resources are focused on getting good media attention from parties across the spectrum. But we cannot assume that people who read and absorb right-wing press are simply morons who don’t know any better.
And this is important not only because of its elitist overtones, but also because of what it will mean for the left if and when the ALP falls on Saturday. Instead of opening up a discussion of how the ALP and the left have faltered and allowed Abbott to win Government it will create a discourse that we were robbed by the evil Murdoch empire. It will create a discourse that doesn’t challenge our own techniques and question the ALP’s/left’s approach to policy and governance.
Question the Murdoch press and their actions over the election campaign. But don’t assume that just because people agree with Murdoch that they are idiots. We need to get off these elitist high-horse and tackle ideas and ideologies – not the intelligence of people who have different views to us.