Saturday 3 November 2007

Sex, Leichhardt and the Media Spotlight

Regular CairnsBlog contributor, Sid Walker writes

You can tell when the wet season beckons in Far North Queensland.

Around full moon in October-November, the Great Barrier Reef enjoys the largest annual orgy on the planet. This impressive act of mass fornication is the biosphere's Big Bang! It makes Halloween in San Fransisco look like a Sunday School outing.

Perhaps under similarly subtle cosmic influences, around this same time of year, great leaders from afar occasionally visit, travelling in large shiny birds. They sacrificially shower the reef with riches, say 'sorry' because it's so screwed up, then disappear again to the south leaving a thin vapour trail in the atmosphere.

And often, at this same time of heightened desire, coastal dwelling folk around Cairns re-discover the joys of gender and start banging on about sex.

2007 has been no exception, but this year salacious gossip has become inter-woven with the Federal election campaign, bouncing Leichhardt into the nationwide media spotlight! Liechhardt is in the news, not for its off-shore orgy, but for onshore prudery. Strange things, these 'news values'.

An asinine remark by the National Party candidate, to the effect that representing Leichhardt in the Federal Parliament is no job for a woman, got the ball rolling.

Within hours, chattering families in Sydney and Brisbane were chuckling at our expense. Easy to imagine the scene on the patio over breakfast. He says "Those quaint folk up north!" She says "They haven't heard of Anna Bligh?". He asks "Pass the sugar, honey".

Now, families come in many configurations, so the words 'he' and 'she' may be freely substituted in all cases. But, as most civilized folk realised long ago, whatever their gender or sexual preference, some women happen to make first-rank politicians - like 'em or loathe 'em. Even in FNQ, most of us know about Elizabeth 1st.

Just as things seemed to be calming down, enter Ben Jacobsen, Family First Candidate for Leichhardt, whose last week seems to be worse than Tony Abbott's. Apparently, he told The Courier-Mail, when referring to his Liberal Party Opponent "Voters may not give a rats if a candidate is gay… But they have a right to know who you'll bat for."
Tastefully, he left out the word 'arse'. The common expression, as every Australian knows, is "don't give a rat's arse!". But that's risqué for a pro-family candidate, so Mr Jacobsen omitted reference to the posterior part.

Not that it was to help him much.. By the time the Courier Mail hit the streets next day, the hapless Mr Jacobsen was plunging ever deeper into the political abyss, with no friends left at all. Even Family First leader Steve Fielding rebuked him publicly.

Ben Jacobsen has since apologized and gone to ground. The Australian newspaper commented that his remarks "drew an unlikely coalition, with the ALP, Liberals, Nationals and Greens condemning the attack."

The Queensland Anti-Discrimination Acting Commissioner soon chimed in, telling the ABC "Voters don't have the right to know a candidate's sexuality and most people aren't interested in this anyway.".

Not interested? Really?

I'd like to think the Acting Commissioner is right - but it doesn't seem like the world I live in, not once I leave my gate. Does Rupert Murdoch know this amazing fact? Has anyone told the editors of glossy magazines? How odd they persist in losing circulation needlessly by peddling unwanted prurient stories about 'famous people'.

Mr Jacobsen didn't even garner support from gay rights activists such as Peter Tatchell, the Australian who's led campaigns to 'out' undeclared homosexuals in British public life whether they like it or not.

Late in the week, out of curiosity, I tried to ring Ben Jacobsen to get his side of the story, but his phone wasn't responding. I thought he might have gone bush with the wife and kids. Eventually, I got through to his partner. Ben was en route to Thursday Island and out of mobile phone range.

So it goes… But in the absence of any direct contact with him over the matter - and knowing from personal experience how hot under the collar Murdoch journalists can become when quizzed about their own role in making news stories - I'll speculate a little over what may have happened.

Whenever there's a consensus, in an election campaign, that encompasses Greens, Dems, Labor, Libs, Nats, Senator Frank Fielding and all - it means either that someone has said or done something very, very bad indeed - or, alternatively, it suggests to me that forces more influential than all these actors are pulling a few strings.

So here are two speculative scenarios - one embodying the former hypothesis, the other the latter. I repeat. They are just scenarios. I was not privy to the actual conversation in question. I don't know what was said - and by whom - other than from media reports.

Scenario 1

Ben Jacobsen, Family First candidate for Leichhardt, having put his paid job on hold and with a family to worry about, is frustrated by the end of week two of the campaign that the media have barely noticed his existence.

He dreams up a scheme to inject himself into the national media, by casting aspersions about the Liberal candidate's sexuality. He calls a journalist in the Courier Mail - bypassing the local newspaper - and mutters some unpleasant insinuations.

The rest is history (along with Ben's political career - and deservedly so).

Scenario 2

Ben Jacobsen, Family First candidate for Leichhardt, having put his paid job on hold and with a family to worry about, is frustrated by the end of week two of the campaign that the media have barely noticed his existence.

He is excited to receive a phone call from a journalist working for the Courier Mail (Brisbane, no less!), who says he's working on a piece about the Family First Party and would like to ask a few questions. "Great!" thinks Ben. At last a journalist who's interested! He tells the kids to quiet down and devotes his full attention to the call.

That's just as well. To his horror, Ben soon discovers he's being interrogated about intensely personal matters.. "Have you ever looked at porn on the internet? No? Really? Aha - when was the last time?".Have you ever used illicit drugs? Did you have sex before marriage? How about extramarital affairs? Do you lustful after other women? Masturbation? Had any wet dreams?"

The inexperienced candidate fumbles through this purgatorial experience. This is not what he was expecting at all! "Er… yes, I did look at porn on the internet… five years ago" he mumbles. "Drugs?". "Sorry… it's a very bad line!". Ben, a pious Christian, knows that God is listening in… and perhaps old classmates with a grudge might read the story too? He really mustn't tell lies - even to this unpleasant, intrusive brat of a journalist. He begins to feel a little more sympathy for Bill Clinton.

Finally, the torrent of personal questions subsides. Ben relaxes a little. "And have you heard rumors Charlie McKillop is gay" he's asked. "I imagine you'd agree the public has a right to know?" Ben takes a deep breathe and agrees that perhaps they do. He realizes this could be a trap - and tries to soften the impact a little. "The voters might not give a rat's if a candidate is gay'' he sad. "But they have a right to know who you'll bat for.''

The rest... is history. Ben Jacobsen was soon to experience fame of the very worst kind. Everyone who is anyone was about to take a bite out of his backside!

What Really Happens?

Which of these two scenarios (if either) is more accurate?

Ben Jacobsen and the Courier Mail journalist should know that. I don't.

The independently-minded British political elder Tony Benn, himself subjected to repeated, scurrilous media attacks over decades, made a point of never talking to a journalist unless his tape recorder was running. I wonder if Mr Jacobsen knows that trick? Or Peter Garrett? Even vocal inflexion can change the meaning of a phrase. A good operator knows how to put words in other people's mouths - and how to spin stories accordingly.

Anyhow, Ben's media hell rapidly progressed from the frying pan to the fire. After a universal clobbering over his (apparently) tactless insinuation about the sexuality of another candidate, by November 2nd stories were running with another, even more embarrassing angle:

"Family First candidate in porn confession" shrieked The Australian. "Family First candidate downloaded web porn", announced the Daily Telegraph.

I have no especial fondness for the Family First Party, nor do I know Ben Jacobsen beyond a couple of pleasant but brief exchanges about other issues. Both Family First and Ben may be learning, perhaps not before time, the wisdom of Jesus' general suggestion: "Let He Who is Without Sin Cast the First Stone".

And yes…if I was a journalist working for the mainstream media, I might well call a Family Firster to have a little fun at his or her expense - especially if an editor gave me the nod (or, perhaps, the initial suggestion).

Regarding Charlie MacKillop and the Liberal Party, I have deep policy differences with both on a range of issues. I've had one or two heated verbal duels with Charlie over some of these disagreements. However, throughout the heat of debate, I found she listened and responded intelligently. Her ability to get her head around complexity was impressive. She was diligent in returning calls and answering queries. The Labor Party candidate has also been intelligent and pleasant..

Indeed, from my limited experience of speaking with most of the Leichhardt candidates, they all score high on personal decency. It's their analysis and their policies which, in my opinion, leave plenty of room for improvement.

Modern democracies have highly centralized mass media - and the mass media, as Tony Benn has pointed out, play a role similar to that of the Church in Medieval Western Europe. The mainstream media sets the boundaries of debate and defines heresy. Modern politicians, like Medieval Princes before them (along with mere mortals) -all are subject to the mass media's directives - and are eventually written into history by a closely-related set of scribes.

In this peculiar case, I'm curious to know how - and why - functionaries of the Murdoch media beat up these particular stories. They have the power to make - or sink - major stories. More and more, they also set the agenda for the remnants of the Australian mass media beyond the News Ltd empire, such as the ABC and Fairfax.

Why has the Murdoch media been so willing to make Charlie McKillop, her gender and her sexuality, a BIG story in this election? There are many female politicians in Australia and plenty of minor candidates must make silly, redneck comments. The sexuality of most candidates doesn't rate a mention. Why did these puerile snipes at Charlie McKillop become national news? Who is running the circus?

During the last generation, under both Labor and Coalition Governments, media centralization in Australia has got much worse. One might say it's gone from bad to abysmal. In such a system, politicians are continually reminded that just as the Lord giveth, the Lord may taketh away. People with high public profiles - especially politicians- live in never-ending fear of disclosure and exposure, terrified of off-the-cuff remarks that might blow into national stories, paranoid lest they gaff - especially on taboo topics which the media pack rules out of bounds.

Tony Benn is right. The modern media is as repressive as the medieval Church at its most corrupt nadir. It uses quite brutal means to enforce values and secure conformity. It serves elite and (certain) sectarian interests - and ferments fear, paranoia and war. It does not report adequately on the most serious problems in our world - not least of which is the undue amount of influence wielded by a handful of media moguls.

As Benn says, a modern Leveller might well conclude the mass media has become "a modern secular church seeking to control the minds of the people by standard sermons from television pulpits, day after day and night after night, keeping out dissenters or spokesmen for the common people, imposing a technical monopoly censorship that frustrates the right to free speech because it denies the equally important right to be heard."

I wish I could exempt public broadcasters such as the ABC and SBS (and their overseas equivalents) from this depressing critique, but sadly I cannot. They are timid, their news values are largely derived elsewhere and there's clear evidence - in their case too - of egregious bias on certain key issues. I believe they must also be considered part of the problem. In some ways, public broadcasters are more dangerous, because they enjoy greater public credibility than privately owned mass media.

Untamed new media such as CairnsBlog, I believe, are part of much-needed popular move to regain control of information about our society from a small minority, whose perceived self-interest is very far removed from the common good.


Anonymous said...

Only open a few weeks and "Cairns Blog" has been forced to apologise twice and withdraw libelous comments.

This is the "cutting edge" of "the new media"? Sounds more like irresponsible personal vendettas, not journalism at all.

Anonymous said...

One anonymous reply to another.

'Ohhhh I hate gay people. They're not equal to us heterosexuals.'

Would you like some cheese with your whine?

How on earth does being gay make you less equipped to handle the position.. Erk, that sounded a BIT GAY DIDNT IT!!!


Anonymous said...

Who is Sid Walker? Is his libel covered under the "Cairns Blog Fighting Fund", or will he be establishing his own?

You do realise it's the height of slander to make up conversations like they actually occurred, complete with quotations, don't you?

Sid compliments Charlie McKillop for having the "ability to get her head around complexity". Given the low level of intellect shown by Mr. Walker in his writings, apparently in his "verbal duels" with McKillop, Walker is unarmed.

Enjoy the continued flood of legal documentation, Mr. Moore.

Anonymous said...

Hey Mr Clever Name just above. I love it when dropkicks pretend to understand the law. Could you do some Moore please?

Better yet, sue me so I can have some of your money. Oops, do you have any money? Oh well.

Anonymous said...

Funny Bryan Law so focused on money. Isn't he a soon-to-be-jailed, uneducated taxi driver?

Anonymous said...

lol guyz good posts, but back to jaobsen and how f**king offensive his language was, One must remember that if a magic wand was waved and people like jacobsen and famfirst had their way and had ultimate power they would just kill all gay poeple & druggies & the like, they just F**king would! Why do jacobsen and churhies alway think & worry about what people next door are doing with their genitals?
Jacobsen is a turd, or one of those distended rectums one sees on those weird extreme vid sites.

Anonymous said...

Hey Bryan Outlaw, that's a jailed, educated ex-taxi driver thankyou very much.

How would I best describe you?

Opinionated cowardly shill seems to suit.

Anonymous said...

Yeah Bryan OUTlaw! I reckon a jailed, educated ex-taxi driver sounds cool actually.
Go take it out on your blow-up Johnny doll Outlaw.

Anonymous said...

Educated? Education is meant to be used for the betterment and advancement of society. You've done neither in your sad, pathetic life. Just a media whore dressing up like a dork and jumping over the fence at the port.

"Ex-taxi driver"? So I guess that's actually means dole-bludger, while waiting to be a gaol-bludger.

Anonymous said... nice !

This blog isnt about us slagging each other off, it to help remove Big KB from office.

Are we all straight with that ??

Whether Little Johnny or Little Kevin get in, isnt going to matter too much up here really, we are nothing in Federal politics, except country hicks to them.

Its our local government that is of immediate comcern to us. If we dont fight Big KB starting now, we arent going to evict him from the Big Chair.

And trust me...we will. So pull together and be nice !!

KitchenSlut said...

Oh Bryan, you have sadly become such a predictable bore ...... not good for an anarchist (sic) mate : /

Anonymous said...

Bryan Outlaw, sad and pathetic you said it. You must be a Liberal Party troll, 'cos only the Liberals stand by such hackneyed old prejudices as "must be a dole bludger". Wrong. Apart from Family tax benefit, We don't get any other government assistance.

One thing about jail is that it's generally got a better class of inhabitant (more socially and spiritually aware) than the likes of you.

Mark, that's tragic. I woke up this morning just praying that Liberal trolls would get a teensy bit of enjoyment in life being entertained by me - and now I find I've failed. Boo Hoo.