Wednesday 12 December 2007

A conga line of blow-holes

CairnsBlog contributing writer Sid Walker catches up with the developing story of 'that' Judge's decision...

Yesterday I wrote about the Araukun rape incident.

I described the media furor (not the incident itself) as a ‘moral panic’ and ‘media beat-up’.

Nothing I’ve learnt since has led me to change that view – although in retrospect, I may have put too much emphasis on defending the judge.

After all, Judge Bradley had a perfect (media) alibi, because she’d taken the advice of the prosecutor, who had recommended against custodial sentences for the accused.

So perhaps it wasn’t surprising that, as the media saga progressed, the self-righteous media lynch pack decided to moved on… racing past the ‘liberal, ‘out of touch’ judge but still baying for blood until a ‘culprit’ was finally nailed.

By the time Ali Moore interviewed Premier Anna Bligh on the ABC 7.30 Report, a new sacrificial target was in sight.

The interviewer opened with an incoherent question about Judge Bradley (Ali Moore specializes in financial reporting – a field which probably demands fluency in psycho-babble):

  • “So what does that mean, I guess, for the future first of all, of the judge Sarah Bradley who said that quote "probably this girl had agreed". Certainly senior Aboriginal leaders have called for that judge to be stood down, will you stand her down? “

Bligh deftly parried the blow, referring to her Attorney General’s appeal against the “out of touch” sentences – and proclaiming the fate of the judge Bradley “a matter for the chief judge”. Judicial independence and all that… Nice one, Anna!

Swift as a flash, the ABC’s attack bitch switched target, with another barely intelligible stream of consciousness. (Has Ali been saliva-tested recently? We should be told!):

  • “I guess as has been pointed out the prosecutor didn't ask for a custodial sentence in the first place and looking at the transcript of court proceedings that's now been released, Steve Carter the prosecutor he described this case as one of consensual sex in a non-legal sense. He goes on to say they're very naughty for going what they were doing. In this case it was form of childish experimentation and although she was very young she knew what was going on. What's your reaction to that assessment”

The Premier responded deftly, concluding that “legal process be allowed to proceed”.

But Moore persisted, moving in for the kill...

  • “ So what's the future of this prosecutor? A prosecutor you just said yourself is out of touch. He's employed by you, what's his future?”

Lacking obvious wiggle-room, the Premier gave ground:

  • Clearly these matters have only been brought to my attention and the public attention in the last 24 hours. There are processes available in relation to the way that the Department of Justice and Attorney General deal with people who perhaps give less than satisfactory performance. That is a matter that does need to be considered by the relevant supervisors but I have made it clear to the Director General of the Department today that I certainly expect to see this matter considered and if there is any appropriate action that can be taken I think it needs to be taken.

Today came clarification from the State’s Attorney-General that prosecutor Steve Carter will be stood aside, on full pay, while his role in this case is ‘investigated’ and an ‘audit’ conducted on scores of other Cape York cases in recent years in which he has been involved.

So, a man whom no-one has once suggested acted out of any malice or bad motives, has been relieved of his duties while the public continues to pay his salary.

Progress? A great outcome in the public interest? A rational step towards more appropriate sentencing? A positive stride towards Aboriginal well-being?

Who knows? Who cares? The lynch pack has tasted blood… time to move on!

That’s ‘closure’, mass media style. Onwards and forwards to the next beat-up, the next shock and awe, the next great Moral Panic!

As I said yesterday, I find the most curious thing about this sad story the timing. Why, after it received scant media coverage at the time of the incident (two years ago) and the trial (more than a month ago), did it suddenly become ‘Big News’ this week?

I may have missed something (if so, please do let me know) - but I can only infer that persons unknown, presumably within the Murdoch media, decided for reasons unknown to give this story the biggest lift-off since Apollo on December 9th. Perhaps they’d consulted an astrologer?

Over the years, I’ve worked in various roles which required liaising with journalists. I recall pleading, on more than one occasion, for stories to get a run - only to be told that because the incidents took place days beforehand, they were dead’ news.

So what gives here?

Why did this story – within minutes on the morning of December 9th – get telegraphed around News Ltd’s Australian media pack, until other organizations such as the ABC joined the fray?

An hour or so ago, a search on Google News for “Aurukun" + "Aboriginal" + "rape” with duplicates included yielded no less than 64 pages of results – all stories from the last 72 hours.

That’s an avalanche of ‘me-too’ journalism!

A serious, self-respecting and independent news media organization would look into this type of phenomenon on behalf of the public. It would examine how and why the national agenda is set. It would offer a critique of what’s happening behind the scenes.

It wouldn’t just join the conga-line of blow-holes.

It would be nice if ‘Your’ ABC was such an organization.

Sadly, it is not.

That’s not because the ABC is staffed with nasty or incompetent people. For the most part, it isn’t. It’s the result of ingrained institutional cowardice and a reverential attitude to dominant commercial media that borders on servility.

Here’s a concluding anecdote that offers some support for this provocative assertion.

I’m a member of Friends of the Earth Kuranda. A week or so before the 2006 State election, Premier Peter Beattie announced that FNQ would get a new, statutory plan in the next Parliamentary term. He called it FNQ 2025.

That rather significant news item received cursory reporting in the local News Ltd press, but no follow up. There was little debate about the ALP’s initiative.

Now, FoE Kuranda had a clear and newsworthy perspective on the Premier’s announcement - and we tried to get a run for our side to the story as the election campaign drew to a close.

The Cairns Post wasn’t interested. What a shock! However,we did have hopes for the local ABC. These were dashed when a charming member of the news crew called to agree it was a strong story and explain the ABC would like to cover it with a long interview.debate - after the election.

As we were offering the ABC an election-related story, I was puzzled. Why couldn’t this be covered the same week, as an election news item?

The response was telling.

FNQ 2025 wasn’t a ‘real’ election story, the producer explained, because election stories are prominent in the newspapers.

Game, set and match to News Ltd?

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