Media on the Bushfires

04/01/2020

I commented on Twitter the other day that I’ve been a bit more attached to the social media platform in the past week or so, primarily to see personal accounts from those who are in the affected regions. But not everyone uses Twitter, and of those who do, there’s a fair share of questionable content that some can get lost in (i.e. those downplaying the extremity of this crisis, or the causes). “Traditional” (like newspapers, but also liberally applying that label to TV and digital media) media is still very important as it shapes a lot of opinion and knowledge.

This isn’t going to be an extensive, study-like piece – just a broad net at a few instances I’ve picked up across an array of media outlets. There’s also a chance to comment on a few of the heartless actions of our dear leader, Scott Morrison – a name I sure hope history remembers with utter disgust. If this failed marketing manager had any dreams of a long-lasting, happy legacy, he will be sorely disappointed.

Firstly, just so I can get them over with, the Murdoch press. The bastion of climate change denialism and ecocide that Rupert Murdoch has claimed does not exist in his vast network of anti-democratic and Orwellian propaganda machines, masquerading as journalism. They are one of the bigger culprits spreading the lie about how the Greens, environmentalists, and “lefties” are responsible for the increase in fires. That conspiracy theory still has a large amount of traction, shared by those ignorant of the truth beyond what some populist hack shares on Facebook.

A proper look at the Greens’ policies on backburning, or, even easier, listening to them and the environmentalists, would prove that they are by no means opposed to it. Even if they were, however, that point would not be relevant because they have never held any power or sway over those decisions. In NSW, cuts to the national parks budget is one of the greatest factors to an increased fuel load, because they have not had the resources, people, or time to properly carry out their work. That’s the realm of the Coalition, who are actually in government.

But Sky News seemed to be hellbent on smearing the Greens, so manufactured stories filled up a lot of airtime. That’s not the only time contradiction has not bothered their integrity. In the Australian, columnist Gerard Henderson claimed that bushfires weren’t “the end of the world”, that that “left-wing pundits” were trying to convince us of “unprecedented disaster”. Hardly seems worth noting at this stage that the Berejiklian government finally declared a state of emergency, and that the Victorian government (damn socialist Labor) declared a state of disaster.

I can’t read the article itself, because who in their right mind would pay to read shit? But headlines are what most people read, and in this case, it tells us all we need to know about the article. He is downplaying the extremity of the fires while taking another shot at the loosely defined “left”, creating a distraction and a false enemy in one go. But if the Australian is releasing commentary denying the severity of our plight, someone should tell Sky News to stop criticising the Bureau of Meteorology.

Left unspoken about by the Murdoch media, to my knowledge, it has long been known that weather events will become more severe and unpredictable as climate change climbs ever further. As such, BOM was understandably unable to predict dangerous weather events in the midst of raging fires. For this failure, Sky News crashed down on them, seemingly accepting that the crisis is serious enough to call out those who are not able to monitor it properly – ironic.

It seems the bushfires are of serious concern when the blame can be thrown at the Greens or other, similarly “left” institutions like BOM (that’s a joke, obviously), but they are relatively unremarkable when the issue of climate change is introduced, or when it’s their political party of choice under fire (figuratively, unlike some of the population).

The commercial news stations are somewhat mixed. 7, I saw briefly, turned their focus onto arson as the cause for some of the fires, which I merely see as ignoring climate change and governmental negligence. It’s much easier to say that justice should be brought down upon a few criminal folk who, intentionally or accidentally, lit fires than to hold the powers that be accountable for their inaction. 10 had a reporter in Cobargo after the Prime Minister got heckled out, and they spoke to Zoe, the woman whom Morrison and Bega Councillor Tony Allen took liberties with.

Morrison forcefully grabbed her hand to shake in front of the camera and proceeded to walk away when she begged for more RFS funding and help. Morrison has since lied, claiming he had a conversation with the woman. Allen grabbed her and moved her out of Morrison’s way, telling her to “shush”; later video clearly showed him kissing her face without her consent. An undisclosed person allowed the journalist known as Ronni Salt (I believe their real name is kept rather quiet) to share her experiences with Allen at council meetings, outing him for sexual harassment and general rudeness towards women.

The 10 reporter who interviewed Zoe, Tegan George, had been in Bega for some time in the showground, where a number of people are staying after evacuating with nowhere else to go. Today, she and her team were kicked out by NSW police, an action they were able to take due to the state of emergency powers they got yesterday. This was quickly remedied, with it officially being called a “mistake” to send them out, but many are sceptical.

They were a TV crew reporting on the victims of the bushfires, and they were singled out “mistakenly”? That does not sound believable to me. Beyond that, ignore the fact they were a TV crew with cameras – under what circumstances do the police think they have the right to send someone away from what’s become an evacuation centre when there is currently no real way to leave the area? Surely that alone should prompt serious questions.

The ABC has been covering the fires diligently, from what I’ve been able to see, despite Murdoch accusations of bias. In Victoria, emergency announcements went for 25 minutes every hour yesterday, according to Andrew Heslop, who read them on ABC radio. He said he was moved by the response he has gotten for it.

I can’t recall which program made the comment, but the only time I’ve seen bad reporting from the ABC is when one of their pages called the people who heckled Scott Morrison out of Cobargo “protestors”. This rightfully received a huge amount of backlash – they were not protestors, they are locals who are suffering and had every right to be angry at the smug bastard who thought he could walk in for a photoshoot. He tried to force a handshake with a firefighter who he later found out had lost his home – how do you think they are going to react? Calling them protestors was a bad call.

The international response to the fires has also been nice to see – there appears to be very little love for the Morrison government. Democracy Now! reporter, Amy Goodman, briefly spoke to Tim Flannery, chief councillor of the Climate Council here in Australia, who said the country was a tinderbox. In the NYT Opinion section, Morrison received a brutal showing alongside a rundown of the destruction the country’s endured. I don’t have links, but I also saw a number of German articles circulating on Twitter covering the fires relatively closely.

Pretty much most of the media, with the exception of the Murdoch press and segments of the online community (and perhaps 7 as well), is looking on with horror as our south east burns. Some have blind spots, and others are intent on shifting focus to less important factors, but overall there seems to be a legitimate rise in despair towards the government. Morrison will need to carry out a lot of damage control – that is, if he doesn’t end up behind bars where he belongs.

One can dream.

The NYT article reports the Cobargo bookstore has moved “Post-Apocalyptic Fiction” books to the “Current Events” section. Tragic, but fitting.

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