October 7th 2000

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Articles from this issue:

Editorial: A lesson from the Olympics

Cover Story: Oil: who is blackmailing whom?

Canberra Observed: Freedom of religion or freedom from religion?

The Economy: John Stone's reflections on the declining dollar

Straws in the Wind: Long day's journey into night

The Media

Family: Long-term legacy of divorce


Defence: Regional crises require lift in defence spending

Comment: Globalism and democracy: the challenge ahead

International Affairs: West papua, the next East Timor?

Drugs: Compulsory treatment: Sweden shows the way

Britain: Whitewash over East German espionage in UK

Books promotion page

The Media

by John Styles

News Weekly, October 7, 2000
Olympic patriotism raises ABC suspicions

You thought the enthusiastic display of support Australia turned on for its competitors at the Sydney Olympics was quite natural and normal for a sports-loving nation like ours? The ABC would have you think again.

At the ABC, that spontaneous wave of patriotism required scrutiny and analysis. The fear? That we might have been experiencing something related to ... Hansonism!

So when, during the first week of the Games, Peter George, presenter of ABC Radio National's breakfast program, checked the national pulse and found Australia's patriotic heart beating hard, he called in a couple of academics to diagnose the situation.

George declared:

"Sydney's Olympics has seen an outpouring of Australian patriotism, a loud public pride rarely exhibited in this country. Never before has the Southern Cross been such a fashion accessory or the words of our national anthem so well known.

"Yet just two years ago, former Ipswich stalwart Pauline Hanson was roundly criticised by sections of the community for draping herself in the same flag. Is there a difference? Are expressions of nationalism safe on the sporting field? Or are we seeing a birth of a new sense of Australian nationalism with Ric Birch as midwife?"

Peter George asked the chosen experts if there was a "nasty underbelly" to all the patriotic euphoria. Both said it was hard to distinguish between good and bad nationalism, but pointed to Australia's tradition of fairly benign nationalism that reserved its most fervent expression for the sporting arena.

That may satisfy some at the ABC, but probably not all.

Those who followed ABC reporting of the Sydney Olympic bid eight years ago will recall the national broadcaster's opposition, and many may have detected in some of the coverage a certain sympathy for the Beijing attempt.

At the time, the ABC's position on the issue attracted the criticism of Sydney Olympics 2000 Bid Committee board member (and former Liberal Party president) John Valder.

In a 1993 newspaper article, Mr Valder referred to what he perceived as the "anti-Australianism" of the ABC and panned its "negative attitudes" to Australian Olympic bids. He also suggested that some ABC reporters "ever eager to find anything negative about the Australian bid, were easy targets for Chinese propaganda".

Mr Valder noted that the anti-Australian "streak" he detected in some ABC reporting did not represent the view of all at the ABC. The recent comprehensive and enthusiastic reporting of the Sydney Olympics by staff of the national broadcaster suggests that still holds true today.

But the suggestion that the outpouring of support for Australia's Olympic sports men and women could in some way have been sinister, must be offensive to all who celebrated the Sydney spectacle so wholeheartedly.

Easy media ride for Al Gore

Female journalists find George W. Bush "unappealing" according to Gay Alcorn, US correspondent for The Sydney Morning Herald.

On September 23, Ms Alcorn reported that a female journalist aboard the George Bush 757 aeroplane commented that the Republican presidential candidate "sees women as sex objects". The evidence for this? George Bush "leaning against a seat and smirking, apparently saying something hilarious about his appearance that day on the Oprah Winfrey Show."

Ms Alcorn adds: "In their newspapers the following day, they'll put a twist on his Big Day with Oprah."

As George W. Bush trails Al Gore in the opinion polls, the harsh media judgments are not confined to the "tough, smart female journalists" Gay Alcorn observed.

On September 24, the Media Research Centre (MRC) reported a Fox News Channel opinion poll that showed 71 per cent of respondents thought Gore has been reported fairly in the campaign. Only 53 per cent felt Bush has been treated fairly. And while only 17 per cent thought Gore has been treated unfairly, twice as many labelled the media coverage of Bush as unfair.

The media microscope has been applied to George W. Bush, but the main TV networks have ignored or downplayed a series of embarrassing Gore stories. According to the MRC, these have included:

  • Gore snubbed veterans by skipping the American Legion's national convention.

  • Black secret service agents alleged that a limit had been placed on the number of black agents assigned to Gore - prompting a Democrat Congresswoman to comment on her web site that "Gore's Negro tolerance level has never been too high".

  • A $US734,500 donation to the Democrat 2000 campaign by a fundraiser targeted by Justice Department for possible criminal charges relating to the sale of missile-related expertise to China.

  • Allegations of a revenge IRS audit on a woman who "sharply questioned" Gore about Juanita Broaddrick's rape accusation against President Clinton.

  • A wheelchair-bound reporter not allowed to follow the motor pool in his car or ride in the press van.

  • According to the MRC's Brent Baker, "The public is well ahead of journalists in realising the obvious." However, if Americans are aware of media bias against George W. Bush, that realisation so far has not resulted in an upswing in opinion poll support for the Republican.

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