Too little, too late


Barry Tucker                   18 March, 2014

The fact that a grassroots movement, March in March, suddenly sprang out of social media seems to be of more interest to the Mainstream News Media (MSM) than the protest marches held across the country from March 15-17.

Sydney marchers

March in March protesters, Melbourne, Sunday, 16 March, 2014.

The MSM could not have been unaware of the development of the movement, which began during January/February 2014, because the MSM constantly monitors and is involved in social media. As a consumer of local and national news and current affairs you could be excused if you missed these events in your local paper or on radio and TV. Marching groups numbered from a few dozen (in small towns) to about 30,000 (in Melbourne) — not seen since the days of protest over the war in Vietnam.

The MSM seems to have been startled by the appearance of March in March on the streets and bemused by the wide range of the marchers’ concerns — matters which some commentators say are now irrelevant because “the community has moved on”. It’s more a matter, I think, that the MSM would prefer that the marchers moved on. Their presence on the streets last weekend was something of an embarrassment to the MSM, which constituted one of the areas of concern. In newspapers, on commercial and ABC/SBS radio and TV, house fires, road accidents and overseas news took precedence over this significant event.

The event was reported, but in my opinion it was not accorded the prominence or significance that was warranted. The interest of some sections of the news media was questionable, to say the least.

Laura's tweets 2

Lauras tweets

The tweets above appeared in reverse order.

Laura Jayes, a political reporter for Sky News, is based in Canberra. (Sky is 1/3 News Corp, Ch7 and Ch9) I tweeted Ms Jayes yesterday, asking which pictures she chose to use, or for a link to her broadcast. At the time of writing there had been no response.

One mainstream journalist who seems to have got the message is John Birmingham, writing in Fairfax’s online

“The total disconnect between what might be termed citizen-initiated reportage on social media and mainstream coverage of the weekend’s protests was in no way mitigated by the scramble of the MSM on Monday to play catch up.”

You can read the rest of Mr Birmingham’s article, if you want to.

And, surprising to many no doubt, this comment piece by Natt Young in News Corp’s online publication

In The Adelaide Advertiser, another News Corp paper, Tory Shepherd felt the need to denigrate the march and the marchers, referring at one point to bong smokers and people who need a bath and can’t spell.

Shepherd says the march protested many issues and therefore had no single issue, which made the march pointless. This view, common to those who have criticised the event, entirely and I think deliberately misses the point: people across the country have many issues with the current federal Liberal National Party coalition government and its leader, Tony Abbott. Not all of them marched, no doubt.

Shepherd also criticises the fact the marchers were rallied by social media, as if this somehow makes the event invalid. That view fails to acknowledge the growing political power of social media — or does it? Perhaps Shepherd, or her employers, do recognise this growing power and have reason to fear it, as China, Vietnam and now Turkey does (see below).

Shepherd criticises the signage carried by the marchers, some of which was rude, some offensive, some illegal (urging someone’s death) — but most of the signage was not of that nature. Critics of the movement, well aware of its organisation via social media, have failed to point out that the organisers also used social media to appeal to marchers to keep their signs clean and wholesome, in contrast to those displayed at a certain Convoy of No Confidence organised by a certain 2GB shock jock.

You can read Tory Shepherd’s article and decide its relevance and purpose for yourself.

The Sydney Morning Herald’s colour writer, Jacqueline Maley, has responded to a march organiser’s letter, which asked why the SMH had ignored the event. It didn’t. This was Maley’s second article on the march.

Maley’s article is interesting because of the aspects on which it focuses, mainly the easy to spot hot bits — like rude and offensive signage. Like all the other MSM critics, Maley fails to point out the offensive signs were in the minority.

It’s also interesting because it clearly illustrates the ivory tower attitude of the MSM, the disconnect between it, social media and the community at large. When did reporters and journalists stop talking to the people on the street, in bars and sitting on sports ground benches?

There is another theme that everyone appears to have overlooked. It is the focus of the MSM on the earlier anti-carbon tax rallies, Prime Minister Gillard’s “misogyny” response in Question Time and the recent March in March. It is apparent that the MSM (at least the Canberra Press Gallery contingent) sees its role as defender of the Right against the peasants of the Left. In that role it is clear and consistent and it has alienated half of its potential market.

And finally, one of the loudest voices on the Fifth Estate, Victoria Rollison takes the MSM to task for its limited and poor coverage of the March in March. Rollison points out it was a community event and the MSM has let its community down with its coverage.

March in March account on Twitter and its hash tag feed.

Update, 21 March, 2014. Immediately following the three-day march events, @MarchinMarchAU announced it was “here to stay” and that more events would be held. This predictable likelihood will be of concern to the federal Coalition government and the news media that support it.

Meanwhile, another new grass roots movement, @MurdochInMay, has emerged on Twitter on Facebook and is planning a “no buy” campaign of Murdoch products during May. The movement is organising a list of relevant products. Some anxiety has emerged over the use of the term “boycott”.

Turkey’s government today apparently began to roll out its ban on Twitter, with users reporting “outages”. Two weeks ago Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan threatened a ban on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube. The people protest in Turkey began when a public park was closed to make way for a building project. It has expanded to include a wide range of social freedom issues.

Early last year I began warning that an incoming Liberal National Party Coalition government in Australia could eventually seek to handicap social media in some way. LNP State governments in Queensland and Victoria have since imposed or sought limits on some legal, voting, assembly, demonstration and association rights and freedoms.

In a strangely related move that has not yet been coherently elucidated, the federal Attorney-General, George Brandis, is considering the repeal or rewording of Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act. This is the law that broadcaster and columnist Andrew Bolt was found guilty of breaching by the Federal Court on 28 September, 2011.