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Tommy says… read The Sydney Grind

April 17th, 2008 No comments

I have joined hallowed company in a new collaboration at http://sydneygrind.nointrigue.com/. This is a short test edit to ensure that my posts actually get collated.

Categories: The Sydney Grind Tags:

Torch relay, tabloid journalism, and “community values”

April 9th, 2008 2 comments

I’m writing a research paper on the role of juries in sentencing, which has, perhaps, made me especially sensitive to the way tabloid journalism reflects public opinion. While many assume that tabloid journalism reflects the voice of “the masses” – the plebeian, if you like – in reality this seems to be simply untrue. This point surfaces here and there in the debate on juries, usually in the context of questioning whether there is in fact a crisis of confidence in our legal system, as would appear from the reportings of tabloid media, such as the (Sydney) Daily Telegraph, and increasingly the Sydney Morning Herald.

So the Olympic torch relay is being disrupted by – not angry Tibetans after an independent country, but smiling Western anarchists who have nothing better to do and jump on these bandwagons like an annual county fair. WTO one year, Olympic games the next. If it gives them the opportunity to smash a window or to or bash a handicapped girl in wheelchair or two, then they seemingly don’t care that they are supporting a feudal theocracy that has only minority support in the land they claim to represent.

Many tabloid journalists are probably drawn from the same stock as the anarchist protesters: angry, ignorant, and eager to claim a moral high ground. Not only are they ignorant of the facts, they are also ignorant of the true opinions of the community that forms their readership. So I looked on the Sydney Morning Herald website, and this survey showed more clearly than anything that disjoint. The question asks “Should [Kevin Rudd] use this impressive combination of [language and professional] skills to push Beijing for a fair deal for Tibet?” Patronising, ignorant, prejudiced — laden with so many false assumptions one might question whether the author would be able to find his or her own country – let alone Tibet – on a map of the world.

If one believed that the SMH represented the opinions of the community, one might expect the ensuing answers to go something like this: 50% saying “Yes, Kevin Rudd is not doing enough to criticise the Commie-Nazi pigdogs! Long live the theocratic government of the Dalai!”, and 40% saying “No, Kevin Rudd is such a wimp, and he’s like, half Chinese already – he’ll just roll over”, and finally one lonely comment posted by a Chinese netizen going something like “White people stupid. White people imperialist want to split China. Wait for China nuclear missile, fuckers.” Something like that.

The reality is quite different. About half the comments belong to the first and second categories discussed above. There is a random sprinkling of the third king, but about half of the comments speak with a rational and contrary voice: yes the Tibetans have a right to protest, but the bandwagon jumpers who are bashing torchbearers and trying to steal or extinguish the Olympic flame? Their actions are despicable. They are selfish. They try to attract the spotlight, whether for their own perverse personal satisfaction or to promote a political agenda – in either case, selfishly destroying an event that means so much to so many: athletes, torch bearers, governments, Olympic officials, a nation of 1.3 billion people. No-one should be allowed to mar an event that is sacrosanct as a symbol of world unity and peace for some political agenda- regardless of how right or wrong that agenda is. The marked contrast between this large proportion of the comments with the assumption-laden question clearly shows up how out of touch with their readership the SMH really is.

I started a group on Facebook called “Defend the Olympic flame”. Interestingly, the comments of several people who joined were “I thought I was the only one who thought like this”. If you read Australian newspapers and watched Australian news, you would think so – I certainly thought that I was out of step with the general community, who are all baying for the blood of torch bearers. But no – once again, tabloid journalism has been shown to be the voice of the mob, and not the voice of the plebeian.

Finally, on an unrelated point: lest it be misunderstood that I’m supporting the Chinese government on this one – I have absolutely no sympathy for the “loss of face” (as it has been called by Western media; why must they use an improper expression of Chinese origin only for China? “Loss of dignity” could serve just as well in this context) — by the Chinese government. Ordinary torch relays do not “belong” to the host country. The torch is carried from Olympia – perhaps through several intervening countries – and eventually wind up in the host country. “Relay” describes not only the relaying of the flame from runner to runner, but also from country to country. China, however, just needed to prove how great and mighty it is. So it ships the flame from Greece by plane to Beijing, where the torch relay is declared “open” by the President in an elaborate staged ceremony on Tiananmen Square, before it gets flown – by a Chinese jet and escorted by Chinese agents – to each “leg” of the relay where the torch gets a tour of the city before re-joining the Chinese jet. It’s a strange “relay” when the same player – the host country – controls the torch all the time.  This move by the Chinese government in one sense is inviting the protesters to disrupt it. Whereas disrupting the flame on an ordinary relay would be just that – disrupting the Olympics – disrupting the 2008 rally is in fact disrupting a Chinese torch relay, since the Chinese government both in words and in action has shown that it owns the torch relay. The (London) Daily Telegraph has on several occasions described the London and Paris legs as descending into “farce”. Well, from what I can see, the Chinese government managed to turn it into a farce even before the whole relay got started.