Dr Jennifer Wilson

“Bundle of Joyce” highlights Oz media’s gaslighting culture

The press gallery has hit back at those who claimed they covered up the Barnaby Joyce story. I’m sorry, but what else are you going to call it?

 

 

In this discussion between journalists Malcolm Farr, Alice Workman, Caroline Overington and Fran Kelly, Farr and Workman take a swipe at those of us who have suggested that there has been collusion between the press gallery and the government to keep the Barnaby Joyce affair under wraps. (Interesting times; Overington, a Murdoch employee, attacks her colleagues for not reporting on the Joyce affair.)

In fact, there’s nothing like suggesting collusion to invoke scorn and contempt from press gallery and MSM journalists, who seem to assume that what one actually means by that term is an overt decision, taken in the middle of the night on burner phones by senior public servants, government MPs and senior media management to not publish or to delay publication of material that could in some way affect their mutual interests.

Such a scenario might well play out from time to time, I have no idea, however, what I mean when I use the term “collusion” is something far more subtle.

Every workplace, every family, every institution, every social media platform, indeed every human interaction is governed by overt rules, agreed upon by the culture and known to everyone. Far more elusive, however, are the unspoken rules, the implicit codes, the behavioural nuances deemed appropriate and inappropriate that you won’t find in policies and procedures guidelines. These are part of the culture of every institution and all individual interactions. These tacit assumptions exercise an unspoken and unacknowledged control, constrain behaviour, and are arguably are more influential in determining behaviour than are the overt rules.

The press gallery, MSM journalists, government employees and MPs are as enslaved by these unspoken cultural requirements as any other human being. When Guardian journalist Katharine Murphy tweeted about the “convention” in the press gallery that MPs’ private lives are a no-go area, she was referring to these unspoken rules.

 

 

It is to these undocumented conventions that I refer when suggesting collusion or conspiracy between the press gallery and the government.

It probably won’t take you very long to identify the unspoken rules in your family that have governed your behaviour, and the effects they’ve had on your life for better or for worse. Or in social media interactions, in the workplace, where nobody tells you about these cultural conventions, you have to pick them up, and you can be mightily ostracised if you unknowingly transgress. It isn’t difficult to imagine the powerful hold unverbalised conventions have over the culture that is parliament and the press gallery. Murphy names but one.

This conspiracy of silence on private lives in Australian politics cannot help but position the “ordinary” citizen as an outsider, marginalised in a democratic process to which we are, in theory, if increasingly not in practice, essential. Many of us sense this exclusion and privilege, and many of us describe it, quite legitimately, as conspiracy and collusion.


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Perhaps nobody actually said, “do not publish anything on the Joyce affair.” But nobody actually needed to spell it out. It would be known, via that mysterious process characterised as a nod and a wink (and in some instances not even that much would be required), what was to be said about Joyce, and when it was to be said, if it was to be said at all, and by whom. This is a process to which the punters cannot possibly have any access, and it is perfectly reasonable for us to experience that as collusion and conspiracy.

We are then gas-lighted by journalists who deny such a process ever takes place, and that we’re crazed conspiracy theorists living with our mothers, writing paranoid blogs in our grubby dressing gowns.

There are, however, instances in which the subtleties are abandoned. Australian Financial Review journo Phil Coorey published this in December 2017:

Queenslander Keith Pitt, who Mr Joyce does not like, was not only overlooked but dumped from his job as parliamentary secretary for trade,” Coorey wrote.
“The two recently had a bitter argument about Mr Joyce’s infidelity and marriage breakup. Mr Joyce blamed Mr Pitt for spreading the rumours, a claim Mr Pitt denies.

Shortly afterwards these paragraphs disappeared from Coorey’s piece, after both Pitt and Joyce contacted him with denials. Fortunately, Twitter had secured a screenshot of Coorey’s original piece.

 

To believe that the entirety of this issue begins and ends with Joyce would be doing it a disservice. Sadly, I believe an old trite truism holds it best: Don’t believe everything you read.

 

Dr Jennifer Wilson

Jennifer is an independent scholar, eclectic writer and prolific political blogger at No Place for Sheep. She has published academic papers, book chapters, short stories, memoir and poetry. There is no box she will not think outside of. So far.

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