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Sunday, 3 June 2018

Attacks on the media are fuelled by the same feelings that make people support populists

At 9.59am today Denise Shrivell, a Sydney resident, retweeted a tweet that had gone up a few minutes earlier from a man named Ray Wilton, who doesn’t publicise where he lives, that said:
I say it regularly, given the saturation demonisation of Bill Shorten over many years by lnp, msm & crap like sales & cassidy, it amazes me Bill still commands as much popularity as he does. Imagine if Bill was treated (respectfully) like Turnbull/lnp, by msm & ‘Kill Bill’ freaks?
Bill Shorten is the leader of the federal Opposition (Australian Labor Party). The name of the prime minister (who leads the federal Liberal-National Coalition) had been replaced in the tweet by a top hat emoji, in the manner that commentators on the left routinely use on social media.

Shrivell is often vocal in condemning the mainstream media, including the ABC, even though she professes political beliefs that lie on the left of the spectrum. The tweet from Wilton was catnip for a certain class of person who uses Twitter and who votes for the parties of the left. Their narrative is that with the appointment of Michelle Guthrie, a former Sky TV executive, the ABC has been taken over by conservative forces and that the national broadcaster is pushing an ideological line that favours the right as a result. Even the neutral Fairfax Media gets raked over the coals by such people.

This approach to the media conforms to a pattern familiar to watchers of politics, where voters are increasingly favouring populist parties such as One Nation and Nick Xenophon’s SA Best. It follows similar shifts in political behaviour in the populations of other countries, including in the US. Donald Trump is a symptom of the same malaise, where rising inequality is forcing people to look to populists and their empty blandishments for answers to day-to-day problems they face in their communities. In Europe, the shift has taken an even more sinister tinge as many of the alternatives that people are looking to to solve their money problems offer policies that lie on the far-right of the spectrum, including even ideas that stem from the Nazi era in the 1930s in Germany that led to WWII.

There was even a tweet this morning showing an image that contained a clip from a Melbourne newspaper of the pre-war era. The story was about a raid that had been conducted on the offices of a labour union in Danzig, a city in Germany, by Nazi troops and police that led to violence. In Australia these days, unions are trying to address the problem of income inequality but there are forces on the conservative side, notably the Murdoch media and the Institute of Public Affairs (a sort of training ground for Liberal Party politicians before they are preselected for seats), that are working to minimise their strength.

In the past few days there was a decision by the Fair Work Commission that led to the minimum wage here being increased by 3.5 percent to $18.93 per hour. Such efforts on the part of officials to help people cope with cost-of-living pressure in an age of stagnant wages are welcome but more needs to be done by the Labor Party, which looks set (at the moment) to win the federal election in 2019, to address the cancer of inequality that is tearing at the social fabric in many countries.

But despite feelings of disappointment within the community aimed at the canonical mainstream, support in official polls in Australia for minor political parties remains weak. Only a small proportion of people actually support people like Pauline Hanson and Nick Xenophon when the time comes to put their marks on the polling forms in the voting booth. Even the Greens, which have now been around for a period of time approaching 30 years, struggle to get more than 15 percent of the primary vote at best.

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