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Sobering Thoughts On An Allegedly American Newspaper

Irfan Yusuf is a Sydney lawyer, an 'Ozzie Mozzie' and a truly insightful writer, a regular on Webdiary. His last piece here was Allegedly Halal Thoughts II

Last Saturday night I had an interesting conversation in Canberra with a group of people who had gotten together to support that progressive bunch known as the Canberra Islamic Centre. Amongst them was a gentleman who had something to do with media.

I made a flippant throwaway reference to an American newspaper that likes to call itself The Australian. I was expressing my frustration at one section of The Oz which provides voice to some of the ugliest views I have ever read since I arrived in Australia as a wee toddler.
Going to school as virtually the only non-Anglo kid at Ryde East Public, I heard lots of nonsense in the playground from other kids. But the taunts I received then were nothing compared to some of the things I read in the columns of Janet Albrechtsen and others claiming to represent conservative thinking.
The fellow I spoke to claimed not to recall the good Doctor making any extreme reference to Muslim cultures. I reminded the chap of Dr Albrechtsen’s claim that Victoria looked like it was on the verge of becoming an Islamic state because of its religious vilification legislation. I also reminded him of the comments she made in relation to the gang rapes that took place in south western Sydney.
I got the feeling my conversation partner may have had some link with The Oz and appeared to be offended by my suggestion that a newspaper he associated with was printing views which, if said about Jews and Judaism, would be deemed anti-Semitic.
I hope he goes back and reads some of the offending columns and considers the impressions that the promotion of such lunatic-fringe ideas has on even the most conservative people for whom Islam forms perhaps a minor part of their identity.
The gentleman certainly had far more enlightened views about non-Christian religions (if he didn’t, why on earth would he be attending a fundraising dinner for an Islamic centre?). To his credit, the gentleman did provide me with some food for thought which I felt should be shared with readers.
He explained that each section of the paper has its own editors who have separate briefs and engage their own regular contributors. These contributors are given a certain amount of latitude and are deliberately chosen because they represent a certain element of the public conversation.
There is a significant monoculturalist element of the public conversation which wants to read criticisms of matters associated with Muslim cultures. Writers like Kevin Donnelly and Janet Albrechtsen cater for these people.
At the same time there are elements of the public conversation that want to read relatively less conservative and/or multiculturalist views. Writers like Phillip Adams and others cater for these.
He also pointed out that ugly views about certain non-Christian faiths and cultures are also printed in the Fairfax press. I agreed with him in the case of Paul Sheehan and Miranda Devine (and occasionally Gerard Henderson, though he is far more sophisticated in his analysis of sectarian issues).
He also suggested that much of the problem is not that of the paper but rather of those claiming to speak for Australia’s incredibly diverse Muslim communities. On this point, I doubt there can be any disagreement except from those representing the private interests of those benefiting from their continual domination of Muslim institutions.
I guess this is where government-sponsored multiculturalism has its limits. If, by multiculturalism, we mean governments spending money on organisations which then divert funds into private ventures then it is understandable for taxpayers of any denomination to find such activity inherently offensive.
In this regard The Oz has investigated and exposed the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils. But it has also exposed the Hillsong Church. If Islam or Pentecostal Christianity has reputation problems, this cannot be solely attributed to a few op-eds in a newspaper.
Perhaps the most important point the gentleman made is that what gets printed in different sections of a newspaper may or may not represent the entire newspaper. He said that no mainstream newspaper from any camp (Fairfax or News Limited) has a single ideological agenda. Rather, the newspapers try to reflect the national conversation and break news stories that readers want to read.
Further, often a newspaper’s op-ed section will enable the views of certain writers to be projected further so as to counter-balance the perceived biases of a competing newspaper and so as to differentiate itself from its competitors.
In the current environment, with anything related to Islam being painted as violent and ugly, it is sometimes easier for those of us who don’t feel the urge to hate the faith and all its followers to presume every attack is part of some agenda. Conspiracies often make excellent self-fulfilling prophecies.
But we have to learn to be careful not to demonise media outlets just because they give space to those who demonise us. Because chances are the same outlet gives space to the demonising of just about everyone else.
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Our total servitude to the U.S. exposes us to many dangers.

There is no doubt in my mind that the independence of Australia has been surrendered to the Bush Administration by the Howard regime. Even American citizens cannot save themselves from the power of the Industrial Military. It doesn't seem to matter who is rich enough to become President of the US - the ever-increasing strength of these faceless people is consuming every country that concedes their rights by having a government that fosters the US power to exist - whether by assassinations, rigged elections, orchestrated "homeland" attacks, fear, hatred or pre-emptive invasion. In short, "Black Ops".

Apparently the paranoia developed by keeping the Americans in fear, from within and without, eventually created this monster and, in their inimitable fashion, they remove opposition by any means they require - preferably profitable war. The planned astronomical profits of the Vietnam War were put in jeopardy by the JFK Administration - and he was assassinated without any of the proper protections normally provided for a US President.

The world has had the privilege of the wisdom of many Presidents of the United States of America but, since perhaps the times of Jimmy Carter, the wise counsel has been politically sacrificed for the demon profit.

I selectively quote part of the President Eisenhower farewell speech in 1961:

"IV....a vital element in keeping the peace is our military establishment. Our arms must be mighty, ready for instant action, so that no potential aggressor may be tempted to risk his own destruction. Our military organisation today bears little relation to that known by any of my predecessors in peace time, or indeed by the fighting men of World War II or Korea. Until the latest of our world conflicts, the United States had no armaments industry. American makers of plowshares could, with time and as required, make swords as well. But now we can no longer risk emergency improvisation of national defense; we have been compelled to create a permanent armaments industry of vast proportions. Added to this, three and a half million men and women are directly engaged in the defense establishment. We annually spend on military security more than the net income of all United States corporations. This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence-economic, political, even spiritual - is felt in every City, every state house, every office of the Federal government. We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources and livelihood are all involved; so is the very structure of our society."

(And with emphasis added)

"In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist. We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together."

Is the media part of the "Black Ops"?

Learning on the internet is very enlightening. For example, in his farewell speech to the American people, President Dwight Eisenhower warned against allowing the Corporate Military to take over the Nation and diminish the freedoms on which that country was formed. More and more each year, it appears that his fears were justified indeed.

The Americans have made an art form of Black Operations (Black Ops). In the many, many countries where they have covertly interfered they have managed assassinations, military coups, internal riots and rigged elections. The latter has my attention. I remember the media's assassination of Gough Whitlam and Paul Keating for example. Even to the point where they unblushingly commended the blatant abuse of democracy by the sacking of Mr. Whitlam.

I was not surprised at the defeat of Paul Keating because of the horrific media attacks on him, especially his behaviour in Parliament. Yet, now we see a Howard Government which abuses every, yes every, concept of democracy so valued by our forebears. The misuse of our once admired Parliament by this person and his American mentors is sickening to say the least. But, as Mark Latham said "How does Howard get away with it?"

The 1998 election of the Howard government was revealing in that the massive majority he enjoyed after the character assassination of Paul Keating dropped markedly. Suddenly, this person of radical conservatism and racism became the toast of the corporations' media. He blatantly proceeded to install his own sycophants in every position of authority - he lied openly - he acted with depraved indifference to our people, he changed the "goalposts" on statistics, he abused the international laws, the maritime laws, the United Nations and our Asian neighbours. He created the highest taxes, the highest foreign debt, a debt-ridden false economy and provided obscene record profits to the corporations he represents.

I am afraid that the information we receive, via the media and its Government - and have received for the last eight years - has been crafted to protect this man and his dictatorial behaviour.

A Government of the people, by the corporations and for the corporations.

Targets of Opportunity

Thanks for your story Irfan Yusuf. It is enlightening that your acquaintance confirmed my long-standing views. I have felt that much of the opinion published by Australian dailies reflected individual views rather than those of the publishers. Therefore, in order to indulge my sport of sending appropriate rebuttals, I always play the man and not the ball. If that sounds un-Australian then I stand with John, defiant to the last. I want to get at the Janets and Gerards of the media world, and their invisible friends.

Perhaps my idle pastime will appeal to other Webdiarists. If the individuals who work for these papers are targeted, along with their immediate commanders in the War on Wisdom, some change might result. I am building a list of their email addresses, which are not hard to fathom. I send them messages straight to their desks. It’s not that I value them less than my WD community. It’s that WD people don’t control the real estate of the major dailies. It’s that if I disagree, as I do daily, the best target for my comment is their email system. Janet and Gerard would be unlikely to visit WD to discover our views. I make my views easy to access, by putting them right there on their screens.

In doing so I always make a point of copying the established comments services at each paper. I take on differing identities to avoid automated deletion. I cross reference by sending my comments on one to several others. I find people named or quoted in articles and include them in my ‘conversation’. I weave as wide a web as I can manage alone.

If WD folk would care to start a directory of the email addresses and contact details of good folk such as Gerard and his wife Anne, Janet, Paul, Miranda and their colleagues I will be happy to contribute. Our considered comments will trump their malignant musings. Our broad analysis tops their prejudiced positions. WD is the antidote to these toxic jocks. WD obviates their obscene op-eds.

Perhaps if enough people were to make their views felt the liberties afforded these separate editors will change, and with them the lists of favoured bigots. Perhaps the latitude awarded those who display the worst of Australian values will be truncated. Perhaps their prejudice will cease to replace ‘the public conversation’, which I assess in any case to be a monologue. Rebutting their errors and balancing their partiality are little tasks that I can perform. If others in WD cared to try their hands at this type of rousing retort I would recommend it as much more than a lot of fun. Irfan Yusuf’s acquaintance seems to suggest that there may well be targets of opportunity.

And Trev, it was toast in fact, and black coffee :o]

Yankin' our Oz

Irfan, other than pushing a perpetually hot button here on Webdiary, I don't think characterising the Oz as "American" really did much to advance your quite valid argument. I find the Aussie media have their own pecularities, quite distinct from their Yank counterparts.

All media everywhere are capable of demonisation, e.g. the anti-Semitism rife in the Arab media (see the "New Anti-Semitism" thread), anti-immigrant rhetoric in many US and European outlets, and yes, unfortunately a lot of Islamophobic garbage in many Western media. But I think it's an overstatement to say "anything related to Islam [is] being painted as violent and ugly."

Your own contributions here and in other outlets are great examples of the multifaceted view of Islam we need, and are proof that there are balanced views out there.

Recent posts and message boards

Trevor Kerr and Scott Dunmore, I would be delighted to see the return of the "old" Webdiary recent comments style, with thread and commenter's names only. In my opinion, this would solve two problems in particular, and possibly more. First, it would allow those readers with particular preferences (both positive and negative) to be selective in their choices, should they so desire. Second, it would save commenters (and editors) from making up suitable titles (remember – the default setting is the first few words of the comment, which can look a little odd).

I don’t have the technical knowledge to know whether this change could be done easily, but it does seem sensible. I also don’t have the knowledge to comment about the possibility of a message board.

So, to the Webdiary management team, is all or any of this feasible?

Craig R: Allow us a little time and we'll talk these ideas through as a management team. It may be technically possible, whether it could be done easily is another question.

Message board

Hey Trevor, convergence of thoughts here. Read my post in the "ad feminam" thread. Off topic again!


Irfan notes: "we have to learn to be careful not to demonise media outlets just because they give space to those who demonise us."

That doesn't mean we can't condemn demonisation when and where it occurs.

Who is Janet?

There are more dimensions in the ability of mass media to reflect communities views, Irfan.

For instance, The Australian has a small readership. In Melbourne, the News.com outlet is the Herald-Sun. I don't know about Sydney - is it the Daily Telegraph? I wouldn't read the Herald-Sun in a fit. I suppose the demographic that defines the Murdoch-Fairfax divide is similar, but different, in each of the east coast capitals.

Also, Rupert Murdoch, as you know, has a keen interest in the 'new media'; see. eg.,The New Wisdom of the Web

I don't think anyone at News.com would be much troubled by what's going on at Webdiary. People on the go are learning to scan websites for accessibility and relevance. The right-hand sidebar of 'recent posts' is the place where newcomers would tap in to the streams of content. But, this valuable piece of screen real-estate is wasted by verbiage of the kind "Hi cobber. I liked/disliked what you said and I'm going to spell it out. I'm sorry I didn't reply earlier. ...." That is, the contributors are treating Webdiary like a private chat-room. This aspect of it is a turn-off.

However, if that is the way Webdiary wants to be, I'd suggest some enhancements. The writers of personal statements could accompany their pieces with descriptions of what they happen to be wearing at the time of writing (or, better, cam-snaps) and details of what they ate for breakfast.

A question of exposure.

Trevor Kerr has hit upon a brilliant idea: everyone who contributes to Webdiary has to expose themselves (no, calm down Geoff, I didn't mean in that way).

No more hiding behind a meaningless title or name but, using the brilliance of digital technology, present a colour picture of the real you with each comment (currently I'm wearing a puce smoking jacket, a storm-trooper helmet, pink trackie dacks and slightly-soiled rubber boots - alright, alright, badly-soiled).

Of course, if you happen to be having a bad-hair day, that's just too bad, ladies, just do the best you can and blame the lighting (for breakfast I had sardines and yoghurt on toast with artistic lashings of mango pickle plus a glass of crushed beri-berries).

This idea could revolutionise on-line forums. But hang on...what about if morally-bankrupt people substitute other people's pictures?

Now where did I put that photo of Robert Redford?

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