“Labor trolls, ‘thugs” and “lobotomised sh*theads” belie a bigger challenge for media elites

by | Apr 17, 2022 | Government, Latest Posts

The social media outcry over ABC Breakfast News presenter Fauziah Ibrahim’s silly Twitter lists belies the greater issue of media bias, the parroting of News Corp and Nine agendas, therefore government spin. Who has really been lobotomised here? Michael West reports.

It was a heck of a Twitter storm. ABC Breakfast News presenter Fauziah Ibrahim was found to be hosting two “lists” on her Twitter feed: “Labor Trolls/Thugs” and “Lobotomised Sh*theads”.

Unfortunately for Ibrahim, the lists were public. They contained not just pro-Labor tweeters sick of nine years of Coalition rule but also others who are clearly not trolls, thugs or lobotomised sh*theads.

Many of the people on Ibrahim’s lists are in fact decent contributors to the public debate, whether tribal Labor supporters or not. This is the point of Twitter, it gives people a voice, it delivers everybody and anybody a role in the public marketplace for ideas. It is democracy. Yet, this is something which is lost on mainstream media elites.

Sales sails

ABC’s top presenter Leigh Sales, often complaining about Twitter trolls, just left the online forum. Lisa Millar too. Others have taken a dismissive, somewhat elitist view of social media, Andrew Probyn writing it off as just Twitter; others complaining, wrongly, that it has been weaponised against women.

No, Twitter is people, not some group conspiracy of trolls. And so a siege mentality has developed in the traditional media, an “us versus them”. It is elitist and it is wrong.

The ABC and others chose to ignore the voice of the people people who wanted #prayerroom investigated, who would have liked to have seen even-handed coverage of gotcha moments, who would rather see proper scrutiny brought to bear on the like of this week’s preposterous announcements about another Darwin port or Scott Morrison’s “forestry package” and the bizarre claims it would create 73,000 jobs in Tasmania (when there are now about 3,000 jobs).

The approach from ABC management seems to be, if it’s not in News Corp or Nine newspapers, or maybe the Guardian, it’s not news. They have become news followers rather than news leaders. This is the fundamental problem after years of defunding, bitter criticism by both sides of the political divide. Where once Q & A set the news agenda on a Monday night, shunted back to Thursday and hamstrung by its faux balance, now its audience has been shredded, along with its influence. 

This writer really appreciates and supports ABC, like most of its critics. We want it properly funded, defended. Yet Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, TikTok and other social media forums are here to stay. They can often be brutal but that’s life. 

Ibrahim will face censure. She should probably apologise as quickly as possible. It’s not a good look for the public broadcaster to be slagging off its audience but she appears to have simply made a stupid mistake. Making her Twitter lists publicly visible that is. To expect ABC journalists to not hold any personal bias is neither reasonable nor realistic. Everybody has a personal view.

Bigger fish to fry

Meanwhile, the ABC faces far more profound challenges. Every day, the broadcaster follows up the stories which have run in News Corp and Nine Entertainment media, and therefore Coalition agendas, with little scrutiny. They are a key part of the machine which fails to hold governments to account, and which favours the Liberal Party.

This is because Nine and News are selective, the latter venomously selective, in their coverage of politics. The government and its phalanx of spinmeisters control this agenda by leaking to a small group in the Canberra press gallery in return for positive coverage. To generalise, if they don’t play the government game they don’t get the drop. 

The ABC and other media, the likes of commercial breakfast TV, regional media and talk-back radio get up every morning and follow these same agendas.

The result is that the news which the public receives, news which is critical to the outcome of elections, to legislation and public policy, is distorted, perverted.

Agenda bender

Why would ABC take seriously, and report as gospel truth, unchallenged and worthy of debate, News Corp’s agenda-ridden news coverage? Surely, it is not lost on them that News, its broadcaster Sky News, its state tabloids and national daily The Australian, are propaganda.

News Corp is controlled by foreign media magnate Rupert Murdoch whose Fox News in the US championed Donald Trump and is now singing the praises of Vladimir Putin.

Even US President Joe Biden has dubbed Murdoch “the most dangerous man in the world”. In the UK, found to have engaged systematically in hacking phones and bribing officials, News was outed as a criminal enterprise, yet it is daily lent the imprimatur of credibility by ABC and others.

Even worse, Murdoch’s cheerleading for war gave licence to the invasion of Iraq and the rise of ISIS. A million dead. And yet the ABC blithely follows them, day in day out. There has been a massive loss of perspective, partly due to the ravages of ABC funding cuts, partly due to weak management.

It needs managers who will fight, stand on principle, exhort their journalists not to be distracted by political theatre, by the daily antics. Its “talent”, its stars on screen have won their public position and pay rises during a decade of Coalition rule. They are unlikely to change course now. It is up to management to manage.    

Rise of independents no accident

They ignore public opinion at their peril. While senior journalists have retired in their droves in recent years, the rise of social media and independent journalists has matched the decline. YouTuber Friendly Jordies has amassed 620,000 subscribers, capitalising on the media malaise and his reach is now more than double the combined audience of the national dailies The Australian and Australian Financial Review.

The latter are paywalled, their influence a legacy, nothing to do with innovation or bold journalism. They are reliant on their drip feed from government ministers and PR people – and the imprimatur of ABC and others following, swallowing, their daily agenda.

Meanwhile, in climate and energy RenewEnergy has grown strongly. In cars, Auto Expert John Cardogan, in business and politics MWM, Macro Business and others.

There is a long way to go. The large and growing audiences diverted now to new media and social media are proof enough. People under 40 don’t get their news from paywalled newspapers or the nightly news. Frankly, a lot of them don’t believe it.

Stick to your knitting

ABC has sought to innovate, frolicking with ABC Life and various ventures to lift their younger demographics. The best thing however, indeed the only thing which they can do, is to focus on hard news and analysis – not fritter away millions trying to compete in a crowded magazine market. 

They need to stop hosting lobbyists and political PR people on their chat shows – or at least disclose the likes of ASPI, IPA, AI Group and BCA and their agendas.

Last week, the first week of the election campaign was dominated by Albo’s gaffe. It was a bit of a shocker, to be sure, but hardly deserving of blanket coverage when the Morrison campaign was flat-out pork barrelling with the taxes of ordinary Australians, simply buying votes with somebody else’s money.

And what of the straight out lies, that the subsidies for logging companies would bring about 73,000 jobs, or that – having sold the Port of Darwin to the Chinese on a 100 year lease for just $510m – it was a good idea to build another port for $1.5bn with no consulting engineers or financial modellers involved to assure us it was even feasible.

ABC has little choice but to listen to what people are saying on social media, not spurn it. Elitism will only ruin their credibility. That means recognising that its corporate media peers are institutionally biased and driven by commercial and political agendas. In other words, they will have to do their own work, ignore the clickbait. It won’t be easy.

Who has really been lobotomised here?

Michael West established michaelwest.com.au to focus on journalism of high public interest, particularly the rising power of corporations over democracy. Formerly a journalist and editor at Fairfax newspapers and a columnist at News Corp, West was appointed Adjunct Associate Professor at the University of Sydney’s School of Social and Political Sciences.

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