The Guardian’s Australian correspondent, David Fickling, is having a big week.

Last Wednesday Janet Albrechtsen denounced him for the way his
reporting of the Lebanese gang rapes in Sydney’s west compared with his
coverage of the recent football sex scandals.

On Monday, he was being quoted in local meeja over claims in his paper
by the British division of PETA, People for the Ethical Treatment of
Animals, about woodchipping and poisoning of native fauna in Tasmania
and demands for a tourism boycott.

In the middle of it all, however, he’s managed to bang out a humdinger
of a piece for the rag explaining the Howard Government’s spin mania
and the Keelty affair for his Pommy readers.

It’s equally deserving of a local audience.

“There is a bizarre level of doublethink in all this,” he writes about
the Howard/Downer reaction to Keelty’s comments on the Sunday
program. “We are asked to believe that the war in Iraq was waged
as part of a battle against Islamist terrorism, but at the same time
are told that Islamist terrorists could not possibly be provoked by it.

“One month after the Bali bomb, a taped statement by Osama Bin Laden
was released. ‘We warned Australia before not to join in Afghanistan,
and its despicable effort to separate East Timor,’ it said. ‘It
ignored the warning until it woke up to the sounds of explosions in
Bali.’

“The Australian government would have it that this is hokum.
Regardless of what Bin Laden says, Canberra argues that what gets him
really riled is not wars and conflicts, but liberal democracy.
Islamists may be opposed to liberal democracy, but to suggest that
their passions are being whipped up by ballot boxes and liberalism more
than by death and bloodshed is patently ridiculous.

“To the credit of the Australian public, they don’t seem to have bought the government’s line on this…”

Blud oath!

Fickling then goes onto the culture wars:

“Mr Howard’s mastery of wedge politics, by which inflammatory issues
are used to split apart an opposition party’s voter-base, has turned
Australia into an increasingly divided society. Institutions
which would traditionally be regarded as independent, such as the UN’s
commissions on human rights and refugees, are seen by the government as
Trojan horses for a liberal agenda. These sorts of culture wars
were previously felt to be the preserve of the American media, but they
are now defiantly on the ascendant in Australia. The country’s
centrist newspapers must balance both sides of opinion, so columnists
keep themselves in a job by lobbing articles back and forth at each
other across the battle lines. As with all trench warfare, little
progress is ever made.

“The bitterness of this culture war risks gradually destroying the
cross-political consensus on which democratic policy is made. If
you believe that anyone who disagrees with you is motivated by
knee-jerk opposition, you undermine pluralism and encourage a
totalitarianism of thought…

“Keelty argued that ‘there’s a level of honesty that has to exist here
in terms of what the problems are”. His political masters
disagreed, because viewing the world through a political lens turns
every fact into a matter of opinion. Such behaviour contradicts
that bluff Australian claim to be immune to spin. In a culture
war, the only possible winner is spin.”

He doesn’t spell out the obvious – that what loses under John Howard is democratic discourse.

Read the lot at The Guardian: The art of spin – Australian-style

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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