Paul Syvret is one of the regular writers for the Courier-Mail. When he’s not writing pieces about politics and the economy – usually in a manner which tries to make economic news intelligible – he writes general opinion pieces. Maybe it’s the opportunity to sound off about something other than economics and politics, but from time to time he really lets fly. What is interesting is not that a journo is strongly sounding off about something that annoys them – there’s plenty of those, as there are bloggers – but that he sometimes flays his (and his newspaper’s) own audience, very strongly and directly.  One could just say that attacking readers generates more traffic to the sit, but his attacks do combine the returning shot of abuse with some explanations about why the commenters are not just nasty, but wrong.

Today, he has written a column attacking some Courier-Mail commenters who reacted to the State government’s announcement of a boost in social housing dwellings with a torrent of abuse at public housing tenants. Syvret described some of them as “mean-spirited, self-righteous snobs”.

Having a good supply of affordable housing is immensely beneficial to all of us in the community, no matter how much we earn or where we live.  The actions of both the federal and the state government to boost the amount of social housing is one of the better things those governments have done.  Ensuring housing affordability is something which governments have done very poorly over the last 10 years.  There are still some key policy levers which should be changed to improve this situation, but the state government’s plan to expand social housing is long overdue and they deserve congratulations for it, not an outburst of snobbery, class hatred and intolerance. It is also refreshing to see outraged newspaper columns attacking hatred towards fellow residents, rather than feeding it.

In an age where many stories on the websites of mainstream media provide a chance for readers to comment, the volume of responses published is far greater and often more aggressive than the traditional letters to the editor page.  This has meant many comment threads contain some quite toxic, vilifying views – something Crikey has pointed out from time to time, particularly on Andrew Bolt’s blog. This isn’t unique to mainstream media sites of course. Anyone who has run a blog usually becomes rapidly aware of the difficulty of deciding how abusive a comment should be in order for it to be deleted.

Unlike at least some blogs, this mainly provides a chance for the reader to sound off, rather generate any response from the journalist.  (There are a few exceptions to this – the blog posts of George Meglogenis from The Australian probably being the best example.)

While (as far as I know) Paul Syvret doesn’t directly respond to commenters in the same thread (although he does do a “live chat” online today to follow up on the social housing story), this is now at least two opinion pieces he’s written in the paper (and online) which attack the deep divisiveness and selfishness of many of the commenters on a previous topic.

Another was a piece in November decrying many of the comments on the refugee issue as bigoted, ignorant and racist.  When you see some of the original comments, it’s hard to disagree (even though quite a few people seem to think that no one should call anything racist any more).

It may well be just the continuing commentary of an angry but small minority, but when you realise that there are comments with even more vilification in them that aren’t published, it is hard to deny that there is still quite a way to go before the hallowed Australian notion of ‘a fair go for all’ is actually taken to heart by all.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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