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Oct 11, 2012

Is the social media fury at the press gallery misplaced?

Criticism of the Canberra press gallery for its reaction to Julia Gillard's misogyny speech may be misplaced. But it's worth examining in the broader context.

Social media is rarely kind to the Canberra press gallery but this week there’s been one of those periodic outburts of fury. Only, unlike the 2010 election campaign or the Labor leadership spill early this year, this one has a strong element of gender to it.

The gallery stands accused of entirely missing the significance of Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s speech on Tuesday, which sent Twitter and Facebook into overdrive and was quickly picked up by major international websites.

Peter Hartcher, in particular, copped a savaging for his “we expected more of Gillard” piece. And Fairfax’s own Piers Akerman, Paul “Magic Water” Sheehan, copped a bucketing for his attack on the Prime Minister which included a snide reference to her childlessness, one later removed by a Fairfax editor without explanation and, until prompted by Mark Colvin, any acknowledgement.

So — clueless, don’t-get-it (male-dominated) press gallery or lefty echo-chamber Twitterati?

The first thing to note is the two are talking about different things and, to some extent, at cross-purposes. The press gallery doesn’t see its job as analysing the social significance of politics. Its focus is on political tactics — what works politically, what doesn’t, what impact political performances will have on the functionality of the government in the short term and, over the longer term, its prospects for re-election. The gallery also focused on the wider context for the speech, which was the government defending the wretched Peter Slipper. Criticising the gallery for “not getting it” misses that what they’re supposed to be getting isn’t necessarily in their job description.

Countering that is the insistence this was a key political moment, that voters, especially but not only female voters, will respond positively to the Prime Minister’s speech, that they’ll be pleased a female Prime Minister has pulled such an important issue to them out into the open.

That’s entirely possible, but gallery journalists are no better placed to make that assessment than anyone else — indeed, worse placed, if they’re based in Canberra, which offers a distorted view of the world. Nor, it must be said, are social media users well placed to make such an assessment. Twitter, even if 10% of Australians are said to use it, is unrepresentative of all voters, and most likely skewed to the politically-engaged anyway; Facebook is a more representative platform because it is much more widely-used, but in both cases selection bias is a problem, because both allow us to shape what we see. And merely because large foreign websites are carrying it doesn’t mean it will resonate with Australian voters.

Where the “don’t get it” criticism of the gallery may have more substance is that a key moment arrived in political debate without being heralded or particularly noticed. The issue of gender in politics has been simmering since Julia Gillard become Prime Minister. The misogynist abuse of her from sections of the Right outside Parliament, whipped along by shock jocks and sections of News Ltd, has drawn increasing attention. But in recent weeks the issue has erupted into a storm, particularly after Alan Jones’ “destroying the joint” comments. Tony Abbott’s decision — yet again showing he refuses to be hobbled by his own previous comments on any issue — to attack the Prime Minister was always going to create a tipping point.

Never before have gender issues been at the centre of political debate like this. Indeed, the Canberra tradition is to resolutely ignore such issues. Female politicians have, usually silently, endured double standards in how the press treats them. Both sides of politics consigned women to “soft” portfolios involving welfare and social services, with the silent assumption they were incapable of the hard stuff of government, good only for doling out money. Male politicians arrogantly assumed the right to dictate women’s reproductive choices. Attempts to lift the representation of women in Parliament were dismissed as “patronising”.

Suddenly that’s over. A female Prime Minister has directly, fiercely, attacked her opponent for misogyny, in a way, clearly, that no male politician could ever have done.

Women understood this as an important moment better than men. We come back to that significant gender gap I’ve mentioned several times, how over 60% of women voters think the Prime Minister, and all female politicians, cop criticism that male politicians do not, while only 40% of men do. That 61% shows it’s not just Labor and Greens-voting women who feel this way, but many Liberal-voting women as well, women who are prepared to back the Coalition even with Abbott leading it.

This was a political moment most of the gallery, focused on the tactical battle of day-to-day politics, missed.

But that doesn’t resolve the issue of the extent to which the events of Tuesday resonated with most voters, who unlike either the press gallery or social media users, have little interest in politics. Time and polling will give us some clues as to the wider impact, if any.

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215 comments

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215 thoughts on “Is the social media fury at the press gallery misplaced?

  1. Andrew Chalmers

    But Bernard, it wasn’t just the Twitterati, it was also the veracity of it bounding through Facebook.

    With a far more representative section of the population, it looked as though an entire generation of young women, who had NEVER been engaged with politics before were suddenly tapped on the shoulder.

    The video was linked, relinked and relinked again through suburbs and regions across the country with young women pressing ‘Like’.

    Now, that’s politics.

  2. Frank

    Is there a word missing after “misogyny” in that lede?

  3. robinw

    Perhaps the Press Gallery’s job description needs expanding. It’s remarkably empty of anything but sound and fury right now and we know what that quote ends up as … ‘signifying nothing’. I agree with those commentators who state that the Canberra Press Gallery has been in one place too long and point to AAP and Reuters as examples of organisations that by rotating staff regularly have fresh perspectives offered while with our lot, they are so stale as to be predictable.

  4. Jimmy

    “The press gallery doesn’t see its job as analysing the social significance of politics. Its focus is on political tactics — what works politically, what doesn’t, what impact political performances will have on the functionality of the government in the short term and, over the longer term, its prospects for re-election” What a load of old cobblers – the press gallery currently sees it’s role as regime change and if they can’t get that they want a leader to be toppled – everything is reported through that prism.
    The fact that the right have far more “commentators” and a willing cheersquad in News ltd means this was always going to be viewed as anti Gillard. The fact that more independent journalists with no “skin in the game” have seen it as a line drawn in the sand against s-xism clealry demonstrates the lack of perspective from the gallery.

    It will be interesting in coming days to see if the main stream media in this country stick to their based view (see today HS front page) or listen to the comments from OS and social, recognise a change in the public’s mood and change their tune.

  5. robinw

    And in addition, how can Gillard be a misogynist? A misandrist maybe though not on any evidence I have seen.

  6. Jimmy

    “The press gallery doesn’t see its job as ana l ysing the social significance of politics. Its focus is on political tactics — what works politically, what doesn’t, what impact political performances will have on the functionality of the government in the short term and, over the longer term, its prospects for re-election” What a load of old cobblers – the press gallery currently sees it’s role as regime change and if they can’t get that they want a leader to be toppled – everything is reported through that prism.
    The fact that the right have far more “commentators” and a willing cheersquad in News ltd means this was always going to be viewed as anti Gillard. The fact that more independent journalists with no “skin in the game” have seen it as a line drawn in the sand against s-xism clealry demonstrates the lack of perspective from the gallery.

    It will be interesting in coming days to see if the main stream media in this country stick to their based view (see today HS front page) or listen to the comments from OS and social, recognise a change in the public’s mood and change their tune.

  7. jmendelssohn

    It’s worth remembering that Tuesday’s debate came just after Monday night’s Q+A when the men on the panel, led by the appalling Christopher Pyne, treated Kate Ellis with open contempt. Tony Jones was either unwilling or unable to control them.
    I was still seething about this when I heard Julia Gillard’s response to Abbott – and gave a mighty cheer. Enough is enough. It’s about time the bully boys in politics and the media met a true Mistress of Discipline.

  8. drmick

    Maybe its the press gallery that needs to get there heads out and smell some real air for change. Who gives a purple toss about the tactics. There are no tacticians in the opposition and Limited News could phone in question time on behalf of the parroting cerebral vacuum that parade as the opposition. They have to be coached in the delivery & the content of the delivery every day. Geez.
    You are saying the content of what is said is irrelevant? So the faithful reporting of the bastardry of the opposition and its supporters, (which is all that the Main Sewer Media report anyway), is what you report?. Any wonder the gallery doesn’t understand. You are reporting for whom? How many? Any wonder the great unwashed vote for the “Tactical Hero” of the parliament then.

  9. Jimmy

    Jmendelssohn- I only saw the last couple of minutes of Q&A but what I saw was terrible, Ellis couldn’t get a word in without Pyne & Ackerman yelling over the top while wearing a stupid schoolboy grin.

  10. David Grace

    And the MSM wonder why they are becoming increasingly irrelevant…commenting on politics as if its some kind of bizarre football match is not what people are after from journalists. Especially when only one side of the football match they believe they are reporting on is supported. Michelle Gratton’s attempt to explain herself on radio national was pathetic.

    Time for a change…remove the tired hacks from both journalism and parliament and get people with real vision and principles in there instead.

    And by the way, everyone apart from the journos heard in the speech that she did not support Slipper, Ms Gillard did however support due process which I thought should be applauded.

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