Every electronic era develops its favourite hooks, and back when I was a kid, the command was pretty simple. “This is a story no Australian can afford to miss” was the fraudulent promise of many media outlets, and you can still hear its echo in A Current Affair and those other news relics whose lifeblood is the destruction of Dodgy Asian Jewellers.

As consumers wised up to the lie of must-see TV, the promises changed. By the ’90s, the media could no longer afford to seem like the top-down purveyors of truth and so headlines transformed from an out-and-out command to view to a slyer suggestion. This was no longer A Story No Australian Can Afford To Miss but a Story They Don’t Want You To Know. You can still hear its conspiratorial echo in A Current Affair and those other relics whose lifeblood is claims about the healing power of magnets.

Actually, you can hear it in publicity for a show on ABC1 tonight. Not content with just pissing off the National Heart Foundation of Australia once with claims about the properties of cholesterol, science program Catalyst is having another go at championing fat. Of course, this is a program that “challenges everything we’ve been told”, and They don’t want us to know the truth as it will be told by celebrity chef Pete Evans. “They”, presumably, are stupid old scientists who prefer to work within boring old medical theory rather than the exciting world of activated almonds.

This stupid denialism masked as brilliant scepticism still works well for media desperate to sell itself as a peer to consumers and we won’t see the end of the things They don’t want you to know for some time yet. It works well. News outlets that so rarely pierce the rind of true political rot give us the “truth” about bacon instead of an analysis of the pork in Canberra. Everybody wins when our need for truth is met with the guilt-free right to processed meat.

Of late, however, there is an even more sophisticated deception emerging to satisfy our need to know. No longer are we being treated by media to stories No Australian Can Afford To Miss or that They Don’t Want You To Know. Now, we are learning about the things No One Is Talking About.

A recent week of broadcast on mental health on ABC networks was framed as the issue No One Is Talking About. Domestic and intimate partner violence is now regularly spoken of as the issue about which no one is talking. And while it is true that these two, often interdependent, matters of private and public concern are real questions for debate, it is certainly not true that they are things that No One Is Talking About.

In fact, in the lead-up to this month’s Victorian state elections, domestic and intimate partner violence has figured as a key issue. And so has mental health. Yet, despite the predominant appearance of these issues in recent years in state and federal political campaigns and their frequent analysis in mainstream media, there is a view promulgated by mainstream media itself that there is silence.

Among the things No One Talks About in recent local headlines are, of course, mental health. Abroad, Forbes brings us “What No One Talks About During Election Season: Voter Ignorance“. In a Malthusian moment, The Atlantic gives us a look at population control with “The Climate-Change Solution No One Will Talk About“. And MSNBC and the Huffington Post were two of several outlets to recently talk about the financial form of “Domestic Abuse That No One Talks About“. That these matters are talked about and have been talked about and are, in fact, currently being talked about even as outlets insist No One Talks About them to audiences of significant sizes is something No One Talks About.

No One Talks About is, of course, the direct descendant of the equally duplicitous claim that You Can’t Afford To Miss this story. But, it’s not just the same old tricks dressed up because it represents a shift in our understanding of the truth and whose responsibility it is to deliver it. In promises like This Is The Story They Don’t Want You To Know and This Is The Story You Can’t Afford To Miss, there is the implicit suggestion to the consumer that they are passive recipients of news. The charge that No One Talks About It lays the blame, by contrast, with everyone. So, it’s not just They who are withholding stories anymore. It is the fact that No One, including us, shows any interest in these stories. We are to blame as much as news providers and we can only amend this error if we do read, and talk, about the thing that No One is Talking About.

This, of course, is delusional. My individual participation in talk on important social matters is unlikely to result in the delivery of crucial services to those suffering domestic abuse or mental illness. Or online bullying or racism or climate change or any of the other things No One Talks About. The problem is not that no one is talking about these things. Any glance at a news site or election campaign will show that people are talking about these things. But even if we were not talking about these things and “raising awareness”, and we are, our failure to talk has little to do with the institutional failure to act.

The responsibility for all social ill is now seen as individual. If only one talks, the neoliberal logic of our age goes, then the world will change. While this may be mildly true, it is not as absolutely true as consumers and news providers appear to believe. Our willingness to accept individual responsibility for problems that can only be meaningfully managed by large political and economic systems is a problem that No One Talks About.

Peter Fray

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