Media’s new lie

Perhaps the strangest response was Paul Maley’s. The defence and national security editor at The Australian was at pains to make clear that the Christchurch terrorist did not read Australian news.

“Christchurch shooter Brenton Tarrant might have been born and bred in Grafton, but the ideology that inspired him came straight from ancient racisms of Europe and the fanaticism of medieval Christians,” Maley wrote.

“With Australia’s political class poised for a national bout of cultural self-loathing following Tarrant’s Christchurch terror attack, it is worth noting there is zero evidence the man paid any attention to anything said or done in this country since 2014.”

Maley stepped through the broad topics of Tarrant’s manifesto: Emmanuel Macron’s election in France, the NATO-led war on Kosovo, the birth rate in the Muslim community, the Siege of Vienna. “It’s vile stuff,” he wrote, “but nowhere does it mention Pauline Hanson, Operation Sovereign Borders, Sky After Dark or any of the other right-wing villains being fitted up as accessories before the fact. The word ‘Australia’ or ‘Australian’ appears just 11 times.”

Maley doesn’t deny Australia’s Islamophobia, or the danger of stoking hatred and division. He just wants it to be known that Tarrant was radicalised by it somewhere else. It’s like a gun shop owner saying someone bought the weapons next door.

Elsewhere in the same newspaper, Janet Albrechtsen wrote of the “political ratbags” who would “exploit cold-blooded terrorism by a white supremacist in New Zealand on Friday for their narrow-minded, illiberal political agendas”.

She warned against calls for laws to “penalise media outlets, and figures that consistently promote fear and hatred” and “robust laws against the spread of hate speech”.  She cautioned those who would “fall for claims that this censorship, under the ruse of clamping down on hate speech, will stamp out terrorism”.

The risk she warns of is not to people but to ideology. She sees free speech as an argument against responsibility. Like many in the press, she refuses to acknowledge the role the media plays in radicalisation.

There is an urgent desire to blame internet forums for Tarrant’s bent interpretation of the world. The bigger concern is that many of the thoughts expressed in his manifesto have appeared, in one form or another, on the opinion pages of most mainstream publications in this country.

Tarrant is an aberration, as is all terrorism. But he is produced by a culture that has normalised hate, that is built from division, whose politics routinely exploits fear and whose press caters enthusiastically to it.

The same politics says there are bad people on both sides. The press says the mass shooter was on holiday in Europe and probably missed their racist articles. What both are doing is maintaining the status quo, shifting culpability, minimising their actions.

The world gets no safer in a system such as this. The prime minister visits a mosque, then announces an immigration cut. The journalist prepares another piece on the rights of bigots. As the lawyer Nyadol Nyuon said this week: “You can’t get to the heart of our stories, can’t understand us, can’t truly empathise, when your priority is free speech and ours is to live.”

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Mar 23, 2019 as "Media’s new lie".

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