Activism, According To News Limited


The Daily Telegraph is spending a lot of time and effort attacking activism and protests, particularly where The Greens are involved. Does this show a political and media establishment that’s becoming increasingly worried about its position to influence public opinion?

On Thursday last week the Urban Taskforce CEO Chris Johnson detailed how the public is being "deceived" by community campaigns on planning, and should listen more to developer lobby groups.

As spokesperson of the Urban Taskforce, Johnson is paid to say this by one of the key organisations who trumpeted the O'Farrell government's attempts to have 80 per cent of all developments approved without any community consultation. He has described criticism of this anti-democratic plan as scaremongering, though thankfully a slim majority in NSW Upper House disagreed with him.

Most observers of the Daily Telegraph are used to seeing this style of pro-business advertorial, masquerading as news. What makes this latest contribution stand out is how it illustrates the contempt with which the paper, and the developer lobby, hold anyone in the community of NSW who defends the character of their local neighbourhood, the quality of their environment and the sustainability of future development.

Then columnist Tim Blair spent last Saturday at an activist training day initiated by The Greens NSW. The sole purpose of his attendance was to write a typically cynical rant rubbishing the content of the day and the people attending it. The pride with which he confesses his inability to comprehend the speakers is a recurring theme in conservative writing. Blair comes from a world where the person you disagree with is to be mocked, not understood and certainly not engaged with.

His vehement attack reflects a dislike of activism generally among right wing commentators, which appears here as an attack on grassroots organising. Just like the newspaper in which these comments are printed, these commentators do not like the community sorting facts from spin, imagining a more democratic future and using their resources to try to bring it closer.

It’s understandable that the right has become frustrated. You only have to remember the minuscule turnout of "outraged" citizens in their “convoy of no confidence” to get an idea of the hurt they are feeling. It is hard to image the emotional pain of a tabloid editor who has spilled litres of ink and wasted millions of dollars of valuable copy to get a dud convoy, only to see a relatively decentralised grouping organise large turnouts for March in March Australia-wide.

But to give Tim Blair some credit, he put on his Sunday best and engaged in at least one of the exercises at Saturday's workshop. When asked to describe his conception of power he responded, “power is when I vote against The Greens”. That the Opinion Editor and Columnist of a national daily newspaper is so fixated on a party that is currently neither in Opposition nor in Government is remarkable. However, he is right in part. The use of corporate power to keep Greens out of Parliaments and activists off the streets is a daily fact of life in this part of the planet.

The failure to understand ordinary people is not limited to one or two columnists in the Daily Telegraph. Its editorial from Monday continues the trend despairing that, despite the paper's best efforts to negatively stereotype welfare recipients, more than half of the population remain strongly opposed to cuts to welfare.

Why aren't we listening to the media establishment pushing these lines? It is perhaps in part thanks to the global media. So many Australians know that the kind of austerity agenda that relies on cutting welfare to reduce debt simply does not work and is not the solution to fiscal crises. Making the wealthy pay more tax and ending corporate welfare would be a fairer and surer solution to funding the services our whole society needs.

In the face of this negativity a growing number of Australians are involved in community campaigns, grassroots organisations like Lock the Gate, and political parties, including The Greens. The right has for some time crowed that activism was dead, or if not dead, at least moribund. It is clear now that even they don't believe this.

So who was at Saturday's activist’s workshop? Telling the story of the attendees would have been a much more interesting thing to write and read about, but understanding the event was never part of Tim Blair's intention. He held firm to the belief that he and his discredited corporate media giant know what’s best and that everything is OK just as it is: activism is a waste of time, readers!

Interestingly, most of the people who came along were in the second half of their lives and were very keen to contribute their time and energy to their community. Is this an indicator of what’s to come with the "retirement" of the Baby Boomers? Activism is volunteering of a particularly confident type and we’re pleased to say that feedback from the day has been uniformly positive.

Except, that is, for one man in his late forties, wearing a shabby shirt and scuffed ethics, who probably shouldn’t have wasted his Saturday with us.

The Greens will host future activist training days, of course. We wonder who else from the "usual suspects" of Murdoch’s opinion-makers will want to come along. All are welcome. We have no secrets.

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