Australia’s favourite asymmetrical outfit wearer Lee Lin Chin has taken a big step wrong. And it’s got nothing to do with her eccentric wardrobe – it’s the company she keeps.
Or more accurately, it’s the company paying her. And spoiler alert, it isn’t SBS.
By unabashedly spruiking for the nation’s largest pro-meat lobby group in their Australia Day lamb ad, Chin’s effectively torched her journalism career with a flame-thrower.
The controversial “lambassador” ad features Chin as the leader of Operation Boomerang, a military body apparently set up to ensure Australians the world over aren’t left “lambless” on Australia Day.
But one thing has been niggling me since I first saw the ad and the response to it: no-one has mentioned Chin’s involvement as a potential conflict of interest.
With its blokey and brusque demeanour, Meat & Livestock Australia’s ad has been labeled offensive to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians, vegans and immigrants. So criticism’s certainly not been in short supply.
Since the advertisement’s release a little over a week ago, the Advertising Standards Board has received more than 600 complaints. As a result, the Board held an extraordinary meeting earlier this week to decide the ad’s fate. They ultimately decided it could stay on air.
It’s already had close to two million views on Youtube in the week since its initial release. So from a marketing standpoint, it’s clear the ad appeals to its target audience.
This isn’t about being able to take a joke. I found some parts of the ad funny. I also found some parts of it – especially the “love it or leave it” (read: culturally assimilate or get faarked) sentiments – incredibly offensive.
This isn’t even about political correctness (although it’s clear the national meat lobby thinks PC-ness should just go and “get stuffed”). You see, as a journalist, Chin holds a position of privilege and authority. By promoting and accepting money from a lobby group, that relationship of trust with the public is irrevocably damaged.
The issue is that Chin, as a journalist, is paid by SBS to report on topics objectively. If she is simultaneously paid by Meat & Livestock Australia – a pro-meat lobby group – how can audiences trust her to deliver news (especially about live export and other animal welfare topics) that is free from bias?
Similarly, Chin is clearly advocating for a particular type of Australia Day to be celebrated. A lamb-infused, pav-induced Australia Day, with no hint of sensitivity to how this day is perceived by many as one of dispossession and invasion.
As a lawyer, I have an obligation to serve the court and the administration of justice. As an officer of the court, I am taken to know the law and therefore should be held accountable for my actions both as a lawyer and in my private life.
These professional ethics were brought about because it’s thought that the legal profession must have the confidence of the community. Although the raft of slimy lawyer jokes shows this might not be the case, it’s still a lawyer’s responsibility to strive for otherwise.
In a similar way, journalists are held to a code of ethics. They’re meant to commit themselves to independence and respect the rights of others. They are trusted to not use their position for financial gain.
Journalists hold privileged positions in our society. Journalists like Chin are charged with the duty of providing information to people so they can make informed decisions. Their reporting directly impacts our collective social conscience.
The issue isn’t that Chin is taking the piss out of her role as a reporter. She’s done that before on The Feed. Her role in the show doesn’t affect her journalistic integrity because she’s still presumably being paid by SBS to report the news (albeit in a satirical manner).
Perhaps Chin’s role in the controversial ad doesn’t equate to her supporting the national meat lobby. Perhaps it doesn’t follow that she agrees with an aggressive assimilation policy or doesn’t understand why the arrival of the first fleet is not met with celebration from all Australians.
But the point is, her role in the ad could certainly be perceived as such. And herein lies the problem.
Chin is in a trusted position in our community. She is charged with providing unbiased information so we can make informed decisions. By aligning herself with a lobby group like MLA and the messages the ad promotes, her impartiality is tainted.
I find her involvement disappointing because it undermines my confidence in Chin and SBS as Australia’s multicultural public broadcaster.
And most of all, I feel let down that Chin would sell her journalistic soul for something as ignoble as being Australia’s 2016 ‘lambassador’.
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