And THIS Is Why They Call Us Vultures

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A gunshot victim, an upset partner, ‘tense scenes’ all caught on camera. Screw the morals, roll the tape, writes Chris Graham.

There’s a marked difference between what’s in the public interest, and what the public is interested in.

Equally, just as we get the government we deserve in a democracy, we also get the media we deserve in nation that claims a free press… although it’s hard to accept that the man in the picture above deserved anything like what he got in the early hours of this morning.

In case you missed the news, overnight a woman aged in her 50s was shot inside her Melbourne home. Another day, another woman fighting for her life.

She remains in a critical but stable condition in hospital. We don’t know who did it yet, but of course that’s utterly irrelevant to this story, because neither did the 9 News camera crew who turned up to the scene in the hope of some real-life tragedy porn for Australians vapid enough to risk a few hours of morning television.

Here’s a screenshot from some footage of a family member – the woman’s partner – in a stand-off with police. Awesome, too much drama is never enough.

Channel-9-murder-police

And here’s the obligatory ‘guy drives away in car… but his window’s down, so, you know… ‘. Note that it’s now light, which means the 9 News crew waited for hours for him to emerge from the house… because why stop at sticking a microphone in someone’s face once, when you can do it multiple times.

There is an obvious public interest in the media covering violence. That’s not why most media cover it, mind you, but regardless, there is no public interest in sticking a microphone in the face of a victim of that violence – in this case, the woman’s partner – and repeatedly asking him questions. And yet, that’s what our media did on this occasion, and now routinely do.

The new rules are, there are no rules. Just get the story.

In defence of gutter-snipe journalist Christine Ahern, that’s what she’s done on this occasion. She got there quick enough to fire off a series of probing, public interest questions, like this: “You’re obviously very upset by what happened?”

The man responds, sarcastically, “no”… and the look on his face is one of clear, unmistakeable shock.

Great television. Shame about your soul, Christine. And your social media account, which seems to be of the mistaken belief that you’re actually a key part of the story.

In the interests of fairness, Channel 7 were there too. And the Herald Sun is hosting the Today Show video. So it’s not just Channel 9. It’s all of the bastards.

But it begs the question, how do we get from that – the exploitation of a family member’s grief at the scene of a shooting – to this….

Today Show presenter Lisa Wilkinson, smiling as she details 'tense scenes' when the partner of a shooting victim arrives at a Melbourne home.
Today Show presenter Lisa Wilkinson, smiling as she details ‘tense scenes’ when the partner of a shooting victim arrives at a Melbourne home.

That’s an actual screenshot of Wilkinson introducing the story this morning… because, of course, if you’re going to exploit someone else’s tragedy, it’s always best to do it with a rictus grin.

Wilkinson is smiling like a Cheshire cat as she explains how there were “tense scenes just a few moments ago who was shot….” But doubtless other thoughts were going through Wilkinson’s head as she said it… more likely something along the lines of, “We got the story, we got the story, we got the story…”

Which explains how we got from ‘that’ to ‘this’ – the ‘this’ being the thinking of most people involved in the media industry these days: ‘Oh awesome, look, a woman has been shot. She might die. There’s his partner. He looks upset. Quick, grab the camera.’

I’d love to be a fly on the wall when Christine Ahern explains to her children what she does for a living: “Mummy waits for people to suffer really bad tragedies, and then she goes and harasses them.”

Or Lisa Wilkinson’s or Karl Stefanovic’s kids. “Mummy (Daddy) waits for people to suffer tragedies… and then we rely on other people to do the dirty work of harassing them, then we package it up and present it on the news while we smile and pretend that what we do isn’t utterly devoid of any humanity.”

The exceptional thing about this story is that it’s not exceptional. I’ve worked in the media for almost three decades. I honestly can’t identify a point in time when this kind of ‘journalism’ became normalized. Maybe, it’s always been like that and I was just ‘in too deep’ to see it.

Even so, how did it get this bad?

I don’t watch morning television because it makes me want to vomit. Indeed, I don’t watch commercial television, period. I only occasionally weigh into the ABC or SBS when I know there’s a story I have to watch. With one recent exception.

For the past few months, I took an extended break from work (take it from me, too much journalism will ruin your life). The place I was staying at had commercial television. I lasted all of a few minutes, after stumbling across a reality television show (the name escapes me) about people who get married, and the first time they meet is at the altar. This from a society that points to the sanctity of marriage as an explanation for why same-sex attracted couples can’t wed.

The difference, of course, between that show and this story, is that the people agreeing to ‘marry for entertainment’ enter the media world with free will (and, likely, a burning desire to be famous, even if it means jettisoning every shred of their dignity).

Sparkke-shop

But there was no free will at play this morning, as Channel 9 skulked around in the shadows hoping, waiting for someone, anyone to come along and ‘make the news’.

The fact is, we deserve the media we have in this country, with all their immoral intrusion into the lives of people who’ve suffered tragedy. We deserve the deceit dished up to us every day, we deserve the sensationalism, and we deserve the politicking because we’ve been buying all of it off the media for years.

That doesn’t entirely excuse the media. People who work in my industry know that much of what we do, day in day out, is shit.

They know it’s immoral, they know it can’t really be justified, they know that the only way they can continue to operate and still cling to a morsel of self-esteem is by adopting a twist on the Nuremberg defence, and telling themselves that ‘If they didn’t do it, someone else would’.

Worst excuse in history. Stock in trade in journalism.

There’s a simple way to change this.

If you think that adding to the trauma of a man who’s confronting the potential death of his partner should be off limits – or if you think financing the kidnapping of a child in Lebanon, or describing (and sexualizing) a murder victim on the front page as a ‘She-male’ should not be beamed into our homes – then stop consuming it.

* The author of this article tweets here, and Facebooks here. He also blogs here.

** New Matilda is an independent Australian media outlet. We rely almost entirely on read subscriptions for our survival. You can help us keep delivering this style of journalism by subscribing here, from as little as $6 per month.

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Chris Graham

Chris Graham is the publisher and editor of New Matilda. He is the former founding managing editor of the National Indigenous Times and Tracker magazine. Chris has won a Walkley Award, a Walkley High Commendation and two Human Rights Awards for his reporting. He lives in Brisbane and splits his time between Stradbroke Island, where New Matilda is based, and the mainland.

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