Monday, March 26, 2012

Julia Gillard accepts News Limited mischaracterisation of Anzac Day centenary study, tries to distance herself from it

And now Julia Gillard says she "disagrees completely" with the "findings of the report" which supposedly "said marking past military conflicts could cause tension in multicultural Australia". I doubt she even knows or cares what's in the actual report, and just wants to try and be on the "friend" side of the "friend/enemy" divide that News Limited has created. It's self-defeating of course, since her government paid for the report and can't really appear to contradict it without looking like she spent money on it for nothing. A stronger government might have fought back against the misleading spin and described what was actually in the report. Oh well.

The Anzac Day centenary study: just how huge a Murdoch beat-up is it?

It's this huge: the tiny section of the study that's getting so reported on starts like this:
There are four areas of potential concern surrounding the commemorations. None of these are definitive problems, but rather points that should be explicitly considered in order to ensure that they do not introduce unexpected negative complications

So we have frothing-at-the-mouth online commentors complaining that this "government research" (actually a government-funded study performed by an independently-owned market research company) has suggested that the Anzac Day centenary itself is a problem, when all that it's suggested is that there might be possible concerns, which are definitely not an obstacle to the actual commemoration going ahead.
And those concerns?
  1. Multiculturalism: contrary to the misleading reporting about how "multiculturalism" is somehow an inherent obstacle to the Anzac Day centenary itself, the one and only point raised as a multicultural "issue" was this: should Anzac Day be an opportunity for commemoration of non-Australian military service by people who immigrated to Australia? That is the ONLY "multicultural" issue that was raised as potentially divisive, precisely because public opinion is divided on that one narrow issue. The total other issues related to "multiculturalism" raised in this report? ZERO.

  2. The balance of Commemoration versus Celebration: of zero interest to News Limited, this is an issue that may not have been highlighted if this study had not been done. In my original drafts for these blog posts, I often used the word "celebration", until I realised by the Anzac Centenary report's use of the word "commemoration" that I wasn't actually celebrating the contributions of my father and grandfather to the Australian army, I was commemorating them. This fundamental understanding of what Anzac Day is really about is important, and it's a good thing that the difference has now been highlighted. News Limited makes no mention of this positive contribution of the report

  3. Current events: the report makes clear that this is a minor issue, and even then only of concern to younger people:
    Though only suggested in the research groups, and mostly by younger participants, the potential impact of current events should be considered

    This is not a reference to any specific current event, but any possible future event that may or may not be happening come April 2015. It was suggested that an unpopular conflict may reduce community engagement with Anzac Day. This possibility of reduced engagement was seen as a BAD thing. At no point did News Limited mention this desire on the behalf of the study authors to improve, not detract from, Anzac Day commemorations.

  4. Veterans' standards of living: as the son of an elderly veteran, this is important to me, and I'm glad it's being raised. We can and should ensure that commemorations honouring service are backed up with actual results for veterans in the area of health especially. Again, this is something that will improve engagement with Anzac Day. Again, News Limited does not mention anything about this goal of the study authors in improving, not detracting from, Anzac Day commemorations.

Oh, and that alleged quotation about Anzac Day being supposedly "just a party for drunk yobbos?", the headline for the Daily Telegraph story on the issue? It doesn't appear to exist. What does exist are concerns expressed by the focus group participants themselves - NOT by the government, and NOT by the market research group that conducted the study - that bad behaviour on Anzac Day is becoming a problem, and that this is not what Anzac Day stands for. Those complaining about this part of the study, instead of shooting the messenger, should instead perhaps ask why this perception of some bad behaviour occurring at Anzac Day exists in the first place. Maybe, just maybe, because there is some? Or is it too "politically correct" (and therefore unmentionable) to even dare to suggest such a thing?

The full text of the report is in fact publicly available: Department of Veterans' Affairs: "A century of service" Community Research. The kicker? This study is from 2010. Why all the bluster from News Limited about an "exclusive" report on information that, as it turns out, has been in the public eye for the past 2 years?

The Anzac Day centenary study: what you won't read in the Murdoch papers

On pages 48-49 of the government report How Australia may commemorate the Anzac Centenary, a listing of the findings of the "government" study (which was not actually performed by the government but by independent market research group Colmar Brunton) that the Murdoch press has reported on with such sensationalism can be found. As I've seen many online commentors falsely claim that the $370,000 spent on this study was only spent in order to address some imagined conflict between multiculturalism and the very idea of Anzac Day itself, here are some of the facts about this study that News Limited did not mention:
  • The research was undertaken in part not because of concern that Anzac Day involvement was a problem, but that a possible LACK of involvement was a problem, and how this might be addressed:
    The research outlines community perceptions and expectations in relation to invigorating the memories of the past and identifying the mechanisms that will take them into the future

  • Anzac Day, and commemoration of military service was seen as very important by the focus group members:
    It is almost universally recognised that commemoration of our military history is important

    News Limited selectively decided to focus on a minor part of the report that outlined possible problems, while failing utterly to mention the strong support that the study gave for commemoration of military history in general, and of Anzac Day in particular

  • News Limited spent a lot of time reporting on alleged suggestions that some people didn't like the idea of being part of Anzac Day, but failed to report on those people who DID very much want to be included in Anzac Day but didn't feel that they were, namely Indigenous Australians:
    Many Indigenous Australians view Anzac Day as 'a party that we have not been invited to attend'. Indigenous service and the service of Australians in Vietnam were identified as two important areas for redressing the perceived lesser commemorative honour that the past has provided those groups

  • Finally - and ONLY after these positive and important messages from the study in question are presented, do we get concerns about "the potential for both unity and division in commmemorating our military history in a modern multicultural Australia". This dual consideration of cultural concerns is a far cry from the one-sided slant presented in the Murdoch press that "multiculturalism" is somehow an obstacle to the very existence of Anzac Day. In particular, it raises the concern about how celebrating military action in foreign countries may look to people whose cultural heritage includes that country. This is NOT a statement that such people object to any Anzac Day commemorations, only that we don't actually know how they feel. This is called "risk assessment", and is a perfectly logical thing to do in any area of endeavour

After going through the "How Australia may commemorate the Anzac centenary report", the Executive Summary of the Colmar Brunton study reported on by News Limited is included as Appendix 7. It will be interesting to see how the News Limited quotations match up with what's actually in there.

The News Limited Anzac centenary "multiculturalism" beat-up

Nearly every newspaper owned by the Australian arm of the Murdoch empire appears to have published a story about a "government" study that has committed the unpardonable sin of being less than 100% supportive of every single thing that anyone might ever do on the centenary of Anzac Day. Worse these "bureaucrats" have supposedly "attacked" this Australian cultural icon in the name of "multiculturalism".

The Daily Telegraph: Anzac centenary commemorations should be culturally sensitive, government research claims
FEDERAL government-commissioned research claims commemorating the centenary of Anzac Day is a "double-edged sword" and a "potential area of divisiveness" because of multiculturalism.

The Herald Sun: Gallipoli anniversary could divide Australia, Federal Government warned
THE Federal Government has been warned that celebrating the centenary of Anzac Day could provoke division in multicultural Australia - and told there were "risks" in honouring our fallen soldiers.

The Herald Sun is also running a poll with the question "Will celebrating the centenary of Anzac Day cause racial disharmony?"

The central online presence for News Limited Anzac Day 'just a party for drunk yobbos' - Aussie attitude study.
FEARS Anzac Day is nothing more than a bogan day of work-free drinking have been revealed in an intensive study of Aussie attitudes.

A study for the Department of Veterans’ Affairs to determine community attitudes ahead of Anzac days 100th centenary used 36 focus groups of eight people totalling 288 participants from all age brackets 18 and over at a cost of $370,000.

These stories have been reprinted by other News Ltd outlets including Perth Now, the Courier Mail, and Adelaide Now.

The online outrage has already started, about how "government bureaucrats", in the name of "political correctness", are somehow trying to prevent any commemoration of the Anzac Day centenary from taking place at all. The omissions and distortions in the News Limited "news" reporting certainly help give that impression. But in trying to look into the actual facts instead of News Limited's invitation to unthinking outrage, a few things become interesting:

  1. Nowhere in these "news" articles do we discover the name of the study, or any details about how to find it on our own. In fact all we are told is that it is "government-funded" by the Department of Veterans Affairs to the tune of about $370,000, that it consisted of 36 focus groups, and of course that it said all these horrible things about the Anzac Day centenary apparently being a "potential area of divisiveness", with the addition by the journalist (NOT the study) that this is because of "multiculturalism".

    I believe that the research study in question is a study mentioned on pages 48-49 of the How Australia may commemorate the ANZAC CENTENARY report, released today. It was NOT "bureaucrats" that did this study, but a private company who got paid by the DVA to do it. Thia private company, Colmar Brunton, describes itself as "the largest independent Australian owned market research agency". Any fulmination about "politically correct government bureaucrats" supposedly writing things in this study should check their facts: no "government bureaucrat" wrote anything in it at all.

  2. From what I can tell from News Limited's highly selective quoting of the study in question, at no point does the study suggest that Anzac Day centenary commemorations should not be held at all. True, as the News Limited "reporting" occasionally bothers to note, there is some concern about the way in which Anzac Day might be commemorated. Despite the angry rantings of more than a few online commenters, this is an entirely fair concern. Or are we just supposed to accept that there is no wrong way to think about Anzac Day, so that we should support disgusting things like Jim Wallace using Anzac Day to attack Muslim and gay Australians as not entitled to consider themselves included in what Anzac Day stands for? Is it "political correctness" to object to something like that? Or just basic Australian decency?

    So it is quite deceitful of News Limited, in particular the Herald Sun, to run their poll saying "Will celebrating the centenary of Anzac Day cause racial disharmony?", as if anyone has even suggested that it's the mere existence of the centenary commemorations that is concerning. The News Limited "reporting" admits that the report expects the commemoration to continue, noting guidelines for how celebrations ought to be conducted, not whether it should be conducted at all:
    Commemorations should be "culturally sensitive and inclusive", the paper states.

  3. Of course, there will be those who insist that "culturally sensitive and inclusive" means "not allowed to engage in Anzac Day traditions". Unsurprisingly, the News Limited "reporting" says nothing about what the study itself actually means by that. I suspect it means that you don't denigrate the culture of the people you have fought against. But absent a first-hand examination of the report, it's impossible to know for sure.

It's only a matter of time before other news outlets pick up on this. Unfortunately it's unlikely that this story is attracting attention because of important and salient facts, but because it has been reported in such a way as to cause maximum outrage. And just as unfortunately, the study which is being selectively quoted in this New Limited outrage manufacturing campaign is not readily available to the public. I will try to look for it, but I don't expect much success.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Bob Katter's anti-gay ad: the "gay couple" portrayed

I think the most offensive thing about this ad is the image used to portray gay people. Because the chests were pixelated out, I thought the two men were naked, and this was some sort of sexualisation of the issue. That's not the case as it turns out, and I'm now unsure if the original ad aired with the pixelation effect or not, or if later people added that because they thought was actually being depicted could be considered offensive.

What was actually depicted was imagery that I found on a website that provides stock photos for the depiction of homosexual couples. The pictures in this case are from a series entitled Portrait of a Homosexual Pregnant Couple Expecting a Baby. The part that was pixelated out shows the younger man of the portrayed couple with what looks like a white sculpted set of breasts and a distended belly, obviously not real but intended to evoke the appearance of a pregnant woman. Both partners are bare-chested, and both are wearing jeans.

So, two questions: (1) Why intentionally censor this? (2) Why use these images? The sculpted belly and breasts may be a tad racy, but both chests were censored in the ad, so I really don't know what's going on. The use of the images seems a bit more clear to me, as a means to demonstrate that what same-sex couples are really doing is pathetically aping "genuine" (heterosexual) relationships i.e. ones where one of the partners actually can get pregnant. By neglecting to mention that this is an artistic photoset, the ad dishonestly implies that gay men do this kind of dress-up as a serious activity. The pixelation kind of spoils that message, though.

Was the ad pixelated in this way when it was originally shown on television?

Friday, March 09, 2012

Kony, Invisible Children, what News Limited thinks is most important

In the face of, you know, this, some people have raised concerns about how useful or timely the online presentation about Kony actually is. Club Troppo provides a useful summary of the concerns and critiques.

But then there's this headline from
KONY 2012? You'd rather watch cricket, in March, as Channel 10 special flounders.

News limited headline writers, if not necessarily their actual journalists, seem to have a tendency to demean and denigrate new media activism. But is this really the headline they want to go with on this issue?