The hypocrisy of media

cscanlon Dr Chris Scanlon

First published on The Punch on 6 May, 2010.

The response to The Age’s decision to sack Catherine Deveny says a lot about the Australian media and Australian media audiences. In particular, it shows how selective both can be depending on whether they like or dislike the person — and whether it’s a man or woman at the centre of a scandal.

Soon after Deveny’s sacking was announced, some of her supporters in the Twittersphere claimed that she had been a victim of censorship.

It makes Deveny seem heroic, but it’s hard to see this as censorship.In the first place, Deveny wasn’t prevented by The Age from expressing herself. On this occasion at least, they didn’t spike her writings.

Instead, they exercised what is known as ‘editorial judgement‘ — which is a quaint notion in this age of blogs and self-publishing. Deveny, after all, isn’t a staff writer for The Age. She’s a contributer. As such, The Age are free to run her material or not — or to be associated with her, or not — as they see fit.

While many may disagree with The Age’s judgement in this instance, the fact is that such judgements happen everyday of the week. By this definition of censorship, I could claim I’d been censored every time an editor knocked back a piece I’d sent in, or claim that The Age had pre-emptively censored me by failing to give me a column. In other words, to call this censorship makes the term ‘censorship’ to be so broad that it loses any meaning.

In passing, it would be interesting to know how many of those now supporting Deveny thought that Kyle Sandilands should have been sacked from his spot on Sydney’s 2Day-FM after the bearded-one quizzed a 14 year-old girl about her sexual history in the infamous ‘lie-detector’ segment, and it transpired that she’d been raped.

The Sandilands case is particularly instructive since it is close — although more serious —  to Deveny’s off-colour remarks about Bindi Irwin. Of course, the two cases are not identical: the Sandilands incident is arguably much worse since the girl at the centre of lie detector stunt was the victim of a sexual attack. Bindi Irwin, by contrast, was the target of some cheap and tasteless innuendo.

Nevertheless, there are sufficient overlaps between the Sandilands and Deveny cases to warrant comparison. Both were intended as jokes, but went badly wrong. And both centred on tasteless musings of the sexual life of minors.

There’s no doubt in my mind, that many of Deveny’s supporters would have been calling for Sandiland’s head on a stick after the lie detector Segment. But if you were to be ruthlessly consistent, both were in such poor taste that if you wanted Sandilands sacked, you’d have to say The Age did the right thing.

The different reactions to Deveny and Sandilands, however, point to how selective the media is when it comes to men and women. For example Channel Seven’s Today Tonight ran a segment last night whipping up outrage about the Deveny case. While Wil Anderson was also featured in the story, it was Deveny’s tweets that were given the full Today Tonight shock and outrage treatment.

Yet, this is the same Channel Seven that chose to resurrect the career of Kyle Sandilands, giving him star billing on Australia’s Got Talent. Even worse, it’s the same Channel Seven that rewarded disgraced NRL player Matthew Johns with his own show.

Yet where is the outrage at Matthew Johns or Kyle Sandilands getting gigs with Seven?  Unless Deveny is offered a gig by Seven, the only conclusion to be drawn is that the temperature of Channel Seven’s outrage depends very much on whether you’re a bloke or not.