By VIRGINIA TRIOLI
It all started out pretty reasonably.
On the morning of the Boston bombings, after almost four hours of rolling coverage on ABC News Breakfast, many viewers were becoming increasingly agitated that a series of bombings overnight in Iraq, in which 50 died and more than 200 were injured, had not received anywhere near the attention of the American attack. It was a perfectly valid point – an obvious one, even. It’s a dilemma we always confront when attacks in the West inevitably get more coverage than those elsewhere.
After reading all the critical emails, I could see their point and I said, “That’s the contrast that we always have on a day like today when it seems to many we’re overly focusing on what happens to rich, white people in the West versus what happens on a daily basis in those countries”.
As a result of quoting our audience disquiet, the online world exploded in rage. I’ve been accused of racism; racial profiling; absolving the bomber/s; failing to care about dead children; and being a danger to the country. I am apparently a “fascist, socialist pig” (both!).
I’ve also been abused in the most disgusting and personal terms, but that just goes with the territory these days.
Those shouting me down failed to see that Australia now consists of many who come originally from Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran and elsewhere and they will be as desperately interested in news from there as some of us might be for news from England. The country has changed – our reporting needs to reflect that.
An inaccurate transcript popped up on a blog, and we were off. And the chance of having a sensible discussion about how we choose what we report was lost.
As a reporter I don’t grade one life over another, and I believe it’s a dangerous and ugly business deciding to assign different values to each. As I said on air the next day, in raising viewer concerns and this thorny issue I certainly didn’t mean to offend anyone.
Michael Rowland and I then spoke candidly about the dilemma of which lives get more attention by news organisations, and this prompted many thoughtful, intelligent, and diverse responses to what viewers see on TV every day.
But this reasonableness is a rarity. Something truly awful has happened to the public discourse. I have been a journalist for more than 20 years and I have never seen hatred such as this.
Some Labor voters who contact us don’t want to see Tony Abbott merely questioned, they want to see him eviscerated. Some Liberal supporters speak of Julia Gillard in the most appalling terms. I am not disagreed with or called wrong, I am called a bitch, a slag, a slut, a danger to the country.
The confected anger that has been for some time now the stock in trade of some radio broadcasters and columnists has done its work, and has unleashed a nasty, antisocial and destructive power that has real consequences for the cohesion of our society.
But our audience is remarkably diverse. We have viewers of all voting persuasions, city and country folk, very young and very old, straight, gay and everything else. We invite their views and, within the limits of defamation and good taste, we allow them to be heard.
If that angers some people well that is, as we used to say, stiff cheddar. In a time of frankly hysterical, angry and breathtakingly vicious public discourse, I’m not going to allow anyone to shout another view down with abuse. All will be heard. Reasonably.
And I will do what I can to stem a blind, partisan hatred that’s tearing this country in two. When was it decided that all the concerns, issues, policies and preoccupations of this country had to be divided into a left/right dog-fight? I know as many Liberal voters who couldn’t do without the ABC and have a problem with mandatory detention, as I know Labor voters who resent cash subsidies for the car industry and were supportive of the NT intervention.
Australians’ interests are far more complex than those who insist on seeing all discussions through a fixed ideological viewfinder. That’s a triumph for negativity, and this country has never needed a more positive, open and compassionate approach to differences in opinion than now.
Virginia Trioli is the presenter of ABC News Breakfast on ABC1 and ABC News 24, 6-9am weekdays. She has an established reputation as a radio host, television presenter, news reporter, features writer and columnist. You can and should visit her blog here.