Let’s talk about the cover of today’s Australian

05.25.12

First published on The Vine, May 9, 2012.

Look, I know journalism is a difficult calling in the modern age. I know that commercial interests have long since overtaken a policy of strict journalistic objectivity. I know that editorial policy is often dictated by people far above you in the food chain. I know that trying to make yourself completely devoid of political inclincation is almost impossible. And I know that much of modern journalism is a debasing, hurried business.

But none of these realisations, nothing in the past 26 years of steadily accumulating journalistic cynicism could have prepared me for what The Australian, our paper of national repute, put on its front cover today in response to the Budget:

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I want you to pause and savour that sight for a moment. Drink in all the myriad details. Alright, got it? Then let’s discuss:

The Cartoon

This consumes almost a quarter of the page. It’s the first thing anyone looking at this paper would see. If you were to make a snap judgment about the content of this paper based on the cartoon alone, you would have to assume that overnight Wayne Swan and Julia Gillard revealed themselves to be time-travelling Soviet agents and while we were sleeping they opened the gates and invited the rest of the Red Army into our fair country. There are war planes flying overhead. WAR PLANES. I feel that, beyond the unpleasantly violent associations, this attributes far too much excitement to the announcement of the Budget, an evening of policy saturation that is usually as entertaining as a flight with Tiger Airways. Moreover, the inclusion of a hammer and sickle suggests a far from comprehensive understanding of the particularities of Soviet policy, as I would suggest that a Budget whose primary thrust could probably be described as a severe reduction in Government spending is a fair way away from a totalitarian regime that didn’t believe in free enterprise. I wonder if there’s a spending sub-heading entitled “Gulags” buried deep on page 922.

Minor details that aid and abet the overall impression of imminent Soviet invasion: the horde of angry peasants, scythes in hand, following Wayne and Julia as they storm the Treasury; Wayne’s zeitgeist-y wearing of an “Occupy Treasury” t-shirt; the uses of yellow and red which manages to channel both the Yellow Menace and the Red Peril; and the polluting factories in the background, evidently alive and well despite the crippling effects of the carbon tax.

A tweet from @MattCowgill sums it up: I believe it was Stalin who said “we will allow businesses to carry tax losses back & introduce an instant asset write off”

The Headline

Smash the rich, save the base. So, I’m going to presume that because the Government has reneged upon a 1% cut in the company tax rate it is, in fact, smashing the rich. The thing is, it’s not even like I have a particularly strong opinion either way on the necessity of a 1% cut in our company tax rate, but smashing? Really? When I hear smashing, I see a giant, green, muscle-bound figure in remarkably stretchy underwear ripping the rich apart, limb-by-limb. I do not see a marginal cut in a not particularly onerous (at least if you’re comparing it to other OECD nations) corporate tax rate, the effect of which will probably be marginal because our nation – with its world-leading economy, robust legal safeguards, relative lack of bureaucracy, high degree of disposable income and plentiful natural resources – is such an incredibly attractive place to invest. Methinks this sub-editor needs to go away and smash themselves up a degree of perspective.

But, hey, at least they know who the base is: the scythe-wielding peasantry. Although, given Labor’s recent polling levels, this could well be all that remains of their core constituency.

The Columns

If The Australian had ever thought of itself as a fair and balanced paper – and it often makes that argument – then the inclusion of not one, not two, but three inflammatory and critical sub-headings on the front cover should probably put that myth to bed. And by put it to bed, I mean drown it in a pit of liquid asphalt.

First we have “Swan’s making a values judgment”, a fantastically insidious headline that transforms what was, by most measures, an exceedingly dull budget built out of an endless sequence of minor cost-cutting measures into a US-style class warfare campaign where the political parties are irredeemably split by a 1% shift in the corporate tax rate and a couple of tax increases on the very wealthy. Although, on the flip side, at least this makes the Labor Party look as if they actually have an ideological position to call on.

Second, there’s “Treasurer matches PM’s breach of faith with his own”. Oh yes, very good. Gillard’s backflip on the carbon tax is exactly the same as reneging on a corporate tax break. Does no-one in the Opposition (or its various ideologues) see the irony in spending most of their time bitching about non-existent cost of living increases only to accuse the Government of betraying the Australian people when it decides not to give corporations a tax break so that it can give money to people to help with the increased cost of living?

And third we have “Big business foots Wayne’s welfare bill”. More of the same, but it manages to sneak in the word “welfare”, which as we all know, everybody hates, despite almost everybody who would profess to hate it being on the receiving end of some amount of welfare without ever acknowledging it. I’m looking at you, Family Tax Benefit.

Also, it should be noted that opinions about the Budget are given as much, if not more space on the front cover than information about the Budget itself.

But the truly hilarious thing about it all is that this cover successfully articulates the Liberal Party’s Budget policy far better than Tony Abbott or Joe Hockey ever could. This is also the most depressing thing about it all.

The Headshots

There are nine on the front cover. All of their own journalists. Now there’s the mark of a paper that is a little too self-satisfied with itself. This is less an exercise in front line journalism than it is the Editor in Chief wanking while we watch.

The Ad

And then, at the bottom of it all, there’s an ad for Lexus. Go fucking figure.

Conclusion

This isn’t intended as a defence of the Government’s Budget (I’m not enthused) or some partisan shot across the bows of the Liberal Party or even a real engagement with the content of the paper itself, but rather to suggest that if anyone involved in the production of this front cover looked at it and thought “You know what? This is exactly what a newspaper is meant to be” then they have no business using the title journalist. Just call yourselves propagandists and be done with it, because this thing is closer to the output of a Stalinist regime than anything contained in the 2012 Budget.