Among the reactions to last Sunday on Cronulla beach, one was entirely predictable: blame the principal messenger. Lebanese Muslim Association president Ahmad Kamaleddine spoke for many critics when he argued that the riots had "been motivated by people on talkback radio".
Talkback has indeed come of age. It is now conceded to be, albeit grudgingly on the part of mainstream media, a significant source of news and opinion. But to declare it to be an accessory to the commission of serious breaches of the law attributes to it not only gross impropriety and possibly criminal behaviour, but also unbelievable power and influence over an allegedly gullible audience.
Talkback began to emerge as a force at precisely the same time as much of the mainstream "serious" media had found a vocation other than objective news reporting. Journalists were in the process of emerging from being largely unknown and working in a trade under close editorial supervision.
Now enjoying their new-found celebrity status, they began to offer their personal views not only on, but inextricably mixed with, the news. (Note, for instance, how many times news reporters will describe an organisation or person as "right wing" if they are conservative but insert no qualifier if they are of the Left.)
Soon, these journalists would be interpreting the events of the day according to a preconceived and generally left-wing agenda. As the doyen of Fairfax and ABC journalists David Marr argues, if a journalist does not come from a "softie Left culture", they should "get another job". This is not an isolated view. Since dispensing with the services of Gerard Henderson last June, The Age in Melbourne no longer publishes a conservative columnist on its opinion page.
In the past 10 years, the ascent of John Howard has given a new impetus and authority to talkback.
He chose not to have his words mediated and interpreted by a hostile media. Instead, through talkback radio and also breakfast television, he speaks directly to the people more often and more effectively than any other leader. Talkback was now not only reporting and commenting on the news, it was the news.
Meanwhile, the move of much of the mainstream media to left-wing campaign journalism meant that many Australians moved to talkback radio, where opinions, often robust, are largely unfiltered and where the Left's agenda could be openly challenged.
This is what so upsets the David Marrs of the media. The elites believe that once part of their agenda is in place, it should not be reversed, and that criticism is out of bounds for any reasonable person. But while they can filter their letters columns, they just cannot control talkback.
Now among the favoured policies of the elites is the doctrine of multiculturalism. A Humpty Dumpty word, multiculturalism means whatever the user chooses it to mean, neither more nor less. If it is used in the sense requiring tolerance - and treating all Australians of whatever colour, religion or ethnic background in identical ways - then it is superfluous. Australians had already achieved that with the waves of migration after World War II and well before they had ever heard that word, multiculturalism.
If it is used to mean that people should be classified and then advantaged or disadvantaged according to some ethnic tag, or that the essential principles and values of our Australian culture must give way, this is unacceptable to most Australians.
Australians have never agreed to this and they never would. The problem is, they have never been asked. No wonder they recorded their vehement opposition to the doctrine on one of the few places where this was tolerated: talkback radio.
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