‘In Australia, a lone woman is being crucified by the Press at any given moment.’
–Les Murray, A Deployment of Fashion, 1997
Whilst the saying goes ‘no publicity is bad publicity’ when the media rears its fierce teeth it can be a relentless beast. A prime example of this is the continuous berating of police commissioner Christine Nixon and the Black Saturday mess. In short, Mrs.Nixon- on a day she was not meant to work, went into the emergency center to contribute to the fire fighting team, and then went out for tea. After hostile questioning from Journalists it also came to light that Mrs.Nixon didn’t cook herself up meat and two veg at home, but ‘shock horror’ went out for dinner, at the local pub. Mrs.Nixon was given little opportunity to defend herself as newspaper headlines blasted ‘10 reasons why we think Mrs.Nixon should be sacked’ and ‘Christine Nixon kept dinner date with friends five minutes after learning people will die’. This was not a one day media scathing but an on-going week by week media massacre.
Is it just me or do we just feel like we need someone to blame? Perhaps Mrs.Nixon made an error of judgment that night, Mr.Brumby certainly seemed to think so. Would lives have been saved if Mrs.Nixon did not take that hour off to eat? Would less damage have been done? It appears to be a case of ‘Trial by media’ and it appears to be a biased and discriminative trial. Underlying the issue appears to be the fact that Christine Nixon is overweight, in the eyes of the Australian commentariat, this appears to be her defining quality.
Sniggers about her weight have always been a foundation of pictures, headlines and jokes about Mrs.Nixon. Simmering underneath all the news, talkback radio and commentary is a brew of disdain and discrimination. ‘Fat F**k’ said one of thousands of blog comments on news websites ‘I bet she had dessert’ said another. It is not only citizen journalists that have jumped on the bandwagon. TV news has relied of full body shots of Nixon in her police uniform whilst newspaper headlines and editorials have reffered to ‘Hungry Nixon’ and to ‘gut instincts’. These comments entirely miss the point and are nothing but ignorant bullying. The medias job is to inform yes, but there is no need for the exaggerated coverage that this issue has been given. Surely people have done worse things to deserve the kind of media battering that she has copped? In this case, the media needs to leave the trial up to the commission. Julia Baird wrote in Media Tarts, her book about press treatment of women politicians:
‘when they show emotion, make mistakes or behave like the men in playing political hardball, they are fiercely castigated … if they crack under the pressure, the ensuring criticism makes it clear we actually want them to be superhuman.’