The richest, whitest male gets the grease

Power structures keep online discourse in the hands of the elite

Last year on International Women’s Day, Sydney Boys High School uploaded to their Facebook page a video of the 2017 prefects reading aloud statements by women on the importance of feminism. It rapidly went viral.

In response, Sydney Boys’ sister school, Sydney Girls’, published an open letter in the Sydney Morning Herald, accusing the video of “appropriat[ing] women’s voices”.

The debate surrounding the video grew. It invoked criticism and praise. Somewhere along the line, Mark Latham was fired.

At the time, I was shocked that a group of high school students had managed to spark a national debate about feminism. Coming from a high school with more of a lowkey reputation, I was surprised to see the media give time to the opinions of fellow teenagers. My school by no means lacked privilege, but there is nevertheless a world of difference between Blackwattle Bay and the elite world of Sydney Boys and Sydney Girls. Had we made the same video, I have little doubt the reaction would be at best lukewarm, any response having little chance of making it in the Sydney Morning Herald. This difference, I feel, is representative of a broader issue surrounding who the media lets speak. Simply put, the privileged have a platform in the media that the marginalised do not.

This ‘privilege’ manifests in different ways. Returning to the example of Sydney Boys’ and Sydney Girls’, it’s possible to see gendered privilege in action: a group of boys repeated concerns that girls have been voicing for years and it went viral. Women’s issues explained in a male voice made it appear, publicly, more legitimate and worthy of discussion. But it was not any male voice, it was the voice of men from one of the most elite schools in the country. It was this intersection of class and gendered privilege that made the video so popular, not anything particularly powerful about its content.

Imbalance in the media can be seen again in the Sunrise debacle earlier this year, where an all white panel discussed the merits of white families fostering Indigenous children. Despite their lack of qualification, and their lack of lived experience,  the panelists were given a platform, and a large platform at that: Sunrise averages at 527,000 viewers a week. While not including an Indigenous panelist may not have been an active decision by the show’s producers, it was a decision coming from the fact media relies on connections, and sometimes, those connections are all white.

What’s worse is when privileged voices block out all others. When people gathered outside Sunrise’s studio, in protest of the panel and their racism, the show’s producers simply edited them out. Their control of the platform total enough to quell any dissent.

The emergence of alternative media such as Junkee and Pedestrian have somewhat levelled the playing field. These outlets are more active in making space for those whose opinions aren’t commonly represented. However, these sites afford none of the legitimacy granted to opinions expressed in old, print media, such as the Sydney Morning Herald and the Australian.

Part of the issue is that Australian media is in control of the wealthy. Rupert Murdoch and his News Corporation control 57.5 per cent of the market share of daily newspaper readership in Australia, the fourth highest in the world.

Naturally, media controlled by the powerful serves the needs of the powerful. As the ABC comes under attack from the government, with $84,000,000 cut this year, the power imbalance of the media is only at risk of increase. In order to engage with public life, it is necessary to be informed, and for that we rely on the media. However, it is important to remember who is creating and distributing that media. Who does it represent, and whose interests does it serve–the many, or the few?