A new page dedicated to “Gender Issues” in the Australian is a disgusting platform for bigoted and backward ideas. Each week, the editors push journalists to scrape together new piles of transphobic shit to peddle as news. Their coverage has been widely condemned by LGBTI activists and medical professionals. AusPATH, the body that represents doctors and workers in gender health, put out a statement saying that the Australian’s coverage of transgender topics is “biased, emotive and ... not based on fact”.
A glance through the headlines from the paper in the past few weeks provides a clear picture of the editorial direction. A selection from the page includes such delights as: “They’re castrating children”, “Fears grow for trans kids”, “Transgender project ‘out of balance’”, “Concerns on gender transition”, “Concerns omitted in trans pushback”. The authors have claimed that a “trans reform bill will put women at risk”, that “trans law reforms could make it harder to track criminals”, and that “the gender agenda is out of control!” One columnist asked, “Why are we so quick to accept delusion as the norm?”
The “experts” called on to write and contribute to these stories do not try to disguise their one-sided transphobic perspectives. A regular commentator is John Whitehall, the former deputy president of Fred Nile’s Christian Democratic Party and a frequent guest on Sky News and radio 2GB. Whitehall is a professor of paediatrics and child health, but has admitted to never having treated a transgender patient. The page has also included “specialist” comments from William Malone, a conservative Christian doctor from Idaho whose actual expertise is diabetes.
While the coverage may appear ridiculous to anyone progressive, there are serious implications.
Research shows there was a massive increase in transphobic posts among far right groups online during the Australian’s concerted campaign against Safe Schools in 2016. Liberal and National politicians who have historically appealed to “family values” to galvanise conservative support are more than comfortable to push transphobic views, whatever the consequences.
Those who work in the media and want to maintain a degree of professional ethics are distancing themselves from the Australian. In August, the former editor-in-chief of the paper, David Armstrong, cancelled his subscription and said he was tired of its unrelenting conservative columnists. Despite this, the paper continues to influence the political scene in Canberra.
Mainstream coverage like that given in the Australian’s “Gender Issues” page, provides credibility, legitimacy and momentum to increasingly reactionary causes. Research published this year by Victoria University found that broad media saturation of issues such as Safe Schools and the so-called threat of African gangs has emboldened violent far right extremists. When these small groups can show that their ideas are backed by supposedly reputable sources, their doors are opened to new layers of members.
As well as providing recruitment assistance to groups on the far right, this coverage also whips up fear and loathing among the ranks of the Liberal Party base. Transphobic and essentialist views on gender are neatly combined with anti-left sentiments to create righteous outrage. That is why you’ll also find headlines on the Australian’s “Gender Issues” page such as: “Left wing journalists try to censor the inconvenient facts”.
Despite being behind a sturdy paywall, the Australian was the fourth most shared content source on the Facebook pages of far right groups in Australia. It is not enough for the left to ignore or ridicule the Murdoch press; its agenda should be opposed at every level.