Tuesday, May 4, 2010

For What It's Worth

I feel compelled to comment on the sacking of Catherine Deveny from The Age. Bear with me, or ignore it if you've no interest in my being serious - God knows I would understand that. There's plenty of good commentary about anyway, probably better than mine - from Daniel Burt, for example, or even over at Pure Poison - and anyone who reads PP regularly knows they are no fans of Deveny.

I am going to make no pretence to impartiality here. Catherine Deveny is a friend of mine, so I am by no means unbiased. She's not my friend because I agree with everything she says, but she is my friend and obviously I'm likely to take her side when she gets knocked about like this. So this isn't coming from an objective place and I know it.


For what it's worth, I'm troubled by this. Getting sacked for a couple of posts on Twitter? Really? A couple of one-line jokes?

Now, there is no point arguing about whether the jokes were funny. That's purely subjective, and an argument without a point. It's also irrelevant. Were they offensive? Undoubtedly - they clearly offended a lot of people. But then, what comedian hasn't offended someone? What opinion writer hasn't offended someone? I'm regularly offended by right-wing columnists from all parts, and I've never believed my offence was grounds for their dismissal.

And here we are talking about being offended by actual, serious arguments being put forward in articles published in newspapers - not a couple of throwaway gags of 140 characters or less. So is offending people a sin worthy of dismissal? Clearly it's not. Not even at The Age itself - Catherine's been offending people in droves for years, and they haven't kicked her to the kerb.

Tasteless jokes are common among comedians, and even commoner on Twitter. It would seem a huge overreaction for The Age to take this action based on such minor, disposable comments.

But the thing is, they didn't. The Age didn't act on the tweets. The Age acted on the "controversy". The Herald Sun whipped it up, its readers fell into lockstep behind it, and The Age went along with it.

One can't imagine this working the other way. Were The Age to report on a "storm of criticism" being sparked off by Andrew Bolt's latest vicious slurs on refugees, or to denounce, say, his characterising of Kevin Rudd as a murderer who "fries" people in roofs, one doubts the Herald Sun would feel compelled to sack Bolt in response. Au contraire, they'd probably rub their hands with glee at the controversy.

I'm not denying The Age has a right to choose its own columnists. I was kicked off the radio for making bad-taste jokes, and I never claimed the station was engaging in "censorship" for making that kind of editorial decision. But that doesn't mean the decision is right either. The Age has been dictated to by the hysteria concocted by its rivals, and I think that's a shame. They've lost a distinctive voice that, no matter what sort of reaction she provoked, always provided something different in the paper, which could only have been a good thing. And I think that's a shame too.

And this isn't an issue of whether you like Deveny, or think she's funny or not, or approved of the jokes that got her in trouble. It's an issue of whether you think Twitter jokes should be elevated to a level of importance that will lose someone their job. And it's an issue of whether you think simply causing "offence" is a sin serious enough to warrant getting the boot. I think if being offensive is not allowed, it's a rather sad turn of events for the media.

I'm not going to boycott The Age. It will remain the best paper we've got here in Melbourne. I'm just disappointed, and I respectfully disagree. I hope at some point they might reconsider and welcome Deveny back. I would urge them to.


njptower said...

"I'm regularly offended by right-wing columnists from all parts, and I've never believed my offence was grounds for their dismissal."

You are way too generous, Bolt, Price, Jones, Law, the list goes on are mean-spirited, incendiary muck rakers who should be expunged from the airways

Kitty said...

The last time someone got booted from their association with a very public organisation was Nick Sowden. He made quite obviously racist comments and the Young LNP kicked him out after they became public.

He, too, used the 'out of context' defence, but in both instances, quite frankly, it's bullshit. Racism is still racism and, sorry Ms Deveny, making fun of child sexual abuse is still just that, regardless of whether it was on Twitter or said at a party.

The fact that she was using an open communication tool like Twitter, and that she is a public figure who was known to be a columnist for The Age, means that her comments were not private jokes, they were in public. Therefore, what she said could be taken to be representative of her employers. Many private citizens have also lost their jobs because of what they have said on a social media forum, so why should Catherine Deveny be any different?

Having said that, you're absolutely right that she was fired simply because a rival organisation whipped up a frenzy over it. Trial by media, it would appear. That's fucking shitty, quite frankly, and, yes, fucking Andrew Bolt should suffer the same consequences. That would be a gift unlike any other to the whole of humanity, but it just ain't gonna happen. Until they DO fire him, the Herald Sun are hypocrites, and Deveny shouldn't have lost her job.

How's THAT for some perfectly poised fence sitting?

hank_says said...

My personal feelings about CD's quality aside, this does raise a rather large, pointy, Vulcan eyebrow.

The aforementioned Numerous Horsemen Of The Endlessly Oppressed White Male Christian Majority (tm) regularly do a lot worse than Deveney in terms of inciting white-hot hatred (either in support of or in opposition to their well-chosen words). The difference here is that their employers love them for it and indeed rely on it.

Penni Russon said...

Well, to be fair, Catherine Deveny was not making jokes about sexual abuse, she was talking about Bindi being sexualised herself. And I get where CD's coming from. Bindi Irwin has been objectified, she's been remodelled into tween (google images of her from last year's logies, when she was dressed like a child going to a 9 year old's birthday party compared to this year when she's definitely been 'repackaged'). In this case particularly it is easy to see how taken out of context this seems inflammatory, whereas in context, it is actually a joke. Not an especially funny one. But still.

Carmen Lahiff-Jenkins said...

Great post Ben - agreed! Such a gap left behind post Devney, the Age has lost it's teeth!

John said...

Look the Irwin's are a touchy subject so I was annoyed as well as amused to hear about that tweet. At a party, amoung reasonably like-minded people it would get a laugh but I think Steve would be hurt and angry to know that sort of thing was essentially broadcast about his daughter at her age. And yes, skip the wrong-wing loser outrage, but tweeting is broadcasting. I get group emails from Sen Steve Fielding even though I don't support him. Similarly, you can be sure plenty of Deveny's enemies would subscribe to her on twitter. This will get back to Bindi. And despite being a public figure, she is a relatively innocent 11 year old child. Not good. Kids at school will tease her about it.

Having said that, I have blurted a few things in my time that were off colour, with hindsight. I still cringe but it has not cost me a job and neither should it. It made me pull my head in a bit, and I guess I needed to. I suspect this girl might need to a bit also. This is what those dressing-downs that start with "Kowalski, my office, now!" are meant for. I don't know anything about Deveny but The Age does not come across well out of this.

Anonymous said...

Catherine's biggest problem is not being half as smart as she assumes she is. I often see what her targets are, but she's rarely nuanced enough to hit the nail with the hammer. Maybe she's stupid, maybe she's lazy, who knows, but I do laugh heartily when I read "it's because she's a women!" Bloody hell, in our pedo obsessed media? If a male said that about Bindi Irwin, he'd be relentlessly tracked, harassed and run out of the country.

Unknown said...

well mate you have left out that she was al;ready warned twice by the age for what she writes but she chose to ignore it. You also fail to mention the emotional turmoil that it would have on Rove, you simply dnt dtop thinking about someone you loved dying, I lost a young daughter 20 years ago and if someone had said what she did to me I would have been very physical in my answer. As for Bindy, although I have no real feelings about the family to suggest an 11 tear old should be laid is pretty low even in jest, unfortunately it seems the only ones standing up for CD are those who havent had to endure the recent loss of a loved one or have an 11 y/o daughter. She is not funny, she has an extremely foul mouth(and I was in the forces) that needs to be pulled into line but going along with her train of thought there is something I can say that would really be just for her: the reason alcohol was invented was so that CD could get laid, no sane man would want to be seen near her if he was sober.

Lynden Barber said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Armin Damoud said...

What ? "regularly offended by right-wing columnists from all parts, and I've never believed my offence was grounds for their dismissal"

That's like saying it's OK to be asleep at the wheel. I demand that you bay for their dismissal ! Or hop out of our trench. There's a good chap.

I do see Catherine's point, though. Bindies are a problem when you have bare feet.

Grey said...

IMO - Kate Deveny has the 'artist gene'. She's one of those people who are borderline manic. As Helen Cixous said once, 'we are the deranged, and in our deranging we find new ways of seeing and doing'.

That's her job and it's been profitable for The Age to encourage her deranging, which they did with eyes wide open. She does it well and she's done it for them. But it's not something she can turn on and off like tap water. She is who she is and to imply otherwise is sheer hypocrisy.

Good on yeh Kate, you do it for me. You've given me tremendous pleasure and joy; I'm proud to speak in your defence.

Marcus said...

The only thing I find disappointing about all this is that The Age is the best paper we've got here in Melbourne. Disappointing.

CC said...

The editor of your "best paper" sacked her because of the


of her Tweets. She screwed up.

Live with it.

Destructor said...

unfortunately it seems the only ones standing up for CD are those who havent had to endure the recent loss of a loved one or have an 11 y/o daughter.

Do you mean... only people who aren't overly emotional due to their personal circumstances are the only people viewing the affair dispassionately? So why should the people NOT thinking straight have primacy over the ones who are?

Lachie McKenzie said...

I love your article, Ben. Great to read. I wrote a similar piece if you wanna check it out briefly: