It’s not what Stan said, It’s when he said it

Comment from Peter Saxon.

Many years ago, I invested in a small start-up company and found myself on the board of directors. All eight of us were complete novices. So, we appointed a consultant to show us the ropes.

The consultant’s first lesson was to seat us around the boardroom table, put a bowl of fruit in the middle. and ask us each to sketch what we saw. We ended up with eight completely different pictures. Same bowl of fruit, but from different perspectives dependent on where we were sitting. To complicate matters, we all had different skill levels and styles of drawing on top of a myriad personal nuances.

Imagine then, Australia as an enormous table around which sit 26 million people, all eyeing the same bowl of fruit. 

In that context Stan Grant and I have very different perspectives on life. We come at it from different places. Stan is a proud Wurundjeri man with a familial connection to this land dating back some 40 to 60 thousand years. I was born in Budapest, the only child to holocaust survivors, who had the guts and foresight to escape the communist regime during the (failed) Hungarian “revolution” of 1956. I was just four years old when we arrived in Sydney as refugees, sponsored by distant relatives who had settled here much earlier and had made their fortune.

That said, I have a lot of time for Stan Grant. I find his commentary on world affairs insightful and well-argued, particularly when he is dispassionate about the subject. On the other hand, I can’t begrudge him being sincerely passionate about the plight of his own people, which is informed – or biased, as some might say – by his personal perspective. Then again, aren’t we all?

I’m reluctant to play the “some of my best friends are Indigenous” card, even though it’s true… well, two of them are, anyway. Like Stan, both these friends are highly educated, well-read, well-travelled and hold senior, well-paid positions at their places of work. Although they don’t know each other, they have, along with their white partners, spent many hours at our dinner table in open, frank and often lively discussion, but always with good humour, about our differences and, more importantly, our commonalities. Some of our discussions centre around how they must ‘walk in two worlds’ – their own and the white man’s.

One day, we’ll solve all the world’s problems. In the meantime we’re having a lot of fun trying.

As much as we and our friends have learnt from each other, and as much as we would hope to have a deeper understanding of where we are all coming from, the fact is we sit on opposite sides of the dinner/boardroom table. And although we all see the same bowl of fruit in the centre, they can’t see the grapes on our side, and we can’t see the apricots on theirs because there’s a huge pineapple in the middle obstructing the view and no one’s eating it because no one wants to bother cutting it up, And all attempts to peel it have, so far, failed.

So, I’m not about to suggest that I have some great affinity with Stan Grant, or he with me – he doesn’t even know me. But I can see him and hear him, albeit from the other side of the table… divided by a pineapple.

To be clear, from what I saw and what’s been reported, nothing Stan said in the lead up to the coronation of King Charles III was historically inaccurate, although I disagree with linking the recent monarchy, since QEII’s reign, to her colonialist forebears. In general, though, what upset most viewers was the timing of what was perceived to be a litany of anti-royal comments. Some were so outraged they were prepared to upend the table and weaponise the pineapple. I shouldn’t joke.

The racial abuse Stan had to endure from trolls and the reported indifference from ABC management to his plight is totally unacceptable. Hate speech is never an answer to someone who is honestly telling their truth, without malice, as they see it from their own perspective.

From my perspective, I agree with Stan along with a great many Australians that we should become a republic. On the other hand, if I were a Briton, I’d support the monarchy because it is so ingrained in that nation’s soul. And it’s good for tourism.

Nonetheless, although I can’t disagree with much of what Stan said, I believe his timing and that of the content person responsible, was appalling. It seemed churlish to rain on this particular parade. It’s like going to a wedding where the best man makes a speech enumerating the bride’s long list of previous boyfriends. The substance  might well be true, but it’s not the time and place for that kind of truth-telling.

If the aim was to educate more Australians about the suffering of Stan’s ancestors and the inequalities that the indigenous community still endure today, then his mission backfired badly. If he were hosting an episode of, say, Four Corners, a few days after the event, he might have ruffled far fewer feathers. But by railing against the monarchy as a preamble to the actual coronation badly misread the room.

Leaving aside the poor optics – as a purely content-driven decision, it was a shocker. Of those gathered to see the first coronation in 70 years (a once in a lifetime event for most) it should have been obvious that these were royal fans and were not going to be receptive to Stan’s message.  And if the idea was to ‘shore up the base,’ a vegan would have more of an appetite for a thick, bloody, rare steak, than the anti-royal watchers would have for sitting through several hours of pageantry on parade. 

In the end, the result was that they pissed off one group while missing the other entirely.

It could be said, of course, that what was lost on the republican “base” by the original broadcast, was made up by the shares on social media the next day. But I doubt that that was the plan.

Here’s how it went down at our house.  We’d planned a quiet Saturday night at home, just the two of us. watching the British King’s coronation on a South Korean TV while tucking into a certified vegan-repelling Aussie rack of lamb, with sprouts from Brussels, potatoes from Idaho and a bottle of French style GSM from an Italian family owned winery nestled in McLaren Vale, S.A.– can’t get more Australian than that!

To be honest, if it were not for Pauline, who’s always keen on a bit of pomp and circumstance – I’d rather have watched the football. But don’t tell her that.

We could have watched the coronation on 7, 9, the BBC or YouTube. But my first choice was the ABC. I didn’t put much thought into it. My decision was purely instinctive at the time. In hindsight, I guess it was due to the many years of reliable coverage Aunty had provided for royal deaths, marriages and other ceremonies in the past.

So, I turned on the television to ensure it was ready to go by the time Pauline got home from work and pressed the record button on the Foxtel 1Q’s remote so she wouldn’t miss anything if she happened to be late. As I switched to our ABC, I caught a glimpse of Stan and heard just a bit of the discussion panel that preceded the main broadcast. And just as instinctively as I had turned to the ABC, I flicked to another channel. Unlike the hate filled trolls, I felt no anger, no feeling of betrayal.

Call me shallow and uncaring if you will, I made a split second, selfish decision to change the channel because it was Saturday night after a long work week and we were looking for an evening of escapist entertainment and we were simply not in the mood for Stan’s message, regardless of how important it is to him and his people.

A takeaway from a television or radio programmer’s point of view is that royal occasions like this present a rare opportunity to observe which brand the audience chooses and why, when identical content is shown simultaneously on several competing outlets.

Unfortunately, the ABC, that has maintained its position as Australia’s most trusted media brand since anyone can remember, on this occasion, blotted its proud escutcheon badly. In my opinion, mainly due to little more than a scheduling error.

Peter Saxon, Managing Editor

Main Pic: Stan Grant on Q&A, ABC

Tags: | |