Be Afraid, Be Very Afraid

This Halloween, I’m dressing up as Rupert Murdoch. After all, nothing is scarier than the media.

EBOLA! TERROR! CRABZILLA! Everywhere we look, there’s a killer virus, bloodthirsty terrorist, or giant animal lurking.

We’re scared to death of Ebola, even though we’re more likely to die from influenza. We’re scared to death of ISIS even though we’re more likely to be killed in a car accident. And we’re scared to death of our kids being molested outside the home, when it’s more likely to happen inside.

The sad reality of death is that it’s boringly normal. (And, of course, inevitable…) The leading cause among Australians is – drum roll, please – coronary heart disease, at a whopping 13.6 per cent of the population.

So where’s the front-page story featuring a fast food item under the headline, “McKILLER!”?

Oh, that’s right. McDonald’s is a big advertiser, and the Food and Grocery Council a powerful lobby group.  As a young reporter on Channel 9 in Melbourne, my story about a protest against a new McDonald’s in the Dandenong Ranges was dropped minutes before airtime. “Sorry,” my producer said, “the sales guys said they might lose the account”.

Last week, a NSW Liberal politician revealed she was threatened with a $4-million attack ad campaign at the 2011 election by lobbyist Kate Carnell, unless the party dropped its policy for a container deposit scheme, designed to encourage recycling. It wasdropped, like a hot chip. So, too, the proposed ‘traffic light’ system to help shoppers decipher the nutritional value of supermarket food.

That reminds me, the second highest cause of death is – wait for it – stroke, with contributing factors including high cholesterol, obesity and smoking. Until recently, the third was lung cancer, caused by – you guessed it – smoking. Yet, for decades, the media was complicit by burying the story, becoming addicted to advertising from Big Tobacco.

Let’s do some simple maths on this.

  • Deaths in Australia from Ebola each year: 0
  • Deaths in Australia from the flu each year: 3000
  • Deaths in Australia from terrorism: 11
  • Deaths in Australia from road accidents: 180,000 
  • Child victims of sexual assault by a stranger: 15%
  • Child victims of sexual assault who knew the offender: 85%

Sadly, the media preys on our irrational fears.

A radio boss once told me, “Trace, you need to fill the audience with fear: scare them into listening”.

To explain the rationale, he used the example of a well-known manufacturer of security doors. “Now, why are their sales going up exponentially, when petty crime is going down? Because their ads appeal to people’s visceral, deepest, darkest fears.”

I suspect this is the same reason people fear asylum seekers: intruders invading our homeland. But it’s not just fear: The mass media speaks to the seven deadly sins: pride, covetousness, wrath, gluttony, sloth, envy and lust.

So, for Halloween this Friday, I was going to be sinful by buying this Sexy Ebola Containment Suit. Instead, I’m going to buy a Murdoch Mask.

After all, what’s scarier than a wealthy man who scares the living daylights out of those with less money, power and privilege?

A man who bemoans the growing inequality between rich and poor, while paying little or no tax?

And whose staff hack the phones of missing schoolgirls to boost newspaper sales?

Be afraid. Be very afraid…