The Guardian

The Guardian November 15, 2000


Culture and Life

by Rob Gowland

Not quite the whole story, eh Piers

The Sydney Daily Telegraph's resident slime spreader, Piers 
Akerman, copped a right royal  and well-deserved  bucketing from the 
President of the AMA, Dr Kerryn Phelps, on November 1 over the way Akerman 
had misrepresented a recent study into the health of lesbian and bisexual 
women.

Akerman put forward the bizarre claim that there was a conspiracy by 
"sympathisers in the media" to covertly suppress "the risks associated with 
lesbian and homosexual behaviour".

He supported his claim by referring to the findings of a recent Sydney 
study that had "found that lesbian and bisexual women were much more 
promiscuous than `straight' women and just as at risk of sexually 
transmitted disease".

He made a point of noting that the study had gone unreported in the 
Australian media.

Dr Phelps disposed of this last point by observing that "thousands of 
research studies are published in the world's journals every year [and] the 
vast majority go unreported by the popular press".

In fact, far from evidence of conspiracy (gay or any other sort), their 
failure to be reported merely reflects the narrow, "dumbed down" concept by 
the proprietors and publishers of capitalist news media of what actually 
constitutes "news".

Unless you have a science column hidden away in your paper somewhere, 
research studies cannot compete with car crashes, the sexual hi-jinks of 
back-bench politicians or a calf with five legs.

As to the more substantive claim, about the allegedly greater promiscuity 
of lesbian and bi-sexual women, Dr Phelps caustically observed that Akerman 
had failed to mention that "the study involved only patients who attended a 
clinic for treatment of sexually transmitted infection and HIV in the inner 
city.

"It is therefore highly unlikely to be representative of lesbian and 
bisexual women in the general community." But it wouldn't have suited 
Piers' argument to have included that point in his article, I assume.

Dr Phelps went on to say: "the main value of a study such as this [the 
Sydney one] is to try to improve the health of a significant section of the 
community. One could only wish Mr Akerman's motives were so noble."

One can wish all one likes, but Piers Akerman will remain a well-paid but 
extremely backward spokesman for the most reactionary views  and a pain 
in the butt for all intelligent people.

* * *
Corporate welfare for the privileged
Mind you, Piers Akerman is not the only dinosaur writing op-ed pieces for Murdoch's tabloid flagship. There's also Michael Duffy. Surely no one more ignorant has ever presumed to write on education. Duffy began November with a spirited attempt to demonstrate that there was no disparity between the funding for pupils in private schools and those in public schools. That's why private schools have smaller classes, more facilities, lots of computers, more teachers, specialist courses, and their own football fields and swimming pools and public schools don't. Duffy's article, as one would expect, misses the main point altogether: public education is meant to be free, secular and universal. It is for everyone and all students are equal. Private schools are either religious, or based on privilege they are restricted to those who can afford to pay the fees or both. They are not free, they are not universal and they are seldom secular. For the state to fund the efforts of religious groups to mould the minds of children is a retrograde social step, taking education in this country back a hundred years or so. Having the state subsidise the private schools of the well-to-do so they can have their children educated away from the disturbing influence of more `common' children and their families is simply a gift to the privileged, a form of corporate welfare for the schools industry.
* * *
"Show 'em muck!"
When Dame Nellie Melba was due to tour Australia, she wondered what sort of thing she should sing in the wilderness down south and was advised to "Sing 'em muck, luv". National Party topper John Anderson seems to have much the same message for the ABC, to judge by his remarks to Parliament earlier this month on ABC funding. In a classic case of trying to have your cake and eat it too, Anderson said that the National Party wanted the ABC to maintain its services to regional Australia, it would have to "do more with less". Translated, this means that National Party voters in the bush want the ABC to maintain its service, but pollies like Anderson don't mind if that service consists of transmitting rubbish to viwers and listeners in the bush produce and transmit whatever you can afford would seem to be the message from Anderson to the ABC. Lowest common denominator programming is a message that John Howard would be unlikely to find in any way disturbing or disappointing. I am sure that, like Goebels, when Johnny Howard hears the word "culture" he reaches for his Browning, if only a metaphorical (and financial) one.

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