On Tuesday John Birmingham put the argument that the loss of Fairfax journalists across the country was as a result of the web, the web, the web, and that without them great investigative pieces, like the Craig Thomson story and HSU scandal, would never be broken. Yes there is media bias, there always is, he mused. But the readership bias towards looking up Lindsay Lohan’s dress was what was killing the jobs of our esteemed lefty-press.
And not so long ago I would have agreed with him. I would have thought “The more progressive papers such as Sydney Morning Herald and The Age deserve a space without interference from their owners, without financial stress, job losses, editorial pressure and political in-fighting. Let them report the news fairly so that the rest of us can have some kind of understanding of the world via our esteemed local dailies.”
But what has inspired me to respond to Birmingham today (deep respect, love all your work) is specifically his choice of the Craig Thomson story and HSU scandal as an example of fine journalism in Australia. Because it is that story specifically that drove me to the web, the web, the web, and many sex workers like me. I estimate up to 1 million people in Australia have been sex workers at some time, and up to 15% of Australian men are sex worker clients. Roberta Perkin’s extensive research over two decades shows both with an educational level that is higher than the average Australian. That’s not a readership to sneeze at. And yes, you’ve lost us to the web, the web, the web.
The Craig Thomson reporting in Australia has been akin to a story about looking up Linsday Lohan’s dress. Without compassion, seeking salubrious headlines, you would think that Craig Thomson is somehow Australias’ most regular client of sex workers; a title any one would have to spend a lot to earn. The reality is far from the truth. As sex worker tweeter @LuciousLani summed it up, the amount Craig Thomson allegedly spent would have only bought just two nights of pleasure with her. There is no other way of putting it, $15,000 is just short change when it comes to the Australian sex industry. And the rest of the money spent irregularly on that HSU credit card was almost ten to one NOT on the company of sex workers.
The last 12 months of journalism in Australia has been dosed with whorephobia, soaked in innuendo, and shown some of the true colour of our so called “lefty” Fairfax press. And here is the rub. Sex workers and clients read the story with interest the first time. We noted the actual lack of relationship between the story and sex work. We noted that the “lefty” ABC news and current affairs reporting ran with it as a sex work story. We noted that Fran Kelly developed an addiction for spitting out the word “prostitute” every 3 seconds. We noted that Fairfax treated the story as a sex related headline grabber, without care for accuracy. We noted that our supposed “lefty” journalistic heroes showed their whorephobic sides as if they had just been bursting for years to say out the words “prostitute” and “Labor Party” in the same sentence. And out of habit, for weeks, I tuned in, bought the paper, and went about my usual media watching life, getting more and more depressed about how we were being treated. I wrote Op Eds that were rejected. I wrote diaries unfit for public distribution. I fumed. I whinged.
I can’t put my finger on it exactly. Maybe it was around the time that The Age, The Sydney Morning Herald and Four Corners teamed up to deliver yet another inaccurate whorephobic clap trap piece of so-called “trafficking” reporting, refusing comment from Scarlet Alliance and even the Red Cross because a pro-sex work stance confused their “sex workers as victims” trope. I found myself turning off the television, walking past my usual purchase spot for the daily paper, and consciously deciding that my life as a sex worker was actually better off without a newspaper. Craig Thomson’s woes continued. I started to actually feel sorry for him. I started to feel sorry for Lindsay Lohan. I started to realise that until you are the one being used to sell papers, you actually cannot imagine how it feels. It feels like the media don’t care. It feels like you are a prop. Because you are.
And like so many sex workers in Australia, I decided to turn to my twitter stream instead. By choice my stream is full of sex workers and clients; people I choose to rely upon in regards to sharing information. The media has used us, sex workers and clients, to get a bigger run than deserved out of the Craig Thomson story, to turn it into a Lindsay Lohan up-skirt story, to draw in the supposed ‘readers’ without realising that those readers are sex workers and clients. Yes, us, the very props you have exploited to sell your awful headlines. Yes. You exploited the fear, hatred, disgust, distaste, dislike and general lack of understanding of sex work, in order to sell your story. You can call it whorephobia if you like. Or you can just call it plain market driven decisions about headlines.
Whether it’s Lindsay Lohan, Australian sex workers, our clients, or those who are allegedly our clients; the lefty press in Australia has shown a disastrous lack of restraint, lack of solidarity with sex workers and an over enthusiastic ability to “sex up” and “dumb down.” Should you lose your job over it? Well no, but equally, let’s recognise that you haven’t exactly supported mine.