Tuesday, July 12, 2005

MEDIA: Why Canberrans Prefer Radio National

Canberra is a beautiful, vibrant, cosmopolitan city. A place where ordinary Canberrans share space with diplomats, overseas students and other temporary residents.

Canberra is also an educated city. Just about everyone has at least a TAFE diploma or is in the process of getting one.

Canberra is also a city where new Australians participate and are made to feel welcome. It is not a racist place. You can wear any kind of clothes in civic without anyone being the slightest bit interested. Canberrans have seen it all.

How do I know all this? Because my family are from Canberra. My sister was born in Canberra. I myself have lived in Canberra, and am currently enrolled in the ANU Faculty of Law. I have relatives and friends living in Monash, Evatt, Gordon, Belconnen and other Canberra Suburbs.

So when I was asked to be interviewed by Canberra radio, I expected the interview to be a polite and intelligent exchange of views. The interview was being conducted in the aftermath of an article published in the Daily Telegraph on that day (11 July 2005).

That night, I was to be interviewed by one of Sydney radio’s more colourful identities. Stan "the Man" Zemanek just doesn’t hold back. He asks you the most provocative question directly and will insist you provide a direct answer. And he can be very tough.

So when I received the call from the lady from 2CC, Canberra’s talkback radio station, I was rather surprised. Why?

Well, for a start, I never knew Canberra had talkback radio. When I am in Canberra, my only radio listening is to one of the pop music stations, Triple-J or ABC Radio. Most people I know in Canberra do the same.

I was surprised when I ended up being interviewed by someone who clearly was not accustomed to the ways and mores of Canberrans. He was clearly someone who had never set foot into Civic (as Canberra's CBD is known) or had a few drinks at King O’Malleys on a Saturday night. And from his questioning, it was obvious to me he had not set foot in an educational institution.

Here is a sample of some of the infantile questions I was asked. Now before reading them, I must tell you that I am in the process of obtaining a transcript. So what I write here may or may not be 100% accurate.

“Why aren’t more Muslims protesting in the streets against terrorism?”

“When will all your clerics condemn violence?”

“When will your clerics preach a version of Islam that does not award 72 virgins to you if you blow yourself up?”

“Why can’t your clerics see that Australians are scared of Muslims?”

“Why don’t you migrant Muslims learn to assimilate?”

I wish I knew which Canberrans were scared of Muslims. Because I have never known that fear to exist. Perhaps the absence of fear might explain why so many Canberras are happy to eat out at Ali Babas. It might also explain why there are so many branches of the National Australia Bank in Canberra. People in Canberra probably don’t find Ahmed Fahour (one of the NAB’s senior executives) all that scary.

The questions on assimilation were really quite silly. I mean, fancy a shock jock with a slightly English accent telling a Sydney lawyer with a broad “Strayn” accent to assimilate more. A bit like John Howard telling the Prince Charles to be more favourably inclined to constitutional monarchy.

And I wish I knew what role a protest in the streets would play in the aftermath of Australian deaths and injuries in London. Surely making loud noises is not the way to pay one’s respects to the dead (at least 10% of whom were Muslims anyway). My preference is quiet contemplation and prayer, not protests and burning effigies of Usama bin Ladin or some other wacko we only started hearing of when he was reported in the Western media.

As for the clerics, well I have never met a Muslim cleric. And you can imagine how my interviewer must have felt when, after asking a long-winded question about clerics, he was informed that Islam does not have clerics. And to make matters worse, he did not bother to read an article in the Canberra Times (which perhaps many of his listeners would have read) in which I spoke about the absence of clerics in Muslim societies.

A range of other questions were asked, often based on presumptions which anyone who has attended ANU or UC or ACU or even high school in Canberra would know are just infantile. And when I pointed out that these types of questions are not the type ordinary Canberrans would answer, the interviewer realised he was out of his league.

The interview ended with a humorous monologue in which the interviewer claimed that my describing his questions as those of a “shock jock” was racist. When I suggested to him that radio talkback hosts did not constitute a race, he completely lost it.

It was truly hilarious stuff. A shock jock tries to be a smart-ass with a poor migrant unassimilated pro-terrorist follower of extremist clerics looking forward to 72 fictitious virgins. And the shock jock ends up being given a good kick and completely losing it on air. In the end, most listeners would have realised where the real extremism was coming from.

Is it any wonder more people listen to Radio National in Canberra? Is it any wonder Canberrans prefer the good humour of James O'Loghlin (with whom I was fortunate enough to work as a duty solicitor at the Blacktown Local Court during the mid-1990's) to the rants of some morning shock jock whose name is so easy to forget?

Postscript: I though I would ask some Canberra people what they thought of the interview. So I rang one of my Canberra clients. He was at work at the time.

“So did you hear the interview on 2CC?”, I asked him.

“Yeah. You sure gave that bastard a good pasting. I hope you perform like that for me when we get to court!”, he replied.

I asked another client. He said: “Mate, I never listen to talkback. It makes me sick. My wife only has it on when John Laws is talking.”

I then asked a lecturer at one of the universities in Canberra. He said: “Talkback is about as popular here as pork is at a bar mitzvah.”

That’s life. And I certainly am not Derryn Hinch!

Words © 2005 Irfan Yusuf