Culture

The NSW Government’s In Seriously Hot Water For Caving To The Daily Telegraph Over ‘Gayby Baby’

Tabloid newspaper says "jump," elected government says "how high?"

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The NSW government, that proudly independent institution whose leader shows up in Daily Telegraph ads sometimes, is getting pulled to bits on social media today for abruptly restricting schools from screening Gayby Baby: a new, independent documentary about the children of same-sex families.

The film was planned to screen in more than 50 schools across the country on August 28 as part of annual anti-bullying initiative Wear It Purple Day, but according to the Sydney Morning Herald, state Education Minister Adrian Piccoli has directed the Department of Education to make sure NSW schools don’t show the film during school hours — not because of the film’s content, but “to avoid students missing out on class”.

According to the ABC, NSW Premier Mike Baird is backing Piccoli’s move, saying that he has no problem with the film’s content but it shouldn’t be shown in class. “I understand the intent of that is to provide an example of tolerance and that’s something I absolutely support,” Baird said. “Should it be in class time? No, I don’t think so. Should it be optional? Yes, I do think so.”

For anyone who spent substantial portions of the school term watching Looking for Alibrandi for the umpteenth time while the substitute teacher texted away their $25 monthly credit balance (read: everyone), this sudden concern from the state’s leaders over kids spending valuable class time watching movies might come as a surprise.

What Piccoli and Baird weirdly fail to mention is that the decision to ban Gayby Baby from classroom movie funtimes is being almost entirely driven by this morning’s Daily Telegraph, which took Sydney’s Burwood Girls High School as its main target.

The campaign — which combines a non-existent controversy based on factually incorrect assertions, “outrage” from some suspiciously vague quarters and a dash of good old-fashioned homophobia — hinges on the premise that screening Gayby Baby in schools is tantamount to, and I’m quoting here, “brainwashing kids with propaganda”.

To nip this new scourge in the bud, yesterday the Tele went knocking on the door of the NSW Department of Education and Minister Piccoli’s office, nobly demanding that they Do Something about it and broadcasting their responses in the paper in a pretty blatant attempt to get the movie screenings canned.

In his column, noted bag of air conditioner lint Piers Akerman takes aim at Piccoli for not “suspending or reprimanding” the principal of Burwood Girls High, but notes that, “Mr Piccoli told The Daily Telegraph that he had ‘spoken to the secretary of my department and reminded her that the government expects schools to remain apolitical places and that schools must comply with all departmental policies'”.

What exactly is so political about teaching kids things like “don’t call Angie names because she has two mums” and “try not to be a terrible person today, Jeremy” is bewilderingly unclear, but the Tele also went at Piccoli pretty hard in its editorial.

“So tight is the stranglehold of the bureaucracy [drink] that even the Education Minister himself seems to scared to utter a peep, lest he be steamrolled by his own department or crucified as a homophobe by the PC lynch mob [drink again],” thunders the piece, while on the next page over a cartoon Piccoli is depicted splashing a distressed child with rainbow gay brainwash elixir while archly lifting his pinkie finger.

cartoon

“Let’s imply he’s gay ’cause we’re writing ’bout gay stuff, hur hur” – a grown adult at News Corp yesterday.

If Piccoli takes exception to this kind of treatment, he’s staying fairly quiet — we emailed him about the cartoon and the Tele campaign earlier today and are yet to receive a reply. But Wear It Purple co-founder Katharine Hudson reckons there’s more to it.

“The conservative media — let’s not dress this up as anything else — sets the agenda for the day, which in turn sets the government’s agenda, and it can be fundamentally anti-LGBTI,” Hudson says. “Piccoli has been a really strong supporter of Wear It Purple through the years, so I don’t want to knock him too much, but it’s a shame he’s given in to the paper so easily over this.”

If News Corp really has that much sway over state governmental decisions, it’d have been nice if Piccoli had taken his cue from some of the other News Corp pieces capitalising on this immaculately-conceived storm in a shitcup by taking a markedly different stance to the Tele‘s.

News.com.au and RendezView, both owned by News, have run entirely reasonable op-eds on the right of schools to screen Gayby Baby,  including one by a parent of a Burwood Girls High student — which would be great if those outlets weren’t literally down the hall from the people who started this hideous nontroversy in the first place. Toying with your audience like that takes gumption, but apparently it’s having a seriously detrimental effect on the LGBTI staff who work for News as well.

What’s also depressing is that if Piccoli, the Education Department or anyone in the government had bothered to check, they would’ve found the “outrage” the Tele is so keen on stirring up doesn’t actually exist. The Guardian has spoken to a bunch of Burwood Girls High parents and found that most of them were “delighted” for the school to screen the film. One parent is quoted as saying: “One of the best things about the school is is teaches people to respect other people. It’s been going on for several years and suddenly it’s hit the headlines.” Even the students have publicly come out against the move.

burwoodgirls

For a state government to be so easily coerced into doing the Tele‘s bidding — without even looking to see if there was anything to be upset about — smacks of a frightening willingness to be led.

Thankfully, the pushback against the Tele‘s bullying is real, and it’s big; politicians, journalists, LGBTI activists, parents and others are speaking out against the government’s capitulation, and the hashtag #GaybyBaby is trending nationally. If Piccoli and Mike Baird were hoping to defuse a bullshit controversy by giving in to the paper that invented it, they’ve got a much bigger mess on their hands now.

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