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Media, Influence and Perception: Why Rugby League Is A Target
"Anybody who dares suggest that rugby league is not a culture to
despise, then they are just as stupid and boorish as the offending players".
- Patrick Smith, AFL Journalist, The Australian, 2004
Can you smell it?
Can you smell that rotten aroma of irony and ignorance?
It?s an attitude and culture that infests the Australian media and Rugby League is on the receiving end of it, often unprovoked.
The average citizen couldn?t be blamed for perceiving League personalities, in general, as abominable, iniquitous, crass, subhuman delinquents. At the same time, they also couldn?t be blamed for believing that personalities aligned with other sports that compete for the same sponsors, ratings popularity as Rugby League behave in a way akin to an alter boy.
When it comes to the media and how their stories are received, it seems perception is everything but not always reality.
The overwhelming power of opinions and agendas expressed via the media can also play a role in how a sport deals with an unsavoury scenario and how severe the penalty.
As League personalities are scrutinised in relentless fashion, any wrong move, either serious or minor, can bring about harsh consequences. The NRL and its clubs have no choice but to punish offenders in the appriopriate way and utilise a near zero tolerance policy.
In contrast, a lack of media scrutiny can bring an entire sporting fraternity into a false sense of invincibility and unaccountability. This is most certainly the case with AFL, undoubtedly League?s strongest competitor in the Australian sporting market.
Under the carpet: A typical day at the office for AFL scribes
Contrary to popular belief, AFL personalities are commiting tastless acts or engaging in illegal behaviour on almost a weekly basis. There have been no less than 300 known incidents occur, or alleged to have occurred, in the last 3 years alone.
Why do we never hear about them?
Why is public perception of AFL personalities not as negative as their League counterparts?
Why is any word on unacceptable acts always hidden away near the classifieds and 1900 advertisements in the newspaper?
Because driven by agendas and an underlying fear, the media deliberately divorce themselves from actuality, balance and reason in pursuit of defaming League to a point where perception becomes reality. Yet coincidently, the same scribes and media outlets strive to protect their sport of choice ? in this case, AFL - by palming off any similar or more serious negative news stories as minor incidents.
?Rugby League?scandal-prone and idiot-prone. Rugby league basically functioned as a voluntary cultural Gulag?
- Mike Sheehan, The Sydney Morning Herald, 2006
Several recent cases from both League and AFL that are in the main comparable on most levels illustrate this unbalanced reporting and the influence it can have on punishment.
Cronulla Sharks player Tevita Latu received an unobjectionable punishment for assaulting a young woman and breaking her nose earlier this year. Latu?s contract with the Sharks was promptly torn up and he was deregisterd as a player in the NRL. The incident made the headlines and Latu?s reputation remains in tatters.
However, in 2004, AFL player Jeff Farmer was charged with assaulting his girlfriend whilst she had an 18-month old infant in her arms. He escaped with $2000 in fines, a rather delicate slap on the wrist and minimum media coverage. He received no punishment from his club or the AFL, and still plays today with his reputation intact.
There are countless other incidents where comparisons could be drawn, far too many to list in a single report.
So why the lack of balance?
Why do many media outlets have an agenda working against League by painting the sport in a bad light?
It?s a the feeling of being threatened.
Threatened so much that the media use their power of being able to voice their opinions to the public ad nauseam to break League.
Rugby League has proven itself time and again as one of the most resilient fraternities in Australian sport. It is a sport which does not fear evolution and change. It encompasses people from all walks of life. It is a game that acts on issues for the sake of moving forward and prospering.
For these reasons, those with insecurities in the media who have their own interests to protect will ensure at all costs that the arefomentioned qualities of Rugby League do not become public perception.