Revolutionary artist and RSP candidate in ABC documentary

In their 1977 book The Emergence of American Political Issues, Maxwell E. McCombs and Donald L. Shaw argued that the “the most important effect of mass communication”, i.e. the media, is its ability to “mentally order and organise our world for us. In short, the mass media may not be successful in telling us what to think, but they are stunningly successful in telling us what to think about.”

While socialist revolutions are taking place in Latin America, the mainstream media don’t see fit to cover them. Even more rarely do the Australian media ever focus on revolutionary socialist organisations here, choosing instead to use the nearly identical politics of Labor and Liberal as the framework in which we discuss politics. Therefore it came as a surprise to Revolutionary Socialist Party (RSP) members when the ABC’s Australian Story decided to run a half-hour episode devoted to our comrade Van Rudd on Monday, August 16.

While occasionally involvement in social movements has meant that socialists will be quoted in 15-second sound-bites or rarely given five minutes on Radio National, it is rare for the media to devote so much time to a member of a socialist organisation. The last time an Australian documentary crew focused exclusively on a socialist organisation was in 2000, when SBS followed Resistance high school members in the lead-up to protests against the World Economic Forum.

Belinda Hawkins’ story on Van Rudd for Australian Story was on the whole a very useful boost for the RSP’s election campaign. The story profiled Rudd’s politics, in particular his involvement in the anti-racism campaign, juxtaposing his involvement in the “Racism Made in Australia” stunt on Invasion Day to the anti-refugee politics of his uncle Kevin Rudd. Van Rudd managed to point out how little difference there is between the major parties in the documentary: “We all know for a fact that the major parties are coming up with absolutely nothing”.

While quotes like this were useful, on the whole Australian Story focused less on Van Rudd’s politics than on his family, particularly his parents’ relationship. But politics did flow through the doco, and if nothing else it provided a human face to revolutionary politics. The fact that the RSP and Van Rudd were able to get this publicity was a rare incident that we doubt will be repeated soon. While Van Rudd has developed some notoriety though his art work, interest in him heightened due to his uncle being the (now deposed) prime minister. However, whatever the reason for focusing on Van Rudd for a brief moment, an Australian media outlet gave us something different to think about.

[To see the Australian Story episode on Van Rudd or read the transcript go to http://www.abc.net.au/austory/specials/ourselection/default.htm].