By Gian Ellis-Gannell
Editor in Chief
It’s an oddly quiet, unprecedented world that we now live in: students are taking online classes, professionals lucky enough to be deemed ‘non-essential’ are working from home, and most businesses (except for chemists, grocery stores and petrol stations), are closed.
Australia is quarantined.
And, as a very social country,
Australia is bored.
Perhaps this growing need for constant, new media consumption is what has led to the public’s recent obsession with ABC political editor Andrew Probyn.
If you haven’t been watching the many TikTok parodies or compilations, Probyn was chastised, not unlike a child might be, by PM Scott Morrision during a recent press conference within Parliament House. PM Morrison and Brendan Murphy, Australia’s Chief Medical Officer, had just announced new measures to ‘flatten the curve’. This included the closing of pubs, bars etc. However, after the address’s completion, the question of whether students should be sent to school was still up in the air. Many were concerned that due to the nature of their children’s schools, social distancing recommendations might be impossible to maintain. During the following press Q and A, Andrew Probyn attempted to ask Murphy to address the said public concern.
The Political editor had 2 questions (as it should be noted multiple reporters did), however after following up Murphy’s answer to his first question with another, he was cut off by PM Morrison-
The following interaction has been transcribed by The Guardian Newspaper:
PM Morrison: “Andrew, I’m sorry, you’ve had several questions,”
“Andrew, I’m sorry, Andrew. I know, but you don’t run the press conference, OK? So I’m going to go to other questions of members of the group. Katharine hasn’t had a question,” (referencing Guardian Australia’s political editor, Katharine Murphy.)
“I’m happy to return to you but let’s just keep it civil. Katharine?”
This 15 second clip, in which our Prime Minister scolds a valued member of the press for ‘doing their job’, asking questions in order to better translate information to the public, has been criticised as indicative of a wider problem, PM Morrison’s negative relationship with the press. The ability of the press to question our government is a crucial feature of democracy. It helps keep policy, corruption, and parliamentary decisions in check, maintaining our nation’s best interest.
Therefore, what has been regarded as PM Morrison’s mocking for this important dynamic, and the character of Andrew Probyn as the victim of such behaviour, appeals to younger generations’ disillusionment with our government today. A Federal failure to announce school closures sooner, not just because students wanted a break, but because they were concerned about safety, created collective protest. Combined with an apparent disregard for the confusion of the public, and the vocal under-25 age bracket came out in full force to support Australian Press. Probyn has become idolised as a symbol of the everyday Australian’s struggle to feel heard. His experience, being overruled even when standing directly in front of our leader, resonates with our nations’ feelings of voicelessness during the covid-19 pandemic
It is unsurprising then, given the under 25’s age bracket, that the platform of choice for Probyn iconography has become TikTok. With the short video format and the relative anonymity that it provides, generation z’s frequently use the app to vent political frustration.
A remix of Scott Morrison’s lecture over the beats of Duke Dumont’s Red Light Green Light was uploaded to TikTok by Triple J, and it’s currently been liked over 44,000 times.
Since the event, people have begun to listen out for Probyn’s commentary, and some have even suggested that as he seems to be much more in touch with the concerns of the people, perhaps he would be a better fit for the role of leading the country. So rapid has his rise in popularity been that his Twitter followers have increased by 244.1%. His mentions on Twitter also produce a plethora of amusing content.
Undoubtedly, if Probyn created a TikTok account of his own, his popularity would increase again tenfold.
Ultimately, Australia’s value of freedom of press and freedom of information is abundantly clear. We are becoming a nation more involved with politics, so we want to be both heard and informed. Our shared confusion is as I write this being addressed by emergency National Health Campaigns, and hopefully Andrew Probyn and the rest of the dedicated political editors will continue to do their best to keep our leadership in check. It has been a difficult time for all, but the very fact that this criticism of our Prime Minister’s attitude is allowed is a crucial positive takeaway, as many countries are not so lucky. We have an amazing power to make a difference- we can make funny, online videos to make the best of the worst situations, and we are learning to exercise our collective voice.
In the future, this will make us stronger.