If The Sydney Morning Herald, The Telegraph and the mainstream media in general are to be believed, a night out in Sydney is best experienced wearing a flak jacket and Kevlar helmet. Ideally you should also enrol on the survival course foreign correspondents take before being posted to Afghanistan – that way you will be able to commando-roll from your taxi into a restaurant, avoiding the flying glass, bottles and knives.
Day after day, sub-editors write headlines clearly designed to be spoken by Don LaFontaine, the guy with the deep, sinister voice on a thousand movie trailers: “In a world…ruled by drunken lawlessness, we will sell more papers”.
Anyone who’s knowledge of Sydney nightlife came solely from the news media could be forgiven for thinking this city is off limits; simply too dangerous at night to warrant visiting. Those of us who live here and go out unmolested on a daily basis know that this is not only untrue, it is an incredibly damaging message to be sending at a time of financial unrest. We need people to go about their lives and spend money enjoying themselves – and that’s not only the bar trade, the entire economy is relying on this if it is to recover.
I moved to Sydney from London in November last year, and doing the job I do, have visited many more bars and hotels than a ‘civilian’ would have in the time since. In all of my nights out, I have witnessed at first hand just one act of violence, which was a fairly innocuous ‘Oi, you spilled my beer’ type deal that was quickly defused by very professional door staff. At no time have I felt ill at ease in Sydney, and although it’s fair to say the Cross gets a bit intense at times, this could no doubt be greatly improved with a few more police officers on the beat.
Like so much news reporting these days, the objective of these stories is to create sensation and fear. At a high level editorial meeting the decision was made to be ‘anti’ pubs and bars; you could almost call it part of the media’s manifesto. Their default position when reporting on the licensed trade is currently negative (have you seen a single story about the dozens of bars raising money for the bushfire appeal?) and it will continue in this way until they find another cause célèbre that better serves their political agenda…never forget who owns the newspapers.
We had to endure a similar demonisation of the trade in the UK a few years ago; every other story in the papers proclaimed yet another night of rampant, alcohol fueled violence. In fact one morning as I was watching the news before going to work, I was informed that my neighborhood had supposedly become the murder capital of London (again, this was read by Don LaFontaine). A few days later, presumably because the police had started a new spreadsheet, that dubious honour moved to another district, but nothing ever changed as far as my friends and I could see. It was simply our turn under the microscope of lazy journalism.
The public will eventually tire of reading sensationalist stories and the papers will be forced to shift their attentions to another subject. Until then, we as the bar trade need to weather the storm and keep doing what we do best – providing guests with the kind of drinks, service and experience that turns them into unpaid PR agents for Aussie bars and cocktails.