It’s hard to tell, whether most people in the trucking industry are naive or not as smart as they should be. When confronted with the media, and we’re talking about the general media here, the trucking industry as a whole will say the wrong thing, but more often than not say nothing at all.
To the general public the trucking industry, as a group of people trying make an honest living, are largely invisible. On the other hand, they are not invisible as the uncaring monsters driving them off the road and generally acting dangerously.
This is not a new thing for trucking, it is deeply ingrained in our culture. Not communicating to the rest of society seems to come naturally to everyone involved in trucking.
The tradition goes back to 1979 and the Razorback Blockade. The five truckies who began the whole thing by parking up their trucks at the top of Razorback on the Hume highway, Colin Bird, Harry Crimson, Jack Hibburt, Ted Stevens and Spencer Watling, didn’t expect any media attention.
In fact, when the media arrived, the group didn’t even have a set of demands to hand over as the reason for the blockade. It took them another day of discussions to come up with a list. This was probably just naive. Truckies lived in a twilight world, out on the highway, cut off from the rest of the community. They had no idea how the media, or politics worked.
Over the years, a similar scenario has played out at demonstrations of anger like Razorback. The attempted blockades in the past ten or so years have been confused and the lack of organisation and discipline has led to the threat of violence. A lack of media savvy has not served trucking well.
This lack of a genuine understanding of how the mass media works has been present during a period of time when other interest groups have developed in leaps and bounds and learnt how to get their message out.
Having such a low media profile makes you an easy target for the vultures. Every time A Current Affair has a spare ten minutes to fill, it’s simply a matter of mining webcam websites for some spectacular crash, or drop into a truck stop for an interview. Something they can misrepresent. The story will always be written in a way to reinforce existing prejudices, because that attracts the most eyeballs, and eyeballs represent advertising dollars.
What is even more annoying is the stereotypes being portrayed were created by the likes of ACA themselves. It is easy to engender fear of vehicles you have no understanding of, and are much bigger than you in your small car. The image of the gnarled and tattooed truckie at the servo in stubbies and singlet can also be used to further ratchet up the unease.
Many sectors of society are portrayed as unfair stereotypes in the media, but don’t attract the kind of antipathy shown to trucking. This results from the lack of any contrary evidence. There is nothing on any media outlet which contradicts the false prejudices being promoted on a daily basis.
The one sector of our industry which does understand the media has been able to advance its agenda publicly, but it has done so in a way, which continues to inspire suspicion of the trucking industry. The Transport Workers Union have valid points to make and spokespeople who present well on TV. Unfortunately, most of the time the story is about low paid truckies being forced to drive too many hours by the big bad companies. More evidence of this rogue industry.
There is negative coverage for everyone, but the difference is, for the trucking industry there is minimal positive coverage getting out about what the industry is doing right. We are pretty good at getting the message out to our own people. Trucking knows the progress it has made and how well it performs, but no-one else does.
If a big truck story breaks, is there a calm considered voice from the trucking industry? Very rarely, if at all. The ATA is developing an improved media regime with more regular communication between trucking and the general media, but it is going to take a long time to pull us out of the deep hole we have managed to get ourselves into.