Fear and Loathing in the Media

The easy run the LNP had in the lead up to the last election when it came to media scrutiny both annoyed and transfixed many of us. Surely the main stream media weren’t blind? Or were they compliant? Or afraid?

A mixture. And there was a lot of toeing the party line. The media predicted a change of government and they hate being proven wrong.

As Paul Barry said on ABC radio on Sunday night, Murdoch was always going to back the coalition, and not just because they are conservatives.

He is in the business of picking winners. Always has been. And if the team he backed won, he had leverage; he promoted them, see, that promotion aided the victory so you owe. Indeed, merely showing support in the first place secures favour, and favour secures advantage.

If you were a journalist with Newscorp, there was only so far you would go to tell the full story when it came to the coalitions policies. Job security. There was a feeling in the electorate that Labor was on the nose; the internal bickering and destabilisation had turned the public off.  Nick Economou, senior lecturer at Melbourne University said on radio, newspapers largely report the mood, they don’t create it. In the main that is true.

Over the top front pages in some Murdoch dailies may have been excessive but they they hit an accord with the readership. There was considerable Twitter outrage over media coverage, but then outrage is an overdone thing.

Television media is different, it is a mixed bag, although some allegiences do stand out, Sky for instance. However Sky has a limited viewership and it is difficult to rate its influence. Free to air channels tend to go with the flow and report on the reportage, they seldom trend set, and often they cater for the low end of the market which is rarely critical in my opinion.

So that brings us to the ABC. Sensing the mood of the electorate and cognisant of a change of employer it was probably natural that journalists would go a little easy on the potential new boss. Don’t want to ruffle any feathers, especially given the antagonism towards the ABC that has been displayed by the coalition in the past. Add to this the ‘small target’ approach and limited availability of the leader of the opposition at the time and it is not hard to see why interviews with coalition members might not have been as vigorous as the could have been.

Now of course there is a new government that is yet to fully enunciate its approach to many aspects of governance, the ABC in particular. No doubt the kid gloves are still on.

New governments usually get a honeymoon period. They are finding their feet, treading carefully, and the restrictions placed on ministers are just part of that. Most new governments do that. But if that restriction continues the media will become more demanding. In the lead up to the 1999 election, Jeff Kennett gagged his ministers and this went part way to causing his defeat. There were other reasons but it didn’t help.

So, how soon before the media starts to put the blow torch to the Abbott government? Well, the ALP leadership tussle holds some of their attention, though in a more positive way than before, overall. And there have been some problems for the new government already, Indonesia and the drownings at sea and the lack of judgement displayed by Brandis among them, but it is still early days, and this is not a minority government with a negative opposition hounding them.

There are not, to this point, the other distractions that hounded the Gillard government.

Time will tell, my guess is, that as so much of the media had a vested interest in the win (they predicted it for so long after all and ‘their boy’ won) it could be some time before we see the mainstream media show more courage.

Then again, it is a fickle media …

(Some encouragement on ABC in regards to boats issue today, but I’m not holding my breath)

Paul Barry is presenter of the ABC program Media Watch and author of Breaking News, Sex Lies and the Murdoch Succession.


Nick Economou is Senior Lecturer in the School of Political and Social Inquiry at Melbourne University


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